Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Victory is simply a question of dates

Those relying on the farcically redesigned Pajamas Media for their summary of President Bush's newly announced strategy for victory in a war that began in 2003 will read:

and the White House earlier today declassified a document describing that strategy circa 2003. The 38 page document is here: Strategy for Victory (2003).

Now the double references to 2003 are a bit suspicious, not least because the White House surely belatedly realized that they had set up the political comedians for the obvious jokes about the strategy coming 2 years after the war. But Pajamas Media goes above and beyond the call of duty in labelling the document as they do, because when you follow the link, there is nothing in the title about it being a 2003 document:

November 30, 2005
National Strategy for Victory in Iraq

Sections of the actual document (pdf) refer to recent events, so it makes no claim to being a 2003 document, other than a few scattered quotes from Bush from that year. So why did Pajamas Media provide the document with a falsely dated title?

UPDATE: PJM link updated to reflect their update, which still backdates the title of the White House document. Also, inbound link to us from Atrios, who awards them a coveted Wankers of the Day award. And via Roger Ailes, Pajamas Media hyping a non-story about a supposed leak of classified information.
Don't tell them in Michigan

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) has an interesting story on how General Motors is bravely planning on increased non-US sales of the "smallest" of its Hummer 4WD vehicles, the H3. Brave because a time of increased concern about global warming, oil prices, and George Bush's militarism would not seem to be a good time to be selling a teens-MPG behemoth that draws on a US military design. But the marketers have a plan -- to convince purchasers that it really won't look that out of place next to a Swatch car:

The tone of advertising slogans for the H3 also contrasts with the more attitude-filled campaign for the H2. For the H3, advertising phrases include, "Any Smaller and It Would Be European" or "Available in the Petite Section." For the H2, the tone was more aggressive, with slogans like "You give us the money, we give you the truck and nobody gets hurt."

In its attempt to sell the vehicle based on the opposite emphasis to the sales pitch in the US -- the ability to crush anything else on the road -- it's similar to how Guinness shields its home market from innovations like FastPour and Surger. Maybe GM should contact Diageo about a version of FastPour that would work for filling the H3's petrol tank.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

This just in: New Harper's editor also a mime!

Or at least, along with his agility with "cattle, sheep and a gun," Roger D. Hodge seems to be able to lean passionately on thin air.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sources are for suckers

Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World Report, uses his proprietorial spot in the magazine to discussing this new fangled blogging thingy:

Given the fact that the disseminators of blogs, such as Google, have a unique protection from legal liability for what is posted, the blogs often resort to blood sport in their commentaries on politics and life, with many repeating and reporting without fact checking. (Alas, the idea that Jews plotted the 9/11 attacks began as a blog and took hold in the Muslim world as fact; in fact, it was a lie put out by Hezbollah.)

This new age of journalism is challenging the "trustee model" of journalism, where journalistic professionals served as gatekeepers, filtering the defamatory and the false. Today, a large segment of the public believes the new media are flavoring their reporting so as to tell us not so much how the world works but how the media believe it ought to work. No wonder only 44 percent of the public now say they are very, or fairly, confident of the media's accuracy.

Our quick count shows those two paragraphs containing 4 specific assertions and four sweeping generalizations, the latter protected only by their vagueness from being substantiated. And it's not like the claims are even internally consistent -- did the 9/11 claim come from Hezbollah, or a blog, or maybe from And what is this "unique legal protection" that Google has? Or indeed this golden age of trustee journalism, where the gatekeepers protected us from falsehoods like Al Gore having claimed he invented the Internet? Indeed, in terms of political speech, bloggers are having to fight to get the same rights that other media already have in terms of election campaign regulations.

In sum, we have a non-fact checked, unsourced tirade about bloggers from one of the pillars of dinner-party centrism. Stick to firing employees on maternity leave, Mort. It's what you do best.

UPDATE: Inward links (and much associated traffic) with additional thoughts from Atrios and Kos. And Zuckerman's own sloppy record on fact-checking is discussed by Wampum.
Winston off the hook

Seemingly tiring of comparisons of George W. Bush with Winston Churchill, the American Right spent Sunday exulting in a new comparison: Bush and Napoleon. We already knew that they had killed irony but now they're dancing on its grave. They're sourcing the analogy to a James Hoagland column in the Washington Post, which in turn relies on a quote from an Egyptian -- but hey, that's better sourcing than they ever had for their WMD hype. So --

National Review's The Corner: Must-read Hoagland column on changes in the Middle East >>
" is a Middle East in which those who believe in democracy and civil society are finally actors, even though we still face big obstacles," says Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egypt's battle-scarred democratic activist.

Ibrahim originally opposed the invasion of Iraq. But it "has unfrozen the Middle East, just as Napoleon's 1798 expedition did. Elections in Iraq force the theocrats and autocrats to put democracy on the agenda, even if only to fight against us. Look, neither Napoleon nor President Bush could impregnate the region with political change. But they were able to be the midwives," Ibrahim told me in Washington.<<

Powerline: What Bush and Napoleon have in common

Read a little, via Wikipedia, about how successful the Corsican's Middle Eastern expedition was:

In a largely unsuccessful effort to gain the support of the Egyptian populace, Bonaparte also issued proclamations casting himself as a liberator of the people from Ottoman oppression, and praising the precepts of Islam.

... Although Bonaparte had massive success against the native Mamluk army in the Battle of the Pyramids (his 25,000 man strong invading force defeated a 100,000 man army), his fleet was largely destroyed by Nelson at The Battle of the Nile, so that Bonaparte became land-bound. His goal of strengthening the French position in the Mediterranean Sea was thus frustrated, but his army nonetheless succeeded in consolidating power in Egypt, although it faced repeated nationalist uprisings

In early 1799 he led the army into the Ottoman province of Syria, now modern Israel, and defeated numerically superior Ottoman forces in several battles, but his army was weakened by disease and poor supplies ... Eventually Bonaparte was forced to withdraw from Egypt in 1799, under constant British and Ottoman attacks..

Apart from the failure, it's a neocon fantasy trip. What took this analogy so long?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Of Irish Interest

Quick notes on what New York Times readers read about Ireland in the last couple of days. Friday's papers saw "Donabate Journal," a report on the perilous state of the craft of thatching in Ireland, with a bunch of quotes from a cottage owner in the town and a thatcher working on it. Two indices of the trouble -- both the raw materials and the skills often have to be imported -- the latter from Britain:

In contrast to Ireland, Britain saved its thatched roofs through aggressive conservation efforts after World War II and formal training programs, so its style of thatching developed while Ireland's remained relatively static.

Peter Childs, a Briton who has worked in Ireland for a decade, employs those techniques here because the roofs last longer and have a cleaner, more tightly woven look.

The Sunday Book Review has a 2nd review of John Banville's The Sea, a privilege that sometimes happens with big name authors given the vehemently negative nature of the first one. This one by Terrence Rafferty is nowhere as negative and even speculates that the novel began as a parody of a more English style of novel before veering of in another direction. There is also a link to the complete first chapter.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


In one of the Telegraph accounts of the life of George Best, found via Backword, one anecdote goes:

By now, though, Best's bedroom and bar room capers were seriously encroaching on his football. He missed training sessions, and in 1971 failed to turn up for a tie with Chelsea, instead going on a date with the Irish actress Sinead Cusack.

Since it's fun to look at the pictures of these celebrities in their swinging 1960s/1970s days (although Sinead still cuts a respectable figure as a fine actress and Mrs Jeremy Irons), here's a set of clips captured from Sinead's role in an episode of The Persuaders (scroll down a bit to the blonde in the brown waistcoat) -- itself a show surely ripe for a remake in these days of renewed Anglo-American alliance. Think of the pitch meeting -- two chalk-and-cheese English and American toffs, both handsome, solve crimes and build their friendship at the same time. An allegory for the Iraq war, surely?

UPDATE: Reader RG tells us that The Persuaders is being remade, with Ben Stiller and Steve Coogan playing the American and Anglo roles. The rights are owned by Granada, the large British independent television company. Here's the Variety story on the remake.

Friday, November 25, 2005

George Best versus Irish Ferries

A couple of months ago we posted about labour disputes on ferry companies in Ireland and France; while the French dispute had flared up more spectacularly at that time, we figured that the Irish dispute was ultimately more troublesome for the government because of its interaction with national wage agreements.

And so today, not yet going as far as the Corsican sailors (who "hijacked" their ship), Irish sailors have barricaded themselves in the bridges of two Irish Ferries ships at Holyhead and Pembroke. Things got further complicated for the Artful Dodger, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, when George Best died -- because he has now has the challenge of having to sound distinct notes of concern about the two issues. It wouldn't look good to be crying into his vintage Manchester United jersey (even though he was a Hull fan when Best played), while also coming across as disengaged from a looming industrial relations disaster.

It doesn't help that Bertie stands accused of a version of the US State Department's disastrous interaction with Saddam Hussein in 1990: "we have no opinion on your border dispute with Kuwait:"

[RTE]: Bertie Ahern, speaking during a visit to Budapest, also defended his remarks earlier in the week when he said the Government was powerless to intervene in the dispute. Some had claimed the remarks had given Irish Ferries the green light to take the action they did.

Anyway, Bertie decided to come out swinging on the latest developments -- although still unclear what he'll actually do:

the Taoiseach launched a strong attack on the tactics of Irish Ferries management, describing them as anathema to everything he has worked for for more than 20 years.

So how about George Best? Bertie does indeed some more devastated about that, as signalled by the presence of a statement about his death -- and not the ferry dispite -- on his website:

I am saddened to learn of the death of George Best. George was one of my great sporting heroes. Not only is he one of the finest footballers this island has ever produced but he is also one of the best players the world has ever seen. In the days ahead people will struggle with words to try to describe his talent. In this regard George should be remembered as the very best at what he did. He was quite simply a football genius.

As a teenager, I remember being enthralled by George's sensational performance in the 1968 European Cup final which propelled United to a famous victory. Throughout a long and colourful career, George gave great pleasure to millions of football supporters across the globe. He was a man of unmatched football skills and great personal charisma. He fought a long difficult battle with alcoholism and I am sorry to hear today that he has finally succumbed to illness. I wish to extend my sympathy to George's family, friends and legions of fans, he will be well remembered and sadly missed.

In death, as on the football field, George comes out ahead.
Don't mention the GWOT

Right before leaving for his Thanksgiving vacation at his "ranch" in Texas, the White House website popped up this announcement:

President Bush will meet with the Chancellor of the Republic of Austria, Wolfgang Schuessel, at the White House on December 8, 2005. The President looks forward to discussing the Chancellor's upcoming Presidency of the European Council and the way ahead for transatlantic cooperation.

Which is interesting timing because it seems that Austria, unlike the Republic of Ireland, is serious about investigating illegal CIA flights that may have been using its territory --

In Austria, air force commander Maj. Gen. Erich Wolf told state radio that the flight in question — a C-130 Hercules transport plane that took off from Frankfurt, Germany, and headed to Azerbaijan — crossed Austrian airspace on Jan. 21, 2003.

Austria's army scrambled fighter jets to make contact with the plane's pilot but did not suspect anything wrong at the time, and the government lodged no diplomatic protests, Wolf said.

Since then, however, Austrian authorities have found reason to believe the flight was transporting captives, Wolf added. He did not elaborate.

Now there've been games before when a European leader is in town with an awkward set of questions swirling around bilateral relations, but if there is media event connected to the visit, one hopes that the assembled hacks will ask some pointed questions about this issue.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Blame Canada

Should an enterprising blogger beyond the reach of the Official Secrets Act decide to publish the contents of the classified British memo that underlie the claims that George Bush wanted to bomb al Jazeera headquarters in Qatar, there is a precedent that will ensure that this blogger receives enthusiastic support from the Right: their embrace of "Captain Ed" when he published secret Canadian documents that embarrassed the Canadian government. For instance, Glenn Reynolds offered his customary Heh-style support:

MORE CRUSHING OF DISSENT: Captain Ed has been Banned in Canada for his coverage of the Canadian political scandals [testimony to the Gomery Commission]. Canadian websites that link to him are threatened with prosecution.

Funny how our neighbors to the north lose their expansive view of international law when confronted with things like this:

>>[UN Human Rights declaration] Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.<<

Unless, you know, it's embarrassing to people in power or something.

Note, although it's sometimes hard to tell, Reynolds was being sarcastic with that last sentence. Unless of course some blogger really does get the Bush memo out, and then maybe he'll say he wasn't.

UPDATE: A more direct approach to getting the source document public -- Boris Johnson says in the Telegraph that he'll publish it if someone gives it to him:

The Attorney General's ban is ridiculous, untenable, and redolent of guilt. I do not like people to break the Official Secrets Act, and, as it happens, I would not object to the continued prosecution of those who are alleged to have broken it. But we now have allegations of such severity, against the US President and his motives, that we need to clear them up.

If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence. The public need to judge for themselves. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for, and in an important respect we become as sick and as bad as our enemies.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sarcasm without facts

Christopher Hitchens shows how it's done, participating via his latest piece for Slate in the War on Murtha:

Even Rep. Murtha glimpses his own double-standard futility, however dimly, when he calls for U.S. forces to be based just "over the horizon" in case of need. And what horizon, my dear congressman, might that be?

Err ... if you'd read what the Congressman actually said, you'd know: Kuwait --

Q My other question. What do you mean exactly by a Quick Reaction Force in the region?

REP. MURTHA: ... What I'm talking about is a terrorist camp that may affect our national security or the security in the region, we could go back in. But not a civil war or something like that, I mean, you know, that's up to the Iraqis to settle that. So I think the Marine force could be in there momentarily, within a couple of days, within 48 hours they could be in there. And if the Kuwaitis would agree and they wanted to put a force in Kuwait, that would be a good place to have them. They could go right down the road.
Work in Progress

Andrew Sullivan has made good use of his soap box to tackle the Bush Administration pro-torture policies, even though, as Sullywatch points out, he hasn't yet grasped the inner need that torture fulfills for his former allies on the right. But he still exhibits occasional GWOT sloppiness, such as in this post which is actually making a good point:

[context] PADILLA CHARGED: There years after being detained. I like this detail:
>> An indictment is merely an accusation. All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.<<
I have no brief for Padilla or any other al Qaeda mass-murderers. But he is an American citizen, presumed innocent, and it took the government three years even to charge him.

Take out the any other and, well, you get the point that people were trying to make when Sully was still on the other side of the fence. So get it in a better version from Seaxneat, using language that wouldn't be suitable for a blog getting ready to move to

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Look out, Pajamas Media

Mike Power has a nice roundup of the fiasco that is Pajamas Media, although it was still called Open Source Media when Mr Power was putting that post together. However, it seems that their vision that the Internet offers huge scope for a start-from-scratch news network is catching on:

[AP via WSJ, subs. req'd] Governments across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America agreed Tuesday to launch their own Internet-based news network to counter what they called prejudiced reporting by the Western media.

Plans to create the Nonaligned Movement News Network were endorsed by information ministers and senior officials from more than 80 mainly developing nations such as Cuba, Iran, Syria, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe, many of which claimed their reputations have suffered because of foreign media coverage.

Malaysia's state-owned news agency, Bernama, will oversee the network and coordinate efforts to help poorer nations boost their technical infrastructure and expertise to contribute to the initiative ...

The name alone will surely send the right into paroxysms of rage, recalling as it does the inglorious days of the Nonaligned Movement making trouble at the UN General Assembly. And the collection of countries ranges from the embarrassing UN Human Rights Commission style rogues to more interesting we'll do it our way countries like Malaysia. But if only for its capacity to cause irritation in the right places, we wish NMNN all the best, and urge them, unlike their bedroom-dwelling competitors, to stick with the name.
An Ulster once again

Every so often, the would-be omniscient blogger is forced to conclude that there's an important relevant issue out there about which we haven't a clue. Today it's Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain's radical proposals to restructure local government and administration in the six counties -- not least to make the structures correspond a bit better with the county structure than they do now. Hain's main salespitch is

For a place the size of Northern Ireland, 5,400 square miles with a population of 1.7m people, we are both over-governed and over-administered.

Scale up the area and population appropriately to the Republic, and, as the smart conservatives say, Heh (or is it Indeed?). Now our complaint about the Republic is not that there's an excess of government, but that it's in the wrong place -- too much structure at national level, where there's not a lot for our 166 TDs (of which 20 percent get to be ministers) to do, and too little at local level where more responsive government might actually be needed. Bertie's government has only accelerated the trend of dumping any controversial function over to new quangos and so the layers of government, camouflaged by Celtic Tiger growth, increase.

That perspective did mean that our first reaction was to think that Hain's reforms sound good. But the overall reaction in Northern Ireland has been negative, not least -- and bear with us now -- from Ian Paisley:

This is a clear attempt to split the province. Nationalists will be able to develop their united Ireland policy in the councils that they dominate.

A look at the map of the new council areas relative to the existing town-based ones shows what he's getting at (and again, we await the bolt of lightning for agreeing with Big Ian about anything) -- Northern Ireland is a bizarrely shaped entity, and the demography is ever more matching the geography as the bits of it that awkwardly straddle the Republic become more nationalist. Hence the fear that the county councils become the precursors to a new Border Commission. The cagey response to the plans from the Shinners ("scrutinise the review recommendations") doubtless only confirmed Paisley in his view.

But underlying Paisley's view is that the nationalist residents of Fermanagh, Tyrone, Armagh and Derry are looking for a vehicle for closer alignment with the Republic. Consider however a major focus of Hain's reforms -- health. Just how happy are the aforementioned counties' republican neighbours with how they are being treated?

RTE -- A health campaign group in the North East [of the Republic] has claimed recommendations on the future of surgical services in Cavan and Monaghan will result in unnecessary loss of life. The Co Monaghan Community Alliance say the centralisation of acute surgical care at Cavan General Hospital spells the death knell of Monaghan Hospital. The recommendations were announced by the National Hospitals Office and the Royal College of Surgeons

There's always a chance that if the Northern reforms actually work, the people of Monaghan might prefer a health services arrangement centered north of the border rather than on the bad road to Cavan. Indeed, because of the strange geography, there's a good argument for providing more effective government to much of Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal via cross-border arrangement rather than through Bertie's collection of yes-men, gun-toting maniax (sic), and autorities (sic) in Dublin (with offices in each minister's constituency).

A totally speculative thought of course, so for firmer facts and analysis, go to Slugger O'Toole and scroll like you've never scrolled before.
Typo of the Day

Running out the clock as Time Magazine's Blog of the Year, Powerline:

At the Manhattan Institute's City Journal site, Heather Mac Donald takes a look at the how the recent revelation of torture in Iraqi-fun Baghdad prisons disrupts the "torture narrative" propounded by anti-war critics:

[update: typo since repaired]
Dump it in the Mersey

Tuesday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) reports on the very long list of nominees for the Impac Literary award; in principle this is a run as a Man Booker style operation, but with bigger money and fewer restrictions on origin and even language of the author. But there are costs to this openness:

Cecilia (sic) Ahern's PS I Love You and Colm Tóibín's The Master are among six Irish books longlisted for the €100,000 Impac Dublin Literary Award 2006 ... The longlist for the Impac - literature's most lucrative prize for a single work - is compiled from nominations by 180 library networks in 124 cities around the world. Tóibín's book - which was shortlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize - tops the league of nominations with 17.

But previous winners of the 11-year-old award have included books that received a single nomination. On the 2006 list, PS I Love You is among works nominated by only one city library - in this case Liverpool's.

The literary feuds that inevitably mark these awards would be nothing to the salvoes that would ensue if a chick-lit novel by the Taoiseach's daughter won this award. Just who did the Liverpool city library put in charge of its nomination?

UPDATE: BBC picks up the story, and we've corrected confusion on our their part about how the talented novelist's (Cecelia) name is spelt.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Outstanding achievement in the field of excellence

We wandered over to The Volokh Conspiracy via an amusing Kieran Healy post at Crooked Timber that chronicled a double catch of a dodgy post at the former; once when an allegation of academic misconduct that couldn't be substantiated was made, and second when the post was altered, unflagged, to remove the allegation. Anyway, scrolling up from the multiply altered post, we came to the eponymous conspirator complaining about one particular aspect of the coverage of California death row inmate Stanley Williams:

Many stories about Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the co-founder of the Crips gang who was convicted of having "shot and killed four people during two robberies in Los Angeles" note that he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature (for writing children's books warning children against becoming gang members) ...

Any social science, history, philosophy, law, and theology professor, judge, or legislator in any country (plus a few others) can nominate anyone for a Nobel Peace Prize (past nominees, just in 1901-1951, included Hitler, Stalin, and Molotov). Any literature or linguistics professor can nominate anyone for a Nobel Prize in Literature. Naturally, many nominees have real merit; but that someone has been nominated by one of likely hundreds of thousands of potential nominees is little evidence of such merit ... And in any event, wouldn't it have been helpful -- both to listeners and to the victim's daughter -- if the stories that mentioned Williams' nominations had stressed how unselective the nomination process really is?

This is a commendable standard, because there are indeed other cases where people have cited a Nobel prize nomination as a credential. Consider for instance the case of the already-dead Terri Schiavo, as analyzed by Fox News thug Sean Hannity:

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: As we continue on "Hannity and Colmes," I'm Sean Hannity. Right now, we're broadcasting live outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo is right now. Of course, her feeding tube has not been reinserted as of this point. Joining us now is Dr. Bill Hammesfahr. And Dr. Hammesfahr, thanks for being with us.
DR. BILL HAMMESFAHR: Thanks for having me.
HANNITY: You were nominated for a Nobel Prize in medicine?
HANNITY: In 1999? For your work...
HAMMESFAHR: ... in patients like Terri. For brain injury and stroke patients. We discovered how you get these people better, and we did it for 10 years with Medicare. We got evaluated by the state of Florida and we first discovered a technique that works in people like Terri


HANNITY: Doctor, wait a minute. I've got to get this straight here. You were nominated to get a Nobel Peace Prize in this very work. Are you saying that this woman could be rehabilitated?
HAMMESFAHR: Absolutely.
HANNITY: Could she talk one day?
HANNITY: Then how is it possible we're in this position if you have examined her, you were up for a Nobel Prize. I -- this is mind boggling to me.
HAMMESFAHR: I don't understand it myself. You know, this is a -- this is a case of a terrible error that's happened and it's a grievous case.


HANNITY: Well, this is what I want to understand. This is your area of expertise that got you nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in medicine, the Nobel Prize.

Note the extra piece of buffoonery in Hannity's reference to a non-existent prize, the Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine. One suspects that in the context of the Williams case, the Fox News clarity on the meaning of a Nobel nomination will sharply increase.

UPDATE: A by-the-way remark; it seems that the first issue mentioned above in the Crooked Timber post is just another manifestation of the Intelligent Design pseudo-science dispute, because the hastily withdrawn accusation was levelled at P.Z. Myers, apparently based on his highly critical views on I.D. Freestater explains why Irish readers should care about this debate. And Volokh's point about the dubiousness of a Nobel nomination credential is bouncing around the blogosphere now, big play from Pajamas/Open Source Media and Glenn Reynolds (not a coincidence, of course).
When sorrows come

A brief update on something we posted about before; Dubya's use of ambassadorships as political lucky bags hasn't yet rebounded on him as scandal, but there are procedural problems. The nomination of C. Boyden Gray as Ambassador to the European Union seemed particularly brazen, given the need for Senate confirmation notwithstanding Gray's side career helping force Dubya's judicial nominees through that same Senate. Today's Washington Post In the Loop column reports that the problem has still not been solved

But there are, we're told, multiple [Senate] holds on the nomination at this point, apparently from senators who took offense at an ad by the Committee for Justice, which Gray headed, which was pushing for the confirmation of Republican judges.

The ad accused "some in the U.S. Senate of playing politics with religion" in opposing the nomination of Alabama Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor , a Catholic. It showed a sign on the doors of a courthouse saying: "Catholics need not apply."

The underlying claim of the ad seems especially preposterous in view of the impending Catholic majority on the Supreme Court, assuming that Sam Alito's nomination there is confirmed. It's possible that Dubya may force through Gray as a recess appointment, although with the Congressional term expiring next year, that would only give him a year in the job. By using this procedure to put John Bolton in his UN job, Bush made clear that really wanted Bolton in that job, regardless of the length of time. We don't think that Gray has made any remark about the European Commission similar to Bolton's about the UN -- that you could remove five floors from their building and not lose anything. So the stakes here mostly relate to whether Gray ultimately wants the job.

UPDATE 23 NOV: And while we're on the topic of Dubya's pay-for-play ambassadorships, the players might want to bear in mind that the contributions don't end with the ambassadorship itself; from Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post:

"In anticipation of a lengthy and expensive court fight, a number of Republican former senators, former ambassadors and fundraisers are planning to raise $250,000 each and a total of $5 million for Libby's legal fund, according to people familiar with the plan. In a private conversation earlier this week, Republicans such as former ambassadors Melvin Sembler and Howard Leach promised to raise at least $250,000. Former senators Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) and Alan K. Simpson (Wyo.) and former congressman Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) are also part of the fundraising campaign, the sources said."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Spin retooled

Today in China, Dubya seems to have made a subtle change in his GWOT rhetoric:

Iraq is a battlefront in the war on terror, and it's vital that we succeed in this particular battle in the war on terror.

What happened to "central front"?
Maggie's force de frappe

Today's London Sunday Times has an intriguing story about the Falklands war, and one with contemporary relevance. Francois Mitterand's shrink has written a book, and the book says that Mitterand told him in 1982 that Maggie Thatcher threatened a nuclear attack on an Argentinian city, believed to be Cordoba, if the French government did not provide the British with disabling codes for the Exocet missiles that Argentina was using against British ships. Aside from the James Bond feeling about the scenario, any or all of Maggie bluffing, and Mitterand or the shrink not telling the truth should perhaps downgrade the weight attached to it.

But the underlying issue is a real one: when wars are fought between opponents that differ greatly in overall destructive power, there is always the possibility of an "equalising" weapon emerging for use by the weaker power against the stronger one. Britain faced the particular problem of having stressed nuclear weapons as the primary component of its military arsenal (not least because of Maggie's love-in with Ronnie) and so was trying to project force over 8,000 miles using highly vulnerable ships, so the Exocet anti-ship missile was a big problem. In any event, threat or not, the British did get French help in combatting the missiles and more standard military power was then able to assert itself.

Which brings us to Iraq. The Exocet turned up again as one of Saddam's favourite weapons in the Iran-Iraq war; his tactic of attacking Iranian commercial shipping was considered acceptable at the time because of course he was our friend Saddam Hussein. He even retained that status when two Exocets hit the US Navy ship Stark in 1987, killing 37 sailors.

In the current war in Iraq, the equaliser is the improvised explosive device, made possible by the failure to secure Iraqi military munitions during the 2003 invasion, and the failure of the Commander-in-Chief of the US forces to provide sufficient body and vehicle armour for his troops. Part of the bewilderment of the Bush team, trained as they were on Cold War politics, must be that unlike Maggie allegedly did with Francois, there is no state actor that you can call up and threaten with the consequences of your most powerful weapon when the enemy is proving adaptive and tenacious with a particular weapon of their own.

One of the 15 rationales for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam might give weapons to terrorists, so he had to be gotten rid of. But cutting out the middleman is not always a good idea, especially when you have more leverage over the middleman than the end user.

Friday, November 18, 2005

All the world's a pitch

Our credentials as an Irish blog would be weak if we had nothing to say about the shock departure (sacked says RTE, mutual agreement says BBC) of Manchester United's stalwart midfielder, Roy Keane. Now, as widely noted, Keane's departure is in a sense overdetermined, with reasons ranging from fatigue aggravated by his famous impatience with perceived lack of commitment, to his years-long chafing at the corporatisation of the game. The latter culminated in his spiked interview for the in-house TV station MUTV in which he criticised many of his fellow players.

Thus his departure has parallels, for readers looking for an American analogy, with that of Terrell Owens from the Philadelphia Eagles, who likewise was guilty of the mortal sin of public criticism of teammates. Indeed, MU fans might wonder if this intolerance of players going off-message came down from the team's new owners, the Glazers, also owners of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Keane had already retired from playing for the Republic of Ireland, his second such retirement, and his availability will spark speculation about him taking over the vacant national team managerial slot. But since his past disputes with the team reflected his dislike of its administrators as much as team managers, it's not clear that such a relationship can work out.

There's one other matter peripherally related to Keane that is worth noting. His retirement from the national team coincided with its failure to make the 2006 World Cup in Germany, coming 4th in their group behind Israel who in turn just missed a playoff spot that went to Switzerland, who in turn beat Turkey in a nailbiting home-and-away playoff to qualify (France came first in the group and so qualify automatically).

All this matters because the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy has a new cause -- getting Iran kicked out of the World Cup and handing the slot to Israel instead. Hence in the National Review, Emanuele Ottolenghi writes:

As Washington Institute’s Iran expert Patrick Lawson has suggested in the past, the international community should exclude Iran from the world cup ... The precedent would impose no burden on business interests but it would embarrass Tehran and create an international consensus on the nature of its regime.

... A ban on the other hand would create a further popular grievance against the regime ... But the ban would deprive the World Cup of a team. Who would replace Iran at the Leipzig draw on December 9?

Israel’s team is the answer. Israel, geographically in the Middle East, had to play against much stronger European teams like France and Ireland (sic), due to a sport boycott — tolerated by international sport authorities — which the Jewish state endures in its region. If that was not enough, foreign teams feared playing in Israel for safety reasons, forcing Israel to play its own home games away from home and its supporters. Despite these hurdles, Israel’s team performed well and was eliminated in the qualifying stages only due to goal difference. But had Israel played instead against Qatar, Laos, and Jordan like Iran did, it would have easily qualified. Given [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad’s propensity to destroy Israel, and Israel’s worthy performance on the soccer field, this swap is only fair.

Now as we noted above, what the Israelis just missed was a playoff, which it's not clear they would have won. And it's not true that Israel had to play home games on the road; Tel Aviv was used for their qualifying campaign. And in fact there's a good argument that Israel benefits from the regional boycott, because its clubs get to compete against the world's top teams, and standards rise. So the current Israeli team might indeed beat the Asian minnows that Iran competed against, but maybe not if their football culture was not as integrated with Europe's as it is.

Anyway, if Keane had had just a little better luck with injuries, the underlying claim of the NR article that Israel was the closest non-qualifier would likely have fallen even farther short, and the proposed Israel-Iran switch would be more blatantly political than it already is. But we propose to begin the weekend with one bizarre coincidence in this debate; as we've noted before, the odd resemblance between Keano and the Iranian president.
Smart conservative at work

This post by Slate's Mickey Kaus, below the one where he repeats Republican spin about Congressman John Murtha's speech against the Iraq war yesterday, reveals fundamental misunderstandings; it's about the now tapering-off riots in France:

A Black, not Brown, Revolt: A Martin Walker scener puts it more bluntly than Olivier Roy:

The sullen faces that gaze on the handiwork of the local rioters and sneer at the vans of the riot police are black rather than brown: Africans from Mali and Martinique rather than Arabs from Algeria and Morocco ... One of the striking features of the two weeks of rage that swept France is that so many of the rioters are black rather than Arab

This is, of course, encouraging. It suggests Europe is farther away from a general, penetrating Christian/Muslim or European/Arab split than, say, Mark Steyn would have it.

The criticism of Steyn presumably an attempt to maintain one's "even the liberal ..." credentials, but note the equations:

Arab = Muslim
Black not equal to Arab
Black not equal to Muslim
Martinique = African

His analysis thus pairs nicely with fellow smart conservative David Brooks' attribution of the riots to hip-hop music.
Irving Part 1

There may not be a part 2. David Irving is in custody on Austria on a long-standing arrest warrant for denying that the Holocaust occurred. A High Court judge in London ruled that Irving has earned this label, not least for having manipulated historical documents to bolster his "argument." Now, our open ended post is prompted by wondering whether Christopher Hitchens will see the opportunity for a return trip to his weird mid 1990s defences of Irving -- a way station between his War on Mother Teresa and his War on People Not In Power in the US. A specific point of interest is the subject matter of another unfinished post of ours, about Hitch's weird ambiguousness on the Israel issue.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Speaking of Extradition

A scenario that we floated a while ago becomes a bit more likely. Patrick Fitzgerald, two-pronged scourge of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy, has indicted Conrad (Lord) Black, former Chicago Sun-Times and Daily/Sunday Telegraph owner, for fraud. Details are still sketchy (WSJ, AP, Romenesko, BBC) but there are other indictments as well and it seems that Black's former business partner David Radler is now singing like a bird to Paddy Fitz. Dreamers can hope for indictments of Lady Black and arch neo-con, Richard Perle.

UPDATE: Seaxneat wonders about the potential parallels between the indictment followed by cooperation by Radler to get Black and the Libby indictment.

Extradition update

Bits of news on a couple of cases concerning extradition from Britain and Ireland to the US that we have been watching. Somewhat predictably, Sean Garland, the leader of the Workers Party, has decided to jump bail and return to the Republic from the address in Northern Ireland at which he was supposed to remain pending an extradition request by US authorities on counterfeiting charges. His case now becomes a headache for the government in the Republic, which according to Wednesday's Irish Times (subs. maybe req'd) will receive a similar request from the US.

Somewhat different is the status of Babar Ahmad, whom the UK Home Secretary has decided to extradite to the US on charges of supporting terrorism. Unlike Ian Norris and NatWest Three, Ahmad is actually been sought for offences for which the UK's 2003 extradition law was intended. But under this law, the US was not required to demonstrate to UK courts that they had a case, and the fate of non-citizen terrorism suspects in US custody should be a cause of concern. Ahmad has several levels of appeal before that eventuality.

UPDATE: More on Ahmad's case via Mike Power. And [28 Nov], our account of Garland's return to the Republic is incomplete. He had already left the address in Northern Ireland as part of an agreed change in his bail conditions to have treatment for chronic diabetes in Dublin. But he then decided to return to Navan and not back to Northern Ireland. His court no-show became official on 1st December; [Jan 27] the three men who put up bonds for his bail are now somewhat out of pocket.

UPDATE 1 DECEMBER 2006: Babar Ahmad loses the penultimate, and maybe the ultimate, round.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Irish Times makes it to Comedy Central

The extremely funny Colbert Report, which runs immediately after the mother ship Daily Show hosted by Jon Stewart has an occasional segment called un-American news where Stephen makes fun, in Bill O'Reilly fashion, of overseas newspapers. Monday's spot featured an edition of the Irish Times. Stephen holds up the "Births, Marriages, and Deaths" page and as the camera pans across the top of the page, he complains that there are only deaths listed, no births or marriages. He then makes a funny remark along the lines of the Irish not having enough sex. It looks like there's an active link for the spot here (click where he's holding a copy of Le Figaro); the Irish Times bit happens at about the 2:45 mark.

[Here's a direct link; how long it will remain good is unclear]
Always wrong

On a day when it's impossible to keep track of the unfolding legacy of 5 years of disastrous government in the US (Roger Ailes does his best with this set of links), we have one comment on one of the stories, that of the Iraqi Interior Ministry torture center in Baghdad.

Note that this apparently was being run not by the VRC's designated Shia bad guy in Iraq, Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi militia (who had Rory Carroll in, but then out of captivity within 24 hours), but by the Badr brigades, affiliated with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- in turn affiliated with Iran, and the one that gets the occasional pleading phone call from George W. Bush.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

VRC Pillow Fight

The latest in a series of snarky exchanges between The Economist and National Review magazine is hinted at today in a post on the latter's group blog, The Corner, but as before, NR is relying on most people not having a subscription to The Economist to see what the offending remark is.

The article is an assessment of William F. Buckley, who was present at the creation of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy. It's perhaps best read as a sly commentary on the current state of conservatism and not its apparent subject of conservatism as Buckley found it 40 years ago:

Yet, more than anybody else, it was Mr Buckley who rescued conservatism from obscurity and ignominy. When he founded the National Review in 1955, Eisenhower's Republican Party was as adamantly middle-of-the-road as it was middle-brow. As for right-wing activists, most were certifiable: convinced that Eisenhower was an agent of communism (the John Birchers), that Barry Goldwater was a pinko (the Conservative Society of America), that the Jews were the roots of all evil (the Liberty League), and, often, all of the above.

Mr Buckley steered conservatism out of Crackpot Alley, driving out most of the obvious lunatics and building a creed on three solid pillars—support for free markets, traditional values, and anti-communism.

Whereas it's now a movement devoted to arguing about what the meaning of 'torture' is and seemingly oblivious to the basic principle that when the government borrows money, it has to be paid back.

But anyway, the offending remark comes in the context of this generation's VRC pundits:

The problem is that they are all much of a muchness: bit-players in a pundit industry that can't tell the difference between political debate and a Punch and Judy show. And such knockabout stuff has a way of debasing anyone who takes part in it. For instance, Jonah Goldberg is a bright young right-winger who writes for the National Review with the same wry wit as Mr Buckley. But informs us that his forthcoming book, “Liberal Fascism”, argues that “liberals, from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton, have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler's National Socialism.”

By "wry wit" they presumably mean things like Goldberg's post making fun of the people stuck at the New Orleans Superdome while Dubya cleared brush in Texas. But yes, there really is such a book.

UPDATE: Further developments in the case of Jonah's book and the feud with The Economist. Goldberg claims that (a) the book is not the caricature that its Amazon promo makes it out to be, and (b) those meanies at The Economist were nice to him in person but now trash the book in print:

I've chosen not to engage a debate about a book I have not finished based upon a description I did not write months before the book even comes out ....

I will say one thing in response to the Economist's Lexington piece, which was written by Adrian Wooldridge. He's taken a some cheap shots at National Review (or his magazine has under his direction) ever since Ramesh panned his book in NR ... Indeed, he seemed a very nice and intelligent fellow and we had a nice chat. And that's the funny thing. During that chat I explained to him in broad brushstrokes what my book was about and he was very flattering about it and even offered a suggestion or two about contemporary examples I might use to bolster my thesis.

So my question is, did he think it was a contemptible project then and gamely offered some help with it anyway? Or does he merely say he thinks so now in print so he can once again take cheap shots at National Review, this time via me?

He sounds ... hurt! Incidentally, despite the book not being in print yet, Amazon has already matched it based on purchases to, inter alia:

Mommy Knows Worst : Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice by James Lileks
America Alone: Our Country's Future as a Lone Warrior by Mark Steyn
Because al Qaeda is really strong in the North Pole

Dubya in Alaska, opening an ill-tempered campaign-style speech while wearing a preposterously puffed-up military jacket:

Laura and I were in the neighborhood - (laughter) -- we thought we'd come by to say hello to the nation's "Arctic Warriors." (Applause.) We're proud to stand with the courageous airmen of Elmendorf Air Force Base, the soldiers of Fort Richardson, the Coast Guard -- (applause) -- the Coast Guard men and women here in Alaska -- (applause) -- the men and women of the Alaskan Command, and all those who wear the uniform of our country. (Applause.)

... Here at Elmendorf Air Force Base, you're defending our nation's frontiers ...

... I want to thank Senator Lisa Murkowski for flying all the way from Washington today to make sure she was here to see her fellow Alaskans, as well as to be with the President. It means a lot to me. I don't know if you know this or not, but after this speech, she said, make sure you keep it short because she's got to fly back to Washington this evening to make important votes for the people of Alaska. Lisa, thank you for your service. (Applause.) She's doing a fine job. And I see she brought her parents with her.

Well, her parents are indeed important, seeing as how she inherited the Senate seat from her father, which comes in handy when voting for pork-barrel projects financed by taxpayers for a state awash in oil revenues and useless military bases. And those parents -- the Governor and First Lady of Alaska, Mr and Mrs Frank Murkowski. Jobs for everyone is apparently what the Republicans mean by family values.

And while Dubya is mostly giving the same speech each time, he seems to add a new lie with each one:

Iraq was the only country that had used chemical weapons on its own people, invaded its neighbors, and fought a war against the United States and a great coalition.

So what was that business in Yugoslavia about, then? Especially the bit that was opposed by George W. Bush? ---

2000 Bush-Gore debate: The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders.

Morale in today's military is too low ... Some of our troops are not well-equipped. I believe we're overextended in too many places.

The most benign interpretation of this statement would be that the country did get the policies of, but not the person, who got the most votes in the 2000 election.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Blog scooped by dead-tree edition

Did Andrew Sullivan decide to inform his readers today of his impending move inside the deflector shield only after he realized that today's New York Times print edition was going to mention it in a by-the-way (but complimentary) fashion in an article about what the NYT sees as tasteless coverage of crimes and mayhem in Manhattan? --

Blogs can be serious enough and conventional enough in execution to fit in with mainstream media (as will be the case when will begin running in January)

which Sully, perhaps feeling defensive about now being in the dreaded mainstream media, explains as:

I like to think of it as a moment when the blogosphere and the MSM made touchdown. We're distinct but more connected. Maybe others will follow; others still may stay where they are. Good for them. May a thousand bloggy flowers bloom. But this one will now get a real gardener to nurture it

As bizarre a melange of metaphors and expressions from rugby, American football, Scooter Libby's aspens letter, Mao, and even, peripherally, Led Zeppelin, as we've seen in a while.
The War on Trinners

National Review magazine's Cliff May is directing people, via the mag's group blog, to his account of the GWOT debate at Trinity College Dublin's Philosophical Society a couple of weeks ago. He informs NR's readers that

It went well beyond garden-variety Bush bashing. With friends like these, who needs Militant Islamists?

where 'It' seems to cover just about every other speaker, moderator Charlie Bird, and most of the audience. An incident that will doubtless be recounted many times:

I criticized [Patrick] Cockburn and others in the media for having failed to report extensively on Saddam Hussein's mass murders and routine use of rape, torture and ethnic cleansing – crimes against humanity that never got anything like the attention attracted by the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Cockburn got so angry that he approached the podium and for a few moments it appeared he might take a swing at me.

We understand that Free Stater is trying to obtain a transcript of the evening's events to set a few things straight, not least May's apparent accusation of rampant anti-Semitism amongst his opponents. Updates as necessary.
Of Irish interest

The New York literary pages seem to have become a preferred venue for feuds with an Irish angle. Following hot on the heels of the John Banville controversies comes an annoyed letter to the editor of the New York Times Sunday Book Review by Fintan O'Toole. Fintan is upset at the implication of their review, by Caleb Crain, 4 weeks ago, of his book White Savage that he had lifted sentences without attribution from major books in his book's topic area.

Crain doesn't allege outright plagiarism since it seems to be agreed that Fintan wasn't making any attempt to hide his source material, and argues (fairly, in our view) that it would have bogged down the writing style of the book to attribute each sentence:

Crain might have argued that I should have annotated every sentence I wrote, but he might at least acknowledge that the 27 pages of source notes in "White Savage" give the reader ample guidance to my sources, including the three fine works he mentions. Perhaps he would have been happier if I had offered a numbered source note for each sentence in the book — a procedure that is commonplace in academic monographs and law review articles, but hardly ever recommended in the composition of books for the general reader.

Crain goes for the mostly snarky response:

For that matter, I do not require him [Fintan] to rearrange the words of other writers, either. If he wants to make use of their sentence-making ability, he need only place their words inside quotation marks.

But it's not just a matter of quotation marks; there's the additional "As X says, as Y says, as Z says," which can make for clumsy reading. On the scale of cases discussed here, O'Toole is in a grey area. In the manner of other literary feuds, his revenge will probably come with an opportunity to review Crain's next book.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Department of nationalist corrections

Friday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd), on the "Taste" Page:

Even the Belgian government's own Web site admits: "From 1530 until 1800, two names only deserve mention as concerns French-speaking literature." The country's Flemish half didn't exactly pick up the slack: Only four Dutch-speaking writers merited a mention. In England, meanwhile, just one nine-year span in the 16th century saw the births of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Donne and Jonson.

Since becoming the last Western European country to gain its independence in 1830, Belgium has been somewhat more prolific.

We can think of a Western European country that got its independence after 1830 and has the Belgians beaten on literary output as well.

And then there's last Sunday's New York Times (yes, we know there's a lapse of time before we got around to it, pesky work commitments). It's an article (subs. maybe req'd) about Nik Cohn, unlikely impresario of New Orleans hip-hop, which God knows could use one right now, but there's a discussion of his unusual upbringing:

Mr. Cohn was born in 1946, the son of Norman Cohn, a historian with a cult following among British university students. In Nik's childhood, his family relocated from London to Londonderry (sic), in Northern Ireland, where he was an outsider top to bottom: in his words, an "Anglo-Irish Russian German South African Jew caught up in the tribal war between Protestant and Catholic, equally unacceptable to both."

Cold and unforgiving, Londonderry (sic) was the opposite of New Orleans

OK, that feels better.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Tax policy is like a road in Kildare

Charlie McCreevy is the European Union Commissioner for the Internal Market and the most recent former Irish Minister for Finance. His current role does not include any responsibility for EU tax policy but he's spouting off anyway (WSJ, subs. req'd):

Charlie McCreevy, told a business group [in Brussels], "I am emphatically opposed to [European Union] tax harmonization -- be it by the front door or the back." ...
His speech came two weeks after the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, proposed a series of measures to encourage the 25 EU countries to establish the same criteria for taxing a company's profit ... Although tax policy isn't in his purview, he said he would fight any common definition of the corporate tax base, saying he hadn't taken a job in Brussels "to tiptoe about in my slippers." He added: "If I sense there are potholes ahead, I want to spot them before I walk into them -- and point them out to others."

It's odd for a politician to use such a metaphor but not close it by the analogy to filling the potholes. Anyway, the backstory here is that McCreevy has found his own portfolio too hot to handle, shying away from reviving the Frankenstein Bolkestein Directive, but sees the need to protect the Irish Republic's generous definitions of what constitutes taxable income -- a regime that sees the country earn more corporate tax revenue from Microsoft's UK operations than the UK does. Strangely enough, the UK will likely agree with this pothole-avoidance crusade of Charlie's.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Euphemism of the Day

Having a meeting with the dictator of an oil-rich African country (Gabon), a meeting for which a party lobbyist ("Casino" Jack Abramoff) may have been paid $9m for setting up:

Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, [] said the meeting was "part of the president's outreach to the continent of Africa."
There's always an Irish angle

From the excellent Washington Post story on the now ex-New York Times reporter and purveyor of WMD shite, Judy Miller:

Miller attributes her explosiveness to her heritage -- a brew of Russian Jewish (her father's side) and Irish Catholic (her mother's). "The thing they had in common was they were volatile," she says of Bill Miller and Mary Theresa Connolly.
The Irish parliamentary party

The Times of London quasi-blogging of Tony Blair's defeat in the House of Commons on Wednesday over the 90-day detention period for terrorism suspects notes the evolving possibility, ultimately not fulfilled, that Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party would vote with the Government:

3.15pm -- In the last few minutes, members of the DUP have been seen going into a huddle with Peter Hain, Northern Ireland Secretary. Could a deal be on the cards? ...

4.30pm -- Peter Hain is looking pretty happy after his meeting with the DUP. Does this mean a Blair-saving deal has been done?

6.15pm -- The Government failed to do the deal with the DUP, who voted against the Government

The margin of defeat exceeded the size of the DUP vote, but one does wonder what the outlines of a deal might have been. It's possible that the DUP looked for concessions on the "on-the-run" amnesty bill, which will cover terrorism offences related to Northern Ireland that were committed before 1998 by people currently at large. Indeed, getting that bill through Parliament is going to be another tricky proposition for Blair. While there's unlikely to be sufficient outrage in the Labour ranks to block it, the House of Lords may well. In fact, the DUP will have some seats in the Lords by then, adding to the problems.

At that point Blair will face the same issue that Charles Kennedy challenged him on yesterday -- whether he would use the Parliament Act to ram it through. The two situations make clear how difficult a deal with the DUP was always going to be: Blair needed their support for a toughening of anti-terrorism legislation now, but will be going over their heads on what they see as their home turf in a few months' time. In keeping with the purely speculative tone of this post, perhaps the DUP was looking for some input on events which would constitute "glorification of terrorism", a section of the bill that did pass.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Moore no longer the goat

Not for the first time, Andrew Sullivan seems to be embracing rhetoric that he had previously ridiculed. So today:

From Christopher Meyer's new book, a story about former British prime minister, John Major, on September 11, 2001:
>>John Major was due to head off to a meeting of the Carlyle Group, one of the most powerful private equity firms in the US, whose European arm he chaired.
Catherine urged him not to go downtown [in Washington], but he did. He returned at lunch to say there had been a brief meeting of the Carlyle Group people, who had then gone their separate ways. "I met Mr Bin Laden this morning," he reported. This was, it transpired, one of Osama's many siblings, a major Carlyle investor.<<

Business must go on, I guess.

Wait a minute ... Carlyle group ... Bin Laden ... 9/11? That's crazy talk:

[duc de Sully, July 2004]THE LIES OF FAHRENHEIT III: On the Carlyle Group and how the Saudis allegedly bought the Bushes.

Can pet goats and trans-Asian oil pipelines be far behind?
Good news from Paris

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal Europe editorial page (subs req'd) is upset with the French public TV networks for not showing all the mayhem in the suburbs:

Pictures of the worst urban violence in France since World War II are capturing the world's imagination. Only the French themselves aren't necessarily watching the same thing as the rest of the planet.

The country's largest private television network, TF1, refrains from airing footage of burning cars or buildings. "We know that it's the type of thing that provokes contagion," Robert Namias, the head of the station's news division, told the Journal yesterday ... Pretending otherwise [no emergency] won't help France understand or come to grips with the problems in the burning banlieues that have caught most of France -- certainly, consumers of its television news -- by surprise.

Yet this same editorial page has for the last two years claimed that the problem in Iraq is media coverage of the bad stuff, and hosted a "Good News from Iraq" spot on their website -- assembled by a blogger on the frontline (Australia):

... no escaping the continuing negativity of the mainstream media coverage ... Experts might debate exactly how much water there is in the Iraqi glass, but there is little doubt that--yet again--while the cameras and microphones were pointing toward the carnage, violence and corruption, Iraq has continued its slow and steady march out of its three-decade-long nightmare into a much more normal tomorrow ... It's a pity because the story of "Iraq, the phoenix rising from the ashes" is in many ways a lot more interesting, not to say consequential, than the usual steady media diet of "Iraq, the Wild East."

We're off now to get a number on how many French children attend school today -- something the relentlessly negative media have failed to report.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Noted in the obituaries

The Times of London has a nice obit for Harry Thompson, dead at 45 from lung cancer (he was a non-smoker). His writing figures in an impressive list of British radio and TV comedies, and he had substantial connections to Private Eye. His best known creation would be Ali G, but speaking personally, we find the show too cringe-inducing to watch and view Have I Got News For You as the finest achievement. The timeliness of the obituary (he died yesterday) suggests that he had a plan for his last days on earth. It notes that he got married on the day he died.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Shannon and Sugarland

As we've said before, this blog's name is meant to capture a theme of news stories that have unusual transatlantic aspects. In that vein, there won't be a more bizarrely apropos tale than the collapse of a trial in the Republic of Ireland because of apparent personal links between the judge and George Bush and Tom DeLay. In merely one of the ironies, the Irish judge removed himself from the case just as Tom DeLay seeks to game his impending trial for money laundering and fraud in Texas by petitioning for changes of judge till he gets one he likes.

Anyway, the Irish case is a long-running affair concerning an attack by anti-war protestors on one US and one Irish plane at Shannon, Shannon being a key staging point in the War on Terror. The current trial is the second attempt to bring the case, but all hell broke loose in the courtroom today when the defence made several queries about trips that the judge had taken to Texas (, subs. req'd):

Defence counsel had asked Judge McDonagh to confirm whether or not he had, as a barrister in the mid 1990s, attended a conference in Texas which involved a photo call with the then Governor Bush.

Counsel for the five accused also suggested that Judge McDonagh was invited to both of Mr Bush's presidential inaugurations and attended the first in 2000.

Now getting a change of judge in the Republic is not simply a matter of pushing a button on a video game console, as it seems to be in Texas, so the defence had to be careful not to impugn the judge's integrity while making their case -- but they clearly struck a nerve:

Michael O'Higgins SC [senior counsel] said that the defence was simply asking whether their information was correct and would then take further instruction from their clients. Mr O'Higgins said the defence was not attempting to argue that any decision made by Judge McDonagh had been affected by the information.

Mr O'Higgins said the defence believed that Judge McDonagh had attended a conference in Texas in the mid 1990s during which he was one of a group invited to a photo call with George W Bush. He suggested Judge McDonagh was later invited to, and attended, the 2000 inauguration of Mr Bush as President and received a further invitation in 2004 which he did not accept.

Mr O'Higgins suggested that the invitation was "extended by Mr Tom Delay, who has had recent difficulties".

Judge McDonagh saw enough of a "perception" problem to withdraw. The trial was in the closing stages, and while the government could in theory try for a 3rd prosecution, one might have thought their will won't be in it this time. Unless they're under pressure from the US to bring the case.

UPDATE: free link from RTE; doesn't contain the hypothesis from the above link that it's a friendship with DeLay that marks the origin of the link to Bush. And here's Tuesday's Irish Times story (subs. maybe req'd) that is essentially the same version that ran as above.

FURTHER UPDATE: Here's another theory about why Judge McDonagh withdrew -- it certainly would have been awkward if the sentence for taking a hammer to a military plane turned out to be higher than the disgracefully lenient sentence he handed down today in what should have been an attempted murder case:

A tennis coach and a university student who left a man in a coma after attacking him on Dublin's Grafton Street are to serve three months in prison.

Stephen Nugent, 24, from Swords and 29-year-old Dermot Cooper from Stillorgan, both in Dublin, pleaded guilty to assault causing harm to Sligo librarian Barry Duggan in April 2003. Judge Donagh McDonagh said the defendants had run off 'triumphant' after the assault on a 'puny man'.

However, Judge McDonagh accepted that they had no previous convictions and were unlikely to come to the attention of gardaí in the future. He therefore imposed three-year sentences with all but the last three months suspended.

Is interfering with the War on Terror a bigger trangression than interfering with another person's brain?
Getting the retaliation in first

Via Wikipedia, Godwin's law:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

Since two makes a trend, we propose the Gigot Corollary, named for the editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page:

If there is any non-zero probability of a Nazi or Hitler comparison arising from a discussion, you might as well make the comparison as soon as possible.

Hence, From Monday's WSJ editorial page, the headline from an article (may be free) by Senator Norm Coleman (the man who managed to make George Galloway look good):

Beware a 'Digital Munich'

Delete the U.N. from the Internet.
Tax Avoidance 2.0

It's no secret that the Republic of Ireland has an extremely advantageous corporate tax system for multinationals. Nor is it a secret that the Republic's corporate governance rules tend to be in the "and whatever you're having yourself" spirit. We've noted this before, such as here and here. But Monday's Wall Street Journal European edition (subs. req'd) lays out in fascinating detail how it works, using the example of Microsoft.

The more traditional form of tax avoidance used by multinationals in the Republic was to manage the accounting so that the most valuable part of their chain of production would show up in the country and be taxed at a low rate. This meant that there was at least some physical production taking place in the country, which would show most of the company's profit (e.g Coca Cola). But now the real action is not in the actual production, but in the intellectual property to software and pharmaceuticals. So Microsoft, for example, structures its operations so that its physical manufacture and sales outlets don't make much money, because they are paying huge licensing fees to company subsidiaries -- and those subsidiaries happen to be located in the Republic. Example:

Round Island One Ltd., has a thin roster of employees but controls more than $16 billion in Microsoft assets. Virtually unknown in Ireland, on paper it has quickly become one of the country's biggest companies, with gross profits of nearly $9 billion in 2004.

Ireland's citizens may not have heard of Round Island One, but they benefit greatly from its presence. Last year the unit handed the government of this small country of four million citizens more than $300 million in taxes ... Microsoft routes the license sales through Ireland and Round Island pays a total of just under $17 million in taxes to about 20 other governments that represent more than 300 million people.

But Microsoft does some real stuff in Ireland, so at least you can drive by one of their facilities and see the buzz of activity at Round Island? Errr.. No:

Round Island's legal address is in the headquarters of a Dublin law firm, Matheson Ormsby Prentice, that advertises its expertise in helping multinational companies use Ireland to shelter income from taxes. It represents other U.S. technology companies including Google Inc., which recently set up an Irish operations center that the firm credits in its SEC filings with reducing its tax rate. A Google spokesman said the company set up in Ireland to be close to its European customers. "Because that business is done outside of the U.S. it is taxed according to international law," he said.

It does seem that concerns in Ireland about losing tech business to Rummy's "New Europe" are overblown, because the government was quick to see that the real action was in tax rules for intellectual property as opposed to factories:

In the past four years, Ireland has stepped up its effort to woo U.S. high-tech firms by piling on new tax breaks for technology transfers, leading a string of major U.S. companies to announce research facilities here. The trend poses a quandary for U.S. regulators and policy makers in the face of a skyrocketing federal deficit and widespread tax shelters.

Irish officials say U.S. companies aren't exporting their intellectual wealth to Ireland, just sharing it. "This isn't about sucking knowledge out of the U.S. This is about building up capability elsewhere," says Enda Connolly, a manager at the Industrial Development Agency of Ireland.

The IRS is fighting intellectual-property migration in court, and the Treasury Department has issued a draft of new rules to limit it. Their efforts have done little to slow the trend

Amongst the people on the downside of this arrangement: Gordon Brown --

Microsoft's ability to avoid reporting large profits in the United Kingdom relies on its position that its U.K. sales -- $1.8 billion in fiscal 2004 -- are actually conducted from Ireland.

To avoid U.K. corporate-profits tax, a company must show it has no "permanent establishment" in Britain through which it makes sales. Microsoft has a large U.K. operation (owned by Round Island) that it calls marketing and a tiny Ireland-based sales staff.

It helps that those pesky regulations about timely annual reports are enforced in a business-friendly manner:

Round Island ... filed its annual report in Ireland on Oct. 27, some seven months late. When asked, Microsoft attributed the delay to the need to finish routine audits of subsidiaries. In the U.S., such a late filing would require an explanation to regulators and possibly large penalties. In Ireland, regulators don't even ask. The penalty for late filing: $3.60 a day.

Notwithstanding the bus fare sized penalty for a late report, Microsoft understands the need to keep the local chieftains happy -- and they reciprocate:

Last year Microsoft also helped cover Ireland's costs in its six-month turn in the EU presidency, donating software and forgiving some $60,000 in royalties. Bertie Ahern, the Irish taoiseach, a title similar to prime minister, spoke at Microsoft events twice this year. "The growth and success of Microsoft Ireland has coincided with, and played an important role in, a dramatic transformation in the Irish economy," he said at an event at Dublin Castle last month.

One other thing; the article explains why the Republic is better at this than small tax haven rivals -- because the country is just big enough for companies to plausibly make the case to the Internal Revenue Service that substantive economic activities take place there:

The Matheson Ormsby law firm in Ireland promotes its expertise in setting up tax-sheltered structures, in a glossy booklet available at its Dublin office. As the global economy changes and technology develops, the firm notes, it is getting easier for multinationals "to unbundle the traditional value chain and locate appropriate profit generating functions in Ireland," including "ownership and exploitation of intellectual property." The law firm has an office in the heart of Silicon Valley, in Palo Alto, Calif.

The booklet sheds light on how Ireland has beat out smaller locales like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands in the competition for U.S. firms' intellectual property. The answer involves the IRS. As Matheson notes, small, sparsely populated and largely undeveloped havens like Cayman lack "the necessary economic infrastructure to which value and ultimately profits can justifiably be attributed." But Ireland has the people and physical infrastructure to permit "construction of profit-generating centres defensible by reference to functions, risks and tangible assets of the Irish operation."

This is too easy but we're going to do it anyway: "construction of profit-generating centres defensible by reference to functions, risks and tangible assets of the Irish operation"

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;


UPDATE 17 NOV: The New York Times editorialises: American Ingenuity, Irish Residence . And [22 NOV] the WSJ story has sparked several in the Irish Times; for instance this one (subs. req'd) notes that the Internal Revenue Service is contesting a $500 million tax reduction achieved by Synopsys through an Irish subsidiary.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A billion people get footnoted

As we've noted before, sic is an important weapon in the hands of White House transcribers (and no, we don't mean the pundits, but the people who actually textify what Bush says). But they had to bring in reenforcements today -- specifically an asterisk. The context: Dubya is in Brasilia, meeting with Lula, and at the public remarks, he said:

We're the two largest democracies in the world.

Which in the transcript appears as

We're the two largest democracies in the world [sic]*.

Because of course, it's wrong, the obvious counterexample being India. So let's see about that asterisk:

* Western world

Not a bad save, but can it be that in Dubya's mind, democracy for non-Christian people is something different?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A word we didn't know existed

We'd heard of people talk about the Murphia before (in the context of networking amongst Irish emigrants), but this is better, via John O'Donoghue at Inishraam:


Indeed. In the old days it would have meant a little less Kilburn and a little more Ealing.

[Previous entry in this series]
Only in France

[NYT] Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres [Minister for Culture], scion of a family of distinguished civil servants ...

Friday, November 04, 2005

The War on Pacifists

We were going to do a longer post in this opinion article from Friday's Wall Street Journal but the basic point is simple. Its target is Christian pacifists:

Despite the record of gruesome violence since 9/11, many Christian leaders still refuse to confront the radical evil of militant Islam. Just last month, for example, England's House of Bishops released a report -- "Countering Terrorism: Power, Violence and Democracy Post 9/11" -- that managed never to mention the horrific intentions of Osama bin Laden in the course of its 100 pages. Instead, al Qaeda is likened to the Irish Republican Army.

Apparently, being compared to the IRA is a compliment. Anyway, since Christian pacifists have zero influence on how the GWOT/GSAVE has been conducted, the article (by someone from the Heritage Foundation) stands as a good example of a conservative whose opinionating is driven solely by annoyance that there are people out there who don't agree with him.