Friday, April 30, 2004

When spin words collide

Someone named Philip Lawler is given space in the Wall Street Journal today to issue a fatwa on the question of whether Senator John Kerry is entitled to receive communion in a Catholic church. A quick bit of Googling (and there's more below) establishes that Lawler is a Republican hack who sometimes finds the Republicans not extreme enough for his tastes. He also edits something called the Catholic World News, which keeps to the tradition of wacky publications with World in their title, such as the Weekly World News and the WorldNet Daily (incomparably renamed WorldNut Daily by Roger Ailes).

Now Lawler must sidestep several issues here. One is his own complete lack of status to be issuing any judgments on what the Catholic church should do about a particular matter. While keen to lecture the rest of us on the meaning of the Eucharist, there is no mention of the old Augustinian principle that for all practical matters still determines church doctrine: Roma locuta est; causa finita est: Rome has spoken, the case is closed. And in this case, despite his attempt to hype a statement from one Vatican spokesman, Rome has not spoken about this specific issue so Lawler should shut his trap and wait until they do.

And then, to the extent that Rome has expressed reservations about politicians not fully aligned with Church teaching receiving communion, there's the matter of the death penalty. How does Lawler deal with this?

The church's stance on capital punishment is more nuanced

So, the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy discovers the virtues of nuance. But here's a new prayer for Lawler the next time he's at Mass: Lord make me nuanced, but not just yet -- because this is the favoured Rovian spin word to attack John Kerry. He's all nuanced about foreign policy while with Dubya, it's just bombs away. You'd think the Wall Street Journal editorial people would have spotted this, since they lead the VRWC in its usage; go to Google and enter nuance kerry site:www.opinionjournal.com and watch the number of links pile up faster than the price of Google's IPO.
Because they are the real experts in this stuff

...In addition, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who had been running the detention operations at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, has been reassigned to Iraq to guard against such abuses recurring, General Kimmitt said.
The smoking stopover

Yesterday we posted about the frenetic activity at Shannon airport handling unscheduled stopovers by air-rage induced landings. But Shannon has also been kept busy for the last 18 months by stopovers of US military aircraft en route to the Middle East; its location makes it a perfect refuelling point and the Republic's neutral in favour of the US policy means that no questions are asked at the official level about the implied military cooperation. But, consistent with the Republic's zeal of the converted War on Smoking, the stopovers finally have become an issue -- because the US troops take advantage of their airport walkabout to smoke! Both the Irish Times and Oirish Independent have stories today (requiring either subscription or registration); here are the key elements of the Times story:

On at least six occasions [US] soldiers have been found crowding the airport toilets and claiming to be unaware of the smoking ban. However, smoking has not been allowed in that area of the airport for many years...

Aer Rianta [airport authority] has declined to confirm or deny that the smoking ban is being breached at Shannon, and has refused to answer questions regarding the reported infringements...
[airport police:] "We have to try and locate the source of the [smoke alarm] activation, and until we have done that we don't know whether it is a fire or a false alarm. And if we can't locate the source within 10 minutes, and the system is not reset, the building must be evacuated"


Could this be what finally tips the apathetic Irish public against the Iraq war?

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Because we say so

Remember how the war in Iraq is part of the War on Terror? That was before the numbers came in:

The State Department reported Thursday there were fewer international terrorist attacks last year than at any time since 1969 -- but the figures don't include most of the violence in Iraq.

Though Bush administration officials frequently refer to Iraqi insurgents as terrorists, most attacks in Iraq weren't considered international terrorism because they were directed at combatants, the report said.
The air rage stopover

Shannon airport in the southwest of the Republic of Ireland has been supported for most of its nearly 60 year existence by some special breaks -- initially a duty-free zone to encourage flights to stop there, and then a mandate requiring all transatlantic flights to and from the Republic to stop there (now weakened to a 50 percent requirement). The required stopover will likely end within the next two years, but the airport looks like it will stay extra busy handling unscheduled landings prompted by air rage incidents. The airport still has the inherent advantage of location that got it started in the first place -- it is the closest landfall for a huge zone of the north Atlantic airspace and thus a likely port of call for flights that really need to land soon. And lately, air rage incidents have generated much of this need.

There is an especially curious case generating headlines the last few days in Ireland, not least because in all the reporting we have yet to hear the supposed ragers' side of the story. The basic details are that on an American Airlines redeye flight from JFK to Heathrow last Friday, two Manhattan residents got into a dispute with the flight attendants about access to the Business Class bathroom -- they were seated next to it, but in Economy Class, and so could not use it. At some point the dispute escalated to a point where the pilot felt a need to land before getting to Heathrow; hence Shannon, where the two passengers were ejected and arrested, jailed for 3 nights, took a guilty plea with massive fines and damages (amounting to having to pay nearly $50,000), were barred from flying two years excepting their return to New York, and even with that proviso were denied boarding by US Immigration on the first attempt to get back to New York (US Immigration processes passengers at Shannon).

Much is being left to extrapolation in the reporting. For instance, today's Irish Times continues the description "the two New York-based professional men," similar to other descriptions of two single men living at the same address. A gay couple? Maybe, but then there's the even more damning aspect: "Mr Warren Clamen (39) and Mr Guy Saint Arnaud (42), both from Canada." The unfortunate Canadians finally made it back to New York today, having lodged an appeal against their convictions.

Perhaps they will speak for themselves when back home, but the circumstances of this case make us suspect an injustice was done. Consider the power imbalance in this situation -- they are passengers on a plane, not US citizens, and stranded across an ocean from home. The post 9/11 environment has given airlines carte blanche to treat service complaints as security threats. The only recourse having gotten stuck in Shannon was presumably to shut up, pay the fines, and get home with as little additional difficulty as possible. The airline and US Immigration can do whatever they want.

And was it really necessary to land the plane prematurely? From Shannon to Heathrow for a plane already in the air can't be more than 45 minutes. Are the Limerick courts so much better at dealing with these things than those in London? We doubt it. We're always told that since 9/11, the cockpit can be sealed from threats on the rest of the aircraft, like some yelling about the bathroom, so why bother landing? Perhaps there have been snide remarks amongst the American Airlines staff about the drama queens on the flight. We suspect that there were drama queens onboard -- in American Airlines uniforms.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Because I say so

Antonin "Fat Tony" Scalia offers the following as part of his reasoning in the US Supreme Court refusal to strike down a blatant Republican gerrymander of Pennsylvania's Congressional districts:

Our one-person, one-vote cases, see Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U. S. 533 (1964); Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U. S. 1 (1964), have no bearing upon this question, neither in principle nor in practicality.

How convenient for Fat Tony to ignore another of his one-person, one vote cases, the one that put Dubya in the White House.
Ten Missiles from Normal

...Still Bush insisted: "Most of Fallujah is returning to normal."
Addicted to Oil

Compare and contrast this photo of our new ally in the War on Terror, Colonel Gaddafi, and his trusty bodyguards, with this one of deceased rocker Robert Palmer.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Eurosurliness

As the Republic of Ireland's glorious presidency of the European Union enters the home stretch, the ill-will increases. For instance, Fintan O'Toole, writing in the Irish Times today, is not happy:

This is, in some respects, a crap country.

The trouble is -- he's right. Fintan is in particular bothered by the June referendum seeking to remove the automatic right to Irish citizenship based on birth in Ireland, promoted, as he points out, by politicians who were selling Irish passports to dubious Saudi businessmen who later figured in the 9/11 investigation. And it's not the well-heeled Saudis who are the target of this particular referendum, but a supposed demographic timebomb of citizen-spongers created by fly-in baby deliveries under Ireland's current citizenship regime. Especially people from states wishing to join the European Union.

But to counteract all the messy publicity about the various doors slamming shut to those from eastern Europe (and those doors are being slammed throughout Western Europe), there will at least be a Day of Welcomes in and around Dublin on Mayday to greet the 10 new EU arrivals. Sadly, this Day of Welcomes seems to consist mostly of photo-ops in which various Very Important Persons will assure each other of their Importance, and then hop into waiting limos to proceed to the next such event.

And as the blog GUBU points out, the journey is the destination for these motorcades -- check out her account of how one motorcade made what had to be a conscious decision to go through rather than around a town, all the better to be seen by the plebs.

In fact, we had to laugh last week when we saw European Parliament President Pat Cox, showing full evidence of years of Brussels lunches and dinners, appear on the BBC World News to assert that for Blair to get his EU Constitutional referendum passed, all that was required was to get beyond the tabloid myths about the EU. [Pat will feature prominently in the Day of Welcomes, by the way] Pat doesn't seem to understand that there's the EU of the gravy trains for the people like him, and the EU of 15, going on 25, cantankerous nationalities who aren't especially excited about many of their fellow EU nationalities and who are especially unexcited about people like Pat. In that sense, Ireland's increasing irritation with the EU makes it an accurate baromer of the overall European mood.

UPDATE: Typical EU gravy train joke: What does MEP (Member of the European Parliament) really stand for? More Expenses Please.

Monday, April 26, 2004

The real cabal

Concluding sentences of Saudi "Ambassador" "Prince" Bandar's interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Sunday:

BLITZER: Prince Bandar, we have to leave it right there. Thanks very much for joining us.
BIN SULTAN: Thank you, and I enjoyed being with you. Alas, you are a Redskin fan, and that bothers me as a Dallas Cowboy fan.
BLITZER: We do have something in common. We both went to the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
BIN SULTAN: Absolutely. And I don't know how they got -- allowed you and I to join there.
BLITZER: We both graduated from there.
(LAUGHTER)
BIN SULTAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thanks for coming. I appreciate it.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Another sexually active and occasionally Irish Tory

Out of nowhere today, Andrew Sullivan springs Lord Palmerston on his reading public. In a post entitled Memo to Zapatero (he'd already used up quote of the day for today), he offers the following from the lord:

If a nation once establishes and proclaims as its rule of conduct, that any sacrifice of interest is preferable to war, it had better at once abdicate its independence and place itself under the protection of some less Quakerlike state; for to that condition of subjection it must come at last, and it is better to get to it decently and at once than to arrive at it painfully after successive humiliations, and all the the losses and sufferings resulting from repeated spoilations

which apart from its dig at the Quakers is typical of what must be thousands of quotes that one could find having made the decision to label one's opponents as appeasers. So why on earth reach deep into the history books for Palmerston? Could it be that there is something broader about Lord Palmerston that makes him a suitable ally for Lord Provincetown? Let's collect some key elements of the former's biography to see what might be relevant:

Although Palmerston had the support of most of Parliament, he was strongly disliked by Queen Victoria. Palmerston believed the main objective of the government's foreign policy should be to increase Britain's power in the world. This sometimes involved adopting policies that embarrassed and weakened foreign governments.

Tony Blair, Jose Maria Aznar, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah know that problem.

Or...

Queen Victoria also objected to Palmerston's sexual behaviour. On one occasion he had attempted to seduce one of Victoria's ladies in waiting. Palmerston entered Lady Dacre's bedroom while staying as Victoria's guest at Windsor Castle. Only Lord Melbourne's intervention saved Palmerston from being removed from office.

We suppose the modern equivalent is getting caught in an embarrassing situation on the web [Follow the link in this Sullywatch post]

Palmerston even had a vision of making the field of conflict in a faraway place, a favourite rationale of Sullivan's for the war in Iraq:

[Palmerston's] attitude, as expressed in a letter to John Hobhouse, was prophetic:
It seems pretty clear that, sooner or later, the Cossack and the Seypoy, the man from the Baltic and he from the British Isles will meet in the centre of Asia. It should be our business to take care that the meeting should take place as far off from our Indian possessions as may be convenient and advantageous to us. But the meeting will not be avoided by our staying at home to receive the visit.


But the biographies can't resist returning to Palmerston's love-life; even as he supported harsh military action overseas (in one case, to "bring John Chinaman to his bearings"), one of his nicknames was "Lord Cupid." Make love AND war. Now there's a role model for the War on Terror.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Nanny to the stars

There is a bizarre case working its way through an Irish court these last few weeks. This Irish Times story (which should be a free link, here's another just in case it's not) has the latest update. Basically the former nanny for the Cranberries lead singer is suing her for unfair dismissal; part of the accusations being traded in the case involve allegations of inappropriate care of the child by the other. The nanny actually has quite a CV, having looked after the kids of U2 drummer Larry Mullen and leggy supermodel (to be said with Letterman-type ironic tone) Elle McPherson. Here are some of the latest highlights:

Ms Anne Acheson, partner of U2's Larry Mullen, told the High Court yesterday that Ms Joy Fahy [the nanny] was a totally reliable nanny and had a very special talent with babies...Also yesterday Ms Fahy herself was cross-examined by Mr Shipsey for the defence at the resumed hearing of her action against the Burtons [Cranberries couple] alleging breach of contract...She described as "upsetting and untrue" an allegation that she had received social welfare while working for Australian model Elle McPherson last year...

Referring to Ms Fahy's earlier evidence alleging that, on one occasion while in Canada in 1999, Mr Burton [Cranberry hubby] had gone out on a jet ski with a beer in one hand and baby Taylor in the other, Mr Shipsey suggested that was impossible and did not happen. Ms Fahy said it did happen.


Update: the nanny effectively loses. Awarded minor damages but responsible for costs.

The Empty Quarter in their heads

As we noted yesterday, the "revelation" in Bob Woodward's book that Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar promised to manage oil prices for the benefit of Dubya's reelection campaign poses big problems for those elements of the VRWC who like to combine vitriolic hatred of the House of Saud with intense adoration of the House of Bush. [By the way, we say "revelation" because Woodward is merely the prominent person who put in print what we already knew, that Prince Bandar has long since ceased to serve the interests of his country and instead allows his 30 years of cronyism with the Bushes to influence Saudi policy] So anyway, here's how the Wall Street Journal online is handling the problem -- with that old classic, the chopped, out-of-context from John Kerry. So what did that awful John Kerry say? Well, he's against low oil prices:

[Begin Kerry quote] "That is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people," Mr. Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, declared during a campaign stop in Florida.

Why would lower gas prices be "outrageous and unacceptable"? And why was Kerry warning of this prospect on the same day that, as Reuters reports, "the national price for motor fuel hit a record high for the fourth straight week"?


Now, this is a willful misreading of what Kerry said; here is the actual sequence from the NYT story:

In that discussion [Bandar-Dubya], Mr. Kerry said, "the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense made a deal with Saudi Arabia that would deliver lower gas prices."

"But here's the catch," Mr. Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, said at a gathering in Lake Worth, Fla. "The American people would have to wait until the election, until November of 2004," for the Saudis to lower oil prices.

"If this sounds wrong to you, that's because it is fundamentally wrong," .... "And if, as Bob Woodward reports, it is true that gas supplies and prices in America are tied to the American election, tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable to the people of America."


It doesn't take any further spelling out to see what he meant. But for opinionjournal, with that messy business about Bandar now dealt with, they are free to return to the Saudi-bashing. They link to a story about research on malformation amongst children of related parents, which used samples of families from Saudi Arabia.
Heading of their account:

The Bright Side of Incest.

Concluding line:

Saudi inbreeding is bad for the health of Saudis, but it may have benefits for the rest of us.

Charming.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Dublin's Eurosclerosis

Since the start of the year, the Republic of Ireland has held the rotating Presidency of the 15 member European Union, and will have this title up until the end of June, at which time it will be a 25 member European Union. So heady days, even for a country given to frequent proclamations that You'll Never Beat the Irish. But there are growing signs that the country's aspiration to have its 6 months as Charlemagne or Napoleon is starting to have a downside. On the one hand, there's the endless prestige of having our name on all those important EU statements -- like the one saying that the former Spanish finance minister will be the next Managing Director of the IMF, or the required ritual condemnation of Israel's latest targeted killing, even as Ariel Sharon, with the nod and wink from Dubya, lines up his next target.

On the other hand, there's the recognition that extending the Republic's already prevalent VIP culture to cover a bunch of suits from 14 other countries has real costs -- like taking the police away from traffic enforcement:

Mr Murphy [Deputy police commissioner] admitted for the first time that less gardai [police] were monitoring road safety, as a result of resources being diverted to provide motorcycle escorts for visiting VIPs during the EU presidency.

Pat Costello, Chief Executive of the National Safety Council, told the [parliamentary] committee that this has probably had an impact on the number of road deaths.


But that's only the beginning of the problems. After the Spanish election, it looked like Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had a publicity coup on his hands -- the proposed EU constitution, a preposterous Bible-sized tome drafted by the reliably pompous Valery Giscard d'Estaing, was now getting favourable noises from the new Spanish and Polish governments, having previously collapsed due to objections from these two. Enter Tony Blair, to say that he will be putting any such constitution to a referendum in the UK, the first EU-related referendum in the UK since its entry in 1973. So Bertie may indeed to get to wave a draft manuscript of the constitution (if he can lift it) after one of his very important summit meetings to be held, say, at his local pub in Drumcondra, but the sense of achievement will be much deflated knowing that it is headed for a popular vote in one of the most Euro-skeptic countries in the EU.

Then there's the question of our ever closer union with Northern Ireland. With Tony "Posh" Blair much distracted by keeping his relationship with George "Tex" Bush on an even keel, and with his EU referendum, it's not surprising that there is a sense of drift in the Northern Ireland peace process, the short-hand name for the stop-start implementation of the Good Friday peace agreement. Therefore, if only because it frees up his time, Posh won't be too upset that the peace agreement's Independent Monitoring Commission has declared Sinn Fein in effective breach of the non-violence requirement, putting the agreement on hold while the Shinners work through being deeply offended at the suggestion that some of them are in the IRA.

And anyway, the Republic has revealed its own a la carte attitude to the peace process in its rushing of a constitutional amendment to the polls in June, which will alter parts of the agreement and therefore should have involved consultation with Northern Irish and British parties to the agreement. Apparently the idea that a 32 county Republic might be a two-way street was a complete shocker to the suits in Dublin. They stitched together a joint declaration with the British government that the referendum doesn't breach the Good Friday Agreement, but this will only deepen the sense amongst the wider public that the only substance to the agreement is whatever the governments of the day interpret it to be.

And why the need for this amendment in the first place? To help keep out damn furriners, especially those pregnant ones from the pool of aspiring EU members who want fly-in citizenship or residency in Ireland. Or should I say Republic of Ireland? It's not clear in this case, hence the legal wrangling. We're sure that the Shamrockshire Eagle, now sadly on hiatus, would have an opinion.
The VRWC gets something right

Over the last few weeks, various elements of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy were abuzz with the theory that rising world oil prices were reflective of a deliberate scheme by the Saudis to help John Kerry win the election. This was an especially nice formulation for the most hardline anti-Saud contingent, providing a little word chain in which one could get John Kerry and insinuations about terrorism in the same sentence. Now indeed, the VRWC is right about the House of Saud -- it was their repressive fundamentalist stew that produced the philosophical inspiration and some large ratio, let's say 15/19, of the actual implementation of 9/11.

But not for the first time, the VRWC ended up floating a theory that now must be hastily forgotten. For instance, here's the Wall Street Journal online from about 3 spin point generations ago (March 31st):

[Link to news report about OPEC pushing for higher oil price]...So Riyadh is trying to push oil prices higher, at the same time as John Kerry is campaigning on the issue of high gasoline prices. Are our friends the Saudis thereby expressing their presidential preference?

The answer is of course, yes. The Saudis do have a preference, which from Bob Woodward's book, and the White House non-denial, is for Dubya.

UPDATE: the VRWC has some new spin to explain why the hated Saudis would be appearing to back Bush; as TAPped catches one of them explaining, it's because the Saudis really want Kerry.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Unnecessary metric usage

Saint Condi of Palo Alto speaking to the official news agency of the USA (Fox News) on Sunday:

For all the negotiations, for all the special envoys, for all the trying, the Israelis had not given back essentially a kilometer of land in the occupied territories

Now, who would be giving Condi briefing documents containing the word kilometer?

Friday, April 16, 2004

A pint of Guinness and a packet of vindaloo, please

Economists like to talk about comparative advantage: the principle that each country should concentrate on the production of goods or services in which it has an inherent productive edge over other countries. We bring to your attention two stories bearing on this principle. First, in what seems like a clear invocation of the principle, Guinness has announced that it is to cease brewing the black stuff at the Park Royal brewery in London and is consolidating all brewing for the UK and Irish market in Dublin. The blow to Britain from this decision is mainly sentimental, since the multinational conglomerate that now owns Guinness, Diageo, had long since made the decision to reorient Park Royal as an office park, and the job loss is minimal. As for the Dublin brewery, it means that, as the Pope is alleged to have said about Mel Gibson's The Passion, "It is as it was," for there was a time when all Guinness was brewed here, reflecting some comparative advantage of Ireland in the production of stout.

But here's another case that is more difficult to interpret as comparative advantage. Thursday's Sun reported that brilliantly preposterous rockers The Darkness are living the cliche of the British visitors to the USA i.e. discovering that the curry isn't as good as back home, and so (it is claimed) they are shipping out the chef and staff of their favourite London curry house for the remainder of their US tour. Now, one might have thought that India has the comparative advantage in, like, Indian restaurants, but the lads are hedging their bets:

Justin [Hawkins, lead singer], who is on the road for most of the year, has tried curries all around the world. And he's more convinced than ever that we rule the curry world.

Justin added: "We've travelled quite a bit in the last few months...Nowhere in the world, with maybe the exception of India, can you find curry like you get in the UK -- that's what we're missing.

In summary therefore, Ireland is granted its supremacy in stout, but India is forced to share the title in curry. A mixed day for the former colonies.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Memory games

Today presents an odd juxtaposition of Dubya's public pronouncements: a much heralded Churchillian discourse on Iraq in which he didn't actually provide any details, and today's I'm with Arik stunner, which seems to have sneaked up on people, that he is dumping 37 years of US policy on Israel and the occupied territories. Now while Dubya was intent on avoiding details on Tuesday night, he couldn't help but slip a few incidental ones in anyway -- details that are predictably of questionable validity. We refer you to TAPped for their collection of commentary and links about the obvious clangers. But there are one or two specific things we'd like to highlight. Consider first his response to a question about the August 2001 Daily Brief:

THE PRESIDENT: Ed [LA Times], I asked for the briefing. And the reason I did is because there had been a lot of threat intelligence from overseas. And so -- part of it had to do with Genoa, the G8 conference that I was going to attend. And I asked, at that point in time, let's make sure we are paying attention here at home, as well. And that's what triggered the report.

This mention of Genoa is odd, and smacks of Dubya constructing some memories for himself in light of subsequent analysis. Dubya wants us to think: Going to Genoa got me thinking about terrorist threats, so I asked for an assessment of where we stood at home. And yet Genoa is the topic that has provided one of the few chinks in the armour of Saint Condi of Palo Alto, as the Daily Howler has incomparably explained:

[Howler] How bizarre is Rice?s statement [that no-one had conceived of hijacked planes as weapons]? In July 2001, Rice accompanied President Bush to a G-8 summit in Genoa. On September 26, 2001, David Sanger described a security problem which developed at that event. He wrote on page one of the New York Times:
SANGER: ....in an appearance on Italian television, Gianfranco Fini, the Italian deputy prime minister, discussed parallels between the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and warnings his government had received before the Genoa meeting in July.

"Many people joked about the Italian Intelligence Force," Mr. Fini said, "but actually they had information that in Genoa there was the hypothesis of an attack on the American president with the use of an airplane. That is why we closed the airspace above Genoa and installed antiaircraft missiles. Those who joked should now reflect."


Is this the intelligence that Dubya now says got him thinking about threats at home? And if so, where does that leave his position, similar to Condi's, that he didn't envision a plane as a weapon?

Then there's this:

[Dubya] I mean, I didn't have that great sense of outrage that I felt on September the 11th. I was -- on that day I was angry and sad: angry that al Qaeda had -- well, at the time, thought al Qaeda, found out shortly thereafter it was al Qaeda -- had unleashed this attack; sad for those who lost their life.

So the claim here is that I knew on the day that it was al Qaeda. To know so quickly requires some level of expectation that they might be up to something.

UPDATE: The final paragraphs of this Slate article track the changing official line on whether Dubya actually asked for the August '01 briefing, and the disturbing implications of whatever the correct answer is.
Editing games

The Wall Street Journal opinion page for subscribers contains the following charming pitch for one piece:

COMMENTARY
DOROTHY RABINOWITZ
The 9/11 Widows

Americans are beginning to tire of them.


Americans in this case means people who think the sun shines out of Dubya's butt. But anyway, on the public website, Opinionjournal, the same piece is pitched as follows:

Dorothy Rabinowitz's Media Log
Americans are beginning to tire of the activist 9/11 widows.


Notice how the plain old annoying widows from the newspaper site have morphed into "activist" widows on the public site. A concern perhaps that the more web-accessible version would need to be seen to limit its bile to a more select activist (=Democratic) group of the bereaved?

UPDATE: For a demolition of the substance of this VRWC slime, go to Sullywatch, with commentary and additional links.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Translation games

In the now released briefing given to the vacationing Dubya in August 2001, there is the following sentence:

The CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the United Arab Emirates in May saying that a group of Bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.

In the usual sloppy fashion in which these things are reported, we have heard some TV and radio reporters say the call referred to an "explosive attack." But in this case, the sloppiness points to a serious issue. There's a difference between an attack with explosives, and an explosive attack.

In fact, Dubya would much prefer to stick to the wording in the briefing, because he can then say that in addition to Osama being so inconsiderate as to not call ahead of time with dates and flight numbers for 9/11, the planes didn't have actual explosives on board. But 9/11 was clearly an explosive attack. So we find ourselves wondering the following: was the original call to the UAE Embassy in English or Arabic? And if the latter, is there some ambiguity in how the key phrase was translated into English?

UPDATE: Slate has this hilarious Powerpoint visualisation of that mysterious UAE phone call.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Romps go post-modern

Amongst the various sophisticated skills that David Beckham brought to the provincials in Madrid, the News of the World deems the following to be particular outrageous and daring; it was an element of his alleged conduct of two affairs, in which Becks, besides revealing an apparent Old Testament fixation with his choice of paramours:

At one stage he [Beckham] was texting Sarah and Rebecca at the SAME TIME.

Friday, April 09, 2004

It's not a Crusade...no, wait, it is

About this day last week we noted Christopher Hitchens making an unfortunate reference to Heart of Darkness in connection with the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Now comes a set of even more unfortunate references from Andrew Sullivan, who doesn't seem to see the problem of viewing the crisis through the prism of Holy Week. The post is titled "The Passion of Iraq" which just invites some weird analogies (Bremer = Pontius Pilate?). He then asks "Did we expect the place to become Toledo overnight?" by which we assume he means Toledo, Ohio (coming soon: the Baghdad Mudhens baseball team joins the AAA league) but instead sounds like a reference to Toledo, Spain, which gets us into some very tricky history as far as the Muslim world is concerned:

Castile and Leon captured the Muslim kingdom of Toledo in 1085, annexed its lands, and pushed the frontier of Christian Spain south beyond the Tagus River. The Muslim lands annexed by Castile and Leon became known as New Castile. The capture of Toledo—the ancient capital of Visigothic Spain—marked the first time a major city in Muslim Spain had fallen to Christian forces, and it served to sharpen the religious aspect of the Christian reconquest. In subsequent centuries this dimension of the conflict would grow stronger.

And just to eliminate any doubt about the Passion-Resurrection imagery being applied to Iraq:

It may be dark this Friday, but Christians are told that a new day will dawn. Not in three days. But in time. If we keep our nerve.

Just the pep talk that the ayatollahs and clerics need to hear! And anyway, what's with this "three days" business? It's already Good Friday. Jesus will be doing his thing in about 36 hours. In three days, much of the world, but not the US (except perhaps for its leisure-loving President) takes the day off on what Andrew used to call a Bank Holiday.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Our figurehead is not what she seems

We always thought that there was something odd about the UK's Queen Elizabeth II but an aside in a Wall Street Journal article today (subs. req'd) about Joe Allbritton, the controlling shareholder in the scandal-plagued Riggs National Bank of Washington DC clarifies it:

Even if the bank continues to go it alone, the problems are a sharp blow to Mr. Allbritton, the controlling shareholder of Riggs National Corp., the bank's parent, and a connoisseur of horseflesh and fine art whose friends include the queen of England.

Isn't this equine equation a tad disrespectful to her majesty?
At least they didn't claim he had a 3rd nipple

Via Atrios, we learn:

Senior U.S. officials told CNN on Tuesday that they now believe fugitive terrorism suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did not have a leg amputated in Iraq, as the Bush administration had previously said.

Although the administration pointed to Iraq's medical assistance to al-Zarqawi as evidence of a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime, it's now believed that al-Zarqawi still has both legs.


Perhaps indicating our excessive immersion in TV, this blunder recalls nothing so much as the scene in You Only Live Twice, where Bond whacks the supposed Mr Henderson on the leg, to verify that it is artificial, and thus that Henderson is who he says he is. We can only speculate as to whether some unfortunate was assigned to hit al-Zarqawi on the suspect leg, and what might have happened afterwards.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Mistah Hitchens, he wrong

Christopher Hitchens makes a most unwise literary allusion in today's Wall Street Journal:

The [Fallujah] mob could have cooked and eaten its victims without making things very much worse. One especially appreciated the detail of the heroes who menaced the nurses, when they came to try and remove the charred trophies.

But this "Heart of Darkness" element is part of the case for regime-change to begin with.


Leave aside the Whatever Happens, It Justifies My Position logic. Heart of Darkness -- in which it was the occupying power, Belgium, that had brought depravity to the natives.
May the ditch rise to meet you

Last night, in a rare moment of insight, CNN anchor Aaron Brown aired the idea that April Fool's day had lost its force because so much of the average news these days seems so hard to believe anyway. Case in point: we carefully scrutinised this announcement from the Irish government concerning an European Union road safety conference next week, which like every EU event until June will be held under the Irish Presidency. And here's the key blurb about the conference:

The Minister for Transport, Mr. Seamus Brennan, will host a major road safety event in Dublin Castle on Tuesday next, 6 April.
Each year in Europe there are up to 40,000 fatalities as a result of road accidents and the Dublin event will highlight the need for urgent action to address this unacceptable loss of life and serious injury.
The focus of this event is to:
Facilitate the initial launch of the European Commission's Road Safety Charter, which forms a critical element of the European Road Safety Action Programme 2001 to 2010; and
Provide a forum for an expression of our support for the UN/WHO Road Safety Week, which commences on 7 April 2004...

In addition, Formula One World Racing Champion Michael Schumacher will be visiting Dublin Castle to speak about the UN/WHO road safety initiative and to demonstrate the safety elements of a new seatbelt slide.


Yes, the guy who makes his living doing 160 miles an hour will be the public face of the road safety campaign. We looked for the 1st April dateline, some sign that this was a joke, but No. This announcement comes when the Republic's road safety record is much in the news:

...the road fatality figures for the first three months of this year, 96 deaths, show a 34 per cent increase on the same period last year.

And in typical official Ireland fashion, there is deep puzzlement expressed about what the problem could possibly be and what to do about it -- when even the dogs in the street (or rather, for their own safety, in the footpath) know that the problem is young men getting into cars, likely having had a few drinks, and living out their own Michael Schumacher fantasy on the Republic's pathetic roads. Coming next -- Shane McGowan as the public face of the don't drink and drive campaign.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Belfast and Fallujah

There is an odd strand connecting two seemingly unrelated news stories today. The Iraq coverage in the US is still dominated by the events in Fallujah yesterday, in which four private security guards working for the Pentagon were killed and then put on display by a mob. Now, our betters here in the US media outlets think that we can't handle direct footage of this event so the shock effect is not even as high as it might otherwise be. But watching what little glimpses of it that we have been allowed, along with the predictable denunications of the mob, has an unfortunate resonance for anyone with a memory of 1980s Northern Ireland.

For the first thing that sprang to mind was the convulsive events of March 1988. The world became aware of how bad things were at the tail end of a sequence of events, for which TV cameras were present. A huge crowd was attending the funeral of IRA member Kevin Brady, who was killed a few days previously when a Loyalist psychopath* had opened fire at another funeral in nationalist Belfast.

On the TV cameras we see a car with two panicked occupants lurch into view, a crowd approaches the car, one of the occupants pulls a gun, the crowd now tackles the people inside the car, there are glimpses of them being dragged away and put in another car, and a few hours later they are found dead. The two occupants turned out to be plain clothes, and apparently off-duty, British soldiers.

It was extremely disturbing footage, and one of those moments where you remember where you were when you saw it. Now of course the mob was denounced and the world was shocked. It was difficult to defend their actions, but it was one of these situations where blanket Dubya-style denunciations were of little help in understanding what had happened; three days previously, three people had died at another funeral, and now two unfamiliar men suddenly approached this one. And things escalated from there. So for instance, when alleged Irish-American and Fox News thug Bill O'Reilly makes a statement like:

O'REILLY: The colonel [talk show guest] and I are disagreeing on the tactics [retaliation for the Fallujah killings], but we know what the final solution should be. Why hasn't the U.S. command done this [attack the whole town]? And why do they continue to absorb the level of terror that is coming out of -- this isn't a big town. We're not talking about Cincinnati here. Right? It's not a big town?

So Bill's advice to the British Army in 1988 would have been: flatten Belfast (or at least the nationalist bits)...it's not a big town?

There is a connection to another of today's news items. After the 1988 killings, a man named Patrick McGeown was charged with "organising" the killings of the two soldiers. The whole notion of an "organised" mob killing that clearly sprang from bizarre and unplanned circumstances was a stretch, and McGeown had a good lawyer to make this and related points. That lawyer was Patrick Finucane. Finucane was killed by Loyalist paramilitaries in 1989, and his murder has dogged the British government, if not the conscience thereof, ever since.

Credible allegations have been made that the security forces set up Finucane as a target by telling Loyalist extremists that he was in the IRA, and then failed to act to prevent his killing even with advance information on it. As part of the peace process, a Canadian judge has investigated this and three other mysterious murders. Today, the British government published the judge's report, and while they will proceed with public inquiries into the other three murders, the Finucane family will have to wait.

This is claimed to be because of an ongoing criminal case, but goes against the judge's recommendation that the truth needs to come out as soon as possible. Incidentally, David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader and consultant to the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy on mobile phone bomb detonators, took the opportunity today to yet again insinuate that Finucane was in the IRA. The US forces in Iraq should be getting advice from their British counterparts on how not to run their War on Terror.

UPDATE: We mentioned above the legal followup to the incident in which the two British soldiers who were killed in unclear circumstances at an IRA funeral. The lawyer Pat Finucane represented one of the accused, who was cleared, and Finucane was murdered not long afterwards (The Shamrockshire Eagle e-mailed us, noting the intriguing timeline of this events, suggesting a specific revenge motive for Finucane's murder). But wait, there's more.

There were three convictions. The men were eligible to be freed under the Good Friday Agreement. One of them, Sean O Ceallaigh [Kelly] emigrated to California. But now the US authorities are trying to deport him (subs. req'd), citing the conviction as evidence of "moral turpitude" -- one of the broad exclusionary criteria that the US applies to potential immigrants. Two separate investigative journalist teams, and the Irish government, doubt the safety of the convictions. It looks like the original trial will essentially be re-aired in California.

*UPDATE 22 JUNE: We should have updated ages ago but it looks like O'Ceallaigh was allowed to stay in California. Meanwhile, the loyalist who attacked the funeral, Michael Stone, now living in London, is newly entangled with the police, for reasons as yet unclear.

FINAL UPDATE 9 SEPTEMBER 2006: Sean O'Ceallaigh's case continues to rumble through the system; the US Board of Immigration Appeals has ruled that he can be extradited, but have left open a final determination as to whether his offence was "political" in which case he would not be extradited, even under the new US-UK extradition treaty which moved a little closer to Senate ratification this week. O'Ceallaigh has in fact now been deported [not extradited, since apparently he does not face any criminal proceedings in Northern Ireland]
All eyes on Kildare

Last week we posted about the seemingly arcane shuffling of international economic and political jobs. Horst Kohler is leaving the job of managing director of the IMF to become President of Germany, and in sticking with the tradition that the European Union (meaning the big EU countries) gets to fill the IMF job, it was assumed that his successor would be the outgoing finance minister of Spain.

But then things got complicated. The whole process of selecting these job candidates is not transparent but it certainly seems that the ill-will generated towards the outgoing Spanish government by the 11-M bombings made things worse. So as the Wall Street Journal reports (subs. req'd) today:

Interviews with European diplomats suggest some EU governments are dividing their support between two candidates [for the IMF MD job]. One is Rodrigo Rato, the lame-duck finance minister of Spain; the other is Jean Lemierre, a Frenchman and head of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, a London organization that works with emerging nations in Europe.

The noises seem to indicate that an "old Europe" Paris-Berlin entente exists regarding the Frenchman with the other countries left to decide whether to play along with the big boys or stay behind the Spanish candidate that they may not be especially excited about. But the job search doesn't end there. France did a major cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, and for the most of the world that only is aware of French politics from glimpses on TV, that means farewell then Dominique de Villepin's impeccable tan (he's the one on the left), and Luc Ferry's silly hair.

But it also creates a new open slot on the European Commission (the EU's executive body, in Brussels) because one of France's commissioners is returning to take de Villepin's foreign affairs job i.e. to display Gallic insouciance as Colin Powell waves around anthrax vials at UN Security Council meetings. Then there's the fact that the European Commission President, Romani Prodi, is already campaigning for his next desired job, taking over from Silvio Berlusconi as PM of Italy. [update 2 april: even though France immediately filled the commission spot vacated by de Villepin's successor, two other slots are open; one being vacated by monetary affairs commissioner Pedro Solbes who is joining the new Socialist government in Spain in Rato's old job, and a new competitiveness commissioner position created but not yet filled] . And Europe being Europe, how one of these jobs is filled will affect all the others.

And as we pointed out last week, who will conduct the next performance of this crazy orchestra and where will the performance take place? Irish Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy will wave the baton, at Punchestown racecourse in County Kildare. But Punchestown gets dissed by the same WSJ report:

The officials hope to reach agreement on a candidate for the Washington-based IMF as early as this weekend at an informal meeting of European Union finance ministers near Dublin.

Near Dublin? Sure half of Ireland meets that description.