Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Northern Irish insults, cont'd

Perhaps it was to be expected that as the gunfire went down, the verbal fire would go up. We posted yesterday about Ian Paisley's personal attack on the Irish Foreign Minister's appearance, and today comes a strange story in the London Times detailing transcripts of phone calls between Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and senior British officials. How these transcripts were made and how they came into the public domain is leading to some legal fallout today, but no-one disputes their authenticity. The conversations reveal what many Irish people would have guessed: that London officials and politicians don't especially like the Unionists and have much better personal rapport with the nationalist side. Now of course London has frequently blundered in its attempts to build better relations with the nationalist community in NI, but there tends to be a clear vibe that they find the antics of Unionist politicians anachronistic and distasteful, which works to the benefit of the well-polished Sinn Feiners.

Check out this portion of a 1999 conversation between McGuinness (MG) and Blair's top aide, Jonathan Powell (JP)

MG: "They're [unionists] not interested in the Ireland Ministerial Council and like, all you have to do is listen to William Thompson [unionist MP] last night on BBC Two."
JP: "Agh, he's an ass."
MG: "Ah, well it doesn't matter. He might be an ass but there are a lot of other asses around him like Willie Ross . . . "(interrupted by JP).
JP: (laughing)"Quite a lot."
MG: "Jeffrey Donaldson, Roy Beggs, Clifford Forsyth, Rev Martin Smyth [senior unionist politicians]. . ."(interrupted again by JP).
MG: "Please don't repeat all the names."

By the standards of Paisley, this is all quite mild. But we've like to have heard their word for Paisley himself.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

What they might teach at Bob Jones University

One of Ireland's more dubious political characters is Ian Paisley. He'd prefer that we call him by one of his titles, Reverend or Doctor, and one of his academic pieces of paper comes from Dubya's favourite South Carolina university, Bob Jones. There's no point in being polite about it -- he is an anti-Catholic bigot, as the most cursory perusal of his website demonstrates (unless he's being ironic). But he just might have crossed a threshold with his latest outburst. Normally we Irish are allowed, as the aphorism has it, a fair amount of latitude in insults hurled at each other. But, referring to the Irish foreign minister, Brian Cowen, Paisley said the following:

Somebody told me the other day the reason his lips were so thick was that when his mother was bringing him up he was a very disobedient young boy, so she used to put glue on his lips and put him to the floor and keep him there.
That has been recorded in his physical make-up.

Now we'll admit that Minister Cowen probably wouldn't be selected for some reality show about hip Irish singles at the beach. But I think just about any moderate person in Ireland is going to see this line of insult as unfair and mean. Perhaps Bob Jones is unhappy too -- at the failure to link the insult to some supposed Catholic attribute. Maybe "Reverend" Paisley will cover that in the inevitable weasel-worded apology.
Bloody Tuesday

It looks like the big Belfast summit (remember that?) will turn out to be about as significant as the Azores summit. For one thing, subsequent events make it hard to identify any constructive discussions that might have taken place in Belfast, since so many decisions for the post-war Iraq look like they are being made on the fly. But what's perhaps most depressing is that Bush and Blair sat in a place that knows all about how civilians cheering soldiers can so quicky turn into mutual fear and resentment, and yet the analogy never seems to have prompted deeper thought. Check out the utterly predictable similarity between the description of events in Derry in 1972 and today's shootings in Iraq:

[Derry chronology] 4.10pm: Soldiers open fire
The paratroopers had orders to move in and arrest as many of the civil rights marchers as possible. They advanced down Rossville Street into the Bogside. What exactly happened next is not clear. The soldiers say they were fired upon from the Rossville flats as they moved in to make arrests and that they returned fire. The Catholic community says soldiers on the ground and army snipers on the city walls above the Bogside shot unarmed civilians.

[Falluja] There are conflicting reports as to what happened in the town, which lies 50 kilometres (35 miles) west of Baghdad.
A US spokesman said soldiers started shooting after people in the crowd fired on them - but Iraqi witnesses said the protesters were unarmed.

Doubtless, over at the fair and balanced channel they are right now cooking up a rationale for the latter event. We doubt if their viewers would take it quite as well if they applied the same methods to the former.

So farewell then, Sinead

We had resisted blogging about Sinead O'Connnor's apparent retirement, because, as the New York Times says today, everyone has heard this before. She does sound serious this time, but then again she also sounded serious about being Mother Bernadette in the breakaway pre-Vatican II church. Then we were going to blog critically about this line in the NYT story:

In the late 1980's she followed U2 to become one of Ireland's first rock stars since Van Morrison.

Perhaps a suggestion that someone send the journalist a musical selection with rockers like Thin Lizzy, the Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers (or even more random Irish stars like that woman who was in Bananarama). But upon reflection, we realised that the NYT comment is probably fair in that many Americans would have trouble naming Irish rock stars besides U2, Sinead, and maybe Thin Lizzy. And Sinead did burst upon the scene when Ireland was a pretty demoralised place, the pre-Celtic Tiger days of 20 percent unemployment and chronic emigration. For that reason, her rise to stardom would have seemed more pronounced than some of her predecessors. And she also worked wonders for the world's ability to pronounce that Irish "S." Where would Sinn Fein be without her?

Friday, April 25, 2003

Very cool Beatles pictures

There is an excellent exhibit of photos on display at a gallery in Liverpool from a famous day in Beatles' photographic history. The band was photographed at random locations in London in 1968 by a selected group of photographers. The basic details of the exhibit are in this Liverpool Echo story and this website has the best collection of the associated pictures. Just one question: what in God's name was Paul trying to signify in those later pictures?

Tastefully named Cocktail of the Day

We read in today's Irish Times that Guinness has been embarrassed by bar promotions on the East and West coasts of the US, flogging a cocktail made from Guinness, Irish whiskey, and Baileys. It's called a Car Bomb (sometimes Irish Car Bomb). The measures are provided here, but a Google search for the drink results in many hits, so doubtless the cocktail has spawned several variants at this point. The Irish Times reports that a Unionist politician is demanding that Guinness rein in these promotions (may require sub), and we've noted before that there tends to be a big blind spot in the Irish Republic when it comes to local versions of what would be perceived as insensitive elsewhere. Many dubious activities can be grouped under the all-purpose exemption of "craic" -- a bit like the self-granted "I'm being ironic" exemption often encountered in the US. Complaints have so far focused on the drink making light of terrorism in the US after 9-11, but I sincerely hope that they are not selling this drink in Australia after the Bali bombing. But sadly the stupidity induced by excessive alcohol consumption is sometimes exceeded by the stupidity of alcohol marketing. Duff Beer anyone?

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Euphemism of the Day

Gerry Adams, speaking in Belfast, April 22, 2003
IRA gunmen = "activist constituency"

The full quote: "I know there is a lot of unease [about the stalled peace process] within the republican constituency, especially within the activist constituency."

PS: Gerry went on to say:
No one expects that P O Neill should write the Joint Declaration for the two governments

To which I say, why not?

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Vast Right Conspiracy, Meet Benny Hill

We can't resist kicking off the post-Easter season with a little commentary on the sudden burst of output from neocon blogger, Andrew Sullivan, following his Spring Break. From his recent posts, we learned the following:

1. He got a copy of Private Eye from his (and our) out-of-town newsagent, the one next to the club...and used two items, breezing by the recurring feature St Albion Parish News, in which his hero, George W. Bush, is portrayed as Rev. Dubya of the Church of Latter Day Morons (or Morbombs, as they have it this week). We also wonder what he made of another recurring feature, a few more details on the US/UK business interests of Richard Perle.

2. He went to see Richard III, along with several members of the vast right wing conspiracy. Doubtless this crew loves any Shakespearean stuff with its depictions of war and leadership -- what are the odds that they were on the phone to one of Bush's speechwriters afterwards with some suggested lines? But we hope Sully doesn't forget that Shakespeare wrote for the Benny Hill crowd as much as for the political elite so not all of R3's lines might be suitable for Dubya's next oration.

Indeed, we challenge our readers to tap into their inner Beavis/Butt-head (it's not very difficult) and read through some segments of R3 without laughing. For starters, try this from Act 5, but we guarantee you laughs just about anywhere in the play.

King Richard:
Here pitch our tent, even here in Bosworth field.
My Lord of Surrey, why look you so sad?
My heart is ten times lighter than my looks.
King Richard:
My Lord of Norfolk -
Norfolk:Here, most gracious liege.
King Richard:
Norfolk, we must have knocks. Ha! Must we not?
We must both give and take, my loving lord.
King Richard:
Up with my tent! Here will I lie to-night

Just as well there was no one with Dick Cheney's sense of humour around when this was written.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Queen gives Dubya ideas on saving Social Security

Since Britain is the only overseas country we can imagine Dubya visiting anytime soon, he might be interested in adopting one of those wacky British customs that could help save Social Security at the same time. Yesterday was Holy Thursday in the Christian calendar, but the British call it Maundy Thursday and have preserved (or revived) some ancient customs associated with the day. For the monarch that means a tradition in which an amount of money, in pence, equal to the monarch's age is distributed to a selected group of older people. For 2003, that means a gigantic 77p was given to the pensioners. Now the actual value of the hoard may exceed the face value because the coins are all specially minted silver coins in strange denominations (three and four pence pieces), so we're sure they can be sold for a tidy sum. But think of the potential application in the US: we replace Social Security by a photo-op in which the President gives his age in cents (or let's be crazy and say dollars) to a small group of retirees. Fox News will do the live coverage, and all the yellers on the cable talk shows can shout down anyone who dares discuss whether it's feasible for the nation's retirees to actually live on the money disbursed by this brilliant new program.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

No more haircuts and shaving for me

Not when a chance for stardom beckons: Jerry Bruckheimer is producing a film about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in Ireland, and while they are following the Rings recipe of accomplished but not high priced actors for the lead roles, they are actively recruiting locals for the battle sequences. Today's Irish Times informs us that:

Extras will appear in the film as forest people, Picts, Saxons and villagers in a massive set being constructed in Kildare.
Assistant director Gail Munnelly said..
"We are especially looking for men with long hair and beards because it is set in the fifth century."

Now, it's not going to take much wit for Ireland's fierce intercounty rivalries to go to work with this material....recreating the 5th century in Kildare, how difficult can that be? Men with long hair and beards? Have they BEEN to any Kildare villages recently?

A side note for Rings fans: the movie plans to downgrade the fantasy element in favour of portrayals of scheming and fight sequences, reflecting the Gladiator provenance of the script.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

NYT mixes up Ireland with Israel

Or at least that's one interpretation of a bizarre paragraph in their editorial on Ireland today. We are most hesitant to criticize the NYT because that's an occupation with many dubious practitioners these days, but this one jumped out at us. They editorialise about the stalled peace process in Nothern Ireland. Mostly it's reasonable "IRA should play along" stuff. But even given our nationalist sympathies we thought this paragraph was over the top:

The Good Friday accord ended decades of institutionalized discrimination against Northern Ireland's large Roman Catholic minority. The agreement restored self-government, provided for a power-sharing cabinet and set the stage for a long overdue reform of the province's disproportionately Protestant and notoriously abusive police force.

2 points:
1. Discrimination ending was a long process beginning with direct rule from London in 1972. The bad old days of gerrymandering and widespread job and housing discrimination prompted one reform after another during that period. In addition, the industries that featured the worst private sector discrimination against Catholics are in mortal decline anyway (aircraft, shipbuilding).

2. The police (formerly Royal Ulster Constabulary, now Police Service of Northern Ireland) "notoriously abusive?" They had a small extreme Loyalist element, about which the truth is slowly coming out. But for the most part they were still trying to be a civilian police force even in the face of terrorism. Many nationalists would identify the Ulster Defence Regiment, a locally recruited British Army regiment (and thus a vehicle for infiltration by Loyalist gunmen), as much more notorious than their police force. And IRA death threats against potential Catholic recruits played a role in the force being disproportionately Protestant.

We'll be watching the Letters page over the next few days to see what kind of response this draws. But we fear that there's one narrative out there for all peace processes: Legitimate Grievance leads to Violence in which Both Sides Are Equally Guilty leads to Rollercoaster Negotiations featuring Dramatic Interventions by the White House leads to Nice Topic for Editorial Writer Phil Space (as Private Eye would say).

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Dude, it's just like Ronin

A top 10 movie for one of us here at BOBW is Ronin, with as fine a collection of action sequences as you'll ever see. We have wondered why they filmed on location in France, other than providing a nice trip for the stars and working in the home-from-home for the director John Frankenheimer. One theory of ours is that there's a running joke in the movie concerning how oblivious the characters are to the tourist-centric venues for their car chases and shoot-outs: the banks of the Seine, the tunnel where Princess Di was killed, the cities and towns in Provence (none of them seem to have heard of Arles). But maybe it's because that type of thing really happens in France.

Witness the latest in a string of spectacular prison breakouts. Previous breakouts had involved the old trick of the helicopter hovering over the prison yard at the right time. Prison authorities thought they had dealt with that one by putting nets over the yards. However, the jail busters predictably responded to this by saying (OK, I'm extrapolating a bit): All right, we're taking it up a notch (as George said to Susan's parents en route to the Hamptons) -- they cut through the net.

In fact, an escape a few weeks ago was even closer to the Ronin MO: no helicopter, just rocket launchers used to blast into the prison, and then explosives passed to the escapee so that he could blast his way out of his cell. His liberators knew exactly where he'd be because he had gotten himself delibately placed in solitary confinement a few days beforehand -- and that's always in the same place. I think the lads in the movie would have been impressed.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Blame the Brits

Today's New York Times has an interesting report (reg. req) about a planning dispute between a rich businessman and a recent law on historical preservation of Dublin's dwindling Georgian homes. Most likely for reasons of simplicity, the story offers this standard capsule analysis of why Dublin allowed so much of its fine architecture to be destroyed:

For many years, the Irish only made things worse by allowing the ruthless demolition of buildings that were perceived to be leftovers of British rule.

This is true, while being consistent with the Irish tendency of accepting certain past sins, but only within the framework of being the Most Oppressed People Ever. But there are elements of the story both more specific and more general. The more specific part is the synergy between public apathy and private corruption. Dublin is a small place, and you don't have to look too far into the provenance of some of the worst monstrosities in former historic Dublin to find a usual suspects list of property owners, developers, architects, and politicians. We've mentioned some of this before but rather than focus on the names, take a look at the results. The first two pictures are standard postcard Dublin -- Georgian squares and canal locks. The rest are travesties: they put the block in office block. Built on the cheap, shoddily maintained, ruining the skyline, tacky canopies, even tackier neon. But maybe we shouldn't be too hard on Ireland. Remember this was the era when Penn Station was being demolished. But we can't find much evidence that people sought to blame the Brits for that one.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Read Headlines With Care


*Phil the cricket bowler, not Nigel the rocker.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Nation Building, British Style

Amongst the more sensible "compare and contrast" discussions of the British Empire and the new American doctrine of more aggressive foreign interventions has been the point that the British typically displayed far more patience with the experience of actually living in their overseas acquisitions, with all the resulting hardships. No "round up the usual exiles" for these guys. As a fine example, check out this amazing obituary from Tuesday's London Times for the gloriously named Leader Stirling. As usual, we think that you should read the whole thing, but be warned -- some of the diseases that Dr. Stirling dealt with in East Africa are painful just to read about. But here are some of the key points about his life:

born in Essex...

a cable from the Universities Mission to Central Africa: “A doctor is urgently needed at Masasi: can you come?” There would be no salary, a suit of clothes every four years, and pocket money of one shilling a day...He spent the next 14 years in mud huts. In the wards -- mud huts -- cooking pots and stores of food, live hens, spears and bows and arrows were stowed under the beds. The operating theatre was an "openwork bamboo building with a grass roof, and every gust of wind filled it with dust and dead leaves. A hen had also found its way in between the bamboos and was nesting quietly in the corner. There was no running water in the hospital, and no lighting except for oil lamps." Nevertheless, with meticulous asepsis he achieved a post-operative infection rate of almost nil....

He devised instruments from simple materials: screwdrivers made ideal supracondylar traction-pins, sewing cotton was perfect for ligatures. Thomas splints were contrived from bamboo, extension cord from plaited palm leaves with stones as traction weights. For intravenous infusions he used triple-distilled water to which he added salt and glucose. ...

When independence was agreed in 1961 he became a Tanzanian citizen. In 1973 Julius Nyerere made him Health Minister and he strove to bring tuberculosis and leprosy under control, closing the leprosaria. He dealt with an outbreak of cholera (brought into the country by air) and reformed the treatment of psychiatric disease.

His funeral was attended by thousands of admirers, and many members of the Tanzanian Scouting organisation, of which he was Chief Scout. It rained in buckets for more than two hours, the first rain for five months: in Tanzanian folklore, it rains only on the funeral of a truly great man.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Bush to UN: Don't call us, we'll call you

Amongst the prestige roles revealed today in Belfast for the UN: suggesting people who can serve on the Iraqi Interim Authority

Q Mr. President, what is -- what exactly is the vital role for the U.N. that you both mentioned? How do you explain what is a vital role? And are we going to see the same U.N. debate over postwar Iraq that we saw before the war?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I view a vital role as a agent to help people live freely. That's a vital role. That means food, that means medicine, that means aid, that means a place where people can give their contributions, that means suggesting people for the IIA

Will these suggestions get the same weight that suggestions from conservationists were given in Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force?
[from Natural Resources Defense Council]

The March 21, 2001, memo from a Dept of Energy official, Margot Anderson, to another DOE staff member, Peter Karpoff, asks Karpoff to review any submitted proposals [from environmental groups] and "recommend some we might like to support that are consistent with the Administration energy statements to date." Although NRDC was not among the 11 environmental groups listed in the memo, we did receive a call around this time from a DOE staff member, who gave us 24 hours to provide recommendations to the task force.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Start the Week

1. Guilty verdicts in the Millionaire trial. End result: no jail time (basically they are on probation for up to 2 years), fairly modest fines considering the stakes. And the Michael Jackson and kids story must be getting old pretty fast because stunt journalist Martin Bashir, last seen expressing horror at Jackson's living arrangements, is lined up to do the TV special.

2. Two mile cordon around the Bush-Blair* summit. That war sure is popular in Ireland. The basic issue in the discussions about Northern Ireland will be how to manage a very vague timetable for the IRA and their Unionist counterparts to peacefully give up their weapons. Even in the face of several missed deadlines, occasional evidence of concealment by the IRA etc. And then there's Iraq....

*and that other dude, the tagalong PM who doesn't have a moustache.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Republic of Ireland to rejoin UK

[updated] A war summit between Bush and Blair on a windswept Atlantic outpost, with some peripheral attendees. No, not the Azores summit but a suddenly announced meeting between the Tony and Dubya in Northern Ireland next week [try this link if you don't have a NYT registration]. And playing the role of Spanish PM Aznar will be Irish PM Bertie Ahern. Bertie has been having difficulty explaining the Republic's "neutral in favour of the war" policy for the last few weeks, but in terms of dealing with the widespread public opposition in Ireland to this policy, this summit will count (as George said to Elaine when she had the J Peterman stock options) as STICKING IT! Since the Republic has spent most of its history laying claim to Northern Ireland, previous occupants of Bertie's position would have viewed having a war summit on the island as a deliberate provocation by Britain. Can there be nowhere else in England, Scotland, or Wales available? But instead of a good sulk in Dublin, Bertie rushes up to Belfast to be part of the effort. I suppose one interpretation is that Blair demanded a constructive statement on Israel and the Palestinians before the war began, and now wants renewed US engagement in NI. But we suspect that having a US President enter the NI peace process in a hail of inevitable protests is not what they have in mind. And down in the Republic, we ask: if we speak the same language, watch the same TV shows, shop in the same stores, and now have the same foreign policy, just what is it that makes us different from Britain anymore?

UPDATE: More evidence that Bertie's ultimate goal is just to knock that pesky "Northern" part of the country name United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland -- he's now recycling old John Major lines in his speeches. Check out this rhetorical masterpiece from his speech to a conference on Friday morning:

When we met last year, it was in a period of uncertainty - in more ways than one. Now, at least, one other thing is certain: that is, that we face difficult economic challenges in the period ahead. For that reason, the title of this years Conference is well chosen: In order to thrive, we do have to survive the challenges of the period ahead. And that does bring us back to basics.

We draw your attention to the concluding words, back to basics. This is a phrase that results in laughter for anyone who followed British politics in the 1990s, because it was Maggie successor John Major's phrase of choice in his effort to rebuild Tory popularity with the people -- except almost as soon as he uttered it, his government was hit by a wave of financial and sex scandals (the latter featuring some typically bizarre British aspects that we may blog about later).

What is it about those British game shows?

The jury in the Millionaire Coughing Scam trial has been sent home for the weekend, minus one juror. No reason given for the absent juror, and it's too obvious to speculate that perhaps the person had a nasty cough. But here's another entry in the bizarre game show annals. Thursday's Irish Times reports on the following: man is accused of dangerous driving leading to a fatality; the accident occurred in March '02 in the southeast of Ireland; he is supposed to appear in court but is a no-show. Case is stalled. But then he makes the unwise decision to participate in a UK TV game show....which of course is widely viewed in the Republic of Ireland. This is the kind of detective work any detective would love, the kind one does sitting in an armchair with the remote control:

....sources also indicated that following Mr Furlong's television appearance, an extradition attempt was likely. As part of his appearance, Mr Furlong was allowed to keep goods he bought as part of a spending spree in the company of two women picked from the audience.
The goods included mobile phones, clothes and a caravan.

Since the story involves a fatality, the IT wisely stays away from any wisecracks about his haul, but one detects an implication that he may be planning for a life on the run.

Here at BOBW, we've commented before about this misconception of the British as reserved. We refer you to the website for the show, linked above, for further evidence. We especially recommend the Snog Log.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Bush ignores Pope but observes Lent

One of Dubya's irritating little problems with Gulf War II is that for someone who cites Jesus as his greatest philosophical influence, the world's largest single Christian denomination i.e. the Catholic church, is opposed to the war. Indeed, P O'Neill is very confused with the spectacle of prominent Catholic intellectuals like Michael Novak being presented to say that the Church is "wrong" in this position. DUDES! Roma locuta est, causa finita est. But leaving aside the minor matter of questioning the Pope's judgement, Catholics everywhere can surely rejoice at an obvious bridge-building measure from Dubya -- he's given up sweets! Now, this coincided with the start of the war rather than Lent, but doubtless Karl Rove will sell this one to all those Reagan Democrats as a "two-fer." If Dubya wants his Lenten and war sacrifices to nicely coincide, he needs the war to be over by April 19th. Maybe that's why Colin is playing nice with the Turks again.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Keep out bad EuroEnglish

More than once while getting news from a British or Irish source, we've noticed a tendency for the word "spend" to be used as a noun. For instance, references to the government's level of spend. Shouldn't that be spending? We suspect there is a tendency on the other side of the Atlantic to think of corruptions of the Queen's English as originating in the US but this looks like a case of the opposite, because we were newly horrified while flicking through the dead tree version of the NYT to see an ad for PeopleSoft make its pitch to managers of company "spend." Here's PeopleSoft's website making the same awful usage

PeopleSoft Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) connects suppliers to your enterprise in real time to control all categories of spend

As far as we can tell, PeopleSoft is an American company, so we can't trace where exactly this Severely Abusive Rendering of Spend (SARS) originated. But we're on the case.