November 27th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Feeling quite proud of my latest little project – making maps of which parts of the world get talked about in Parliament. The results are here – bizarrely enough, it seems that MPs spend a lot of time talking about Africa, compared to say, Asia or South America. They also have a bit of a Mongolia obsession, although on closer inspection that turns out to made up of lists of parking tickets, and things like Tony Benn saying that “The House of Lords is the British Outer Mongolia for retired politicians.”

OK, so the results might be a bit dubious if you look too closely – but still, I made pretty pictures :)

Have fun at Alt-Xmas, people: would love to be there.

Westminster’s map

November 27th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

[Update: I finally got round to adding legends to the maps]
Which countries get talked about in parliament? With data from [They Work For You](, I’ve put together these maps of where MPs like to talk about. Here’s the number of mentions a country has had in parliament recently, adjusted for population:

< - Few mentions _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Many mentions->

Looking at this, I’m actually surprised at how globally-minded Parliament is. Sudan (pop. 34.2 million) gets 2,302 mentions; Germany (pop. 82.5 million) has only 3,695 mentions in parliament.
Far from being ignored, Africa actually gets mentioned well beyond its economic importance to the UK. South America, on the other hand, is basically ignored.
Then there’s the size bias: small countries get more mentions than big ones, once you adjust for population. Look at Mongolia: Westminster, it seems, finds Mongolians immensely more important than Chinese. The bias can partly be discounted as a problem with measurement: parliament is prone to lists of foreign relations and trade issues, for instance, which mention every country regardless of how small it is. Also, it’s possible MPs talk about areas within China or India, which I wouldn’t have picked up on.
But there’s more to it: larger countries really do get short-changed in the attention we give them. China has a population perhaps 150 times larger than than of Bolivia – but we don’t hear anything like 150 times as much news from China. We’re all biased by imagining a world made up of nations, and giving the same weight to nations of all sizes. Small islands got discussed an incredible amount – particularly places in the news, like Tuvalu and the Pitcairns, but others as well.

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Countries mentioned in parliament

November 22nd, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Since [My Society]( have made data on what’s happening in parliament so easily available, I figured somebody should poke at it. [Here]( is a first shot: a table of how often each of the world’s developing countries has been mentioned in Commons and Lords debates. The plan now is to look at what gets a country mentioned in parliament – i.e. (very roughly) what foreign policy issues MPs and Lords care about. So far I’ve only looked at the GDP of the countries, which doesn’t make a great deal of difference (R²=0.45), but I’m currently trying to find data for trade with the UK, human rights, and so on. The one surprise so far is how closely the number of mentions in the Lords and in the Commons match each other (R²=0.97) – I’d expected them to get excited about different topics. The lords cared more about Burma, and less about Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but not greatly.
Anyway, I’ll keep on tinkering with this for a while, and see what else I can find.

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Hersh for the lazy

November 21st, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

[Seymour Hersh’s latest piece on Iran]( isn’t one of his greatest hits, but there are still some fascinating nuggets…
>In the past six months, Israel and the United States have also been working together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the [Party for Free Life in Kurdistan]( The group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran
Having this run as a military rather than a CIA operation apparently reduces the need for the US administration to report on it. But most of the article isn’t about covert ops so much as it’s about showing how crazy the people in power are:
>many in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq…..They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq–like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.
um. Iran is at least somewhat democratic – imperfect, but certainly more appealing than a US puppet imposed by force. So here’s another idea for saving Iraq:
>The White House believes that if American troops stay in Iraq long enough-with enough troops-the bad guys will end up killing each other, and Iraqi citizens, fed up with internal strife, will come up with a solution.
In their defence, although the optimism is misplaced, getting the army out of Iraq’s cities isn’t a bad start. Back to Iran, and another example of the American tendency to exaggerate Sunni-Shia differences:
>A nuclear-armed Iran would not only threaten Israel. It could trigger a strategic-arms race throughout the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt-all led by Sunni governments-would be compelled to take steps to defend themselves.
And finally, yet another reason why bombing Iran is a very stupid idea:
>the C.I.A.’s assessment suggested that Iran might even see some benefits in a limited military strike-especially one that did not succeed in fully destroying its nuclear program in that an attack might enhance its position in the Islamic world.

When Hu meets Musharraf

November 21st, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

When Hu Jintao finishes in [India](, he’s going to move on to Pakistan. Below the cut is a quick summary of what he’s going to be talking about with Musharraf.

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November 20th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

The US lifts some restrictions on uclear cooperation with India.
Yes, I know this looks like some kind of proxy war, where the US backs India and China backs Pakistan – but it isn’t. China is far more pragmatic than that – they want trade, they want oil, and they aren’t interested in petty power politics. So they don’t have a problem supporting India and Pakistan. No doubt Hu’s visit to India today will lead to the announcement of some big industrial project or other – and then he’ll move on to Pakistan and do the same again.

Okruashvili: Russian reaction

November 17th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Quick summary of what the Russian press & blogs are saying about Okruashvili, before I leave it for tonight.
[Gazeta]( explains this as a result of his humiliation by the president, and expects him to go into opposition:
>For a country in Georgia’s position, Minister of Defence is a key position. But Minister for Economic Growth – that’s the equivalent of somebody “retreating to his Dacha” in Soviet times
There hasn’t yet been all that much Livejournal comment yet (that I’ve found), but this seems typical:
>”Essentially, he understood that nobody shines in the post of Economy Minister. Winter is on its way and energy relations with Russia are shit. And he decided to jump ship, which is reasonable”
And the news sources are only now getting over the idea that it might [all have been an elaborate bluff](, an idea fuelled by Okruashvili being out of the country.
Meanwhile the Georgian opposition are already swarming around Okruashvili as a potential leader. [Levan Berdzenishvili]( of the _Democratic Front_, wonders if Okruashvili is going to move into opposition, saying “It’s too early to call, everything depends on Okruashvili himself”. That’s about as blatant an offer to join him as you can get, and I imagine there will be a lot more Georgian politicians coming out with something similar.

What is Okruashvili up to?

November 17th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve now had some time to read the reports on Okruashvili’s resignation. Most are brief, and the only attempt at explaining his reasons is this fairly implausible comment from [Itar-Tass](
>Some reports said he intends to give up politics and turn to business, while other reports said he wishes to continue his education abroad.
Also worth reading is Molly Corso’s rush-job analysis at [Eurasianet](, which summarises the background nicely, but doesn’t explain what’s happening today.
But what’s he up to? I can only imagine that Okruashvili has decided to split the [United National Movement](, the party which contains both him and Saakashvili, and form a more nationalist opposition.
If so, it’s not a stupid move. After the president, Okruashvili is the most popular politician in Georgia. He could plausibly bring the opposition together into an anti-Saakashvili coalition. The country is littered with small parties which have little hope of making it by themselves. Most of them are driven less by ideology than by pragmatism and the personalities of their leaders, so it should be possible to get them into bed together.
The only thing I don’t understand is why Okruashvili has made this announcement from abroad. Perhaps that’s a sign that he hasn’t lined up supporters yet, and is hoping that being away from Tbilisi will give him more time to do deals before making a public statement when he returns to the country?

November 17th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

That Georgian defence minister who got shunted off to ‘economy minister’, and was replaced by a 28-year-old? He’s just resigned, which presumably means he’s going to take on Saakashvili. Drama on its way…

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Slamming just says “let’s not fight”

November 16th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

When [Radio Free Europe]( report that “Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze today slammed the [Commonwealth of Independent States](“, they’re missing the point slightly. The news isn’t that Georgia dislikes the CIS (we know that already), but that they aren’t doing anything about it. ‘Slamming’ is a de-escalation, not an escalation, compared to their other options.
If Georgia wanted to cause trouble, they would be trying to leave the CIS. That’s [what the opposition want](, and what Russia is afraid of: this summit was due to be held last month, at the height of Georgian-Russian anger, but Russia arranged a [postponement]( to avoid a rash pullout by Georgia.
Leaving the CIS is one of the few weapons Georgia has against Russia: the organisation represents the last vestige of Moscow’s control over its ‘near abroad’, but is being held together with chewing gum and bits of string. To the East it’s being eclipsed by the [Shanghai Cooperation Organization](, and to the West by [GUAM]( Since these can fulfil most of the functions of an international talking shop, nobody except Russia has an interest in keeping the CIS running. If Georgia left, it could plausibly bring down the whole house of cards.
But the Georgians are being smart. If they actially leave the CIS, they lose a barganing chip and don’t gain much beyond the joy of watching Russia suffer. Much better to turn up, [refuse to pay membership fees](, grandstand about Russia’s crimes, and [keep that threat on the table](
>“We are here to make sure once again if we have any reasons to stay in the organization, or it has no future,” Burjanadze announced.
Along with the recent replacement of the Defence Minister, this seems to be part of a very sensible pattern of de-escalation by Georgia.

A babe in arms

November 15th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

The latest surprise in Georgian politics is…a substitution. Out goes defence minister Irakli Okruashvili, in comes Davit Kezerashvili, a 28-year old neophyte whose main claim to fame is as chief tax inspector.
What’s going on here? Is it because Okruashvili has been shooting his mouth off, backing Georgia into a corner by talking tough at Russia? Molly Corso at Eurasianet writes:

According to analysts, Okruashvili, infamous for his blunt,
anti-Russian rhetoric, became a liability as Georgia strives to fight
Russian attempts to portray Tbilisi as the aggressor in the bilateral
row. “In Russia and the United Nations, Okruashvili was identified with
war,” said Tina Gogueliani, a political analyst with the Tbilisi-based
International Center on Conflict and Negotiation.

I’m not convinced. Yes, he has made a few awkward comments – but that hardly seems fair when other ministers are accusing Russia of ethnic cleansing and the like, and aren’t being fired.

If this is about Russia, it’s only