Wednesday, December 31, 2003

You'll never beat the Oirish

It's a fitting end to 2003 for those in the Irish Republic who'd rather think of the place as nicely socio-culturally integrated with our friends and neighbours in if the Republic was really just Shamrockshire. We assemble three pieces of evidence:

1. Most perniciously, take leading Oirish property developer Owen O'Callaghan. Owen likes to give some of his rather substantial loose change to Oirland's soi-disant nationalist politicians in the governing Fianna Fail (the institutional revolutionary party of Ireland). So having paid off the politicians, Owen gets upset when the local councils and regulators try to revisit some of the mysterious planning permissions which his development companies were granted, such as for the hideously Oirish Liffey Valley mall in Lucan, Co. Dublin.

So what does Owen do? He teams up with his good friend and well known Irish nationalist, the Duke of Westminster, to block planning regulators from considering the claims of a rival development company which wants to build a mall quite close to Owen's.

2. The new Ireland continues to operate as playground of the rich and famous, with the wedding of Ozzy Osbourne's son Louis in County Offaly. Note: Louis is the one who rarely if ever appears in the TV show. But to be fair to Louis, his wedding seems a good deal less trashy than some of the other Oirish marital spectacles in recent years, and the dude actually seems to be half-serious about maybe living in Ireland:

[Louis Osbourne] said the prices of houses in the capital at the moment are "absolutely ridiculous".
Louise [the fiance] has family in Meath. We might consider Bettystown," he said.

We can only say that the Royal County is an excellent choice. Sadly, Ozzy and Sharon can't attend given Ozzy's spill from a quad bike a few weeks ago.

3. And finally, the Irish fans of Glasgow Celtic football club are in the tricky position of reacting to the news that the club's excellent manager, Martin O'Neill, has received an Order of the British Empire honour from the Queen. O'Neill is from Northern Ireland, so no citizenship issue arises in his acceptance of the honour, although of course in principle he could have refused it anyway. But he has accepted it, in effect as an honour to the club. We suspect some of the fans have to bite their tongues, but it will be interesting to see how boosterish the coverage is in the Oirish media over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

A pint of cola and a glass of pure malt whiskey, please

It looks like 2003 will end on a relatively happy note for the Scottish whiskey industry. Feelings have been running high for most of the year because multi-national booze company Diageo -- who also own Guinness -- had pulled the wheeze of subtly changing the description of their Scottish Cardhu whiskey from single malt to pure malt -- meaning that it still had no grain alcohol but that it was a mixture of several barley malts, and not just one, as the single malt designation would require. Diageo had the problem that Spanish yuppies were falling over themselves in the rush to the bar for more of the stuff, to the point where they were running low on enough malt from the source distillery -- the necessary 12 years of ageing means that responding to increased demand is not just a matter of speeding up the assembly line.

Now, we're not huge fans of Diageo, not least because of those periodic rumours that Guinness operations in Ireland could be scaled down in a cost-cutting move. But in this case, it's hard to see how any company could resist the temptation to increase supply of such a lucrative product. And the uproar from single malt distillers, worried about brand dilution, has resulted in Diageo doing the sensible thing and changing the packaging of the whiskey as well the designation, so that anyone remotely serious about their whiskey purchases can tell that the pure malt is a different product. And what of the potential taste difference between single and pure malt? Well, as the Wall Street Journal reports (subs. req'd), it would require quite a lot from the taste buds of the average Cardhu drinker to distinguish them because:

In particular, Cardhu has become an enormous hit in Spain, where young club goers mix it with -- purists, avert your eyes -- Coke.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Mad Cow II: The Farce

The close cooperation between Britain and the US on military matters clearly does not extend to agriculture policy -- because, if it did, the US would surely not be methodically working its way through every mistake that Britain made in dealing with Mad Cow Disease.

As with all historical events, it will happen the first time as tragedy and the second as farce. We will make it a recurring feature to track the repitition of each blunder. But let's open with the spectacle of the respective Agriculture Minister volunteering themselves, and their families, to be the nation's food testers, as with the person who would eat potentially poisoned food for the king.

US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told us all that despite the scare, she was keeping with the plan to serve beef for the Christmas dinner; it's a wonder she didn't invite the cameras around just to verify that no-one dropped dead as they ate the stuff.

The parallel here: UK Agriculture Minister John Gummer's disastrous 1990 photo-op featuring the consumption of a burger by him and his reluctant daughter, with, as it turned out, the worse of the Mad Cow epidemic and its human equivalent, variant CJD, yet to come.

Look at the picture of Gummer and his daughter -- all you need to imagine the scene at the Veneman family table.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Hitch forgets his English history

Christopher Hitchens in the January 2004 Vanity Fair writes (can't find a link yet, alas):
[Discussion of Indonesia] Imagine being colonized by the Dutch, incidentally; imprisoned in a European language that nobody spoke outside the Low Countries and white South Africa

Now leave aside Hitch's seeming claim that the Dutch imposed their useless language on Indonesia...he also seems to think being colonized by the Dutch is something rare and exotic. But DUDE! England, 1689, William of Orange, sailing from the Netherlands to usurp James II, his father-in-law, eventually removing the Stuarts from the royal succession completely? Let's get your native land's history right before we start writing about somewhere half-way across the ocean, OK?

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

And so it begins

We had hoped to keep up a reasonable blogging schedule over Christmas, but to be honest, there's just not that much to blog about the next couple of days. Our attention was only caught by the apparent case of Mad Cow Disease in the Pacific Northwest, and especially the weird disclaimer that was included in the Agriculture Secretary's news conference:

I have been in contact with [Homeland Security] Secretary Ridge and I would emphasize that based on the information available this incident is not terrorist related nor is it related in any way to our nation's heightened alert status. I cannot stress this point strongly enough.

No, Osama has not gone further than the world's best scientists and conclusively constructed a link between the rogue bovine protein and the corresponding disease in humans. In this case, it's lax regulation and short-sighted cattle industry resistance to reforms that will do us in, not the terrorists. But hopefully it won't come to that.

We hope to be back blogging early next week. Enjoy the holidays.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Ian Paisley's head explodes

Or rather it would if he saw this headline in Monday's New York Times:

A Voice for the Irish Aggrieved vs. the Irish Police

It's a story about Nuala O'Loan, the ombudsman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland -- closer scrutiny of policing on both sides of the border being a part of the peace process, as we noted in the context of the Republic three posts ago. And of course, to Paisley and his fellow travellers, the PSNI and its clients are Simply British. Can a letter to the New York Times editor, or even the paper's own ombudsman, be far behind?
Now losing its identity

A pronounced mist seems to be sharply reducing visibility across the Atlantic Ocean today, judging from Andrew Sullivan's blog:

LE MONDE IS PISSED: [about the Libyan deal]

So for the purposes of this post, he's American, because otherwise he would have said pissed off. But then in a post about famous people who have refused awards under the British government's honours system:

I'm impressed. the British honors system, whereby ordinary people of extraordinary ability or achievement are turned into pseudo-lords and ladies or given some medal of honor by the "British Empire" is a horrifying instance of the hold that class snobbery still has on Britain. In my view, the whole system should be abolished...The refuseniks are the true British heroes; not the establishment toadies.

Now he's a British Republican...and what must he think of someone so pathetically chasing status as to renounce his citizenship just to be able to collect one of these honours. Poor Conrad, dumped by the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy with such indecent haste. But then as Sullywatch notes, Sullivan may have too good an understanding of the dilemma of those who have to go abroad when the natives are insufficiently appreciative.

This charming man

Two moments in the career of well-coiffed Clinton hater and Dubya spinner, Washington Post syndicated columnist, George Will:

1. When asked by a New York Times reporter whether he should be disclosing his financial ties to Vast Rightwing Conspiracy bankroller Conrad Black when writing columns in praise of Black:

"My business is my business," [Will] said. "Got it?"

2. A Seinfeld reference:

Kramer: I'll tell ya who's an attractive man: George Will.
Elaine: Well, he's smart.
Kramer: No, I don't find him all that bright.

(quote 252)

[PS Tracking down the Seinfeld quote was an education in the weaknesses of Google, or perhaps in the blandness of George "Got It?" Will's name; Google does not search for a generic word like "will" and of course in a TV show with a character named George who, like, does stuff, and therefore earns sentences like "George will....", there is indeed a problem. We eventually solved it by having Google find the above huge page of Kramer quotes (since we knew Kramer had said the priceless remark), and having Explorer's Find function search the page. Bill Gates would be happy]
Romantic Ireland is dead and gone

Last week was a tough one for two of the Republic's treasured national institutions. First, our police force had to watch their prime suspect in a high-profile murder case do a better job of implicating himself during his deeply ill-advised libel case than their investigative work had managed to do. And that same week, the island's peace process continued its reliance on Canadians to handle delicate law enforcement issues, when Judge Peter Cory completed his report on alleged collusion between security forces on both sides of the border and outlawed paramilitary groups.

The Republic was much quicker to make the judge's report public than their counterparts in Britain -- which probably says more about their zeal to embarrass Sinn Fein than any genuine committment to openness. One of the cases the judge looked into was a suspiciously well-timed attack on two senior police officers from Northern Ireland, which occurred almost immediately after they crossed the border on the return trip from a meeting in the Republic -- a meeting which had only been arranged a few hours beforehand and known only to a select few in each police force. In other words, speculates the judge, it looks like someone in the Republic's police force tipped off the IRA about some "High Value Targets" (as the American military would say). Further investigation is planned.

And what of this other treasured Irish institution that had a tough week? We speak of course of Manchester United Football Club, which from the First Fan (Taoiseach Bertie Ahern) on down, form an object of almost religious veneration for the Irish public. It made world headlines when star defender Rio Ferdinand was suspended for eight months for failing to appear for a drug test. But Saturday's Irish Times compounded the shame for the club by revealing just how money-grubbing things can get at the World's Biggest Football Club:

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has confirmed he received [Irish Pounds] 97,973 from the John Durkan Leukaemia Trust after appearing with four players at a function it organised in the Berkeley Hotel, Dublin, in the autumn of 1999. This was half the money raised on the night.

The four MUFC players who appeared didn't get any cash -- but because they believed themselves to be attending a fund-raiser for "Sir" Alex, not the Irish charity! The players considered the event to be a "testimonial" for their manager -- testimonials are a holdover from the days when football salaries were truly terrible, and retiring players and managers would have some fund-raisers in their farewell seasons to get them a retirement fund. But the tradition continues even as salaries have gone through the roof -- and in this case, even when "Sir" Alex later changed his mind about retiring. The affair has only now come to light because the charity was trying to squelch the details of the event. It looks to us like this little event was co-opted by some MUFC fans, who saw a way to leverage their donors' money into a chance for them to spend the evening with their heroes. And given that we've blogged before about the Republic's Oirish tax-dodging upper classes, can this detail be any surprise?

Around 500 people drawn from the racing and bloodstock industries attended the function. The guests included the National Hunt racing owner, Mr J.P. McManus.

Check the blog GUBU for a well-timed rant about Mr McManus and his ilk.

Friday, December 19, 2003

The Italian job

So if you're a large European company trying to convince your creditors that you're not about to go bust, don't you think that whatever story they cook up would have least been checked to make sure it's not a complete crock? Apparently not, if the company in question is Italian dairy giant Parmalat (which our thousands of readers will know mostly for that long-lasting milk). The company has been the subject of bankruptcy rumours for a couple of weeks, and their latest attempt to put things to rest involved claiming that they had $5 billion in ready cash, sitting in a bank account at Bank of America. Just one problem, as the Wall Street Journal reports today:

In fact, [Bank of America] said that on Dec. 17 it told accountants for [Parmalat] that it doesn't have a Bank of America account...It is unclear who prepared the document contested by Bank of America, or where the [$5 billion] might be located.

Is this the best these Italian execs can do? At least the Enron scam was complicated.
The world has changed

Remember when the preferred description of attaching extremely precise meanings to words was Clintonian? Finally, we have moved on. Example: Chief International Monetary Fund spokesman Tom Dawson, on the IMF's current strained relations with Argentina:

QUESTIONER: Tom, is—you know, let us get some facts straight here. Is there a delay in the review of Argentina?

MR. DAWSON: I do not want to do a Rumsfeldian parsing of words here.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Telegraph editorial secrets revealed!

There should be no scarier words to a fact-checker than "London's Daily/Sunday Telegraph is reporting that..." This opening line has been a staple of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy from the time Bill Clinton became president, used as the opening shout in an echo chamber of slander and political sabotage (when Clinton was the target) and of bogus "intelligence" about Saddam/9-11/WMDs (when Saddam was the target). Of course, "London's Daily/Sunday Telegraph" had already perfected the technique of the planted and slanted story in their coverage of Ireland long before it was adapted for VRC purposes.

But there is a positive development, because it looks like the latest transparently bogus Telegraph story, relying on a supposed "Dear Saddam...yours ever, Mohammad Atta" memo, is getting more negative attention than usual. Blogger Roger Ailes (not the bald repulsive one) provides the links and his own appropriate commentary, noting in particular this gem from the Telegraph journalist who wrote the story, Con Coughlin:

[Coughlin] said that while he got the memo about Mohammed Atta and Baghdad from a "senior" member of the Iraqi Governing Council who insisted it was "genuine," he and his newspaper had "no way of verifying it. It's our job as journalists to air these things and see what happens," he said.

That's quite a definition of a journalist's job: just get the dodgy memo from your MI5/MI6 buddies at the pub and rush it into print that evening. Fact-checkers, schmact-checkers.
A topic that never gets boring

Brad DeLong assembles some links and provides his own analysis of the Irish potato famine.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Be careful for what you wish for

Here's an interesting story from the Daily Telegraph. And no, we don't mean one of those stories where the paper claims to have its hands on one of those "Dear Saddam...Yours Ever, Osama" memos that pop up every so often. The Telegraph reports on a new BBC policy that will bar its reporters from having newspaper columns. By doing this, the BBC hopes to pre-empt some of the likely criticism of bias that will emerge from the inquiry into David Kelly's death. But amongst those very unhappy about the new policy is none other than the Sunday Telegraph, which now fears that they will have to buy the BBC's John Simpson out of his long contract to write a column for them. And the Daily Telegraph story provides another interesting detail:

The ban will not apply to non-journalists such as the motoring presenter Jeremy Clarkson or to freelance journalists "whose main profile and income is not through the BBC".

The latter stipulation will exempt Andrew Neil, who presents the BBC's Westminster programme Daily Politics but is also the publisher of The Scotsman and The Business.

"It's absurd. Neil is as much a BBC face as anyone and he has been let off," said a BBC colleague.

That would be Andrew Neil, the Executive Editor of the Fox News Channel in its formative years, and thus a pioneer of the multiple-outlet biased reporting of the Vast Right-wing Conspiracy. Is there ever a downside for these guys?
Uzis or international plane tickets...

...Which is a bigger threat to US national security? Plane tickets, apparently. Because:

Length of time that information about passengers on European flights to the US will be retained by US government -- 3.5 years

Length of time that information about gun purchasers in US is retained under current legislation -- 90 days

Length of time it would be retained under pending legislation (reg. req'd) -- 24 hours.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Coming soon as a Law and Order episode

Yesterday we mentioned the odd libel trial concerning the west Cork murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. The police's "person of interest" (as John Ashcroft would say), Ian Bailey, is suing several media organisations for implying that he is the murderer. It's becoming apparent that this is the most ill-advised libel case since Oscar Wilde -- he'll be lucky to get out of the courtroom without blurting out a confession at this rate. Because he certainly seems to have done some confessing already:

Malachi Reid [a 14 year old boy who knew Bailey] said that Mr Bailey told him he 'bashed her brains in'.

And there's all kinds of stuff that keeps those TV investigators in business -- the details of the crime he couldn't have known, the timelines that don't add up. West Cork is full of writers, local and expatriate, who now have some choices to make: to pitch it as a New Yorker article, or write the movie script, or both? Where is Talk magazine when you need it?

Monday, December 15, 2003

Carry on up the Khyber

We don't have much interesting or original to say about the capture of Saddam. Aside from the basic factual information, digested in about one minute, virtually all the discussion is simply speculation about the likely impact of his capture and what happens next. And of course, the speculation varies widely in terms of its degree of its informativeness. But surely there has to be a standard that such speculation should at least have its basic facts right. Gregg Easterbrook's ruminations on the implications of Saddam's capture on the chase for Osama fail this test. A typical sentence is as follows:
Generally it is assumed, though, of course, the assumption could be wrong, that bin Laden is hiding in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, a "tribal area"--Pakistanis themselves call it that--where the Islamabad government has little influence.

Then follows a fairly standard discourse on how the topography of the region makes military operations difficult, how tribal loyalties undercut any government influence etc etc, all in terms of describing this wild place called NWFP. The problem: Easterbrook has confused his Pakistani acronyms, revealing a basic misunderstanding of Pakistan's political structure -- all the more surprising since he claims to have been there. So here's the correct version: Pakistan, like Ireland, has four provinces -- though unlike the Irish case, we haven't encountered any Pakistani pubs calling themselves the Four Provinces in tribute to the homeland. These provinces are Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and the aforementioned NWFP. Bin Laden is NOT assumed to be in any of these provinces.

Pakistan's territory also covers areas that are not within the provincial structure -- these mainly consist of tribal areas that were within British India but where the British never sought to exert control; the same semi-autonomous deal was continued after independence in 1947. Bin Laden IS believed to be in one of these, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. FATA, not NWFP. This map shows the difference.
Zero tolerance, Irish style

It's been an uncomfortable week for the reputation of the Republic's police force. Two unsolved crimes, one from 1974 and the other from a few years ago, have worked their way back into the public attention. To the latter first, the murder in west Cork of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, wife of the famous French film producer. The locals always had a prime suspect in mind but the police couldn't prove anything. Now the said suspect is suing various media outlets for libel, on the ground that they clearly insinuated he was the murderer. The blog GUBU provides the bottom line -- even if he wins, the evidence that has come out in the case will destroy his reputation.

Maybe in that case we owe the French a bad turn because of the way they botched a case involving an Irish murder victim. More damaging for the police is the 1974 case: this refers to the coordinated quadruple bomb attacks in Dublin and Monaghan that left 34 people dead. The proximate suspects are loyalist extremists -- none of whom was ever charged -- but there has always been a suspicion of involvement of high-level British security officials as well. There is no lack of motive for such involvement, as the British government could have felt that the Republic needed to stiffen its resolve in the War on Terra (as Dubya would say); relatedly, an influential loyalist element within the Northern Ireland security forces could have felt that the Republic needed a taste of large scale bomb attacks on its home ground.

Anyway, a new report into the bombings released last week hedged its bets on the question of official involvement, but did provide insights into the extremely sloppy investigative techniques of the time. Two lowlights: much of the key forensic evidence was washed away by the firehoses, and the forensic lab of the time was a shared facility with the Department of Agriculture. Certainly we can do a chemical analysis of that bomb fragment, lads, but first I need to test this tissue sample for brucellosis.

We'll leave it to the Shamrockshire Eagle to hash out the political significance of the botched investigation. For us, it's disturbing enough to wonder whether, given the general mismanagement of the public sector in the Republic today, if the bombings were to happen again tomorrow, would the investigation be any better?

Friday, December 12, 2003

We don't want the smoking Armalite to be a mushroom cloud

One of the many mysteries about the rationality of Dubya's foreign policy is the seeming perverse incentive it sends to rogue states: if we think you might be developing weapons of mass destruction, we'll invade, but if we know for sure that you have WMDs, we'll negotiate. Case 1 is Iraq and Case 2 is North Korea. Hence the incentive to develop those WMDs as quickly as possible. Well, the IRA seems to have managed to get itself into the treasured category 2 without much effort, to judge by the biographical details of the new White House Northern Ireland envoy:

The new United States envoy to Northern Ireland has been named as Mitchell B Reiss. Mr Reiss replaces Richard Haass and will take up the post early in the New Year.
He was described as a US government official with extensive experience on nuclear disarmament.
Mr Reiss has spent time working with the North Korean government on nuclear disarmament, and will focus on the issues of IRA decommissioning and attempts to restore the power-sharing administration at Stormont.

Yes folks, the IRA must have nukes.
I'm sorry sir, you are on the list

Trust Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to always look on the bright side. While international political commentators contemplate the discomfort of Duyba's begging phone calls to Jacques, Gerhard, and Pootie-Poot for Iraq debt relief on the same day the Pentagon was leaving them off the list of acceptable contracting countries for Iraq, it has now emerged that the Republic would have seen its own inclusion on the precious list as a great dishonour. Because Bertie is now spinning the Republic's exclusion as proof that he really was against the war. Specifically:

Speaking on [national] radio this morning, Mr Ahern said that Ireland's exclusion from a list of 63 countries drawn up by the US that could compete for contracts to rebuild Iraq was "a proof that at least the rest of the world understood" that Ireland was against the war.

And God forbid the world think the Republic was in favour of the war -- it could have jeopardised our entrant in the Miss World contest, for one thing. But seriously, Bertie should have kept his mouth shut. Because, within the constraints of being a neutral country, the Republic was as pro-war as one could get. Besides our rhetorical silence in key debates, there was the very practical matter of the use of Shannon as a stopover for hundreds of thousands of US troops en route to and from Iraq. Even Rummy stopped over the odd time.

As it happens, the Republic is one of those countries owed money by Iraq -- courtesy of some corrupt export credit deals for beef in the late 1980s. So Dubya can safely phone Bertie for help on that one, knowing that Bertie doesn't want to be on the list anyway. What are friends for?

Thursday, December 11, 2003

It must have been the IRA's fault

Apologies to our readers for the prolonged absence, due to our travels visiting the glorious utopia created by the magisterial President Ben-Ali in Tunisia, followed by a severe case of vomiting induced by the spectacle of the England rugby team victory parade (and associated hype) in London. Or maybe the sickness happened in Tunisia -- it all seemed to roll into one. But anyway, we were in a bit of a news cocoon -- the newspaper we read in Tunis one day only had time for one prominent news story besides recounting the latest achievements of the President, namely the victory of Miss Ireland in the Miss World contest. This tops our Eurovision wins many times over.

We will just quickly note how the poor old New York Times got bitten by doing something that they never would have done were they reading our blog -- they believed a story in the Daily Telegraph! As they now should realise, this paper has been simply too weakened by its subjugation to multiple agendas -- bashing Ireland, promoting the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, and advancing the social ambitions of Lord and Lady Black -- to maintain reliable factual standards in any of its reporting. In this case, the NYT used a Telegraph obit as a basis for its own obit for their same person, and therefore bought into the Telegraph's assumption that the subject was in fact, like, dead. But No. As the New York Post reports (showing again that the weakened Telegraph is now considered fair game for the other VRC mouthpieces):

Times officials refused to discuss why it published the obituary, written by freelance dance writer Jack Anderson. But Anderson told The Post last night he first read Sergava's obit in the Daily Telegraph of London, which referred him to alleged Sergava publicist Shirley Hanner.
Hanner has become unreachable, said Anderson, whose article cited no sources.
The Telegraph's obituary was still posted on its Web site last night.

Something to keep in mind the next time you see the telltale opening clause "as reported in London's Daily Telegraph."

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Read Headlines with Care


* that is, an actual stroke, and not one of those strokes of pretentiousness that gave Madonna a British accent.
At least he didn't rip up a picture of the editor

Apologies to our readers for the light postings recently. P O'Neill is about to visit the periphery of the old Roman Empire -- specifically, London and Carthage, and the preparations are chewing up valuable blogging time. For the same reasons, the blog will be pretty quiet until a couple of days after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Since we've been finding the recent news less blogworthy anyway, maybe a couple of quiet weeks will restore some perspective. And the things we could blog about are so damned confusing.

For instance, take one of our less favourite columnists at the Irish Times, John Waters. Many will remember Waters best as the once Mr Sinead O'Connor and he is the father of one of Sinead's children. But his day job is writing what are usually insipid and whiny columns for the IT. Nevertheless, he decided to take a stand on one of the paper's labour-management sore points, and wrote a column criticising the senior executives for awarding juicy payments to themselves and the former editor -- the latter gets "non-compete fees" (an issue in the Conrad Black imbroglio as well) up to the year 2015.

Waters noted the seeming incongruity of these fees given the tight financial straits at the paper. His column was squelched, and he compounded his sin in the paper's eyes by going on RTE and slamming the editor as "compromised." At this point, the paper turfed him out along with the offending column. Except...he's in a union, and a pretty powerful one, too. 24 hours later, he has his job back and it's all sweetness and light between him and the editor. Some might view it as telling that it makes an internal money dispute to force a columnist to take on his editors -- as opposed to a dispute about the paper's editorial line.

But again going back to Conrad Black, not too many of the columnists in the Hollinger empire had much to say about its dubious financial dealings. So Waters was still willing to pick a fight that 90 percent of his fellow hacks would not. We are left with two thoughts. First, it would be nice if one of the writers at the papers of Ireland's own little Conrad Black -- Tony O'Reilly -- had something to say about that group's financial dealings.

And second, if Waters is still harbouring a grudge, someone at New York's Van ity Fair is showing the way to piss off one's editor using the full force of the law. New York City has a smoking ban similar to Ireland's imminent ban, including a ban in the workplace. And Vanity Fair editor, Graydon Carter, likes to smoke. As reported in Monday's New York Times, someone is ratting him out to the authorities, repeatedly. Just be sure, John, to make the calls to the cig squad on your mobile phone.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Can Israel's soccer teams ever get a bit of luck?

From Irish Times Breaking Sports News:

The UEFA Cup second round second-leg tie between Israel's Maccabi Haifa and Valencia which was to be played next Thursday at the Alsancak Stadium in Izmir has also been postponed although a new date and venue have yet to be fixed.
The game was due to be played in Turkey because of UEFA's ban on teams from Israel playing European competition matches at home.
Are you free... take the blame? George W. Bush is the chief executive of the United States of America and the Commander in Chief. In other words, he is ultimately responsible for political and military decisions made by the USA. Yet we have this recurring spectacle of an OJ Simpson-like search for the "real killer" whenever one of these decisions goes awry.

A while ago it was some nefarious person slipping lines about uranium in Africa into his State of the Union speech. Now it's the question of who is responsible for the decision to create a pret-a-batailler Iraqi resistance by disbanding the Iraqi army. And judging by the new theory being leaked to the papers, it looks like the Dubya spinners have been subconsciously influenced by their extensive research on Britain before his big visit, which apparently involved watching lots of episodes of Are You Being Served. For, via Josh Marshall, we learn that the blame game is proceeding as follows:

The demobilization decision appears to have originated largely with Walter B. Slocombe, a former undersecretary of defense appointed to oversee Iraqi security forces.

Ah yes, the tried and trusted scapegoating technique of getting out an organisation chart and picking the first functionary whose name catches the attention -- in this case, a reminder of the wonderful Mrs Slocombe. Anyone in the White House with names like Humphries or Lucas or Rumbold needs to watch out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

It's all in Trainspotting

Scoreline from today's European Championships qualifier, 2nd leg:

Holland 6-0 Scotland (agg. 6-1)

So no reliving of

Renton: Phew! I haven't felt that good since Archie Gemmil scored against Holland in 1978!

But lots of

Tommy: Doesn't it make you proud to be Scottish?
Renton: It's SHITE being Scottish! We're the lowest of the low. Most people hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We're colonised by wankers. We couldn't even find a decent race to be colonised by. It's a shite state of affairs to be in, and no amount of fresh air is ever going to change that.

And don't forget your English history: the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1689 was just a coup d'etat by the Dutch -- who are thus the original wankers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

What Dubya really likes about Britain

He's not there for the freedom of speech, or to visit his royal pals Lizzie, Phil, and Chuck, or that Prime Ministerial dude who looks like a Ferengi -- he's there for the Weetabix! This is the only logical conclusion (at least by our standards of logic) from this Wall Street Journal story today:

U.S. private equity firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst Inc., seeking to expand its portfolio of U.K. food businesses, is close to an agreement to buy British cereal-maker Weetabix for nearly 640 million pounds ($1.08 billion or 921.6 million euro), say people familiar with the situation.

Seemingly innocuous? No. Because Hicks, Muse etc is the company of Bush's best buddy, Tom Hicks. Some of his dubious dealings -- which happened right under Dubya's nose as governor of Texas, are chronicled here. Our interpretation: Dubya likes Weetabix (or Alpen), and wants them to be a US owned company before the trade war with Europe.
The decline and fall of the Canadian Empire

It's like the last days in Saigon at Daily Telegraph HQ these days. With reactionary proprietor Lord Black of Crossharbour on the way out, it's clearly time to squeeze in a last few columns for the reactionary Canadian hacks who owed their Telegraph sinecures to his ownership. Hence an entirely Canadian opinion page today, on what is supposed to be, like, a British newspaper. David Frum and Mark Steyn get the prime spots, and of course Black supplicant Martin Newland is overseeing the editorials. The Frum and Steyn spots are both intemperate and embarrassing. Both are filled with revisionist history of the last 6 months, and indeed the entire 20th century. For instance, Frum:

Together, the Anglo-Australian-American alliance can guarantee not only the peace of the world, but also liberty and human rights. This state visit is honouring no one individual, not even an American president. It is instead intended to reaffirm for the 21st century the grand alliance that saved democracy in the 20th.

DUDE! There's no doubting the effort of those countries -- and indeed your fellow Canadians -- in defeating fascism. And yes, you've got the weasel exclusion of the Russians by including a reference to "democracy." But who wants to speculate what the post 1945 world would have looked like without Russian intervention? [Paging Niall Ferguson]

But Steyn manages to make Frum seem restrained:

There's "no connection" between Saddam and al-Qa'eda, because radical Islamists would never make common cause with secular Ba'athists. Or so we're told by pro-gay, pro-feminist Eurolefties who thus make common cause with honour-killing, sodomite-beheading Islamists, apparently crediting Saddam with a greater degree of intellectual coherence than they credit themselves.

He completes his embarrassment by trying to throw in a local reference for what is clearly just a canned column prepared for dissemination throughout the dwindling Black empire:

The Min of Ag has already sacrificed all the sheep, but, that detail aside, much of Britain is now about as rational on America as the al-Munaif family. [family who had swung from pro-Bush to pro-Osama, the former signalled by the sacrifice of a sheep]

Well, the ministry to which he refers hasn't been called the Min of Ag in a long time. And he seems to be confusing the disease-related culls of sheep and cattle. The kind of mistakes one makes when the roof is caving in.
Our country for a horse

In Animal Farm, it is of course the pigs who take their rightful place at the top of the heap. But in Ireland, as Fintan O'Toole notes (subs. req'd) today (going for a Swiftian reference rather than an Orwellian one), the horses seem to be in charge in the Republic. The papers have been occupied over the last couple of weeks with the strange use of government funds, which at a time of general cutbacks, weere forked over to a racecourse to build an equestrian centre which apparently doesn't meet any of the actual requirements of an equestrian centre, and is rented out for other events -- including to the government, which paid for the thing in the first place. All for the good of the horses.

It has also emerged, a day after the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy was hit by the Black affair, that the Vast Oirish Conspiracy is taking its problems up a notch. Specifically, Manchester United manager "Sir" Alex Ferguson is suing the club's largest co-shareholder and supposed Irishman, John Magnier, for the breeding rights to their horse Rock of Gibraltar. This dispute has been the subject of rumours for months but now seems headed for a full airing.

As we noted a little while ago, Magnier has enormous influence with the current government, which seems to view horses as an integral part of the Celtic Tiger boom -- all that other tech stuff was just a side-show, apparently. This new dispute poses a great dilemma for the country's Number 1 Man Utd fan, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who will have a hard time tiptoeing around this horse madness. But since "Sir" Alex is not Oirish, let alone Irish, our bet is on the reclusive Mr Magnier keeping the Irish political system on his side, along with his tax exemptions and the rights to the horse.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Spending more time with the family

As widely reported today, Lord Black of Crossharbour is stepping down as CEO of Hollinger, the multinational media company which owns a variety of high-profile titles, including the Daily Telegraph. There was an investigation of certain transactions by Black with company money that smelled fishy, due it appears, to the presence of fish.

What seems to have brought down Black is plain old-fashioned greed, but being a control-freak didn't help either -- he wanted the voice that owning all these newspapers would provide, but generally owning lots of stuff means having other shareholders -- who might not necessarily be interested in peddling the same reactionary garbage as oneself. So Conrad solved this problem by loading up on debt, because those nice bondholders don't usually ask for editorial say in return for the cash. So everything works fine -- until there's a cash crunch. Exit Lord Black. Several questions present themselves:

1. What happens to Lady Black, and her prime spot on the Telegraph's opinion page?
2. If she gets the boot, will she become the long-awaited source willing to dish the dirt on the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy? Remember, she has a good history of providing revelations.

But before these juicy questions get answered, it would be worthwhile for Lord Black's opponents to make sure he's really left. Our eyes were caught by this line from the departing statement:

The Hon. Raymond G. H. Seitz has been elected chairman of the Executive Committee of the board of directors. Ambassador Seitz was elected to the board of Hollinger in July, 2003, where he also serves on the Special Committee. He is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, [other stuff involving lots of money]

That begins to describe Ray Seitz, but most definitely not the end. He was indeed the US Ambassador to the UK -- but after that stint ended, he just outright moved to London, raising questions about whose interests he was really serving as ambassador. He always took the anti-Irish nationalist position in his despatches back to the State Department, and now just seems to another very well-heeled reactionary Unionist hack. Much like Lord Black himself. The ex-Canadian installs an ex-American on the way out the door. It's not over yet.

UPDATE 17 JUNE 2006: Seitz has stayed quite a while (WSJ, subs. req'd) --

Hollinger International Inc. (HLR) said its board authorized the repurchase of up to $50 million of its common stock and elected Raymond G.H. Seitz non-executive chairman.

Seitz has been a director since July 2003 ... Shareholders at the annual meeting also approved a proposal to change the name of the company to Sun-Times Media Group Inc., which will take effect in July.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Saint Roy Moore

They are up to their old tricks on Opinionjournal (James Taranto) today -- the rambling discourse on a side topic to distract from all the things that are going wrong for Dubya, the use of the word kerfuffle for any controversy where they don't like the people doing the complaining, and the trawling through obscure parts of the web to find supporting evidence for whatever reactionary position they are taking.

Working from the end of the list, they have to go to the letters page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to find a partial birth abortion ban opponent to ridicule, and to something called the Engineering News-Record to find a boosterish piece about Bechtel, the politically-connected firm involved in reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

Today also features not one, but two kerfuffles -- in this case, their annoyance apparently with the people complaining about Howard Dean's reference to the voters with confederate flags on their trucks, and then the business about the Alabama judge Roy Moore, being forced to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse.

And speaking of Moore, he's the topic of their extended distracting discourse today. And much as with their discussions of the partial birth abortion ban, this is a case where they profess to be just neutral observers of a confusing (to them) situation, but in fact their tone and choice of words reveals some crypto-theocrats at work. In Moore's case, they want us to know that they agree with the decision to turf him out after his monument. But then they tell us how they really think:

As we said, we agree Moore had to go. But it can be an illuminating exercise to play devil's advocate, to construct an argument with which one doesn't agree. So here's how we would defend Moore, if we were inclined to do so:

DUDES! If you have to mention 3 times in 3 sentences that you agree with the decision, don't you sound a bit defensive about something? And then there's a little irony in their reference to playing devil's advocate, which has echoes of their repeated use of the term Epiphany to describe 9-11. Let's go the dictionary definition:

1. One who argues against a cause or position, not as a committed opponent but simply for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position.
2. Roman Catholic Church. An official appointed to present arguments against a proposed canonization or beatification.

So they appoint themselves Devil's Advocate for Roy Moore. Don't forget, dudes -- you also need two miracles!
The Telegraph sounds distracted

Who is writing the Daily Telegraph lead editorials these days? We ask because this one sounds pretty bizarre: even his usual supporters might balk at this line of praise for Dubya:

As befits a man with a profound consciousness of history

Really? But if this junk really is coming from the proprietor, Conrad Black, then it's worth bearing in mind that Lord Black's distractions are growing. Today's Wall Street Journal reports, following a similar story in the FT yesterday, that an investigation into his corporate affairs is getting closer to another tentacle of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy:

Broader disclosure about a $2.5 million investment by Hollinger International in a business in which board member Richard Perle, a former assistant defense secretary, played a role, is expected in a coming SEC filing.

This Slate article puts the above revelation in the context of Perle's touchiness about the overlap between his VRC activities and his business interests. All around, signs of strain on the VRC are starting to show.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Not that there's anything wrong with that

Reading Andrew Sullivan's blog today, we couldn't tell whether or not he was upset at Gore Vidal. But he did accuse Vidal of trotting out a "nativist slur" with reference to himself. We assumed that this was one of those occasional references that people make to Sullivan being from England, although now a naturalised American citizen. But through the essential Sullywatch, we learned once again the basic blog lesson: always follow the link. Sullywatch reproduces the offending item:

[Discussion of what the Founders of the USA would have thought of Dubya] So you’d find Hamilton pretty much on the Bush side. But I can’t think of any other Founders who would. Adams would surely disapprove of Bush. He was highly moral, and I don’t think he could endure the current dishonesty. Already they were pretty bugged by a bunch of journalists who came over from Ireland and such places and were telling Americans how to do things. You know, like Andrew Sullivan today telling us how to be.

Sullywatch then notes the curiosity of being identified by association with the Irish as being a slur. As we posted about last week, Sullivan made a weird comment that seemed to link England's represession of Catholicism (with obvious disproportionate effects on Ireland) with the post 9/11 crackdown in the US. And yet there are other times where he seems to like mentioning his Irish Catholic background (via his parents), perhaps as some kind of populist credential --- much like fellow conservative spinner, Ed Gillespie.

But one question to our thousands of readers might help provide insights into Sullivan's ambiguity: In which country, England or the USA, is being labelled Irish more likely to be an insult? Perhaps he's not quite as New World as he thinks.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

But Partition worked so well for India and Ireland

Signs of panic everywhere about Iraq: Bremer hops on a plane with zero notice to attend a meeting at the White House, and now the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (VRC) sounds worried, as evidenced in one of its most reliable barometers, the Wall Street Journal online editorial page, OpinionJournal. First, they display one of their usual symptoms of stress -- devoting a huge amount of text to a side issue, all the better to avoid thinking about why the main VRC agenda has gone so pear-shaped. In this case, it's an extended discourse on how Tom Daschle's filibuster will be a disaster for the Democrats, a thesis that seems predicated on the assumption that all Americans will sit through the 30 hours of speeches on C-Span.

But the real crisis quickly bubbles to the surface. In a brief commentary on today's soft-target attack on the Italian police post in Nassiriya, they state:

Attacks such as this one are unusual outside Baghdad and the rest of the "Sunni triangle." If it turns out that the attackers came to Nasariyah from the triangle, it may be wise for the coalition to restrict access to the relatively peaceful north and south

This seems unusually specific and prescriptive, and yet monumental in what it proposes for Iraq -- and remember that seeming crackpot ideas on the outer rings of the VRC have a way of working themselves into serious policy advice very quickly. Because they are proposing the partition of Iraq. In the build-up to the war, the sales pitch from the White House was always that there was no hidden agenda to break up Iraq. They had to say that, because invading a country to break it up is not the kind of thing one normally admits to. But to the extent that they read up at all on Iraq's history -- or listened to Bernard Lewis -- it's impossible to believe that a look at the old Ottoman map of Iraq didn't look interesting to them. The Turks never thought of Iraq as a country, and ran it as the three provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. The map is at the bottom of this BBC page. Our guess is that it's one of those old maps that's about to come back into fashion.
I only read it for the sports pages

In today's New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof claims to find an analogy between contemporary American political culture and Britain in the 1980s in terms of polarisation. This supporting anecdote is presented:

[From his British college days in the 1980s] Two friends, both named Chris, epitomized Britain to me back then. Right-wing Chris was an an ardent Conservative from the south, a graduate of an exclusive private school; left-wing Chris was a working-class bloke from the north, a Labor Party supporter from a state school. Right-wing Chris read The Telegraph; left-wing Chris read The Guardian.

That was pretty typical of the tribalism of Old Europe. Left and right came from different social classes, lived in different areas, attended different schools and despised each other.

A "working-class bloke" who read the Guardian? As a Guardian reader might say, Je crois que Non. To stick with Nick's introduction of class terminology, "working-class blokes" read the tabloids. Cafe lefties read the Guardian, while perhaps sneaking a look at the Telegraph, just for the Liz Hurley pictures and the sports pages -- not as polarised as Nick would have you believe.

No incident better encapsulates what a "working class bloke" makes of the Guardian than the following from a Liverpool vs Chelsea match a few years ago. Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler hurled some graphically illustrated abuse in the direction of Chelsea's Graeme Le Saux, with the general implication being that Le Saux was gay. Amongst the evidence that Robbie had marshalled in support of his thesis was Le Saux's interest in antiques -- and the fact that he reads the Guardian. This story provides more details. Robbie, the self-styled working class bloke, wouldn't be caught dead near any broadsheet, left or right.

That being said, somewhere in the British-US analogy, there is a point. But there are more obvious points of linkage than the newspaper of choice of one's college friends. Like Rupert Murdoch. But we need to do more research on that.
The Army of the Republic

The latest boosterish fact from Iraq, via the New York Times:

A top United States military official said today that a symbolically important tipping-point had just been reached in Iraq: The number of Iraqis taking part in security jobs now exceeds the number of American troops there.

So it's presented as a good thing that the US military has managed to create a military force bigger than its own presence in Iraq. By contrast, the first thing we thought of when reading this was the one cool thing about the otherwise wretched Star Wars: Attack of the Clones -- in which we see the clone army, presented as a force for good -- even though we, the viewers, already know the nefarious uses to which they will be put later. Even Reagan had seen Star Wars!

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Inflation in the Celtic Tiger

This section from a Wall Street Journal story today about the pension system in the Republic of Ireland gets something essentially right about the post-boom country:

"[Pensions are] a slow burner," said a Pensions Board spokeswoman. "Unless you're in a company pension, people put pensions on the long finger. If they don't start now, they could end up with a state pension for €157 per week."

"In Dublin, €157 is a good night out," she added.

With the quality of the average Dublin restaurant, we're not sure about the 'good' part. But that's beside the point.

Monday, November 10, 2003

The Royal 'We', Fair and Balanced Style

Say what you like (and we will) about Lady Black of Crossharbour, aka Barbara Amiel, she has to get credit for providing full details on the topics of conversation at her media/social engagements. But whereas before, her Daily Telegraph column printed the goods on the French ambassador to the UK referring to Israel as "that shi**y little country," this time she is providing revealing quotes from Fox News supremo Roger Ailes. Lady Black joined a select group of media bigwigs in a Manhattan apartment for a conversation with European Union Commission President, Romani Prodi. After some discussion of Turkey's role in the EU versus that of other eastern nations, the floor went to Ailes. Here's what transpired:

Mr Ailes was taken with Mr Prodi's declaration that the EU would not give any money to the reconstruction of Iraq. "Did the Europeans realise," he asked, "that American taxpayers spent billions reconstructing Europe?" "They did," replied Mr Prodi expansively, "but friends could differ."

"Did the Europeans realise," continued Ailes, unabashed, "that their position in supporting the elimination of sanctions against Saddam when he was in power and refusing to aid rebuilding Iraq when he was gone, appeared 'odd'?"

Mr Prodi's English became more Italianate and his arm gestures more expansive. He appeared to be conducting Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries . It was not the case that the EU did not want to help reconstruction, he said, but there was no legitimate government in Iraq to which the EU could give any money.

Ailes continued: "The United States has some reservations about organisations the EU gives money to as well as regimes it supports. In Iraq we are trying to build a new government with some democratic standards. Why won't you help us?" he asked. "No, no, no," Prodi said theatrically. "We will not give money when we don't know to whom."

It's worth noting the obvious here: Ailes is in effect acting as the White House's special envoy to the EU. He refers to "we" and "us" when talking about the White House, yet presumably he was there in his Fox News capacity. Apparently there's no difference.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Simply Scottish

Things that we take for granted in The Islands can be very confusing to our outside visitors. Case in point: the manager of Scotland's national soccer team, German Bertie Vogts. In an interview, Bertie expressed bewilderment that when fans of Glasgow Celtic and Rangers choose to wave a national flag at their club matches, it is either the national flag of the Irish Republic (the tricolour) or the Four Nation flag (at least as originally conceived) of the United Kingdom (the Union Jack). No Scottish flags. This leads Bertie to state:

I think I feel more Scottish than a lot of fans at Celtic and Rangers do.

Now, Bertie has a point here, although strictly speaking, if he's finding the behaviour of many Scots bewildering, maybe he's not as Scottish as he thinks he is. It is the case that being a supporter of Celtic or Rangers can carry religious and/or national baggage, and the fan bases of the two teams have a inertial quality -- in the Republic, if one has a Scottish football allegiance, it is expected to be for Celtic, and so on. But the weakness of the national allegiance has a simpler explanation -- the national team just hasn't been that good in recent years, and faces a tricky battle against the original Orangemen, the Netherlands, to qualify for the European championship next year. Fair weather fandom transcends all identities.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Rome has spoken, Washington has spun

The blog TAPped catches the White House in an extremely selective lifting of one of the Pope's signature phrases, culture of life, to support their position on the new abortion ban, while of course ignoring the Pope's views on the death penalty and the war in Iraq -- and indeed his views on poverty, redistribution, equity etc. One of Bush's chief spinners, Ed Gillespie, likes to play up his Irish-Catholic roots when spinning Dubya's policies, so we're guessing that he's the source of this nod to Catholic voters. Recall that he was recently arguing that Ireland's Famine emigrants would have supported the Bush tax cuts.

But even as the Pontiff gets drafted as a bit player in Dubya's pep rallies, he's getting written out of history by the same spinners when it comes to their thoughts on the future of Iraq. Dubya's big speech today seems to attribute the fall of Communism to Ronald Reagan's policies towards the Soviet Union. DUDES! Ever heard of Poland? Of Gdansk, of Lech Walesa, of Solidarity, of a people energised by having one of their own as Pope? The rewriting of history continues.
A word we didn't know existed

Belgitude (noun, f)

It seems to refer to the collective state of mind associated with being Belgian (which perhaps explains some of Dr. Evil's behaviour). It is used in a Le Monde story today. An explanation of the word is here.
A cluster of Irish links

A busy day for followers of the Irish cultural scene in the New York Times Arts section (Wednesday print edition). Book reviewer Michiko Kakutani puts the Manolo Blahniks into Leitrim man DBC Pierre's Booker prize-winning Vernon God Little. To be honest, the book's standard description did make it seem rather hackneyed, so we are sympathetic to Michi's concluding sentence:

In trying to score a lot of obvious points off a lot of obvious targets, Mr. Pierre may have won the Booker Prize and ratified some ugly stereotypes of Americans, but he hasn't written a terribly convincing or compelling novel.

Then, how can one resist the headline "Much ado about love or money in County Cavan?" Who knew that Cavan farce was considered a legitimate topic for a play back in the 1860s? Well, now we do.

And finally, a good review for the Irish documentary filmmakers who found themselves in the right place at the right time -- specifically in Hugo Chavez's Presidential palace during the er... California style recall election. Actually the documentary and Vernon God Little seem linked by a deep distrust of the USA, but at least with the film, it's an informed distrust.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Wherever green is worn

We know that Adam Nicolson was using the same analogy to flog his God's Secretaries book, but it's nonetheless jarring to see this presentation of it by Andrew Sullivan:

ENGLAND'S 9/11: It happened in 1605. Or, rather, it didn't happen. A bunch of religious fanatics tried to blow up Parliament and would have succeeded in destroying a vast area of central London, if they hadn't been busted in time. The plot was made much of by the authorities and made anti-Catholicism an integral part of British culture almost to this day. I wonder how long the memory of 9/11/2001 will endure.

Not exactly a flattering analogy either for England or for the post 9/11 reaction of the US -- is he comparing England's anti-Catholicism to a new official religious bias of the US? Alternatively, is it a justification of anti-Catholicism and anti-Islamism? Just how does Mr Sullivan feel about the Catholic church these days?
Arab dictator linked to illicit bio-medical program!

Yes, after Saddam, there's now evidence against Gaddafi: his son, who plays professional soccer in Italy, tested positive for a banned steroid. If Dick Cheney is looking for someone to go to Italy to further investigate this report, we volunteer.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Those fish and chips are starting to look more tasty

It was fun for a couple of days to make fun of the Ulster Unionists and their new slogan, Simply British, and one of the accompanying symbols, a plate of fish and chips. But leave it to Dublin to step up to the plate with a slogan and logo that appears on the surface -- like the Celtic Tiger itself -- to be slick and sophisticated, and yet ultimately turns out to be even more laughable than David Trimble's fish supper. Because the quasi-official Dublin City Business Association has settled on a logo and slogan to be all used in all efforts to market the city: the logo will show the word Dublin written in a wavy type, with an unusual elongated 'L' representing the city's recently finished spire; the accompanying slogan is Dublin -- Make the City Yours.

Now, the Irish Times journalist who wrote the story seems to have wisely decided to make clear how much of his story was spin, as in passages like this:

And if the Dublin City Business Association is to be believed, the logo and accompanying slogan will do for Dublin something like the iconic "I Love NY" did for New York in 1975.

The NY design is credited with beginning a fightback against the city's then image of being crime-ridden, dirty, and hostile to visitors.

We think that iconic is meant to be ironic, because New York in 1975 was still heading into budget crises, power cuts, the crack cocaine epidemic, and rampant crime, just to name a few. So if Dublin's boosters are selling this as the right analogy for their slogan, they might want to think again.

But that's only the half of it. Even when one knows that the logo is based on the spire, one still looks at the logo and wonders: what's that line doing between the syllables "dub" and "in?" And as for Make the City Yours? Do Dublin's corrupt developers and gangland criminals need any further encouragement?
Rodents take it up a notch

Tuesday's Irish Times:

The environmental health offices at Dublin City Council had to be shut down after rats infested them.

Staff at the offices, responsible for policing cleanliness in businesses, including restaurants, around the city, were sent home for a half day after the rats were discovered last week.

Aside from the basic comedy here, it's hard not to see a broader sense of poetic justice. These offices are part of the hideous Wood Quay development. This is the awful grey concrete structure that resembles a set of salt and pepper shakers near Christchurch cathedral. The tourists can't avoid seeing it and it's best that they not know the history -- how the land of saints and scholars built an ugly municipal office building on the site of the old Viking settlement. This is the side of the Republic's officialdom -- the contempt for anyone or anything that gets in the way of a new motorway or office block -- that you won't see in the Guinness ads. Maybe those rats had little rat-sized Viking helmets.

Mr Bremer, I presume

The Vast Right Conspiracy is developing a new spin point in favour of the Iraq war. It appears in a column by ex-Wall Street Journal hack Amity Shlaes, who now has a forum for VRC spinning in the normally sensible Financial Times. The article, for which those clever FT types want money from us to read it, is summarised by its headline: Slavery's link to the war on terror (3 November). There is a bit of side-spin in the headline, which of course equates the war in Iraq with the war on terror -- and thus implicitly links Saddam and 9/11. But let's leave that aside and describe the main point, which equates the unilateral action of the US in Iraq as part of a broader agenda, with Britain's anti-slavery crusade of the early-to-mid 19th century, which led Britain to unilaterally intercept and (if necessary) battle slave ships. For Amity, this is unilateral action in pursuit of a just and moral cause, initially meeting the disapproval and outright hostility of Britain's allies. Just like Iraq!

Now the emergence of this spin point is a creative response to the collapse of the previous one, in which the VRC was trying to compare post-war Iraq to post-war Germany. Unfortunately, they had some of the minor details, like er... the year in which the Marshall Plan was implemented, wrong. Hence the more challenging 19th century analogy.

It's going to take better historians than we are to disentangle this comparison, but some points are already evident. Many will simply be offended by putting the Abolitionist veneer on the war in Iraq. Furthermore, it's going to be difficult to argue that the Britain's anti-slavery efforts reflected a new, more moral outlook on the world -- even as Britain battled slave traders in the 1830s, its past and current policies in Ireland were just a decade away from producing the catastrophe of the Famine. And its future scramble for Africa would create conditions of servitude for black Africans not a whole lot different than they would have faced as slaves in the New World. However, it is fair to note, as historian Niall Ferguson has discussed in Empire, that British foreign policy in the 19th century did indeed have an occasional pesky moral strain, represented both in the battle against slavery and the well-intentioned, if sometimes paternalistic, attempts of Christian missionaries to improve the lives of ordinary Africans. People like Dr. Livingston and William Wilberforce, the Abolitionist.

But where does that put the Iraq war? It requires a comparison of Quakers with neoconservatives, it treads into the question of whether the war in Iraq actually has supposed Christian motivations --and given all the bad things that happened even during this moral period of British foreign policy, is not much grounds for optimism about the future.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Noted without comment

Eoghan Harris in the Sunday Independent:

More and more, the Irish middle class shares the same socio-economic attitudes as the English middle class.

OK, we lied. At least one comment. Eoghan views this a good thing.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

One good thing about the new Tory leader

He may never be the first Jewish Prime Minister, but at least he's a fan of Liverpool Football Club. What would he and the Republic's Number 1 Man Utd fan, Bertie Ahern, talk about at their summits?

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Some of our best leaders...

There's not much to say about the predictable and seemingly futile exit of Iain Duncan Smith as leader of the Conservative Party. It does seem to read too much into events to see his opposition to gay adoption as contributing to his downfall. But these Tory rumblings have, if nothing else, been useful in getting Britain's religious minorities into high profile positions. Smith is Catholic and and one likely successor, Michael Howard, is Jewish, or at least was born into a Jewish family, as his BBC profile puts it.

In general it seems to be a positive element of English politics that relatively little is made of religious affiliation, although the test of having a Prime Minister who was not Anglican and yet involved in decisions relating to the Anglican church (as PMs are) would be more challenging. In addition, the prospect of Howard as PM could get some of the more wild-eyed Middle Eastern conspiracy theorists going. There is an apparently widespread belief in the Middle East that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is Jewish, by virtue of Jack having a Jewish ancestor -- which as you can imagine, all gets knitted into a theory about Britain, Israel, and Iraq. Watch for one of those protest signs with Straw's face against a Star of David background. As far as we can tell, similar revelations about David Beckham don't seem to have hurt his reputation.
Bogmen with attitude

We've had a seemingly accidental theme recently of Irishmen north and south, embracing seemingly odd symbols of their identity: Ulster Unionists seeing significance in a plate of fish and chips, road protestors in Meath bringing in someone from New Mexico to articulate the locals' sense of displacement at the disruption to the historic Hill of Tara. Here's an even odder (and funnier) one, again from the Meath Chronicle: a story about the victory of a county resident in what it repeatedly describes as the prestigious Culchie of the Year contest.

'Culchie' is traditionally a somewhat negative word for a person with characteristics believed to be those of rural Ireland, and therefore a word most likely to be used by people from Dublin about people from anywhere not Dublin -- which given the encroachment of Dublin into surrounding counties in recent years, doesn't cover quite as many people as it used to. But the term is generally heard when sports fans from alleged habitats of the Culchie arrive in Dublin for a big match.

However, following the trend of rehabilitating words for legitimate use, at least by those for whom it was meant to apply, this contest has emerged and apparently thrived. The actual tasks in the contest don't always have much to do with being a good Culchie, which would normally involve arriving at the pub in one's tractor, heading straight for the bar in farm clothes, and ordering a pint of Guinness to accompany one's reading of the Farmers Journal. Or the new Culchie might take out his mobile phone to get cattle prices from the local mart. So we're not exactly sure where the contestants karaoke singing of Glen Campbell's 'Rhinestone Cowboy' fits in.

But aside from the honour, he also gets:
a gold set of cufflinks, a gold tie pin, a new wardrobe courtesy of O'Sullivan's in Listowel and a hamper of toiletries or 'smelly stuff' according to [winner] Owen, sponsored by Lever Brothers.

As Owen says,
[He] expects to be in huge demand "opening silage pits, christening donkeys and performing at wakes, weddings and funerals."

Monday, October 27, 2003

They died so that others might spin

For some time now, we've been waiting for the right opportunity to comment on the disgrace to Irish-Americanism that is Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and therefore one of the chief spinners, organisers, and fund-raisers for Dubya. We're not big fans of Dubya's policies to begin with, but to watch Gillespie put an Irish-American populist veneer over reactionary elitist policies is sickening -- but in this regard he merely mirrors his master's voice, who after all, sells his uber-WASP Andover-Yale-Harvard upbringing and his Get-Dad's-Rolodex business career as some kind of hard working blue collar achievement.

And once you've bought the image of Dubya as a hard working man, then for lots of extra money (for others), we'll also include the supposed blue-collar tax cuts as well, and don't bother asking why it is that the budgetary cost of the tax cuts to the very rich could easily pay for things like reconstruction in Iraq, the shortfall in Social Security and Medicare etc.

Gillespie likes to use his father's tale of upward mobility as an argument for the tax cuts -- even though since his dad's upward mobility would have been achieved at the time when the tax burden was rising, we're not sure how that logic works. But it's a paragon of clarity compared to the inference we are supposed to draw from this anecdote [busted link] in one of his recent speeches:

On the boats that sailed from Ireland crammed with people escaping the Famine, the Irish government posted notices in the dismal sleeping quarters with the heading, “Advice for Irish Emigrants.”

It read, in part, “In the remote parts of America an industrious youth may follow any occupation without being looked down upon or sustain loss of character and he may rationally expect to raise himself in the world by his labor. Wealth is not idolized, but there is no degradation connected with labor. On the contrary, it is honorable and held in general estimation."

This is presented as supporting evidence for why Americans like Bush's tax cuts. Let's just briefly note the reference to an "Irish government" in a period that covers Ireland's membership in the United Kingdom and move to the apparent analogy between, say, a CEO's monstrous pay package earned by appointing all his buddies to the compensation committee, and the brutal hard work of say, a homesteader in Iowa in the 1850s. And that's assuming that the unfortunate Famine emigrants, racked by starvation and disease, ever got as far as Iowa. Our thesis: Dubya's ultra-rich friends, not happy with all their cash, may soon be putting themselves up for sainthood as well. No wonder the Pope has been getting tributes from some odd places over the last few days.
A bottle of Guinness, neither shaken or stirred please

As the Republic of Ireland repackages itself away from the image of men in cloth caps sitting at the bar with their pints of Guinness, and towards the image of men in baseball caps reaching for a can of Bud in the fridge as they watch Man Utd on Sky TV, sales of the black stuff are in decline. But Guinness, or rather its corporate parent Diageo, has been bailed out by booming sales in Africa. Today's Wall Street Journal analyses the situation:

...African sales have benefited from a hugely successful and multifaceted advertising campaign featuring the fictional Michael Power. Ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi...introduced him in 1999 in a series of five-minute action-thriller ads in which he overcomes obstacles through perseverance and inner strength rather than violence, in the process capturing "the heart and mind of Africans," Guinness says. He became so popular that Guinness backed a feature film, "Critical Assignment," that features the character -- and Guinness. The movie has been shown across Africa.

Guinness makes little attempt to hide the idea that Mr Power is essentially a James Bond who likes Guinness -- and doubtless the near overlap in name with a certain other Bond-type figure doesn't do any harm either. Compared to the Guinness advertising we've seen in the US -- where people say "Brilliant!" all the time and have bottle openers installed next to toilet roll in the bathroom -- we think the Africans are getting the better deal on the ads.
Mad dogs and Englishmen

At the British Embassy in Washington, they are keeping things just like they would be in London, regardless of the weather. From today's Wall Street Journal:

[US Federal Reserve] Committee members then headed for supper at the British Embassy, where they listened to a Bank of England official discuss the euro. The meal was mostly memorable for the sweltering heat inside the embassy, whose air conditioning didn't seem to be on.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Simply Celtic

While some seek symbols of their identity in a plate of fish and chips, disgusted road protestors in County Meath are taking are a different approach. As we posted about a while ago, the Republic's crazed road builders want to pave over the once green county with motorways, or rather, want to give dodgy contracts to construction firms to pave over the county. One of the motorways will go quite close to the historic Hill of Tara, which figures prominently in Irish history and especially in the conversion to Christianity. A protest group has been formed to oppose the route, and they are combining their protest with a somewhat New Agey celebration of Halloween/Samhain -- the latter is the Celtic origin of the former, and now is the modern Irish word for November, and not just the name of a hard rock band. So how to combine Samhain with a road protest? By using globalisation against The Man, as the Meath Chronicle explains:

THE group opposing the proposed M3 motorway passing through the Skryne-Tara Valley has invited a speaker described as the Chief Solicitor for the Navajo nation, New Mexico, to speak during a festival it is hosting in Skryne Hall.

Dr. James W. Zion, Chief Solicitor for the Navajo, is a lawyer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who specialises in indigenous law, and particularly the law of American Indians.

‘Doctor Z’, as he is referred to, has undertaken research on indigenous healing methods and cautions that part of the healing process for many people is a sense of “place.” That is, healing is largely an exploration of self-identity, and an important part of identity is a sense of place. For that reason, great caution must be taken when sacred sites, such as those in the Tara-Skryne Valley, are developed. If they are destroyed or marred, it is difficult for people to visit them to get a sense of their identity in a sacred place, he believes.

It's far from this we we reared.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Ireland's great unifying force

Who doesn't love Manchester United? Where would an Irish political crisis be without at least a bit part for MU? And thus we read in the Irish Times, a quote from an anonymous Unionist expressing frustration that the Canadian general overseeing the IRA weapons decommissioning could not describe in detail the weapons inventory:

Back at [Ulster Unionist] HQ, Ulster Unionists were "banging the wall" in anger and frustration. "It was like expecting tickets to see Manchester United and finding that you're going to see Rochdale," said one football type at that meeting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Maybe it's better he hears it from someone else

David Trimble and his party, the Ulster Unionists, have no identity problems. They are Simply British. Like a plate of Fish and Chips, one of the new party symbols. It's odd then that another person whom the Unionists would surely consider British has some problems with the concept. Consider this sentence from Geoffrey Wheatcroft's WSJ review of Peter Ackroyd's exploration of Englishness, Albion:

The name [England] has a potency quite lacking in "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland," of which my passport tells me I am a citizen, or of "Britain," a journalistic and political usage that, properly speaking, refers to a province of the Roman Empire before the arrival of Germanic tribes some centuries after Christ.

This encapsulates the Unionist dilemma. They could never claim to be "Simply English" and so instead up looking like a person who applies for asylum in a country that no longer exists. We're not aware of groups describing themselves as "Simply Hibernian" or "Simply Caledonian" (except perhaps fans of football teams with those names in Scotland), and even Trimble's beloved Fish and Chips has surely been replaced by Chicken Vindaloo as Britain's most popular take-away meal. Maybe it's no wonder the peace process is proving to be so complicated.

UPDATE: One thing is clear -- the Ulster Unionists are going to regret their choice of slogan. It's just too ripe for mockery, such as this example from Peter Robinson, occupying the more reactionary end of Unionism:

"Their new slogan should not be 'Simply British'. I think it should be replaced by 'Simply Stupid"'.
Truth, information, whatever

There was an unintentionally revealing correction on the Wall Street Journal's online editorial page OpinionJournal (James Taranto) yesterday:

The agency in charge of rewriting history in Orwell's "1984" was the Ministry of Truth, not Information. We got it wrong in an item yesterday.

Indeed, it's tough to keep track of matters Orwellian when one needs to devote so much attention to using Official Vast Right Wing [VRC] Conspiracy Approved words onself. Today's examples:

kerfuffle: used to minimize the importance of something, and therefore applied to things like the 16 dodgy words in the State of the Union, the outing of Valerie Plame, and now the controversy over Gregg Easterbrook's comments about Disney executives and Kill Bill.

semantic: applied in contexts where the issue is clearly not just semantics e.g. whether the bill just passed by Congress actually bans "partial birth abortion." The latest resurgence of this line of argument seems to have originated with the aforementioned Easterbook and holds that whatever Congress thinks it banned is obviously evil and people are just arguing about what the name of it is. And note the slimy insinuation of their concluding sentences:

So the question remains: If only critics and foes call it "partial-birth abortion," what do advocates and enthusiasts call it? One suspects they would simply rather not talk about it.

A question which clearly outs them as advocates and enthusiasts for killing mothers when there are pregancy complications. Their logic, not ours.*

Unraveling : A word reserved by the VRC for attacks on Paul Krugman, drawn from the title of Krugman's best selling demolition of Dubya's lunacy. The word has now appeared in two consecutive attacks by OJ on Krugman, and was also deployed by fellow reactionary neocon hack Instapundit yesterday. By the way, their latest line of attack on Krugman is essentially amounting to saying he is anti-Semetic, basically because he has sometimes referred to the role of George Soros in various currency crises of the 1990s. In which case just about the entire field of international exchange rate analysis has been declared anti-Semetic.

Pro-American: reactionary necon hacks, like OJ and Instapundit. Hence:

Pro-terror hackers have been waging a series of "denial of service" attacks on various pro-American blogs including InstaPundit, Little Green Footballs and Tim Blair.

We'll know we're doomed when they start changing the word nuclear to nucular.

*Update: Two good and sobering articles from Slate on the "partial birth abortion" issue. A doctor writes about the already difficult and tragic situations further complicated by this ban, and a related article notes the profound abuse of language contained within the supposed object of the ban.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Irish crony capitalists

From Guinness TV ads we've recently seen in the US, one might get the impression that Ireland is just a place where people say "brilliant" all the time. But we credit the New York Times for doing a carefully phrased report on the Republic's horse-breeding industry, which is indeed in brilliant shape courtesy of some brilliant tax exemptions from the brilliantly cooperative government. We suspect that one reason the Times was so careful in its phrasing is that we can recall a previous article about some cosy linkages between Oirish businessmen and politicians -- in the form of a story about the exceedingly well-connected Cement Roadstone company -- forced a subsequent correction about one minor detail of a land use scandal involving the large but touchy company.

Anyway, the new article is about the increasingly multinational horse breeding industry in the Republic, with strong links to Arab investment cash and similar operations in Kentucky -- but also a beneficiary of highly preferential tax arrangements. The dominant figure in the Irish industry is John Magnier, who we've posted about before -- amongst his other activities, he's a big shareholder in Manchester United. But poor John is publicity shy, or as the Times puts it:

Mr. Magnier, 55, typically shies away from media attention, and declined to elaborate on his business style.

But one part of his style involves cultivating those politicians who are the source of the tax breaks -- how convenient that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is a Man Utd fan who might like the odd trip to the directors' box at the Theatre of Dreams. Or why not just have those little policy chats at a race meeting? As the NYT concludes:

Racing is so central to cultural life that the country's dominant political party, Fianna Fail, holds its largest fund-raiser in a mammoth tent at the weeklong Galway Races, and a handful of government ministers disappear from Parliament each year during the Cheltenham Races in England.

It's not hard to connect the dots with this. Oirish eyes are smiling.