Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Read Headlines with Care


* that is, an actual stroke, and not one of those strokes of pretentiousness that gave Madonna a British accent.
At least he didn't rip up a picture of the editor

Apologies to our readers for the light postings recently. P O'Neill is about to visit the periphery of the old Roman Empire -- specifically, London and Carthage, and the preparations are chewing up valuable blogging time. For the same reasons, the blog will be pretty quiet until a couple of days after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Since we've been finding the recent news less blogworthy anyway, maybe a couple of quiet weeks will restore some perspective. And the things we could blog about are so damned confusing.

For instance, take one of our less favourite columnists at the Irish Times, John Waters. Many will remember Waters best as the once Mr Sinead O'Connor and he is the father of one of Sinead's children. But his day job is writing what are usually insipid and whiny columns for the IT. Nevertheless, he decided to take a stand on one of the paper's labour-management sore points, and wrote a column criticising the senior executives for awarding juicy payments to themselves and the former editor -- the latter gets "non-compete fees" (an issue in the Conrad Black imbroglio as well) up to the year 2015.

Waters noted the seeming incongruity of these fees given the tight financial straits at the paper. His column was squelched, and he compounded his sin in the paper's eyes by going on RTE and slamming the editor as "compromised." At this point, the paper turfed him out along with the offending column. Except...he's in a union, and a pretty powerful one, too. 24 hours later, he has his job back and it's all sweetness and light between him and the editor. Some might view it as telling that it makes an internal money dispute to force a columnist to take on his editors -- as opposed to a dispute about the paper's editorial line.

But again going back to Conrad Black, not too many of the columnists in the Hollinger empire had much to say about its dubious financial dealings. So Waters was still willing to pick a fight that 90 percent of his fellow hacks would not. We are left with two thoughts. First, it would be nice if one of the writers at the papers of Ireland's own little Conrad Black -- Tony O'Reilly -- had something to say about that group's financial dealings.

And second, if Waters is still harbouring a grudge, someone at New York's Van ity Fair is showing the way to piss off one's editor using the full force of the law. New York City has a smoking ban similar to Ireland's imminent ban, including a ban in the workplace. And Vanity Fair editor, Graydon Carter, likes to smoke. As reported in Monday's New York Times, someone is ratting him out to the authorities, repeatedly. Just be sure, John, to make the calls to the cig squad on your mobile phone.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Can Israel's soccer teams ever get a bit of luck?

From Irish Times Breaking Sports News:

The UEFA Cup second round second-leg tie between Israel's Maccabi Haifa and Valencia which was to be played next Thursday at the Alsancak Stadium in Izmir has also been postponed although a new date and venue have yet to be fixed.
The game was due to be played in Turkey because of UEFA's ban on teams from Israel playing European competition matches at home.
Are you free...

...to take the blame? George W. Bush is the chief executive of the United States of America and the Commander in Chief. In other words, he is ultimately responsible for political and military decisions made by the USA. Yet we have this recurring spectacle of an OJ Simpson-like search for the "real killer" whenever one of these decisions goes awry.

A while ago it was some nefarious person slipping lines about uranium in Africa into his State of the Union speech. Now it's the question of who is responsible for the decision to create a pret-a-batailler Iraqi resistance by disbanding the Iraqi army. And judging by the new theory being leaked to the papers, it looks like the Dubya spinners have been subconsciously influenced by their extensive research on Britain before his big visit, which apparently involved watching lots of episodes of Are You Being Served. For, via Josh Marshall, we learn that the blame game is proceeding as follows:

The demobilization decision appears to have originated largely with Walter B. Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense appointed to oversee Iraqi security forces.

Ah yes, the tried and trusted scapegoating technique of getting out an organisation chart and picking the first functionary whose name catches the attention -- in this case, a reminder of the wonderful Mrs Slocombe. Anyone in the White House with names like Humphries or Lucas or Rumbold needs to watch out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

It's all in Trainspotting

Scoreline from today's European Championships qualifier, 2nd leg:

Holland 6-0 Scotland (agg. 6-1)

So no reliving of

Renton: Phew! I haven't felt that good since Archie Gemmil scored against Holland in 1978!

But lots of

Tommy: Doesn't it make you proud to be Scottish?
Renton: It's SHITE being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low. Most people hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We're colonised by wankers. We couldn't even find a decent race to be colonised by. It's a shite state of affairs to be in, and no amount of fresh air is ever going to change that.

And don't forget your English history: the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1689 was just a coup d'etat by the Dutch -- who are thus the original wankers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

What Dubya really likes about Britain

He's not there for the freedom of speech, or to visit his royal pals Lizzie, Phil, and Chuck, or that Prime Ministerial dude who looks like a Ferengi -- he's there for the Weetabix! This is the only logical conclusion (at least by our standards of logic) from this Wall Street Journal story today:

U.S. private equity firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst Inc., seeking to expand its portfolio of U.K. food businesses, is close to an agreement to buy British cereal-maker Weetabix for nearly 640 million pounds ($1.08 billion or 921.6 million euro), say people familiar with the situation.

Seemingly innocuous? No. Because Hicks, Muse etc is the company of Bush's best buddy, Tom Hicks. Some of his dubious dealings -- which happened right under Dubya's nose as governor of Texas, are chronicled here. Our interpretation: Dubya likes Weetabix (or Alpen), and wants them to be a US owned company before the trade war with Europe.
The decline and fall of the Canadian Empire

It's like the last days in Saigon at Daily Telegraph HQ these days. With reactionary proprietor Lord Black of Crossharbour on the way out, it's clearly time to squeeze in a last few columns for the reactionary Canadian hacks who owed their Telegraph sinecures to his ownership. Hence an entirely Canadian opinion page today, on what is supposed to be, like, a British newspaper. David Frum and Mark Steyn get the prime spots, and of course Black supplicant Martin Newland is overseeing the editorials. The Frum and Steyn spots are both intemperate and embarrassing. Both are filled with revisionist history of the last 6 months, and indeed the entire 20th century. For instance, Frum:

Together, the Anglo-Australian-American alliance can guarantee not only the peace of the world, but also liberty and human rights. This state visit is honouring no one individual, not even an American president. It is instead intended to reaffirm for the 21st century the grand alliance that saved democracy in the 20th.

DUDE! There's no doubting the effort of those countries -- and indeed your fellow Canadians -- in defeating fascism. And yes, you've got the weasel exclusion of the Russians by including a reference to "democracy." But who wants to speculate what the post 1945 world would have looked like without Russian intervention? [Paging Niall Ferguson]

But Steyn manages to make Frum seem restrained:

There's "no connection" between Saddam and al-Qa'eda, because radical Islamists would never make common cause with secular Ba'athists. Or so we're told by pro-gay, pro-feminist Eurolefties who thus make common cause with honour-killing, sodomite-beheading Islamists, apparently crediting Saddam with a greater degree of intellectual coherence than they credit themselves.

He completes his embarrassment by trying to throw in a local reference for what is clearly just a canned column prepared for dissemination throughout the dwindling Black empire:

The Min of Ag has already sacrificed all the sheep, but, that detail aside, much of Britain is now about as rational on America as the al-Munaif family. [family who had swung from pro-Bush to pro-Osama, the former signalled by the sacrifice of a sheep]

Well, the ministry to which he refers hasn't been called the Min of Ag in a long time. And he seems to be confusing the disease-related culls of sheep and cattle. The kind of mistakes one makes when the roof is caving in.
Our country for a horse

In Animal Farm, it is of course the pigs who take their rightful place at the top of the heap. But in Ireland, as Fintan O'Toole notes (subs. req'd) today (going for a Swiftian reference rather than an Orwellian one), the horses seem to be in charge in the Republic. The papers have been occupied over the last couple of weeks with the strange use of government funds, which at a time of general cutbacks, weere forked over to a racecourse to build an equestrian centre which apparently doesn't meet any of the actual requirements of an equestrian centre, and is rented out for other events -- including to the government, which paid for the thing in the first place. All for the good of the horses.

It has also emerged, a day after the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy was hit by the Black affair, that the Vast Oirish Conspiracy is taking its problems up a notch. Specifically, Manchester United manager "Sir" Alex Ferguson is suing the club's largest co-shareholder and supposed Irishman, John Magnier, for the breeding rights to their horse Rock of Gibraltar. This dispute has been the subject of rumours for months but now seems headed for a full airing.

As we noted a little while ago, Magnier has enormous influence with the current government, which seems to view horses as an integral part of the Celtic Tiger boom -- all that other tech stuff was just a side-show, apparently. This new dispute poses a great dilemma for the country's Number 1 Man Utd fan, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who will have a hard time tiptoeing around this horse madness. But since "Sir" Alex is not Oirish, let alone Irish, our bet is on the reclusive Mr Magnier keeping the Irish political system on his side, along with his tax exemptions and the rights to the horse.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Spending more time with the family

As widely reported today, Lord Black of Crossharbour is stepping down as CEO of Hollinger, the multinational media company which owns a variety of high-profile titles, including the Daily Telegraph. There was an investigation of certain transactions by Black with company money that smelled fishy, due it appears, to the presence of fish.

What seems to have brought down Black is plain old-fashioned greed, but being a control-freak didn't help either -- he wanted the voice that owning all these newspapers would provide, but generally owning lots of stuff means having other shareholders -- who might not necessarily be interested in peddling the same reactionary garbage as oneself. So Conrad solved this problem by loading up on debt, because those nice bondholders don't usually ask for editorial say in return for the cash. So everything works fine -- until there's a cash crunch. Exit Lord Black. Several questions present themselves:

1. What happens to Lady Black, and her prime spot on the Telegraph's opinion page?
2. If she gets the boot, will she become the long-awaited source willing to dish the dirt on the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy? Remember, she has a good history of providing revelations.

But before these juicy questions get answered, it would be worthwhile for Lord Black's opponents to make sure he's really left. Our eyes were caught by this line from the departing statement:

The Hon. Raymond G. H. Seitz has been elected chairman of the Executive Committee of the board of directors. Ambassador Seitz was elected to the board of Hollinger in July, 2003, where he also serves on the Special Committee. He is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, [other stuff involving lots of money]

That begins to describe Ray Seitz, but most definitely not the end. He was indeed the US Ambassador to the UK -- but after that stint ended, he just outright moved to London, raising questions about whose interests he was really serving as ambassador. He always took the anti-Irish nationalist position in his despatches back to the State Department, and now just seems to another very well-heeled reactionary Unionist hack. Much like Lord Black himself. The ex-Canadian installs an ex-American on the way out the door. It's not over yet.

UPDATE 17 JUNE 2006: Seitz has stayed quite a while (WSJ, subs. req'd) --

Hollinger International Inc. (HLR) said its board authorized the repurchase of up to $50 million of its common stock and elected Raymond G.H. Seitz non-executive chairman.

Seitz has been a director since July 2003 ... Shareholders at the annual meeting also approved a proposal to change the name of the company to Sun-Times Media Group Inc., which will take effect in July.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Saint Roy Moore

They are up to their old tricks on Opinionjournal (James Taranto) today -- the rambling discourse on a side topic to distract from all the things that are going wrong for Dubya, the use of the word kerfuffle for any controversy where they don't like the people doing the complaining, and the trawling through obscure parts of the web to find supporting evidence for whatever reactionary position they are taking.

Working from the end of the list, they have to go to the letters page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to find a partial birth abortion ban opponent to ridicule, and to something called the Engineering News-Record to find a boosterish piece about Bechtel, the politically-connected firm involved in reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

Today also features not one, but two kerfuffles -- in this case, their annoyance apparently with the people complaining about Howard Dean's reference to the voters with confederate flags on their trucks, and then the business about the Alabama judge Roy Moore, being forced to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse.

And speaking of Moore, he's the topic of their extended distracting discourse today. And much as with their discussions of the partial birth abortion ban, this is a case where they profess to be just neutral observers of a confusing (to them) situation, but in fact their tone and choice of words reveals some crypto-theocrats at work. In Moore's case, they want us to know that they agree with the decision to turf him out after his monument. But then they tell us how they really think:

As we said, we agree Moore had to go. But it can be an illuminating exercise to play devil's advocate, to construct an argument with which one doesn't agree. So here's how we would defend Moore, if we were inclined to do so:

DUDES! If you have to mention 3 times in 3 sentences that you agree with the decision, don't you sound a bit defensive about something? And then there's a little irony in their reference to playing devil's advocate, which has echoes of their repeated use of the term Epiphany to describe 9-11. Let's go the dictionary definition:

1. One who argues against a cause or position, not as a committed opponent but simply for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position.
2. Roman Catholic Church. An official appointed to present arguments against a proposed canonization or beatification.

So they appoint themselves Devil's Advocate for Roy Moore. Don't forget, dudes -- you also need two miracles!
The Telegraph sounds distracted

Who is writing the Daily Telegraph lead editorials these days? We ask because this one sounds pretty bizarre: even his usual supporters might balk at this line of praise for Dubya:

As befits a man with a profound consciousness of history

Really? But if this junk really is coming from the proprietor, Conrad Black, then it's worth bearing in mind that Lord Black's distractions are growing. Today's Wall Street Journal reports, following a similar story in the FT yesterday, that an investigation into his corporate affairs is getting closer to another tentacle of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy:

Broader disclosure about a $2.5 million investment by Hollinger International in a business in which board member Richard Perle, a former assistant defense secretary, played a role, is expected in a coming SEC filing.

This Slate article puts the above revelation in the context of Perle's touchiness about the overlap between his VRC activities and his business interests. All around, signs of strain on the VRC are starting to show.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Not that there's anything wrong with that

Reading Andrew Sullivan's blog today, we couldn't tell whether or not he was upset at Gore Vidal. But he did accuse Vidal of trotting out a "nativist slur" with reference to himself. We assumed that this was one of those occasional references that people make to Sullivan being from England, although now a naturalised American citizen. But through the essential Sullywatch, we learned once again the basic blog lesson: always follow the link. Sullywatch reproduces the offending item:

[Discussion of what the Founders of the USA would have thought of Dubya] So you’d find Hamilton pretty much on the Bush side. But I can’t think of any other Founders who would. Adams would surely disapprove of Bush. He was highly moral, and I don’t think he could endure the current dishonesty. Already they were pretty bugged by a bunch of journalists who came over from Ireland and such places and were telling Americans how to do things. You know, like Andrew Sullivan today telling us how to be.

Sullywatch then notes the curiosity of being identified by association with the Irish as being a slur. As we posted about last week, Sullivan made a weird comment that seemed to link England's represession of Catholicism (with obvious disproportionate effects on Ireland) with the post 9/11 crackdown in the US. And yet there are other times where he seems to like mentioning his Irish Catholic background (via his parents), perhaps as some kind of populist credential --- much like fellow conservative spinner, Ed Gillespie.

But one question to our thousands of readers might help provide insights into Sullivan's ambiguity: In which country, England or the USA, is being labelled Irish more likely to be an insult? Perhaps he's not quite as New World as he thinks.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

But Partition worked so well for India and Ireland

Signs of panic everywhere about Iraq: Bremer hops on a plane with zero notice to attend a meeting at the White House, and now the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (VRC) sounds worried, as evidenced in one of its most reliable barometers, the Wall Street Journal online editorial page, OpinionJournal. First, they display one of their usual symptoms of stress -- devoting a huge amount of text to a side issue, all the better to avoid thinking about why the main VRC agenda has gone so pear-shaped. In this case, it's an extended discourse on how Tom Daschle's filibuster will be a disaster for the Democrats, a thesis that seems predicated on the assumption that all Americans will sit through the 30 hours of speeches on C-Span.

But the real crisis quickly bubbles to the surface. In a brief commentary on today's soft-target attack on the Italian police post in Nassiriya, they state:

Attacks such as this one are unusual outside Baghdad and the rest of the "Sunni triangle." If it turns out that the attackers came to Nasariyah from the triangle, it may be wise for the coalition to restrict access to the relatively peaceful north and south

This seems unusually specific and prescriptive, and yet monumental in what it proposes for Iraq -- and remember that seeming crackpot ideas on the outer rings of the VRC have a way of working themselves into serious policy advice very quickly. Because they are proposing the partition of Iraq. In the build-up to the war, the sales pitch from the White House was always that there was no hidden agenda to break up Iraq. They had to say that, because invading a country to break it up is not the kind of thing one normally admits to. But to the extent that they read up at all on Iraq's history -- or listened to Bernard Lewis -- it's impossible to believe that a look at the old Ottoman map of Iraq didn't look interesting to them. The Turks never thought of Iraq as a country, and ran it as the three provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. The map is at the bottom of this BBC page. Our guess is that it's one of those old maps that's about to come back into fashion.
I only read it for the sports pages

In today's New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof claims to find an analogy between contemporary American political culture and Britain in the 1980s in terms of polarisation. This supporting anecdote is presented:

[From his British college days in the 1980s] Two friends, both named Chris, epitomized Britain to me back then. Right-wing Chris was an an ardent Conservative from the south, a graduate of an exclusive private school; left-wing Chris was a working-class bloke from the north, a Labor Party supporter from a state school. Right-wing Chris read The Telegraph; left-wing Chris read The Guardian.

That was pretty typical of the tribalism of Old Europe. Left and right came from different social classes, lived in different areas, attended different schools and despised each other.

A "working-class bloke" who read the Guardian? As a Guardian reader might say, Je crois que Non. To stick with Nick's introduction of class terminology, "working-class blokes" read the tabloids. Cafe lefties read the Guardian, while perhaps sneaking a look at the Telegraph, just for the Liz Hurley pictures and the sports pages -- not as polarised as Nick would have you believe.

No incident better encapsulates what a "working class bloke" makes of the Guardian than the following from a Liverpool vs Chelsea match a few years ago. Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler hurled some graphically illustrated abuse in the direction of Chelsea's Graeme Le Saux, with the general implication being that Le Saux was gay. Amongst the evidence that Robbie had marshalled in support of his thesis was Le Saux's interest in antiques -- and the fact that he reads the Guardian. This story provides more details. Robbie, the self-styled working class bloke, wouldn't be caught dead near any broadsheet, left or right.

That being said, somewhere in the British-US analogy, there is a point. But there are more obvious points of linkage than the newspaper of choice of one's college friends. Like Rupert Murdoch. But we need to do more research on that.
The Army of the Republic

The latest boosterish fact from Iraq, via the New York Times:

A top United States military official said today that a symbolically important tipping-point had just been reached in Iraq: The number of Iraqis taking part in security jobs now exceeds the number of American troops there.

So it's presented as a good thing that the US military has managed to create a military force bigger than its own presence in Iraq. By contrast, the first thing we thought of when reading this was the one cool thing about the otherwise wretched Star Wars: Attack of the Clones -- in which we see the clone army, presented as a force for good -- even though we, the viewers, already know the nefarious uses to which they will be put later. Even Reagan had seen Star Wars!

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Inflation in the Celtic Tiger

This section from a Wall Street Journal story today about the pension system in the Republic of Ireland gets something essentially right about the post-boom country:

"[Pensions are] a slow burner," said a Pensions Board spokeswoman. "Unless you're in a company pension, people put pensions on the long finger. If they don't start now, they could end up with a state pension for €157 per week."

"In Dublin, €157 is a good night out," she added.

With the quality of the average Dublin restaurant, we're not sure about the 'good' part. But that's beside the point.

Monday, November 10, 2003

The Royal 'We', Fair and Balanced Style

Say what you like (and we will) about Lady Black of Crossharbour, aka Barbara Amiel, she has to get credit for providing full details on the topics of conversation at her media/social engagements. But whereas before, her Daily Telegraph column printed the goods on the French ambassador to the UK referring to Israel as "that shi**y little country," this time she is providing revealing quotes from Fox News supremo Roger Ailes. Lady Black joined a select group of media bigwigs in a Manhattan apartment for a conversation with European Union Commission President, Romani Prodi. After some discussion of Turkey's role in the EU versus that of other eastern nations, the floor went to Ailes. Here's what transpired:

Mr Ailes was taken with Mr Prodi's declaration that the EU would not give any money to the reconstruction of Iraq. "Did the Europeans realise," he asked, "that American taxpayers spent billions reconstructing Europe?" "They did," replied Mr Prodi expansively, "but friends could differ."

"Did the Europeans realise," continued Ailes, unabashed, "that their position in supporting the elimination of sanctions against Saddam when he was in power and refusing to aid rebuilding Iraq when he was gone, appeared 'odd'?"

Mr Prodi's English became more Italianate and his arm gestures more expansive. He appeared to be conducting Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries . It was not the case that the EU did not want to help reconstruction, he said, but there was no legitimate government in Iraq to which the EU could give any money.

Ailes continued: "The United States has some reservations about organisations the EU gives money to as well as regimes it supports. In Iraq we are trying to build a new government with some democratic standards. Why won't you help us?" he asked. "No, no, no," Prodi said theatrically. "We will not give money when we don't know to whom."

It's worth noting the obvious here: Ailes is in effect acting as the White House's special envoy to the EU. He refers to "we" and "us" when talking about the White House, yet presumably he was there in his Fox News capacity. Apparently there's no difference.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Simply Scottish

Things that we take for granted in The Islands can be very confusing to our outside visitors. Case in point: the manager of Scotland's national soccer team, German Bertie Vogts. In an interview, Bertie expressed bewilderment that when fans of Glasgow Celtic and Rangers choose to wave a national flag at their club matches, it is either the national flag of the Irish Republic (the tricolour) or the Four Nation flag (at least as originally conceived) of the United Kingdom (the Union Jack). No Scottish flags. This leads Bertie to state:

I think I feel more Scottish than a lot of fans at Celtic and Rangers do.

Now, Bertie has a point here, although strictly speaking, if he's finding the behaviour of many Scots bewildering, maybe he's not as Scottish as he thinks he is. It is the case that being a supporter of Celtic or Rangers can carry religious and/or national baggage, and the fan bases of the two teams have a inertial quality -- in the Republic, if one has a Scottish football allegiance, it is expected to be for Celtic, and so on. But the weakness of the national allegiance has a simpler explanation -- the national team just hasn't been that good in recent years, and faces a tricky battle against the original Orangemen, the Netherlands, to qualify for the European championship next year. Fair weather fandom transcends all identities.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Rome has spoken, Washington has spun

The blog TAPped catches the White House in an extremely selective lifting of one of the Pope's signature phrases, culture of life, to support their position on the new abortion ban, while of course ignoring the Pope's views on the death penalty and the war in Iraq -- and indeed his views on poverty, redistribution, equity etc. One of Bush's chief spinners, Ed Gillespie, likes to play up his Irish-Catholic roots when spinning Dubya's policies, so we're guessing that he's the source of this nod to Catholic voters. Recall that he was recently arguing that Ireland's Famine emigrants would have supported the Bush tax cuts.

But even as the Pontiff gets drafted as a bit player in Dubya's pep rallies, he's getting written out of history by the same spinners when it comes to their thoughts on the future of Iraq. Dubya's big speech today seems to attribute the fall of Communism to Ronald Reagan's policies towards the Soviet Union. DUDES! Ever heard of Poland? Of Gdansk, of Lech Walesa, of Solidarity, of a people energised by having one of their own as Pope? The rewriting of history continues.
A word we didn't know existed

Belgitude (noun, f)

It seems to refer to the collective state of mind associated with being Belgian (which perhaps explains some of Dr. Evil's behaviour). It is used in a Le Monde story today. An explanation of the word is here.
A cluster of Irish links

A busy day for followers of the Irish cultural scene in the New York Times Arts section (Wednesday print edition). Book reviewer Michiko Kakutani puts the Manolo Blahniks into Leitrim man DBC Pierre's Booker prize-winning Vernon God Little. To be honest, the book's standard description did make it seem rather hackneyed, so we are sympathetic to Michi's concluding sentence:

In trying to score a lot of obvious points off a lot of obvious targets, Mr. Pierre may have won the Booker Prize and ratified some ugly stereotypes of Americans, but he hasn't written a terribly convincing or compelling novel.

Then, how can one resist the headline "Much ado about love or money in County Cavan?" Who knew that Cavan farce was considered a legitimate topic for a play back in the 1860s? Well, now we do.

And finally, a good review for the Irish documentary filmmakers who found themselves in the right place at the right time -- specifically in Hugo Chavez's Presidential palace during the er... California style recall election. Actually the documentary and Vernon God Little seem linked by a deep distrust of the USA, but at least with the film, it's an informed distrust.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Wherever green is worn

We know that Adam Nicolson was using the same analogy to flog his God's Secretaries book, but it's nonetheless jarring to see this presentation of it by Andrew Sullivan:

ENGLAND'S 9/11: It happened in 1605. Or, rather, it didn't happen. A bunch of religious fanatics tried to blow up Parliament and would have succeeded in destroying a vast area of central London, if they hadn't been busted in time. The plot was made much of by the authorities and made anti-Catholicism an integral part of British culture almost to this day. I wonder how long the memory of 9/11/2001 will endure.

Not exactly a flattering analogy either for England or for the post 9/11 reaction of the US -- is he comparing England's anti-Catholicism to a new official religious bias of the US? Alternatively, is it a justification of anti-Catholicism and anti-Islamism? Just how does Mr Sullivan feel about the Catholic church these days?
Arab dictator linked to illicit bio-medical program!

Yes, after Saddam, there's now evidence against Gaddafi: his son, who plays professional soccer in Italy, tested positive for a banned steroid. If Dick Cheney is looking for someone to go to Italy to further investigate this report, we volunteer.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Those fish and chips are starting to look more tasty

It was fun for a couple of days to make fun of the Ulster Unionists and their new slogan, Simply British, and one of the accompanying symbols, a plate of fish and chips. But leave it to Dublin to step up to the plate with a slogan and logo that appears on the surface -- like the Celtic Tiger itself -- to be slick and sophisticated, and yet ultimately turns out to be even more laughable than David Trimble's fish supper. Because the quasi-official Dublin City Business Association has settled on a logo and slogan to be all used in all efforts to market the city: the logo will show the word Dublin written in a wavy type, with an unusual elongated 'L' representing the city's recently finished spire; the accompanying slogan is Dublin -- Make the City Yours.

Now, the Irish Times journalist who wrote the story seems to have wisely decided to make clear how much of his story was spin, as in passages like this:

And if the Dublin City Business Association is to be believed, the logo and accompanying slogan will do for Dublin something like the iconic "I Love NY" did for New York in 1975.

The NY design is credited with beginning a fightback against the city's then image of being crime-ridden, dirty, and hostile to visitors.

We think that iconic is meant to be ironic, because New York in 1975 was still heading into budget crises, power cuts, the crack cocaine epidemic, and rampant crime, just to name a few. So if Dublin's boosters are selling this as the right analogy for their slogan, they might want to think again.

But that's only the half of it. Even when one knows that the logo is based on the spire, one still looks at the logo and wonders: what's that line doing between the syllables "dub" and "in?" And as for Make the City Yours? Do Dublin's corrupt developers and gangland criminals need any further encouragement?
Rodents take it up a notch

Tuesday's Irish Times:

The environmental health offices at Dublin City Council had to be shut down after rats infested them.

Staff at the offices, responsible for policing cleanliness in businesses, including restaurants, around the city, were sent home for a half day after the rats were discovered last week.

Aside from the basic comedy here, it's hard not to see a broader sense of poetic justice. These offices are part of the hideous Wood Quay development. This is the awful grey concrete structure that resembles a set of salt and pepper shakers near Christchurch cathedral. The tourists can't avoid seeing it and it's best that they not know the history -- how the land of saints and scholars built an ugly municipal office building on the site of the old Viking settlement. This is the side of the Republic's officialdom -- the contempt for anyone or anything that gets in the way of a new motorway or office block -- that you won't see in the Guinness ads. Maybe those rats had little rat-sized Viking helmets.

Mr Bremer, I presume

The Vast Right Conspiracy is developing a new spin point in favour of the Iraq war. It appears in a column by ex-Wall Street Journal hack Amity Shlaes, who now has a forum for VRC spinning in the normally sensible Financial Times. The article, for which those clever FT types want money from us to read it, is summarised by its headline: Slavery's link to the war on terror (3 November). There is a bit of side-spin in the headline, which of course equates the war in Iraq with the war on terror -- and thus implicitly links Saddam and 9/11. But let's leave that aside and describe the main point, which equates the unilateral action of the US in Iraq as part of a broader agenda, with Britain's anti-slavery crusade of the early-to-mid 19th century, which led Britain to unilaterally intercept and (if necessary) battle slave ships. For Amity, this is unilateral action in pursuit of a just and moral cause, initially meeting the disapproval and outright hostility of Britain's allies. Just like Iraq!

Now the emergence of this spin point is a creative response to the collapse of the previous one, in which the VRC was trying to compare post-war Iraq to post-war Germany. Unfortunately, they had some of the minor details, like er... the year in which the Marshall Plan was implemented, wrong. Hence the more challenging 19th century analogy.

It's going to take better historians than we are to disentangle this comparison, but some points are already evident. Many will simply be offended by putting the Abolitionist veneer on the war in Iraq. Furthermore, it's going to be difficult to argue that the Britain's anti-slavery efforts reflected a new, more moral outlook on the world -- even as Britain battled slave traders in the 1830s, its past and current policies in Ireland were just a decade away from producing the catastrophe of the Famine. And its future scramble for Africa would create conditions of servitude for black Africans not a whole lot different than they would have faced as slaves in the New World. However, it is fair to note, as historian Niall Ferguson has discussed in Empire, that British foreign policy in the 19th century did indeed have an occasional pesky moral strain, represented both in the battle against slavery and the well-intentioned, if sometimes paternalistic, attempts of Christian missionaries to improve the lives of ordinary Africans. People like Dr. Livingston and William Wilberforce, the Abolitionist.

But where does that put the Iraq war? It requires a comparison of Quakers with neoconservatives, it treads into the question of whether the war in Iraq actually has supposed Christian motivations --and given all the bad things that happened even during this moral period of British foreign policy, is not much grounds for optimism about the future.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Noted without comment

Eoghan Harris in the Sunday Independent:

More and more, the Irish middle class shares the same socio-economic attitudes as the English middle class.

OK, we lied. At least one comment. Eoghan views this a good thing.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

One good thing about the new Tory leader

He may never be the first Jewish Prime Minister, but at least he's a fan of Liverpool Football Club. What would he and the Republic's Number 1 Man Utd fan, Bertie Ahern, talk about at their summits?