Haj and Eid Mubarak

It is Haj today (it’s the day of Arafat to be more accurate). Congratulations to all the Hajis and especially to Amber’s parents and aunt who are in Saudi Arabia performing the pilgrimage.

Tomorrow is Eid ul Azha. Eid Mubarak, everyone.

Turkey and EU

A Fistful of Euros reminded me of the discussion my friends and I had recently about Turkish membership in the European Union.

The first objection I have always heard is that Turkey is not in Europe except for Istanbul. Mrs. T of A Fistful of Euros “wave[s] [this] aside with a laugh.” Looking at a map, it turns out that Thrace (the European part of Turkey) is about 3% of Turkey’s area.

My question is: What exactly is Europe? What are its boundaries? Is Russia European? Ukraine? The Caucasian states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia? What about Cyprus which is becoming an EU member this year? You do know that Cyprus is south of Turkey and not too far from the Syrian coast.

Looking at the EU website, they list Russia, Ukraine and Cyprus as European countries but not the Caucasian states.

In the end, I think this geographical factor is not important. However, there are some important issues regarding Turkey’s entry into the European Union. Let’s look at some data first.

Country Population1 GDP Per Capita (PPP)2 Human Development Index3 Political Rights4 Civil Liberties4
Current Members
Austria 8,188,207 $27,900 0.929 1 1
Belgium 10,289,088 $29,200 0.937 1 1
Denmark 5,384,384 $28,900 0.930 1 1
Finland 5,190,785 $25,800 0.930 1 1
France 60,180,529 $26,000 0.925 1 1
Germany 82,398,326 $26,200 0.921 1 1
Greece 10,665,989 $19,100 0.892 1 2
Ireland 3,924,140 $29,300 0.930 1 1
Italy 57,998,353 $25,100 0.916 1 1
Luxembourg 454,157 $48,900 0.930 1 1
Netherlands 16,150,511 $27,200 0.938 1 1
Portugal 10,102,022 $19,400 0.896 1 1
Spain 40,217,413 $21,200 0.918 1 1
Sweden 8,878,085 $26,000 0.941 1 1
United Kingdom 60,094,648 $25,500 0.930 1 1
New Members in 2004
Cyprus 771,657 $13,200 0.891 1 1
Czech Republic 10,249,216 $15,300 0.861 1 2
Estonia 1,408,556 $11,000 0.833 1 2
Hungary 10,045,407 $13,300 0.837 1 2
Latvia 2,348,784 $8,900 0.811 1 2
Lithuania 3,592,561 $8,400 0.824 1 2
Malta 400,420 $17,200 0.856 1 1
Poland 38,622,660 $9,700 0.841 1 2
Slovakia 5,430,033 $12,400 0.836 1 2
Slovenia 1,935,677 $19,200 0.881 1 1
Current Applicants
Bulgaria 7,537,929 $6,500 0.795 1 2
Romania 22,271,839 $7,600 0.773 2 2
Turkey 68,109,469 $7,300 0.734 3 4

Starting from the right, Turkey has the worst record on political freedoms and civil liberties. It obviously has to improve that if it wants admission to the EU. I should note that Turkey has been moving in the right direction in recent years mostly goaded by the EU carrot.

In terms of human development, Turkey is worse than the 10 countries which will be admitted this year but is similar to Bulgaria and Romania, both of whom have a target accession date of 2007.

Looking at GDP per capita, Turkey is much poorer than the current members as well as most of the new members. The only countries with a GDP per capita of less than $10,000 are (from rich to poor) Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria.

These GDP numbers start looking really bad for Turkey when we consider its population. Right now, Turkey is only behind Germany in population. By 2015, Turkish population is expected to be almost the same as Germany.

This large population has two problems. One is that combined with relative Turkish poverty, the EU will have to provide a lot of funding to Turkey. The other is that the current EU members are definitely not thrilled about a populous country entering into the union which could have a lot of influence in all decisions and bodies which were based on population figures.

In the end, I think Turkey should be admitted into the EU. While there are still a lot of improvements, in human rights, politics and economy, required of Turkey, the EU should stop dragging its feet on the general idea of Turkish admission. It won’t be easy though as my anecdotal experience suggests that quite a few Europeans don’t like the idea of Turkish membership.

Continue reading “Turkey and EU”

More About Israel and Pakistan

I have argued before that Pakistan should recognize Israel.

There have been some ambiguous signs regarding relations between these two countries recently. First, there was Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf meeting Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres during the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The Davos Conference was the site of a rare and unusual meeting yesterday. Pervez Musharraf, President of the world’s sole Muslim nuclear power, held a long conversation with opposition leader, MK Shimon Peres, and even shook his hand.

The historic meeting resulted from a random encounter between the two figures. Musharraf recognized Peres among the hundreds of guests at the hotel’s main lobby, approached him, and warmly shook his hand. Peres was the one to initiate the conversation, saying: “Mr. President, there are so many rumors about the relations being formed between our countries”.

Musharraf smiled heartily and confirmed the message. “We are undertaking great efforts for this to happen”, he said, but added: “You hold the responsibility to move forward with the Palestinians”.

Peres’ tone change, as he sent a clear message: “My friend, an efficient and positive peace currently prevails in the Middle East, and we will continue to act in order to reach a deal with the Palestinians. But we need a strong leadership to fight terrorism, so we can change things and bring peace and stability”.

At the end of the conversation, Peres invited Musharraf to visit Israel, with the Pakistani president replying: “Inshallah” (God willing) as the two parted warmly. Musharraf then turned to answer Maariv’s question about his intention to accept Peres’ invitation, saying that once relations between the two countries are normalized, he will be glad to visit Israel.

Pakistani officials played down the meeting.

Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan in an interview with BBC Radio, however, described President Musharraf’s meetings with former Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres and other officials as incidental. “The meeting was incidental. During the meeting, brief talks were held.”

When asked if there is any chance of relations with Israel, the spokesman said, “Pakistan’s stance on Palestine issue is intact. We favour settlement of the Palestinian issue in accordance with the UN resolutions and efforts being made to bring peace in Middle East through the roadmap.”

“When Palestine emerges as a sovereign state and co-exists with Israel as an independent state, a situation will create in which Pakistan will be ready to review its policy towards Israel,” he said.

Masood said: “Last year the president had started a debate about Israel. He had said we must see its pros and cons.” “There has been a debate in the country although it is still inconclusive. The people have expressed different opinion. We are carefully watching the situation in Middle East,” he said.

Commenter John pointed me towards a statement by Israeli Agirculture Minister Yisrael Katz.

Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz said Tuesday that he will travel to Pakistan in March.

[…] “I was indeed invited to visit this coming March to Pakistan and I replied to the invitation,” Katz told Israel Radio. “The invitation was sent via Jacques Diouf, head of the Food and Agriculture Agency of the United Nations, of which Israel is an active member.

“I certainly give great importance to the expected visit and I presume it comes in light of the improvement of relations between Pakistan and Israel.

“The fact that both states, in addition to many others, are going with the United States president, under the leadership of the President of the United States George Bush, in step with states struggling against terror and not supporting terror, certainly provides a basis for cooperation, especially in the agricultural field and in food production, something which can of course benefit the Pakistani population and possible cooperation between Israel and Pakistan in the future.”

But Israeli Foreign Minister and Pakistani officials poured cold water on it.

But both Pakistan and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom have said they have no knowledge of Katz’s invitation. “This appointment does not suit us,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry tersely announced.

A foreign ministry spokesman said that “the continued leaks, including mistaken information, harm Israel’s ability to further its relations with the states of the world.”

Pakistan then postponed the UN meeting.

Pakistani has postponed hosting a United Nations meeting which would have been attended by an Israeli minister. The meeting, planned for March, would have been the first visit to Pakistan by an Israeli minister. The minister, Israel Katz, says he was invited to Islamabad by the United Nations delegation. Pakistan has no diplomatic ties with Israel and a foreign ministry spokesman insisted it has not issued an invitation to Mr Katz.

There have also been other contacts between Pakistani and Israeli officials recently.

Foreign Ministry Director General, Yoav Biran, recently met with a senior figure in Pakistan’s foreign ministry. The meeting, kept secret until now, serves as further testimony to the warming up between the two countries, reported in Maariv yesterday. The two officials apparently met in a European capital following a series of meetings between lower ranking Pakistani and Israeli officials.

These are not the first contacts between Pakistani and Israeli officials. They are, however, the first public ones since Pakistani Foreign Minister Zafrullah Khan met Chaim Weizmann in April 1948 (yes, I know, this was before Israel was established) or the Abba Eban—Zafrullah Khan meetings at the UN in 1952—53.

Beyond the Veil: Israel—Pakistan Relations talks about the contacts between Israeli and Pakistani officials over the years.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (later Prime Minister), as head of a Pakistani delegation to a UN Conference, met his Israeli counterpart, Shabtai Rosenne, in 1958.

In 1994, Pakistan’s ambassador at the UN, Ahmad Kamal, attended a reception hosted by his Israeli counterpart, Gad Ya’acobi. […] This was not the first time that a diplomat from one of the countries had attended a party hosted by the other. Such diplomatic encounters have been happening for a long time. For instance, as early as in November 1958, Israeli ambassador in Holland Hanan Cidor attended a farewell reception hosted by Pakistani ambassador Begum Liaquat Ali Khan, the widow of Pakistan’s first President.

[…] In September 1995, The News [Pakistani newspaper] reported that “during the Afghan war highly skilled Israelis provided guerrilla training to some Afghan groups and in the later stage of the Afghan war the chief of Pakistan’s most respected intelligence service had held a top secret meeting with a senior Mossad official in Vienna.”

[…] In May 1996, another report suggested that Pakistani law enforcement officials met with top brass of Israeli intelligence during a conference on counterterrorism in the Philippines.

[…] The United Nations has functioned as the prime meeting point for Israeli and Pakistani diplomats; such contacts date back to the early 1950s. Even while not participating in official meetings with Israeli representatives, Pakistani diplomats often met them in private and apologized for their inability to attend such meetings. […] Bilateral contacts were maintained in numerous other venues, ranging from Tokyo in the East to Ottawa in the West; some of these contacts and discussions took place at parties hosted by the Indian embassies.

The difference between those meetings and the recent ones is mainly that the current meetings have gotten publicity.

John: (extends cape and takes a bow)

In what follows, I do not harbor any intention of making myself clear.

I went to school in the hope of knowing, but I discovered that university is concerned primarily with learning. After flirting with industry, it became apparent that corporate lexicons exclude terms such as knowing and learning to save space for synonyms for earning. So, I settled for academia in the hope that I could stomach the substitution of learning for knowing more readily than earning.

I am wrapped in the flag, but sometimes, it itches.

I have gone in for “isms.” Though, I must say that I am rather suspicious of some of the more popular “isms” in the last 100 to 200 years. Totalitarianism, Facism, Communism and Fundamentalism come to mind.

The word “blog” causes static in the verbal processing centers of my brain. The word conjures images of torture, sinks filled with dirty water, animals rolling in mud and places where one loses a boot or two. It sounds too much like flog, clog, hog, bog and other less than savory “og” words.

This is the beginning; goodbye.

Welcome, John

My friend John will be joining this weblog as an author. He has some interesting insights and I think he’ll have some great posts. I’ll leave an introduction of himself and his interests to his first post.

Let’s welcome John aboard.

Fast Rebuilds

As I mentioned in the previous post, comment posting has been a bit slow lately. I timed it at 35 sec, which is much better than some other weblogs (where I leave for a few minutes after posting a comment) but I think is not acceptable. The problem lies with the fact that all index pages as well as the relevant archives are rebuilt when a comment is posted. As the weblog becomes bigger, the problem becomes more acute. However, there is no reason for a lot of these pages to be rebuilt on a new comment since they don’t have any information related to comments in them.

Using the MTTimer plugin, I timed the rebuild times of all of my templates.

Template Time to Rebuild in sec
Main Index 5.12
Atom Index 1.06
Master Archive Index 1.41
Most Commented Entries 3.82
Most Visited Entries 13.88
RSS 0.91 Index 0.41
RSS 1.0 Index 0.96
RSS 2.0 Index 0.59

The most time consuming one is the “Most Visited Entries Index.” This template uses the MostVisited plugin. I described how I am now rebuilding this template only once a day through a cron job in my previous post.

The other template that could be optimized was the “Most Commented Entries Index.” This creates a list of the top 10 entries based on the number of comments. I was using the technique described by Scripty Goddess. When I changed it to a query statement using the MTSQL plugin, the rebuild time dropped from 3.82 sec to 0.11 sec.

Among the other index templates, the RSS, Atom and Master Archive ones do not need to be rebuilt after a comment. Unfortunately, Movable Type does not provide a way to specify that. There is a mt rebuild type mod which allows you to specify if an index template should be rebuild when there is a new comment, trakback or entry. Once I apply that mod, I would shave a further 4 sec off of comment posting time.

Looking at the “Main Index” template in detail, we see that the following parts take most of the rebuild time.

Section of Main Index Rebuild Time in sec
All 15 Entries 1.21
Calendar 0.09
Recent Entries List 0.09
Monthly Archives List 0.32
Category Archives List 0.08
On This Day feature 0.02
Comment Leaders 2.79
Recent Comments 0.50

More than half the time is taken by the CommentLeaders plugin which lists the most prolific commenters.

Looking at the archives, the most time consuming are the category archives. The average rebuild time for a category archive is 2.83 sec while the longest is 6.54 sec (for “Islam and Other Religions”). Since some posts are filed into multiple categories, all those category archives have to be rebuilt when a comment is posted. This is a big potential problem in MT since the category archives will get really big over time.

The monthly archives are more manageable. The average rebuild time there is 2.43 sec and a maximum one of 4.39 sec. However, they are not the potential time bomb that category archives are.

Another delay in comment processing is caused by MT-Blacklist but that is an absolute necessity as I get spam comments almost daily.

UPDATE: mt rebuild type mod has been insstalled. If you have any problems commenting, pinging or otherwise, please let me know. My email is on the sidebar.

Further Weblog Maintenance

When I changed the way trackbacks appear, I broke something as well. It turns out that when someone pings you, only the index templates are rebuilt automatically. Since I had the trackbacks in the individual entry pages, those were not rebuilt and hence did not show the recent pings from Kianoush.

First, I tried to do a server-side include of the trackback CGI file into my individual entry template. But that did not work for some reason. Therefore, I used Phil Rignalda’s hack which required adding a few lines of code in Trackback.pm MTBlPing.pm.

If I have broken anything or if you know a better solution, please let me know.

Another issue has been the delay that comments take to post. I timed the time from hitting the “Post” button to a refresh of the individual page to be about 35 seconds. That wasn’t good enough since we strive here for a better reader experience. I realized that about half the delay was caused by the MostVisited plugin which calculates the top 10 pages in terms of hits during the last 30 days. This is obviously not something that changes with every comment and it changes only a little in a day. So I used Eric James Stone’s suggestion:

  1. Create an index template with the code to list the most popular entries.
  2. Uncheck the box for “Rebuild this template automatically.”
  3. Link the template to a file.
  4. Use the MTInclude tag to include that file in whatever other templates you want. [Main Index template in my case — ZA]
  5. Set up a once-a-day (or other period) cron to rebuild that specific template.

To rebuild the template as a cron job required the mt-rebuild script.

As I was doing all this, I discovered MT Plugin Manager by David Raynes. It is supposed to make the install, upgrade and uninstall fairly automatic from a browser window. It seems like a great tool and so of course I went ahead and installed that as well.

Now, the only task I need to think about is how to backup all the weblog data regularly. Any ideas about that?

UPDATE: I have added an “On This Day” feature to the sidebar. It links to a random entry from previous years using the RandomOTDEntry plugin by Mark Paschal.