Saturday, August 30, 2003

We'd been wondering when the complaints would start

A few times recently we've sat in front of the TV, basically baffled by the ads for the new soda from 7up, called dnL (7up upside down, geddit?). Wondering whether it's still just 7up (apparently not), and whether we're supposed to be laughing at the antics of the leprechaun flogging the product. Now we read in Saturday's Irish Times that all is not well with the ad campaign; the crux of the complaint is this:

In each [ad], the short-tempered leprechaun is pulling a wagon through the streets of New York while trying to sell Dr Pepper/7Up's new drink, dnL....In the offending advert, a New York police officer asks the leprechaun if he has a permit for the wagon. The leprechaun replies: "I'm not real, you moron, I'm a myth" and starts dancing a jig and humming a tune.

The problem is, it sounds like he is saying "I'm a Mick." The commercial will be re-edited to clarify. As with other cases of tacky Oirish marketing, our problem is not much any actual or perceived offence from the langauge, but the more basic complaint that it's not funny.
No news please, we're American

95 people dead in a mosque bombing in Iraq, including a cleric who was a potential bridge between the occupying powers and the people. So what does ABC's "serious" news program Nightline cover? The 25th anniversary of that film chronicle of drunken college debauchery, Animal House. A sly commentary on Dubya's college years at Yale, perhaps? Or just a long holiday weekend? Perhaps the effort of spending 6 months straight covering the Lewinsky affair in 1999 is still taking its toll on tired hacks. No time for messy news about furriners.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

1776, 1922...

Trolling the web for something to be outraged about on this sleepy August day (other than Europe cooking and the Middle East exploding while Dubya snoozes in Crawford), we came across this passage in a Slate article about the Booker prize:

Today, being a British, Irish, or Commonwealth citizen will allow a novelist to qualify for Britain's most coveted literary prize, the Man Booker Prize, now worth $80,000 (or 50,000 pounds). If, however, you write in English and come from the one English-speaking country that defeated the British, you are excluded from the competition.

The article had already been briefly yanked for an incorrect claim that citizens of the Republic of Ireland were not eligible for the award, but we're being slighted again in this description of the USA as the only English speaking country that defeated the British. DUDES! Did the Brits just decide to endow the 32 counties* with self-rule in 1922 out of the goodness of their hearts? Did no-one see that Michael Collins movie? And anyway, if American authors are feeling slighted about not being eligible for the Booker, they should consider the Irish IMPAC award instead. Any book, any language, any nationality. And more money than the Booker.

(*6 counties within the UK, and 26 becoming the Free State)

Innocent Landscapes

Innocent Landscapes is the perfectly chosen title of a set of photographs by David Farrell, which show postcard-worthy Irish scenes at which digs were undertaken in the late 1990s to find the remains of the Irish "disappeared" i.e. people kidnapped and presumed murdered by the IRA, but whose remains had never been found. The IRA provided some information to help locate the remains, but at that point memories had deteriorated over the intervening decades.

The search for the body in the most notorious case, the execution of mother of 10, Jean McConville, was unsuccessful, but the remains have now apparently been located near where the original search took place. It will take weeks to confirm the identity, but significant circumstantial evidence indicates that the McConvilles will finally be able to have a proper funeral. Mrs McConville was murdered for having tended to a British soldier dying outside her door.

Some of Farrell's photographs are reproduced on this German site [busted link -- try this]; the photos themselves are currently on exhibit at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. They perfectly encapsulate the capacity for casual brutality amid pastoral beauty. The final picture on the website shows the beach near where the body was found.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

All terrorism is local

Much of the reactionary blog community seems to have followed the example of the Dear Leader and taken August off. So in the absence of the daily barrage of lunacy on, one has to go the Wall Street Journal editorials to see the underlying mentality at work. We've noted before two recurring themes of much of the reactionary commentary on terrorism: the Epiphany Theme and the SPECTRE theme.

The first compares a terrorist event to the first sighting of the Messiah, in its ability to open our eyes to things we just hadn't seen before. The second views terrorist events as being coordinated from a stylish Bauhaus style bunker, in which various aspiring Dr. Evils (Kim Jong Il, Osama, Saddam, Yassir Arafat, and Jacques Chirac) allocate terrorist resources in reaction to strategic moves by the US. The two themes collide in today's WSJ editorial on the Bombay atrocity:

...All of this [Bombay] once again shows how the fight against terrorism is global. That's a lesson that doesn't yet seem to have fully hit home in India, judging from New Delhi's recent rejection of a U.S. request to send 15,000 troops to help restore order and combat terrorism in Iraq...
...The U.S. has recognized that India has its own terror problem, and has pressured Pakistan to stop winking at terrorists in Kashmir...We think India could have helped build even closer U.S. ties had it decided to send troops to Iraq. The U.S. has driven a wedge into the center of Muslim terrorism with its occupation of Iraq, and it is looking to see who its friends really are.

As usual one gasps at the implicit and explicit "logic" here: India is not serious about fighting terrorism because it wouldn't send troops to Iraq, but thanks to the bombing, maybe it now will get serious; Iraq is the center of Muslim terrorism -- can they name a single Islamic terrorist event outside Iraq attributable to Iraqis? And since even the editorial seems to agree that the Indian terrorism problem is concentrated in Kashmir, how exactly does invading Iraq amelioriate that problem? Unless they mean the preposterous flypaper theory, within which global terrorist resources are allocated by SPECTRE into the Iraq trap laid for them by the US.

Ever get the feeling that US foreign policy is being run by people who think Bombay is a brand of gin and Kashmir is a Led Zeppelin song?
That sophistamacated Pentagon communications system

It's understandable that commentators would focus on the geopolitical implications of this story from the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz:

The United States has asked Israel to check the possibility of pumping oil from Iraq to the oil refineries in Haifa. The request came in a telegram last week from a senior Pentagon official to a top Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem.

But our question is: they still use telegrams at the Pentagon?

Monday, August 25, 2003

Friday, August 22, 2003

Desktop detective work

One of the minor details lost in the coverage of the UK's Hutton inquiry into circumstances surrounding the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly is the role that a search engine, almost certainly Google, played in the affair. After the BBC ran their story that Downing Street had exaggerated the Iraqi weapons threat, the government figured out who the BBC's source was. They then decided to play a coy game with the media in which the government would not directly name the leaker, but did provide some background information on him and said that would confirm educated guesses offered to them. It didn't take Financial Times political editor James Blitz long to come up with the correct guess, as he explained to the Inquiry:

[the search keywords]
"Ministry", "defence", "consultant", "chemical" and "weapons".
Q. And who popped up on the search?
A. ...I looked at the name of the individual and I took the view that this was not somebody who matched the description that had been given out at the 3.45 briefing.
Q. Right.
A. [a colleague] continued his research and selected from the list the reference to which produced a document.
Q. Was Dr Kelly's name on that document?
A. It was on that document, yes.
Q. Had you ever heard of Dr Kelly before that?
A. No, I had not.

Doing the search now, Kelly's name comes up in the 3rd result.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

It's not the cigarettes that will kill you...

It's the incense used in Catholic Church ceremonies. So says Irish junior minister Jim McDaid M.D. in today's Irish Independent. To be honest, we haven't ruled out that this story is a hoax because it seems so preposterous and suspiciously timed. The Irish government is planning a total ban on smoking in the workplace from January 1 2004, and the definition of the workplace is to include bars and restaurants. If implemented, this would be a radical change from the traditional Irish experience of returning home from the pub with one's clothes reeking of tobacco.

A well funded lobby has sprung up to oppose the change, and has trotted out histrionic "analyses" of the impact of the ban: losses in jobs and tax revenue, not to mention the traditional Irish way of life. The public seem to be tuning out the opposition, not least because they heard exactly the same analysis of what would happen when duty free purchases on travel between EU countries was eliminated, and nothing bad happened. So it would indeed be convenient to portray the ban as coming from a government gone, cigarettes, tomorrow..the Mass! And for proof, this newspaper article:

The junior minister, who is a medical doctor, said high levels of carcinogenic carbon molecules in the smoke of the burning incense were being inhaled by the children.

"It makes me cringe when I see that huge cloud of smoke rising right up into the child's face, particularly given the delicate nature of a child's lungs and the level of irritation it must cause," he said.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

A pint of Ultra and a packet of protein please

Americans visiting Britain and Ireland this summer will likely notice that the countries are in the midst of a frenzy about the Atkins diet, with a time lag relative to the frenzy in the US confirming that lifestyle trends still travel east, not west. Journalists always need a pleasing hook for lifestyle stories, given they are not, like, news, and one can only go so far with pictures of stars allegedly on the diet as an excuse to run another Atkins story. So a nice hook was provided when the Atkins book knocked Harry Potter off the best seller lists in Britain.

But any popularisation of the Atkins diet in Britain and Ireland is going to have to confront the islands' considerable appetite for beer, and lots of it. Step forward Michelob Ultra, which in its two years on the shelves in the US is considered a huge success by its brewer, Anheuser-Busch, and has just been launched in the UK. Surprisingly, given the slick marketing of Bud, Bud Light was a flop in Britain, but Ultra, another low-carb beer, is well timed to catch the Atkins surge there. The Ultra name manages to avoid the handicap of containing the word Light -- we suspect there are quite a few people who think the Light suffix in a beer name refers to alcohol content and not carbs. As this website explains, there is essentially no difference in calories and carbs between Michelob Ultra and Miller Lite. But what self-respecting, but perhaps confused, Irish beer drinker is going to order Lite beer?

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Glasgow Cheer

We are pleased to inform our thousands of readers that the BoBW team has resurfaced after three weeks spent amongst the fascinating indigenous peoples of Meath, Dublin, Kildare, Offaly, Wicklow, and Glasgow. And if you think the fifth location seems a bit out of place with the other four, it's not. In fact you don't even have to take the 40 minute flight from Dublin to Glasgow to see one major element of its day-day-day life around Ireland -- football. Our informal visual poll is that even in this age of the Manchester United marketing juggernaut, shirts of Glasgow Celtic football club easily outnumber those of their English counterparts on Irish streets. The wearing of the club's green and white hoops is very much in.

One unexpected and potentially tricky consequence of the vocal support for Celtic amongst their fans in the Republic for the national team is that European football's governing body, UEFA, is unhappy with the booing of a Georgian player during a recent Georgia-Ireland match -- he was booed because he plays his club football for Celtic's Glasgow rival, the traditionally Protestant Rangers. In fact there's a laughable element to some fans' continued devotion to the old sectarian team model, because both clubs now draw many players from outside Scotland, players who couldn't care less about Glasgow's traditional sectarian rivalries. But anyway, a section of the Irish fans at the international match found the Georgian player's club affiliation sufficient grounds for booing, and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) is worried that UEFA now have the national team on a watchlist for future sanctions if the problems persist. As a result, the FAI is making clear its stern disapproval of any such behaviour in future matches, with an imminent friendly against Australia (with two Rangers players) the immediate source of concern.

We're not sure whether it reflects the sophistication of the booers themselved, or the ease of putting up a website these days, but indicted fans have struck back via a self explanatory domain name, They make two points. First they rightly call attention to the FAI's preposterous description of the booing as "racist." There is a tendency in Irish officialdom to reach into a lucky bag of buzzwords to describe any behaviour that they don't like, and all the better if the description makes you sound like a thoroughly modern and sensitive person. So racist it was. Of course, this is utter nonsense -- if the booing is anything, it's sectarian, but even that's a stretch. The Georgian player is most likely Orthodox Christian, so is he being booed because of that? Perhaps there's still ill-feeling in Lansdowne Road about the Great Schism.

The fans' basic case is that Celtic-Rangers is a classic club rivalry, that it's the job of fans to create an atmosphere that helps their team, which may involve finding reasons to boo the other team, and thus the club affiliations of the other team's players are just another item on the checklist of excuses to boo. No malicious intent. But somewhere in the seeming overreaction of the FAI, there is a valid point. Have the Irish fans of Celtic asked themselves precisely why they support Celtic and despise Rangers? One can always take the copout and answer, like in Fiddler on the Roof, Tradition! But any further exploration can't escape the fact that Rangers are considered worthy of contempt because they are associated with Protestantism. Maybe one responds that the association is with Unionism, not Protestantism. But UEFA, with tricky fixtures in the Balkans to think about, is going to be very leery about accepting political rivalries as a justification for fan behavior. We hope that website becomes