Friday, March 31, 2006

John McGahern

He died on Thursday at the Mater. While his death is described as sudden, he had been suffering from cancer for some time and yet had recently cancelled at short notice a trip to the USA (where his memoir had received excellent reviews, such as in the Washington Post & New York Times). Unfortunately the bulk of the Irish Times tribute is behind subscription, so the Telegraph gets the head start with the accessible obituary, not least with an anecdote that the Telegraph would love:

Once, during a live television interview in Belfast, an Orangeman in the audience stood up and said: "Here is a man whose book has been banned by the papist government in the south, has been sacked by the Archbishop of Dublin and he comes up here to Belfast and praises the Catholic Church. Moscow couldn't have done a better job of brainwashing."

McGahern likely knew that time would vindicate his quiet dissent and at least he lived long enough to see it.

UPDATE: Times of London obit and RTE's report on the funeral.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Come back Bertie's yellow trousers, all is forgiven

There's probably no good way for political chief executives to credibly go casual, as Bertie Ahern demonstrated in the extreme, but the trio of Vicente Fox, George Bush, and Stephen Harper look particularly goofy in this walk-around Chichen Itza near Cancun today. While Fox can at least defend his light-colours/straw hat as an obvious strategy for the sun and heat, Bush has a strangely ill-fitting shirt that makes one wonder about the claims that he works out a lot, and Stephen Harper's safari look is perhaps the oddest of all -- and we hope to God that Mrs Harper packed his sun-block.
Watching for a "surprise" visit

The scheduling for Condi Rice's visit to England over the next few days mimics Jack Straw's "cultural" itinerary in Alabama (Condi's home state), which included an American Football game. Now one aspect of the symmetric trip to Blackburn, Lancashire (and will the weekend escape without that Beatles reference in someone's speech?) has already fallen through:

A visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to a mosque in Jack Straw's constituency has been cancelled under the threat of protests.
Muslims opposed to her trip to the Blackburn mosque had planned to protest in the building ahead of her arrival, spokesman Ibrahim Master said.

Other events on the schedule are proceeding as planned:

Dr Rice has been invited to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra concert to celebrate the city's status as European Capital of Culture 2008. The trip has already caused controversy with poet Roger McGough pulling out of plans to compere the event.

Missing though is a sporting fixture, because Blackburn don't play till Monday night, but the PR stunt of a trip to a match must be very tempting. The fixture list is not especially cooperative, not least given the need for Condi to keep her concert engagement. The only realistic prospect therefore is Everton's match with Sunderland. Though not the top-of-the-table clash that Jack Straw might want, the sight of Condi at an Everton match would send Powerline into ecstasy.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

So difficult to keep the lies straight

Today Vice President Dick Cheney did an interview with talk radio host (and substitute Fox News anchor) Tony Snow. The transcript is a laugh if only because if you took out the labels for when a question is being asked or answered, it would be impossible to tell which is which. But then Tony set up the Veep with a straight-down-the middle fastball -- but Dick swung and missed:

Q I want to be clear because I've heard you say this, and I've heard the President say it, but I want you to say it for my listeners, which is that the White House has never argued that Saddam was directly involved in September 11th, correct?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's correct. We had one report early on from another intelligence service that suggested that the lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, had met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague, Czechoslovakia. And that reporting waxed and waned where the degree of confidence in it, and so forth, has been pretty well knocked down now at this stage, that that meeting ever took place. So we've never made the case, or argued the case that somehow Osama bin Laden [sic] was directly involved in 9/11.

Snow, or someone on his production team, was alert enough to catch it:

Q Okay. A couple of things, I think a couple of minutes ago -- I want to make sure -- you said Osama bin Laden wasn't involved in 9/11 planning. You meant Saddam Hussein, correct? That Saddam Hussein was not involved in September 11th?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Correct. Yes, sir.

Q Okay.

THE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Thanks for straightening that out. I didn't realize I'd done that. (Laughter.)

Why would you have Dick -- it's second nature. And by the way, "THE PRESIDENT CHENEY" is exactly what the transcript currently says. It's gaffes all round today.

UPDATE: Even a day later, and with the visibility of links to us from Dan Froomkin and Firedoglake highlighting the mistake in the transcript, still no correction.
Rules of Engagement

In a post 9/11 world, a passenger jet off-course might attract some attention, with potentially disastrous consequences. So it's not clear what to make of this bizarre incident in Northern Ireland today: a Ryanair flight from Liverpool to Derry seems to have executed a perfectly safe landing with just one minor complication: it landed at the wrong airport, a military base 6 miles from where it was supposed to be (via BBC):

A civilian plane which was destined for Derry City Airport has landed at an Army base six miles away by mistake. The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the plane landed at Ballykelly airstrip. It said there were no signs it had been an emergency landing.

The timeline of events preceding this landing will merit considerable scrutiny, as it may have implications both for security protocols for wayward flights and the training of Ryanair pilots.

UPDATE: It turns out that even low cost airlines have their own "operated by ..." franchises:

The Liverpool to Derry service, operated by Eirjet on behalf of Ryanair, landed at Ballykelly airstrip at 1440 BST.

Ryanair said in a statement it was due to an "error by the Eirjet pilot who mistakenly believed he was on a visual approach to City of Derry airport".

In its statement, Ryanair said ... "We have also asked Eirjet, the operator of the aircraft to carry out a full investigation into this matter, as in over seven years of Ryanair flights into City of Derry airport, and over 20 years of Ryanair-operated flights, such a mistake has never occurred before," it added.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fumble in the offshore till

Yet more evidence of Ireland's role in, shall we say, interesting international financial transactions -- on top of what's already known about our role in tax avoidance and dodgy insurance deals (WSJ, subs. req'd):

A Russian man's investigation into events surrounding his father's death in 1997 is shedding light on a set of offshore trusts valued at more than $100 million, held in part by current and former senior executives of OAO Lukoil Holdings, Russia's largest oil company.

Using an Irish company as an intermediary, the trusts invested in a small oil-exploration company registered in the Isle of Man that also received financial backing from Lukoil during the same period in the 1990s. The help Lukoil provided to the Isle of Man firm in the form of equity investments and contracts occurred when Lukoil was government-owned, previously undisclosed corporate records from Ireland show, and boosted the value of the Isle of Man firm.

Recall that the Isle of Man is also the preferred home for otherwise taxable income of Swift Boat Veterans financiers, the Wyly brothers, underscoring the amazing popularity of the Irish Sea with the global financial set. However there is no chance that the sourcing of these transactions in Ireland will become an issue in the country unless they rebound in some way on the country. At this point it is impossible to say what such a rebound might look like.
You'll never beat the Irish

Tuesday's Irish Times has a story (subs. req'd) with dreadful lack of context:

The average Irish IQ score is 96 compared with 100.5 in England and Wales and 97 in Scotland, according to Prof Richard Lynn, a former Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) psychologist and professor emeritus of the University of Ulster.

The context is that Richard Lynn provided key elements of the background research for The Bell Curve, a book focused on supposed racial differences in IQ scores and the implications thereof. The web is full of authoritative debunkings of this book, a few of which are linked in this old post of ours where we noted one of the key flaws in statistical analysis of "IQ": it rises over time, casting doubt on its claim to measure innate ability. Indeed, the claim that the Irish rank relatively low on this test should be run by Andrew Sullivan the next time someone gets the chance, because he has famously championed the book from the beginning. One hopes that he doesn't have his own version of Morrissey's song in his head as his own out for this awkward finding, given his frequent invoking of his Irish heritage: Irish Blood, English Brain.

Monday, March 27, 2006


It's becoming clear -- though perhaps not as much to Bertie Ahern as it should be -- that London has settled on a two-track devolution strategy for Northern Ireland. While restoration of the Assembly will be left subject to the ability of the political parties to work with each other, it's full steam ahead for a rejuvenation of local government. Thus in effect, the plan is that increased local autonomy can act as a substitute for what the Assembly should be providing.

This strategy has an interesting precedent, albeit with very different motives. As Prime Minister in a Conservative & Unionist majority government that had come to power courtesy of the Liberals' split over Home Rule, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil was looking for a way to provide some additional powers at the local level in Ireland in the hope that it would head off demands for home rule. Hence the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, which created the council government system more or less as we know it today in Ireland.

Ironically, the current system in the Republic is much closer to the original structure of the 1898 UK Act because it has been tampered with much less than in the north, where the franchise was later limited to property owners, and following the disastrous consequences thereof, many powers were removed from the local authorities and given to quangos. Which Peter Hain now wants to abolish and return power to new structures that will look quite a bit like the old county councils.

Of course history showed that the Conservative gambit that that the county councils could soak up the demands of nationalism was not vindicated, but the durability of the stuctures is impressive nonetheless. Incidentally, and in the spirit of this meandering post, we can't let mention of PM Robert Gascoyne-Cecil go without noting that he is the "Bob" of the expression "Bob's your uncle."

Anyway we became a little more convinced that the council strategy really is afoot upon reading this Slugger O'Toole post, where Mick concludes:

Anyone for council elections in 2008?

We'd bet on it. See also El Blogador's thoughts, who thinks, as we do about Bertie, that Sinn Fein haven't fully grasped what is going on.
Swiftian satire?

A selection of the evening's posts at National Review's group blog, the Corner:

[Mark Krikorian] .. Of course, the shape of immigrant protest in Europe is a sign of how much more intracable their immigration problem is than ours, and for that we should be grateful. But the phenomenon is the same -- unwanted guests in each place are demanding they get their way. Amnesty would thus represent our parallel to Europe's dhimmification.

[note by us: most of the rioting in France, which is not all of Europe, has been by citizens].

... [links to news story about ban on proselytising in Algeria] This suggests a potentially fruitful strategy for evangelizing Muslims -- concentrate on Muslim ethnic groups oppressed by other Muslims, like the remaining Berbers in north Africa and the Kurds in Turkey. One way a faith can get a hearing is if it allows an oppressed people to express itself ... I send money to one group that evangelizes Muslims and get material from others, but I've not seen this as a conscious strategy.

Here's the latest from the AP's tendentious Nidra Pickler: "Founded by immigrants and praised as a haven for the oppressed, the United States now is struggling to decide the fate of as many as 12 million people living in the country illegally..."

Send her to reeducation camp, please. America was founded by explorers and conquerors, not "immigrants." If those guys had been immigrants they'd have had to learn indian...
A little extra detective work

Monday's Irish Times provides an update on one aspect of a story that's been bouncing around for a while: the role of Ireland in facilitating big tax avoidance by US companies or individuals. One problem is that the financial dealings occasionally cross the line into tax evasion, and then the Internal Revenue Service gets interested. Hence, in continuing litigation related to the same tax shelter that drew in former Ambassador to Ireland, Richard Egan, there is the case of Keith and Laura Bynum Tucker:

The US attorney's office in southern Manhattan has indicted two senior accountants and a lawyer attached to KPMG for setting up bogus currency trades through Sligo (2000) Co Inc, which allegedly ran a tax "sham" through a Dublin-based company called Epsolon Ltd.

One Dallas financier and his wife put $39 million into the scheme. The couple claimed they did not have to pay US taxes on an Irish company but then allegedly reimported the money to the US just six days later, claiming a net loss for tax purposes.

They are also alleged to have converted their Irish company, Epsolon, to an American partnership in the same week.

According to records in the Companies Office in Dublin, Epsolon was incorporated on November 6th, 2000, but was dissolved on October 29th, 2004. Two directors are listed: Franklin Montgomery of 25 West 54th Street in New York and Keith Tucker of Turtle Creek Boulevard in Dallas, Texas. The registered office in Dublin was 2 Argyle Square, Morehampton Road, Donnybrook.

The Irish Times has been shown e-mails from one lawyer indicted in the scheme in which he allegedly tried to have the Irish shelter approved by his law firm without properly assessing whether it was legal.

The .. IRS ... now claims that the couple who benefited from the scheme, Mr Tucker, a Dallas-based financier, and his wife, Laura Bynum Tucker, owe $21.7 million in unpaid tax and penalties for involvement in the scheme.

This is part of a complex set of lawsuits in which the IRS went after participants in various KPMG tax shelters for back taxes, and the participants in turn sued KPMG for bad tax advice, and the government in turn went after KPMG for promoting abusive tax shelters.

One additional thing that the Irish Times could have done -- the mention of rich Texans dodging taxes means that a connection to George W. Bush can't be very far away, and sure enough it's not. It did take a bit of Googling to figure out that the Tuckers actually live in Missouri for political donation purposes, but there she is on the invaluable Fundrace site:

George W. Bush

And that's only the donations that Fundrace tracks. A Kansas City, Missouri business newspaper had last year picked up the strange aspects of the transactions with the Irish companies:

In a 2004 petition filed against the IRS ruling in U.S. Tax Court, the couple stated that their investment company, Sligo (2000) Co. Inc., lost nearly $40 million because of an Irish subsidiary, Epsolon Ltd., that dealt in foreign currency exchanges.

Epsolon bought $156 million of multiple foreign currency options from Lehman Bros. N.A. on Dec. 21, 2000, then sold them back to Lehman on the same day, realizing a $51.26 million gain.

A 33% capital gain in one day? Now that's some quality day-trading!

Friday, March 24, 2006

This time they've gone too far

Amidst all the other problems with Powerline, "Deacon" finally crosses the line:

Everton have the best record in the Premiership since the start of 2006 and Liverpool are not far behind. The Red Shite crushed Birmingham City 7-0 earlier this week. We have won our last two matches by a combined count of 7-2.

Redeemed only by a deft grammatical switch that will puzzle his American readers ("Everton have, Liverpool are"), he otherwise seems to have picked up this Red Shite term from an Everton fan site, an expression that was more likely intended for use against Manchester United. Anyway, let's see how things turn out tomorrow.

Co-opting the I-word

Amartya Sen has an interesting and complex op-ed in Friday's Wall Street Journal. Two of his themes are that democracy means more than voting, and that this broader concept of democracy is much more rooted in "oriental" traditions than standard dichotomies would suggest -- not least because of the now-glossed over eastern orientation of the ancient Greeks. But there's an odd argument near the start:

... cultural stereotyping can have great effectiveness in fixing our way of thinking. When there is an accidental correlation between cultural prejudice and social observation (no matter how casual), a theory is born, and it may refuse to die even after the chance correlation has vanished without trace. For example, labored jokes against the Irish, which have had such currency in England, had the superficial appearance of fitting well with the depressing predicament of the Irish economy when it was doing quite badly. But when the Irish economy started growing astonishingly rapidly, for many years faster than any other European economy, the cultural stereotyping and its allegedly profound economic and social relevance were not junked as sheer rubbish. Theories have lives of their own, quite defiantly of the phenomenal world that can be actually observed.

The main market in Irish stereotypes these days seems to be one increasingly cornered by the Irish -- Irish "pub" chains, actors and comedians, and even tourist promotions -- all working with what might have at one time been seen as derogatory images. But we think it's a stretch to be arguing that British people are still walking around with fixed ideas about the Irish little different from 19th century Punch cartoons. In fact the only remotely relevant recent example that springs to mind is Tony Blair's ill-advised decision to draw an analogy between Protestant bigotry in northern Ireland and Islamist bigotry (more from Slugger O'Toole). So these stereotypes seem somewhat more malleable and responsive to recent events than Sen would have it.

UPDATE: And on the topic of Irish stereotypes, albeit now intra-island ones, Friday's New York Times reports on the rise of Irish-American agitprop comedian Des Bishop in Ireland:

In Belfast, he told a bristling Protestant audience that they were more like their hated Roman Catholic neighbors than they liked to admit.

In Southill, an area of Limerick known for boarded-up houses and burned-out cars, he boasted that his show would support the area by attracting tourists whom locals could rob.

Maybe because a camera was present, the crowds refrained from hurling pint glasses at Mr. Bishop, a 30-year-old American. Instead, they laughed. As he kept spouting jokes and insults, they kept on laughing.
Here lies Dick Cheney. And why not?

The New York Times reports on The Smoking Gun's scoop -- the list of advance requirements for any hotel hosting Dick Cheney. The most apt commentary on this blinkered, bunkered administration:

All televisions sets in Mr. Cheney's hotel suite should be tuned to Fox News ...
Leave off the last 's' for ?

Yes, that's really his name. Friday's Irish Times reports on complaints about the Minister for Health, Mary Harney, having attended the launch of the Irish franchise of an American home-help service when the status of existing home-help services within the public service has not been regularised. But we digress:

The Comfort Keepers franchise will be run by the Elder Healthcare Group which operates four nursing homes here. Its managing director, Austin Power, said Comfort Keepers would create 1,000 part-time jobs by providing non-medical home help to older people and people with disabilities.

Actually, since we're on the topic of names, there is something creepy about the name Comfort Keepers, since it sounds too much like the Promise Keepers.

P O'Neill's Blogroll

Since you've actually clicked on our blogroll link, you'll hopefully indulge us a couple of sentences of explanation about it. It took us 3 years from starting the blog to finally put one up -- partly due to inertia, but mostly because we don't like what a blogroll does the screen layout of text. Any content at the side -- a blogroll or ads -- comes with a heavy column inch penalty, since everything below it becomes blank space. And we like getting the most text content per column inch as possible. Now we suppose that good html coding could work around that, but for now we think that this is a good solution.

Crooked Timber
(the Irish @ CT: Maria, Henry, Kieran)
Slugger O'Toole
Sarah Carey
Free Stater
Progressive Ireland
Irish Election
(P O'Neill @ Irish Election)
Irish blog aggregators: Irish Blogs & Planet of the Blogs
Mr Power
Backword Dave
A Fistful of Euros
Dependable Renegade
Rising Hegemon
Roger Ailes
reasonable creature
The Girl with the Over-Sized Glasses
Reasons and Opinions
Dan Froomkin (Washington Post)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

E for Easter and V for Vendetta

Norman Tebbit, yesterday in the House of Lords on the glorification of terrorism bill:

Many of us feel that the celebration of the Easter Rising of 1916 come pretty close to the glorification of terrorism. That leaves a lot of us unhappy. At the other end of the spectrum, I notice that a film is shortly to be released that has as its theme a masked desperado who commits an enormous number of terrorist acts, finishing up in the blowing up of Parliament at the end of the film. Is that glorification of terrorism, or is it just rather silly fiction? I know that the Attorney-General will have the sole right of instituting a prosecution under those provisions.

As far as we can tell, Tebbit is arguing that the bill (which finally got through the Lords) is hopelessly open-ended rather than against actual celebrations of the Easter Rising.
Is it a trend?

Mostly to collect for potential future reference, we want to note an apparent outbreak of political philosophy references amongst conservatives. Andrew Sullivan seems to have inaugurated the latest round with a botched Hobbes reference and repeated trips to the Oakeshott well (perhaps for penance). But the Wall Street Journal contributes a few too. Hobbes makes an appearance in their lead editorial today:

Hobbes in Sudan
What a world without U.S. power looks like.

which we suppose makes Bush=Leviathan. And Hobbes was even busier in Christopher Hitchens' piece in the Journal on Tuesday (the one with the bizarre Cyprus reference):

It is not merely civil strife that is partly innate in the very make-up of Iraq. There could be an even worse war, of the sort that Thomas Hobbes pictured: a "war of all against all" in which localized gangs and mafias would become rulers of their own stretch of turf ... America's mistake in Lebanon was first to intervene in a way that placed us on one minority side -- that of the Maronites and their Israeli patrons -- and then to scuttle and give Hobbes his mandate for the next 10 years.

Then David Brooks in the New York Times (subs. req'd) checks in:

European conservatives from Edmund Burke to Michael Oakeshott usefully remind us of the power of culture and tradition. But American conservatives — from Hamilton to Reagan — have never taken that path precisely because they believe in the power of the American creed, precisely because they have an Enlightenment faith in the power of reason to change minds.

Our quick interpretation would be that the smart (sic) conservatives (sic) are flailing around for a new anchor now that George W. Bush can't run for election anymore and find their bookshelf a more reliable altar than the current state of the Republican party. But we'll return to this trend if it seems to be going anywhere.
Irish building block of the Basque ceasefire

The Times of London has an interesting story about the role of Fr. Alec Reid in facilitating the ETA ceasefire; it now seems that his role was much more involved than initial indications suggested, and included intermediation between the Spanish Prime Minister and ETA. One of those things that we either didn't know, or had forgotten; Reid administered the last rites to the two British soldiers killed following Kevin Brady's funeral in 1988. Finally, ETA has been one of the biggest intellectual headaches for the GWOT in recent years; it was their non-role in 11-M that helped bring down Jose Maria Aznar, and this ceasefire has come under Aznar's supposed appeaser successors.

His monthly mention

Thursday's Wall Street Journal hosts an op-ed piece by Dan Senor (aka Mr Campbell Brown) and Roman Martinez, alumni of the Coalition (sic) Provisional Authority (sic) in Iraq. While their main theme is what should happen in the Prime Ministerial and Presidential slots of the new Iraqi government, there's another suggestion that seems to be required of any recommendation for Iraq that appears in the WSJ (subs. req'd):

Mr. Talabani .. could likely attract such disparate and talented figures as Ahmad Chalabi and former PM Ayad Allawi into his cabinet, in addition to technocrats from other political factions

This time Chalabi gets paired with Allawi, who seems to have been forgiven by the Journal for his past failings, not to mention his going seriously off-message this week and observing that there really is a civil war in Iraq.

UPDATE 10 OCTOBER: We'll note for reference that the Chalabi mentions are indeed at about the one-a-month rate; here's October's --

In other words, the way to cut the Gordian Knot on federalism is to come up with an oil-sharing plan that guarantees the resource will be apportioned equally. Our favorite idea on this score is the one proposed by Ahmed Chalabi during the Constitutional debates last year, which is the establishment of an Alaska-style oil trust that would make direct payments to all Iraqi citizens.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nice work if you can get it

George Bush in West Virginia today:

I've enjoyed every second of the presidency.
No Pregnant Pause

James Freedman, former president of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, is dead. The New York Times has a nice obituary (reg. req'd). He was president of Dartmouth at a time when an influential proto-Bushist clique was using undergraduate life as a training ground for tactics that would later go national, and he had to take them on several times. In a typical piece of weaselry, visitors to the National Review's website today won't see anything directly contesting the NYT obituary, but will get an archive link to a 1998 hit-piece by Jeffrey Hart on Freedman:

he proclaims himself a feminist and a multiculturalist, and he is loud in his advocacy of racial preferences and special rights for gays ... Mr. Freedman is Jewish, and he makes conspicuous use of that fact when he can exploit it politically, although his relationship to Judaism is tenuous ... [we're leaving out some of the more insulting bits] ... Mr. Freedman is an awesome spectacle: The Liberal in the Age of Bill Clinton.'' ... People may be forgiven for believing the statements of an Ivy League President. They should get over that, at least in the case of Mr. Freedman.

The latter 2/3 of the article is a supposed account of the campus controversies while Freedman was president, and given the standards of accuracy at the National Review, is doubtless shite. But leave that aside.

Freedman just died. Maybe you don't agree with some stuff he said or did. But rather than actually put together an article that at least has the decency to open with a nod to his death, they dig up something from 8 years ago, plant a link without context on favoured right-wing watering hole, the Corner, knowing full well that the "right" people, literally and metaphorically will pleasingly see it. That's about as intellectually cowardly as it gets.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Start making sense

In the moment of today's press conference that has scripted the late-night comedians for at least a week, George Bush was asked about his non-attempts to keep the federal budget under control. He got on to the topic of the line-item veto, an almost certainly unconstitutional mechanism that would allow him to strike particular items in budget bills sent by Congress without having to veto the whole thing:

Now, sometimes I didn't -- I like the size of the pie, sometimes I didn't particularly like the slices within the pie.

But if he likes the overall size of the pie i.e. total spending (assuming he's not being literal), how does choice over slices help keep total spending under control?
We learn more from the questions not answered

George Bush is on a blitz of answering non-screened questions. He took questions from a general audience in Cleveland yesterday and from the press corps at the White House today. The former audience, not stuck within the usual narratives, did a better job of springing novel questions. But the answers, constrained by the person giving them, are more revealing in what they didn't say. While the whole transcript (and Dan Froomkin's highlights thereof) are worth a look, if we had to pick one question, it would be this:

Q My son signed up after 9/11, and I didn't raise a terrorist. And let's face it, there's a continuum and a lack of clarity about who's violent and who's a terrorist. And we really do want to use the word "enemy" in a meaningful way. I think your speech has been very brave and very important and very clarifying. And in the interest of clarifying the purpose of our country to fight preventive war, which we know does involve violence, it's very important for us to understand what you're saying about your model community in Iraq. And my question is that you are killing the bad guys, and that's very important that's the entire story of the battle. And we want to know who the bad guys are. Do you feel that Iraq is like a honeycomb, and that we can draw the al Qaeda there so we can stand and fight them there? I'm really asking for clarification.

THE PRESIDENT: Sure. I think in Iraq there are three types of folks that are trying to stop democracy ...

The question, while not as clear as it could be, points to the depth of Bush's problems. This woman has clearly gone along with the GWOT from the start, and has a son on the front lines -- but, recognizes that wars involve killing ("there's a continuum and a lack of clarity about who's violent and who's a terrorist") and she just wants to be sure that the troops are killing the people they're supposed to be killing. And she got no answer. Bush's answer, beginning with the clause above, is just word-for-word the sections from his last round of speeches in December when his strategy for victory in Iraq was released.

Since the Marine mother had the moral sense to construct the question in the first place, she surely realizes that it was never answered. With that segment of his support base waning, George Bush is in big trouble.
Maintenance note

An Irish Election collective blog has been set up in anticipation of an General Election in 2007 and P O'Neill will be doing some posts there. We may or may not cross-post depending on the flow of content is going at each blog but in addition to a worthwhile general visit to the election blog, this link should find our posts over there. Incidentally, our prediction is that Bertie intends to have the election in Autumn of this year, riding an assumed "feel-good factor" after the country's successful hosting of the Ryder Cup in September.

Just out of curiosity

When Christopher Hitchens says in his pay column today (at the Wall Street Journal, as opposed to the free one at Slate) that:

But the grim fact is, as we know from Cyprus and Bosnia and Lebanon and India, that a handful of determined psychopaths can erode in a year the sort of intercommunal fraternity that has taken centuries to evolve.

does he take the view that it was the Greek or Turkish Cypriots who spawned the psychopaths that led to partition of the island?

UPDATE OCTOBER 29 2007: The verdict is in: Hitch says it was the fault of the Turks.
He gets letters

We're still catching up on yesterday's material which got stalled with the Blogger outage, but we wanted to make note of an odd reader e-mail printed by Andrew Sullivan yesterday. It criticises him for alleged betrayal of the conservative cause:

"Your blood-and-thunder, hateful tirades against our commander-in-chief in time of war and at a vulnerable point IN that war ... firmly in the camp of Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin and the Hollyweird left in general ... Gays cannot sacrifice enough of their sexual self-interest to adhere to an ideology as austere as conservatism ... There is a long, proud history of betrayal in the homosexual community, whose most celebrated example - the locus classicus, if you prefer - is Philby and his crew. Congratulations on joining that fine tradition!"

There's something odd about the style. It begins with the standard Hannity-Limbaugh style usages, then a weird homage to monastic conservatism, a Latin phrase, and a Kim Philby reference. That's not an obvious combination; bits of it are reminiscent of John Derbyshire but it really requires a mix of being steeped in American reactionary rhetoric but with a good bit of English polemical skill also in there. Who could meet such a description? We were led by Sullywatch to a post on the Gay Patriot blog, where at least one commenter is wondering the same thing -- their suspect being one of the regulars in the comment section of that blog. A minor mystery, of course, but one to keep in the records.
Well, he does have a beard

National Review's The Corner salutes the US Department of Homeland Security:


Someone's doing his job--Gerry Adams was delayed before making it to the White House.

Yes. Gerry was going to hijack a plane until that extended search dissuaded him. And "K-Lo" hasn't even read the story to which she links. Gerry was delayed going from Washington to Buffalo NY, not en route to the White House. Thus the editorial standards at the outlet that was a major cheerleader for the Iraq war.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Strict Constructionism, Irish Style

The High Court (Mr Justice Murphy); judgment delivered December 21st, 2005.

There is no constitutional right to a liquor license or a renewal thereof.

Friday, March 17, 2006

He dreamed and is dead

For a couple of years now we've been noting instances of one law of Andrew Sullivan's blogging: he ratchets up his identification as Irish when he's feuding with his fellow American conservatives. Hence we have to take note of one of his St Patrick's Day posts today, a stirring quote from Roger Casement, "Irishman, (1864-1916)." Indeed. He has a link to a nice profile of Casement -- executed in 1916 for botched dealings with the Germans to support the Easter Rising, but not before the British responded to a vigorous public campaign for clemency for him by releasing his private diaries which showed that he was gay.

Sullivan perhaps sees some analogy between Casement's epiphany as a radical nationalist after years as an establishment figure and his own journey of disillusionment on the Iraq war. But Casement's career showed a far-sighted concern with the human rights of native Africans and Americans even in his days of service to the Crown. As conservatives now search through their archives for proof that they had doubts about Bush all along, it's doubtful they can meet the Casement standard: dissent when dissent wasn't cool.
White House announces shock new biofuel source

It's similar to switchgrass.

UPDATE: OK, so Irish Blog Award victor Twenty Major did a brilliant job with a similar picture. And you should be reading his blog regularly anyway.
There can be only one

In the standard conservative line of argument that whatever happens vindicates decisions of George W. Bush, Friday's Wall Street Journal editorialises that the likely collapse of the death penalty case against Zacarias Moussaoui -- due to government incompetence -- shows that he should have been tried in a Gitmo-style military tribunal. You'd think though that they could at least be clear on what he'd be charged with:

In the more than four years since he was charged with six counts of conspiracy related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the "20th hijacker" has mocked the U.S. criminal justice system.

The 20th? Then who's this guy? --

The young Saudi said he had arrived in Orlando to meet a friend. But when pressed for details by an alert immigration inspector, "his story fell apart," says one law-enforcement official. The inspector put the Saudi on a flight out of the country. That incident, in late August 2001, was fateful. The FBI has since concluded that the would-be visitor, who carries the common Saudi name of al-Qahtani, may well have been the elusive "20th hijacker" who was supposed to be aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania on the morning of 9/11.

The one thing we do know about Moussaoui is that his detention, which occurred before 9/11, did generate the memorandum "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly." This memo was never acted upon by senior national security officials in the administration of George W. Bush.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

In America

Thursday's New York Times has an interesting story about the campaign amongst immigrant groups to derail a bill that would mandate prison time for being in the USA illegally and thwart the path to citizenship for current illegal immigrants. The legislation is of course unpopular with all immigrant groups but what has attracted attention is the lobbying power of the illegal Irish, who account for a tiny percentage of the overall affected population:

Juan Carlos Ruiz, the coordinator of the predominantly Hispanic rally of 40,000 held March 7 on Capitol Hill, said that only one senator had shown up there, without speaking: Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. The next day, Mr. Ruiz said, when he and his 14-year-old son stopped by the Irish gathering of about 2,400 and realized that the speakers included Senators Edward M. Kennedy, John McCain, as well as Senators Clinton and Schumer, his son asked, "Why didn't the senators come to our rally?"

The response of the Irish groups is the reasonable one that they didn't ask for special treatment and that to extent they are successful, a deal would benefit everybody. Even here though there is a concern that the politicians might follow the current anti-immigrant mood but seek to neutralise the concern amongst Irish-American voters with a special deal for the Irish. It should be noted though that the opposition to concessions runs quite deep in the Bush coalition:

"They're essentially saying, 'Look, we're good European illegal immigrants,' " said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports the House and Senate measures that would turn "unlawful presence," now a civil violation, into a crime. "The reason they've been more successful is the same reason it appeals to editors — immigration nostalgia from 150 years ago."

He added: "Can they be bought off by a special program for a handful of remaining illegals? I'm not saying it's a good idea, but you just start talking about the old sod and singing 'Danny Boy,' and of course it's possible."

Now Krikorian -- a regular contributer at the National Review -- has a strange view of history, since 150 years ago the Irish immigrants were being directed off ships and straight into combat in the Civil War, which is hardly the red carpet treatment. In reality, all Congress really has to do is survive the Washington version of St Patrick's "Festival" without making any promises, and the Irish will be in the same boat as everyone else. Which is, frankly, better for everyone else.

UPDATE: Bertie clearly got the message; headline on RTE story says it all: No special deal for Irish in US, says Ahern
For you, special price

George Bush appeared in Maryland yesterday in a promotional event for his Medicare prescription drug benefit. He took questions from the crowd and for the most part, the questions were of high quality -- simple and direct. While the entire transcript is revealing, there are two aspects in particular that we would like to highlight; one where he reveals an intriguing autobiographical detail, and one where he and his Health Secretary (Mike Leavitt) left their audience with a very mistaken impression of how government health policy works.

First, the autobiographical detail:

Q We still have millions of [health] under-insured or uninsured citizens in the United States, and what are you going to do about that?

THE PRESIDENT: ... Some of the people who have not insured are younger Americans who choose not to be insured. It's like, I kind of remember that period of time. I thought I was never going to get sick. And so I thought I'd save some money.

In other words, George Bush is making the specific assertion that earlier in his life, he chose to forgo health insurance on grounds of a health-cost tradeoff. Assuming this is true, one has to ask whether this personal experience -- surely driven by the safety net of being from a wealthy family -- is informing his current views about the necessity of health insurance reform.

Second, Bush had to twice dodge around one of the gaping holes in his Medicare drug benefit, the failure of the government to use its bargaining power as a large purchaser to obtain lower prices for prescription medicine. The legislation that implemented the benefit specifically prohibits this. So:

Q Secondly, I am a member of Medicare, of course. I'm also a member of Kaiser Permanente. My medical bills are absolute nothing -- 90 days or $8. Why does Kaiser have more of a means of putting forth these medications than does the government of the United States?

THE PRESIDENT: See, she is a part of a private program that has provided a benefit that you like, and you don't want to change and you don't have to change -- and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to give people different options like the option you have got.

In the old system, they didn't have those options. Matter of fact, they didn't have a prescription drug benefit in the old Medicare system. Now the Medicare system has invited a series of providers -- I think there's 34 different providers here in the state of Maryland, if I'm not mistaken -- that say, now, I want to give you a chance to be able to come up and have the same satisfaction with the program that you do.

Look, if you're happy with where you are -- and it sounds like you're pretty happy about it -- don't change.

Q I'm not going to.

Nor should she. Because her private health insurance company is using its bargaining power to get a lower price for her medicine than the government could. However, she could end up forced into the government plan if her insurance company decides that providing her with cover is not sufficiently profitable, knowing full well that she has an alternative now with the costlier government program.

But that wasn't the end of this issue:

Q ... The second question deals with what are we doing at the federal level to get some uniformity in terms of the billing in hospitals so that we don't have the wide dispersion between hospital billing as a result of someone having insurance and someone who does not have insurance, and the whole bit. And that's been going on for years, because I was in a hospital, ran a part of it, and I know that there's a great dispersion in that.

THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that. Do you want to take that on, Mike?

SECRETARY LEAVITT: Sure. Last night I was in a hotel, and on the back of the hotel door, there was a price: $449 a night. Now, you'll be pleased to know, Mr. President, that I didn't pay that -- (laughter) -- and we didn't pay that because the government had created a government rate. It was only $130 a night, and they slid the bill under the door.

A lot of insurance companies do the same thing and create special prices for the people that are insured with them. What the President has recently done is he's told every insurance company, every employer, and every provider in the country: You ought to tell people what you're charging. People deserve, people have a right to know what they're being charged and the kind of quality they're getting. And that's an initiative of the President. And very shortly, I believe you'll start to see that kind of disclosure.

So in response to a question about why group purchasers -- insurance companies -- can get better prices for healthcare than individuals, the Health Secretary offered an anecdote about how the government can get lower prices for hotel rooms than individuals. But this is exactly the buying power that the government refuses to use for medicine under the Medicare law. And it's exactly the problem that underlies Bush's preference for "consumer-driven healthcare"; individuals buying alone will not be able to get as low a price as group purchasers. The bottom line is that in an efficient healthcare market, the word "social" has to come in somewhere. But this is not something that the current Administration is ideologically disposed to admit.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


If you read about a well-known European politician having women complications, with two of the women in this man's life being named Celia and Cecilia, you might be asking "What's Bertie done now?" But no. It's Nicolas Sarkozy, the French Interior Minister and all-but-declared candidate to be Jacques Chirac's successor. It's a story that the more respectable French media dodge around but the Times of London eagerly explains:

The most public French marital drama took a new twist yesterday when it emerged that [Cécilia] Sarkozy had abandoned her husband at their official residence in Paris to rekindle her relationship with Richard Attias, an advertising executive based in the United States ...

Valérie Domain, an author and confidante of Mme Sarkozy ... is the author of Entre le Coeur et la Raison (Between Heart and Reason), a thinly disguised fictional account of the Sarkozy marriage that is now top of the bestseller list in Paris. The book was conceived as a collaborative project, with Mme Sarkozy giving an inside account of life with Nicolas, ... But in November, M Sarkozy put pressure on Mme Domain’s publisher, who pulped 25,000 copies of her first version.

A new publisher emerged and Mme Domain recast the book as a work of fiction. Cécilia became Célia, the wife of Guillaume Michaut-Cordier, a diminutive Napoleon-like minister with the same CV as M Sarkozy.

In unrelated news, Hugh Linehan has a damning article in today's Irish Times (subs. req'd) about Dublin's St Patrick's "Festival." His general theme is that while the festival began with good intentions, it has now completed the transition from the embarrassing rural corporatist ethos of the dreary parade to a more embarrassing corporate ethos of wealth and enforced displays of jolity and exhuberance. In particular he calls attention to the name of the evening entertainment events in Dublin for the next few nights:

GE Money Oíche

That would be the name of General Electric's financial operations in Ireland tacked on to the Irish word for "night," about as perfect a merger of faux Gaelic with global branding as one could imagine. We should be thankful though that the theme of this year's parade is "Wishful Thinking," which at least doesn't invite the kind of response that a previous theme of "Mischief, Mayhem, and Madness" did.
Cause and Effect

Powerline's "Deacon" on good news about the reading material of America's high-schoolers:

In judging [high school] debates during the past eight years, I have noticed a significant change in "sourcing." In my day, we relied on major newspapers, news magazines, and college professors. Nowadays, the first two types of sources have been joined by websites, while the third source (professors) has virtually been replaced by think tanks. And the most quoted think tank is the Heritage Foundation.

Powerline's "Trunk" on differential knowledge of history between al Qaeda and America's high-schoolers:

James Robbins [National Review] writes about the plot [to infiltrate the Green Zone] and its rationale in "Baghdad Tet." He writes: "This is one of the most dangerous terrorist plots in recent memory, one that had a chance of making a strategic impact." The terrorists appear to be better students of American history than our own high school students are.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

End of Empire

We thought we were running a risk of linking to too many obituaries with Irish aspects, with just having linked to an obit for a Scotland Yard Special Branch officer last week, but National Review's The Corner (of all places) points us to the Daily Telegraph obit for Gen Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley. Now we prefer the Times so we went there first to read of Farrar-Hockley's astonishing military career -- both a microcosm of Britain's very messy post-WW2 entanglements and an image of incredible bravery and endurance (2 years as a POW in north Korea).

But, as we complained about with the previous obituary, it would be nice to know the other side of these stories -- at least the other side in geopolitical terms. For instance:

Then, in 1962, he took over command of 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment serving in the Gulf. The outbreak of the rebellion of the Radfan tribes in the Western Aden Protectorate took 3 Para there in 1964 and Farrar-Hockley led them brilliantly in the capture of the dissidents’ stronghold in the remote Wadi Dhubsan ...

Giving up command of his battalion in 1965, he went straight to the Far East to become chief of staff to the director of operations in Borneo. There, he took over organisation of the politically sensitive, then unattributable, cross-border operations, the success of which played a significant part in bringing about the collapse of Indonesian President Sukarno’s ill-judged military confrontation with the recently formed Federation of Malaysia.

Remember, the consequences of those events in Yemen and Indonesia were very long-lasting. And as for the Irish angle, of course it's there -- and indeed one wonders if the initial Army strategy of sending grizzled veterans of the late colonial wars to Ireland was really such a good idea:

He was only just 46 when promoted major-general and appointed Commander Land Forces Northern Ireland in August 1970. He was the first senior officer to acknowledge publicly that the IRA was behind the republican violence. This was a period when he was at his most uncompromising, pointing out the risks of trying to pretend, as did many politicians of the day, that there was not a terrorist insurrection within the UK and demanding appropriate countermeasures against the IRA. His briefings of ministers provided exactly what they did not wish to hear about Ireland.

While there was no suggestion that he was moved prematurely — a year in the job being set by his example as the subsequent norm — his selection to command 4th Division in Germany brought with it some mistaken hopes that Northern Ireland might be a calmer place without him. He left in July 1971, well before “Bloody Sunday” in Londonderry (sic) in January 1972 but his close association with the Parachute Regiment subsequently made him a prime IRA target.

Bloody Sunday did seal the bad reputation of "the Paras" in the nationalist population. Both The Times and the Telegraph mention an IRA assassination attempt in 1990, averted when a bomb under his car was spotted by his gardener, but his opinions on the atrocity were likely long-held and not affected one way or the other by being a marked man:

[Telegraph] In response to new evidence that emerged in successive enquiries into "Bloody Sunday", when 13 Catholics were shot dead during a civil rights' march in Londonderry (sic) in 1972, Farrar-Hockley robustly defended the role of the Parachute Regiment: "It is all part of a long-running public relations exercise," he told the BBC, "to persuade people that soldiers were all murderers and nothing wrong was done by the people on the other side." He voiced strong concerns following the ruling by the judges sitting on the Saville Tribunal that the former Paras could not rely on being granted anonymity.

Veering now into a side issue, we wonder if the National Review, engaged in a running feud with Andrew Sullivan, was up to something with their effusive link ("The Anglo-American world needs its Farrar-Hockleys now as much as ever") to the Telegraph version:

He was also an outspoken opponent of the European Court of Human Rights ruling that the British Armed Forces were obliged to permit avowed homosexuals to enlist. He maintained that the military was a unique institution which should be allowed to run its own affairs, and that the concession would damage morale and discipline.

Enough to get a certain someone -- if he follows the link --- a bit upset.

Finally, and only loosely linked to the above, we want to briefly return to a post last week in which we had mentioned Sarah Sands being replaced as editor of the Sunday Telegraph and the possibly unrelated disappearance of Mark Steyn from the Telegraph group. Sullivan, acting on a dubiously-sourced blog post, linked Sands' dismissal to the squelching of another Telegraph piece that likely fell foul of Britain's strange hate-speech laws. Sullywatch takes the baton from here.
The tip of the iceberg

George Bush is in Rochester, New York, today for what is supposed to be a bit of news management directing attention to the botched Medicare prescription coverage benefit. The Israelis have most inconsiderately not cooperated with the news cycle. But anyway, upon arrival at the airport he met the teenager-seen-around-the-world last week; Jason McElwain, the star basketball player who is autistic. This exchange then takes place:

Q Mr. President, how did you hear about the story and what's your reaction?

THE PRESIDENT: Saw it on TV. Saw it on TV and I wept, just like a lot of other people. It's just one of those stories that touched a lot of people's hearts.

Q Did somebody play it for you, or did you just see it?

THE PRESIDENT: I can't remember exactly how it happened. Probably somebody played it for me, you know, being the President and all. But it's a wonderful tale.

God bless.

Contemplate for a moment the content here; assuming he's telling the truth about weeping, what's his reaction to news stories from Iraq? And note the combination of dodge and attempt at false modesty ("being the President and all") -- not enough guile to hide the fact that it was clearly played for him. How did the aides set this one up -- "Mr President, we've got solid gold TV clips for you here, oh, and by the way, do you mind if I chop this onion right next to you?" Remember also that these DVD compilations are how Bush receives actual news, such as the extent of devastation from Katrina. Is this any way to run a country?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Start the week

1. The Iraq War epitaph:

"I am not sure how many of the knuckleheads there are,"

Lt. Gen. William Wallace, realizing in the field that the Rumsfeld-Franks invasion plan had failed to anticipate the one bit of Saddam's defence that actually worked, the dispersion of fighters away from the direct route to Baghdad from the south. Read the rest of this excellent New York Times article which has lots more such details.

2. Powerline's "Deacon" explains what he sees encouraging about high school debating competitions in suburban Washington:

In judging debates during the past eight years, I have noticed a significant change in "sourcing." In my day, we relied on major newspapers, news magazines, and college professors. Nowadays, the first two types of sources have been joined by websites, while the third source (professors) has virtually been replaced by think tanks. And the most quoted think tank is the Heritage Foundation.

He then goes on to praise Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, who has a new book out. Get your Ed Feulner background research at Roger Ailes (not the bald repulsive one).
The Flaming Joe

Saturday's Wall Street Journal kicks off St Patrick's Week with an account of the plausible revisionist history concerning who invented Irish Coffee. As the article (subs. req'd) explains, the standard account is well-known -- it was invented by Joe Sheridan at the Shannon Airport bar in the 1940s as a concoction to greet weary transatlantic travellers. But no, says the Journal -- it was probably invented at the Dolphin Bar in Dublin:

The contrarian account can be found buried in an essay by John V. Kelleher, professor of Irish studies at Harvard from 1952 to 1986. Just after World War II, Kelleher visited Ireland and some literary pals took him to the pub at a hotel called The Dolphin in Dublin's Temple Bar neighborhood. "The Dolphin, I was told, was where Irish coffee had been invented," Kelleher wrote later. "The proprietor, Michael Nugent, had concocted it during the war as a way of disguising what was then called coffee. In 1946 its chief merit was the interesting difficulty of floating the cream onto but not into the liquid."

As the article goes on to note, the addition of the cream (and keeping it on top) is really the key trick, because otherwise it's just a variant on the hot whiskey, but the cream serves an important wartime rationing purpose -- camouflaging the flavour of the bad coffee that was the only thing available in Ireland when the tea routes were shut down during WW2.

Further enraging the traditionalists, the story points out that the received wisdom of the popularisation of the drink in the USA is also dodgy; the attribution to Buena Vista in San Francisco does reflect a venue known for serving the drink, but:

it is not where the drink was first introduced in the States. That credit goes to the New York Herald Tribune. On St. Patrick's Day in 1948, the delightfully named Clementine Paddleford, for years the newspaper's popular and influential food writer, suggested that her readers try Irish Coffee, "the traditional Gaelic drink as served to passengers in the lounge at Shannon Airport." She thanked Pan American hostess Maureen Grogan for getting her the recipe: "Place two tablespoons of Irish whisky in a warm glass, add one teaspoon sugar, pour in the hot coffee and float two inches of whipped cream," Paddleford wrote. "Sip and the whisky laces through coffee, through cream."

And of course it's plausible that a New York reporter would have run into a Pan Am hostess who had seen it being made. Now, one thing left unmentioned in the account is the question of what whiskey to use in an Irish coffee. Would you put the Bushmills 12 year old in there?
The Bells of St Patrick's

Most likely in observance of the week that's in it, BBC Radio 4's "Bells on Sunday" yesterday featured the bells of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. If our expatriate Irish readers need a little nostalgia, and the sight of visiting Irish cabinet ministers is for some reason not sufficient, it's worth a listen. As far as we know, a dispensation from Pope Benedict is not necessary to listen to Protestant bells.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Economical with the truth

As we've said before, we like reading the obituaries. If nothing else, it's a crash course in history. Hence it was with great interest that we started an obit in the Times of London that was headed as follows:

John Wilson
February 24, 1927 - February 5, 2006

Commander of Special Branch who acted defiantly in the face of Irish terrorism

Read the whole thing, and you won't be any the wiser as to what specifically he did, despite the presence of many tantalising hints. It seems that his positions were with Scotland Yard Special Branch as opposed to RUC Special Branch:

By the time Wilson retired in 1983 he was credited with reviving Special Branch’s almost defunct Irish squad to meet the new challenge and had briefed every prime minister and home secretary from the Government of Harold Wilson to that of Margaret Thatcher.

He improved relations across the Irish border cementing essential relationships with the Garda Siochana and persuading Irish police officers that terrorists were a mutual enemy whatever their background ...

In 1976 he became chief superintendent in Special Branch liaising with other departments of the Met, UK police forces, the RUC, Garda Siochana and the Cabinet Office ... In 1974 he received a Commissioner’s Commendation for his “ability and devotion to duty” leading to the conviction of the Belfast Ten who had attacked the Old Bailey and Scotland Yard. He was also commended by the judge at their trial.

The reference to the Belfast Ten is as close as it comes to specifics on what he did. This leads into an interesting strand of Irish Republican politics, because the Belfast Ten spawned a precursor to the 1981 H-block hunger strikes; two IRA men who joined their hunger strike (to press their demands for political prisoner status and the right to serve their sentences in Northern Ireland) died -- Frank Stagg and Michael Gaughan.

Furthermore, the British strategy at this time was to force feed hunger strikers, but the resulting public relations disaster led them to drop it, setting the stage for the later disaster with the H-block hunger strikes. Most depressingly, the Pentagon's pre-Magna Carta detention centre at Guantanamo Bay is still at the force-feeding stage, suggesting that the Pentagon has done not even minimal research on possible historical parallels with their current activities.

A note about the links in this post: there are they for your convenience; weigh the information and any political leanings as you see fit. 1970s Irish history is surprisingly poorly documented on the web, so we take the view that more information is better than less even if the politics differs from our own.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Public Image Unlimited

Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) picks up a story from Thursday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) which in turn had built on an earlier WSJ story about how Microsoft uses Irish subsidiaries to dramatically reduce its corporate tax rate. Microsoft allocates a large proportion of its intellectual capital to the Irish companies, Round Island and Flat Island, and therefore pays Irish tax rates on the income to this capital, even when nearly all their sales occur in other countries. The basics of the operation could be figured out because even Ireland's lax corporate regime does have some reporting requirements, but Microsoft has now come up with a way around that problem:

Last month, two Dublin-based Microsoft subsidiaries -- Round Island One Ltd. and Flat Island Co. -- revamped their shareholding structure and applied to the Irish government to adopt "unlimited liability" status. That would allow the units to avoid filing detailed public statements of their accounts, government records show. But the change creates added risk for Microsoft in case either unit faces bankruptcy or a lawsuit.

The move clearly reflects increased US scrutiny of these arrangements:

The U.S. government is seeking to make it harder for companies like Microsoft to shift licensing rights and revenue to low-tax countries. "This is a serious issue, and we need to deal with it," Treasury Secretary John Snow said in an appearance before the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 7. There is a "clear danger here that there has been migration of intellectual and other intangible property offshore," Mr. Snow said.

As the Journal indicates, the main risk to Microsoft from this move is if the Irish subsidiaries were exposed to a major lawsuit, which is unlikely but not impossible, not least because Microsoft continues to annoy the European Commission. However, the Irish Times story makes clear that this is not just a case of those Americans importing a stunt, because a few Irish companies have thought of it too:

A number of Irish-owned companies have taken out unlimited liability status in recent times, including Barry's Tea in Cork, construction firm Bovale Developments, the Tedcastle oil group, Cork industrial holdings company Punch, Kilsaran Concrete and fishing company Atlantic Dawn.

To be fair, Microsoft is not a one-trick pony. While it may be hiding some of its accounting behind an arcane ownership structure, it is also building some local goodwill as a sponsor of the first annual Irish Blog Awards.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A direct hit

Princeton Professor of Economics and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman allowed himself a much-deserved "I told you so" column today, since he has made the endless lying of George W. Bush a theme since the 2000 campaign trail. Krugman lobbed intellectual mortars specifically at Bruce Bartlett and Andrew Sullivan, who exhibit the zeal of the converted:

Mr. Sullivan used to specialize in denouncing the patriotism and character of anyone who dared to criticize President Bush, whom he lionized. Now he himself has become a critic, not just of Mr. Bush's policies, but of his personal qualities, too.

Sullivan, a pioneer in the labelling of Krugman as "shrill" for his dissent delivers a long and clearly stung response that will doubtless draw much analysis of its own, but one specific thing should be noted right away:

Five days after 9/11, in an aside in a long essay, I predicted that a small cadre of decadent leftists in enclaves in coastal universities would instinctively side with America's enemies. They did. Some still do.

Note, via Sullywatch for the previous instance, that this makes it two times that has he now altered that infamous quote, once to lessen its central accusation and now to claim it only applied to universities and not everyone on the coasts:

The middle part of the country - the great red zone that voted for Bush - is clearly ready for war. The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead - and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column.

We hope to return to other elements of his response later. But one quick thing. He also says:

Since he's [Krugman] too important to have his columns available to non-subscribers, I can't link.

Krugman works for a newspaper that has subscriptions, not unknown in the web world these days. Here's the link-- it just requires some money.

UPDATE: In addition to a nod to Atrios for the link, who specifically notes Sully's disengenuousness about linking to Krugman -- Sully has himself linked to subscription sites, when it's a point he agrees with:

Quote for the Day II
... - Yossi Klein Halevi, in the New Republic (behind the subscriber firewall, alas).

And it was only on Wednesday that Sullivan was being needled about the "decadent left" quote by the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto (where there's a history), to whom it would clearly be news that the quote only applied to universities. Taranto links to a New York Times story about heterosexual marriages with an understanding that there would be gay relationships on the side, and wonders:

Wasn't it George Orwell who observed that the decadent left in its enclaves on the coast is not dead?

Sully, with an Orwell quote in his banner, has not responded.

More on Sully's embrace of Bush's fiscal dishonesty from Angry Bear, and Brad DeLong. And Digby notes how Sullivan and Tom Friedman have gotten to the same place and seem to be looking for absolution.

SATURDAY: Sullivan has now excerpted a segment from his response to Slate's Tim Noah, who was among many critics of the "decadent left" quote when it first appeared. This was his second attempt at a response to Noah, the first having included:

These people have already openly said they do not support such a war [in Afghanistan], and will oppose it. Read Sontag and Chomsky and Moore and Alterman and on and on, and you'll see that I'm not exaggerating. Go to any campus and you'll find many, many academics saying the same thing. If anything, I'm minimizing their open hatred of the United States. So why should I retract?

In fact, the column remains the archetypal example of what became a standard tactic of the jingoistic right -- the elevation of unrepresentative dissenters on "the left" into plenipotentiaries for any opposition to George W. Bush. By the way, we don't mean to imply that his named (after-the-fact) list of America-haters are unrepresentative, and of course with the exception of Susan Sontag, RIP, they can still speak for themselves.

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from the aforementioned Eric Alterman. We strongly recommend you visit Sullywatch next. And for more background on Sully's current behaviour, we note some past commentary of ours on him; his tendency to ratchet up his English Toryness when he's under attack from former allies, coupled with an ability to mangle very basic conservative philosophy (Oakeshott and Hobbes).

FINAL UPDATE: Sullivan has a letter to the NYT editor for 24 March. He does not discuss the representativeness of his apparent dissent within his overall output.
For the record

We could have picked any of George Bush's speeches, but his address yesterday to the Georgia Republican party really crystallizes his utter lack of qualification for high office -- or even low office. We'll put a few excerpts below; note the repetition of words, the non-sequiters, the tone-deafness to discredited phrases ("heck of a job") and the circular logic.

Incidentally, you can find many more examples of the low standards now taken for granted in Presidential utterances; visit Holden at the First Draft blog and search under the keywords "your president speaks".

... And I'm proud to be introduced by Sonny Perdue, who is doing a heck of a good job as the Governor of this state ... I want to thank Alec Poitevint, the mighty Chairman and National Committeeman of the great state of Georgia. Alec, good to see you. (Applause.) And Doreen is here. Alec has got his priorities straight. I've known him for a long period of time. We're quite familiar with each other. He said, how many turkeys you got on your ranch? I said, I haven't been counting them lately. He says, well, I've been counting them on mine. The man's got his priorities straight. (Laughter.) ... Two candidates running for the lieutenant governor with us -- Casey Cagle and Ralph Reed and I appreciate them both being here tonight. (Applause.) [there's a story behind Raplh Reed that we'll get to later] ... My job is -- my thinking is really -- was defined on September the 11th, you've just got to know that. Some of my buddies from Texas come over there to the White House and they say, what's it like to be the President? First of all, I'm a person who is so honored to be sustained by the prayers of millions of people. It is -- one of the truly great blessings of the presidency is to be uplifted in prayer by people I never get to thank personally.

Secondly, I make a lot of decisions. It's a decision-making experience. Sonny will tell you, as the governor of a state, you make decisions. That's what a chief executive officer does. In order to make decisions, you've got to make decisions based upon principle. And if not exactly sure what information you need, you've got to rely upon good people to give you information so you can make good decisions. A lot of my decision-making has come about as a result of the attack on our country. See, after that day, I vowed that I would do everything in my power to protect the United States of America from further attack. (Applause.) ...After the attacks on the country, I did what you would expect me to do, and ask people who are on the front lines of defending you whether or not there was -- there's more we could be doing. What can we do more to protect the American people? I vowed on September the 11th I would do everything I can to protect the American people. I would rally the assets and resources and brain power of our country to protect you.

And so I called people in and I said, is there anything else we could have done to prevent the attacks from September the 11th? And a General named Mike Hayden said, I believe there is, Mr. President; I believe we can design a system that will enable us to listen to a call from outside the country in from a known al Qaeda affiliate or a suspected al Qaeda affiliate. I said, that makes sense, doesn't it? If the people inside the country that planned the attacks on the United States were making phone calls out, we'd want to know that prior to any attack. [don't mention the warrants] ...

Another lesson of September the 11th is that we must deal with threats before they come to hurt us. You see, prior to September the 11th, 2001, a lot of folks assumed that we were safe in America. In other words, we could see a threat somewhere overseas, but we were fine. Oceans protected us, perhaps our might protected us. But that all changed for me on September the 11th, 2001. [have I mentioned September 11 yet?] ....The people of the Middle East must understand that when I say, democracy, I don't mean American-style democracy. I mean a democracy which reflects the values and the history and the tradition of the country in which democracy is spreading.... But I do believe in the universality of liberty. I personally believe there is an Almighty God and I believe a gift from the Almighty God to every man and woman on the face of the earth is freedom. Our country was formed based upon the natural rights of men and women, and we believe those natural rights extend to men and women all across the globe. The United States of America believes people desire to be free. And by freeing people, we are laying the foundation of peace for generations to come. (Applause.)

... One of my best buddies in the international arena is Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan ... The tax relief we passed and these members voted for, these candidates voted for, is set to expire. And if it does, the American people are going to get a tax increase they don't expect and they don't want. ... Now, I know what they're going to say. They're going to say, how can you balance the budget if you cut the taxes? People will say, well, we need to raise your taxes in order to balance the budget. That's not the way Washington works. What will happen is, they will raise your taxes and figure out new ways to spend your moneyn ... Look, we want our farmers in Georgia growing crops that can run our automobiles. We need to become less dependent on foreign sources of oil in order to be a competitive nation. (Applause.) ... You see, if our kids don't have the skills for the jobs of the 21st century, they're going to go somewhere else [with a time machine?] ... And if you find a child not reading early, I think it makes sense to provide additional help, additional money for each child like we're doing through No Child Left Behind Act so no child is left behind ... And finally -- you'll probably be happy to hear the word, finally -- I'm going to continue to work with people on this stage to promote a culture of life in the United States of America. (Applause.) We believe every person matters, every person counts. We believe that -- we believe in medicine and sound science, but we don't believe in taking life to promote science. We believe in upholding values that are important. We believe in the faith-based initiatives ...
At least it won't clash with an invasion this year

Just posted on the White House website:

President Bush will host Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern at the White House on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2006. They will participate in the traditional "Shamrock Ceremony," which dates back decades and symbolizes the close friendship between the United States and Ireland. The President and the Taoiseach will meet in the Oval Office after the ceremony.

Following their meeting, President Bush and Prime Minister Ahern will be joined by U.K. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Hain and will greet civil society leaders who are striving to build an inclusive and peaceful Northern Ireland.

The last sentence seems to imply that the event will again downgrade the role of Northern Ireland's politicians, reflecting an assumption that the political institutions are stuck in neutral.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Hubble Bubble

Mainly for the sake of keeping track of stuff we've posted about before, we want to note that the Sunday Telegraph has changed editors barely a year after Sarah Sands got the job. This is merely the latest element of intrigue at the Telegraph group, in which one Irish angle is that Kevin Myers was an early victim of the new Sands i-Pod regime -- and we can't figure out what has happened to Mark Steyn's Tuesday column in the Daily either*.

The only real signal that came from the group's owners, the Barclay Brothers, when they bought it from Hollinger (Conrad Black) were hints that Fox News pioneer Andrew Neil would be overall newspaper supremo, but the brothers have had some strange priorities of their own recently -- a quixotic "libel" action against the Times, pursued through French courts [update], and getting on board King George's Freedom Agenda by pushing for democracy in that despotic rogue nation of .... Sark. All this by way of saying that it's impossible to figure out what is going on at the Telegraph, but given its position at the fulcrum of the Anglosphere/Unionist/GWOT Alliance, it's worth keeping an eye on.

UPDATE 13 MARCH: It seems several people have started wondering why Steyn's columns in former Conrad Black UK outlets have disappeared. Tim Blair has the links, although they only make reference to Steyn's Sunday Telegraph column. Either our memory is off or the Guardian made a mistake (what are the odds of that?); we thought his slot was in the Tuesday Daily; example.
Random Music Post

Interesting, "counter-intuitive" article in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) about the rising English rock band Arctic Monkeys and their attempt to manage their American marketing campaign:

In January, a [band] representative traveled across America to meet with programmers at key U.S. radio stations to deliver a surprising message. He wanted them to take the band's music off the air.

"Normally we have people fly in to ask us to play their records," says Gene Sandbloom, operations manager at CBS Corp.'s KROQ, an influential Los Angeles rock station. "He actually flew in to say, 'We're glad you're excited about the record. But please don't play it yet.' "

The band is concerned that a misaligned hype cycle has done in their recent predecessors as the latest hot rock act from Britain: early fans and critics gush over the band, but the momentum is gone by the time they have an album and tour ready to go. The challenge is bigger for a band that risks being perceived as too English:

Some skeptics also argue that Arctic Monkeys, with their thick northern-English accents and lyrics full of working-class British argot, will never resonate in the U.S. the way they do in their home country. The group's songs, for example, employ slang phrases like "tracky bottoms," which refers to the athletic-suit pants favored by a particular British species of lounge lizard.

Anyway, good luck to them. Another music phenomenon we'd like to note is the brilliant video for Beck's Hell Yes, his current release from Guero. The video is succinctly referred to as the dancing robots video, which doesn't really do justice to how clever and funny it is. Now there is a story to how we first saw this video. Back in early December, the New York Times reported on it with all the confidence of one of their WMD stories:

It took more than a year, but Beck finally found the performers he wanted for his new video: they are about two feet tall, with shining eyes, silver skin and killer moves. Thanks to them, the video for ''Hell Yes'' has been enjoying heavy rotation on MTV2 since its premiere several weeks ago.

We were watching MTV2 before and after this story appeared and never, ever saw the video on it. It required a change of hemisphere to find a version of MTV that was showing it, which is part of the more general tendency for American MTV to not show, like, music, anymore. But hopefully the rest of you can find easier ways to see it. If you can stand the small screen, it's watchable on