Tuesday, February 28, 2006

For instance, if you mistake a 78 year old man for a quail

I encourage America's seniors to act to preserve their vision by taking advantage of this health care benefit. And I urge all Americans to have regular eye examinations as part of their health care routines.

By raising awareness about the importance of preventing eye problems and the measures citizens can take to protect their vision and by providing greater access for the detection and treatment of eye diseases, we can continue to work toward a healthier Nation where more Americans enjoy the gift of healthy vision ...

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim March 5 through March 11, 2006, as Save Your Vision Week. I encourage all Americans to make eye care and eye safety an important part of their lives.

Monday, February 27, 2006

With a pint in one hand and a brick in the other

Amidst the headscratching about what exactly went on in Dublin on Saturday, RTE's business news highlights a seemingly unrelated development:

[Cantrell and Cochrane] said its financial performance mainly reflected the net impact of continued strong growth in the cider division and a significantly reduced contribution from the soft drinks and snacks division.

Today's financial statement said that turnover growth in C&C's cider division for 2005/7 will be about 30%. This reflects volume growth of about 6% for the group's Irish cider brand Bulmers and volume growth of about 125% for its international cider brand Magners.

In the extensive list of suspects for Saturday's riots, don't rule out the role of too much drinking.
A reprieve for Shannon?

It's taken for granted that Shannon airport will decline in importance for transatlantic commercial (if not military) air travel when the new EU-US air travel agreement replaces the current Ireland-US bilateral agreement which includes the Shannon stopover requirement and limits direct flights from Ireland to US airports. But as today's Wall Street Journal explains (subs. req'd), it's by no means certain that the proposed EU-US treaty will be approved, and in fact if the Dubai ports controversy is any indication, its prospects may have worsened. There are several sticking points but the key one is a concession that the Bush Administration gave the EU to sidestep the ban on foreign ownership of US airlines:

To get around that, the administration wants to reinterpret a regulation that requires foreigners exercise "no semblance" of control over a U.S. airline. The change would let non-U.S. citizens influence an array of operations, including marketing, routes and types of equipment used. Decisions on safety, security and use of craft to aid the military would remain in U.S. citizens' hands. The caps on stock ownership wouldn't change. The proposal has divided the U.S. airline industry.

If nothing else, note that the Administration's talent for redefining plain English extends beyond the GWOT, but as with the Dubai row, they risk running into their own stirring-up of terrorism fears. Anyway, the parochial Irish interest is that the government agreed to dump the Shannon stopover in anticipation of the new deal, but:

If the treaty isn't approved, thorny issues arise. Current bilateral agreements between individual EU countries and the U.S. are illegal, according to an EU court ruling. If there isn't a new treaty to replace them, the commission probably would order EU member states to renounce the treaties, officials say, creating damaging uncertainty in the airline business and setting up court battles between the commission and EU member states.

This could present a nasty electoral grenade for Bertie in Clare and Limerick should it become an issue in the next few months.

UPDATE 10 MARCH: The EU-US pact is now officially in trouble, as Congressional Republicans look to block the rule change on foreign control of US airlines (via WSJ) --

An effort to let foreigners exercise greater control over U.S. airlines suffered a setback in the House amid the uproar over Dubai ownership of some U.S. port operations.

The House Appropriations Committee directed the Bush administration to put its airline plan on hold. “Congress must exercise vigorous and very careful oversight over these agencies to be sure we’re protecting American sovereignty and American control over these industries,” said Rep. John Culberson (R., Texas), who sponsored the airline amendment to an emergency spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan along with Hurricane Katrina aid.

The amendment is non-binding, but it does say the committee is “seriously concerned” about the matter and asks the administration to put the regulation on hold for 120 days. The Bush administration has said the regulation would help attract foreign investors. It is also an important step toward sealing an “open skies” deal with the European Union, allowing for deregulated flow of airline traffic across the Atlantic. The Europeans have said they won’t approve the deal without the rule change on foreign control.
Noted without comment

NOW, THEREFORE I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2006 as Irish-American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month by celebrating the contributions of Irish Americans to our Nation.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Dublin riots

Brilliant link collection from Slugger O'Toole. Much more than you'll learn from, like, the news. First thought: is Bertie's revived 1916 commemoration really such a good idea? Remember, the Orange march will be cited as the provocation, but what about Mischief, Mayhem, and Madness?
An image problem

Given the booming market in comparison of David Irving's 3 year jail term for Holocaust denial and the uproar about the Danish cartoons, consider then Irving's own views on the power of cartoons, expressed to Sunday Times (UK) reporter Dominic Carman a couple of years ago but reproduced in today's paper:

Irving moved on to talk sympathetically about Julius Streicher, one of Hitler’s earliest followers, who published the notorious anti-semitic newspaper Der Stürmer from 1923 to 1945. He was hanged at Nuremberg in 1946 for his role in inciting the extermination of Jews: “Der Stürmer was very clever,” Irving smiles in great satisfaction. “The quality of the draughtsmanship of cartoons was spectacular. I’ve got a series of them on my website.

“There’s the postcard of the Jewish man in the street handing sweets to little children.” Like a grotesque sideshow, Irving distorted his face and lowered his voice, affecting a German Jewish accent: “ ‘Here little girl, here’s a little sweetie for you. I have more at home’. Viciously drawn, but spectacular, excellent draughtsmanship. Not a capital offence of course. But poor Julius was hanged. Today he wouldn’t even get a suspended sentence.”

Note Irving's understanding, despite or because of his rampant anti-Semitism, that sometimes a cartoon is not just a cartoon.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The denial two-step

When Christopher Hitchens in Thursday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) claims about David Irving:

You may have to spend time on some grim and Gothic Web sites to find this out, but he is in fact not a "denier," but a revisionist, and much-hated by the full-dress "denial" faction.

he should for the sake of clarity note that this is not what the judge in Irving's libel case against Deborah Lipstadt found:

13.95 Even so, it appears to me to be incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier. Not only has he denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz and asserted that no Jew was gassed there, he has done so on frequent occasions and sometimes in the most offensive terms.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Prodigal Son

Andrew Sullivan, wondering how a grand scheme to remake a country could have possibly gone wrong:

In retrospect, neoconservatives (and I fully include myself) made three huge errors in the last few years. The first was to over-estimate the competence of government, especially in extremely delicate areas like WMD intelligence ... Fukuyama's sharpest insight here is into how the near miracle of the end of the Cold War almost certainly lulled many of us into over-confidence about the inevitability of democratic change, and its ease. We got cocky. We should have known better ... Acting without a profound understanding of the dangers to the U.S. of inflaming such resentment is imprudent. This is not to say we shouldn't act at times despite them, unilaterally if necessary. Sometimes, the right thing to do will inevitably spawn resentment. We should do it anyway. But that makes it all the more imperative that we get things right, that we bend over backwards to maintain the moral high-ground, and that we make our margin of error as small as possible.

Andrew Sullivan's intellectual lodestar, Michael Oakeshott, writing in 1947 about things that seemed like a good idea at the time:

The modern history of Europe is littered with the projects of the politics of Rationalism. The most sublime of these is, perhaps, that of Robert Owen for 'a world convention to emancipate the human race from ignorance, poverty, division, sin and misery'--so sublime that even a Rationalist (but without much justification) might think it eccentric. But not less characteristic are the diligent search of the present generation for an innocuous power which may safely be made so great as to be able to control all other powers in the human world, and the common disposition to believe that political machinery can take the place of moral and political education. The notion of founding a society, whether of individuals or of States, upon a Declaration of the Rights of Man is a creature of the rationalist brain, so also are 'national' or racial self-determination when elevated into universal principles. The project of the so-called Re-union of the Christian Churches, of open diplomacy, of a single tax, of a civil service whose members 'have no qualifications other than their personal abilities', of a self-consciously planned society, the Beveridge Report, the Education Act of 1944, Federalism, Nationalism, Votes for Women, the Catering Wages Act, the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the World State (of H. G. Wells or anyone else), and the revival of Gaelic as the official language of [Eire], are alike the progeny of Rationalism. The odd generation of rationalism in politics is by sovereign power out of romanticism.
Developing new material

Blogger ate the post where we had explained that we'd be out of circulation for about a week, but in addition to popping in, if you will, to reiterate our apologies for quiet posting, a preview of forthcoming attractions -- BOBW will be adopting a new cause: Free the NatWest Three**. Background here. We'll be back next week.

[**we'd prefer not to call them the Enron Three, since that association is part of the reason they will have difficulty getting a fair trial]

Sunday, February 19, 2006

One of the strangest stories from Northern Ireland

Sometimes we think it's a sign that we're getting old that we have a good memory of various events in Northern Ireland from the 1970s, but we either forgot, or never knew the astonishing story recounted by Walter Ellis in today's Sunday Times of London: how his 2nd cousin once-removed, Ronnie Bunting, evolved from a hardline Ulster Unionist family to leading lethal republican socialist terrorism, including the assassination of Airey Neave. It's impossible to do justice to Ellis's story without reading it it full, so we strongly recommend that you do.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Are bloggers the rats or the children?

Andrew Sullivan, not thinking through his words of praise for Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds:

We've had our differences, but Glenn is a very rare creature: someone who has managed to build a remarkable media empire from scratch and still exhibit all the enthusiasm of a complete newbie. We could do a lot worse in a blogospheric Pied Piper.

A Pied Piper. Like the one who made rats and then children from the defaulting village disappear?
Have we done any kangaroo posts yet?

As part of signalling that it's a worldwide distributed news gathering organisation, Pajamas Media loves having that byline "PJ Media in Sydney" appearing above some posts. Hence, Pajamas Media readers could surely have anticipated regular updates from Australia today on the only news story there: the broadcasting by SBS of previously unseen Abu Ghraib photos. Alas! Visitors to Pajamas Media do indeed see lots of posts from the staff in Sydney, but here's the list of topics currently showing with the Sydney byline(03:26 GMT):

7 posts in total --
new fangled contact lenses
Syrian media says avian flu created by Jews
Australian entry in Iranian cartoon contest
Possible Hillary Clinton opponent
Trouble on the set of hit TV show Friends
Al Gore in Jeddah much worse than Cheney shooting someone
Tobacco-chewing in Finland

and finally, from some Pajamas Media blogger not in Australia:

Coming soon to a newspaper near you [the Abu Ghraib pics]. A newspaper that likely elected not to publish any of the cartoons that have caused so much ferment in the Islamic world of late.

The apparent conclusion being that the main role of their Australia operation was to come up with enough silly posts to push any mention of the atrocities as low as possible in the page, with the added insurance of a stupid equivalence between the cartoons and the photos -- the latter depicting stuff that like, actually happened. This could all just be written off as the antics of another idiot blogger(s), except these guys raised $3m in venture capital for this shite! There truly is a fool born every minute.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Take the President -- please

George went to Wendy's World Headquarters in Ohio today and engaged in a bit of word play that no-one has thought of before:

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for coming. Please be seated. (Applause.) Jack, thanks for the introduction, thanks for letting us convert your lobby into a -- (laughter) -- place to come and visit.

So I get on Air Force One this morning, I said, "Take me to Dublin" -- the guy heads east. (Laughter.) I said, "Nah-uh, Dublin, Ohio."

Given the extent to which he reuses his speeches, look for a similar joke on his next visit to Notre Dame.
That man again

In its commentary on the nascent Iraqi government (made extra touchy by the widespread sense that the Iranians are running the show), Wednesday's Wall Street Journal editorial (subs. req'd) has one concrete suggestion:

Another face who could return is Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi. Although he didn't win a seat after leaving the Shiite Alliance to lead his own slate for December's vote, he has a good working relationship with Mr. Jaafari [PM nominee], as well as managerial skills and knowledge of financial markets.

It's strange how his previous qualifications, such as knowledge of WMD and ability to generate an indigenous uprising against Saddam, are no longer mentioned.

In addition to the regular schedule here, P O'Neill will be occasionally posting at the Irish Election blog; we may or may not cross-post depending on how the content evolves but you should check Irish Election frequently anyway because the other bloggers there are good.

Also, while we eagerly await the shortlist for the Irish blog awards, we also note that this blog is nominated for the prestigious Satin Pajama, an award run by A Fistful of Euros.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Pretentious, Lui?

Since two makes a trend, Christopher Hitchens appears to be forming some strange cultural alliance with the French as a means, perhaps, of detaching himself from Bushism. The latest salvo comes in a review of Garrison Keillor's NYT Book Review slam of Bernard Henri-Levy's account of his investigative travels through the USA. We'll put our own lack of well-readedness on the table and admit to not having read BHL's book, but Keillor's analogy between things in the book and the kind of dopey Euro-travelogue of the US that one often sees (e.g. the cheesy information film on US-bound flights) was very effective -- enough to get Hitchens all worked up:

An arsenal of Francophobic clichés lies ready to hand, like a pile of rocks and rotten eggs stacked by a pillory: The French eat frogs and horses, fetishize fromage, practice loose gallantry, chew raw garlic, and behaved badly enough under Vichy to make Woody Allen go see Marcel Ophüls' Le Chagrin et la Pitié until he had it by heart.

Note: Hitchens the show-off has to refer to the film in its french-language title, and not, as it was referred to in Annie Hall, The Sorrow and the Pity.

Indeed, wouldn't Hitchens be well-cast as the know-it-all Manhattan lecturer who drives Woody/Alvy nuts in the line to see The Sorrow and the Pity?

ALVY: Well, that's funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here. So ... so ... Tell him.

I hear-I heard what you were saying. You-you know nothing of my work. You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.

Christopher Hitchens -- Visiting Professor of Liberal Studies (Fall 2005) at the New School for Social Research.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A chance to one-up Tony

We're not sure what happened to Bertie Ahern's plan a few years ago to purchase a new Irish government jet, but if he's looking for an excuse to revive it, consider the dilemma of Tony Blair, stuck in South Africa on a day of tight Commons votes because of trouble with his charter:

But as Mr Blair's chartered jet was taxiing down the runway at Johannesburg International airport late last night, the pilot noticed sparks coming out of one of the airplane's three engines and aborted take-off.

Mr Blair’s spokesman said: "At about 11pm South African time, they were due to take off. They had started the run down the runway. They hadn’t got very far when the pilot noticed something wrong with engine No 3. They shut down the engine, aborted take-off, and went back to the terminal.

"Being 11pm South African time, there weren’t any other planes and they couldn’t have arranged an alternative to get them back in time for the ID card vote. He will travel back overnight tonight."

Asked whether it was correct that sparks were seen from the underside of the plane, the spokesman said: "I gather that was one of the symptoms of an engine not working."

He stressed that the plane had not left the ground by the time the problem was spotted: "In terms of take-off speed, they were well short of the point of take-off. In the technical jargon, this is termed a minor incident."

The private charter plane was carrying only the Prime Minister and his officials, which include a group of Foreign Office Africa experts. Downing Street declined to name the airline responsible for the flight.
The tentacles of diplomatic cronyism

George Bush's approach to selecting ambassadors -- his buddies with the biggest wallets -- doesn't define his administration because it was going on before, but it's certainly symptomatic of it. Consider two side notes to a couple of current messes: Dick Cheney shooting a hunting colleague in Texas and Bush's nomination of an inexperienced 35 year old to the board of the Federal Reserve:

The ranch where Deadeye Dick struck:

Anne Armstrong, the matriarch of the family that owns the ranch, is a Republican Party stalwart who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations and also as ambassador to Great Britain. When her husband, Tobin Armstrong, died in October, Mr. Cheney and James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, spoke at the funeral.

The Fed nominee:

The nomination of Warsh, who has been executive secretary of the president's National Economic Council, was one of two that Bush made ... Warsh is married to Jane Lauder, a granddaughter of cosmetics pioneer Estee Lauder; Jane Lauder's father, Ronald Lauder, was U.S. ambassador to Austria under Reagan and has donated $104,000 to the Republican National Committee since the 2000 election campaign...

UPDATE: How many ambassadors does Texas have?

[WSJ Law Blog] Another participant in the ill-fated hunting trip, Pamela Willeford, has held the cushy diplomatic post of ambassador to Switzerland since July 2003. Willeford is described as a longtime friend of the Bush family; in 1997, then-Governor Bush appointed her as chair of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. She’s also an oilwoman, serving as president of Colorado-based Pico Drilling Co.
Details, details

Make no mistake -- reading the daily historical anniversaries in the Times of London is a required ritual for us, and it's educational. But when Monday's list includes:

In 1689 William III and Mary acceded

let's just say that the backstory on that one is rather substantial.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The unsettled question about Osama's phone

On Friday, Porter Goss, former Republican member of the US House of Representatives and current director of the CIA wrote in the New York Times:

Recently, I noticed renewed debate in the news media over press reports in 1998 that Osama bin Laden's satellite phone was being tracked by United States intelligence officials. In the recent debate, it was taken for granted that the original reports did not hurt our national security efforts, and any suggestions that they did cause damage were dismissed as urban myth. But the reality is that the revelation of the phone tracking was, without question, one of the most egregious examples of an unauthorized criminal disclosure of classified national defense information in recent years. It served no public interest. Ultimately, the bin Laden phone went silent.

Thus restating the charge that Osama stopped using his satellite phone following the 1998 reports. There is a basic inconsistency between this charge and accounts of the Tora Bora siege in 2001; we noted this before but since Goss is still peddling the original shite without reconciling it with the Tora Bora events, it's worth setting out again.

Just over a week ago, the Washington Post reported on the strange case of Abdallah Tabarak, a Moroccan alleged to be one of Osama Bin Laden's most valued assistants. Tabarak was captured right after the Tora Bora siege and detained at Guantanamo Bay, but was released to the Moroccans a couple of years ago and appears to be leading a normal life in Casablanca. But consider the accounts of what he did for Osama:

According to Moroccan and other foreign intelligence officials, Tabarak sacrificed himself so the others could escape. He took bin Laden's satellite phone, which the al Qaeda leader apparently assumed was being tracked by U.S. spy technology, and walked toward the Pakistani border as the al Qaeda leadership fled in the opposite direction. The ruse worked, although Tabarak and others were captured.

Now this story is denied by Tabarak's lawyer, but it has repeatedly circulated since Tora Bora. Of course the Pentagon could always clear it up with a full accounting of what happened at Tora Bora, though that has always been awkward since it relates to the question of whether there was already a diversion of troops for Iraq. But at the very least they could publicly state that the story of Tabarak's role couldn't be right, because Osama had previously stopped using his phone due to the 1998 media reports about it. Of course maybe that is the truth, which would explain why Tabarak was released.

However, since the story is getting a bit confused (confusion between a persistent asset of the White House), it's best broken down to a simple questions for the Pentagon: Did Osama have a satellite phone at Tora Bora? Any response other than 'No' adds to the questions about the media-busted-our-spying story that the head of the CIA is peddling.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bold bad boy from the town of Mullingar

Saturday's New York Times has an interesting story about J.P. Donleavy, author of The Ginger Man and many other novels, now nearly 80 and a resident of Mullingar for the last 30 years. It notes that despite cultivating an image as a recluse, he has a high profile in the Dublin art world, including a recent opening at the Molesworth Gallery devoted to his work. There's a funny picture from the reception, with him talking to Shane MacGowan. But Shane is clearly drinking white wine, in contrast to another picture we'd linked to a while back, of him with Pete Doherty, where Guinness was the beverage of choice. So does Shane choose his drink based on the tone of the evening, or was it an artsy reception with no pints?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Stuff we were wrong about

Our speculation that Andrew Sullivan might decide to spare his new readers at Time.com some of the more graphic content of his stand-alone blog has not worked out. We won't go into details, but Mickey Kaus gets things about right with his 2 sentence discussion of the phenomenon: From Warblogger to Wartblogger!

Kaus also describes Sully as seeming "close to unhinged" on his demand that newspapers should be actively looking to publish the Danish cartoons. Notwithstanding some strange undertones to past Kaus criticism of Sully, we think he's right in this case. Speaking of the cartoons, we were also wrong in speculating that the tale of the recalled student newspapers in Cardiff, due to the presence of the cartoons therein, would be billed as Islamic mob rule. As far as we can tell, given our limited tolerance for reading the blogs that wallow in this stuff, it hasn't.
Tolls and votes

Since we've been wondering what it would take to disrupt the hugely inertial Fianna Fail vote in an increasingly likely Irish general election this year, it was hard not to notice the Liberal Democrats surprising by-election win in Scotland:

Willie Rennie overturned a Labour majority of 11,000 to win the Westminster seat in Dunfermline and Fife West by 1,800 votes.

Amongst the reasons why the presence of Chancellor Gordon Brown in the Labour campaign seems not to have been effective:

Mr Brown had campaigned on local issues, including controversy over tolls on the Forth Road Bridge.

Note that tolls are an issue in key constituencies in and around Dublin. More links and commentary on the by-election from Backword.
A less litigious age

While the media coverage of the deal that got sports commentator Al Michaels out of his contract with Disney-owned ESPN and over to NBC has understandably focused on him being traded for a cartoon character, there is an interesting question. Disney wanted the rights to "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" because Walt had drawn the character and done a bad deal with Universal Studios, now owned by NBC, which acquired the rights to Oswald. Walt knew right away that he had done a bad deal and drew a new character, Mickey Mouse, who looks a lot like Oswald. How tolerant would today's Disney be of someone developing a cartoon character that in their judgement, looked too much like one of theirs?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Stockholm Syndrome

It's the one bit of news that has distracted the right-wing blogosphere from the cartoon crisis: UN Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Powerline ("Deacon") exults:

Bolton has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his major role in exposing Iran's secret plans to develop nuclear weapons. Elements of the MSM acted as cheerleaders for the anti-Bolton mugging. Don't expect the MSM to have much to say about Senator Voinovich's latest comments or the Nobel nomination.

Well, certainly don't expect anything if the MSM is following Powerline's advice on the meaningless of Nobel Peace Prize nominations ("Trunk"):

Come professors, judges, please heed the call: Patterico [unfunny blogger] requests your assistance: "Please nominate Patterico for a Nobel Peace Prize." He explains:

--I’m not asking because I think I somehow deserve it. I just want to mock the idea that being nominated is some great distinction. For example, I keep reading that murderer Stanley “Tookie” Williams was nominated for one, as if this is somehow relevant to whether he should be executed.

It’s not — because anyone can be nominated.--

Frey adds a helpful P.S.:
[W]hat will the application say? Well, if I were really trying to get it, you’d have to make some claim that would really impress the committee. You could say, for example, that I have killed more people than Tookie Williams and Yasser Arafat put together. But since I haven’t really killed anyone, you could simply note that fact, and argue that I am therefore even more “peaceful” than Arafat.

We wrote about Nobel Literature laureate Elfriede Jelinek in "High anxiety" and "Nobel Literature prize goes to Communist." Thinking along the same lines as Patterico, I'm wondering if we might be able to find readers to nominate us [Powerline] for the Nobel Prize for Literature next year -- on the ground, of course, that we bring even greater "linguistic zeal" than she "to reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power."

At least it's not the Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine.

UPDATE: The sudden increase in prestige associated with Nobel Peace Prize nominations was noticed in Ireland.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The church, the GAA, and the banks

Even though the Wall Street Journal love affair with Fianna Fail has shown signs of fading, editorials on European issues still have a hard time resisting a nod to how things are better in the Republic. Hence Wednesday's editorial on Eurosclerosis, including in the seemingly arcane area of banking sector competition:

The top three countries in the share of cross-border loans in total domestic borrowing -- one measure of international competition -- are Iceland, Ireland and Luxembourg. These are also three of the richest.

Not to mention three of the smallest, and the latter two having significant regulatory and tax advantages for sourcing international financial transactions in their countries.

But it'll come as news to the typical Irish person that they live in a country with lots of banking competition given the huge inertia towards one's local branch in Ireland -- which extends to the fixation on official forms for having that pillar of society, the bank manager, as an acceptable witness to various things. Indeed, banking is definitely one area where having two jurisdictions and two currencies in the island doesn't help. Interesting in that context to note that a long-awaited reform of mobile phone charges -- the abolition of roaming fees has been announced by O2 (via Slugger O'Toole).

The War on Scotland, cont'd

It was too predictable: a fortnight ago, Mark Steyn had followed the Niall Ferguson expeditionary force in the battle against Scottish nationalism, so today brings Kevin Myers in the Irish Times to do the mopping-up operations. There's not much point in excerpting the Myers column, since you've seen the key bits already in what Niall and Mark wrote, but here's the flavour (sub. req'd):

Sixty years of the welfare state have just about polished that magnificent culture off. Not coincidentally, the decline of Scotland went step by step with the death of the Scottish Tory Party.

Simultaneously has grown a pathetic Anglophobia, alongside a parasitic, cowardly but boastful pseudo-independence. It is now a national pastime for the Scots to complain about the very country which subsidises them ... The land which gave the world Thomas Telford and Sherlock Holmes is now the home of the pre-pubescent junkie, the deep-fried battered Mars Bar and plummeting birth-rates

So as not to be completely critical, we should note that Myers is aware of the conundrum all this poses for Unionism -- the one bit of the United Kingdom that broke away is the one (outside the metropole) that is booming:

English money has also debauched the North [Norn Iron]; the once vigorous Presbyterian linen and shipbuilding culture of Ulster has been subverted by state welfarism and its handmaiden, chronic dependency.

Something which no one ever predicted has happened. Catholic Ireland has, demographically and economically, overhauled its once-triumphant Presbyterian neighbours. A vibrant enterprise culture flourishes in a once priest-ridden, backward and dirge-filled land. Whine-Eire has been vanquished by Ryan-Eire.

We'll be charitable and ignore him assigning no role to the Troubles in the Northern Irish subsidy. But then he goes and ruins his lurch into sense with an embarrassing sequence of errors:

The transformation in the respective fortunes of our tribes was classically embodied in the conflict between Alec Ferguson, on the one hand, and Dermot Desmond and John Magnier on the other.

He gets the other Ferguson's name wrong, and confuses JP McManus with Dermot Desmond, although he could have spun a related point with the latter being the largest shareholder in Glasgow Celtic.

His conclusion:

It was a perfect allegory for the fortunes of the respective societies. We should engrave the lesson on our hearts: depend on the state for your wealth, and you will end up watching daytime television and drawing the dole, while your diminishing band of overweight offspring shoot up in their classrooms.

Actually, it's a dreadful allegory. Alex Ferguson has earned his success on merit, while that of Magnier and McManus comes from playing the tax system. But at the level of the nation, the respective fortunes of Bonnie Prince Charlie's two support bases do say something about the benefits of the ability to set your own exchange rate and tax policy (a crucial period of divergence being Maggie's strong pound policy in the 1980s). That perhaps will be the subject of a longer post down the road, when the hostilities against our northeastern neighbours have ceased.

UPDATE 21 JUNE: Niall Ferguson has drawn the logical implication from the relative successes of Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, even if Myers did not.
Read Headlines With Care

Telegraph website:

Copies of paper destroyed after publishing cartoon

Actual story: Thousands of copies of a student newspaper had to be recalled after trainee journalists published one of the controversial Mohammed cartoons. The Cardiff University newspaper Gair Rhydd, which means Free Word in Welsh, decided to reprint one of the caricatures originally published in a Danish paper.

How long before this gets picked up as a story of Muslim mobs burning newspapers?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Diana Spencer and Pat Finucane

It's odd that the British coverage of the two break-ins to the Newcastle office of Lord John Stevens, director of the inquiry into the Fayed-Di car crash in Paris, is focused on motives linked to that inquiry and not to Stevens' other highly sensitive role -- investigating killings in Northern Ireland where there was evidence of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries. It's not like there haven't been other weird events in the spooks game in Northern Ireland recently.

[An old post about the killing of Pat Finucane and its many strands]

Monday, February 06, 2006

Irish blog awards voting

Here. And visit Damien's main page for frequent updates about the event. And remember, no canvassing inside the polling station.
Paisley comments too hot for the Irish Times

Our previous post had noted that the RTE website had omitted the specific details of allegations that Ian Paisley had made about the security arrangements for President Mary McAleese's visits to Northern Ireland, and her apparent refusal to visit police stations in Northern Ireland. But we thought it would be interesting to see whether Monday's papers offer a complete account. Amazingly, in at least one case, they do not -- and someone at the Irish Times seems to have gone to the trouble of editing out the offending parts of Paisley's speech.

Here's the sequence: The front page story (subs. maybe req'd) is essentially the same as RTE's Sunday story; it quotes Paisley's unscripted remark ("I don't like the President of the Irish Republic ... because she is dishonest") and notes Bertie Ahern's expression of regret. But the other comments are only noted in passing:

He further accused her of breaching diplomatic protocol and of being hostile to the PSNI.

Now here's where things get strange. Inside the paper, there is an article "Leader's address (edited):" You'll search it in vain for the comments that their own front page story had referred to. Compare it to the actual transcript given by the DUP:

In the DUP version -- Bertie Ahern, your writ does not run here in loyal Ulster.

We want accountable structures, and friendly, not threatening, relations with our neighbour. The Irish Government must stop insisting that Sinn Fein is fit for government here but not acceptable in Dublin. The message to Dublin must be if the IRA is not acceptable to you they cannot be forced on us. The message must be crystal clear. The IRA must be packed off for good.

The President of the Irish Republic who refuses to enter a police station in Northern Ireland should respect the police of Northern Ireland. She should only enter Northern Ireland under the same terms as every other visiting head of state and she should cease attacking Northern Ireland. To those who say we will not work with our Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen, let me say that we will work with all democrats, regardless of where they come from, but we will have no truck with those who pursue terror and criminality.

In the Irish Times version -- Bertie Ahern, your writ does not run here in loyal Ulster. Any man that talks to Sinn Féin or the Dublin government about the internal affairs of Northern Ireland is a traitor. What is ours we hold: not an inch, no surrender. To those who say we will not work with our Roman Catholic fellow countrymen, let me say that we will work with all democrats, regardless of where they come from, but we will have no truck with those who pursue terror and criminality.

The sequencing is off, which maybe simply reflect Paisley's improvisation, but the serious point is that someone went to the trouble of removing the claims about McAleese's visits from the speech. To top it off, the paper does offer colour commentary on those sections, by Gerry Moriarty (subs. req'd):

Dr Paisley's off-the-wall remarks about President McAleese might have exacerbated that sense of dejection. Dr Paisley does not like her, questions her integrity and reckons she hates the North. It was fairly barmy stuff and if any Southern politician made a similar remark about the queen of England there would be an almighty row.

It would be a more informed row if the paper was actually telling readers what he said. It looks like the Irish meeja have some hurdles to cross before we even start discussing their policy on Danish cartoons.

UPDATE: More links on Paisley's speech, though not on the McAleese angle, from Slugger O'Toole.

And the Irish Independent does report the comments, in a story by Gene McKenna:

"Do you know she refuses to change her car when she comes up into this province in any police station? She has said she will not enter any police station in Northern Ireland," he added.

So why is this straightforward accusation, straightforwardly reported by the Indo, getting such a run-around from RTE and the Irish Times?

[Nothing about the allegations either on Monday's RTE News at One (segment begins at about the 20 minute mark).]

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Paisley comments too hot for RTE?

RTE's website contains a partial report on comments by Ian Paisley at his party's conference yesterday and the reaction to them:

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach has said it was deeply regrettable that the leader of the DUP, Rev Ian Paisley, made remarks about the President yesterday. In unscripted comments to his party conference, Dr Paisley said he does not like the President of the Irish Republic. 'I don't like her because she is dishonest,' he said. 'She pretends to love this province and she hates it.'

He went on to make a series of allegations about the President's security arrangements when she travels to the North.

But no detail on the actual allegations, which do appear in the online transcript of Paisley's speech:

The President of the Irish Republic who refuses to enter a police station in Northern Ireland should respect the police of Northern Ireland. She should only enter Northern Ireland under the same terms as every other visiting head of state and she should cease attacking Northern Ireland.

Which seems to imply that Mary McAleese maintains only her own security detail in Northern Ireland, but also refused to visit PSNI facilities. Paisley's allegations put the Irish government in an awkward bind, since the President essentially can only speak with the permission of the government. Bertie may have to take a position -- something he hates to do in any context -- on Mary's travelling arrangements.

UPDATE: Another RTE story on Monday about the fallout from Paisley's comments. But read the story and try to figure out what he said.
Red Sea disaster

It seems unbalanced to be posting about the Danish cartoons while having little to say about the Egyptian ferry disaster that has probably left 1,000 people dead. While theories have moved on from speculation that it might be a replay of the Zeebrugge capsizing in 1987, it's beginning to look like the Egyptian government will have much explaining to do. While comparisons are being drawn with other ferry disasters, another place to look might be the Flash Airlines crash of 2 years ago, which killed all 148 on board when a charter plane plunged into the Red Sea; in the crash investigation it emerged that the airline was very poorly regulated and would not have been allowed to operate in Europe.

Similar regulatory failures seem evident here -- and this just a few weeks after Egypt made a big show of holding up the decommissioned Clemenceau aircraft carrier, en route through the Suez canal to Goa for dismantling, on the grounds that the ship contained asbestos (which everyone knew long ago). It seems that while the bereaved in the Flash Airlines crash had the advantage of a foreign government (France) to press their case, the victims in the ferry disaster are mostly poor migrant workers and their families who don't figure much in the domestic political calculus. We'd also like to investigate further whether it's the case that Egypt's orientation on the Nile valley has led it to generally neglect issues in the Sinai peninsula and Red Sea coast, with the result that chronic failures like those seen here can persist with catastrophic consequences.
Obscure post

With blogger seemingly down, we're not sure when, if ever, this post will appear, which is perhaps appropriate to its opaque nature. We will merely document some aspects of the Earl of Kildare hotel in Dublin.

It seems to have opened in its current incarnation [it was formerly Powers] on Wednesday, 31 July 1996. It was ceremonially opened by Richard Bruton, then Minister for Enterprise and Employment:

Cashing in on the location across the street [from the Dail], and the name (the Earl built and resided in Leinster House), the new owners have covered the walls with pics of politicians and hope they can woo our legislators away from their old haunts.

By all accounts, it succeeded in this aim, a rare glitch being a food-safety closing in 2004:

Closure Orders were served by Environmental health officers (EHOs) in the Northern Area Health Board on Any Other Restaurant, 22 Moore Street, Dublin 1 and by EHOs in the South Western Area Health Board on the kitchen and associated facilities of Trio Bars Limited in The Earl of Kildare Hotel, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.

It also fell foul of a politician in 2003, based on its prices:

[Senator Noel Coonan, FG] said he was flabbergasted by prices at the Earl of Kildare hotel, a city centre venue popular with politicians. Three pints of Guinness set Mr Coonan back €19.50 - but it was the €10 Bacardi and coke which most upset him.

[to be cont'd]

UPDATE 12 FEB: The media tip-toe around the story above has ended; Sunday Independent:

MILLIONAIRE businessman Pat Lenaghan, has revealed that he is the main target of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) raids on hotels, pubs and the offices of solicitors and accountants.

The businessman, who runs the Earl of Kildare Hotel near Dail Eireann and a multimillion property empire, has broken his silence to declare that the story that money stolen in the Northern Bank raid in late 2004 has been laundered through his businesses is "utter nonsense".

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Danish cartoon crisis

We're still short of any definitive opinion on the row, not helped by the fact that the debate has descended into chronic whataboutery. But there are a few issues that will be ripe for analysis when things settle down. One in particular is why British newspapers have chosen not to publish the cartoons. Now anyone looking for negatives will cite some combination of the July bombings, behind-the-scenes government pressure, or political sensitivity gone mad as explaining it.

But it's puzzling given that an attachment to the principle of free speech and a highly competitive daily sale market might have created a bias towards reprinting them. So it begins to seem something like pragmatism -- why seek out a headache? -- and, God forbid, maturity, and maybe even a level of Muslim integration that is higher than in continental Europe. Note for instance that Britain's Muslim influx began virtually with the partition of All India, while the continent's dates to the 1960s; that's an extra 15-20 years for a comfort level to be reached.

Anyway, amidst all the shouting, there's an extra need to get the facts right. Thus the necessary visit to Andrew Sullivan, who incorrectly says that France Soir fired its editor (it was the publisher; we corrected our own milder version of this mistake a couple of days ago), and yesterday claimed that:

European countries would be in a stronger position to defend press freedom if they practised it more often. There's a bill in the British parliament right now to make offending people's religion a legal offense.

Sort of. The bill was heavily toned down precisely because of free speech fears, with the UK Parliament doing what the US Congress (not to mention the Dail) never does -- some actual standing up to the executive. In particular, under the amended law, the "offending" speech must be threatening -- insulting or offending are fine.

Sullivan offers one solution to whataboutery:

Once you start censoring people, you have to deal with the problem of double-standards. If you defend free speech in every case, you're on firmer ground.

Which is intellectual consistency at the price of a cop-out. Why not talk about motive, as Sullywatch does?

But as [Steve] Gilliard noted, to have done so [create and publish] in such a provocative way and then simply assert your freedom of speech as a defense is grossly insensitive. This was clearly done to bait the European Muslim community. If you take the right, take the responsibility.

[We also acknowledge the inbound link from Richard at Sicilian Notes to our previous post, though our browser now hangs every time we try to go back there; could God be angry?]

UPDATE: A sentence that can be read more than one way, in Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link):

Danish flags, whose design is based on a Christian cross, are being burned. So much for religious respect.

To state the perhaps not obvious, isn't it possible that the cross-in-the-flag issue is seen as exemplifying the clash of civilizations that rabble-rousers want this to be?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Irish news in brief

Friday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) has a short article headlined "[National Toll Roads] Ltd: who owns it?" The context is the stream of revelations about the disastrously one-sided concession the company was given by the government on a bottleneck toll bridge -- and it turns out, an associated stretch of motorway -- by the government. But it doesn't tell the readers what they really need to know about NTR, so we will:

National Toll Roads is the bastard child of Cement Roadstone, which itself is the construction wing of Fianna Fail.

Start Googling (example, example). You'll see it's the truth.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

This just in, cont'd

Again in anticipation of stories that break more slowly when they originate in another language, the deputy editor of the French newspaper Liberation has just told the BBC that his paper will publish 2 of the Danish cartoons tomorrow, including one of the "most offensive" ones (presumably either the "turban"-bomb or virgins image).

In explaining their decisions not to reprint the cartoons, the BBC website and Simon Kellner of the Independent have both drawn a distinction between images that they commission (and would therefore want to publish and be damned) from images already printed in another newspaper whose additional dissemination would be more of a headache than it's worth. In what is a confusing issue reflecting conflicting rights, this is not a bad middle ground.

UPDATE: Here's Liberation's editorial explaining their decision.
And now a word from Bono

President Attends 54th Annual National Prayer Breakfast
Hilton Washington Hotel
Washington, D.C.

THE PRESIDENT: ... You know, I was trying to figure out what to say about Bono -- (laughter) --

BONO: Careful. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: And a story jumped to mind about these really good Texas preachers. And he got going in a sermon and a fellow jumped up in the back and said, "Use me, Lord, use me." And the preacher ignored him, and finished his sermon. Next Sunday he gets up, and cranking on another sermon. And the guy jumps up and says, "Use me, Lord, use me." And after the service, he walked up to him and said, "If you're serious, I'd like for you to paint the pews." Next Sunday, he's preaching, the guy stands up and says, "Use me, Lord, use me, but only in an advisory capacity." (Laughter.)

So I've gotten to know Bono. (Laughter.) He's a doer. The thing about this good citizen of the world is he's used his position to get things done. You're an amazing guy, Bono. God bless you. (Applause.)

Bono will have a few more words, at the same hotel, in his speech tomorrow.
The Stupid Party

While we read Powerline (no link) mainly for insights into how the Bush personality cult operates on its believers, there are times when we wonder if they're actually insane. Like tonight.

1. Their special bond with the Pennsylvania 9/11 flight:

Flight 93 has always had special resonance for me, as a constant business traveler...

2. The top secret brilliant laser beam that zaps only bad guys and so will win the war on terror:

Insight reports on military laser technology that "could destroy any weapon system without collateral damage":

--The laser could have tremendous repercussions on the battlefield, particularly in urban warfare in such countries as Afghanistan and Iraq. "It's the kind of tool that could bring about victory within minutes," an official said. ...
The project has been headed by Boeing Missile Defense Systems in a project with the U.S. Air Force. Boeing has already taken delivery of the aircraft and plans to modify the platform for the ATL program.--

Let's hear it for the Pentagon's Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program, Boeing, and whoever else is involved. The conventional wisdom is that in asymmetrical warfare, time is on the side of the primitives. That fails to take into account, however, that for us, the pace of technological improvement is constantly accelerating, whereas for them...there are only so many ways you can boil a goat in a cave.

[no discussion of how the cavemen managed to pull off item 1 above, by the way]

3. Why Al Gore lost the 2000 election:

Al Gore might well be president today if he had meet (sic) the American public's expectations for decorum.
This just in

We don't normally do "breaking news" (a much cheapened term nowadays) on this blog, but the news seems surprisingly slow to break in this case: the owner of France Soir newspaper, Raymond Lakah, has fired his managing editor publisher ("président et directeur"), Jacques Lefranc,for publishing the controversial cartoons depicting Mohammed from a Danish newspaper. Here is the story from the website of France 2, which includes an image of the new cartoon added by France Soir in which various deities appear.

[UPDATE: As for the actual cartoons, links and discussion from Sullywatch]

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Friendly Fire on the War on Terror

National Review's Jonah Goldberg

Today, various pragmatists, optimists, and apologists for the Palestinians say they weren't voting for mass murder and terror, but for honest government and efficient social services. Fatah, the "party" of that terrorist carbuncle Yasser Arafat, was corrupt and incompetent while Hamas has successfully delivered much-needed social services. Hamas ran on "change and reform," proclaim the apologists, not terrorism. Fine, but that was equally true of the Nazis, who traded soup kitchens for indoctrination.

George Bush, taking his State of the Union address to a regional playhouse in Nashville:

-- the Palestinians voted. Now, that election was an important election because it said what the people on the street wanted. They wanted clean government. They want people to pay attention to the education needs and their health needs.
American Football

This week's New Yorker has a long article (not online) about Malcolm Glazer's takeover of Manchester United Football Club. It's written by the magazine's very good economics and business correspondent, John Cassidy, but we found it just, well, boring -- the perils perhaps of reading a general interest piece about something we follow closely. So rather than take issue with Cassidy, who gets all the facts right (and admits to being a Leeds Utd fan), just a few postscripts.

The mystery is why Glazer bought the team. His pattern with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers was to buy a bad team at a relatively low price and make it a good one. But MU was already riding a 15-year wave of success and hype when he bought in. Furthermore, his buy-in was facilitated because the Oirishmen holding a key 30% shareholding decided to sell to him, the timeline suggesting that they see more money in healthcare than in football. Prompting the question: what profitability angle did Glazer see that they didn't?

On the other hand, Glazer's apparently prosaic strategy for running the club has some advantages. Consider for example the case of Chelsea FC, which for now has replaced MU as the dominant English Premiership team. For the year ending in June 2005, the club lost £140m -- well over $200m. Now while owner Roman Abramovich partially views himself as having the choice of spending his money or have Pootie-Poot get it, even someone at his level of wealth notices $200m walk out the door. So simply by avoiding huge losses, Glazer might outlast some of his competitors. [Especially if Chelsea tumble out of the Champions League, facing Barcelona in the next round].

It may be in fact that Glazer's strategy is to field a talented but not super-expensive team, and hope for the occasional bit of luck that even great teams need to win championships. Even MU's historic 1998-99 season did involve several very late comebacks; had anything gone slightly astray with the heroics, the perspective on their record now would be quite different. Finally, we think the New Yorker would have gotten a livelier article by profiling the team's former captain, Roy Keane, rather than Malcolm Glazer.