Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Movie mutation fun

Finding ourselves with not much to contribute in way of comment today -- no Irish angle to the CIA NOC list getting out in the open -- we instead introduce the following new feature: what if we took a current movie, and examined the relevance of quotes by or about previous characters played by the star of that movie? And so we kick things off with a consideration of Shattered Glass, the movie about the journalist who had no sources for his very eye-catching reports, Stephen Glass. [coming later, the sequel about the journalist who after the fact claims that he had no sources for his very eye-catching reports, based on Bob Novak]

Anyway, the character of Glass is played by Hayden Christensen, who previously played Anakin Skywalker, the young Darth Vader, in Star Wars Episodes I and II. And the following quotes seem weirdly appropriate to the Glass role:

"Clouded this boy's future is." - Yoda

Anakin: You're asking me to be rational. I know that is something I cannot do.

Anakin: I've got a bad feeling about this!

Anakin: It's all Obi-Wan's fault! He's jealous. He's holding me back!
[prompting the question: who in Shattered Glass is the counterpart of Obi-wan?]

[now getting to Glass's active imagination]
Obi-Wan: If you spent as much time practicing your saber techniques as you did your wit, you'd rival Master Yoda as a swordsman.
Anakin: I thought I already did.
Obi-Wan: Only in your mind, my very young apprentice

[And finally, leaving open the question of which character is more in touch with reality]
Anakin: One day, I will become the greatest Jedi EVER!! I will even learn how to stop people from dying!!

Monday, September 29, 2003

Putting the IRA in IRAQ

One predictable and one odd thing about this sentence from a Mrs Conrad Black opinion piece in today's Daily Telegraph.

British public opinion is heavily weighted in favour of appeasement as a policy until the last possible moment. Appease "foreign" terrorism in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Northern Ireland or America. Few people would admit that.

The predictable thing is that the Telegraph never misses a chance to include Northern Ireland in the global War on Terror. Iran, Iraq, Ira, what's the difference? The odd thing is the inclusion of Northern Ireland as an example of a alleged popular British preference to appease foreign terrorists. Perhaps Mrs Black and the IRA agree that Northern Ireland is "foreign," but of course she's given herself an out by putting the word in quotes. Or maybe she thinks everyone in the IRA is from the Irish Republic. We, perhaps like her, are very confused.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Ireland has sinned

As we posted before, the British military defence chief implicitly compared the Irish Republic to Pakistan. And the world will learn, via The Economist magazine's pocketbook of world figures for 2004, that those Irish drink themselves silly and don't bother getting married (presumably because they are too drunk to make it up the aisle). Old stereotypes die hard, it would appear. Now, whatever about the debate over Dublin's striking resemblance to Islamabad, it turns out that The Economist, doubtless seeking a statistic that would be too good to be true, managed to find just that. For the marriage and drinking statistics are bogus.

As reported on Friday's Irish Times, they got the drink spending wrong by comparing the retail spending on booze in Ireland to the wholesale spending in the rest of Europe -- with the taxes and profit margins on booze, you can see (unlike The Economist) how that would make a big difference. And for the wedding statistics, it's hard to see where they got their number, although one possibility is simply that they lost some zeroes.

The basic message of the correct statistics is that the Irish are about at the EU averages. And where is The Economist? Well, about at the stage where Punch magazine was regarding the Irish in the 19th century, as you'll see from this nicely collected set of images on a Haverford College academic's website.
Ireland has Sindh

Here's an analogy, as reported this afternoon by Associated Press, that had us scratching our heads:

Britain's military chief compared the separatist insurgency in Kashmir to the situation in Northern Ireland as he visited military bases and met with Indian army commanders Friday in the Himalayan region.

"We have a similar problem in our country, which we have been dealing with for some 30 years," said Gen. Sir Michael Walker, chief of defence staff. "It is very interesting to look at the common threads between these two campaigns."

We suppose it might be a useful way to spend a quiet Friday afternoon, on such a compare and contrast exercise, but the first thing that strikes us is that it makes the Republic of Ireland the counterpart to Pakistan, providing material support and refuge to a terrorist group operating across the border. This might be what Ian Paisley sees when he looks south, but that's a tough story to sell looking across 30 years of Irish history, and we certainly doubt that the IRA sees it that way. But the British defence chief does. Is it time for the Republic to get its own nuclear weapons program?

Thursday, September 25, 2003

What they teach at Baghdad Business School

Our thousands of regular readers may notice that we have given up any commentary on Opinionjournal.com (James Taranto). Recently, the OJ guys have been characterised by the general descent into madness on the right prompted by Wesley Clark's entry into the Presidential race, plus their own distinctive grave-dancing, with Edward Said the predictable target of the latter today. In fact, they also return today for an encore jig on Rachel Corrie's grave (the activist crushed by an Israeli bulldozer a few months ago), and they were lined up at Anna Lindh's grave for a nice gloating two-step when she was assassinated. So it's basically just an unpleasant read most of the time. Today is at least relieved by some wide-eyed neocon naivete, with the following:

[via link to US Central Command story about a Baghdad training seminar]
More than 200 business professionals between the ages of 21 and 35 heard lectures on topics related to entrepreneurship...
Guest speakers from Kellogg, Brown and Root, [and] Bechtel...spoke about topics such as obtaining contracts from companies and investing in the stock market.

[and then, OJ asks]
Does this sound like a "quagmire" to you? The Bush administration really must do a better job of getting stories like this one out.

DUDES! Do you think that the role of "guest speakers" from Kellogg, Brown, and Root and Bechtel might have anything to do with why the White House isn't flogging this story more? Let's be clear which companies we are talking about. KBR is owned by Halliburton -- and as David Letterman said, remember that's spelled with 2 Ls when you [taxpayer] are making out the check. And Bechtel? These are the guys who were investment partners with the Bin Ladens before 9-11, and are now busy feeding at the no-bid trough in the war's aftermath. We wonder how the "guest speakers" kept a straight face as they taught eager Baghdad businesspersons how to obtain contracts from companies. We doubt they are as naive as their home front boosters.
Read Headlines With Care


*Skynet, a small Irish-Russian airline, not the computers that will nuke the world and/or install Arnie as governor of California.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

An idea for the next time we find a police radio lying around

We're finding it a somewhat unblogworthy day so we simply direct your attention to a very funny story from the BBC. A man just had his day in court after being busted for the monstrous crime of using a police radio that he had found to transmit his impersonations of catchphrases from a dreadful 1970s British sitcom over the police airwaves. An officer had lost the radio in circumstances that are mysteriously ascribed to "operational police requirements," our would-be comedian found it, and had his fun until he tried the same voice on an officer who pulled him over for speeding; the officer recognised the voice and found the radio.

The sitcom in question is thankfully not Are You Being Served, but Some Mothers do 'Ave 'Em, in which the main character was Frank Spencer, an utterly ineffectual and wimpy husband. Amongst his phrases used by the impersonator are "Ooh Betty" and (one that may yet form an apt summary of Dubya's Iraq policy), "Goodbye little fairies I must leave on the double, I would like to stay for one more day but I'm in a spot of trouble."

Another line, not mentioned in the story but that we can recall from own viewing of the show, was a standard follow-up to the "Ooh Betty" line -- "the cat done a woops on the carpet." Just to give you a sense of the heights of wit that were being scaled on the show.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The world's scariest football club

The timing wasn't very good. The New York Times had declared the Arsenal Football Club the worthy successors to the Fashion-Football synergy that had been surrendered by Manchester United with the departure of David Beckham. Sunday's Mens' Fashions of the Times featured a glowing article about the club's Swedish wizard Freddie Ljungberg, who has a new sideline as the underwear model for Calvin Klein.

But on the very same day, Arsenal were putting on a most unfashionable display of screaming, yelling, and taunting in a very ill-tempered conclusion to their match with MU. While Freddie had an excellent match, the dominant story after the game was the team's taunting of MU striker Ruud van Nistlerooy when he missed a penalty; this had followed upon Ruud's role in getting Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira sent off.

We had this sense looking at one of the pictures, of Arsenal defender Martin Keown screaming in Ruud's face, that we'd seen that look somewhere before...and eventually we remembered where: in Lord of the Rings. Compare Martin's scream and that of an orc. Not the kind of look that makes it to the fashion pages.

Monday, September 22, 2003

But you Nyah Nyahed over the best part

In our incessant web surfing, we couldn't help but notice the seemingly sudden overuse of the expression "Nyah Nyah," or some variation thereof (usually involving repetition). Apparently the expression indicates a printed version of the basic schoolyard taunting but at its current rate of excess deployment, the effect will soon be similar to be using the old line from Heathers about something being "so '87" without bothering to update the year.*

Sadly, we don't have new episodes of Seinfeld available to mock its ever more dorky usage but we think that some kind of threshold of uncoolness has been crossed when it winds up in the Washington Post's cut-and-paste survey of web commentary assembled by Howard Kurtz. After noting that Senator John Kerry's campaign was disengenuously welcoming Wesley Clark to their position on the Iraq war, Howard helpfully translates for those of us who need plain English translated into bite-size sitcom (Don't Go There, Tell It To The Hand) nuggets:

Translation: Nyah nyah nyah.

We think that the old dictum about brevity being the soul of wit is having unintended consequences.

*Another analogy that later occurs to us is that having to go to the effort to develop a written version of a nonsense taunt misses the point in the same way that AOL did when they introduced a function to print smiley faces.
Parody, Rest in Peace

Lead sentence from one of today's Wall Street Journal editorials:

Here's one more reason for Howard Dean and the French to deplore the liberation of Iraq: The new Iraqi Finance Minister, Kamel al-Gailani, has just announced that the country's highest marginal tax rates will be 15% -- on both individual and corporate income.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Read Headlines With Care


*i.e. that he misquoted Dr. Kelly, not that he's a fan of that brilliant Whitesnake album.

Send this guy to Eckvelt

There is a new blog on The New Republic's website by Gregg Easterbrook. It's quite a piece of work. Roger Ailes has been doing Trojan work keeping track of the outrages so far; check out this post which discusses Gregg's reliance on Rush Limbaugh's favourite British newspaper, WorldNet Daily, as his source for a disparaging story about the police chief who led the hunt for the Washington snipers last year. But something else on the Easterbrook blog intersected with something we posted about a few months ago.

The jumping off (the cliff?) point for Gregg is the observation that Ben and Jerry's has a pro-Howard Dean flavour of ice cream. This leads to hilarious speculation about what flavours for other Presidential candidates would be:

John Kerry: Very Kerry Irish-Jewish-Czech Melting Pot. Flavors from all over the world, blended together until indistinguishable.

Joe Lieberman: Joe's Kosher Swirl. Corned beef flavored ice cream with real chunks of rye bread and ribbons of mustard.

How idiotic is this? The contempt for Kerry (and by extension the contempt for assimilation) springs from the Boston Globe's misconception that Kerry said he was Irish-American, when in fact his ancestry is Central European Jewish. As we pointed out before, no-one with a proper knowledge of Ireland would assume that someone named Kerry is Irish, because that's an Irish county, not an Irish surname. It's like assuming that Gregg Easterbrook is Christian because he has the word "Easter" in his name. Come on Gregg, tell us, was your greatgrandfather a Mr Pesachbrook from Vilnius and you've been hiding it all these years?

At least if that were true, it might provide us with a good Psych 101 explanation for his swipe at Joe Lieberman, and the distinctly non-kosher meat-dairy concoction he suggests for him.

Towards the end of the post, he drops the ethnic mockery and goes for the straight partisan slams:

Al Gore's Dade County Surprise. Bittersweet chocolate with a sour grape swirl.

And looking ahead to 2008:
Hillary's Endless Fudge.

First of all, the big Florida problems were in Broward and Palm Beach, not Dade. And of course, according to Gregg, Gore and sour grapes are synonymous. All that stuff about a Supreme Court decision so dubious that even its architects had to give themselves the pass of not setting a precedent -- it's all just in Gore's mind. And then he goes after Hillary, who we are supposed to think never takes a position on anything. Kind of makes us wonder then why so many people, including Gregg, hate her. Perhaps Gregg would benefit from Hillary's long-standing position in favour of expanded mental health benefits.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

How the Irish saved civilisation

More on the hideous Celebrity Farm, via Fintan O'Toole in today's Irish Times.

[all names refer to the "celebrities"]
George, you see, had been given the job of choreographing a line dance in the Games Field and then he and Gavin and Tamara and Mary K had to make scarecrows out of straw and include them in the dance. And while the girls made a straw woman that looked like a normal female, George and Gavin, with a display of wit that has not been seen since Wilde and Whistler faced each other across the dinner tables of London high society, put a bra and panties on theirs and then filled the bra to bursting-point with more straw.

And then they were all tired so they had a few beers and a Chinese takeaway, and then Mary K got voted out but, showing all the dignity of Marie Antoinette at the guillotine and all the rapier-like repartee of Madame de Stael, she delighted the nation with her dazzling catch-phrase "Joke!"

How soon before this brilliant series is available on a Region 1 DVD so that America can share in the laughter?

Monday, September 15, 2003

We're not celebrities, get us out of here

Last week we posted about the truly awful RTE reality show, Celebrity Farm. This is Irish television at its mock-worthy worst. But somehow, the show got big ratings. Which makes us wonder how they are calculating the ratings. Maybe people just wallowed in its awfulness. Or maybe they knew how to make the best of a bad thing and find a laugh somewhere. Take for instance the show's nod to the new diverse modern Ireland -- one of the contestants, Kevin Sharkey, was black. Kevin got turfed off the show and hasn't stopped slamming it since: the voting was rigged, the farm is shoddily managed [the owner of the farm is suing]. Kevin vented on one of the Friday night talk shows, which was going up against the other Friday night talk show on which the winner was announced. The "winner" of a RTE reality show turned out to be a star on a RTE soap, so maybe Kevin has a point.

But whatever excuses one can make for the public, or even the contestants, we don't know what to do with this John Waters column from today's Irish Times. For our thousands of readers who don't know who John Waters is, he is the fomer Mr Sinead O'Connor, and perennial contender for the title of World's Worst Columnist. Try to believe (as Daily Howler would say) that he penned this drivel:

In the near future, the concept of Celebrity Farm will reveal itself as crude and rudimentary, because it will have opened a door on to something else, from where the true possibilities of television will become clearer. And soon thereafter, a half-hour of seeming banality may tell us more about what we are really like than 30 years of Late Lates [RTE's Friday talk show].

It's pointless tearing our hair out. It is as ridiculous to attack Celebrity Farm for lacking substance and depth as to attack the Pope for being insufficiently Jewish. This may not just be the future of television, but the future of drama, life and everything.
Manchester United Watch

1. Utterly gratuitous Beckham mention in the New York Times Sunday travel section article on Madrid. The headline: Beckham days in Madrid*. The opening sentence

A new star shines in Madrid's firmament this fall: the world's most famous - and most fashionable - soccer player, David Beckham, has just moved to the Spanish capital etc etc

We ask: was there nothing in Madrid before Beckham got there?
*Mysteriously, this headline from the print edition is not reproduced on the website version.

2. From the BBC:

Man Utd dismiss takeover talk

Manchester United have played down newspaper reports that they are the subject of a possible £600m takeover.

"newspaper reports" means a single completely unsourced article in the Observer that did not name any of the three supposed billionaires who supposedly want to buy the club.

The more relevant information is that the share price has surged on the takeover speculation, a nice little capital gain for the club's largest shareholders, Oirish crony capitalists John Magnier and JP McManus. Hmmm.

Friday, September 12, 2003

You'll never please the Irish

The Irish are often called (by ourselves) a nation of begrudgers, but apparently we've been up to even more of it than we knew. Confronted by the accusation that Dubya has dissipated all of the post 9/11 global sympathy for the US on his Arabian adventurism, the sadly predictable response from his boosters has been to claim that There Was No 9/11 Global Sympathy for the US. It's especially surprising for bloggers to make this claim, because surely they understand than in addition to our memories of the global outpouring of solidarity, they must know that the same technology that allows them to blog allows us to go back all of two years ago and check that our memories were correct.

In his quest for evidence of global gloating, Andrew Sullivan links to a blog-irish selection of quotes from the opinion pages of the Irish Times. [Link via a fine riposte on Sullywatch ]. How dubious is this exercise? Let's start with one little thing. Robert Fisk is used as an example. Given the widespread reprinting of his columns, just how many countries could be shown to be gloaters with quotes from locally published Fisk articles?

But then there's the whole MO of this exercise: trawl through the op-ed pieces of one's favourite whipping boys, and pull out the quote expressing, God forbid, the odd bit of skepticism or cynicism about the likely aftermath of 9-11. Let's look at number 1 target, Fintan O'Toole. Exactly 14 days after the atrocity, Fintan is worried:

On the other hand, the kind of serial killing that is being actively canvassed by some within the Bush administration would make the world an even more dangerous place. There is serious talk of an open-ended war, not just on Osama bin Laden or the Taliban, but on Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and, in a neat stroke of opportunism, Cuba.

Is he an anti-American gloater because 14 days afterwards, he fears that 9/11 might be used an excuse to invade Iraq?

Finally, lurking here is the recurring inconsistency at the heart of much right-wing media criticism. Are these pampered Dublin 2 liberal media elites a cloistered enclave of anti-Americanism within a mass of "real" people who know the truth, or are they an evil 5th column using the vast power of the Irish Times opinion page to manipulate the public around to their pinko freedom-hating ways? If it's the former, then why does it matter what they say, and if it's the latter, why does this 5th column often seem so singularly ineffective?

To take the last question at face value, could it be that people read other parts of the paper besides the opinion pages? On the days from which the Irish 9-11 gloatfest was culled, the following articles also ran:

Irish Times Article - NY an Irish city from firefighting to finance

Irish Times Article - Homage paid by North's business

Irish Times Article - Global community backs US in 'act of war' aftermath

Irish Times Article - Irish-born missing or unaccounted for estimated at 20 to 30

Irish Times Article - State is silenced by 'awful acts of hatred'

And this before we get into things like Ireland's nod-and-wink neutrality in favour of America, for example, the Shannon stopover for military flights. But let's say one positive thing about Sullivan and his Irish contributor: with the surprisingly big egos we Irish have about our place in the world, all of us can take pleasure at being taken as representative of world public opinion.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

That's my horse you rode in on

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article in its Sunday business section discussing whether buying shares in Manchester United (a company with publicly traded stock) was a good investment. ($$ req'd)The article was a sensible analysis of things one might want to look at buying shares in a normal company: revenues, expenditures, profits. But for us, any rational analysis is moot in the face of the question of why in God's name would anyone would want to put money into the relentless domestic trophy winning machine that they are. More seriously though, there is one thing that makes a sports team like MU a dubious investment for outside shareholders: the huge size of the egos involved relative to the size of the company. So one little spat within the company, which most likely goes public on the sports or social pages rather than the financial pages, can have big implications for the shares. It's a bit like the roller-coaster experience of shareholders in Martha Stewart's company.

It's already fairly well accepted that the supposed ingenious sale of an over-the-hill fashion-seeking David Beckham to some minor club in Madrid was in fact Becks fleeing the deranged megalomania of manager Alex Ferguson and landing in Europe's most famous football club. How is an outside shareholder supposed to evaluate what is going on? Especially when the inside shareholders are also getting involved in the spats. A few days ago, the club's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, quit for the same job at Chelsea. It first looked like another side-effect of Chelsea being awash in roubles these days, but now comes the news that Kenyon fled because he was sick of a row between Fergie and Irish shareholder John Magnier about a horse.

As we noted a while back, Ireland has spawned a particularly obnoxious breed of wealthy businessmen, who trade on their Irishness while dodging Irish taxes and being cronies of corrupt Irish Prime Ministers. Two of this group, Magnier and JP MacManus, own 10 percent of MU. Magnier owns and breeds horses, and he offered Fergie a 50 percent share in the horse Rock of Gibraltar at a knock-down price. The horse turns out to be extremely good and has netted millions in prize money. But Fergie now claims that his share in the horse extends to its breeding rights, which would be worth even more. This is not standard practice in the horse industry, where ownership rights to winnings and breeding are sold separately. The row has been running since the start of the year and Britain's Daily Mirror gets the leak:

[Daily Mirror source]: "Peter simply decided the grass was greener at [Chelsea], and that he could easily live without the tantrums of Sir Alex.
I think he became tired of the endless quarrels and disagreements.
Sir Alex getting involved in a scrap with a United shareholder was aggravation he certainly didn't need. Peter was always playing the peacemaker and I think he grew tired of all the hassle.

More dirt is sure to come out, including a rumour that Fergie was given his share in the horse for free. Remove the sports context, and these deals look very odd. Fergie and his Irish yuppie cronies are well-matched for each other. But it would be unwise to get caught in the cross-fire. We give this company a sell rating.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Heard the one about the Irish reality TV show?

No, not the one with the contestants on a boat and the boat sinks. The one with celebrities (or at least the Irish sub-genus thereof) brought together to work on a farm. You can imagine the ridicule being heaped on the show. The show's website is actually pretty funny (almost certainly not intentionally). Note the dreadful wordplay (ejected contestants are turfed off), the profiles of the contestants (and thus an idea of what it takes to be celebrity in Ireland), and the fairly prominent role of pigs in the low-tech graphics -- perhaps showing how much Animal Farm has entered the popular culture as an image of the farm animal hierarchy. But we can't think of much else to say about this show. If you think the BBC TV licence is bad value for money....

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Irish Targets of Opportunity

We've spent a relatively high number of posts recently commenting on dubious material in the Daily Telegraph. But they just keep on delivering. Today, editor Charles Moore uses a signed editorial to launch a feature called Beebwatch, in which the paper will have a team of analysts, supplemented by reader input, monitoring BBC content for signs of bias. It's all motivated by the BBC's skeptical coverage of the Iraq war, and so will sound great to pro-Bush ears here, but the Telegraph being the Telegraph, they have to get in a few digs at Irish nationalism and a few winks to Unionists along the way. So in the midst of the rant is the following:

[the BBC believes that] Gerry Adams is better than Ian Paisley, that government should spend more on social programmes, that the Pope is out of touch except when he criticises the West, that gun control is the answer to gun crime, that... well, you can add hundreds more articles to the creed without my help.

Now, none of the above beliefs is indefensible. The problem is that all of them are open to challenge and that that challenge never comes from the BBC...If the BBC puts on a play about GM foods, you just know that it will be against them (the recent offering in question was by Ronan Bennett, a supporter of Sinn Fein/IRA, and Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian).

So in the midst of what's supposed to be their response to BBC bias on the Iraq war, they find time to tar Ronan Bennett with the terrorism brush. And to occasional Telegraph readers, the most likely reaction is "Who?" But there's a long running agenda here. Ronan Bennett is an Irish novelist now living in England. He briefly served jail time in the 1970s, when it was a relatively easy matter for disenchanted Catholic youths to come to the attention of the police. As Bennett recounts in this article from the Guardian, he's had to handle these slurs and smears for years.

Then there is the other supposed example of egregious BBC bias, that Gerry Adams is better than Ian Paisley. We're not sure where to go that one, although we suspect that merely being mentioned in the same sentence as Adams would be enough to unfuriate Paisley. And there would have been less scope for the likes of Gerry Adams to emerge if Paisley and his supporters hadn't been so busy beating up civil rights protestors in the 1960s.

Finally, let us speculate on how the poor old BBC could placate the irate Telegraph without having to change its politics one bit. As satirical magazine Private Eye points out, the paper has perhaps just one true obsession: Liz Hurley. A few more stories about her on the BBC and beebwatch would be dead in no time.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Bishop Ahern of Drumcondra

Since we're pretty stuck for material today, it's best just to briefly link to a couple of interesting posts by Warblogger Andrew Sullivan, usefully diverted from some very weird justifications for the Iraq war by the renewed focus on the dark side of the extensive quasi-state role of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Sullivan links to a review of, and discusses the disturbing tale recounted in, the movie The Magdalene Sisters. The movie deals with a Dickensian form of purdah inflicted on "wayward" Irish women. In a follow-up post, Sullivan approvingly quotes a letter to the Irish Times (proving once again the wide influence of that fine letters page) which points out the commercial gain to the Church from its workhouses, and then he adds:

Perhaps some of it [the profit] will now be used to compensate the hundreds and thousands of children abused and destroyed by the church hierarchy for so long.

A fair and reasonable sentiment, but with the current Irish government, not very likely. For reasons difficult to fathom, the government has put more effort to protecting the Church from liability than providing any kind of redress for the victims -- and given the wide role of the Church in schools, orphanages, group homes, and social activities, we could be talking about a wide range of abusive behavior against many different people.

The latest installment, which is close to precipitating a full-blown political crisis in the Republic, is the apparent collapse of an investigative commission looking into child abuse cases in church-run institutions. Here is the still-active website of the possibly defunct commission, which makes for pretty pathetic reading -- notice how its terms of references were expanded to include vaccine trials on residents of group homes.

As we speculated yesterday, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern might well be looking for a lordship from Her Majesty if she visits next year. But with his brilliant defensive display on behalf of the Catholic Church, could he looking for a bishop position as well?

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Lord Ahern of Drumcondra

Saturday's London Times reports that Queen Elizabeth II (i.e. the current one) wants to visit the Republic of Ireland. The visit would most likely take place early in 2004. The media will doubtless pitch this one as a test of how the Republic has matured in its attitude to our former rulers. We are more interested in the spectacle that the visit will present in terms of our current rulers, the self-styled custodians of Irish nationalism, Fianna Fail. Even 10 years ago, the idea that an Irish Prime Minister would go through all the formalities of a royal visit in full view of the electorate would have seemed far fetched. But Fianna Fail now seem to think we can handle the sight of our VIP culture meeting its counterpart from Britain.

George V (i.e. two Georges after the mad one) was the last British monarch to visit the Republic, but the best known visit was by Queen Victoria in 1900. If our protocol people decide to look at her visit to see how things should be handled, some pretty rusty roles are going to have to be revived, as this meticulous (but totally sycophantic) contemporary account illustrates. For one thing, where in God's name are we going to find an Athlone Pursuivant-at-arms?

Anyway, Victoria's visit was deemed such a great success that she handed out a bunch of titles to local dignitaries when she got home. Could it be that PM Bertie Ahern is jealous of Sir Bob Geldof and Sir Tony O'Reilly and wants to one-up them with a lordship?

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Maybe Saddam is just getting started

The August vacation did nothing for the logical abilities at Opinionjournal.com. Today's gem:

London's Daily Telegraph notes another benefit of Iraq's liberation:

A spokesman for [Italy's Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi said the prime minister had been telephoned recently by Col Gaddafi of Libya, who said: "I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."

For such a short item it captures everything that's bogus about OpinionJournal: the sourcing to fellow Vast Right Wing Conspiracy member, the Daily Telegraph, whose own standard of sourcing (like all British papers) is very low -- as in this case, sourced to an undated quote from a "spokesman" to persons unknown supposedly on behalf of a Prime Minister who's never had much problem directly speaking his mind. And then there's the return to the Libya rationale for invading Iraq -- that it'll scare Gaddafi. But as we pointed out before, under Ronald Reagan, the US already acted as directly as it could in scaring Gaddafi -- by attacking his home and killing his daughter. It was after this attack that Libya organised the Lockerbie bombing.

Lots of people are justifiably fretting about the shambles in Iraq. But as Tom Cruise said to Ving Rhames in Mission Impossible: Relax. It's much worse than you think.
The Irish ghost of Robert Moses

To the extent that Americans, and especially New Yorkers, take an interest in urban planning, Robert Moses would be characterised by many people as the man who destroyed the Bronx (by building an ugly elevated expressway through its heart) and paved over Long Island. His reputation as architect of the suburban lifestyle has taken a battering, but perhaps his descendants can take heart from the fact that his philosophy is alive and well in Ireland. With all the enthusiasm of another organisation with the same initials, Ireland's National Roads Authority is busy paving over green fields and running highways next to older residential areas so that people can live further away from the city and drive their cars there every weekday.

What has driven us over the edge, so to speak, is that the NRA is particularly busy developing plans to pave over our beloved County Meath. The proximate cause is Meath's position directly the west of Dublin. But one might have expected that in a rational weighing of costs and benefits of roads, Meath's incredibly fertile land and (not coincidentally) its thousands of years of settled habitation might have counted for something. There is no evidence that this is the case. The most egregious example is the NRA's plan to run two separate motorways through the center of the county, one a route to the north and the other to the northwest. Ireland is not that big a place, so the distance between a northern and northwestern route near where they begin is about 12 miles. But that means twice the fun for the road building maniacs, and not simply the opportunity to consolidate two roads into one.

Opponents of the roads have crystallised their objections around that the fact that the northwestern motorway is going to go perilously close to the Hill of Tara, which has multiple significant roles in Irish history, let alone its inspiration for the name of the home in Gone with the Wind. The most spectacular remnant of this region's history is the well-known 5000 year old tombs at Newgrange, but archeologists are constantly making new discoveries. We are supposed to be reassured that anything in the path of the bulldozers will be documented and hauled off to a warehouse somewhere, which leaves us about as reassured as Indiana Jones was when seeing the Ark of the Covenant disappear in the bowels of the US government.

One would have thought that with the Irish public finances tanking nearly as fast as Dubya's fiscal policy, financial constraints alone would slow things down. But roads have essentially been exempted from the normal budgetary process by having them run as Public-Private Partnerships, which basically hides the true cost to society of the roads, by making the upfront contribution of the taxpayer look much smaller (it comes later, in the form of tolls, and undisclosed subsidies to the toll operator). Just one fact to highlight the lunacy: Meath's largest stand-alone town, Navan, will be within striking distance of three separate motorways to Dublin when the building is finished. But it will have no rail link.

A protest will take place at Tara this weekend. We wish them luck. As for the NRA's attitude to dissenters, it's straight out of the Moses playbook:

When asked by historian Robert Caro about how he dealt with the resistance to the [Cross-Bronx] expressway, Moses replied, "They stirred up the animals there [the to-be demolished areas], so I just held fast, and that was all we had to do."

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Today's Hutton Inquiry Revelations

1. If nothing else, those Brits have a nice turn of phrase. The weapons report wasn't so much "sexed-up" as "over-egged."

2. New York Times journalist Judith Miller, who was definitely sexing-up and over-egging claims of Iraq's WMDs, was in e-mail contact with Dr. Kelly, including one sent 3 hours before he died:

The inquiry was shown further e-mails including one to Judith Miller saying: "Judy I will wait until the end of the week before judging - many dark actors playing games. Thanks for your support. I appreciate your friendship at this time."

Which prompts the mystery of why his relative skepticism about WMDs didn't feed into her reports.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

We prefer the other Collins

What do you do if you're an editorial writer at the Daily Telegraph and have spent the summer watching three years of rants about the glorious consequences of George W. Bush and the evil naysaying of the BBC come crashing down around your ears? Simple, you editorialise about something else entirely. Like the oppressed army officers of Northern Ireland. And so it is that this group finds itself elevated to a cause celebre in one of Tuesday's editorials (link requires registration).

The editorial concerns the news that a British Army officer, Tim Collins, who was accused of war crimes in Iraq, has been cleared. Collins became well known in the US because of his widely cited speech on the eve of war. A second investigation into the conduct of his command is ongoing. But for the Telegraph, it's all an opportunity for gloating about whiny Americans (an American having prompted the war crimes complaint) while wallowing in the paper's shameless Unionist tradition. And thus we read:

[Collins] soon found himself the victim of a meretricious accusation by a reserve American officer whose peacetime occupation...was that of a social worker. This kind of reporting on superiors is dignified by the name of 'whistle-blowing''. A more appropriate term is surely "sneaking''. It was one of the few incidents which marred the otherwise felicitous Anglo-American co-operation on the battlefield.

We sincerely hope that future Army promotion boards will have the courage not to be put off from recognising Col Collins's remarkable qualities, not merely for his own sake but also for the sake of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR), which is headquartered in Ballymena, Co Antrim.

For the Royal Irish are one of the great unifying forces on the island of Ireland. Some 20 per cent of the men in the general service battalion come from south of the border and work without the slightest hint of sectarian rancour with their largely (but by no means exclusively) Protestant brothers-in-arms from Northern Ireland. It has always been a regiment that has cared for its soldiers and it is good to see that Col Collins's superiors have in turn looked after him.

There is some very sneaky spin going on here. First, it is indeed true that the RIR draws soldiers from the Irish Republic. But the numbers run into a few hundred at most. So to bill the RIR as a "great unifying force" is preposterous -- it's more to do with a few young lads who want a bit more opportunity and adventure than they'd get enlisting in the Irish army. If one wants to go down this road of home nation nostalgia, at least mention something that has the scale and trans-sectarian scope to be a plausible example, like the all-Ireland rugby team.

Second, the claim that the RIR always cares for its soldiers -- that's the subject of the 2nd investigation into Collins, and the parents of a soldier who committed suicide while under his command have a different impression.

And then there's the mention of the RIR's HQ in Ballymena. The many Unionist readers of the paper get a nice warm glow with that sentence. We try to think of Ballymena as being famous for an indirect link to another Collins -- the Michael Collins of Irish history, as played by Ballymena native Liam Neeson in that movie. But sadly, Ballymena is more notable as the stomping ground of anti-Catholic bigot, Ian Paisley. A nice little nod and wink from the paper to its core readership.
Fumble in the smoky, fatty till

What do you do if you're an editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal and have spent the summer watching three years of rants about the glorious consequences of invading Iraq and the miracle of self-financing tax cuts come crashing down around your ears? Simple, you editorialise about something else entirely. Like the oppressed smokers and eaters of Ireland. And so it is that these groups find themselves elevated to a cause celebre in one of Tuesday's WSJ editorials (link requires subs). Let's just pick out a few er...highlights of the reasoning:

The Republic of Ireland is a Catholic country. But when it comes to health issues, the Irish Free State is apparently no longer feeling either very free or (small-c) catholic. Ireland's health minister has proposed a New York City-style smoking ban in all workplaces, including pubs, from January 1, 2004.
....It turns out that Irish Health Minister Micheal Martin has been weighing a tax on fatty foods as well....

But it says something about the spread of nanny-statism that a fat tax is being contemplated even in a nation as famous for food and drink as Ireland...The question of what makes us fat isn't so clear-cut. What if it turns out that the main culprit is carbohydrates in the likes of potatoes and Irish soda bread? And what about Guinness? If the minister thinks the uproar over smoking in pubs is something, wait'll he takes on them.

1. The dated usage of the term Irish Free State, presumably a desperate search for a bit of word play. The country hasn't been called that since 1937 or 1949 (depending on some constitutional technicalities).

2. The use of the term "nanny-statism" to describe taxes. DUDES! The whole point of market economies is to ensure that prices reflect the true cost of people's behaviour. Sometimes getting prices right will involve the imposition of taxes, no communism involved. Another small example of the divergence between intellectual economics and its bastard child in the world of politics.

3. Which means that we're really not sure what they mean by "taking on" Guinness. Alcohol is already taxed, quite heavily. So in the WSJ's terminology, the Republic has already long been a nanny state.

4. We're "famous for food and drink?" OK, they didn't say famous for good food. So we'll let that one pass.