December 17th, 2010


EU summit analysis

I did this for the first time in June this year; this is a second post listing participants in the European Council meeting taking place yesterday and today. Those in italics are not full members. Various other hopefuls are also here hanging around the fringes.

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Jean-Claude Juncker has been in power for longer than any two of the others put together. The median political longevity in June was held by Cowen, who had then been in power for just over two years; now it is Faymann, who has also been in power for just over two years. There have been four changes since the June summit, which itself had had two new faces from the previous European Council meeting.

14 of the 27 heads of state and government, and the presidents of all three EU institutions, are in the European People's Party. (Though Leterme is on his way out.) 5 are in the Party of European Socialists. Another 5 (three of whom - Cowen, Ansip and Kiviniemi - face elections in the near future) are Liberals. British PM Cameron is now joined around the table by fellow ECR member Nečas. Christofias remains the only Communist. (Net changes since June: Socialists down one, Liberals and ECR up one, independents out.)

There are three women, Merkel, Kiviniemi and Radičová (up two since June).

The recent changes bring the average year of birth from 1956 to 1959, the year that Bulgarian PM Borisov was born, with 18 of the 30 born between 1954 and 1964 inclusive. Buzek is older than any of the national leaders except Berlusconi; Van Rompuy is older than any except Berlusconi and Christofias.

8 of the 27 were born before their countries were independent (counting the Czechs and Slovaks, but not counting Merkel, though she is East German). 17 of the 27 have lived under dictatorship, communism and/or colonial rule. Europe has come a long way.

I am still younger than all of them except the Latvian and Finnish prime ministers. (Mark Rutte is ten weeks older than me.)

To be continued next time...
not happy

Bizarre incident

Was stuck in traffic driving in to work this morning - trying to work our what my options were for turning in one of the lanes leading from the E40 to the inner ring - when the woman in the car behind me got out, walked up to my car door and asked me to wind down the window; she then yelled at me in Dutch (I was too surprised to listen to what she was saying) and then hit me on the mouth before stomping back to her own car. Not too hard, but rather shocking behaviour. Needless to say, I noted her licence plate number, got away as fast as possible, pulled in when I found a safe place and called the police. Other people's driving sometimes frustrates me, and I'm sure my own has frustrated many, but there are appropriate reactions and there are reactions which will lead to hassle beyond merely arriving at work a bit late.

December Books 7) Short Trips [20]: Destination Prague, edited by Steven Savile

A collection of short stories featuring the first eight Doctors, all set in Prague. Like some of the other Short Trips collections I found the clunkers more memorable than the better stories - there's a dire First Doctor / Ian tale, for instance - but I'll also note that the stories I found best tended to be those by authors I had already heard of, though not usually as Doctor Who writers: Stephen Dedman, Keith DeCandido, Mary Robinette Kowal, Gary Braunbeck and Lucy Snyder, and a couple of others. I think I'll start going through the Short Trips anthologies more systematically when I have exhausted my in-house stocks, but I can see that the series had its weaknesses as well as its strengths.

December Books 8) Cryoburn, by Lois McMaster Bujold

By a very fortunate quirk of my reading list, I had reread Mirror Dance immediately before starting Cryoburn (which by the way I read in electronic form, downloaded from the publisher's website, though I will still go and get a paper copy). Cryoburn is very much a sequel to Mirror Dance, though I guess it will stand on its own, set ten years later, on a planet which isn't even mentioned in the earlier book, and with only Miles Vorkosigan, his cloned brother Mark, and a couple of other characters carried over.

The setting is Kibou-daini, a largely Japanese world where the inhabitants tend to freeze the dead and dying n the hope that they can eventually be revived when advances in medicine allow for their potential cure. Bujold has put some thought into the economics and political culture of how such a society might operate (if you're not definitely dead, what happens to your assets? to your vote?) and untangling the ramifications of how it might go wrong accounts for the majority of the plot. Miles Vorkosigan arrives in this situation because of a potential threat to the interests of the Barrayaran Empire, though rapidly gets involved in the local politics; the viewpoint characters are Miles himself, his bodyguard Armsman Roic, and a local boy whose mother turns out to be central to the plot (ie both the story and the conspiracy). As usual the story is witty and well-paced; it's also, at 350 pages, relatively short (Mirror Dance was over 440).

And there's a sharp twist at the end, but enough about that. An excellent read, and a welcome return to the Vorkosigan universe.

The Four Doctors

This is really hot off the press (as it were) - Big Finish released The Four Doctors only last night, and I managed to listen to it in the car today in the intervals between being assaulted by a fellow motorist and the consequent trip to the police station to make my statement.

The Four Doctors is a special release, available for BF subscribers only, uniting Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann as the Fifth to Eighth Doctors, in a story which Peter Anghelides says was partly an attempt to do the Daleks and time travel, like in The Chase, but to get it right this time. (In the same interview he also says that his own favourite of his own stories is "The Tip of the Mind" in Short Trips: Companions, which proves that he has good taste and judgement, or at least that he agrees with me.) It's a rather nice romp, not too intricate (as it might have been if Marc Platt had written it) but intricate enough to please the average sf fan, with the Doctors separated for most of the time but some very nice interaction between McGann and Davison, which I don't think we have ever seen before. David Bamber (who played Hitler in Valkyrie against Tom Cruise and Kenneth Branagh) here plays the unfortunate time-travelling general who gets sucked into the Daleks' evil plans, and he and the other guest cast, Nigel Lambert, Ellie Burrow and the ubiquitous Alex Mallinson, add welcome colour, but basically it's the Doctors and Nick Briggs as the Daleks that we want to hear, and we get them all very nicely thank you.

Road rage update

Went to Leuven police station after work (they were a bit surprised to see me, since I don't live or work in their direct catchment area, but my local police station at home closes inconveniently early for this kind of thing and the ones in Brussels are not handy for my office) and spent an hour giving them a statement, which I believe will have included enough details for them to call round and talk to my interlocutor of this morning, which I hope will have a salutary effect. As a commenter to my previous post said, it's unlikely it will come to much more than that in the end, but my civic duty is done and I will sleep easy tonight.