Friday, January 30, 2004

Blogging-Related Program Activities

We will be doing lots of blogging over the next week. If, that is, we apply the Dubya definition to such a positive statement by which we actually mean the exact opposite. As a result of a top-secret meeting (at the Bread Line restaurant for lunch yesterday) with an unnamed White House official (Condi Rice), P O'Neill has been tasked to investigate a report that Saddam dumped his WMDs at the bottom of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. So that will take us out of action for about a week, until our top-secret report is posted on this blog when we get back.

Let us just briefly note some intriguing news stories today:

1. It was noticable from the start that most of the gloating about Hutton and BBC seemed to be happening amongst reactionary hacks in the USA, whereas public opinion in Britain seemed to be adopting a much more nuanced position; check out for instance the skeptical tone even in fomer Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy member, the Daily Telegraph.

2. Not a good week for Ireland's and Europe's biggest low-cost airline, Ryanair. It's been known for sometime they achieve their advertised low fares by charging for just about everything else connected with getting passengers from A to B (often via C with bags via D), and one of those charges would certainly horrify our vast American readership: charging passengers for the wheelchairs at airports. The result was that for a handicapped passenger, the total wheelchair charges on a return trip could exceed the cost of the ticket. Not surprisingly, someone has now sued and won. And in a demonstration that spite can be a corporate strategy, the airline is now claiming that it will add a "wheelchair levy" to all its tickets for travel from Irish and UK airports.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Can I deduct myself as a liability?

This is quite a tax dodge. The Wall Street Journal describes a brewing crisis between phone company MCI-Worldcom, American state tax authorities, and MCI's auditor KPMG. The states are annoyed at a tax strategy designed by KPMG for MCI, and if they collect back taxes from MCI by disqualifying the strategy, the company will turn will look to blame KPMG (although, strangely enough, not actually sue them, but that's another story). And what a strategy:

Under it, MCI treated the "foresight of top management" as an asset valued at billions of dollars. It licensed this foresight to its subsidiaries in exchange for royalties that the units deducted as business expenses on state tax forms.

By the same logic, look for Dubya to balance the budget by declaring himself a huge asset of the Federal Government -- with resulting huge losses to the nation if he's not reelected in November.
Five ring circus

There are days when one sees the wisdom of historian Norman Davies' decision to call his brilliant history of Britain and Ireland The Isles, given his belief that the more standard designations for those two large land masses on Europe's continental shelf are so loaded. We already had an inadvertent theme for the week of those uppity (O)Irish meddling in England's affairs, and Wednesday's Irish Times brings word of a new dispute.

When Ireland was partitioned in 1922, sporting and cultural organisations took different approaches to how to realign with the split jurisdictions; the Irish Rugby Football Union continues as the representative body for rugby throughout the 32 counties, while the soccer bodies correspond to the countries: the Football Association of Ireland for the Republic, and the Irish Football Association for Northern Ireland. It's not well-known that the situation with the Olympic bodies is even more complicated, and has come to wider attention because of a dispute between the British Olympic Association and the Olympic Council of Ireland. Athletes from Northern Ireland have had the option of declaring for either association, for example:

Wayne McCullough from Belfast historically boxed to a silver medal for Ireland in the 1992 games, while Belfast's Mary Peters won gold for Britain in the 1972 Olympic pentathlon.

But a document prepared by the BOA for Athens is seen as encroaching on this agreement:

The final draft of the BOA's Team Members Agreement refers to the Athens Olympic team as Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In the OCI's eyes, this is an annexation of Northern Ireland

While the BOA claims that the inclusion of Northern Ireland in its Athens team name is merely a technicality, the OCI fears that sometime down the road, the BOA would try to lay exclusive claim to athletic talent from Northern Ireland. The main weapon being threatened by the OCI in response is to lobby against London's 2012 bid. Britain's tabloids have generally kept the anti-Irish jingoism at a low level in recent years, but with "Sir" Alex Ferguson, the hand-painted periwinkles, dirt-cheap universities, and an Olympic bid all under threat in one week due in part to the Other Island, can they restrain themselves for much longer?

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

A chequebook in one hand and an aye in the other

It's already an eventful week for Irish (or Oirish) meddling in Britain's affairs. As we posted the other day, reclusive Oirish businessmen seem intent on showing the door to Man Utd manager Alex Ferguson. Today brings news (subs. req'd) that another pair of Oirish businessmen, although less reclusive than Magnier and McManus, are bidding for another piece of English heritage:

Waterford Wedgwood directors "Sir" Anthony O'Reilly and his brother-in-law, Mr Peter Goulandris, have sparked takeover speculation on the London market by, between them, taking a 3.3 per cent holding in Royal Doulton.

The 200 year old china firm has been in financial difficulties recently despite its exalted reputation (not least through the hugely influential Hyacinth Bucket), but they own a lot of property, so one view is that "Sir" Tony would buy the firm in order to shut down the core operation and speculate with the property assets. Which would be a weirdly accurate reflection of how Ireland's crony capitalists accumulated their wealth even when the productive side of the economy was in the tank in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, with reference to Man Utd, it didn't take long for someone to comment explicitly on the spectacle of two Irish businessmen tinkering with the winning recipe at a famous English football club:

[BBC online] And fans in Northern Ireland have give [MU manager Alex] Ferguson their full backing, saying they are disappointed by the actions of Magnier and McManus.

"We are embarrassed about the problems these Irishmen are causing Manchester United."

To this we can only say: Dudes! They're not Irish, they're Oirish!

And there was one other Irish intervention in English affairs today. As widely reported, PM Tony Blair's government only survived the Commons vote on university fees by five votes. And amongst the little details on who voted in which direction:

[RTE website] The fee system will not apply in Northern Ireland, and all the Northern Ireland parties had been expected to either abstain or vote against the bill.

However, it is thought that at least two SDLP [moderate nationalist] MPs supported Mr Blair.

So for a brief moment it was back to the glory days of Parnell when Irish MPs held the balance of power in the House of Commons. Immediately following the vote, the Tories made a lame point of order, questioning why Scottish MPs were allowed to vote on a measure that did not affect Scotland (they could of course have said the same thing about Northern Ireland). It's your Union, lads, play by the rules.
Leonidas Obituary*

*The Brazilian football legend, not the Belgian chocolates.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The Fighting Oirish

One of the unexpectedly frequent phrases of 2004 so far is "reclusive businessmen." Two weeks ago, it was the Barclay brothers emerging from their Channel Islands redoubt to make a bid for the crumbling Conrad Black empire. Now apparently it's two reclusive Oirish businessmen, John Magnier and JP McManus, showing their fangs at Manchester United Football Club.

The two skillful tax avoiders had always two sides to their role as the largest single shareholder in Man Utd: the public side of hobnobbing in the corporate boxes with the prawn sandwich crowd, including Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, but also a slow but steady build-up of their stake in the club to its current 25 percent. The latter signalled the duo weren't simply content with the ego-trip of sports team ownership and were either intending to flex the muscles that come with being big investors, or get a big payoff if another like-minded businessman wanted to buy the club (the most likely candidate in that regard being Tampa Bay Bucs owner, Malcolm Glazer).

Right now it looks like a muscle-flexing operation, with the first recipient of the robust shoulder being "Sir" Alex Ferguson, the team's long-time and hugely popular manager. As we posted about a little while ago, Ferguson had fallen foul of the horse breeder Magnier, in a dispute about the interpretation of his ownership rights in one of Magnier's horses. But now things are getting more serious. There has been a mysterious delay in finalising another contract extension for Fergie, accompanied by two weeks of revelations in the London Sunday Times about how Man Utd have played the transfer market.

In particular, the team's frequent purchases of high-priced talent seem to involve unusually large payments to self-appointed middle-men, one of whom happened to be Fergie's son. This BBC story reports that Magnier wants the club to fully investigate the dealings before Fergie gets a long-term contract.

There is already something strange about the sudden focus on Man Utd's player transactions -- they have been, to say the least, aggressive in their methods for a long time, and dealing with the little technicality of a player they desire being under contract to another club has been the central bone of contention. Man Utd engages in what US professional sports leagues would consider tampering -- interfering with a contractual relationship between a player and the other club. This happens via an approach to the player about their interest in acquiring him, when strictly speaking the approach should go the club holding the contract. The player then knows that Man Utd want him and demands that the club transfer him. Since he always has the option to sulk if he's not sold, the only real negotiations with Man Utd concern the price.

To avoid breaking the flimsy rules about getting permission to negotiate with the player, the initial approach will be indirect -- via an intermediary or a well-placed leak to a newspaper. Hence the mysterious side payments that accompany the final transaction. To the Sunday Times' credit, it seems to have its hands on some detailed paperwork, and Magnier sees his chance to get another big ego out of the way.

And it's risky to run a legend like Fergie out of town without having lined up a splashy replacement. Here's our guess, based on the fact that an important part of being Oirish is to show an occasional semblance of being Irish, most easily achieved by some populist gesture that will be lapped up by the Irish meeja. So -- out with Fergie, in with current Glasgow Celtic manager and Derryman Martin O'Neill.

O'Neill has been an excellent manager at Celtic and was recently himself a victim of MU's transfer market tactics, as his young Irish star Liam Miller signed a very odd "pre-contract" agreement with MU to go there when his current Celtic contract expires a few months from now. So Magnier keeps his Irish credentials alive by putting an Irishman in one of Britain's highest profile jobs, O'Neill gets to play on a bigger stage than Scottish football allows, and Man Utd attribute any unsavoury past dealings to the now departed Fergie. As they say in the Guinness ads, Brilliant!

And the Oirish icing on the cake: it's now official Conservative party policy, as communicated by their leader Michael Howard, that O'Neill is to be the next manager of Liverpool. How better to prove one's republican credentials than by screwing the Tories?

UPDATE: Here's the story from Monday's Sun. Note that the story is clearly setting up one pro-Fergie weapon for future use -- blame the Irish. Several references to the "Coolmore mafia," Coolmore being Magnier's stud farm in County Tipperary.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Two odd meetings next week

1. Dick Cheney is going to Rome to meet, amongst others, the Pope. The word of Hobbes meets the word of the Lord. Maybe Dick is there as an emissary of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, as it seeks to get its story straight about what the Pope did or did not say about the Mel Gibson movie.

2. Friday's Irish Times reports that:

The Taoiseach, along with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, will meet the [Democratic Unionist Party] leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, and other leading party figures in the Irish Embassy next Thursday.

What's odd about this meeting is not so much that's likely be a screamfest, which would meet everyone's expectations, but the location: since all relevant parties to the meeting live in Ireland, it's not clear why they have to go to London to meet each other, let alone to the Irish Embassy. In fact the location is suggestive of a Paisleyite stunt, to which Bertie Ahern inexplicably agreed -- Paisley will meet at a location that clearly acknowledges the Republic as a foreign country. On its website, Bertie's party, Fianna Fail, continues to describe itself as "the Republican Party." They might want to change it to Simply Oirish.

UPDATE: Even the former Loyalist terrorists, unlike Paisley, are willing to come to Dublin for meetings. Monday's Irish Times:

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, will tonight meet a delegation of loyalists linked to the Ulster Defence Association at a secret location in Dublin.
A day of Simpsons references in the Irish legal system

From Friday's Irish Times:

1. A taxi-driver who removed part of a clamp and drove off with the rest of it still on his car has paid compensation for the damage, a court heard yesterday.

2. According to the witness [in the property zoning corruption tribunal], "Jim Kennedy [dubious property developer] would put legs on lies and would have them running out before you like leprechauns". He compared Mr Kennedy to the cartoon character, Bart Simpson, who says: "I didn't do it. Nobody saw me do it and you can't prove I did it."

The Irish cultural exception

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is annoyed with Bono. As discussed in Friday's Wall Street Journal -- in an article that begins by slyly noting Bono's friendship with the now out-of-favour Paul O'Neill -- Bono's widely heard exclamation that greeted U2's Golden Globe award last year, f**king brilliant, led to an obscenity complaint, which was rejected by the FCC on the grounds that:

The word "f**king" may be crude and offensive, but, in the context presented here, did not describe sexual or excretory organs or activities. Rather, the performer used the word "f**king" as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation.

This exception has enraged FCC bosses and a predictable range of politicians, who are now talking about a steep increase in fines for obscenity. The article bills this as an achievement of Bono's, which seems odd because an increase in fines itself does nothing to change to the legal reasoning that got Bono off the hook in the first place. But what about that other word that Bono used, brilliant? At the rate corporations are seeking to trademark generic words, how long before Diageo is after him for infringing on the centrepiece of their new Guinness ads i.e. the repeated use of that word? Play the ad in full here [busted link; try here]. And cringe.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Cast your votes for President at!

Here's a story from the Wall Street Journal that we are surprised is not getting more attention. The Pentagon is seeking to improve voting procedures for overseas military personnel in Federal elections. All this in the context of a the Florida count from 2000 which was decided by either a few hundred votes, or just three (Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas). And we even recall some specific yelling and screaming about the overseas votes from the military in that election, something about how Al Gore was personally making sure that none of them would ever be counted. So one would think that proper handling of these overseas votes is a sensitive issue. Well, here are the essential aspects of the WSJ story (subs. req'd).

1. The contract for handling the votes went to Accenture. Which used to be known as Andersen Consulting. Which used to be the sister firm of Arthur Andersen, the noted accounting and auditing firm. But leave aside the rotting carcass of its former sister firm; Accenture is also one of those firms that moved its HQ to Bermuda to lower its US taxes. There were attempts in Congress to deny Federal contracts to firms pulling this trick, but the attempts were blocked, pretty much along straight partisan lines. If the referee in the coming Superbowl took the field in a New England Patriots uniform, would we have much expectation of a fair contest? Well, Accenture has taken the field and they're not wearing black and white.

2. Accenture's brilliant idea for improving voting is to use...the Internet. Yes, the Paris Hilton videos, the phishing scams, the Nigerian bank accounts, even the blogs, will now be sharing bandwidth with soldiers casting their votes next November. The idea of electronic voting is already controversial, because of the scope for high-tech meddling and the associated lack of traceability and verifiability of votes -- and these criticisms arise in the context of dedicated voting machines not hooked up to the information superhighway.

[Of Irish interest: this controversy is very active in the Republic because of the country's aggressive move to electronic voting; see the blog GUBU for a recent tirade and while you're at it, check out the blogatrix's discovery about who exactly in high authority has been reading her blog; look for the posts about Moriarty]

So now take all the concerns about electronic voting, blend with all the concerns about Internet security, and you have a fiasco -- at least in the opinion of the experts, but not of course the Pentagon or the fine Bermudans at Accenture:

The experts' report on Serve* said hackers could attack the system, resulting in "large-scale, selective voter disenfranchisement, or privacy violation, or vote buying and selling ... ." Also, Serve is vulnerable to vote switching, even to the extent that it could affect the outcome of an election, the report said.

What's more, the vulnerabilities can't be fixed by changes to Serve, the report asserted. Instead, the vulnerabilities are linked to the design of the Internet as well as computer hardware and software, the authors said.

Accenture said Serve is secure and reliable

[*the Acronym: Secure Electronic Registration & Voting Experiment]

Note: they don't say for what purpose it is secure and reliable.

UPDATE: some signs late on Wednesday that the story is being picked up; here's the New York Times story. But so far it's only that commie rag, the Wall Street Journal, noting Accenture's Bermuda domicile.

Now Losing Its Identity

It was inevitable as sports teams seek to market themselves globally that this would happen: a dispute between the UK Meteorological Office and the New York Mets baseball team about the European trademarking of the word "Met." The UK repository of all things weather-related has been marketing itself as the Met Office for years, but the baseball team wants to trademark Met as well as the more obvious Mets for their use. So far the UK Patent Office is not sympathetic to the Met Office, ruling that while there is an obvious overlap in the words, there is little potential for confusion -- not withstanding the ever present cloudy gloom experienced by New York Mets fans in recent years. This story does remind us: whatever happened to that much hyped New York Yankees-Man United partnership of a couple of years ago? Perhaps the US trademarking of the very worthy dream of Man United proved too problematic.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

There's a thin line between stupid and clever

We're pretty sure that we're horrified by the following development but maybe Mr Lydon has planned some grand manipulation of his er...public image:

Former punk singer John Lydon is joint favourite to win the third series of ITV1's I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here, which starts on 26 January.

On what is, to us, an un-blog worthy day, we refer you to other items of interest. We mentioned a little while ago the ill-advised libel case concerning the murder of French woman Sophie Toscan du Plantier in west Cork; the police "like" Ian Bailey for it but he says he didn't do it, while many newspapers implied that he did. Bailey sued for libel and has now lost, which basically makes him the OJ Simpson of west Cork. It does leave a residue of embarrassment for the Republic's legal system, given its inability to make a criminal case against someone who effectively implicated himself.

But perhaps the resources of the Irish legal system are occupied with truly important matters, such as those described on the blog GUBU, in which the blogatrix herself is being hauled before a tribunal tomorrow to explain her puppetmaster-like control of Ireland's mobile phone licenses in the mid-1990s.

And on a completely different note, here's a bizarre flying story: what are the odds of being a flight where TWO passengers die, apparently of natural causes, and apparently in unconnected incidents? That was the experience of passengers on BA 208 from Miami to Heathrow on Sunday. No-one is working on any conspiracy theories about this one...yet.

Update: another item for the reading list: A New York Times review of the latest Gerry Adams book. The review is by the NYT's Irish correspondent, Brian Lavery. Warning: uses the equation Northern Ireland = Ulster.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Lord Black Footnote

As widely reported today, Conrad Black's legal and financial problems are mounting, and in one weird twist, the great Dr Martin Luther King is giving Lord and Lady Black an extra 24 hours of breathing room, because a deadline he faces in the US is eased by the fact that Monday is a holiday for MLK's birthday. It looks like Conrad may be able to realise some substantial cash in the meantime, because as widely reported on Sunday, he is hoping to sell his media holding company to the "reclusive" Barclay brothers.

One little thing we want to note about the Barclay brothers, relevant to the question of how the Daily and Sunday Telegraph would stand in the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy under their ownership. Their highest profile editor is Andrew Neil at The Scotsman -- pioneering executive editor of the Fox News Channel. We wouldn't be at all surprised if Mr Neil is dreaming of being back in London quite soon, facilitating a continuing stream of "London's Daily Telegraph is reporting that..." rumour-mongering for the US branch of the VRC. But in terms of knowing a lot more about these Barclay brothers, we wish we'd kept around more old copies of Private Eye.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Arabs are the new Irish

The tabloid portion of the British media is very worked up about the BBC sanctions against talk show host Robert Kilroy-Silk for some unflattering remarks he made about Arabs. But Mr Kilroy-Silk has been in this territory before. Specifically:

In 1992 he sparked fury with his comments about the Irish in the pages of the Daily Express.
He described EC Commissioner Ray MacSharry as a "redundant second-rate politician from a country peopled by peasants, priests and pixies."

He did at least go one better on the usual "some of my best friends" routine by claiming that he's Irish himself. Or rather, his Daily Express editor did:

[Express editor Nicholas Lloyd] Kilroy himself is by background and family Irish. His mother is Irish, most of his family are Irish.

We don't anticipate a similar defence over the Arab comments.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

We can rationalize it for you wholesale

Every so often an article pops up that crystallises the deranged justifications now trotted out for even the most ludricous of Dubya's policy proposals. Today's example is Holman Jenkins (subs. req'd) in the Wall Street Journal on Dubya's proposed manned mission to Mars. It's worth noting that across the page from Mr Jenkins, we have Larry Lindsey trying to convince us all that Dubya is well fit for the workload of being President, by virtue of his education at Harvard Business School. Now, we haven't been to business school ourselves, but it's surely a safe bet that there are some lectures in there on return on investment. Now witness Jenkins' justification for the Mars mission:

Up to now, though, our eggs remain in one basket, the earth, within a bigger basket, the solar system. Nature creates probabilities that, given enough time, are certainties: Someday something will bump into the earth, perhaps fatally...Nobody knows when a rock too big for humanity to survive might come along...Whether we get started this century or next might not matter against such a time frame, but every job has to have a starting point...[Dubya's] blueprint implicitly recognizes that the best reason for going anywhere is to begin creating the possibility of self-sustaining human settlements on other worlds.

That's right: in the newspaper for the business school crowd, a policy proposal from the business school President is lauded on the grounds that the nation would spend hundreds of billions of dollars on Mars exploration because, some day, a giant rock might hit earth and we'd all need to move to Mars. And this is fine, because we have no real problems here on Earth anyway:

We can't be here in this world just to fill our bellies and consume health care and stretch out our days as long as possible.

This er...lunacy tells its own story about what Mr Jenkins or Dubya seem to have learned in business school. They certainly weren't listening in Stats 101 because the "logic" above is repeated in this insight:

The law of averages being what it is, even [the Mars program] will have to run the gauntlet at some point of a President Dick Gephardt who wants to raid every program in sight to feed the Medicare beast.

He could have said it in standard sports terms i.e. even if a President Gephardt is very unlikely, at some point it will surely be "due." To our vast college-age readership, go and suggest this logic to your statistics professor -- and watch his/her head explode. Or more prosaically, refer you to the standard debunking of it, such as in the gambling context. It's also the basis of a superb Simpsons episode:

Bill: Let me get this straight: you took all the money you made franchising your name and bet it against the Harlem Globetrotters?
Krusty: Oh, I thought the Generals were due!

UPDATE 6 JULY 2006: Jenkins may need to chat to his colleague Daniel Henninger, who thinks the idea of going to Mars is completely idiotic.
His Mission is to Pacify Iraq

A few months ago, Dubya's spinners were busy pushing comparisons of him with Winston Churchill. But there is one characteristic that Dubya shares with another famous British Prime Minister: William Ewart Gladstone. They both like to destroy wood. From our days sitting in history classes in Ireland, we recall the image of Gladstone retreating to his home at Hawarden to chop wood and solve "the Irish Question." As for Dubya, well, the Washington Post has a funny story today recounting the origins of a nasty scratch on his face which has drawn stares at the Summit of the Americas, and a relevant detail is that:

Besides exercising, Bush's biggest release from his job is chain sawing branches into huge piles in the summer, with Secret Service agents hovering nearby to protect him from falling limbs as he trims.

Apparently, the agents missed one branch and it swiped Dubya on the way down. Gladstone's critics took a very dim few of his immersion in smashing wood, as this 1997 British House of Commons speaker notes (by way of criticising the modern day Liberals):

[Mr. Austin Mitchell, MP] I am reminded of Lord Randolph Churchill's attack on Mr. Gladstone. There was a huge crowd of Liberal supporters watching the great statesman chop down trees on his estate at Hawarden. Those present watched him fell the trees in a frenzy of exertion. They were all given a chip of wood by the great man himself before they were led away. Lord Randolph said, "Here they come with major problems, but what about the Balkans? Chips. What about the economic situation? Chips. What about all the other problems? Chips."

What about the budget deficit, Iraq, the Israel-Palestine roadmap, Osama? Chips.

UPDATE: By printing an anecdote based on a criticism of Gladstone by uber-Unionist Randolph Churchill, this blog in no way endorses the corresponding political views of Churchill Senior over those of Gladstone, the latter having displayed a more progressive attitude towards Ireland.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Sly double entendre of the day

Paul Krugman in another fine column in the New York Time says:

Ron Suskind's new book "The Price of Loyalty" is based largely on interviews with and materials supplied by Mr. O'Neill*. It portrays an administration in which political considerations — satisfying "the base"....

And what does "the base" mean in terrorism terms?

Al-Qaeda, meaning "the base", was created in 1989 as Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden and his colleagues began looking for new jihads.

*Mr O'Neill refers to ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, not me.

Monday, January 12, 2004

A caplet of Guinness and scent of crisps, please

When will Diageo, the multinational drinks conglomerate which owns Guinness, finally have gone too far? We always thought that day would come when they decide to close the St James Gate Brewery in Dublin, as is sometimes rumoured. But it may already here. We at first ignored this story, because it was one of those "politician opens factory" stories that are a staple of Irish news coverage, where all politics really is local. But upon further investigation:

The new state-of-the-art plant, which is supported by Enterprise Ireland, has commenced production of the 'essence of Guinness' at the riverside site on Mary Street [Waterford], where brewing has been taking place for more than 200 years.

The essence, which is known as the special ingredient for the drink, will be exported to each of the 50 countries where Guinness is brewed.

What all this actually means is rather opaque -- in fact as dark as the precious nectar itself. We suppose it means that Diageo has decided that there is one ingredient that makes Guinness specific and they want to centralise production in one place. But once the corporate suits get hold of the idea that there really is an essence of Guinness, why bother brewing entire vats at all? Pills, perfumes, cologne -- surely cheaper and more space saving than those kegs and pints. Or perhaps we should consider corporate conspiracy theories at their worst; maybe there is no special ingredient at all, and it's just a marketing scam to make globalised Guinness seem more Irish. As the lads in the American Guinness ads say, Brilliant!
The axis of evil now includes Yorkshire

[BBC online] A US airforce practice bomb has been dropped on the Yorkshire countryside.
Look in the mirror, Mrs Black

Here is part of the highly substantive analysis of the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination by Lady Black of Crossharbour in today's Daily Telegraph:

Lieberman is further handicapped by being - Lieberman. He comes with a rather irritating wife, Haddassah,

We're sure Lord Black could comment on this irritating wife business if he wasn't so entangled in legal problems, including those involving Lady Black.

Friday, January 09, 2004

So THAT'S why rich guys like to own sports teams....

It helps with the accounting shenanigans. From today's WSJ story (subs. req'd) on the financial woes of Parma football club, a subsidiary of the troubled Parmalat:

The club's players were booked as intangible assets valued at euro 277 million, accounting for more than 13% of the entire Parmalat group's intangible assets on June 30, 2003.

Which is especially useful when some of the group's other assets don't actually exist.
Seeking Women's Votes, Jimmy Page Changes His Style

If the first full week of 2004 is any indication, the USA is in for a truly pathetic year of political journalism and commentary, likely to the benefit of Dubya, for whom the less substantive the scrutiny, the better. Because this week has been bookended by two egregious examples from a newspaper of which one expects better, the New York Times. Tuesday produced the spectacle of so-called "smart conservative" David Brooks using his prime space on the NYT's opinion page to claim that if you criticise Dubya's foreign policy, you're anti-Semitic. The incomparable Daily Howler deconstructs here.

And today comes a flashback to the infantile coverage of the Bush-Gore contest -- in which serious issues of fiscal and foreign policy could have been debated, but the press corps only wanted to talk about what Al Gore was wearing. This time, it's Wesley Clark who is getting the sartorial scrutiny. It turns out, we are told, he is wearing more Argyle sweaters in an effort to chase the women's vote. Who knew that the sweater had this connotation? Was Jimmy Page thinking about a run for office when he wore one in the fabulous 1970 Royal Albert Hall Led Zeppelin concert? According to the political scribes, the only answer is Yes.

UPDATE: The ridicule pours in on today's NYT piece. Atrios and TAPped. Also, it's Jimmy Page's 60th birthday today. Time for another viewing of the Zep DVD in celebration. And we recommend today's Daily Howler on the preposterous David Brooks column. We also mis-spelled anti-Semitic in an earlier version of this post; between that and using the term "neocon" a few days ago, we have clearly revealed ourselves to be rabid anti-Semites. So goes the state of political rhetoric in Dubya's America.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Tories find a new Northern Ireland policy

It's tough being the leader of Britain's Conservative party: Labour have stolen most of your signature policies, you are the third party leader since its last time in office, and Tony Blair just keeps wiggling out of every apparent jam. So perhaps not surprisingly, Michael Howard has found it necessary to stake out a bold position on a deeply controversial issue: who should be the manager of Liverpool Football Club. And his policy is clear: Out with the Frenchman, Bring in the Irishman:

Michael Howard has reportedly suggested Liverpool FC should axe Gerard Houllier and replace him with [Glasgow] Celtic boss Martin O'Neill. Mr Howard, a keen Liverpool fan, was overheard saying: "We need O'Neill, but the end of the season is not soon enough. We need him now."

Our position: Howard is completely right. We just don't know if there are any votes in it.
The dreary spires

Many theories have been floated over the years about what it is that makes the Northern Ireland conflict so intractable. But perhaps one theory that deserves some consideration is the view that it's simply something about being there that makes people disagree with each other. Exhibit A for such a theory would surely be Wednesday's New York Times story on the relationship between Condi Rice and Dubya. Much of the article is a description of the perpetual love-in between the two (hopefully not literally), but it does describe one case where there was Trouble in Paradise, where things got pretty bad:

[Row about whether to describe the UN as "vital" in a news conference] The president used the word anyway — not once, but nine times. Afterward, the senior administration official said, Ms. Rice was "fussing about it a bit because she was afraid she might have some explaining to do back here in order to cover all of our various constituencies. And after a while, the president got annoyed about it."

The president, the official said, then cut off Ms. Rice, curtly telling her, the official recounted, "I did it, and that's it." The two nearly made a scene, the official said. "They almost had to go off for a minute to sort it out," the official recounted. "And then it blew over."

And where did this rare contretemps between the neocon paramours happen?

In Northern Ireland this past April

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

As if flying wasn't enough fun already

[London Times]
Qantas Airways, the Australian national flag carrier, said today that US authorities have banned passengers from gathering near toilets and other places on flights to America.

Update: We briefly considered the possibility that this story was a hoax. But apparently it's true, and applies to all airlines, not just Qantas. This BBC story has more.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Read Headlines With Care


That is, Mohammed Al Fayed in his capacity as chairman of Fulham Football Club criticises Manchester United manager "Sir" Alex Ferguson for trying to poach his players, and not Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, who will doubtless soon be mentioned in the bizarre conspiracy theories Al Fayed is propagating about the car accident that killed his son Dodi and Diana.

Monday, January 05, 2004

We were so sure Dubya was a Jewish nickname

Howard Dean's view of a socialist Jesus has the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy in a frenzy. We noted last week the double-edged attack on Dean's mention of Jesus from the spinners at the Wall Street Journal: the web page says that Dean doesn't really believe in Jesus, and the print page conjures up an imagined victimology in which Dean is allowed to mention Jesus but Dubya is not. But, another week, another line of attack.

Today, OpinionJournal has the stunning revelation that Dubya was hiding his Christianity from the world until 1999! This emerges in the course of their reinterpretation of one of Dubya's debating stunts from that year: in response to a question to name his favourite political philosopher, he answered Jesus Christ. At the time, the spinners hailed this as a master-stroke, but with this Jesus thing now catching on, the necessary revisionism is underway:

[OpinionJournal extract] One might complain that Bush didn't answer the question, since Jesus Christ was not in fact a political philosopher...And Bush's nonanswer answer was pretty smart, for it deftly accomplished what Dean is now trying to do: let Christian voters know he's one of them.

Yes, folks, up until that moment, when people looked at George W. Bush, it was like when Annie Hall's Wisconsin family looked at Annie's visiting New York City boyfriend and saw a Hasidic Jew. Otherwise, of course, the Bush answer makes no sense, and by mirroring it, Dean

[gives] the impression that he thinks Jesus really was a political philosopher.

What can we say but God Forbid!
Missing from the Shire

Absolutely no-one is stunned with the news from Northern Ireland today that Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson has come out of the closet and declared that he can no longer stand the mere "moderate" obstructionism of David Trimble's Ulster Unionist party and instead will join the extreme obstructionists of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party. Given that Donaldson has been spouting Paisley-like positions for years, it's perhaps understandable that, rather than deal with any substantive issue in this profile of him, this BBC article puts this Donaldson fact up front:

[Donaldson] rarely fluffs his lines, his timing is acute - he has even overcome the handicap of, in some people's eyes, resembling the singer Daniel O'Donnell.

And indeed, resembing a Donegal man would be quite a cross for someone like Donaldson to bear -- but confirm for yourself the resemblance via this (disturbingly soft focus) picture of O'Donnell on his official site. But as we looked at Donaldson's picture a few times, some other resemblance was coming to mind, and then it hit us -- he looks like Pippin from Lord of the Rings. He is, however, a much bigger fool than Pippin.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

If you slept for 30 years, you didn't miss anything

One of the funny aspects of the Austin Powers movies is the mileage they get from having Austin and Dr. Evil travel through time from the 1960s to the 1990s and back again. But if one has a certain amount of political and biological longevity, who needs time travel? Consider these little side details from the secret British government papers of 1973, just released under the 30 year rule.

The main details of the story were widely reported: that the US government severely annoyed its NATO allies by raising the nuclear threat level without telling them, as it seemed that the Yom Kippur war might be escalating. And some of the key personalities as the row played out?

[USSR leader] Brezhnev gave a warning that the Russians might intervene in the fighting between Israel and Egypt, the Israelis by that stage having gained the upper hand after General Ariel Sharon (now Israeli prime minister) had crossed the Suez Canal.

Allied anger at the subsequent Nato meeting was directed at the then ambassador Donald Rumsfeld, now secretary of defence, and American documents show that he was quite sympathetic to their complaints.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Of Irish Interest

Interesting New York Times article about cultural theorist Terry Eagleton, with significant focus on his life in Ireland.

Warning: Article spells Derry the other way.

Friday, January 02, 2004

And you thought those American military operations had lousy names?

There has been a treasure trove of revelations in the British government papers released under the 30 year rule, as widely reported. But this little detail in today's Irish Times caught our eyes:

Plans for a drastic extension of shoot-to-kill powers for British forces in the North in 1973 are revealed for the first time in secret papers released in London yesterday.

The proposed "Operation Folklore" anticipated a worst-case scenario in which the British authorities would be forced to impose control on Northern Ireland through an intensive military assault.
When Pharisees Attack

There is a little confusion mixed with much cynicism at the Wall Street Journal editorial page these days. The background: to many political observers, it was interesting when Presidential candidate Howard Dean spoke about wanting to be the candidate for the white guys in the South with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks. But to the WSJ, this is nothing compared to Dean making occasional mention of Jesus. This opens up two lines of attack on Dean.

On the online site, Opinionjournal, it's something like Well, OK, he's mentioned Jesus, but does he Really believe it? And the verdict apparenty, is No:

[Opinionjournal] Here is how Dean describes Jesus Christ:

"Christ was someone who sought out people who were disenfranchised, people who were left behind," Dean said. "He fought against self-righteousness of people who had everything. . . . He was a person who set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2000 years, which is pretty inspiring when you think about it."

Do you notice something missing from Dean's description of Jesus? Well, does he use the phrase "Son of God"? Nope. "Messiah"? Ixnay. "The Way, the Truth and the Light"? None of the above. To hear Howard Dean tell it, Jesus Christ was just a socially conscious celebrity, like Princess Diana only less glamorous.

We hasten to add that if that's what Dean believes, we have no problem with it...It's just that if the above quote is an accurate summation of how Dean sees Jesus, it seems unlikely he'll convince anyone he's a "committed believer."

As usual, their protestations of having no problem with Dean's beliefs signal the exact opposite. A three sentence quote from Dean is taken as a complete summary of his Christian beliefs, to which is added a "Gotcha!" because Dean left out some magic words. One suspects that it's Dean's legitimate vision of Jesus as some kind of, dare we say it, socialist, that has the WSJ boys so upset.

Meanwhile, back on the WSJ's print pages (which overlaps in personnel with the online page), it's a different line of attack: a supposed double-standard in which Dubya is criticised for invoking Jesus but Dean is not. Of course, they lack even a shred of evidence that Dubya suffered the slightest negative consequences when he invoked Jesus, but when has lack of evidence stopped them before?

Mr. Dean's public embrace of Jesus hasn't generated nearly the fury it did when then-candidate George W. Bush declared, during a GOP debate, that Jesus was his favorite philosopher...As for Mr. Dean, we're in no position to judge the sincerity of his relationship with his God.

Note, by the way, the extreme disengenuousness of the last sentence, where on the web they are exactly putting themselves in the position of judging Dean's sincerity. Which in fact generated a little followup:

Several readers also wrote to point out that the correct biblical phrase, per John 14:6, is "the way, the truth and the life," not "light." We stand corrected--but then we've never claimed to be a committed believer in anything.

Except, of course, in our real Lord and Saviour, George W. Bush.