Monday, May 31, 2004

The Commanders of Destiny

In France they are called enarques, a cohort of suits who by virtue of their attendance at an elite college, glides effortlessly between careers in politics, the civil service, and the corporate sector. And in an interventionist state like France, there's often not much difference between these sectors; note for instance that even companies with a tech boom cachet, Vivendi and France Telecom, were driven onto the rocks by enarque CEOs.

It's a sign of the Irish Republic's bizarre mental block about class issues that no equivalent word has been found for the very similar cohort in Ireland. As Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole has repeatedly documented, our mixed-up attitude about class involves some combination of it being something that left with the Brits in 1922, or being manifested only in the existence of a grand total of 2 rich people in Ireland, Michael Smurfit and "Sir" Tony O'Reilly.

But we always had our own beneficiaries of dirigisme, and with Ireland being a much smaller place than France, and much more of a one-party state, there was a much more incestuous and entrenched quality to it, and a more propagandist element to their obsequious treatment by the local media. Many "corporate" jobs in Ireland are actually political appointments of the government (e.g. Aer Lingus) or in sectors of the economy that owe much to the government's laissez faire attitude to quasi-monopoly behavior (banking) or to handouts of government concessions and contracts (construction).

And unlike our counterparts in France who at least shake things up a little bit with a change of government every so often, there's a reliable 40-plus percent of the Irish electorate who'll vote for the party that operates at the fulcrum of this system of crony capitalism, Fianna Fail (the Soldiers of Destiny). And that's enough to keep them in power most of the time, to preside over what we previously labelled the World's Richest Banana Republic.

We post about this now because there is a crisis of still undetermined proportions amongst the cronies. It was touched of by a revelation that Allied Irish Banks had been overcharging on foreign exchange counter transactions for years. AIB was trying to work its way out of scrutiny following huge "rogue trader" (=passive management) losses at their Maryland subsidiary, Allfirst, a couple of years ago. Indeed, Irish banks have a history of making overseas investments that turn out terribly for the shareholders, which is what you'd expect to happen when lazy managers get exposed to real competition. We suspect that the real motivation for AIB's Allfirst investment was the chance for the managers to lord it over the plebs as they sat in Aer Lingus Premier Class on the flight to Baltimore.

But anyway, things have only gotten worse for AIB. Sensing that their cronies in government might be applying more scrutiny than usual with an election coming up, the suits started to look through their files for other potential problems, and found evidence of their top executives participating in schemes that involved a combination of tax evasion and being beneficiaries of insider transactions that hurt other AIB customers. And since the cronies just appoint each other to all the top jobs, having AIB executives embroiled in scandal was bound to drag in other companies from the crony sectors as well.

So far, the only member on the casualty list is the chairman of Aer Lingus, although the CEO of AIB rival Bank of Ireland also quit in a seemingly unrelated scandal about improper web-surfing; the speed of B of I's action in the latter case points to both banks sensing that the heat is on. It looks today as if the cronies initial strategy is to tough it out, helped by a government that will put on the appearance of outrage but with a few nods and winks to the boys thrown in. Consider for instance Taoiseach (PM) Bertie Ahern's usual hands-off stance:

[Ahern] has said that the future of AIB's Chief Executive Michael Buckley was a matter for the bank's management.
He added that as far as he was concerned Mr Buckley was a hard working civil servant and banker and his company needed good people to put their current problems right.

Note the reference to Buckley's previous civil service career. The supposedly tougher talk is being left to Tanaiste (Deputy PM) Mary Harney, but even Mary is spinning:

[Harney] also said any inquiries into tax evasion in AIB by the regulator should be paid for by the bank itself, and not by the shareholders or taxpayers.

Mary is making a bizarre distinction between "the bank itself" and its shareholders i.e. the owners of the bank (note that she didn't rule out the bank getting the cash by further fleecing its customers). Leaving aside whatever forced housecleaning takes place amongst the suits, the remaining question is whether the voters will finally overcome their cognitive dissonance between how they vote and their occasional outrage and disgust at the country they live in. We'll believe it when we see it.
Not that there's anything wrong with that

In last week's New York Times Sunday book review section, Michael Kinsley levelled the worst insult in Dubya's America at so-called "smart conservative" NYT columnist, David Brooks:

David Brooks is not merely a liberal. He's French.

This accusation has stood the true test of a good theory: more proof arrives after it is put forward. For what do we find in Le Monde a week later, but a story about a Paris suburb now seeing an invasion of Brooks' key contribution to the sociological typology, the bobo (bourgeois bohemian). Headline:

Les bobos investissent la banlieue rouge de Paris

There's even talk of a ghetto bobo. So for Brooks, there's the good news of someone using his pet concept, but in what is, for the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy, a hated publication. For how long more can Brooks can maintain the facade of another of Dubya's true believers?

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The Irish Republican Militia

It couldn't last forever. Mark Steyn is back writing columns for the Telegraph newspapers, columns written in New Hampshire that need to sound like they are written in Hampshire. Hence, that spell check to catch sceptical, neighbours. And something that has to sound like it would make for witty repartee over a few G&Ts at the club:

I have been trying to persuade my Washington pals to look on Iraq as an exercise in British-style asymmetrical federalism: the Kurdish areas are Scotland, the Shia south is Wales, the Sunni Triangle is Northern Ireland. No need to let the stragglers in one area slow down progress elsewhere.

So there you are folks: hundreds of years of convulsive history of the Atlantic Isles reduced to just another Vast Rightwing Conspiracy spinpoint. There's just too much material to work with here; let's begin by noting that we wrote a post a few weeks ago called Belfast and Fallujah, little knowing that the VRC would soon be stealing our material. But remember what's actually going on in Fallujah and the Shia holy cities -- after thinking about a full-scale shoot-out with the illegal militias, the US military just caves in and negotiates a deal by which the illegal militia becomes a legal militia with the free run of the place.

The IRA and Sinn Fein were always keen to "internationalise" the Northern Ireland conflict, by which they meant bringing in multinational forces to keep the peace, as opposed to the British Army. Well now we know why: a few months of American military involvement in Northern Ireland and the Provos would have been on a path to power much quicker than via some pesky peace process. Does Tony Blair know quite where his love-in with Dubya is leading?

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Read Headlines With Care


[NYT]. *As in, a person on a diet, and not Dieter from the classic Mike Myers Sprockets routine.
War on Terror: Miscellany

1. Wednesday's OpinionJournal displays a studied ignorance about what John Ashcroft could possibly have meant about al Qaeda trying to affect the election result in November:

The [terrorism news article about threats to US over coming months] doesn't say which candidate or party al Qaeda hopes to benefit, and so far as we know the terror group has not issued a formal endorsement. Such information would be most useful for voters in November.

Well on this point they are just wrong. One terrorist group apparently affiliated with al Qaeda has issued their position paper on the November election; we have searched the web and can find no sign that their statement, issued as part of a claim of responsibility for 11-M, was discredited. disowned by al Qaeda. Here is the International Herald Tribune account [IHT link is busted, this one has the gist of it]:

In its statement, Abu Hafs al-Masri..tells Americans that [it] supports the re-election of President George W. Bush.

"We are very keen that Bush does not lose the upcoming elections," it said.

Addressing Bush, it said: "We know that a heavyweight operation would destroy your government, and this is what we don't want. We are not going to find a bigger idiot than you." The statement said Abu Hafs al-Masri needs what it called Bush's "idiocy and religious fanaticism" because they would "wake up" the Islamic world. Comparing Bush with his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, the statement tells the president, "Actually, there is no difference between you and Kerry, but Kerry will kill our community, while it is unaware, because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish infidelity and present it to the Arab and Islamic community as civilization."

We now find ourselves in complete agreement with OpinionJournal in the hope that the voters find this information useful.

2. John Yoo, the Berkeley law professor who advised the White House on how to dodge the Geneva conventions, writes in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal:

It is important to recognize the differences between the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism.

Enough said.

UPDATE: Regarding our item 1 above, it turns out that there's no accounting for the stupidity of John Ashcroft. As we noted, the only explicit political endorsement offered in the name of al Qaeda has been for Duyba, via the Abu Hafs al-Masri brigade. Intelligence experts don't take this group too seriously ("it may be no more than one man with a fax machine," says one, although it does appear to be a part of the broad al Qaeda propaganda machine) -- but this group was also the source of Ashcroft's terrorism warning. So here's Ashcroft's choice now: either he says the warning was based on a reliable source, in which case their endorsement of Dubya is also genuine, or he admits that his brilliant department's terrorism intelligence involves some chump sitting in an office and surfing the web.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Yesterday was a bad day to die

Here's a question that we didn't expect we'd have to ask one day: how many references does one hear these days in the media outlets of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy to the victims of 9/11? We refer in particular to key members of what Atrios labels the 101st Fighting Keyboarders, the fearless crew manning the home front in Dubya's War on Terror. And we don't think that it's a valid answer to say it gets old or repetitive to talk about the victims of a major reverse for the USA. Because the US, like other countries, has a tradition of trying to salvage some honourable memory from a crushing defeat. Now of course, this is one ability for which it's true that you'll never beat us Irish: one fateful reversal after another is constantly revisited to recount the overwhelming odds and plain bad luck (e.g. that recurring Protestant Wind that kept William of Orange on course and Philip of Spain off course). But even Americans, usually typecast as triumphalist, are happy to Remember the Alamo, which was after all a defeat. Some countries do try to whitewash the participants in a defeat, especially recent ones (e.g. it took the French a while to be reconciled with the 1950s loss in Vietnam), but eventually a healthy country seems to come around to disentangling the memory of the victims from whatever national failures their loss might have represented. Which brings us to what we suspect is a growing tendency for the reactionary right to want to use the dead exclusively as a weapon for Dubya's political agenda, but otherwise does not want to hear about them at all. A couple of things brought this to mind. The implicit equation sometimes made explicit between bereaved 9/11 activists and Democrats. The attempt to shout down Ted Koppel's sober listing of the American military dead on Nightline a few weeks ago. Another was some random web surfing that led us to news of a memorial event for Mark Bingham. Mark Bingham is believed to be one of the leaders of the passenger revolt on the 9/11 flight which crashed in Pennsylvania, most likely saving the lives hundreds of people in a ground target still unknown. Was it that long ago that Andrew Sullivan had latched on to Bingham's gay identity to make him one of his heroes in the War on Terror? But now 9/11 is now just the rhetorical wedge for another Dubya speech, and as far as OpinionJournal is concerned, another 9/11 would have its uses, victims bedamned: Will it really take another Sept. 11--or more than one--to persuade Americans to stay the course? That is what is at stake as President Bush battles for public opinion. Remember, these are the people who refer to 9/11 as an Epiphany so there is nothing surprising in this latest restatement of its potential usefulness. But anyway, what of Mark Bingham remembered for who he was, rather than as a political tool for the glorification of Dubya? The former approach will be taken in London this weekend: Held every two years, the Bingham Cup is an international rugby competition predominantly for gay and bisexual men. The theme for the event is 'Our world in union' and it aims to encourage inclusively in sport, whilst fostering lively competition and encouraging high standards of play...The competition is named after Mark Kendall Bingham, who died in the tragic events of 11 September 2001. He was passionate about rugby and played for San Francisco Fog RFC, a leading gay and bisexual team from the US. The Bingham Cup was set up by IGRAB, an international group of gay and bisexual rugby teams, with the goal of promoting rugby as a non-discriminatory sport. The inaugural event took place in San Francisco in 2002. London was chosen to host this year's event with a bid led by the Kings Cross Steelers RFC. Can a sneering article from Dorothy Rabinobitch (credit: Sullywatch) be far away?

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The prison that dare not speak its name

Having watched Dubya's speech last night, we expected to find more commentary than we so far have on one particular matter today: his hat-trick of botched pronunciations of Abu Ghraib. He WAS at some meetings where the prison was discussed, right?
The finest words ever to appear in the Daily Telegraph

Mark Steyn is away

(Niall Ferguson fills in)

Monday, May 24, 2004

The Gentleman's C approach to war

Via a WSJ interview with Niall Fitzgerald, the outgoing co-chairman of Unilever, we were led to an apparent dictum of Colin Powell that we think deserves more attention. It's funny to check out this site, for instance, recounting Powell's lessons of leadership, in light of his current situation. But here's the lesson of particular interest:

Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired.

Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut. Powell’s advice is don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right, but don’t wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late. His instinct is right: Today, excessive delays in the name of information-gathering breeds "analysis paralysis". Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk.

The geek in us says that Powell, or his transcribers, have their probabilities and percentages confused here, but anyway what's striking is his amazingly low benchmark for accurate information -- just a 40 percent chance of being right would be sufficient basis for action. A 40 percent exam score was probably enough to get Dubya a pass at Yale so maybe Colin is just incorporating his leader's standards in his own decisionmaking.

The rest of these lessons are good for a laugh. Think of Dubya as you read each one, but especially, when trying to understand where the USA has gone in the last four years, consider:

You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.
I told you I was Irish

An amusing postscript today regarding the headstone on Spike Milligan, a pioneer of post-war English comedy, who died a couple of years ago. Spike had frequently joked that he wanted his epitaph to be "I told you I was ill," and he now has his wish, with a twist:

However, the inscription had to be written in Gaelic in order for it to be approved by the Chichester Diocese.
It now bears the words "Duirt me leat go raibh me breoite"

Besides the BBC story linked above, we've read a couple of others and they are all unclear on what exactly the hold-up was -- getting the family to agree on the wording, or the language, or likewise for the Diocese. Spike was an Irish citizen despite having spent much of his life presuming (like his fans) that he was English. His father was Irish, his mother was English, but he was born in colonial India and was thus caught in a citizenship limbo by a tightening of UK citizenship rules regarding overseas births in the 1950s. He was of course still entitled to UK citizenship under the new rules but it seemed consistent with his brand of comedy to take the Irish route. But we don't know how much that played into the choice of language on the headstone.

UPDATE JUNE 15 2005: Spike's citizenship also figured in his receipt of an honourary and not an actual CBE:

[London Times] On This Day - June 16, 1992

CONFUSION surrounding the apparent snub of Spike Milligan in last weekend’s Birthday Honours was resolved yesterday with the confirmation of one of Britain’s best loved comedians as an honorary CBE.

News had leaked out before the weekend that the former Goon, 74, a comedy favourite of the Prince of Wales, was to appear on the list ... Yesterday it became clear that, because he is an Irish citizen, he could not figure in the list but was entitled to one of the honorary awards which are announced later.

Friday, May 21, 2004

You can't get there from here

Our previous post made reference to the sane part of the Wall Street Journal. Now to the er...other part. Perhaps to circulate some advance talking points for a weekend Vast Rightwing Conspiracy cocktail party which Andrew Sullivan will attend, Friday's OpinionJournal weighs in on legal aspects of the gay marriage debate. Much of this debate has featured an almost comical parade of pairings and permutations of perverted people and pets with which society will soon be confronted via the dreaded Slippery Slope.

Now, the dwindling number of rational people with some influence on this debate have pointed out that the Slippery Slope concept is total nonsense: a society can always evaluate each step along a chain of possibilities and decide where it wants to stop. If the courts go faster than society wants, then over time society can adjust the composition of the courts, or society can decide that yes, in fact, it likes the seemingly radical changes introduced by courts and does not wish to go back. We separate powers for a reason.

Undeterred, the OpinionJournal boys, perhaps having consulted a chump law professor somewhere, take another run at the slope, doubtless having congratulated themselves on finding favoured liberal bits of the slope:

The 14th Amendment [the 1868 Equal Protection clause] was the basis for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, which declared unconstitutional the segregation of government schools. But it has also been the basis for a series of other court decisions that have profoundly affected American life but have nothing to do with the rights of blacks...

A partial list of the Supreme Court-driven changes we owe to the 14th Amendment:

The ban on prayer in government schools and other restrictions on religious expression in public venues (Engel v. Vitale, 1962, and subsequent decisions).
The establishment of a constitutional right to contraception (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965).
The right to abortion (Roe v. Wade, 1973).
The right, subject to limits that are minimal in practice, to distribute pornography (Miller v. California, 1973).
The abolition of all state laws against consensual gay sodomy (Lawrence v. Texas, 2003).

Intriguingly, the boys have the same case of amnesia about key 14th Amendment jurisprudence as Antonin "Fat Tony" Scalia, because like Fat Tony, they forget the nation's most traumatic recent 14th Amendment Case: Bush versus Gore.

But the incoherence and double-talk only grows from there:

The point of this list is not to make a judgment as to whether any of these cases were good law or good policy. It is simply to underscore the extreme unlikeliness that the framers of the 14th Amendment could have foreseen any of these results in 1868.

Yet there is a logical progression from the sweeping language of the 14th Amendment to the jurisprudence of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Here they've managed to make the opposite point to the one they intended: not being time travellers, it is indeed true that the 1868 framers couldn't have foreseen the subsequent cases, but it was their "sweeping language" that we can now see created a "logical progression" to current case law. So what's the problem? The world moves on, we acquire new problems, new standards, new tools, and new information, and if our ancestors were clever enough, they left us with a framework that can correspondingly adapt. This is not a bad thing.

And there's an iceberg sitting at their end of their rant, the little bit of danger visible at the surface signalling more malign material underneath:

Imagine if a conservative Southern politician had reacted to Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 by issuing the following prediction: "If the court can strike down our precious institution of segregation, are there any limits? One day it will affirm the right to practice sodomy, and men will even marry men." History would have recorded this as a bigoted and hysterical pronouncement. But purely as a matter of prognostication, our hypothetical politician would have been proved right.

This a recurring style of rhetoric for opinionjournal: the repeated disassociation from a particular point of view to the point where they doth protest too much: imagine, prognostication, hypothetical. But nowhere do they lay out the logical sequence, the progression of cases, that leads from Brown v Board to the wedding announcement of John Kerry and Miss Piggy. The 14th Amendment provides us with a small core, with many lines of possibility radiating in different directions. Brown v Board sits somewhere on one line. The Kerry-Piggy nuptials sit at the end of another. Society dines a la carte.
A pint of Guinness and a packet of redundant ad executives, please

Will no-one rid of us this turbulent multinational corporation, Diageo, that owns Guinness? Here, courtesy of one of the sane parts of the Wall Street Journal, is their latest wheeze (subs. req'd). The headline promises

Guinness Warms To Vintage Ads For Newer Beer

and so one thinks: are they bringing back the classic ads like Guinness is Good For You, and the images of the man carrying a railway beam on his shoulder, and the beloved pelican? But read on and weep:

This summer, Diageo plans for the first time to dig into its advertising archive and to bring back some of its old TV ads to market Guinness Draught Extra Cold, a chillier version of its signature dark-brown beer...

It is looking at reviving a Guinness character from the 1990s -- a man who does a series of crazed, comical dances around a pint of Guinness in anticipation of his first sip...

The image of a cycling fish from the "Not Everything in Black and White Makes Sense" campaign that ran in the early 1990s also may return. In the ad, as Rodgers and Hammerstein's "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair" plays, Gloria Steinem's quip "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" is flashed before a giant fish gripping a bike's handlebars rides across the screen.

Where to begin? The 1990s is now "vintage" so what's going on here is more to do with tapping into the same audience demand that has made the BBC/VH1 decade review shows so popular. In this case what that means is that Guinness is staying with the genre of beer marketing that can't just stop telling us how downright wacky beer can be, complete with lame sitcom-style histronics and faux-absurdity in the ads. God be with the days when a product was pitched in terms of intrinsic characteristics.

But the biggest problem is that this is not an ad campaign for the original blackstuff, but the odious Guinness Extra Cold. Last year we brought to your attention the outrage that this glass of gullet-freezing shards of ice had brought to that fine barometer of Irish public opinion, the letters page of the Irish Times. The letters are sufficiently funny that we recommend you check it out again. If Diageo can dig up old ads, then we can certainly refer you to old posts.

Perhaps to end the week on a constructive note, let us suggest an alternative Guinness Extra Cold ad campaign for the suits at Diageo...we get OutKast to do just a slight reworking of the brilliant Hey Ya:

Andre "Extra Cold" 3000: What's cooler than being cool?
The Love Haters: Extra Cold!

UPDATE: The evil that Diageo does knows no bounds. They are increasing the price of a pint. The knockon effect of tax and a matching increase from pubs will be substantial.
Read Headlines With Care


Mass., as in Massachusetts; the Catholic Church is not suddenly doing gay religious weddings.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The nightmare in Gaza

There is an interesting post and subsequent discussion on the Crooked Timber blog-collective about the relative lack of punditry, either of the institutional or freelance variety, on yesterday's civilian deaths in Gaza, apparently from the use of heavy weapons by the Israeli military on a civilian demonstration. From our own perspective, the problem in commenting on this latest loss of life is the futility of the rounds of condemnation that occur after events like this in the face of complete impotence to do anything about it. Everyone knows that Ariel Sharon has the nod and wink from Dubya to be ultra-repressive in the Occupied Territories, and anyway the civilian casualties in Iraq undercut much of the moral authority of the US to complain about civilian casualties in Gaza -- the US being the only critic that Ariel would take remotely seriously.

One of the followup comments to the CT post draws on the Irish history of the march gone wrong:

...whilst leaving a great deal of room for nasty possibilities in between [that Israeli military deliberately targets civilians versus it being scrupulously careful not to]. To take an example from another conflict: did the British Army have a deliberate policy of killing civilians back in 1972? No. Were most British soldiers decent people who would not knowing fire into an unarmed crowd? Yes, most of them probably were. Did soldiers from the Parachute Regiment kill thirteen people on Bloody Sunday? They sure did.

Indeed, we had used a Bloody Sunday reference to highlight the bad historical predecent for the US Army's killing of civilians last year in Fallujah -- and we all know how well things in Fallujah turned out since.

But we also have one addition to the "Where's the Outrage?" -- where are the Arab governments? Playing the condemnation game of course, getting a rare UN Security Council resolution, and surfing as best they can the wave of popular outrage in their domestic media. But is it really plausible that Israel is running a massive military operation within a stone's throw of Egypt without some acquiescence from Cairo? And is Prince Bandar using his access to the White House to air Arab grievances in this case? We can sit in Blogistan and condemn Israel all we want. But with absolutely no mechanism to make such criticism effective, it'd be a better use of our time to just stare at the Sleeping Beckham video for a while.
And such expensive portions

In the raid on Ahmad Chalabi's Baghdad operation:

Aides to Mr. Chalabi said members of the raiding party had helped themselves to food and beverages from the refrigerator...

Mr. Chalabi's group has received at least $27 million in United States financing in the past four years, an Iraqi National Congress official said earlier this week...Internal reviews by the United States government have found that much of the information provided as part of the classified program before American forces invaded Iraq last year was useless, misleading or even fabricated.

Land of 99,999 welcomes

Here's a sign of how far down Dubya has driven the image of the US in the world -- it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Republic of Ireland will seek to cancel or otherwise dodge a planned visit of Dubya to Ireland in late June. As we have noted several times, Taoiseach Bertie "Charlemagne" Ahern is the President of the European Union Council until the end of June, and a capstone event consisting of an EU-US summit, to take place at the modern day Aix-la-Chapelle i.e. Dublin, was envisaged. Dubya would come and do one of his whirlwind photo-op foreign tours, getting Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie some material for the November campaign ads.

But as Atrios notes on a related context, the overseas and US media are just on completely different worlds in terms of Iraq coverage these days, and the question of whether the US yesterday attacked a wedding or a den of insurgents has brought things to a head in Ireland. Much as with Aznar right up to 11-M, Bertie has up till now managed to avoid any substantive costs in being part of an unpopular war -- partly by sticking to the official line that we were not, to the point of hyping up our exclusion from the reconstruction contracts as evidence.

There was a debate in the Dail (lower house) today and the government was on the ropes, a deafening silence regarding their attitude to Dubya's visit:

[RTE news] The Tanaiste [Deputy PM], Mary Harney, pointed out that Mr Bush would be in Ireland for an EU/US summit, but did not answer when Mr Higgins [Socialist] asked if she would be comfortable shaking Mr Bush's hand.

[Irish Times] John Gormley [Green] asked if Mr Bush would be bringing a leash with him on his visit to put around the neck of the Taoiseach, as this "would be symbolic of the relationship" between Ireland and the United States.

All this in the middle of an increasingly tendentious election season. With Ireland's VIP government always looking for the electoral short-cut, our American friends shouldn't take it personally if there's a change in Dubya's travel plans. Look for the theme song of Bertie's election campaign to borrow from Jay-Z: "I got 99 problems, but Dubya ain't one."

UPDATE: It gets worse for Bertie: now the Bishop of Killaloe (approx = County Clare) is unhappy:

Speaking on RTE Radio, Bishop Willie Walsh said he feared that the visit, and particularly the protests that are expected, could damage Ireland's relationship with the US.
He questioned whether the high-level talks to take place during the trip required Mr Bush's presence.

Let the excommunications begin!

FURTHER UPDATE: We had meant the references to Charlemagne and Aix-la-Chapelle as a joke. But we were outdone by the pomposity of the EU itself. From Friday's Irish Times:

For the crowning moment in a European political career, there could be no better setting that the Coronation Room in the Town Hall of Aachen, home of Charlemagne, Europe's first great integrator.
Pat Cox beamed as he sat on the podium, waiting to become the first Irishman to receive the Charlemagne Prize, an award established in 1950 to honour those who promote the cause of European unity.
"There he is, Pat Cox, sitting on Charlemagne's throne," said Mr Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who gave a warm, witty appraisal of Mr Cox's career in Europe.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Someone who'll make the camels run on time

The confusion deepens amongst the Wall Street Journal editorial page people. Today from opinionjournal, a slam at King Abudullah of Jordan:

Do the opponents of Iraq's liberation wish for Saddam Hussein's return to power? We were referring to American opponents, but the New York Times reports Jordan's King Abdullah II seems to want if not Saddam, at least somebody like him--in the Times' words, "a strongman--possibly drawn from the ranks of Saddam Hussein's army."

Which merely means that the King agrees with Mark Helprin, who made the same proposal in one of their op-ed pieces yesterday:

We already have ceded part of Sunni Iraq: What remains is to pick a strongman, see him along, arrange a federation, hope for the best, remount the army, and [invade Saudi Arabia, but he doesn't quite put it that way]

Maintaining spin is hard.
God Save the Queen, 2004 Version

By Morrissey

Irish blood, English heart
This I'm made of
There is no one on earth I'm afraid of
And no regime can buy or sell me

I've been dreaming of a time when
to be English is not to be baneful
to be standing by the flag, not feeling shameful
racist or racial

Irish blood, English heart
this I'm made of
There is no one on earth I'm afraid of
And I will die with both of my hands untied

I've been dreaming of a time when
the English are sick to death
of Labour, and Tories
and spit upon the name Oliver Cromwell
and denounce this royal line that still salute him
and will salute him

We're all in favour of a good nationalist tirade but Morrissey's version of history has us a bit confused here. We've made clear before that we don't think much of Cromwell, but he's also the dude who chopped off the head of one of the Queen's predecessors. But perhaps the song is rescued by a good tune.
Liverpool Lotto

More government lunacy. We've posted before about the Thai PM's plan to purchase an ownership stake in Liverpool Football Club. Things are only getting more bizarre. The initial impression had been that the PM would buy the stake a la Berlusconi i.e. from his own personal wealth. But over the last fortnight, the noises have gotten louder that the stake will come from public money. About $100m is at stake. Now this is really odd. Thailand is in many ways an impressively stable place, but it's still a poor country. How exactly is poverty in Thailand reduced by taxpayers spending $100m on a foreign football club? And of course, as a public investment, some government officials will have to travel to Anfield on a frequent basis to inspect this investment, right? Part of the appeal of English football to Thais is the multitude of gambling opportunities that it provides. Even that instinct is catered for in how the deal is structured:

[Wall Street Journal] Thailand's cabinet on Tuesday approved plans to establish a new state lottery, the proceeds of which will be used to buy the Liverpool stake. Mr. Thaksin [PM], a billionaire telecommunications tycoon, earlier estimated the stake would cost around 4.6 billion baht ($110 million)..."All the funds will be raised by the lottery and we expect to raise about 10 billion baht," said Santiphab Tejavanija, governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand, estimating that it will take about three months to raise the money. Buyers of the lottery tickets, which will cost 1,000 baht each, will receive a 200 baht share in Liverpool and also have a chance to win a one billion baht jackpot, he said.

The lottery angle seems like a wheeze to simultaneously create yet another wager while getting around a Dubya Senior-style No New Taxes pledge. And as the Journal politely puts it:

Mr. Thaksin has recently said Thailand's association with Liverpool will create economic opportunities for Thai entrepreneurs and help burnish the country's image as an attractive destination for foreign investment. But he hasn't elaborated on exactly how that might play out.
Dubya's politics defined

Fintan O'Toole writes (subs. req'd) in today's Irish Times about a new policy of Ireland's permanent party of government, Fianna Fail. It's a harebrained scheme to tackle the magnetic pull of development in Dublin by spreading government administrative offices around the country. A moment's reflection would show that when other countries have sought to move government functions out of the orbit of the big cities, they still tend to put those functions in one place (e.g. Canberra, Washington DC, Islamabad, Brasilia). But now every town in Ireland will have a pub, an undertaker, a parish pump, and a government office. In seeking to explain this lunacy, Fintan offers a deeper insight, a remarkably apt description of a typical Dubya policy proposal as well:

What becomes clear when you read the [decentralisation] report is that this is a classic Fianna Fail operation, in that it appeals vaguely to a broad swathe of the population and sharply to an insider elite.

No wonder Dubya and Bertie get along so well.

Monday, May 17, 2004

About time that reparation payment showed up

The Eurovision song contest. It makes American Idol look positively tasteful. We wrote about last year's version here. Voting on the songs is now done by mobile phone rather than national juries. The Republic of Ireland used to have a disturbing comparative advantage in this contest, but here's how bad things got this year:

[Irish Times] After 15 countries had snubbed us, the UK finally threw us seven points. Centuries of mass emigration to Britain, it seemed, had finally been good for something. Those points, however, effectively ended our interest in the competition. Nobody ever remembers who came second last and as the British discovered last year, there can be a sneaky enjoyment to be had from the achieving the perfect ignominy of "nul points." If he had managed it, [Irish entrant] Doran would have been remembered in pub quiz questions for years to come. They were our only points and it was a long wait before it was over.
The Pentagon follows the Becks PR strategy

[Guardian April 6, 2004] [David Beckham's] absence from the [Real Madrid match] was ensured by allegations in the News of the World that he had had a three-month affair with Rebecca Loos, a one-time employee of his former management company SFX...In a statement issued on Sunday, Beckham described the claims as "ludicrous", but stopped short of a denial of the paper's central allegations.

[via Josh Marshall , the Pentagon's response to the latest Abu Ghraib allegations] "These assertions on activities at Abu Ghraib, and the abuse of Iraqi detainees are outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture"

Friday, May 14, 2004

Piercing the veil

Do pundits know more about the goings-on amongst top political figures than they tell us? Of course. Most discussions of this issue tend to revolve around Journalism 101 debates about whether to put the private lives of politicians into circulation, and in that regard most of the hacks seem to have settled on the pleasing formulation (as the Daily Howler would say) that such stuff is strictly private unless there is some point of public policy relevance; now this exception, which was presumably intended to be a small loophole, instead became a means of political attack by using the legal system to put private lives in the public arena; witness the impeachment of Bill Clinton. The bastard child of this culture is the Heathers-style sneering trash peddled by the crypto-neocon Wonkette.

But that's another story. What about the true opinions or feelings of politicians on policy issues, which pundits may know about because of their access to them, but don't tell us? Again, the incomparable Daily Howler has les mots justes: Millionaire Pundit Values. These people know all kinds of relevant stuff but pull their punches for the columns and interviews. But maybe the veil between what they know and what they are willing to tell us is cracking a bit. Example: the dinner/cocktail party at some bigwig's house, to which some scribes are invited with everything off-the-record.

Strangely enough, one of the few pundits willing to stretch the rules of these events was Lady Black, the now ex-columnist for the Daily Telegraph. We can think of two instances where Barbara Amiel spilled the beans about what was really said -- once catching the then French Ambassador to the UK (since deceased) refer to Israel as "that shi**y little country," and later finding Roger Ailes (not the blogger) blithely crossing the line between his private (Fox News) and quasi-public (White House propagandist) roles.

Add the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt to the list of fearless pundits who might have sacrificed an invitation or two. Because in his Thursday column (subs. req'd), he reports on a Washington dinner he seems to have attended a few weeks ago. As far as we can tell, this is the same dinner that prompted rumours that Colin Powell was quitting as Secretary of State to become President of the World Bank. But anyway, here's what Al either saw or was told by another indiscrete hack:

A while ago [Rumsfeld] was a guest at a small Washington dinner party thrown by World Bank President James Wolfensohn. Other guests included United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Senators Ted Kennedy and Chuck Hagel and a few prominent journalists.

The topic turned to the detainees at Guantanamo and Secretary Rumsfeld was asked why not treat all prisoners under Geneva Convention rules. He grew increasingly agitated and finally, turning to his wife, declared, "Joyce, we're leaving." He subsequently walked out.

At the very least we learn that Rummy is a bit more flustered in reality about the military detention controversies than the usual profiles would have us believe. Note also that the timeline for this dinner is prior to the Baghdad prison scandal, which leads us to believe that there have been long-standing tensions behind the scenes about this issue from which our betters in the press corps have chosen to protect us. As Howler says, Millionaire Pundit Values.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Too stupid by half

Yesterday we noted a preferred editorial technique of the Wall Street Journal editorial page -- the use of insinuation to thinly disguise their contempt for those who will not join the personality cult around Dubya. There's no need to say "tell us what you really think" when the true feelings are so obvious. But here's a case where the contempt was expressed in internal e-mail, accidentally sent to one of those infidels who questioned Dubya's competence in the War on Terrorism. It turns out that one of the "Jersey Girl" 9-11 widows submitted a substantive response to a piece written by enraged Dubya groupie Dorothy Rabinowitz, which as much as said 9-11 Bereaved = Democrats. Rabinowitz was e-mailing with one of the editorial hacks about whether to publish it -- but accidentally sent the e-mail to the 9-11 widow as well. Amongst the highlights or views about Kristin Breitweiser's submission:

total and complete - not to mention repetitive - nonsense from people given endless media access to repeat the very same stupid charges, suspicions, and the rest...but this is just an opportunity for these absurd products of the zeitgeist - women clearly in the grip of the delusion that they know something, have some policy, and wisdom not given to the rest of us to know - to grab the spotlight. again. and repeat, again, the same tripe before a national audience...My thoughts - we don't publish nonsensical contentions that offer no news, no insight - solely on the grounds that those who feel attacked get a chance to defend their views...

Take any day's WSJ editorial page (e.g. this one) and in light of her claim that we don't publish nonsensical contentions that offer no news, no insight, you'll conclude that it depends on the meaning of publish.

UPDATE: Predictably, this revealing blunder is the subject of much blogging. Here's TAPped. And Sullywatch.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Too clever by half

A recurring feature of the Wall Street Journal online editorial page is the carefully constructed insinuation; they're clever enough to know that you can't outright say "John Kerry = Osama Bin Laden," for example, yet stupid enough to betray that that is what they really think -- or at least that it's what they think Karl Rove wants them to write. Here they are today discussing the supposed equivalence between the Abu Ghraib prison photos, some shown by the media, and the sickening videoed beheading of Nick Berg, which can only be found in the more edgy parts of the web. This becomes an opportunity to criticise Howard Kurtz for essentially saying that the Abu Ghraib photos do have public value, whereas the Berg video does not, and they conclude:

But Kurtz really seems to be tying himself in knots with his varied opinions about networks' responsibilities vis-à-vis disseminating enemy propaganda.

Got that? The beheading AND the prison photos are "enemy propaganda." Now, they propound this slime by way of supporting the Jonah Goldberg position on this. Which is relevant because in a seemingly separate item further down the column, they run a clarification of one of yesterday's insinuations which was not quite fine enough, and conclude:

[opinionjournal] rejects the idea that Arabs and Muslims should be held to lower standards than everyone else.

Which is an odd thing to say for worshippers at the Goldberg Altar because right up above, they had approvingly cited him:

Huge percentages of Arabs are illiterate, which means these pictures will tell the whole story, particularly in the hands of the vilely anti-American Arab media.

So the equation here is Arabs = illiterate = people easily manipulated by propaganda, which sure sounds like a group of people being held to a lower standard than everyone else. Let's leave aside Goldberg's command of literacy statistics; given his track record, he doubtless got them wrong. Illiterate people easily manipulated? It was Europe's most literate society that gave us the catastrophe of fascism, and India has managed to run the world's most complicated elections and develop a stable democracy even with huge levels of illiteracy. Finally, we suppose that Goldberg's policy prescription would illiterate audience should be protected from these photos. We wonder if that's why Fox News hasn't been running them?
A new trick for White House witnesses

As was noted during a few weeks ago during the 9/11 Commission hearings in Washington, Dubya's administration has perfected the testimonial filibuster -- when on the ropes before a commission or Congressional committee, just make a really long opening statement, and then give, shall we say, expansive, answers to questions. But here's a trick they haven't tried yet -- testifying in a foreign language.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern was a victim of this stunt from his visiting Chinese counterpart yesterday. With Bertie acting as President of the EU Council, he was supposed to do the usual thing and raise concerns about human rights in China, Tibet etc, then proceed to a news conference where each side would have done the diplomatic dance around those issues. But it never got that far, because Bertie didn't get to say much at all, and there was no news conference. Because:

Informed sources at Dublin Castle said the reason the meeting between Mr Wen [Chinese PM] and Mr Ahern exceeded its allotted time was twofold: the Chinese leader speaks no English and an unexpected amount of time was taken up with translation; and because Mr Wen had spoken at considerable length about the positive features of the Chinese economy.

We were all supposed to be impressed that Dubya speaks Spanish. Maybe he's polishing it up for his next grilling.
A better choice than some other images floating around

We're not sure if this story is entirely accurate but nonetheless: Colin Powell has applied to get a Scottish coat of arms for his family to recognise his Scottish ancestry (via his mother). This "coat of arms" procedure sounds like an astute bit of business for Scotland, since it doesn't seem to signify much more than Guinness's declaration that anyone who does the tour of their St James' Gate Brewery in Dublin is an "honourary Dubliner."

And we assume that Colin's roots are too distant for him to actually be thinking about UK citizenship, though with the ever growing taint of scandal and criminality of the administration of which he is a part, maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to have an exile plan in the works. Apparently one gets to design one's own coat of arms, so rather than re-work some of those Iraqi prison photos, part of Colin's recent legacy to the world (we've seen clever reworkings of the infamous electrical wiring picture as a statue of liberty), he has gone for:

The coat of arms, if granted, will incorporate the crest of an American bald eagle...The retired four-star general's military background will also be symbolised by a shield with four stars and crossed swords.

With the current state of political rhetoric in the US about the Iraq war, a boot stomping on a crescent moon would have been more appropriate.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Straddling Good and Evil

The incomparable Daily Howler is chronicling the obsession of the "press corps" with John Kerry's supposed indecisiveness on certain policy questions -- apparently, saying "it depends on the circumstances" is a much worse answer to a question than Dubya's complete lack of any decision process whatsoever.

What then would these troubled scribes make of a politician who displays the worst kind of flip-flop -- namely on the question of whether he is a fan of Liverpool or Manchester United football clubs? But so it is with the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra , who is bizarrely about to become a 30 percent shareholder in Liverpool:

"I'm not sure if the prime minister is really a Liverpool fan," he [Thai Liverpool Supporters Club president] added. "He says he is but when Manchester United were here, he said he supported them."

UPDATE: It looks like there's a possibility that the Thai people will be collectively revealed as Liverpool fans:

[BBC] It is unclear whether Thaksin will be spending his own money or Thailand's.
"Let's wait until Thailand buys the team before going into details whether we spend Thais' money or the private sector's," Thaksin said.
Government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair revealed that a deal had been done after a Thai cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
"We will buy in the name of Thailand," he said.

More evidence on Thaksin's indecisiveness:

"There are a lot of fans asking: 'Who is this guy? What's his interest in Liverpool Football Club?'" said Steve Davies of the Liverpool Independent Supporters' Association.

"We have seen him photographed holding up a Manchester United shirt next to Alex Ferguson and now he says he's always been a Liverpool fan.
Spot the spin word

Wall Street Journal online today:

[Regarding Abu Ghraib] If a civilized society fails to establish and enforce decent standards for the treatment of criminals, civilization itself is imperiled.

And what about when a civilized society labels people as criminals without any due process to make this determination?

UPDATE: This piece of spin made it to the Senate floor. Apparently to the disgust of John McCain.
The George W. Bush School of Management

We decided to rework this post because there's just too much supporting material for it. Begin with this story about "The Corporation," a Canadian documentary airing a harsh critique (subs req'd)) of big business:

One sequence that gets a laugh features a string of talking heads pronouncing the words, "Bad apple"

Perhaps one achievement of Dubya's administration will be to make Enron and Worldcom look good. Or, for that matter, Allied Irish Banks. This has to be one of the world's most incompetent banks, or at least the most incompetent yet profitable one. This is a bank that lost about $600m in a "bad apple" (or was that "rogue trader") scandal a year ago, and now is revealed to have overcharged thousands of customers for years in foreign exchange transactions. A nice analysis in today's Irish Times identifies the fundamental problem -- one that is identically present in Dubya's White House:

...In both cases [trading and overcharging scandals], individuals lower down the hierarchy became aware or suspected that something was wrong, but did not feel under any imperative to ensure that it was resolved...In both cases, the matter was just passed up the line to a level at which it was effectively shelved...AIB senior executives are falling over themselves to point out that the problem was not brought to their attention until last week and, once it was, they acted appropriately...

Last week's revelation and the reaction of Mr Buckley [CEO] and his management merely serves to confirm an impression that backside covering is a core value in AIB and accepted management practice...he has had two years since the Rusnak [the $600m bad apple] affair to try and stamp out what he called a culture of "passivity" and has manifestly failed if the events of last week are any guide.

And culture - in any organisation - is embodied by the chief executive. It is hard to change an organisation's culture without changing the person at the top.

It was Dubya's spinners who made the decision to market him as a CEO President who would bring his MBA training to the government. If only they meant it.
Note to readers

It looks like the impending tidal wave of cash towards Google is already making a difference. For the first time since we started this blog, Blogger is archiving old posts correctly. For example, we can now link to this old post noting the disastrous precedent that existed for the US Army's "suppression" of a demonstration in Fallujah in April 2003. The rest is, regrettably, not history, but a very current quagmire. A side effect of the working archives is that previous links to our old posts won't work anymore. In addition, we have jumped aboard the gmail bandwagon so note P O'Neill's new e-mail address at the top.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

That classy European flying experience

1. [Irish Times] Ryanair cabin crews and flight staff will no longer receive free tea or coffee on board, and will be encouraged to bring their own refreshments to work as part of a fresh cost-cutting exercise by its chief executive, Mr Michael O'Leary.

2. [New York Times] Airbus likes to promote the A380 [new double-decker] as a plane that could transform air travel by offering passengers more space. It has shown mock-ups of travelers relaxing around a bar, with staircases leading between levels. But skeptics say that in order to make the plane economically viable, airlines will probably cram it with many more seats than the 555 that Airbus advertises, perhaps as many as 840.

Friday, May 07, 2004

The missing link

Reading the Wall Street Journal online editorial page today, we saw the need to resurrect an old post. We noted a line from Saint Condi of Palo Alto's interview with the state-run news agency the USA (Fox News) on Sunday 18th April...

For all the negotiations, for all the special envoys, for all the trying, the Israelis had not given back essentially a kilometer of land in the occupied territories

...and asked about that weird usage of kilometer. Fast forward to today, and the WSJ online has a piece on Osama's latest Blofeld-style pronouncement in which he annouced bounties of 10,000 grams of gold. Leading the WSJ to ask:

Interesting, isn't it, that bin Laden uses the metric system.

Which we think in their twisted logic is meant to be a dig at the French. Sounds like Condi must have fallen under the same spell.
Slouching towards schism

There is a story bubbling somewhat in the background in the US concerning the increasingly aggressive stance being adopted by some in the Catholic hierarchy towards the right of Catholic politicians to receive Communion if they don't align their political practise with Catholic beliefs. Now, as we noted a few days ago, this issue is partly being whipped up by the Torquemada faction of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy as a stick with which to beat John Kerry. In fact it's a useful stick all round for the VRWC, which can use the Communion Conundrum to create some appearance of diversity within it (e.g. the very public dissents of Andrew Sullivan, as tracked for instance by Sullywatch).

We also referred a few days ago to the outstanding history of the Reformation by Diarmaid McCulloch, which should be salutory reading for anyone thinks this debate can end well for the Catholic Church. As McCulloch explains in great detail, a key dynamic throughout the Reformation was the forced choice of allegiance to the Church or the State. Symptomatic of the disaster was the deranged Pope Pius V's declaration that England's Queen Elizabeth I was a heretic and furthermore that any English Catholics who obeyed her laws would be excommunicated -- immediately casting them as traitors:

[The Papal Bull] Therefore, resting upon the authority of Him whose pleasure it was to place us (though unequal to such a burden) upon this supreme justice-seat, we do out of the fullness of our apostolic power declare the foresaid Elizabeth to be a heretic and favourer of heretics, and her adherents in the matters aforesaid to have incurred the sentence of excommunication and to be cut off from the unity of the body of Christ...

And also (declare) the nobles, subjects and people of the said realm and all others who have in any way sworn oaths to her, to be forever absolved from such an oath and from any duty arising from lordshop. fealty and obedience...We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication.

As McCulloch explains, English Catholics were relatively happy to operate below the radar screen while paying nominal homage to the Anglican church; now the mere suspicion of Catholic practise could be a death-sentence. Of course we are not in that position today. But the Church, if not the VRWC elements pushing this agenda, should surely be aware of the previous outcomes of tugs-of-war over secular versus religious allegiance.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

What Baghdad needs: More Harvard Boys

Try to contain your laughter as you read the latest diagnosis of, and solution to, the Iraqi prisoner abuse problem, as put forward by the Wall Street Journal online editorial page. Diagnosis: not enough Ivy Leaguers participating in the military, which is because those awful leftie academics have kept military recruiters off-campus. Solution -- the academic left needs to stop whining, let the recruiters back on campus, and all will be well. And if you don't believe the argument is really this idiotic, here are the highlights:

But it also occurs to us that increasing the quality of military recruits would probably help avoid future Abu Ghraibs. One constructive step toward that end would be for elite universities to drop antimilitary policies, so that the military would have an easier time signing up the best and brightest young Americans.

Many academic institutions have barred ...military recruiters from campus for left-wing political reasons -- first as a protest against the Vietnam War, and later over the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" law. Whatever the merits of these positions, it's time the academic left showed some patriotic responsibility and acknowledged that the defense of the country -- which includes the defense of their own academic freedom -- is more important than the issue du jour.

For a site that usually scoffs at supposed left-wing elitism, this is (unintentionally) hilarious. Especially noteworthy is the implicit endorsement of John Kerry, who after all, went to Vietnam as a graduate of Yale.
Parse the statement

1. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan:

The president very much appreciates the job Secretary Rumsfeld is doing and the president has great confidence in his leadership

Whose leadership? Rummy's, or Dubya's own?

2. But wait, there's more:

"He will stay in my Cabinet," the president said.

What cabinet? The one that runs the country, or just a kitchen cabinet in the White House? And even if the former, he doesn't say what role Rummy would perform. The Cabinet might need a new coffee boy.

3. [Dubya] I told His Majesty [of Jordan] as plainly as I could that the wrongdoers [prison guards] will be brought to justice

Subtle change in usage: bad guys are normally evildoers.

4. [Dubya] The free trade agreement between Jordan and the United States is a model for the region, as my government works to build a Middle East free trade agreement.

Aside from the idea that Arabs can be bought off with a free trade agreement, note the odd usage my government. Who is he, the Queen?
The poetry of Bob Geldof

Summon the thinkers, and writers and culture geeks,
philosophy wonks and development freaks,
the economists
and anthropologists

Which is a few lines of a pretty good speech by Bob supporting Tony "Posh" Blair's Commission for Africa. The meter of this partially intentioned poetry reminds us equally of Christy Moore's Lisdoonvarna and any work by famed teenage elegist, E.J. Thribb.
It's all Greek to them

Today's Irish Times: A special stamp issued by An Post [Irish Post Office] to commemorate EU enlargement appears to incorrectly identify the island of Crete as Cyprus. To see the stamp, go to this link and enlarge. On an actual map, Cyprus is much more "under" Turkey (speaking metaphorically, of course) than the stamp would indicate.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Wanted: More Wall Street culture in Washington

Frank Quattrone, star investment banker at Credit Suisse First Boston endorses a colleague's e-mail message in December 2000 urging his staff of bankers at CSFB to "clean up those files."

Result: convicted of obstruction of justice, now facing several years in jail.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, then in charge of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, recommended changes in procedures at Abu Ghraib prison intended "to rapidly exploit internees for actionable intelligence"

Result: er...he's now in charge of the Baghdad prison.
It takes one to know one

Another day of bile and irrationality on the Wall Street Journal online. Some of the lowlights:

But if the [UK Daily] Mirror does turn out to have fabricated the [Iraqi prisoner abuse] photos, it will be the clearest evidence yet that some in the press are abusing their power and consciously contributing to enemy propaganda during wartime.

Notice the careful phrasing of the sentence, clearly leaving open their view that others besides the Mirror and their potentially faked photos might be "consciously contributing to enemy propaganda" -- like any media outlet daring to report on what went on.

Then they get to the letter sent to George "Tex" Bush by former US diplomats criticising his Middle East policies, mirroring a similar letter sent to Tony "Posh" Blair by retired UK diplomats. Both are explained as follows:

Diplomats sometimes end up acting as advocates for the country where they're assigned rather than their own; it's possible that these guys simply "went native."

A nice description of "Prince" Bandar, friend of Dubya, and Saudi "Ambassador" to the US.
The three men I admire the most

We still don't really know how to interpret the spectacle of Presidential candidate John Kerry being flailed for the conformity or lack thereof between his religion and his politics while Dubya sails serenely on through war and poverty still wearing his best Pharisee face for services every Sunday. But with our current recommended reading being Diarmaid MacCulloch's The Reformation, we found ourselves asking the following. The media have allowed Dubya to draw a distinction between the role of Jesus as his personal Saviour and the role of God has an endower of fundamental rights to all people, rights which Dubya then may choose to facilitate via such measures as the war in Iraq.

But...but...then we think of MacCulloch's extended accounts of disputes between different branches of Christianity, in which much ink was spilled over the concept of the Trinity. And as far as we can tell, most Christian denominations, including Dubya's Methodism, subscribe to the general idea of the Trinity, in which Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are three manifestations of the SAME BEING. So, is someone going to ask Dubya then to explain the difference between his acknowledged mission from God to bring freedom to all peoples and the implied identical terms of reference for that mission from Jesus? We're sure the Islamic clerics would like to know.