Thursday, June 30, 2005

Fisher, German Bight: Becoming Dollary

In his busy schedule, Dubya finds time to name a highly qualified Ambassador to Denmark (just in time for a visit there next week):

The President has nominated James Cain, of North Carolina, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Denmark. Mr. Cain currently serves as a Partner in the law firm of Kilpatrick Stockton, LLP. He previously served as President and Chief Operating Officer of the National Hockey League's Carolina Hurricanes and its parent company, Gale Force Holdings. Mr. Cain received his bachelor's degree and his J.D. from Wake Forest University.

A sea-faring people like the Danes will appreciate a dude who once ran a company called Gale Force Holdings. Otherwise one might be forced to conclude that his nomination is related to the appearance of a James Cain, from North Carolina, on the Republican party's list of Super Ranger donors.
There can be only one

Thursday's Times of London has an interview with Dubya. The scene-setting:

Mr Bush added a bust of President Eisenhower [in the Oval Office]. It sits to the left of his desk, made from the timbers of HMS Resolute, a Victorian transport ship, another gift from the British. "You’re probably the only people in here for whom I don’t need to explain what ‘HMS’ means," he says. "My Texas friends have no idea what I’m talking about when I tell them."

Does the confusion spring from there being other majesties besides him?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Special Victims Unit

Our normal blogging style doesn't really lend itself to an appropriate treatment of the disgusting and sickening revelations behind a police excavation of a garden in Dalkey, south Dublin. If you don't know about this case and are ready for something like the unsettled sleep and loss of appetite that we experienced after reading about it, here's the minimal RTE website version; we suspect it's minimal for legal reasons. Here's the more expansive Irish Times story from Wednesday's paper (may require subs.) and the Independent's version (reg. req'd) from the same day.

A summary would note credible accusations of incest that began with a very young victim and may have produced two babies, both deceased and perhaps murdered. The victim is now 43 and living in the UK, where she is receiving therapy but also deeply bitter about the State's slow progress in dealing with her case. Now, that case is going to raise spectres that have haunted other countries, notably the role of recovered memory testimony and the often lax attitude of police to missing persons cases. But the cagey news accounts do indeed point to some bizarre oversights by police and missed signals by others. Consider:

Over the last 30 years, 3 dead bodies: an unidentified baby, and within the victim's family, one suicide and one unexplained death among her brothers (the latter death reported by the Independent story above)

At least one and maybe two pregnancies in a young girl, who apparently was attending school

The very small world of Dublin, in which the young boy who found the dead baby later went on to report for the Irish Times on the victim's allegations almost twenty years later, in 1995

That as a result of the above, the police had lots of names and accumulating circumstantial evidence, but still no prosecution

And now the garden dig, after several years, it seems, of disagreement amongst experts about whether it would produce anything.

The prognosis is bleak. Right now it looks like the country is headed for its homegrown version of Belgium's trauma in the Marc Dutroux case.

ADDITIONAL LINKS: Thursday's Irish Times (may require subs); Thursday's Independent (reg. req'd); Friday's Irish Times (reporting on a TV interview with the victim's mother where she denied everything); Saturday's Irish Times

UPDATE 25 OCTOBER: Nothing has really happened since the initial allegations, other than accumulating evidence of a tragic and disturbed family. The woman above, 'Niamh', had referred to a sister who was also a victim of incest and had committed suicide. Her inquest noted the allegations but had no legal power to do anything. The final depressing footnote would be that there's nothing exclusively Irish about this problem; consider this case from New Jersey, albeit not involving the same lapse of time.

UPDATE 6 JUNE 2006: New developments. The woman's name is now known, Cynthia Owen. And a potential new lead on what happened to one of the babies. But [9 June], the lead goes cold -- due to the ridiculous practice that pertained in the 1970s of burying unidentified babies who had suffered suspicious deaths in communal graves and retaining no evidence. Hence an exhumation had little chance of finding the "right" remains while disturbing lots of others. A pathetic commentary on 1970s Ireland.

13 FEBRUARY 2007: An inquest on the murdered baby found in Dun Laoghaire; the report is naming names, unlike RTE. It's not clear what evidence they have beyond that of witnesses at the time.

Day 2: RTE,

Day 3: RTE.

Did the body count associated with this household never attract any attention until Cynthia Owen spoke up? Unbelievable.

FINAL UPDATE: A verdict in the coroner's court. The jury identified the dead baby found in Dun Laoghaire as being from the Dalkey house and in effect determined that the baby was murdered.

Now too much material in this post; we'll link here if we do anything new on this case.
Again with the Celtic Tiger

About this time last year we wrote:

It is July. Which means a new season of op-ed columns -- that written by our glorious pundits while on their holidays, consisting of little more than their previously frozen views, spiced with some supposedly relevant observation from their Grand Tour

So it must be another sign of global warming that the hack migration is ahead of schedule, because Tom Friedman is in Dublin in June:

Yes, the country that for hundreds of years was best known for emigration, tragic poets, famines, civil wars and leprechauns today has a per capita G.D.P. higher than that of Germany, France and Britain. How Ireland went from the sick man of Europe to the rich man in less than a generation is an amazing story.

Needless to say, there's plenty of blog commentary [usefully collected by Slugger O'Toole] so let's just make a few quick observations here:

By the mid-1980's, though, Ireland had reaped the initial benefits of E.U. membership - subsidies to build better infrastructure and a big market to sell into.

Can anyone think of an example of how our infrastructure had improved by the mid 1980s? For God's sake, it's still shite!

Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney. "It was because we nearly went under that we got the courage to change."

The redemptive theory of crisis. So are we better off for having had the crisis?

In 1996, Ireland made college education basically free, creating an even more educated work force.

Timing here is all wrong -- the boom was already well underway by 1996. And "free" is a misnomer. College education was already heavy subsidised. They did abolish tuition fees in 1996 but they have returned via backdoor fee-for-service on campuses.

We set up in Ireland in 1990," Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computer, explained to me via e-mail. "What attracted us? ... [Ireland also has] very good transportation and logistics and a good location - easy to move products to major markets in Europe quickly."

If Dell liked our transportation system in 1990, and we're willing to take his statement at face value, why is the government so fixated on tolled motorways now?

and you, too, can become one of the richest countries in Europe.

Everyone can be above average!

"It wasn't a miracle, we didn't find gold," said Mary Harney. "It was the right domestic policies and embracing globalization."

Mary is true believer, like Pat Cox. But read any day's headlines on RTE, view the catalog of government incompetence and mismanagement therein, and wonder whether much of our success is despite the people in charge.
Your half-wit conservatives at work

Or, Dubya's so great, I can't even type properly. Either way, over at the National Review Online, here's the current post from K.J. Lopez:

Or we were talking about Bush, Canada gave same-sex "marriage" and (sic) embrace.

[Previous entry in this series.

And, once the giddiness died down, she mended the typos]

If it doesn't feel good, don't do it

If Dubya's speech last night was supposed to offer greater candour, there is much analysis here of why it didn't. Here's another example. Having hitched his wagon to the flypaper strategy, you'd think he'd be eager to list the nationalities of foreign fighters in Iraq. He was, up to a point:

Our military reports that we have killed or captured hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq who have come from Saudi Arabia and Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and others.

"and others." Like some European countries that, for whatever reason, Dubya doesn't want to annoy right now, via the Sunday Times:

ABOUT 70 young Muslim men have left Britain to join the insurgents who are fighting coalition troops in Iraq, senior security sources have revealed.
At least three have been killed in combat, including one whose role in an Iraq suicide bombing in February was disclosed by police only last week.

The growing problem of militants from Britain travelling to Iraq has been highlighted by Eliza Manningham-Buller, director-general of MI5, in recent briefings to Tony Blair.

Looks like the straight-talkin' Dubya is letting diplomatic niceties interfere with speaking the truth to the Merkin people.

UPDATE 29 JUNE: God forbid we have anything semi-complimentary to say about James Taranto's, but they also make note of Bush's unusual country list above and pursue the logic of one of his famous promises, that countries harboring and supporting terrorism will also feel the wrath of the US -- yet these countries have not. Broadening the list to western countries would of course have complicated that issue even more.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Athens observes Rome

In the justified uproar about Karl Rove working on taxpayer time to call liberals wimpy traitors , there was one aspect we thought deserved more scrutiny: his factually incorrect claim that Dubya had immediately marched to war after 9/11. He didn't. And that's not just us speaking, it's a contemporaneous observer speaking just a few months after: Tony Blair. So here's Rove's claim:

In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to… submit a petition. I am not joking. Submitting a petition is precisely what did. It was a petition imploring the powers that be" to "use moderation and restraint in responding to the… terrorist attacks against the United States."

I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the Twin Towers crumble to the earth; a side of the Pentagon destroyed; and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble.

Moderation and restraint is not what I felt - and moderation and restraint is not what was called for. It was a moment to summon our national will - and to brandish steel.

But here's Tony at a Crawford news conference in April 2002, an event that's under renewed scrutiny in the light of the Downing Street Memos:

Now, we've made it very clear to you how we then proceed and how we deal with this [WMD]. All the options are open. And I think after the 11th of September, this President showed that he proceeds in a calm and a measured and a sensible, but in a firm way. Now, that is precisely what we need in this situation, too.

It was nearly a month after 9/11 before the attack on Taliban began. Looks like that MoveOn petition worked!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Cork and Tehran

What are we to make of the resemblance between the shock victor of the Iranian presidential election, family values candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Roy Keane, midfield stalwart of Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland?
It's not torture if the font size is really small

The White House website today:

In large font, and first on the list of rare Sunday postings:
June 26, 2005
Fact Sheet: White House South Lawn Tee Ball

In smaller font:
President's Statement on United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The writing is being fixed around the policy

Andrew Sullivan gets upgraded from his usual American commentary slot in the Sunday Times of London to a long Focus piece on the Downing Street Memos:

Focus: Secret memos fuel US doubt on Iraq
He’s vowed to complete his mission in Iraq, but President Bush faces growing disillusion as leaked documents reveal the hidden path to war and the mood changes in America

Yet just a fortnight ago (as they'd say in London), Sully was telling his blog readers that:

All the memo shows is one individual's take on what was going on in Washington. It was also my take and the take of lots of journalists and observers. It proves nothing but that senior figures in Downing Street believed that the war was inevitable, unsellable to the British public and that there was almost no post-war planning. I guess it is slightly amazing that any senior government official can get three things right. But I'm underwhelmed.

By the way, there was already more than one memo when he wrote this, showing that he was sufficiently underwhelmed to even research it properly, beyond reading a laughable Michael Kinsley column.

So what's changed? Well for one thing, there are hints that the Sunday Times is now his major income source. Sully freelances all over the place, but only one outlet gets this acknowledgment:

My British employer, the Sunday Times, provides a helpful guide to all the documents it has published ... My main employer, the Sunday Times, scores another huge scoop with this leak

Another element of the mysterious Andrew Sullivan finances.

UPDATE JUNE 27: Things get weirder. Sully has posted what he says is his Sunday Times piece on his blog. But it's not the same piece that actually ran in the Sunday Times. In particular, the web piece downgrades the role of the Downing Street Memos. Here's the key sequence from the web article:

The poll that showed sixty percent of Americans now want to start removing troops from Iraq merely confirmed what was obvious: Bush's war-policy can no longer be sustained by the kind of "trust-us" condescension that he has previously employed. [****] And so the debate has polarized yet again - and the poles are now further apart than ever.

But the actual ST article has five DSM paragraphs at the [****]. He mentions the memos, once, and in his more dismissive tone of a few weeks ago, in the web piece. There's the ever-present rule with Sully to follow the link. But now it applies even to his links to himself. Are his readers not supposed to know that he was against the memos before he was in favour of them?
Sunday news roundup

David Brooks, "smart conservative" and Shannon airport fan writes, in the course of bashing Bono's pal Jeff Sachs in the New York Times:

... [Sachs] delivers an unreconstructed tribute to the 18th-century Enlightenment, when leading thinkers had an amazing confidence in their ability to refashion reality so that it would conform to reason ... The Bush folks, at least when it comes to Africa policy, have learned from centuries of conservative teaching - from Burke to Oakeshott to Hayek - to be skeptical of Sachsian grand plans. Conservatives emphasize that it is a fatal conceit to think we can understand complex societies, or rescue them from above with technocratic planning.

With these clauses, Brooks sets a record for the most intellectually weaselish use of "at least" because of course the Bush Iraq policy is precisely the idea that complex societies are easily understood via the FreedomTM goggles and that the "Broader Middle East" can be remade through a Democratic Big Push.

In other news, reality has intruded on this Big Push, and completely predictably, the US is now negotiating with the "terrorists" in Iraq:

U.S. officials recently met secretly with Iraqi insurgent commanders at a summer villa north of Baghdad to try to negotiate an end to the bloodshed, a British newspaper [the Sunday Times] reported Sunday.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, asked about the report, suggested that meetings between Iraqi officials and insurgents "go on all the time" and said "we facilitate those from time to time."

So Rummy wants you to think that the US official was there like one of those annoying facilitators at a corporate retreat. But the talks seem to have been pretty substantive:

One American at the talks introduced himself as a Pentagon representative and declared himself ready to "find ways of stopping the bloodshed on both sides and to listen to demands and grievances," The Sunday Times said ... During the June 13 talks, the U.S. officials demanded that two other insurgent groups, the 1920 Revolution and the Majhadeen Shoura Council, cut ties with the country's most-feared insurgent group, al-Qaida in Iraq, according to the report.

A senior U.S. official said earlier this month that American authorities have negotiated with key Sunni leaders, who are in turn talking with insurgents and trying to persuade them to lay down their arms.

As we noted before, there is likely disagreement within the Pentagon about this strategy, with Christopher Hitchens and Dan Senor doing the spinning for the US government factions opposed to talks. All in all, another sign that the market for Iraq-Northern Ireland analogies is about to heat up again. [or, via A Fistful of Euros, Iraq-Spain analogies]

Friday, June 24, 2005

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

In a story that's probably already pinned up on the al Qaeda HQ bulletin board, Thursday's Washington Post (reprinted in Friday's Wall Street Journal) reports on how the composition of Iraqi Christianity is being radically altered by the war. The traditional eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches are being displaced by western Evangelicals, who have been seeking converts from the other Christian churches but also from Muslims. Which is really just what the Iraqi civil war needs right now.

One thing that emerges from the story is an issue that George Bush and Karl Rove have managed to disguise in the domestic context: that these are branches of Protestantism who have no respect for the traditional Catholic Church:

In interviews, Delly and Sleiman [Catholic and Chaldean bishops] were torn between their belief in religious freedom and the threat they see from the new evangelicalism. They also expressed anger and resentment at what they perceive as the evangelicals' assumption that members of old-line denominations are not true Christians.

"If we are not Christians, you should tell us so we will find the right path," Delly said sarcastically. "I'm not against the evangelicals. If they go to an atheist country to promote Christ, we would help them ourselves."

Even juicier quotes come from Robert Fetherlin, vice president for international ministries at Colorado-based Christian and Missionary Alliance. Yes, in these stories about evangelising reactionary churches, there's always a Colorado angle. Anyway:

"We're not trying to coerce people to follow Christ," he said. "But we want to at least communicate to people who He is. We feel very encouraged by the possibility for people in Iraq to have the freedom to make choices about what belief system they want to buy into."

His marketing terminology reveals a complete lack of understanding of the cultural context of religion, though it fits nicely with Dubya pulling a new self-religiosity off the shelf about the time that his political ambitions started to kick in. And Fetherlin's formulation leaves the door wide open for proselytising. Since the 101st Fighting Keyboarders are always in the mood for analogies to British colonial history, we suggest reading up on the background to the Indian Mutiny to decide if having freelance evangelicals running around Iraq is a good idea.

[Previous entry in this series]
Donegal's answer to Jeb Bush

Or is he Donegal's answer to "Doctor" Bill Frist? Either way it seems that Doctor Jim "Wrong-way" McDaid would have been able to step in instantly to the Terri Schiavo disgrace and not look out of place. Some context for readers unfamiliar with this story [see also the Freestater blog for links]. A botched investigation of an apparent hit-and-run death in Donegal has turned into a convulsive scandal for the Irish police, not least because of the attempts of members of the force to frame a local family, the McBreartys, for murder. The family ran up against a brick wall in their attempts to clear their name or avoid malicious investigation and had to hire a private investigator and lobby intensively before they started to make any progress.

A recent judicial inquiry completely vindicated their position, but the latter of their legal costs is not quite settled and the government refuses to see the broader indictment of the lack of accountability in the force, something they're very good at lecturing our neighbours about.

Anyway into the breach steps local Fianna Fail TD -- who was nowhere to be found when the McBreartys were trying to rally political support -- and former minister McDaid who has learned from Jeb Bush and Bill Frist what you do to a family that has proven politically inconvenient: you keep hounding, preferably under the guise of some expertise or other. So, from Friday's Irish Times (subs. req'd):

The TD, who lives in Letterkenny and whose constituency covers Raphoe, said he had visited the scene of Mr Barron's death and believed it was almost impossible for a car to have been travelling at a sufficient speed to have caused the injuries to Mr Barron ... "It's not just one person that knows, but two, three, four or five people who know what happened to Richie Barron."

Note that he's alleging not just murder, but conspiracy, and yet the brave politician won't name names -- which of course he could do using parliamentary privilege. But then again the real motive is probably to sow just enough doubt about the official version to defend his friends:

Dr McDaid denied his comments were motivated by the fact he was personally acquainted with many of the gardaí criticised in the second Morris report, but that the whole truth in relation to the incident had to emerge. "What I'm saying is if this county is to come to terms with all of this, well, then every line of inquiry will have to be followed."

Much like Jeb wants to know why Michael Schiavo is off by 45 minutes in his recollection of the night 15 years ago that his wife had her critical heart attack. Does Fianna Fail call itself The Republican Party because it so perfectly follows their tactics?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The George and Ben Comedy Hour

George Bush went to a Maryland suburban high school today to pitch his Social Security "reform" plan to students. In tow, he had Ben Stein, son of eminent economist Herb Stein, but himself basically just a TV buffoon. The laughs kept coming:

THE PRESIDENT: You've been talking about [Social Security] for a while.

MR. STEIN: I talk about it -- I represent two groups. I represent the National Retirement Planning Coalition, which helps people plan for retirement. And I'm also representing for the gangstas all across the world -- (laughter) -- hidden corners in the low-lows, girl. (Laughter.) That's rap music, Mr. President. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. (Laughter.)

That's not rap music. That's embarrassing. Kanye West doing a video about conflict diamonds with a sample from Diamonds are Forever, that's where things have moved to from Ben Stein's cartoonish vision of what is "rap music." Anyway, all this talk about "rap music" put Dubya on the quest for some honeys:

THE PRESIDENT: Wendy, where are you from?
MS. MERRILL: I'm from Reisterstown, Maryland --
THE PRESIDENT: Reisterstown, very good.
MS. MERRILL: -- which is near Baltimore.
THE PRESIDENT: Great, thanks for coming over.
MS. MERRILL: Thank you, my pleasure. I'm 32 years old, and I --
THE PRESIDENT: You don't look a day over 21.
MS. MERRILL: Oh, aren't you sweet, thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, you know how we politicians are. (Laughter.)

That's his line for women too old to ask "What's your major?" But then do things go astray a bit?

MS. MERRILL: I have two family members with me today. I wanted to say "hi" to, my husband Stephen and my father Neil are in the audience with us today.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for coming, yes. Say hello to them after the event?
THE PRESIDENT: Good, thank you.

It reads like Dubya was impatient with the shout-outs. Dubya, like Rick Santorum, is angry at numbers:

MR. STEIN: ... The Standard & Poor's Index compounded at a rate -- I know you [Dubya] don't like statistics -- but 14 percent a year from 1926 to 2004. If you could have your Social Security, or even a quarter of it, or a fifth of it compound at that rate instead of at 1.8 percent a year, the difference would be astronomical -- astronomical.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do like statistics. (Laughter.)

MR. STEIN: Okay, sorry. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Just not too many of them.

And another booster goes off-message:

MR. FERGUSON: -- because we realized that basically our second chance at Social Security, the only chance we ever have to have this, is if it gets fixed and we get our personal accounts. That's the only way we're going to get it. We know it's not fair, we know we're paying someone money that we're not going to see, and so we need our second chance.

because the obvious response to his complaint about "paying someone money that we're not going to see" is to not pay the money now. But that would endanger Dubya's promise to not start his "reform" plan till he's out of office.

And by the end, even Ben Stein's antics are wearing thin:

THE PRESIDENT: ... Have you got something else, because I've just -- that was my peroration.

MR. STEIN: No, I was just going to say, it is a basic...

Peroration? That's like a word that a French-looking candidate for President would use. And just as John Kerry was a hair guy, George Bush is a shoe guy:

THE PRESIDENT: My final point is, where does a guy get a pair of shoes like that?
MR. STEIN: You can get them at a place called FrontRunners, in Brentwood, California.

How apt that a seminar on the merits of ordinary people undertaking stock market investments with their social security money ends with a reference to a standard stockbroker scam.

UPDATE: The school was just a prop: there was no-one from the school, and maybe even no-one from the county actually at the event!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Does the Anorak Man like the CAP?

Writing in the London Times, Anatole Kaletsky as much as claims that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern backed Tony Blair's position at the EU summit last week that any reduction in Maggie's rebate would have to be linked to an orientation of the EU budget away from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP):

The Prime Minister [Blair], far from being isolated in Brussels, was explicitly supported by Sweden and the Netherlands in the budget vote in Brussels and was quietly encouraged by the other Scandinavian countries, Italy and Ireland and, most importantly, by the conservative leadership which is likely to take control of Germany within the next few months.

Now this might be true, but it's not what Bertie Ahern is saying in Dublin:

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has said he totally disagrees with the position of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on the EU Budget, which led to stalemate at last week's European summit. The Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, claimed in the Dáil that the attack on the Common Agricultural Policy by Mr Blair was 'absolutely outrageous'. Mr Ahern said that he agreed with him, saying he totally disagreed with Mr Blair on the issue, and said he believes the British presentation of the CAP was 'dishonest'.

Not unrelatedly, Bertie's former finance minister and now EU internal markets commissioner Charlie McCreevy didn't seem to think that Friday's meeting was that bad:

Referring to the tone of Friday's meeting of EU leaders, Mr McCreevy said it sounded no worse than the exchanges at a Fianna Fáil Cumann [local organisation] meeting.

Is it a tradition at cumann meetings to take one position inside the room, and then go outside and say you took another?
Jacques of all trades

It's nice that Andrew Sullivan is being all reasonable lately, defending Dick Durbin and attacking the more loony theocon wing of the Republican party. But his zeal to get in a quick dig at the perfidious French leads him astray:

Remember how Chirac and other Euro-creeps in France used the tale of the "Polish plumber" replacing French drainage experts to argue against free labor markets in Europe.

Which gets everything backwards. The Polish plumber meme was used to oppose the European Constitution. Chirac, and presumably others grouped under the term "Euro-creep," were for the Constitution, and therefore avoided talking about Polish plumbers at all. And we're not sure why Sully links to one particular blog's take on that Polish ad, since news coverage of it was everywhere. Yesterday. But he is showing good taste in reading Slugger O'Toole:

THE IRA'S FUTURE: Mick Fealty looks into his crystal ball for the future of terrorism in Ireland.

Our prediction: there's an epistle coming from Provincetown on the similarities between Iraq and Northern Ireland. And we're ready for that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


We were wondering when something like this would happen: BBC Radio 1 is going to be carried on the Sirius satellite radio network in the US. Here's a brief Wall Street Journal report (subs. req'd) and here's the Radio 1 story. It will be almost, but not quite, la vrai chose:

Sirius plans to broadcast [BBC] Radio 1, which has a weekly audience of more than 12 million in the U.K., in a time-shifted format, so that U.S. listeners will hear programs at the same time of day they are broadcast in the U.K.

Having just gone to Radio 1's garish website in a rather sleepy state, we understand the thinking behind this decision. The obvious question for many expats will be whether other channels might be similarly available. Of course they are often available now via the Internets but having all that in a more mobile format is an appealing prospect.

On the other hand, there is the fear that the BBC be tempted to shift all their overseas Internet streaming to a subscription-based model. Digital radio is being pursued in different ways in the UK and US: in the US, the main delivery is through satellite radio with competing groups selling subscription channels received on proprietary equipment; in the UK it's done through generic equipment and free terrestrial broadcast. The US is also planning terrestrial digital but it's going to take years to be widely available. But there's clearly a logic to the BBC wondering why UK licence-payers should finance Internet streaming for overseas users. We'll still be pissed off if they go that route, though. Being a blogger means that our positions don't have to make sense!
Word of the Day

kosher; as in an IRA member who was released under amnesty but may have had a relapse into terrorism and thus is no longer kosher. So says Taoiseach Bertie Ahern:

[BBC] Irish officials have been asked to find out more about the decision to return to jail Shankill bomber Sean Kelly, [] Bertie Ahern has said.
Kelly was convicted of the 1993 bombing that killed 10 people. He was freed early under the Good Friday Agreement.

His early release licence was suspended after security information indicated he had become "re-involved in terrorism".

"Either it's a mistake, or there must have been substantial evidence that he was not kosher," Mr Ahern said.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Coming soon: Luxemburger fries

A bizarre news conference following this year's US-EU summit, where Dubya met the European Union Commission and Council presidents, positions held this year by Bertie's man Jose Manuel Barroso and Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker, who holds the rotating council presidency. This year's summit was in Washington and lacked the newsworthiness of last year's event at Dromoland castle: Dubya in his undies and a panting press corps, induced by those clever Irish protestors.

For once we don't blame Dubya for being a bit mystified as to what exactly this summit was supposed to accomplish, so he just went along with the air of constructiveness that his visitors wanted. But it's hard to sound too interested:

Q Mr. President ... Would you say that today, after the two summits between European Union and the United States, that the partnership has even become again a friendship between Europe and United States, and how you see the role of the Luxembourg presidency in that issue?

PRESIDENT BUSH: ... I think the friendship between our respective countries in the EU are strong. Obviously, there's been a difference of opinion recently on certain issues, but that doesn't prevent the American people from holding the good folks of Luxembourg or Portugal in high esteem ... In terms of your Prime Minister, he's an interesting guy. (Laughter.) He's a lot of fun to be around. He promotes serious business in a way that endears himself to people. And so I think his presidency has been an important presidency for the EU during difficult times, and he's handled it well. And I was going to say he's a piece of work, but that might not translate too well. Is that all right, if I call you a "piece of work"? (Laughter.)


We'll have to take another look at Juncker's facial expression during that exchange but we don't know what Dubya was supposed to do with that question anyway. But maybe with even the dude who created Freedom Fries now disillusioned with the Iraq war, we could ease back towards French Fries via the good feelings of Americans towards Luxembourg (like Dubya says) with that country getting the appellation for a while.

On the more serious side, those watching for signals on the future of Gitmo will have noticed that (a) Dubya says the Red Cross already has an open invitation to monitor it ("And I believe we are, in Guantanamo. I mean, after all, there's 24 hour inspections by the International Red Cross."), (b) that the press now has an open invitation too ("I urge members of our press corps to go down to Guantanamo and see how they're treated and to see -- and to see -- and to look at the facts"), and (c) that he does see a decision point coming:

And -- seriously, take an objective look as to how these folks are treated, and what has happened to them in the past, and when the courts make the decision they make [about the hearing rights of Gitmo detainees], we'll act accordingly.

It's just, just possible that the 3.5 years of outcry is having an effect.

UPDATE: So somehow, this very short summit has suddenly generated 7 joint declarations/statements, one of which has two long subsections. Of course it's not possible that the three presidents got all this done in a couple of hours -- it was all done beforehand by civil servants. So why have the f*cking summit at all? And top this for bullsh*t:

We look to our senior levels of government to carry forward the tasks we have outlined in this Declaration. We encourage them to meet regularly with their transatlantic counterparts to establish work programs, review progress, and advance areas of cooperation we have agreed on today. These work programs should be developed in the next six months and include objectives and timelines to help measure progress. Those responsible will report to leaders at each U.S.-EU Summit on progress made under this initiative. Taking into account our strengthening global partnership, we will keep under continuous review the strategic priorities and structures of our dialogues to ensure they are fully adapted to meet the challenges ahead.

i.e. let's have more meetings. As they say in Private Eye, Trebles all round! (except that Dubya doesn't drink).

2ND UPDATE 23 JUNE: It looks the open invitation to Gitmo isn't quite so open:

[BBC]Investigators from the United Nations have accused the US of stalling over their repeated requests to visit detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
The US is holding hundreds of suspected members of the Taleban and al-Qaeda at the detention facility in Cuba. The UN said for over a year there had been no response to its requests to check on the condition of detainees.
Voter suppression backfires

While a significant part of the Bush-Cheney 2004 election strategy was predicated on keeping voter turnout down in marginal districts in key states, like Ohio, their attempt to affect the Iranian Presidential election with an election-eve statement trashing the entire process seems to have backfired. Even at the time, people were mystified as to why the White House would criticise an election whose procedural flaws are no worse than ones they intend to back in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And in fact, via the London Times:

Paradoxically, President Bush contributed to [surprise 2nd place candidate Ahmadinejad] ascent with an eve-of-election statement in which he said that the Iranian constitution was undemocratic. The regime spun the message brilliantly, telling Iranians that Mr Bush was ordering a boycott: the public voted in droves as a reaction, giving a 63 per cent turnout that exceeded the most optimistic expectations.

Now, there's always the scenario where the White House actually wanted the hardliner to win and so made their bizarre pre-election intervention with that result in mind. Because the Iranian hardliners have a long history of getting the White House to do what they want -- getting rid of the Taliban and then Saddam, for instance. Not that we think they have a mole in the White House, or anything.

UPDATE: Another article notes the same impact of Bush's statement.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The other royals

We'll close the week by drawing together some not-very-loose threads from the UK media and public relations world. Which, like Britpop, manages to have a very high profile while having an incestuous level of connection between the players. Consider for instance this story from the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd):

Publicis Groupe SA said it agreed to buy a majority stake in Freud Communications, the high-profile London public-relations firm known for representing top celebrities ... The move is part of the French advertising company's efforts to build up its capability in newer marketing methods. Advertising agencies increasingly are turning to techniques outside traditional print and television ads, such as viral-marketing campaigns, in an effort to reach consumers in a fragmented media landscape.

So what's that got to do with the original theme of the post? Well,

Under terms of the deal, Freud Communications Chairman and founder Matthew Freud and other shareholders in the closely held boutique plan to sell some of their stakes to Publicis, giving it a 50.1% interest, the companies said ... Mr. Freud, who will remain chairman, has had a string of celebrity clients including actors Hugh Grant and Sylvester Stallone. His wife is Elisabeth Murdoch, an independent TV-show producer and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch's daughter. Mr. Freud is the grandson of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis.

Viral marketing ... a whole bunch of right-wing bloggers upset about the same thing at the same time ... Elisabeth Murdoch ... no, it can't be. But Fox News already having access to Freud's trickery ... be very afraid.

In other news, Dominic Lawson was canned as editor of the Sunday Telegraph. Now we have no particular knowledge of his capabilities as an editor and generally view the Telegraph (Daily and Sunday) as, not to put too fine a point on it, Unionist trash. But Lawson is one of those cases where we feel a certain regard by virtue of one column from years ago that had us in stitches laughing -- a rumination on how John Major could be seen as the protagonist of T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

We could go on, as Lawson did (we think it was a piece for the FT and thus probably difficult to track down). So if only for that one stroke of comic genius, we're sorry to see him go. But of course he'll be fine: the son of Nigel and brother of Nigella surely has enough connections to land another gig before too long.

Lawson was replaced by Sarah Sands. Perhaps a bit maliciously, the London Times has reprinted Sands' first speech as editor to the assembled hacks at Canary Wharf, and it's a great read. Not least because you'd never imagine an American editor giving such a speech, since here the proposterous cult of objectivity must be maintained:

... But as it happens, I also think this is an exciting time to be a conservative. This is much bigger than the Conservative Party. It is a public shift towards Conservative thinking ... The patronising assumption that a left-liberal elite knows best is in decline. We are going to hasten its end ... Mine is a neo-Thatcherite zeal for self-improvement. I am at heart a housewife. The home is sanctuary. Parents are the ultimate authority ... We are on the side of the new and the dynamic – of eastern Europe, of China, of America - rather than the protectionist countries of old Europe ...

Culturally, the liberal establishment favours the few. The book that is praised to the skies by The Guardian and does not sell more than a 100 copies. Well we are pro-history, pro-blockbuster art exhibitions, pro-Jane Austen, pro-Beethoven, pro-wild life, pro-sport and pro-Doctor Who. I haven’t yet firmly established our position on Cold Play ... I want it [the paper] to have the appeal of an iPod – lovely to look at and full of your favourite things.

At which point the mob rushed to Waterloo to catch the Eurostar and lead an invasion of France. But we digress. The London Times also helpfully points out the family angles to Sarah's promotion:

... it is not clear whether Kim Fletcher, the Telegraph’s Group’s editorial director, will feel able to stay on. Mr Fletcher is married to Sarah Sands, and journalists at the paper believe that he may feel there would too obvious a conflict of interest for him to continue.

If Mr Fletcher did leave, that could create an opportunity for the Telegraph’s owners to appoint Andrew Neil, who acts as publisher and editor-in-chief for the other titles owned by the Barclay twins, including The Scotsman and The Spectator.

Thus closing an open loop from one of our old posts speculating that when Conrad Black sold the Telegraph to the Barclays, the way was clear for the formative editor of the Fox News Channel, Andrew Neil, to be back in charge on Fleet Street (RIP). So it's plus ca change. By the way, Sarah, with your position on Coldplay still open: the elitist New York Times is agin them, so you have to be for them.
Your half-wit conservatives at work

Over at National Review's The Corner, John Podhoretz has his damsels-in-distress mixed up:

I have Fox News on right now. It's covering the disappearance and possible murder of teenager Terry Holloway in Aruba.

This on a day when even Washington Post "media critic" Howard Kurtz concludes that the media obsession with missing white women has gone too far. But Podhoretz can't even get that right: the missing woman in Aruba is named Natalee, while he still clearly has Terri Schiavo on the brain, except that he can't spell her name correctly.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

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

Today's good news from Iraq:

American and Iraqi military forces have captured Al Qaeda's top leader in the Mosul area of Northern Iraq, the United States military announced today ... The military described the captured insurgent, Muhammad Khalaf Shakar, also known as Abu Talha, as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's most trusted operations agent in Iraq ...

"He was known as the 'emir of Mosul,' " Lt. Gen. James T. Conway said of Mr. Shakar during a Pentagon briefing today.

And who was a previous holder of the title Emir of Mosul?

The First Crusade

... But prosperity led to a weakening of the military spirit, and internal strife crippled the resources of the kingdom. On Christmas day, 1144, the capture of the strong frontier fortress of Edessa by the Emir of Mosul inflicted a serious blow on the Christian power.

One might expect the Pentagon not to embrace Crusader references quite so eagerly.

[Previous entry in this series]
Whereas everything in the American media is Gospel truth

America's Pundit, Oirish-American Tim Russert has spoken on why the Downing Street Memo was slow to take off as a story:

One thing I've learned is when you see something from the British press, you have to vet it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Next Service Station: Abort/Retry/Ignore/Fail

Irish road transport policy today saw a head-on collision between its two inconsistent elements -- a hugely expensive motorway network for a small and not densely populated country (outside Dublin). As we said in a previous tirade:

The government is emphasising tolled motorways for an island of about 5 million people with virtually no international transit traffic.

Hence today's news (, subs. req'd), met with incredulity, especially by the government that specialises in sounding like the opposition:

The Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen has urged the National Roads Authority (NRA) to reconsider its decision to block plans for service stations on motorways.

Now, the NRA's defence of this particular policy makes sense -- if one takes as given the lunacy of their overall policy:

Mr Egan [spokesman] said the State's motorway and dual carriageway network involves frequent interchanges to access towns and local communities - providing access to existing facilities ... Although the NRA has been criticised for ignoring international best practice, the organisation has pointed out that the Irish road network was small by European terms.

In other words, we already had to build a lot of interchanges for each small town on the routes, and we don't want to add more for service stations in between. But then of course the question -- if a functional motorway is going to require too many interchanges, why build a motorway at all? France's tolled autoroutes work because the distances are big, so you can serve the big towns and have service stations and toll plazas, all without turning the autoroute into a stop-start procession.

But the NRA's vision requires that you'll be willing to pay a toll to save time -- and then burn much of that time with entry and exit for services en route. Upgraded dual carriageways would have met all the NRA's newly discovered constraints for a fraction of the cost. And without the destruction of national heritage.
English blood, English heart

Andrew Sullivan is asking people to suggest sermons or homilies for him to excerpt; he's even offering to do it each Sunday, perhaps setting the stage for the blogging high-jinks equivalent of the Vicar of Dibley. So anyway, we have a submission. George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, in November 1939, from a pamphlet (that we believe, but can't verify on the web, he delivered as a homily) said that the [Anglican] Church in wartime should not hesitate:

... to condemn the infliction of reprisals, or the bombing of civilian populations, by the military forces of its own nation. It should set itself against the propaganda of lies and hatred. It should be ready to encourage the resumption of friendly relations with the enemy nation. It should set its face against any war of extermination or enslavement, and any measures directly aimed to destroy the morale of a population.

Consider all the elements of the Bushes-at-war, from the Powell doctrine, to shock-and-awe, to Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, renditions, the nod-and-wink approach to Islamaphobia, the flattening of Fallujah -- and remember a time when a bishop was brave enough to speak up in a country in mortal danger about the moral obligations of wartime conduct. And now consider their modern equivalents, who only want to talk about how Terri Schiavo was just a solid meal away from being a normal person.
So the actual voting won't matter that much, then?

Dubya in a speech to a political fundraiser ($23 million) last night:

This is a very important dinner because, through your generosity, we're going to keep control of the Senate and the House, and America will be better off for it.

As it happens, the actual White House isn't really necessary either:

Bush spoke in front of a stage set of the east front of the White House, complete with fake lights in the windows. That produced the effect in still photographs of the president speaking in his driveway.

Are they keeping that set handy for the government-in-exile phase of his crashing presidency?

The Protocols of the Elders of Geneva

There's a fine example of the hyperventilating paranoia which now forms American reactionary conservatism in one of today's Wall Street Journal editorials (subs. req'd; but here's a free link with reg. req'd). It escalates their recent attacks on the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC]:

... for more than three years now the ICRC has abused that position of trust to wage an unprecedented propaganda war against the United States.

Leaked ICRC reports have described conditions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as "tantamount to torture" because indefinite detention is stressful. And just last month the ICRC's Washington office broke its confidentiality agreement with the U.S. government to fan the flames created by Newsweek's false Quran-abuse story.

... A study released Monday by the Senate Republican Policy Committee ... raps the ICRC for its efforts to "afford terrorists and insurgents the same rights and privileges as [uniformed] military personnel" by misleadingly pretending that a radical document called Protocol 1 is settled international law. This causes the ICRC to "inaccurately and unfairly accuse the U.S. of not adhering to the Geneva Conventions."

U.S. taxpayers are the largest contributors to the ICRC's budget ($233 million, or 26%, in 2003). They have a right to expect an honest interpretation of the Geneva Conventions for that money, not more leaked reports that will be spun to give aid and comfort to al Qaeda.

One suspects that they want points for tolerance and moderation just for having spelled Koran with a 'Q.' And we've waded through this Protocol 1 -- which every UN member has signed -- and can't see what in God's name this "Senate Republican Policy Committee" (which sure sounds like a real objective source) is so worked up about. At what point does Dubya run out of enemies?

UPDATE: Here's a good explanation of the US status vis-a-vis Additional Protocol 1.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Read headlines with care


Meaning that Irish Minister for Justice McDowell met Fianna Fail TDs to discuss alcohol issues, not (necessarily) that they met for drinks. Background on the issues -- in which McDowell's dream of a Parisian wine/coffee bar culture was blocked by vested interests -- provided here.
He must have skipped the exhibit on Partition

In today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) Jeremy Hildreth reports on his visit to the private Empire and Commonwealth museum in Bristol. It's another example of the tone of colonial nostalgia that infects much of American conservatism. And since the only real model any of these chaps have for their linen-clad witty expat-amongst-the-natives is Christopher Hitchens, there are bound to be howlers:

[after WW2] ... So, to its credit, and unlike, say, France, Britain did not fight to keep its colonies. Instead, it freed them on the best terms it could get. India was the first to go in 1947, Hong Kong the last in 1997

A case where a little knowledge is worse than no knowledge at all. Yes, France tried to keep Vietnam and Algeria but they let just about everything else go without a fight by 1960. And that departure of India "on the best terms it could get" worked out pretty badly for the millions of All-India residents killed or dislocated by creation of Pakistan (E/W) and present-day India.

And since it's on the bookshelves at the moment, note how this account also omits the brutality of the repression in early 1950s Kenya, which many people only know of via the sanitised expression "to mau-mau" -- ironically, something that victimhood-loving right-wingers usually accuse others of doing. In case you're wondering, there's no way we can mention Partition without invoking its Irish counterpart as another non-success story of the Empire, so in describing Hong Kong as the "last" colony, Hildreth shows his lack of familiarity with the fine people at 1169 and counting.

In fact, this recurring blindspot that the reactionary right has for Partition makes us think that they're preparing us all for a new map of Middle East.
Hands off my freedom-fighters

When reading Christopher Hitchens these days, one learns to ignore the sarcasm and bile (which apparently seems worth quite a lot on the lecture circuit) and focus instead on the more revealing incidental remarks. As we look back on our past posts about these -- a very non-apropos Heart of Darkness reference, the usage "Iraqis and Kurds," the description of Hamas as anti-Zionist, and a very G&Ts at the Club tone -- we see a weird mix of colonial attraction and repulsion on Hitch's part. Into this mix consider an odd Algerian sidenote in his latest Slate article:

Nor can [al Qaeda and affiliates] claim, as actual guerrilla movements like the Algerian FLN have done in the past, to be the future representatives of their countries or peoples. In Afghanistan and Iraq, they sought to destroy the electoral process that alone can confer true legitimacy, and they are in many, if not most, cases not even citizens of the countries concerned.

Hitch has tried this particular trick before, approving of the FLN's 1990s crackdown on electorally-potent Islamic radicals, notwithstanding that the viciousness of that battle seems to have been the cauldron from which even more virulent radicalism emerged. He also seemed annoyed at the deployment of The Battle of Algiers to show the obstacles likely to be faced by the US in Iraq. So Hitch feels a little sense of ownership about the one-time freedom fighters in Algeria and doesn't want that cachet in any way diluted.

And what of this supposed contrast between the nihilist al Qaeda and the constructive FLN? In fact, the FLN exhibits the classic cycle of terrorism, moving from atrocities and feuds with fellow groups to, yes, disruption of elections, to negotiations with the governing power and, perish the thought, victory:

[via Wikipedia] Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist from Martinique who became the FLN's leading political theorist, provided a sophisticated intellectual justification for the use of violence in achieving national liberation ... An important watershed in the War of Independence was the massacre of civilians by the FLN near the town of Philippeville in August 1955 ...

At first, the revolutionary forces targeted only Muslim officials of the colonial regime; later, they coerced or killed even those civilians who simply refused to support them. Moreover, during the first two years of the conflict, the guerrillas killed about 6,000 Muslims and 1,000 Europeans ...

the revolutionaries' coercive tactics suggested that they had not as yet inspired the bulk of the Muslim people to revolt against French colonial rule. Gradually, however, the FLN/ALN gained control in certain sectors of the Aurès, the Kabylie, and other mountainous areas around Constantine and south of Algiers and Oran ...

De Gaulle immediately appointed a committee to draft a new constitution for France's Fifth Republic, which would be declared early the next year, with which Algeria would be associated but of which it would not form an integral part. Muslims, including women, were registered for the first time with Europeans on a common electoral roll to participate in a referendum to be held on the new constitution in September 1958 ...

ALN commandos committed numerous acts of sabotage in France in August, and the FLN mounted a desperate campaign of terror in Algeria to intimidate Muslims into boycotting the referendum. Despite threats of reprisal, however, 80 percent of the Muslim electorate turned out to vote in September, and of these 96 percent approved the constitution.

And all this time, one can imagine the equivalents of Hitch talking about how the FLN hates freedom, hates elections, hates France, and how it would be unthinkable to negotiate with terrorists.

UPDATE 27 JUNE: The Algeria meme migrates to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (free, reg. req'd):

Insurgencies that have prevailed in history -- Algeria, China, Cuba -- have all [unlike Iraq] had a large base of popular support ...

Monday, June 13, 2005


From the Department of Pissing Off Allies, a story buried in the Metro section of the Washington Post:

A U.S. Airways flight headed from Orlando to Reagan National Airport was diverted yesterday to Jacksonville, Fla., where more than a half-dozen passengers were removed because of what was characterized as suspicious behavior. Those passengers turned out to be military personnel from the Middle East who were flying to Washington to meet with the U.S. Department of Defense, authorities said.

Flight 480, with 144 passengers aboard, departed from Orlando at 1:05 p.m. and was diverted at 1:55 p.m. after members of the flight crew grew concerned that the Middle Eastern men were communicating with one another verbally and with hand gestures and had gone to bathrooms at opposite ends of the 737 plane, authorities and passengers said.

If there was a single bit of idiocy to highlight from this, it would be the fact the men used different bathrooms that drew suspicion, since in other such scares, it's been congregation around the same bathroom that caused problems.
The Roast Rebate of Old England

We assume that some cartoonist, somewhere, has done a reworking of Hogarth's classic polemical painting to show Tony Blair or Jack Straw carrying a big hunk of euro-cash back to England.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Circle of Chums

There are various reasons why Alan Duncan won't be the next Tory leader. But his fate was sealed by the endorsement of Andrew Sullivan:

A GAY TORY LEADER? No, it won't happen. My old friend Alan Duncan knows he has a very distant chance.

Because there is a Curse of Sully: any Tory politician who receives the prefix "my old friend" goes down in flames. Consider the record. Boris Johnson:

An old friend, Boris Johnson, whom I remember as a young turk in the Oxford Union, is now a very grand personage in British culture.

Subsequently, Boris had a very messy affair with Petronella Wyatt disintegrate in full tabloid view. William Hague, former Tory leader:

Meanwhile, in Britain, my old friend William Hague has, by all accounts, got off to a flying start in the election campaign. Vowing to cut taxes, crack down on illegal asylum seekers, keep the pound, and resist liberal elites, Hague is widely predicted to lose terribly. Why am I not so sure?

Tony Blair didn't seem too worried back then and once again, the Sage of South Godstone (term property of Sullywatch) had struck out. But he wasn't finished:

My friend Nick Boles is running for parliament in the county I grew up in.

This was with reference to the most recent election for which we provided some context here, and anyway, Nick lost, although to be fair, very narrowly. Sully has a Britpop like ability to have collected a large group of chums over the years. But Damon Albarn's circle is a tad more successful than Sully's.
Every so often, the truth

Dubya, yesterday in Virginia:

See, prior to the attack [9/11], it was -- we kind of all went about our own merry way.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Union of the Two Towers, Oirish style

While perhaps questioning our sanity, our longtime readers will surely be aware of one of our oldest themes on the blog -- the nexus of Oirishness that ties together developments in politics, culture, sport, and business, and not just in Ireland either, but anywhere that the Oirish set up shop. But, as Han Solo might say, sometimes we amaze even ourselves.

We'd had some fruitful correspondence with reader Andrew, an exiled Glasgow Celtic fan in the southern hemisphere, specifically concerning the plans of current and potential future owners of the club. We speculated that one outfit that would have to be watched is Setanta, the Irish sports broadcast company about whom we have ranted in the past (sadly, it seems that the US Federal Trade Commission was not reading us).

Anyway, Friday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) has word that Setanta is trying to hire a top executive from Rupert Murdoch's Sky TV; Sky currently owns the live rights to nearly all English Premiership matches, and there's speculation that Setanta getting this executive could be a prelude to them launching their own bid for the rights. Based on our experiences trying to watch Setanta broadcasts, we think this would be a bad move for the Prem and for the viewers.

But in explaining how a relatively small Irish company could amass the cash for a bid, the IT story drops this little nugget:

However, the giant US insurance company AIG is now an investor in Setanta.

Yes, that would be the same AIG company that sourced a very dodgy balance sheet manoeuvre in Dublin, one that has seen an Irish resident executive of the counterpart company cop a plea. And in the digging around that deal, it emerged that ousted AIG supremo Maurice Greenberg had structured his very own nuclear option so that a big chunk of AIG ends up being owned by an Irish charity if the wrong tripwires are activated.

So there you have it: the Oirish company that already owns Scottish league broadcast rights, and might add the English ones, is being backed the high-profile subject of the USA's financial scandal du jour. The prevailing culture in the Irish meeja though remains that we're supposed to view all these things as signs of success.
Ulster will fight, the town will be pronounced right

We were greatly impressed watching the 24 hour sports news channel ESPNews the other day and seeing a perfectly executed pronunciation of the name of the town Clones in County Monaghan. This was in the context of the Clones Cyclone Kevin McBride's bout tomorrow night against Mike Tyson. And unlike the word that appears in Attack of the ... or indeed in the title of a superb song from the most recent Ash album, it's said as Clo-Ness. Thus regardless of what happens against Tyson tomorrow, the Monaghan man has already gotten things further along for his town than anyone has for all those Irish girls named Ciara.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The unquiet Americans

Here's news of the fine job that armed private security contractors are doing to build support for the American presence in Iraq:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The U.S. military is investigating 16 private American security guards for shooting at U.S. Marines and Iraqi civilians during a three-hour spree last month west of Baghdad, officials said Thursday ... Marines spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Lapan said Marines reported seeing gunmen in several late-model trucks fire ''near civilian cars'' and on military positions ... ''Three hours later, another Marine observation post was fired on by gunmen from vehicles matching the description of those involved in the earlier attack,'' Lapan said.

... U.S. forces later detained the contractors without incident and held them for three days in a military jail, but no charges have been filed. The American contractors are believed to have left Iraq, and a Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry is under way, the military said.
... Many Iraqis resent high-profile security details who speed along highways in sport utility vehicles brandishing automatic weapons.

Since the Pentagon has proven chronically reluctant to punish its own, and these contractors are likely ex-servicemen themselves, don't expect this "investigation" to go very far. Remember that private contractors have also played a role in the prison abuse scandals, and it was the brutal murder of private contractors that led to the Pentagon's decision to level Fallujah. So the private tail has certainly wagged the public dog.

A while back, we had commented on a prescient scene from Clear and Present Danger:

ambush [] in Colombia, in which hidden locals with guns and rocket-launchers expose the fallacious belief of the American tough guys that if you wear dark glasses and travel around in big SUVs, you're safe

It looks like in this case, the tough guys in sunglasses and SUVs decided to even the odds by firing at everybody, all the time.
One leader, one voice, two countries

Our regular readers will know of our occasional musings on the similarities between Irish and American politics. Recent events provide an excuse to expand on this a little. To begin a long story with a short one, our point is that what both systems share is a dynamic driven not so much by competition between political parties, as one might expect in a democracy, but by the complete lack of dissent within the ruling party: Fianna Fail in the Republic, and the Republicans in the USA.

Viewed in this light, the frequently expressed frustration in the blogosphere (or its Irish equivalent, the boggersphere) towards the immunity of the respective governments to endless evidence of mendacity and incompetence becomes clear -- no-one within either party is willing or able to hold the leadership accountable. An obvious point, but one brought to mind by Washington Post journalist Jefferson's Morley thoughts on why the Downing Street Memo has failed to take off as a political scandal in the USA. [for the uninitiated, the DSM is a high level contemporaneous account from senior British intelligence figures in the summer of 2002 that Dubya had already decided on war with Iraq]. Morley says:

But a big part of the problem is that there are no voices in the majority party demanding accountability.

If there was, they would have gotten going long before the DSM came into the mix. By the way, among these silent lambs is John McCain, before anyone starts to get too excited about him running as a different kind of presidential candidate in 2008.

And the identical diagnosis applies to Ireland. We've noted before the easily documented record of flat-out lies told by our permanent party of government. Wednesday brought more evidence: a parliamentary committee where the majority simply decided to cover for the scandal-implicated former minister for health, and a pathetic attempt by the minister for justice to blame the opposition, in power for a brief period almost 10 years ago, for a police scandal that covers his entire time in government positions. The newspapers and the bloggers will be outraged, but there won't be a single voice raised within Fianna Fail in protest.

One reason for the silence on both sides of the Atlantic is that FF and the Bush Republican party excel at what Sinn Fein might call electoralism: effective manoeuvres for advantage at the polls. It's very far from a solid basis for government, but it certainly keeps them in power long enough to royally f*ck things up.

Speaking of royally, consider this irony. Of the three governments in the Republic, the UK, and the USA that were returned to power in the last few years, the one with the least share of the popular vote, Blair, is the one running the most representative government. At least in the sense that Labour was returned with sufficient dissent within the party that Blair has to be more cautious in policy and is more vulnerable to scandal than Bertie or Dubya are or ever will be.

So what's the solution? Well, in the Irish case we've already outlined the bobw reform program and even with the heroic assumption that we're right, there's still the more serious issue of the flaws exposed in the US system by Dubya. There, we just don't know, although we have a sneaking suspicion that the USA might be just too big for efficient government. Much as others worked furiously on proofs of Fermat's Last Theorem, we have some scraps of paper here aiming to show that the optimal size of country is 50-75 million people. Proof coming one of these decades.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hell faces an energy crisis

Dubya today in Washington:

Do you realize we've got 250 million years of coal?

Only 250 million?

[UPDATE: Dan Froomkin also notes Dubya's 106 misoverestimation]
How did they split the phone bills?

An odd common thread in descriptions of the lives of trendy musicians that we've read in the last couple of weeks: roommates. Consider first the formation of Damon Albarn's hip-hop/rock/cartoon fusion outfit Gorillaz:

Gorillaz got started when Blur's Damon Albarn and [graphic artist] Jamie Hewlett shared an apartment after each of them had long-time romance break-ups.

So: the productivity boost from having a roommate. And they weren't the only ones. In a short interview segment in Sunday's New York Times where a musician is asked what they are listening to these days, the playlist was provided by Feist:

After a decade of playing in rock bands, the Canadian singer Leslie Feist, who goes by her last name only, has been reborn as a chanteuse

and she was keen on M.I.A. (Maya Arulpragasam):

I met Maya Arulpragasam about four or five years ago in England when I was on tour with the rapper Peaches, who was also my roommate. We stayed with Justine Frischmann, from Elastica, and she and Maya were roommates.

Hard to keep straight: Peaches & Feist, Maya and Justine. They've nearly got a sitcom plot right there. And mention of Justine marks the fact that this is not just a weird coincidence of rock star roomies, because of course Justine and Damon used to be an item. Consider this description of the Elastica breakup:

[bandmember] Holland left shortly after the band's return to the Lollapalooza circuit, and about 18 months after her departure (and on the same weekend Frischmann broke up with longtime boyfriend and Blur frontman Damon Albarn)

We haven't quite pinned down the timing, but it looks like Damon moved in with Jamie soon after he hit the rocks with Justine , during which time Justine roomed with M.I.A. and entertained houseguests Feist and Peaches. Yes, the Damon-Justine breakup occurred at the nexus of the universe.
The aid budget and the Armalite

Not for the first time, evidence that it's impossible to parody the Wall Street Journal editorial page (subs. req'd):

The U.S. is already the world's most generous donor to the global development cause. According to the OECD, total U.S. official assistance in 2004 was almost $19 billion, nearly twice that of the next biggest givers, Japan and France. And for those who talk about "aid per capita," keep in mind that U.S. military spending that defends freedom is also a kind of development aid.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The ballot box and the Armalite, again

Jack Straw is a busy man these days. A day after putting the UK's EU referendum on life support, he went on a visit to Israel and walked into a row about meetings between British diplomats and Hamas representatives. The Israelis are unhappy for the usual reason of not liking the idea of terrorists gaining legitimacy:

Shuli Davidovich, spokeswomen at the Israeli Embassy in London, said: "Any dialogue will empower the extremists and not the moderates in the Palestinian Authority. "As long as Hamas continued to go through the route of terrorism we can't perceive it as a political organisation."

Straw's response is to note that the meeting only took place with elected representatives:

"We have a diplomatic job to do as others do, and our diplomats in the occupied territories - as anywhere else in the world - see part of their job, indeed part of their job is, to have contact with elected representatives.

"In the occupied territories it is de rigeur, it is required, that if a diplomat of whatever level goes into a town they go and talk to the mayor.

It strikes us that governments continue to walk into this rhetorical trap of saying "we don't have meetings with terrorists" but then of course find that there's no way round the need to talk to elected representatives. And of course the British government should know this from their dealings with the IRA and Sinn Fein. Things get even trickier if a transcript comes out but luckily that only happened in 1999, when much legitimacy had already been achieved by the Shinners.

Straw is not alone in this dilemma. As we noted recently, Christopher Hitchens and factions within the US government have fallen into exactly the same trap regarding negotiations with Sunni militants in Iraq. At one level, the phrase "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is an empty formula, because it implies complete subjectivity. But terrorists with an electoral mandate are a very awkward proposition. Indeed, we don't believe that the Israeli government itself has never ever had its own feelers out to Hamas either.
Big Picture Bertie

Not for the first time, we see similarities between the approach to government of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Dubya. Both have clearly chosen to stick to chairman of the board kind of stuff and avoid the messy details of policies. So Bertie has kept an extremely low profile on the Gama and nursing home scandals, but pops up today with a carefully phrased tribute to Sean Doherty RIP, a man that could have easily found a place in the Nixon Administration:

After a promising early career in An Garda Siochána he entered politics and enjoyed a career that had it full share of controversy and that was seldom far from the centre of events.

Indeed. This is one approach to Doherty's role in tapping journalists' phones as Minister for Justice, but he did make the play for redemption 10 years later by revealing that then Taoiseach Charlie Haughey knew all about it. And the Soldiers of Destiny lived happily ever after.

Bertie's other move lately has to been to play the Good European and claim that the Republic will proceed with a referendum on the dead-and-buried EU Constitution. Our guess is that he is going for point-scoring as the smug-faced one at the imminent EU Summit, leaving the insertion of the stake through the heart to one of the Slayer countries (most likely the UK). In the meantime, Bertie gets to enjoy favourable coverage in Le Monde:

l'Irlande a décidé de maintenir le sien. "Oui, nous allons le faire", a déclaré mardi le ministre des affaires étrangères irlandais, Dermot Ahern, interrogé par la BBC, à la question de savoir si le référendum irlandais était maintenu

The story even has a nice picture of the two Aherns signing the Dead Parrot last year in Rome. One wonders if Bertie's fan club in Paris gets him a complimentary tailored shirt from Charvet?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Again with the Doku

A modest request to the American media: Please stop "discovering" Su Doku. The most recent offender: the June 6 issue of New York mag, where Jim Ledbetter writes that the insanely addictive Japanese-Anglo number-box puzzle has arrived on our shores... er, that is, arrived on our shores in April, in the New York Post. (Nice "news" item, Jimmy!)

But dudes! We've been hoarding issues of the London Times since it launched Su Doku last November. And we only bother doing the "fiendish"-level puzzles. Which is a lot trickier than contriving lame-ass trend stories...