Friday, December 24, 2004

A few more moral values voters

CNN: A French journalist held hostage in Iraq for four months says his captors wanted U.S. President George W. Bush re-elected because it would help promote their cause.

Georges Malbrunot, who was released Tuesday along with fellow journalist Christian Chesnot, told CNN the Iraqi militants "need someone tough against them, it's like boxing."

Speaking by telephone from Vichy, France on Friday, Malbrunot quoted his captors as saying Bush's re-election "would improve our ability to fight."

"We vote for Bush because Bush help us a lot by intervening in Afghanistan. So, from that point we could spread all over the world and we are now in 60 countries," Malbrunot cited one of the militants as saying on October 15, two weeks before Bush defeated Democrat John Kerry.

Malbrunot, 41, quoted the same militant as saying: "Our main targets are Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And because of Bush, if he is re-elected, we are sure that American soldiers will remain in Iraq for years."

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Seasonal Outlook

We're expecting the blog to be a little quiet for about a week. The BOBW team is fleeing the USA for Ireland, and followers of the US media will know why. For, in a country that is 85% Christian, Americans' attempts to observe Christmas this year have been disrupted by SWAT teams of militant Jewish and black activists, who are forcibly removing nativity scenes and other icons from public places and requiring that people express words of homage to vague and sinister "holidays" instead of reassuring those of weak faith that yes, indeed, Jesus really was born on the 25th of December in the Year 1 in a manger in Bethlehem on a starry cold night, like with the no room at the inn and the crib and the shepherds already.

The lack of blogging will not of course be an indication of lack of news. In fact we think there'll be plenty. For one thing, the fallout from the bank robbery described in our previous post is ongoing, and in particular it seems that the Northern Irish police are indeed behaving just like their TV counterparts in finding the timing and method of the robbery just way too convenient.

And the Provos are anxious to distance themselves from the operation. Although with the robbery itself having reminded us of Ronin and The Usual Suspects in its criminal brilliance, the IRA denial led our thoughts to a very funny scene in the fine Mission Impossible (not the shite sequel):

ETHAN [Tom Cruise, trying to persuade a reluctant Luther to join his CIA raid caper] This doesn't sound like the Luther Stickell I've heard of. What'd they used to call you? The Net Ranger? Phineas Phreak? The only man alive who actually hacked NATO Ghostcom.

LUTHER There was never any physical evidence that I had anything to do with that.. that.. (correcting himself and smiling) ... With that exceptional piece of work.

Then there are more global matters. We incorrectly predicted a few weeks ago that Rummy would get canned, but the ice under his skates certainly hasn't firmed up in the meantime. And we'll add another prediction -- that, by the end of 2005, Iran will be in control of a huge chunk of Iraq, either via a proxy government or direct presence of their own troops. Yes, that's how badly we think Dubya's Big Adventure is going to go off the rails next year. So we'd love to say that we think 2005 will be better than 2004, but we can't. So make the most of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Operation Grandslam, Irish style

There was a major bank robbery in Belfast today. Police think that about 20 million pounds was taken (which is an ever-rising number of dollars thanks to Dubya's glorious fiscal policies). That's a good haul for any city. There are various points of interest about the robbery. The victim is the HQ of Northern Bank. Northern Bank used to operate as a single brand in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Then it was bought by National Australia Bank, which kept the Northern brand as it was but changed the Republic operation's name to National Irish Bank. The latter became a byword for financial scandal. It took ten years to sort out just how debased the bank's corporate culture had gotten, but by the end, we learned of explicit encouragement of tax evasion (with special services for corrupt politicians) and egregious mismanagement of customer accounts that often amounted to looting.

So there will be people in the Republic today saying "the only difference between these new crooks and the existing management is that the latter wore suits." Which is maybe a tad unfair to the less scandal-plagued Northern Ireland branch of the operation. However, analysts have noted that the parent Australian company itself earned the sobriquet scandal-plagued, so maybe once again the fish rotted from the head.

A few more points (because what else is a blog for?). The Aussies last week finally dumped their tainted Irish operations onto an eager Danish purchaser. The transfer hadn't gone through yet so presumably it's still the Aussies (or their insurance company*) who are stuck with the loss of the twenty mill. But, in keeping with everything we know about police work being from TV shows, wouldn't detectives Sipowicz/Briscoe/Logan etc be somewhat intrigued at the timing of the bank getting sold and a couple of weeks later getting cleaned out? Like someone maybe planning on a little more than the gold watch upon early retirement?

The immediate focus however is on the possibility of paramilitary involvement, especially if it concerned a group currently under ceasefire -- and what such a group might do with the money. The Ronin-style precision of the operation suggests that some, shall we say, expertise, was called upon -- both inside and outside the bank. A little retirement fund and seed money all in the same heist, perhaps.

*UPDATE: The Aussies had no insurance.
FURTHER UPDATE: The bank had implicit insurance via the UK's unusual currency system. Private banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland can print money carrying their own name. The money circulates the same way as standard Bank of England notes but is not legal tender. Because the private notes are specific to each issuing bank, the stolen money will be much easier to spot -- anyone tendering a crisp Northern Bank note might as asked to explain where it came from. Even worse for the thieves, much of the money was new issue with readily identifiable serial numbers.

Christmas Eve update: The police raided the home of a "reputed IRA commander" today. Amongst the details of the search:

[from RTE] Mr [Eddie] Copeland said the police took away 16 pairs of his shoes, mobile phones that were in the house, and he said detectives opened and searched presents under his Christmas tree.

OK, so he's not Imelda Marcos, but 16 pairs of shoes? And under the Christmas tree would be an interesting place to store huge wads of cash. Meanwhile, a BBC story that we read today said that one of the police officers joked to Copeland that "I bet you thought these types of day were over" but we can't find that quote in the latest version of the story.

Monday, December 20, 2004


On Sunday night our cable channel surfing took us past C-Span and an interview with Fox News supremo, Roger Ailes (not the blogger). It's not like we needed confirmation that he's a reactionary lunatic, but he quickly provided it:

LAMB [interviewer]: What evidence did you have at that school [university that solicited donation from Ailes] that the teachers did not like America?

AILES: Everything is negative. Everything is about -- look, 95 percent of our people are working, the other 5 percent are basically pretty well taken care of by the government.

We'd love to take you on an economics detour to explain why his numbers are nonsensical on their face (5% unemployment does not mean 95% working, as he seems to think), but leave that aside and consider his worldview that you're either working or being taken care of by the government, which is quite a statement to make as the eastern half of the USA heads into its coldest period of the year so far.

But as we gazed at the smirking bulbous head, it was a look we knew we'd seen somewhere before, and then we remembered ... in Total Recall, the lead doctor who's f**king with Arnie's mind. Dr Edgemar, as played by Roy Brocksmith, RIP. There's another picture of the Doctor that we could have posted, after Arnie has put a bullet through his head, but that would be too hostile a gesture towards the repulsive Mr Ailes for the week that's in it.
937 and counting

The Irish difficulty with pronouncing words that begin with 'Th' is increasingly well known, as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is a famous exponent and we (occasional sufferers of the affliction ourselves, especially on consecutive 'Th' words) can recall references to it back to the days of noted Irish rockers Tin Lizzy. So we were fascinated to read that research into the exact location of an obscure 10th century battle relies partly on the possibility of a similar pronunciation lapse by the Dubliners of that era.

As this fascinating London Times article explains, historians have sought to pin down where the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 AD took place, a battle notable for its alliance of proto-English forces against invaders from the north and west, led by forces from Dublin. While a small town near Liverpool had been suspected as the location,

nobody had convincingly identified Dingesmere [referred to in contemporary accounts], from which the invaders fled in disarray into the Irish Sea.

Together with Judith Jesch, Professor of Viking Studies at Nottingham University, and Paul Cavill, the research fellow for the English Place Names Society, Professor Harding has published a paper arguing that “Ding” refers to the Viking meeting place or “Thing” at modern-day Thingwall off the A551 in Wirral [near Liverpool]. The word would have been pronounced “Ding” by Viking settlers who had acquired a Celtic accent.

Needless to say, for anyone familiar with Irish history, the battle itself saw a quick route to Valhalla for our ancestors:

Professor Harding says that the forces of Olaf Guthfrithsson, the Viking king of Dublin, King Constantine II of the Scots and King Owain the Bold of the Strathclyde Britons were finally cornered by a combined Saxon army under Athelstan, King of Wessex and Alfred the Great’s grandson.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records: “Never yet on this island has there been a greater slaughter.” When it was over Athelstan and his brother Edmund returned to Wessex, leaving behind “corpses for the dark black-coated raven, horny-beaked, to enjoy.
Who gives a F**K what Time magazine says

We've noticed that even the furrin media seem strangely taken in by the Time magazine gimmick of declaring who their Man of the Year is. Ultimate proof of the triumph of process and pseudo-events over substance. So we urge our thousands of readers to consider instead this far more illustrious selection for Man of the Year.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Freudian editing slips

Andrew Sullivan:

Now this was a small aspect of political I slam I was actually unaware of

He's had a Dick Cheney quote as his banner quote for a long time now so perhaps "Putting the Slam into Islam" should be the new one.

UPDATE: Previous example of his revealing editorial slips here.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Dedicated followers of fashion

There is a potential diplomatic crisis brewing between the Republic of Ireland and Colombia, with the likelihood of additional participants as events unfold. The basis is the conviction and heavy sentences handed down by a Colombian appeals court to three Irish republicans who had earlier been acquitted of assisting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

While working towards the long-term salvation of the proletarian peasantry, this charming group has developed necessary short-run niches in drug smuggling and kidnapping, the most revealing of the example of the latter being their multi-year unresolved kidnapping of opposition leader Ingrid Betancourt, for whom her commitment to peaceful politics and her French citizenship have cut no ice with the FARC.

Anyway, the three Irishmen say that they were near the FARC region to monitor a ceasefire but their arrest brought hints of the IRA seeking foreign markets to compensate for slow business on their home turf, and so derailed the peace process and especially coloured the US attitude to it.

In a somewhat predictable turn of events, the threesome have now disappeared, having been free on bail pending the government appeal of their earlier victory. The standard assumption is that they are in a third country en route back to Ireland, which will create a thorny extradition question once they finally pop up. But in the substantial news coverage of the latest events (RTE and BBC) there is one possibility we haven't seen raised: that the whole sequence of events is a stunt to let everyone declare victory while avoiding any long-term consequences.

How convenient that the three magically disappear before they can be picked up to serve their extra harsh sentences. Did no-one wonder why they didn't need to be in court to hear the verdict? How quickly did anyone start looking for them once the verdict was handed down? And that it all happens right before Christmas, when attention spans are soon to be at a minimum? We suspect that this particular diplomatic crisis will have the tone of the shocking presence of gambling in Casablanca.

UPDATE: The dance begins. Bertie Ahern sounds distinctly unenthusiastic about extraditing the lads back to Colombia, should the request arise.
George III and George W. Bush

Thursday's House of Lords ruling striking down indefinite detention of foreign detainees by the UK government drew considerable attention in the US media, or at least those parts of the US media not devoting themselves to covering the Secret Plot to Ban Christmas. Anyway, legal scholars rushed to explain that the UK ruling has quite different implications from a comparable US ruling, because in the UK, the executive branch is dominant and can always use its parliamentary majority to override even the highest court in the land. In other words, Blair's government can just ignore the ruling and continue indefinite detentions.

But the US is different -- if, hypothetically, the Supreme Court was to rule that indefinite detention of foreigners was unconstitutional, the executive branch couldn't just ignore it, right? Except, that's exactly what they are doing. This Slate article from just a couple of days ago explains how the Justice Department is completely ignoring the last year's Supreme Court rulings, which struck down open-ended detentions of both US citizens and foreigners:

Justice Department lawyers, though, have spent the following months telling lower courts that the Supreme Court's action was not at all unfavorable to the government or to its claim to unchecked presidential authority. Any ambiguity, or any seeming opening, in what the court did in June has been routinely described as supportive of the commander in chief.

The calendar says it's 2004. But the nation's ruler is following the model of 1775. Minus the imminent revolution.

UPDATE, for filing under "Great Minds..." -- reader CS brings to our attention that James Wolcott blogs about the analogy between Dubya and a royal George, although Wolcott sees it re George IV, the one who came after the mad one. We had also noted a while back Dubya's tendency towards royalist terminology, and specifically his Queen's Speech usage of "my government."

Thursday, December 16, 2004

When terms are defined too broadly

Here's an interesting post from the blog TAPped, linking to a Washington Post article and adding commentary about the ugly atmosphere towards black players in some of Europe's major football stadiums recently. Our own view is these analyses go astray when they attempt to insert the racist chants into the context of the strained relations between white Europeans and immigrant Islamic communities, because of the obvious problem that the Islamic immigrants are mostly Arab but the players being booed are black. This is not to say the the fans are rational beings -- it could of course be that the hostility towards Arab immigrants manifests itself as xenophobia with blacks bearing the brunt of the reaction.

But to lump all these influences as "racism" gets into the same imprecision as America's various Wars -- on Poverty, Drugs, and Terror. We'd posted a year or so ago about the Football Association of Ireland's lumping of a somewhat convoluted sectarian booing episode under the "racist" category. At the minimum, we'd be interested in seeing some role acknowledged for the group psychology and inherent us versus them nature of football, especially in the European context with regional and national loyalties strongly defined.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Exit Music (for a minister)

One might consider it conventional wisdom that the English do political sex scandals better than the Americans -- the mixture of repressed characters, personal foibles, tabloid hysteria, along with the absence of Ken Starr, leads to a more entertaining spectacle than the USA's neo-Puritans are capable of serving up. We'll grant though the fine efforts of would-be Homeland Security nominee Bernie Kerik to close the gap, for who amongst us doesn't love the detail of how he used an apartment donated for emergency workers to rest near the 9/11 site for his bonkathons with publishing impresario Judith Regan?

Still though, even with Bernie's antics (and much like the benchmark for success in Iraq), the goalposts keep moving. The problems of UK Home Secretary David Blunkett have made the papers in the US a few times, and they form one part of the ongoing comedy/farce that is the Spectator magazine. Blunkett now faces a second accusation of using his influence to expedite a visa for his paramour's nanny, and provided grist for the mill for those who question his perception of his predicament via his performance at a Christmas party:

[London Times] According to reports this morning, Mr Blunkett sang to MPs at a backbenchers' Christmas party on Monday night at the Albert Hotel, not far from the Commons.
The Guardian reported today that the Home Secretary, who had been expected to keep his head down, handed out the words - 'Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again' - to the Jerome Kern standard first sung by Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1936 film Swing Time.
Among those watching was John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister who was mocked by Mr Blunkett in a biography of him published this week. "Thank God he's gone," Mr Prescott is said to have commented after Mr Blunkett left the party.

He thus joins a fine tradition of singing ministers; we think of UK Chancellor Norman Lamont's reference to Edith Piaf after the pound exchange rate collapse, and for a more obscure reference for our Irish readers, we vaguely recall Albert Reynolds in a TV skit singing "put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone" around the time that it turned out that Taoiseach Charlie Haughey was tapping his Cabinet ministers' phones. Anyway, we'll be keeping an eye out to see whether Dubya's cabinet can deploy their knowledge of old music standards to good effect.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

From Armalite to Armani

We notice that the eagle-eyed Slugger O'Toole hasn't caught this one yet, so let's briefly comment here on a Northern Ireland-related article in the Wall Street Journal Europe. It's behind subscription, unfortunately -- an opinion piece by novelist Lionel Shriver (that's a Ms Shriver, by the way), which is a good read, if a little studiedly jaded in its basic message that the stakes are just not that big in Northern Ireland anymore, and therefore the attention that it gets from the international media is a little out of proportion. She argues that this attention feeds vanity of the IRA, in particular:

In sum, the IRA is a spoilt, self-important organization that, owing to its gruesome methods, has been paid governmental attention in gross disproportion to its numbers and, in international terms, its minor political purpose of a united Ireland. More than by Irish nationalism, its members are driven by vanity. Disarmament in the light of day, with a bunker being paved over with concrete published prosaically in the Belfast Telegraph, offends republicans' aesthetic, nay their cinematic sensibilities. The IRA is a scary, clandestine cabal, and they have to feel special.

There follows yet another strained analogy between the IRA and al Qaeda, although here it's being done as a rhetorical device rather than, as one sometimes fears from others who should know better, a serious analysis. It also sticks to the standard analysis that the main losers from a successful peace process will be the Unionists:

Given Sinn Fein's appetite for political power in the North and South, its leadership may eventually bite the decommissioned bullet in public view. If so, unionists will crow over a great victory, but republicans will have the last laugh.

We're not so sure about that. As has been pointed out, what's on the table now is not so different from what was on the table thirty years ago, but it seems that the desire for political power in the separate political entities on the island has won over the original goal of there being just a single entity. It is true, though, that these particular republicans will have a good laugh at other supposed republicans, notably the ones in power in the Republic right now -- who are already claiming that they speak for Sinn Fein and not themselves in their pronouncements on Northern Ireland.

Anyway, back to the article at hand, which concludes:

Public safety rests not in a Kodak Moment in County Meath, but in the enduring paramilitary cease-fires.

Which reminds us that the unanticipated risk of burying the stuff in County Meath, if that's where it's buried, is that the lunatics at the National Roads Authority will dig it up again as part of their plan to pave over the entire county with asphalt.
Ukraine: second thoughts

Like most amateur followers of the Ukrainian election dispute, we had assumed that the side that was able to mobilise the better looking protestors was surely the right side to support. Even their preferred colour, orange, was not enough to dissuade us. But having watched Fox News this evening, we're not so sure. For there we learned that Washington's most famous toe-sucker and weasel extraordinaire, Dick Morris, has been advising the Yushchenko campaign. Where do we sign up to support our friends on the other side of the Great Schism?

UPDATE: Dec 17th. More second thoughts -- an opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal op-ed page by Adrian Karatnycky, a scholar at Freedom House, while noting some of the religious dimensions of the election dispute (and doing an awful job of explaining them), feels compelled to include a pleasing reference to Dubya:

Mr. Yushchenko, who typically ends his speeches with "Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Ukrainian People, and Glory to the Lord, Our God," is a devout Orthodox Christian from northeastern Ukraine who regularly takes confession and communion. His faith is reinforced by his American-born wife, Katya Chumachenko, who last week told the Chicago Tribune: "We're strong believers in God, and we strongly believe that God has a place for each one of us in this world, and that he has put us in this place for a reason." Such sentiments echo the way that President Bush has spoken of his own faith. And like Mr. Bush, Mr. Yushchenko is careful to sound an ecumenical tone in his public remarks.

This equivalence makes us suspicious.
Who is that old fellow?

We used to think that it was just Cuban baseball players who lied about their age, citing Fidel's seizure of their birth certificates as a convenient alibi, but it seems that fashion designers are at the same trick. Apropos Tommy Hilfiger's purchase of a partial interest in Karl Lagerfeld's designs, we learn, via the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd):

Industry observers said the German-born designer's age could make it difficult to ensure the long-term revenue Hilfiger is hoping for. Mr. Lagerfeld, claiming he has no birth certificate, yesterday said he is 65 years old, but German newspaper reports have suggested he may be older.

BOBW's expert in such matters, the recently absent R Morgenstern, thinks Karl is at least 10 years older. He's clearly adept at making sure his photographs create some room for ambiguity about the right answer.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Rudy fought bravely at the Battle of the Cowshed

[Today's New York Times] Although people close to the president say he likes and respects Mr. Giuliani, they say the president has long been leery of him as a man who could not be counted on for the loyalty demanded by Mr. Bush.

Yet ...

[Rudy, on what he says he said on 9/11] Without really thinking, based on just emotion, spontaneous, I grabbed the arm of then-Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and I said to him, "Bernie, thank God George Bush is our president."

... and he has also spoken of Dubya's supernatural powers:

President Bush is the leader we need for the next four years because he can see beyond just today and tomorrow. He can see in the future.

And he's not loyal enough?

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Wearing of the Pink

The Republic of Ireland -- what a country! In the last few years, we've taxed the plastic bag out of existence, cleared the pubs of smoke, and now, earned the fulsome* praise of Andrew Sullivan. Because the government is thinking about civil unions for gay couples:

AND IRELAND: Moves are afoot to provide civil unions for gay couples in this historically Catholic country. I'd favor full marriage rights myself, for all the usual reasons. Not least of which: divorce in Ireland is an extremely tough process.

A couple of comments. First, Sully seems to have come across this issue not quite with his usual one year lag, but nearly a month has passed since Taoiseach Bertie Ahern floated the idea in an interview -- the concession lost in the mockery that followed Bertie's claim that same weekend that he was one of Ireland's few remaining socialists. Second, there seems to have been a strategic element to the timing of his statement, since there's a chance that a court case could require civil unions based on European law anyway.

So Bertie basically wants to hedge his bets and say "bejasus lads I was tinking about dem civil union yokes anyway so it's not dat Brussels is making me do it." There's a tough one for Sully -- his hated European Union advancing one of his causes. Third, it might just be that we're tired, but we don't see the logic in Sully's claim that the Republic's relatively strict divorce laws rationalise nothing less than full marriage rights for gay couples. Because it's difficult to get out, everyone should be allowed in? We'll sleep on it.

[UPDATE -- After we posted, we remembered that there is a usage issue with 'fulsome' above, which we used in the common sense of meaning extravagant, but in fact means something closer to insincere. We should have remembered this at the time because Colin Powell drew attention for bungling this exact issue recently. But since there is some evidence of a hidden agenda behind Sully's enthusiaism for gay marriage, we're leaving the word as it is]
A not so glorious Twelfth

In one sense it's silly to speak of negative consequences of 9/11 that don't involve someone getting killed, since of course the main negative consequences of that day are borne by the victims' families and the civilians who got in the way of the hail of bombs and bullets that followed. But one thing we have wondered about is the extent to which the increased emphasis on security has created a class of little dictators in airports and airplanes -- people who can lord it over the passengers, knowing that they can always cite security concerns as a basis for their actions.

For instance, the Canadian passengers who maybe had a legitimate gripe about service on board a transatlantic flight, but who get tossed off the plane in an unscheduled stop at Shannon? And, since it's our job to bring you global issues with an Irish flavour, here's another one. An unfair dismissals tribunal Dublin is hearing the case of two ground security staff at Dublin airport who were fired for harassing football fans (subs. maybe req'd).

And not just any football fans -- fans wearing the jerseys of the dreaded (in Dublin) Glasgow Rangers. As we've noted before, Irish fans have taken to Glasgow's sectarian sporting divisions with gusto, and the two guards, ardent Celtic fans, took the wearing of the Rangers shirts as a provocation. And used their power:

The tribunal heard that on July 12th, 2003, Mr Flynn spotted the football fans and remarked that they should not be wearing Rangers jerseys "on the day that's in it". [1690, Battle of the Boyne anniversary]
It is alleged that he and Mr Geary then waited more than an hour and a half for them to pass through security.
Mr Geary and Mr Flynn, who were described by former colleagues as "100 per cent Celtic fans", approached the three young men in the shopping area of the airport, telling them to cover up their jerseys.
The tribunal heard evidence and saw a video tape of a separate incident the next day when it is alleged Mr Geary was checking boarding cards at the entrance to the frisking area when he barred access to three Rangers supporters until they covered up their jerseys.

It seems that the two former employees don't have a great case, because while they cite some verbal abuse, the dispute had already escalated by that point:

They [the Rangers fans] used sectarian language and called her client "Irish scum" and a "Free State Fenian bastard", [their lawyer] said.
But Mr Dowling said that the video proved that the Rangers supporters had showed no signs of drunkenness or aggression. He also maintained that the sectarian language only arose after Mr Geary had forced the men to cover up their Rangers jerseys.

We're somewhat impressed with the fans' decent command of history in that they could at least uncork insults from two centuries at a moment's notice. Unfortunately, whatever the outcome of the case (and a decision isn't due for two months), the overeager guards doubtless made their day. We're not aware of any similar cases in the USA, but one doesn't seem beyond the bounds of possibility.

UPDATE 13 April: Since we've recently linked to this post, we wanted to do an update on the status of the case. The most recent news item that we could find was an Irish Times story (subs. req'd) covering the resumption of the hearing on the 14th February. The two sacked guards weren't doing themselves many favours during the proceedings:

An airport security officer accused of ordering Glasgow Rangers supporters to cover up their jerseys wore a Glasgow Celtic jersey to a disciplinary hearing, the Employment Appeals Tribunal heard yesterday.

Mr Kenneth Geary and his colleague, Mr Frank Flynn had been dismissed by Aer Rianta for "gross misconduct" over the alleged incident at Dublin Airport on July 12th, 2003.

Mr Geary was also alleged to have been involved in a similar incident the following day. The charges were later changed to "serious misconduct".

Asked why he wore a Glasgow Celtic jersey to a disciplinary hearing, Mr Geary said: "My Real Madrid one was dirty".

And later ...

When Mr Flynn went over to talk to the Rangers fans, he said a colleague, Mr Brendan Butler said something along the lines of "off you go Frankie for a bit of bigotry".

When they returned, Mr Geary started singing the song Land of Hope and Glory. Mr Butler had earlier claimed that this was being done to annoy him as he was leaving to join the London Metropolitan Police. Mr Geary denied this and said he hummed the song because it was written by Elgar and "it's just a great song".

Some of the men's colleagues claimed that Mr Geary and Mr Flynn were eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Rangers supporters after the initial sighting and Mr Flynn had asked Mr Geary to ring him on his mobile if he saw them approaching.

But no verdict yet that we know of.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The usefulness of events with zero probability of occurrence

[Dubya, on Rummy getting roasted by the troops in Kuwait] The concerns expressed are being addressed, and that is we expect our troops to have the best possible equipment. And if I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country,

[Previous entry in this series]
The Virtual Peace Process

Belfast witnessed yet another bizarre spectacle yesterday. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British PM Tony Blair held a news conference to announce ... well, to announce nothing, but to reveal what they would have said, and others would have said, had the negotiations which they had been brokering been successful; maybe we should call it a meta peace process. But with the substance, or lack thereof, of the event being analysed elsewhere, we have a few observations based on the TV coverage we saw last night. Why was Bertie wearing an overcoat indoors? Although he did seem to have taken it off by the time the news conference began.

We also had to laugh at one moment in the later Sinn Fein news conference (in which they explained what they had agreed to in the meta process); Gerry Adams' reference to "that organisation" (meaning the IRA) sounded exactly like Bill Clinton's reference to "that woman" all those years ago. But finally, Bertie was at it again with the sunny sartorial choices. Who amongst us doesn't remember his yellow trousers at the G8 summit? Today it was a cheery tie, we couldn't tell quite what colour on our dodgy 15 inch TV, but could it possibly have been the colour du jour, orange?
But that's our move

We're sure that Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is a thoughtful person. But exactly how much sympathy does she think she's going to get with an op-ed piece (subs. req'd) in the Wall Street Journal Asian edition complaining about her being denied a visa by Vietnam? Here's how the piece is featured:

A Step Backward for Vietnam
The denial of a visa request highlights a closed and repressive society.

Yes indeed, denying visas to prominent people who might say something nasty about the government is a bad thing. Do we have to spell it out any further? Tariq Ramadan?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The wearing of the Orange

Sullywatch takes a minor detour to contemplate the somewhat surprising position of longtime reactionary Pat Buchanan on the Ukraine election standoff. As Sullywatch explains, Pat could always be relied upon to take the western Ukrainian/Catholic line, to the point where he was not only pushing the envelope on sympathy for Nazi collaborators, he was sending it postage due (we've been waiting for years to use that line from some long-forgotten sitcom). Yet this time, Pat is taking a solid Russian "near abroad" approach, backing the eastern Ukrainians and Pootie-Poot's position, which SW rationalises as follows:

Is it perhaps because the orange-clad in Kyiv/Kiev look to him like the sort of people he and his ilk most despise about the United States, whereas the Russophones demonstrating in Donetsk, who drink heavily, wear camo and talk about how they’d like to bop the other side up the head one are, he recognizes, his people?

While agreeing with all this, we wonder if Pat is being helped along in his evolution by an adverse reaction to the preferred colour scheme of the opposition protestors. There's probably still enough old style Irish Catholicism in him to react badly to orange.

Indeed, we decided to go in search of evidence that eastern Ukrainians prefer green as their symbol, which (bringing our European perspective to the task) quickly brought us to the site of Shakhtar Donetsk, the region's pretty decent football club. The team's identity is so tied to mining that they were once named Stakhanovets, and this evening they got a fine result versus Barcelona, in the process knocking Glasgow Celtic out of the UEFA Cup -- all going to show the rivalry with the Roman church is alive and well on the football field, if not in Pat Buchanan's head.

But they do like the colour green -- from the club's fight song:

Beauty of green fields, that's for you, Shakhtar.
My fate is in your hands, you are the best, Shakhtar.
Literary worlds collide

There's a predictable fashion in Ireland to name mundane modern things after our glorious literary past. While the practice is an improvement on drawing names from Britain's past, it can be a source of incongruity when things go wrong, as they have in the last couple of days with a strike at Irish Ferries. Hence this description from Monday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) of the choreography at the Welsh port of Holyhead with the disputed ships:

With the Ulysses already tied up in Holyhead because of the dispute, the Jonathan Swift was due to arrive at the Welsh port yesterday afternoon. However, Stena Line [alternative company], which owns the berth used by the Jonathan Swift, refused initially to allow it access to the port, for fear it would also become embroiled in the dispute and keep the berth occupied.
It is understood the 370 passengers due to travel to Dublin on the Ulysses were accommodated on a Stena Line service. They included Manchester United supporters, returning home from a football match.

So there you have the new Ireland -- Ulysses pinned down, Swift barred from port for a while, and stranded Manchester United fans trying to find a way home. If we were more well read than we actually are, we're sure we could find some good literary word play on all this.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Guinness is good for you

A subtext of New York Times "smart conservative" David Brooks' columns since the election has been his need to distance himself from the more true-believing elements of Dubya's core support. Consider for instance his role in the vanguard of the counterattack on the moral values interpretation of the election, and his declaration that the real voice of US Evangelicals is not James Dobson or Jerry Falwell, but an English bishop that most people have not heard of.

In Saturday's column, the Brooksian desire for separation came into comic relief, as he declared that he's finding (like Dubya) that thinking about pension reform is hard work, and so that he'd rather be in a Dublin pub drinking a pint. And furthermore, that the nation would be better off if all the key players in Washington political debates downed a few pints too.

We're not making any of this up -- the column's headline is "Lift a Pint for Coalitions," while the hook is that he discussed Social Security reform with Republican Senator Lindsay Graham while the Senator was in Dublin. Leaving aside evidence of a clear lapse by the Irish immigration authorities, we'll at least allow that the Senator was getting into the spirit of things in Dublin:

I was in a hotel room in St. Paul when I connected with Senator Lindsey Graham. As he spoke, I could hear Irish music in the background. I could hear laughter and conviviality ... "If John [fellow Senator] can get Democratic support, count me in," he was saying, as a great roar of laughter arose from the pub behind him ...
And if this culture of negotiation is to be recreated, I'm thinking of a pub - far away and in a happy, happy place - where it just might start.

It's nice to see Brooks sign on to one of the all-time great Homer Simpson-isms, "alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems." But is his endorsement of booze a not-so-subtle dig at Washington's most powerful teetotaller, George W. Bush?

UPDATE 23 Dec 2004: TAPped logs another call for more boozing in Washington by a pundit. Bourbon rather than Guinness, though. The pundit in question (Richard Cohen) must be expecting a rough 2005.
Taking it up a notch

It seems now that trashing the Geneva Conventions was not enough for Dubya's War on Terror. Today's London Sunday Times reports on the observations of a senior British official twelve months ago on conditions in Abu Ghraib (to which British staff were seconded):

Gareth Davies, governor of Pentonville prison in London, discovered in December 2003 that Americans were using leg irons and belly chains to hold prisoners — a violation not only of new Iraqi laws adopted by coalition forces but also, he believed, of international conventions and of Britain's 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

New York Dogs do it Dublin style

We were fans of James Wolcott's writing long before he started his fine blog. Who amongst us doesn't remember his brilliant review of Independence Day for the New Yorker -- reading his review being a much more worthwhile use of time than that atrocious movie itself. His line likening Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum and their mission to save Earth with Cornel West and Michael Lerner and their similar quest -- we're still laughing.

But anyway, we can help Mr Wolcott out with one thing today. He reports:

During a recent visit to the Animal Medical Center, I was graciously presented with a complimentary copy of a new magazine, courtesy of John Ryan, a name unfamiliar to me. The magazine was New York Dog, Ryan is president and C.E.O. of the company that publishes it,

Indeed. John Ryan is an Irish magazine impresario. He's proven to have the perfect business sense for Celtic Tiger Ireland (or Oirland), most notably with VIP magazine, which suits all of you who feel that you don't know enough about Cecelia Ahern, Eamon Dunphy, Gay Byrne, Pat Kenny etc -- yes, we know our international readership is rushing to their out-of-town magazine store right now to get a copy. To be fair to Ryan, he did have the guts to try and publish a magazine called Gay Ireland, which was not a success.

But anyway, he has since moved to New York, noticed an unfilled niche for a New York-centric pampered canine mag, and (perhaps most importantly of all) made friends with Cindy Adams at the New York Post. So if you like New York dogs as they are, you'll love them with a little Oirish attitude added. If you don't, then it may finally be time to head for New Jersey.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Should we be offended?

Regular readers will know of our recurring theme of the apparent or supposed analogies between Dubya's War on Terror and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. For instance, Unionist leader David Trimble has promoted the linkage as his main credential in the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy, and the legal reasoning of the White House and its spinners on treatment of prisoners has drawn, to a disturbing extent, on precedents from Northern Ireland.

In what we hope is a more light-hearted parallel (to the extent one can be lighthearted about these things), we read in today's Washington Post, regarding the collapsing security situation on the Baghdad Airport road:

The Army's 1st Cavalry Division has about 1,000 soldiers dedicated to guarding the highway, which the U.S. military refers to as Route Irish.
The 9/11 Profit Centre

Once upon a time, all right-thinking pundits were outraged at the idea that someone in government during 9/11 could make money from the experience. For instance, Richard Clarke was the White House's anti-terrorism coordinator in the runup to 9/11 and earlier this year published a book critical of his own role but more generally of the entire White House in failing to prevent the attack. America spoke, as it always does, through the voice of NBC's Tim Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: The book is dedicated to those who were murdered on September 11 and you apologize to the families. Would you consider giving the royalties or profits from the book to the children of those families who were murdered?

MR. CLARKE: Tim, long before Senator Frist said what he said [that Clarke was capitalising on the tragedy], I planned to make a substantial contribution, not only to them but also to the widows and orphans of our Special Forces who have fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq. And when we see the results of the book sales, we'll know how much we have to make donations

So with that principle well established, it's surely only a matter of time before Rudy Giuliani gets asked the same question. Because 9/11 has been very very good to him:

Only weeks after leaving office, Mr. Giuliani set up a consulting firm with a dozen of his former City Hall aides. In two years, the firm has earned tens of millions of dollars by assembling an extremely broad range of clients, jumping almost immediately into the ranks of the nation's most prestigious consulting firms, according to two industry guides ...

Mr. Giuliani's consulting firm, Giuliani Partners L.L.C., announced today that it was forming a new investment banking firm that will acquire Ernst & Young's investment banking practice for an undisclosed price.

The new investment banking firm, to be called Giuliani Capital Advisors L.L.C., will advise companies on deals like acquisitions and restructurings.

Surely Rudy won't object to sharing the same percentage as Clarke with the victims' families?
Putting the values in moral values

An article in this week's New Yorker*, which unfortunately is not online, uses a profile of a renegade religious community in Dallas to provide some damning insights into the TV evangelism industry. And if you've wondered about Dubya's utterly blithe attitude to spiralling government debt (and by extension, the blithe attitude thereto of the 60 million people who voted for him), well, these TV evangelists have that little debt problem covered. Because when the sermon of one particular hugely popular preacher (George Pearsons, at the Ken Copeland ministry) is as its peak, he is saying:

"We thank you for the bills that are being supernaturally paid and the debts that are being supernaturally forgiven."

We knew that East Asian central banks were bizarrely keen to pile up US Treasury Bonds, but apparently God is as well.

*God Doesn’t Need Ole Anthony, by Burkhard Bilger

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Dubya's Excellent Adventure

With the White House image management crew, there are no accidents, so this pose was clearly intended, even if the stupid grin was not. But if you're going to have Winston and FDR together in the same photo, then shouldn't someone else be there too?

UPDATE: We're pretty sure that Wonkette, or Wonkette's readers, are not stealing our material, because thinking of Uncle Joe with that picture is kind of obvious, right?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Dissing Winston

We haven't had much to say about Andrew Sullivan's musings lately, not least because that beat is well covered by other Washingtonian magazine-approved sites. In addition, he's been making marginally more sense (albeit from a very low base) and in particular, one of today's posts correctly gets at "smart conservative" David Brooks' fairly obvious attempts to distance himself from the fundamentalist Christian movement of which his opinions have made him a part. As always with Sullivan, though, there's a considerable element of transference and projection in his critiques of fellow conservatives.

But he's up to his old tricks when he links to a study showing that a poll of British academics found Clement Attlee rated a more successful 20th century Prime Minister of Britain than Winston Churchill. It's funny (sort of) to see him get so worked up about Abu Ghraib (as he should be), but then be equally distressed at evidence of leftist bias amongst British professors, although we'll grant that the enormous salaries and wealth of British academics, not to mention their dominant control of London's financial and media institutions does make them a force to be reckoned with.

Anyway, what about this outrageous study itself? Follow the link. The sample size is 139, representing about half of those polled. There is no control for whether those who actually responded are representative of the overall group. The respondents do report their own party leanings and about half are Labour. But check out the Tory responders -- of which there are a grand total of 11 (this is what happens in the world of small sample sizes). Anyway, even Sully's beloved Tory academics don't put the bulldog highest. They have Maggie at Number 1. Sully says

Without Churchill, there wouldn't have been an independent Britain [for Attlee] to wreck.

Or for St Margaret of Finchley to unwreck.
Telling it like it was

Amongst the minor points of amusement on the White House website is their faithful transcripts of Dubya's rallies, including references to crowd cheers (for Dubya) and boos (for domestic and foreign evildoers, either category fitting John Kerry). Josh Marshall had noted this tendency here and we had credited the transcribers with their careful use of sic here.

We thought of all this when reading a favourite feature from the Times of London -- their reproduction of an article from their paper in some past year on the same date. So for Wednesday, it's their story from this day in 1879, when a huge protest rally was held in Hyde Park to support the imprisoned leadership of the Irish Land League, including its leader Michael Davitt.

For one thing, we like the Austen-esque echoes in this clause:

when the speakers appeared a vast assembly had collected which was computed at no less than 100,000 persons

but in keeping with our main theme above, we note the narration of crowd reaction:

Mr O'Connor Power, the chairman, said he rejoiced to see present thousands of Irishmen and friends of Ireland who had come because they were animated by the passion of patriotism and the love of public liberty (cheers). They had assembled in numbers that far exceeded those of any assemblage in Hyde Park, and which included Englishmen as well as Irishmen (hear, hear) because they were convinced that the action of Her Majesty's Government (hisses) endangered the liberties of Great Britain and Ireland.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

We are all biblical scholars now

Maybe it's a sign of the end of the world approaching. But we feel that we are being sent a subtle message by seemingly disparate incidents -- that the number of refences to the Bible seems to be growing. We were put in mind of this by a recent P O'Neill conversational tangent (of which there are many) of just why it is that the scene in 24 Hour Party People where Tony explains the routine involving a band called Barabbas is so funny.

Then today, "smart conservative" New York Times columnist David Brooks tells us that we should all be reading the writings of an Anglican evangelical intellectual who in turn stresses Barabbas's fellow prisoner Jesus as the source of all wisdom. Finally (in another sign of the coming end of the world), we found ourselves thinking that Ian Paisley is being at least slightly misunderstood in the latest rhetorical salvoes accompanying the Northern Ireland peace process:

Earlier, Mr [Gerry] Adams [Sinn Féin leader] responded to a call from the [Unionist] leader Ian Paisley for the IRA to 'wear sackcloth and ashes'. The Sinn Féin leader said the politics of humiliation do not work.

Now if one goes to the Bible (where else would Paisley draw a quote like that), one finds that that sackcloth and ashes have less to do with humiliation and more with anguish and mourning. In the fine words of Radiohead, you do it to yourself, just you and no-one else. It's not humiliation, no more than penance is humiliation. But of course this is Ian Paisley we're talking about. So we won't stretch this exegesis too far.
Not entirely gone away

One hopes that the many retrospectives on Dubya's election victory will get around to studying one of the biggest mysteries of the campaign: the complete disappearance of Abu Ghraib as a news issue, after the initial burst of revelations and reports in early summer. Which is related to the fact that the Abu Ghraib inquiries seem to have made no attempt to reach up the chain of command in assigning responsibility.

Yet the issue is not entirely dead. Today's New York Times brings news of a Red Cross report alleging treatment "tantamount to torture" at Guantanamo Bay. This is important for Iraq because one thing we did learn back when the media cared about Abu Ghraib was that it had been "Gitmo-ised" through a set of recommendations from General Geoffrey Miller, who is linked by his high level involvement in both facilities.

Anyway, we can predict with confidence that the VRC spinner counterattack on the NYT report will focus on who leaked it to the NYT** -- which is actually an interesting question. The NYT is of course coy about its source:

The New York Times recently obtained a memorandum, based on the [Red Cross] report, that quotes from it in detail and lists its major findings.

The paper notes that the Red Cross itself treats its report as confidential, but felt that this had been abused by the Pentagon, which would disengenuously defend Gitmo by saying that the Red Cross hadn't complained about it -- knowing of course that the Red Cross people couldn't say anything under their own rules. Still though, one is left with a sense that the leak did come from within the Pentagon, which would support previous evidence that not everyone in there views the Geneva Convention, like Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales, as obsolete.

We suppose that the NYT has to treat at face value the rote legalisms of the official Pentagon response, but this one is especially laughable:

personnel assigned to Guantánamo "go through extensive professional and sensitivity training to ensure they understand the procedures for protecting the rights and dignity of detainees."

In other words, New Improved Geneva Convention Violations: Now with 10% More Corporate Babble!

In a separate story, the Wall Street Journal reports (subs. req'd) that former Abu Ghraib detainees are going to attempt a war crimes prosecution against senior US officials using provisions of German law. It's clearly an uphill struggle for either the Red Cross or these detainees given the current mindset in the upper echelons of the US government. But maybe, maybe, these efforts can keep the issues ticking over until the the moral values voters widen their horizons beyond rumours of condom instructions in schools.

**UPDATE: as above, we told you that the VRC counterattack would be on
the fact of the leak. Thurday's WSJ editorial
(reg. req'd):

For decades, the very core of Red Cross methodology has been strict confidentiality agreements with cooperating governments. The practice has obvious drawbacks ... But now the ICRC has thrown confidentiality aside to attack the U.S., of all countries. And it matters little that the original leaker in this case may have been in the U.S. government. Officials at ICRC headquarters were only too happy to confirm the document's authenticity ...

Monday, November 29, 2004

It takes an Irish person to get the truth

Washington Post "media critic" Howard Kurtz during his weekly online discussion forum today:

Limerick, Ireland: Why is the American media the laughing stock of the western world? Is it craven self-interest, incompetence?

Howard Kurtz: It's actually craven self-interest, incompetence AND malevolent, greed-driven self-loathing.
al Qaeda slams third party candidates

"The results of the elections do not matter for us," Mr. Zawahri [Osama's right-hand man] said in the three-minute excerpt. "Vote whoever you want, Bush, Kerry or the devil himself."

Freud would have a field day

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Bill Clinton was President, and anchors and pundits couldn't contain themselves as they tossed out phrases like "physical evidence" and "stained dress," and doubtless had huge giggle fits once they went off camera. Now George Bush is President and double-entendres are one of those things that went out the window with the restoration of honour and integrity to the White House.

Except that, with this crew, the psycho-sexual subtext to what goes on is way more bizarre, not withstanding the ability of our glorious pundit class to ignore it. The media never did want to touch the sexual aspects of the Abu Ghraib abuse, for instance, and yet this weekend New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd introduced us to an angry white male -- her brother -- who voted for Bush because he'd heard that somewhere in Maryland, schools are teaching kids how to use condoms.

But let's consider the White House itself. The constant references in reporting to Dubya's close relationship to various women in his administration. Condi's status -- including her blurted out reference to Bush as her "husband." Since the election, the continued reference to Dubya's "mandate," despite the obvious fun that that word lends itself to.

And from today's Washington Post about the reshuffling for Dubya's second term:

With the three Cabinet replacements Bush has announced so far for his second term, he kept his circle tight by dispatching White House staff members to take over the State, Justice and Education departments. Aides said many other such moves will be announced, because Bush and senior adviser Karl Rove are determined to "implant their DNA throughout the government," as one official put it.

Remember, this is the same Karl Rove who was rebuffed, with extreme prejudice, when he once asked the new Education Secretary for a date. Can someone get these guys a shrink? And as for our giggling 1990s pundits -- they're with Benny Hill in the grave.

UPDATE 25 Feb 2005: Others are noticing the weird subtexts among Dubya's coterie. Here's the State Department's picture of Condi Rice's coat and boots ensemble in Wiesbaden that launched the latest round of psycho-sexual speculation, as in the linked Post story.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Films of increasing relevance

So, like much of the country in which we live, we watched a lot of films over the weekend. Mostly Bond films, which never get old. But there's a couple of others that had us thinking -- there is the phenomenon of the big-budget thriller from 10 or 15 years ago, films that were presumably not meant to have any lasting relevance, and yet somehow they seem prescient.

We've always viewed Executive Decision as being in this genre -- it was brilliant entertainment the first time around, but now is almost creepy: the Arab hijacker who instructs the 747 captain (we're working from memory): "don't try anything funny -- I'm a trained pilot."

Then there's Clear and Present Danger. Of course when written it combined elements of the Iran-Contra scandal with the lunacy of the War on Drugs. But consider its theme -- the CIA torn between professional spooks with some sense of realism versus politicians and spinners with madcap schemes and obsessed with the next public relations stunt. The expertly directed ambush scene in Colombia, in which hidden locals with guns and rocket-launchers expose the fallacious belief of the American tough guys that if you wear dark glasses and travel around in big SUVs, you're safe.

On the other hand, if you ever thought it's only Hollywood that wants happy endings? In the film, the National Security Adviser (and implicitly, the President) are brought down in scandal. In the real world, Dubya gets re-elected and Condi gets promoted.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Birds of a feather

As if to mitigate doubts about his work ethic, Dubya is hard at work at the ranch this holiday weekend -- and not just clearing brush either. The Northern Ireland peace process is in the midst of its latest round of last final negotiations, with Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party playing the squeaky wheel role this time. The DUP is torn between its pragmatic desire to have ministerial functions in a devolved administration and its long-time absolutist position on IRA disbandment.

So how is Dubya helping? It doesn't yet rise to the standard of Bill Clinton's engagement, but he did phone Ian Paisley today to encourage Paisley to move things along. This is the right use of his time, because these two have quite a lot in common. "Doctor" Paisley has his degree from Bob Jones University in South Carolina, scene of a deeply cynical appearance by Dubya during his 2000 primary campaign. Paisley and Jones share a deep anti-Catholicism, although they would refer to it as Popery. And of course, Paisley doesn't have to do much to get his rhetoric to work for Dubya:

[Paisley] I reminded the president of the fact that he would not have terrorists in his government, and that we must be satisfied that IRA terrorism is over and cannot return.

There is one subtext to Dubya's latest intervention. Up until now, it's Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble who has presented himself as the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy's go-to guy on Irish terrorism issues. But the whole point of Paisley agreeing to some new deal would be for his party to replace Trimble's as the dominant party of Unionism. Trimble therefore joins the long list of Dubya's erstwhile friends who end up feeling burned.
A player-hater

New York Times cultural columnist Frank Rich appears in print in the Sunday paper but the web version is already up. It's another go-round at the hyprocrisy that bedevils controversies about indecency on television, although as Daily Howler has been pointing out, those analysts at the vanguard of the hypocrisy counter-attack are often relying on dubious generalisations about what else Outraged in Peoria does with their time. However, Rich seems to sign on to an extremely negative generalisation about one particular group -- professional football players:

Again as in the [Janet] Jackson case, we are also asked to believe that pro football is what Pat Buchanan calls "the family entertainment, the family sports show" rather than what it actually is: a Boschian jamboree of bumping-and-grinding cheerleaders, erectile-dysfunction pageantry and, as Don Imus [NYC radio yeller] puts it, "wife-beating drug addicts slamming the hell out of each other" on the field.

There's no other way to read that sentence than the claim that the typical NFL player is a wife beating drug addict. Is that really what he thinks? We await the reaction to the sentence, although perhaps it will slip by in the holiday weekend haze.

UPDATE [Nov 29]: Daily Howler, already linked to above with reference to an earlier stage of the dropped towel controversy, today documents further problems with Rich's logic (scroll down past his homage to a fine Irish film).

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A day that will live in red state infamy

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species — published on this day in 1859.
The new Imperial pronunciation

We liked William Grimes when he was the food critic for the New York Times, and especially when he was keeping a laying hen in his urban back yard. But now he's a book reviewer. And while today's review of "The Stories of English" by David Crystal is innocuous enough, we wonder why he felt the need for this pleasing nod to English, Dubya style:

Those of us who tut-tut when "nuclear" comes out "nucular" need to be reminded that polite Victorians pronounced balcony with the stress on the second syllable, like baloney.

Isn't it obvious what the difference is here? The bal-CONY utterance is merely a stress on a different syllable. But Dubya's version of nuclear adds syllables that appear nowhere in the actual word. And then of course there's the matter that when you're trying to sound all stern and resolute and presidential and un-French about nuclear weapon threats, it probably helps your credibility if you're pronouncing the word properly.
Today is a good day to be fired

It's already a mystery as to how Donald Rumsfeld still has his job after the fiasco in Iraq, but it's an even bigger mystery how he still has it after his utterances on Tuesday about the stalled intelligence services reform bill:

[Rummy, as quoted in the NYT] And any member of Congress who is "saying that I had blatant opposition to the bill is incorrect because the bill didn't exist in the form that it currently is, and the president didn't have a position on the bill at the times that I was briefing him."

Mr. Rumsfeld noted that House-Senate conference work and negotiations on possible compromise language was continuing and said that "the president's position is evolving as the negotiation evolves."

The President didn't have a position ... his position is evolving? Doesn't this make Dubya sounds like a dangerously nuanced flip-flopper who might even look French? Doesn't Rummy understand that Dubya is more like Moses, who comes down from the mountain with ten clear positions already carved in stone, and not subject to discussion?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A little Egyptian mischief

When you follow Northern Ireland politics, you get used to bizarre behaviour at high-level political meetings. Thus a staple of the peace process, given the refusal of various parties to have direct discussions with each other, is the "proximity talks" format, in which the various squabbling parties only agree to meet separately with intermediaries, who then relay their basic points to the other side.

But under Dubya's presidency, this kind of behaviour is starting to look positively mature. From early on in his administration, Dubya has been using invitations to Camp David and Crawford as his signal of who gets to be a Heather. And then there's the whole policy of not talking to crazy dudes with nukes because ... well, it's not clear why, except that it seems too Clintonesque.

And so it is with the Iranians. Colin Powell has been busy shredding whatever remains of his dignity in his last few weeks in office, and his engagements this week required a snub to the Iranian foreign minister, even though they would both be attending an Iraq reconstruction conference in Sharm-al-Sheikh.

But of course, a pre-dinner instruction like "I absolutely, positively, won't sit beside X" merely invites the merry pranksters of the Egyptian protocol machine to arrange exactly that:

In a surprise encounter, Powell and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi were dinner partners at the opening meeting Monday night. U.S. and Iranian officials, who had said there were no plans for discussions between the two men, expressed surprise at the dinner-table arrangement, and both sides said they believed the pairing was set up by Egypt, the conference host.

Despite this setback, the good soldier, peerless diplomat, and inventor of the doctrine that you win wars by bombing the sh*t out of the other side, gamely adapted:

Powell and Kharrazi engaged only in "some polite dinner conversation," a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Powell. "I do not consider the nuclear issues polite dinner conversation."

Not polite dinner conversation? If it was good enough for James Bond and Dr No, why isn't it good enough for the State Department?
The Detroit Distraction

We can already tell that it's shaping up to be a slow news week, because after all, it's Thanksgiving in the USA, therefore there will be no world news. Which brings us to a smaller point. We had thought about posting on the big sporting news in the USA -- the fan-player brawl during a basketball game in Detroit last week and the resulting severe suspensions which fell mostly on the visiting team's players (the Indiana Pacers). However, at the current rate of bloviating about this incident, there's really not that much original to say.

We are mainly struck by the divergence between how the incident would have been handled in European soccer versus the US National Basketball Association, an issue brought up by a Swedish reporter at NBA Commissioner David Stern's news conference on Sunday. In particular, under the European rules, the home team is responsible for the behaviour of the fans, in which case Detroit would have been looking at massive fines and future sanctions (e.g. being forced to play a number of games in an empty arena, or on the road).

So while the player suspensions roughly correspond to similar incidents in Europe (Eric Cantona's lunge at a fan in 1995 being the prime example), there is not a hint of this principle being applied in this case, although the players' association will doubtless argue for it in their appeals of the suspensions.

But our broader point is that for anyone looking for a case study of how the Iraq war has just completely dropped off the radar screen in US domestic politics, the last week is it. The week began last Monday with a controversy about a dropped towel during a pre-game skit on Monday Night Football, drawing the predictable consternation from Colin Powell's son. That was enough to keep the pot boiling till the Friday night mayhem, and (based on our cable news monitoring this evening), the political pundits are having to wait in line behind the sports reporters to get booked on the evening shows.

The upside of this is that we get talking heads who actually, like, know their stuff, but the downside is another week where the chaos in Iraq is relegated to 15 minutes into the newscast. We're not (yet) conspiratorial enough to think that Karl Rove is involved. But he must be happy with the outcome.

Monday, November 22, 2004


Of which country, whose name begins with 'U,' is the following news item speaking:

Exit polls yesterday showed challenger Mr X winning but the central electoral commission said today [establishment candidate] was 3 per cent ahead.

Answer: Here.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The terrorist electoral calendar

Today at BOBW we inaugurate a new feature to give our readers an insight into the terrorist mindset. Who amongst us doesn't know that al Qaeda times their terrorist incidents to ensure that wobbly liberals win elections? So for instance, mastermind Osama wanted John Kerry to win the Presidential election, so he released his video on the Friday before election day, which helped Dubya get elected. That'll learn 'em!

But they won't stop there -- there's always some new election coming up that they'll try to sway. So every so often, we will post a reminder of the coming targeted event, so that if an international terrorist event occurs, you'll understand why.

So, if a terrorist attack occurs between now and December 13th, it's designed to influence the actual electoral college votes. Because, remember, those electors that were picked a couple of weeks ago are not formally committed to Dubya and Kerry respectively, and don't make their actual selection till the 13th. Don't think that Osama doesn't know that.

Friday, November 19, 2004

A riddle for a slow news day

What do fox hunting, teenage homosexual relations, and Irish Home Rule have to do with each other? In the British context, these issues are all subject of legislation which was passed under the Parliament Act, which restricts the House of Lords to at most delaying legislation passed by the House of Commons. Once a bill is passed by the lower house, it can eventually become law even when rejected in the upper house (Dubya might be considering similar ideas for the Senate, by the way).

Anyway, seven years after they first announced their intention to do it, Britain's Labour government has forced through the ban on fox hunting despite rejection in the House of Lords. The ban will take effect next year. However, opponents have announced a court challenge based on an untested feature of the Parliament Act.

Under that wacky British non-written constitution, the constitution itself is essentially just precedent and previous acts of Parliament. The original ability to override the upper house dates from 1909, when the Liberals wanted to pass a redistributive budget (land taxes for a social safety net) but the House of Lords blocked it. Using the support of Irish nationalist MPs, the Liberals got the original restriction through both houses of parliament -- although they only got it through the upper house by threatening to create enough additional lordships to give themselves a majority if the existing lords wouldn't do it.

In addition to their budget, the Liberals then used it to pass an Irish Home Rule Bill in 1912, giving significant self-rule to the island of Ireland. It was due to take effect in 1914 but some other event happened that year and the rest is history.

So where were we ... now it's 1949 and the then Labour government wanted additional restrictions on the Lords, so they passed an amended Parliament Act in the Commons and pushed it into law, bypassing the Lords, under the original act. One can see why this wheeze looks a bit fishy, although it encapsulates the fact that the British constitution is ultimately what the House of Commons says it is. If this is too abstract a notion for our vast American readership, envisage Tom DeLay as custodian of your constitutional rights.

Nevertheless, pro-hunt campaigners have announced a court challenge to the ban on this very point, and if successful it would call into question other legislation passed under the revised Act, notably the equalisation of the homosexual and heterosexual ages of consent, the cause celebre of Bronski Beat back in the day.

Recently we had been criticising Andrew Sullivan for his inconsistency. But, showing that wonders will never cease, since he's against the fox hunting ban and for equal legal treatment of gay and straight relationships, he's managed to get this one properly aligned more or less along libertarian lines.

Ironically though, successful opposition to the first as a challenge to the Parliament Act will endanger the second, which nicely illustrates why his gay conservative niche is so difficult: the same upper class twits who want to run with hounds aren't so happy about equal opportunity bonking.
Those polite Canadians

One of the great outrages of modern times, second only to those liberal racists who dare to criticise St Condi of Palo Alto, is the fact that the Fox News Channel is not available in Canada. How that country has managed to carry out even basic functions (e.g. flu shots for all) without a daily diet of Brit Hume, Fred Barnes, and Bill O'Reilly, we'll never know. But the problem has now been solved:

[WSJ, subs' req'd] Canada's broadcasting regulator gave the country's cable-television companies permission to add the Fox News Channel to their digital services, after concluding that the popular U.S. channel wouldn't undercut Canada's all-news stations.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission noted that Fox News "offers little or no Canadian coverage" and said the network's "news/talk programs are more focused on editorial opinion and discussion" than those of Canadian channels CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet.

It's nice of those regulators to say that Fox News doesn't undermine Canadian news channels because it's actually an opinion channel -- leaving us to extrapolate what kind of opinion they mean.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

They can run but they can't hide

Except that, they weren't hiding:

[WSJ, subs. req'd] Soldiers [in Fallujah] found a large sign in Arabic inside a building on the wall reading "Al Qaeda Organization" and "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger,"
The wearing of the green

OK, so this is a post that would fit very well on another blog or at least should be subject matter for the other world on this blog, R Morgenstern. But, P O'Neill asks, what in God's name is going on with this outfit that Madonna is wearing? We've been vaguely keeping up with Mrs Guy Ritchie's eager adaptation to life in Britain, but as the Sun points out, there's a glaring Celtic quality to this ensemble -- that's Celtic with both the soft and hard 'C.'

Then again, we knew already from her August visit to Slane in County Meath that Madonna wasn't sartorially fussy about how she made her ethnic sympathies clear -- scroll down a bit on this link to see her very tasteful "Irish Do It Better" t-shirt from that trip.
Hey Ladies

Is there any woman in Dubya's inner circle for whom one of these phrases does not apply?

one of his favorite aides ... earned her invitations to Camp David ... most loyal but least visible top aides ... enjoys an especially close relationship with Bush ... appear to enjoy his complete confidence ... Bush, who is said to regard her as family ... unquestioned loyalty

It's good that Dubya is so moral and all, because with other Presidents, descriptions like the above plus pictures like this would set off, as they say in Ireland, "auld talk."
Dubya's excellent new Secretary of Education

[Washington Post] At the White House ceremony announcing [Margaret Spellings] nomination [as Secretary of Education], Mr. Rove, who said he was once 'brutally' turned down after asking Ms. Spellings for a date in the 1980's,

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It's named after the Fiddler on the Roof dude

[New York Times] No details [of Russia's new nuclear weapon] were immediately available, but Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said earlier this month that Russia expected to test-fire a mobile version of its Topol-M ballistic missile this year and that production of the new weapon could be commissioned in 2005.
Hawker Stalker: Kramer was wrong

Report from the front:

* M Street, Georgetown, Monday, lunchtime. A beautiful, sunny, clear day. Me: heading to Chipotle for a few soft tacos. George Will: Strolling along past Urban Outfitters, the sunlight dappling his bright yellow locks. Dude! If you're going to go for the dye job, at least get it professionally done. Clairol Nice 'n Easy Champagne Blonde just doesn't cut it in 2004.

[UPDATE: Here's what Kramer had to say]

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

How the National Football League could save American diplomacy

[Dubya today nominating Saint Condi of Palo Alto for Secretary of State] As many of you know, Condi's true ambition is beyond my power to grant. (Laughter.) She would really like to be the commissioner of the National Football League.

That's our true ambition for Condi, too. Somewhere that she can do no harm.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Blame the Yanks

One of modern Ireland's plagues is the VIP culture -- government ministers speeding here, there, and everywhere in hopes that Sight of Minister in Official Car = Votes. Years of electoral success for Fianna Fail vindicates this strategy. But, combined with the pathetic state of Irish roads (the mania for building motorways around Dublin notwithstanding), something like this was bound to happen:

A car carrying the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht [Irish-speaking] Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív, has been involved in a head-on collision with another car in Co Kerry.
Mr Ó Cuív suffered a broken finger and bruising. He and four other people were taken to hospital. It is understood none were seriously injured.
The accident happened on the Muckross Road outside Killarney this afternoon.
Gardaí [our lads in blue] believe the other car involved was being driven by an American person.
That big lad from Ancient Greece

Since we've been doing a lot of political posting recently, it might be time for a temporary excursion into other fields. And so it is that we finally got around to seeing some previews for the Oliver Stone Alexander film over the weekend. As our well-informed readers doubtless already know, the title role belongs to Irish actor Colin Farrell. And while we try to avoid the all-round boosterism that comes with Irish success abroad, we certainly didn't see any harm in an Irish actor getting a big part in one of those epic productions where the acting is secondary to the battle scenes anyway.

But that was before we heard the words come out of Colin/Alexander's mouth. The accent, my God, the accent. A quick Google search revealed that this does appear to be considered, shall we say, an issue:

An insider tells the magazine [ContactMusic], "He sounds like a Dublin bus driver."

Now, we tried to go through the obvious thought process on this one ... lots of classical roles are played with English or American accents, and no-one ever complains about those; indeed it's a safe bet that the popular conception of actual historical characters incorporates them having the accents that come with English theatre training.

So are we just giving into this well cornered market when we say that we cringed at Colin's Bertie-esque inflections? Maybe. It's just that ... Farrell is trying to have it both ways: he plays to the stereotype of the Irish wild man in what often seems like a deliberate strategy to build an aura in Hollywood:

Hellraiser Colin Farrell almost faced the wrath of movie maker Oliver Stone after breaking his ankle and his wrist with three days of Alexander still to film. The Irishman fell down a stairway after living it up at a party co-star Val Kilmer threw for the cast and crew in Thailand and passed out. He woke up in agony with broken bones, and Stone admits he came close to ruining the film's ending.

So sometimes we get the antics and the aut(h)entic, gritty Dublin films, but other times we get an aspiring Patrick Stewart.

Again, we might be wrong. Is Colin being truer to his own self than Navan man Pierce Brosnan, who told his oft-repeated accent story to Sunday's New York Times:

Q: Did anyone ever ask you to lose your Irish accent?

A: It's not really Irish anymore. I have my own sound. When I was a young actor in London, they didn't like it -- they forced me to play the token Paddy. But in America, I found my voice. It's now an international sort of accent.

UPDATE [Nov 24]: It looks like there's a reviewer consensus that Farrell's accent is a bit of a problem, but as such it pales in comparison to the film's much bigger problems, which can be tracked back to director Oliver Stone. Here's one review in Slate:

At his [Farrell's] best, he's shrewdly small-scale. You can imagine him firing up the lads at the pub before he gets too stuporous. But all the armies of the Western world? He doesn't begin to have the stature—or the lung power.