Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Like when Patty married Troy McClure?

This sentence from a Wall Street Journal report (subs. req'd) on corporate kleptocrat Conrad Black needs some elaboration:

As reported, Black also gave his wife [Barbara Amiel] a "no-show" corporate job that paid more than $1.1 million a year, but didn't require any work.

Errr..some no-show position at the company, or the job of being his wife?
It must depend upon which side of the portal he's on

[Dubya, earlier this month]: I think those who oppose this ballistic missile system really don't understand the threats of the 21st century. They're living in the past. We're living in the future

Monday night at the convention, Rudy Giuliani re Dubya: President Bush is the leader we need for the next four years because he can see beyond just today and tomorrow. He can see into the future.
A pint of cognac and a packet of crisps, please

A while ago, we brought to your attention the existence of a Coca-Cola product called Georgia Coffee, made in Ireland for sale in Japan. Here's another product whose marketing will have to be carefully region-specific. The French company that makes Grand Marnier has developed another cognac for distribution in the US by luxury goods conglomerate LVMH (itself a sort of an Irish descendant, via that H). The aim is to capitalise on the premium liquor/hip-hop synergy that has proven so lucrative for the liquor companies. So far so good.

Now the name of this new product, soon to be featured (it is hoped) in countless videos MTV Jams: Navan. On this basis we're guessing that the Irish roll-out of the drink, if it ever occurs, will be somewhat different, with Navan being the heartland of County Meath and despite the cachet of being Pierce Brosnan's hometown, is often known in Ireland and Britain through the comic character Navan Man (a sort of a Jeff Foxworthy analog, to place it for our vast American readership). In that light, we had to laugh at reading the Pseud's Corner-esque vision of Navan cognac:

The brand is named for Navana, a town in Madagascar where the recipe's vanilla is harvested. Take away the final "a," and the word becomes a palindrome. A spokeswoman for Schieffelin [importer] says palindromes "are found in many cultures, always with mystical associations, and often with hidden meanings."

Mr. Luttmann added that even Navan's taste, a balance between sweet and pungent, was intended to be "a very good metaphor for the consumers we want to reach."

"You can't put these transcultural consumers in a box, and you can't put Navan in a box," he said.

The last claim at least has the virtue, given that cognac is a liquid, of being literally true.

Monday, August 30, 2004

An Anglo-Irish entente

In the ongoing search for world peace, a sign of progress from a bizarre news event. As widely reported, a mentally disturbed protestor interrupted Sunday's men's marathon in Athens, and tackled the then leader of the race, an unfortunate Brazilian, who did not win the race. The protestor turned out to be defrocked Irish priest, and Kieran at Crooked Timber has an assemblage of links to his past antics; he now refers to himself as The Grand Prix Priest (a title which could surely be shortened...prixst?) following a more suicidal version of the same protest at a British Formula 1 meeting last year.

So what is there to be positive about? Well, when word was coming out of the Irish connection, it was like the Celtic Tiger suffering a relapse: you've just gotten through impressing the overseas visitors with a nice meal, conveying to them the general sophistamacation of the new Oirland...and the next thing, one of the neighbour's pigs is running through your yard, or the cat suddenly arrives in with a bird in its mouth, or that slightly shady cattle dealer who lives down the road has just driven his lorry into the electricity wires, and so we steeled overselves...Cornelius Horan..defrocked priest..Kerry...green outfit...the Paddies are at it again.

But No. We present a sample of two ranges of British opinion: the BBC story leads their profile of him by mentioning his living in Britain before getting to his nationality, and the Sun, which in the past would have found the scenario just too tempting, simply uses their preferred generic terms for such characters ("yob", "idiot") and has no references to his Irishness at all. Can eccentric Ireland as such be dead and gone?
The usefulness of events with zero probability of occurrence

Two statements from Dubya about what it would take to draw action from him:

[on 9/11 advance warning] Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people

[on his attitude to Vietnam and the draft] Bush said he supported his country during the Vietnam War, but called the conflict "a political war."
"I supported my government," he said. "I did. And would have gone had my unit been called up, by the way."

Friday, August 27, 2004

Neocon Amnesia

Charles Krauthammer, in 2000, writing approvingly:

But one leading American psychiatrist advanced a more nuanced view. Dr. Walter Reich, who had challenged the Kremlin by examining some of these dissidents--and, to its great embarrassment, finding them perfectly sane--argued that some Soviets had so thoroughly imbibed their own ideology that at some level they actually believed dissent was prima facie evidence of psychological disturbance.

But now in 2004, he says:

This [Democratic contempt for Dubya] is all quite unhinged. Good God. What if Bush is reelected? If they lose to him again, Democrats will need more than just consolation. They'll need therapy.
Crypto Hawker Stalker

Earlier this week we introduced a popular new feature, Hawker Stalker, in which we will report sightings of Washington's punditocracy in the wild. Although today's entry is not as right-wing as the last one, we think he counts:
* Saw George Stephanopolous today on 30th Street in Georgetown, taking his mid-morning consitutional in an extremely dubious navy blue tracksuit. Might have been velour, it was hard to tell from across the block. He kept checking something in his hand--maybe a stopwatch, maybe one of those pedometers from McDonald's? Also, he is very small.
But perfectly formed, no doubt.
Euphemism of the Day

Looking for a polite way to say that the US needs to slash public health and pension programs? Then Alan Greenspan is your man:

If we have promised more than our economy has the ability to deliver, as I fear we may have, we must recalibrate our public programs so that pending retirees have time to adjust through other channels
I'm shocked, shocked, to find opinion polls in this establishment

From Dubya, during the notorious interview with RTE's Carol Coleman:

But I'm the kind of person, I don't really try to chase popular polls, or popularity polls. My job is to do my job and make the decisions that I think are important for our country and for the world.

In the New York Times story about their interview with him on Thursday:

Aides said he [Dubya] was in a good mood because of recent polls that showed him gaining ground on Mr. Kerry after months of bad news in Iraq.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Where have you gone, Michael Dorn?

Like us, you may have been inundated with press releases for the Alzheimer's benefit honoring James "Scotty" Doohan. No? Well then you haven't noticed the troubling behind-the-scenes guest list machinations. Here's what we were told on August 16:

Neil Armstrong To Join Historic Star Trek Reunion Dinner And Tribute To Support The Fisher Center For Alzheimer's Research Center
Who: Neil Armstrong; Original Cast of Star Trek; Star Trek Enterprise Stars LeVar Burton and Michael Dorn; baseball superstar Jose Canseco; artist Peter Max; Vice President and COO Fisher Center Foundation Mary Asta, and other surprise guests.
Okay, so we were intrigued, and ready to buy a table or two, why not, when today we get this:
Expected Guests Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Neil Armstrong Buzz Aldrin, LeVar Burton and Jose Canseco
Dinner And Tribute To Support The Fisher Center For Alzheimer's Research Center
Who: Ben Stiller; Christine Taylor; Neil Armstrong; Buzz Aldrin; Original Cast of Star Trek; Star Trek Next Generation Star LeVar Burton; baseball superstar Jose Canseco; Mary Asta, Vice President and COO Fisher Center Foundation and other surprise guests.
So either Michael Dorn and cradle robber kitsch factory pop artist Peter Max dropped out citing creative differences (I cannot be on the same stage as that bastard Spock!), or else they got bumped from the press release by Ben Stiller and Buzz Aldrin. Either way, we're canceling our checks.
By their target audience shall ye know them

From Thursday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd):

Through the first six months of this year, Mr. Bush's campaign bought...400 spots on Comcast Corp.'s Golf Channel, whose audience is so tiny it doesn't even subscribe to Nielsen to get ratings.

Mr. Bush also has been spending a lot on cable-news channels, and it comes as no surprise that News Corp.'s Fox News has been the biggest beneficiary, getting 253 commercials from the Bush-Cheney committee in the year's first six months.
Please, Mom, not the hot-sauce treatment again!

Okay, so if you were going to take parenting advice from any single member of the cast of The Facts of Life, who would it be? Tootie? Mrs. Garrett? Proto-baby-dyke Jo? Clearly it would be Natalie, who was already a mamela-in-the-making at puberty.

One thing is certain, though: It wouldn't be Blair. And yet Lisa Whelchel is the only Lifer (so far) to publish not one but TWO books on this very subject: So You're Thinking About Homeschooling and now Creative Correction (thanks to Bookslut for the link). Rather than give you our own review of the book, we offer instead an Amazon reviewer's take:

... I liked how she used Scripture to back things up. She even explained why it is so important to use Scripture when raising your children. ... But I have some problems with some of the corrections she mentions. ... First, I've never liked the hot sauce/vinegar/soap treatment. Second, she mentions spraying water into the face of a toddler who has a temper tantrum. I'd feel like I was treating my child as a housepet if I did that. Then she mentioned things like letting a child go without a meal for failing to do a chore. I do believe strongly that you should never threaten to withhold food from a child, for any reason.
Another example of something I wouldn't try is when the child refuses to hold your hand when going across the parking lot. She mentions giving the child a choice: either hold the child's hand or hold the child's hair. If I was leading my child around the parking lot by the hair, I'd be afraid someone would sick Child Protective Services on me. --L.L Wasson, Indianapolis

Yes, L.L Wasson, we would call Protective Services on ya. In the meantime, we look forward to follow-up books from Facts of Life short-timers George Clooney and Molly Ringwald.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Dubya's real twin

On a day of strange news stories, perhaps the strangest is the arrest of Maggie Thatcher's son Mark in South Africa, suspected of involvement in a coup plot in Equatorial Guinea, which would be just another African country with a corrupt dictator about which the West wouldn't care, except that it has oil. As one reads the details of Mark's life, it starts to bear strong resemblance to another son of a Cold War era leader.

Leaving aside the birth in the Spinal Tap-esque town of Scotney, consider the youthful antics intermingled with business careers of at best moderate success, the endless networking with parental connections, and then at some point the accumulation of apparently considerable wealth with opaque explanations about where it all came from. Then of course, history dealt different cards to each of them, and one of them seems to have wound up conspiring with unsavoury individuals to overthrow the dictator of an oil rich state. And the other moved to South Africa.
The religious mosaic of the Black and Tans

Wednesday's Irish Times reports on (subs. req'd) an interesting history research paper that estimates religious affiliations of two notorious Crown paramilitary forces that operated in Ireland during the War of Independence -- the Black and Tans, and the Auxiliaries, both of which represented ill-conceived attempts by Britain to reinforce the Irish police, in terms of men, equipment, and tactics [and by the way, by Black and Tan, we don't mean the bizarrely cheery references to the alcoholic beverage of that name].

Indeed, the experience of the "Tans" (the popular umbrella term for both forces) has become a template for how not to deal with insurgencies, as in: don't send hastily recruited, poorly trained, and predominantly overseas men to fight a guerilla war. But that was over 80 years ago and we don't make that mistake anymore, right, Dubya?

Anyway, an intrepid researcher has come up with some findings about the demography of the Tans that are superficially surprising but upon reflection (on the things that people will do for money, adventure, or because they are told to) are less so:

"Extrapolating from the sample, more than 2,300 of all Black-and-Tans and 225 of all Auxiliaries were Irish," according to the study.

A breakdown of the religion of the Black-and-Tans and Auxiliaries found that 82 per cent of them were Protestant, 17.4 per cent were Catholic, and there were 10 English Jews.

Overall, nearly one fifth of the paramilitary forces were Irish, and about half of those were Catholic, leading to the historian's headline finding that 1 in 10 of the Tans were Irish Catholic. Which we suppose is surprising if your expectation was for zero Irish Catholics, but as we said above, people can wind up in weird places for a variety of motives and reasons.

And what about those 10 Jews? P O'Neill's father had the bizarre recent experience of meeting a cranky Belfast tourist in Killarney, who patiently explained (in the context of Bill Clinton's current visit to Ireland) that Clinton's only problem was that the Jews conspired to bring him down with the Lewinsky business. The only evidence for which is that Monica herself is Jewish. Doubtless the carriers of such theories are lapping up these new revelations about the Tans.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Maybe they should rename it Oircom

Those unfortunate Wall Street investment bankers -- caught out by their assumption that a former Irish state-owned company, with an Irish-sounding name, and operating in Ireland is actually Irish! Because as Saturday's Irish Times reported (subs. req'd):

Goldman Sachs, the investment bank which led the €1.15 billion re-flotation of Eircom [main Irish phone company] in March, has acknowledged it made an embarrassing error over the company's nationality...

Goldman issued a statement to the stock exchange yesterday stating it had an interest in 44.5 million shares in Eircom last March. It said that it had not notified its interest in the shares earlier because it thought Eircom was an Irish company, when in fact it is registered in England...The ownership of Eircom was transferred to a UK shelf company in July 2003 as part of a financial restructuring...

Now while GS made the technical error here, who can blame them? This is precisely the sort of situation that leads enterprising bloggers to coin the name Shamrockshire for our republic, and it also epitomises the crony capitalism of the place, since the change in company registration was made to facilitate a big payout to a group of investors including "Sir" Tony O'Reilly, Oirish media magnate. The long-term risk (as the investment bankers might say) is that if the Americans are getting confused about what's Irish and what's English, will at some point they just stop seeing a reason to visit Ireland anymore?
A veteran of the Kabul airport arrivals building

There is a weird bit of terminological confusion today in the online Wall Street Journal's reporting of one of the Guantanamo show trials tribunals. The story's main page summary says:

Bin Laden's driver was arraigned at the first U.S. military tribunal since World War II, appearing at a pretrial session as defense lawyers sought to challenge the process.

but the text of the story (subs. req'd) has

Osama bin Laden's chauffeur was arraigned at the first U.S. military tribunal since World War II...

We suppose it wouldn't do for the main page to feature the idea of the Evil One having a chauffeur. Nevertheless, Osama's preference to be driven places is another demonstration of one of the classics of obscure Irish rock, the Fatima Mansions song: Only Losers Take the Bus. Even in Afghanistan.
Debut: Hawker Stalker

Inspired by a favorite blog vice, Gawker Stalker (where Manhattanites post sightings of the rich and famous), we today inaugurate a new feature here at BOBW: Hawker Stalker, in which Washingtonians may post sightings of bellicose Beltway insiders. To wit:

* Saw Barbara Comstock over the weekend, walking by herself at the Leesburg Corner outlet mall. Doesn't Fox News pay these people enough?

Email us with your own sightings. No right-wing nut job too obscure!

Friday, August 20, 2004

Triumph of the Till

We've posted before about odd promotional pairings, such as musical choices at political rallies, and songs for ad campaigns. Here's another one. St Pauli Girl beer has a new set of magazine ads. As always, the Girl herself is prominently featured. But the tagline for this one is (we're working from memory, can't find a link): Some girls have morals. But only one has the German Purity law.

Now of course we know that the whole point of the marketing of this beer is to link it to the Girl and the German Beer Purity Law, but in its silly nod-wink beer marketing way, we wonder whether the PR people stumbled into some awkward territory on this one...the picture of the blond, and references to German Purity. One thinks of the plot of The Producers redone for beer advertising rather than a musical. Come back Diageo, all is forgiven!

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Your overdeveloped fantasy life, your underdeveloped social skills

You know who you are. The kind of uncontrolled gamer who will stay up all night (on a work night!) just to make it a couple more levels past Minas Tirith. You've often thought about how that not-so-sexually-ambiguous Soul Caliber character Voldo creeps you out and makes you happy all at once. But this goes beyond your wildest dreams.
(thanks to the folks at Black Table for the link)
Is it good for the Bushies or bad for the Bushies?

There are many aspects of Bush White House "logic" that would be comical except for the fact these guys are, like, in charge of stuff. The latest of countless examples is their position on the fairness of electoral processes. One might try to parody their position as "we'll tell you what we think about the process when we know whether we like the outcome or not." But that's not a parody -- that is their position.

To see the contortions this produces, begin by checking out the blog GUBU's link to a State Department press briefing -- a masterpiece of weasel acknowledgment that Hugo Chavez won the Venezuela recall referendum. Now, one of the opposition claims is that the new electronic voting machines were tampered with, although they lack any independent evidence of this and there are paper trails that can be used for an audit that support the government's position -- but of course the US can't really back them in this line of argument since domestically, they are in favour of electronic voting and against paper audits.

And then there's another election: Pakistan, key ally in the War on Terror, needed to find a parliamentary seat for Shaukat Aziz so that they could make him Prime Minister. The resulting by-elections cooperated nicely with this desire, but:

...opposition parties have castigated Mr. Aziz, 55, who lived in the West for 30 of the last 35 years, calling him an American stooge who has no real popular following in Pakistan. They also accused the government of gerrymandering the election districts and harassing the opposition.

We await...NOT the State Department demand for an international audit.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The logic defence shield seems to be working just fine

Dubya, 12 July 2004:
America must remember the lessons of September the 11th. We must confront serious dangers before they fully materialize.

Dubya, 17 Aug 2004
We want to continue to perfect this [anti-missile] system, so we say to those tyrants who believe they can blackmail America and the free world: you fire, we're going to shoot it down
Yasser is one step further along than Dubya

[BBC] The veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has told a meeting of MPs that "unacceptable mistakes" have been made under his leadership.


[Dubya news conference April 2004]
Q ...After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?

THE PRESIDENT: I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it. (Laughter.) John, I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Republic of Oirland

Fintan O'Toole has a hilarious column in Tuesday's Irish Times (subs. req'd), although the anecdotes contained therein are pathetic -- pathetic in what they reflect about modern Ireland. Fintan's latest tirade is linked to the widespread rebranding of the country as a literary theme park, with the twist of supreme incompetence in its implementation. For example:

...from the website of one of the major institutions of learning in the city of Joyce and Yeats, the Dublin Institute of Technology: "The Abbey Theatre is one of the landmarks of Irish drama and was set up by the Irish National Theatre Society in 1904 and kept to Yates (sic)idealistic dream by producing the works of Irish playrights (sic) such as Synge and O Casey."

There follows many further examples of references to a Mr Yates, apparently a giant of Irish literature. There's no defence for this idiocy; the only thing we can think of is the fear of God that our English teacher managed to inspire in us should anyone in the class get their wires crossed in the pronunciations of Keats and Yeats; perhaps it was like this for generations at Irish secondary schools, and so in our heads we developed the spelling Yates to be sure to get it right, with the unintended consequence that it's now the preferred spelling of the unfortunate WB's surname.

But it's not just Yeats, and the rebranding craze knows no shame:

[from official govt website] Brendan Behan..."became enthusiastically involved in the IRA's youth wing at an early age"..."Existentialist, eccentric Samuel Beckett painted his masterful, esoteric plays with a palette of anguish, ennui, and futility"...
...At the Druid's Glen Hotel and Country Club in Wicklow, you can dance in the James Joyce Ballroom, do unspeakable things in the Oscar Wilde Suite, get buried up to your neck in sand in the Samuel Beckett Room, muse in the William Butler Yeats Room, and hold a meeting of your company (which sells, presumably, succulent roasted babies) in the Jonathan Swift Boardroom. The Park West industrial estate in Dublin has streets called Joyce Way, Yeats Way and Heaney Avenue

What should we expect from the people who brought us ReJoyce 2004?
Chicago's new chemist

If one judges the public mood of the Irish Republic by the letters pages of the Irish Times, the dominant issue this summer has been the country's high prices, glaringly obvious to everyone back from their holliers elsewhere in Europe. And then there are all those Irish people headed to the US to do their shopping, helped along by the weak Dubya dollar.

But now comes a sign that Ireland is far cheaper than the US in at least one aspect -- prescription medicine. Today the state of Illinois announced that it is setting up an Internet site to allow residents to purchase their medication not just from Canada, from where there was already an active trade, but also Britain and Ireland. The state government has taken the position that you'll never beat the Irish (or the British, or the Canadians) when it comes to supplying medicine up to US standard (subs. req'd):

A spokeswoman for Gov. Blagojevich, a Democrat, said the three countries Illinois is focused on have "very advanced, very safe pharmaceutical systems,"

but the US Pharma lobby...is, surprise, surprise, not so sure:

Wanda Moebius, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents drug makers, said Illinois would not be able to guarantee that drugs said to be from Britain or Ireland really came from there. "We have serious safety concerns," Ms. Moebius said.
The brilliantly named Wanda seems to be unaware that verifying that a package really came from Ireland is easy -- just look for the mis-designed postage stamps on the outside.

More seriously, while the interest from Illinois in Irish medicines might be seen as a compliment, it's not guaranteed to be a good thing, as the reasons for their interest indicate:

The drug companies have pretty aggressively been shutting supplies to Canada, and we want to ensure that the supply will meet the demand," Abby Ottenhoff, a spokeswoman for Mr. Blagojevich, said. "Ultimately, they can't shut down supplies to the world to keep prices high in the United States."

At this point, cast your minds back to your introductory economics course (undoubtedly your favourite) and recall that an increase in demand leads to higher prices. Put another way, Irish consumers benefit from the current practice of companies in trying to segment their market and charge lower prices in Ireland than in the US. Get ready for a new category of high prices letters to the Irish Times.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Wild about Patty!

Time was, you couldn't turn on the TV without catching a glimpse of Everybody Loves Raymond's Patricia Heaton. Whether it was the lovingly gentle photography of her crow's feet in the Hootie and the Blowfish video ads for The Goodbye Girl on USA, her host work on the despicable Christmas in Washington, or her commercials for Pantene (avec hair double), this 21st-century everywoman, the modern sitcom's version of Bob Costas (i.e., an inexplicably successful, mediocre, painfully inoffensive baby-boomer) was inescapable.

So today, while trying to decide whether to spring for the limited edition hardcover ($29.95) or just the paperback edition ($19.95) of the new Everybody Loves Raymond Our Family Album (you know, in that alternate universe where we are PATHETIC IDIOTS), we realized that it's actually been quite a while since we've heard anything about Patricia Heaton. We almost forgot what was so annoying about her. Yes, she was the first in the lineage of recent sitcoms of the annoying schleppy husband/cute clever enduring wife variety, but isn't there something else about her? Oh yeah, she's also the honorary chair of Feminists for Life. Her quote on the group's home page (next to the picture of Susan B. Anthony):

Women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy also deserve unplanned joy.

We're not sure that that's the single stupidest anti-abortion argument ever made. But it's gotta be up there.
A new addition to English slang

Inspired by James McGreevey's brilliant resignation speech, we propose the following new usage. Situation: your spouse walks out, possibly because she suspects that you're gay. Slang:

she chose to return to British Columbia.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Washington media elite pillow talk

On one of Thursday's nights cable "news" channel shows with lots of yelling, some interesting insights into the mind of Republican party operative, Sheri Annis, aka Mrs Howard (Washington Post "media critic") Kurtz:

ANNIS: ...He called himself, if you‘ll notice, a gay American, hyphenated status......
[yelling from Chris Matthews]...
"Gay American" evokes a minority status, and he‘s trying to play off of that. He wants to deflect any attention from the fact that he may have hired someone extremely irresponsibly who was not qualified at all because of a personal relationship. That doesn't look as good. It doesn't evoke as much sympathy as someone who happens to have finally found his identity and suddenly decided he's gay.

OK, so we're not going to be defending Governor McGreevey, who does indeed have a few questions to answer about how his Israeli sailor boyfriend became NJ's Director of Homeland Security and then wound up suing him, but the dripping cynicism of the above says a lot. In particular, McGreevey didn't hyphenate anything -- "And so my truth is that I am a gay American," but Sheri clearly has this grab-bag category of "hyphenated Americans" into which gay people get tossed.

And McGreevey didn't suddenly decide he's gay, he suddenly decided that now might be a good time to tell people about it, but to a political operative, when being gay is not a hyphen, it's just that day's choice of what mode to be in. A suggested topic for CNN's Reliable Sources -- who's more cynical, politicians or the hacks who cover them?

UPDATE: Reader CS points us to a blog discussing Kurtz's own recent contribution to the gay rights debate.
In case those Irish surnames all sound the same

1. Charlie McCreevy: former Irish minister for finance, incoming Brussels Commissioner for something that sounds very important, and hero of the Wall Street Journal editorial page ("For the past seven years, he has steered Europe's most dynamic economy. His supply-side economic policies of cutting taxes and reining in government spending have given Ireland an average growth rate of 8% a year etc etc")

2. James McGreevey, outgoing governor of New Jersey, in circumstances that are, to say the least, interesting, and most likely not a hero of the WSJ editorial page, but who might be well advised to join his near-namesake in Brussels as soon as possible.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Today's Huck Finn(s)

It can't be a coincidence that we received advance copies of two important new travel chronicles today. And like Toqueville taking the measure of a nation by wandering its highways and byways, these authors tell us more about America than perhaps we are ready to know.
I awoke this morning to find one of the many hard-to-identify C-list celebs who routinely fill out the dance card passed out on the floor, near a puddle of vomit.
When I first began to encounter the German word schadenfreude ... I couldn't find the compound word in my little German dictionary. I decided to decipher its meaning by looking up the component words, and from schaden and freude I worked out my own home-made translation of "tarnished joy" ... like adventuring through China or Africa--with dysentery.

Yes, we too are shocked at how hard it is to discern which is the effort of Paris Hilton's teacup chihuahua (The Tinkerbell Hilton Diaries, Warner Books, $9.95) and which is the work of Geddy Lee's housepet--er, drummer, Neil Peart (Traveling Music, ECW, $28.95). Uncanny.

Rain with scattered showers and the odd tidal wave

With the necessary allowance for it being the silly season, here's one of the major items from the Irish Times news update page today (subs. req'd) -- the remarks of a scientist, or perhaps a "scientist," who claims that Ireland is the lost kingdom of Atlantis. Strangely enough, the central focus of his theory is on the historical sites of County Meath, which as we noted a few days ago, is also believed by a sample of British people to be the location of Helms Deep from Lord of the Rings. But anyway:

Dr Ulf Erlingsson, whose radical theories have caused a storm of debate, is on a three-day tour here to prove Ireland contains remnants of the mythical land described by Greek philosopher Plato in 370 BC.

Dr Erlingsson, 44, today visited Newgrange and Knowth megalithic passage tombs in Co Meath which he believes are linked to the ancient temples of Poseidon and the Ancestors in Atlantis. He also believes the Atlantis capital can be connected with Tara in Co Meath - the legendary seat of the high kings of Ireland.

He said:"...And Plato said that 10 kings met in the Atlantis capital every five years, which would equate with Tara's historical connection with the high kings."
...The geologist's theories are contained in his book Atlantis from a Geographer's Perspective: Mapping the Fairy Land, to be published next month.

Besides our instinctive reaction of "who are you calling a fairy, dude?" we had to look up to see what other telling correspondences between Ireland and Atlantis might be. So:

[wikipedia] westwards from that island [Britain], there were the three islands of Cronus, to where proud and warlike men used to come from the continent beyond the islands, in order to offer sacrifice to the gods of the ocean.

Which indeed matches the modern day practice of proud and warlike men coming in from the counties beyond Meath to gloat about recent football results, and as a result offering themselves as sacrifices to enraged local toughs. Slightly more seriously, the Swede doesn't seem to have much evidence beyond the fact that Ireland is an island where it rains a lot, and the only known geological event that sounds like Atlantis was in the Dogger Bank in the North Sea, now only known for its iconic daily role in BBC's Shipping Forecast. But what would science fiction and fantasy be without a few good speculations? Thus now that R Morgenstern's beloved TV show Stargate has been supplemented with Stargate: Atlantis, we expect to hear many brogues in the latter show in the near future.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Dear God not another comparison of Dubya with an English leader

In September's Vanity Fair, pretty boy conservative historian Niall Ferguson has an article comparing Dubya with Henry V, or at least Shakespeare's version thereof [VF is link-stingy so you'll have to take our version of the article on faith, or look for the newstand issue with Reese Witherspoon on the cover]. We are disturbed that Niall somehow missed our own contribution to this comparison -- both characters professed a distinctly double-edged love for France.

And then there's this continual need of conservatives to compare Dubya to some giant of English history, which even in the case of Henry V has undergone several rounds of debunking, such as here and here. Our own previously expressed position is that there's an uncanny resemblance of Dubya's worldview to that of Joe Chamberlain, but that's a name that's either too unfamiliar or has the wrong echoes for Dubya's boosters (especially those boosters who get Neville and Joe mixed up).

A final noteworthy thing about Ferguson's piece is that beyond the few obvious points, he doesn't even expand on the comparison all that much -- it's really just a sustained critique of Dubya, with the Henry V comparison as a veneer. And it's not for lack of material either, it's impossible not to think of the WMD charade as one reads the Archbishop of Canterbury's headache-inducing case for Henry's claim to France, complete with laugh line "So that, as clear as is the summer's sun" -- just like Colin Powell's speech to the UN. Do the "smart conservatives" feel the need to disguise their dissent just enough so that their fellow conservatives won't show their fangs?

Here's the thing. We don't read Esquire magazine for the articles. That is to say, we read it not as readers, but as thinkers: We read it and think, wow, who reads this stuff?

And yet sometimes, when we're reading-but-not-reading Esquire and feeling all proud for not believing that "real" men date models and drive penis cars and worry about their self-love techniques, we find ourselves suddenly in sync with the Esquire intellectual aesthetic. To wit: The naming of Andre 3000 as Esquire's best dressed man in the world. But even more so, also from the September issue, we were pleasantly surprised to read this entry among the "seven most remarkable things in culture this month":

Least believable trend: Fat guys and their hot wives on CBS.

Like, yeah! The schlubby guy-tacky gal thing is everywhere, not just on the aforementioned unwatchable TV shows (King of Queens, Still Standing, and Center of the Universe). See, for example, FX's DVD on TV; every episode of Celebrity Poker Showdown; and pretty much any beer commercial. Which may explain why the only things you'll see on the TV in the BOBW staff rec room are baseball, Le Journal, Buffy and Angel reruns, and Stargate. Say what you want about Richard Dean Anderson, but he's no Kevin James.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Pardon our French

Dontcha hate it when media insiders keep some choice bit of obscenity to themselves with just a "I know and you don't" nod to the rest of us? The excellent detective work of R Morgenstern democratised one such incident a few weeks ago, but now we bring another to your attention. As part of our general keeping up with world affairs, we try to watch the news from the main Axis of Evil country every evening, i.e. France.

Specifically, an excellent local public channel provides the France 2 nightly news with subtitles. Monday night's little sports item at the end concerned tennis star Amelie Mauresmo's remarks to an excited crowd in Montreal following her victory in a lucrative tennis tournament.

We're working from the subtitles of course, but she basically said "OK, I'm going to try speaking a little Quebecois, it may not be quite proper... J'ai crissement bien jouer!" No sub-titles at this point, just huge laughter from the crowd and a grinning news anchor back in the studio. The best translation we can get is from 540 kilometers down the 401, in Toronto's National Post:

...which roughly translates into "I played pretty f------ well."

The French-English dictionaries are no help, variously translating crissement as crunch or screech but Mauresmo seems to have been implying that there's a particular Quebec twist on this word. So far, it's all dead ends in our research with Google too, a fact which alone lessens our willingness to bid in their IPO. But any help from our friends up north with this fascinating etymology greatly appreciated.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader LG up north for the following explanation, which has the extra virtue of being consistent with the one thing we know about Quebecois slang, namely its use of religious words and images:

[LG] About the word: it comes from "Christ". The proper spelling would
be "christement" ("christly") but in slang it became simply
"crissement". The sentence would therefore translate as "Christ,
I've played well!".

[Aug 16] And further thanks to reader DS, who draws our attention to the dubious grammar in the reported version of Mauresmo's quote; she would have said "J'ai crissement bien joué," not jouer. Serves us right for cutting and pasting from a Toronto paper.

Monday, August 09, 2004

And history ain’t changed

Today's NYT web front page gives prominent play to two stories:

Senator Presses White House on Leaking Qaeda Suspect's Name
Senator Charles Schumer said the disclosure of a suspect's capture may have complicated efforts to combat terror.

Reporter Ordered to Testify Over C.I.A. Leak
A federal judge held a reporter for Time magazine in contempt for refusing to name the officials who leaked an agent's identity.

The first refers to the apparently premature divulging of the name of an al Qaeda operative arrested in Pakistan; the Pakistanis had made him a double agent and wanted to keep the name under wraps as long as possible, but it was released as part of the spin operation to justify the recent terror alert. The second refers to the leaking of the CIA identity of Joseph Wilson's wife, he had been pouring cold water on Dubya's Niger--Iraq--uranium claims.

Thus all the pundits who try and confine Dubya's missteps as isolated incidents now have to confront his systematic tendency to use the media to leak secret stuff when spin requires it. Remember Dubya's own eloquent advice about falling twice for the same trick:

"There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again."—Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002
How long before someone starts marketing a SUX?

We've posted recently about politicians or their DJs being seemingly unaware of the associations of songs that they adopt for their crowd-pumping music. The same thought came to mind as we watched a commercial for yet another hideous Sport Utility Vehicle, this one being some genre of Nissan. There's already much repositioning going on in the marketing of the SUV and indeed the term SUV itself may not be long for this world. But the ads have clearly moved away from their traditional Canyonero format to something that's meant to be simultaneously more soft-focus and "cool" -- the latter as defined by the suits in PR companies.

Now, "cool" might be taken to imply gritty and alternative, which is not quite what the well-off half-wits who drive these things want, so in its musical choice, the Nissan ad finds what seems like the perfect solution -- a song, Surfing on a Rocket, by French techno-druggies Air which does indeed sound all smooth and airy yet vaguely edgy. And if you haven't heard of Air, it's that band that your annoying Eurotrash friend is always telling you about.

But is it really such a good choice? The song's video hasn't been that widely seen as it tends to only make the late night rotation on MTV, but its basic imagery is a fairly literal exploration of the title, a mixture of the military and the Phallic with a crazed American general and a 1950s-era army base honey joyfully riding the aforementioned rocket. [Here's the least technologically annoying link to the video]. Will Nissan be as happy with this ad if it succeeds in making the song and its video extremely popular?

Friday, August 06, 2004

Raleigh would be happy

Within the limits of our Irish secondary school pathetic French class, this Le Monde article seems to be discussing a dispute between the French and Belgians about the invention of the chip/French Fry. And our French can definitely handle the discussion of who likes what with their fries:

En Angleterre, elle s'associe avec les poissons frits pour les fameux fish and chips. Si les Néerlandais aiment la manger avec de la mayonnaise, les Québécois la préfèrent avec du cheddar frais. Les Italiens apprécient leur patatine frite avec un rien de sel et les Mexicains leurs papas a la francesa avec du citron et du piment. Baptisée ranskikset en Finlande, où on l'aime avec du ketchup, elle devient kentang goreng en Malaisie.

Strangely enough, no mention of what les irlandais like with their chips, but recent research by us in Westport leads us to the conclusion that the preferred accompaniments would be boiled potatoes and mashed potatoes, with maybe a side of crisps and baked potatoes as well. OK so we are exaggerating based on a couple of sightings but those sightings did leave an impression -- at a somewhat pretentious hotel restaurant, the two men at a table of four next to us ordered steaks burnt to a cinder, and proceeded to down said cinder with boiled and mashed potatoes and chips. Which reminded us of the classic Simpsons scene:

Homer Simpson: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No!
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal!
Homer [with sarcasm]: Heh heh heh ... ooh ... yeah ... right, Lisa. A wonderful ... magical animal.

But at least Homer's three part diet of ham, pork, and bacon has some Atkins virtues to it. In Ireland, however, with its wonderful magical tuber, Atkins has a lot of work to do.
The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

In Dubya's widely reported gaffe

They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we

the following detail is telling:

No one in Bush's audience of military brass or Pentagon chiefs reacted.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Sauron's Glorious Revolution

It seems that the use by the Lord of the Rings film trilogy of a haunting Celtic soundtrack was much too effective because it has now polluted young British minds with an amusingly bizarre version of one of the key historical events on the Islands. A poll of one thousand young people on the Big Island found the following consensus opinion:

The Battle of the Boyne was fought with elves, orcs and even a few hobbits in the ranks, a new survey suggests...About one in 10 young people in Britain confused fact with fantasy and said they thought the famous battle of 12 July [1690] was straight out of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings best-selling book and blockbusting movie trilogy.

The scene where William of Orange defeated King James II in the famous Battle of the Boyne was at Helm's Deep, not Ireland, they believed.

As the story goes on to note, this would be laughable except for the fact that the Battle really was a major event with Pan-European dimensions, and depending on one's point of view, it may have set the stage for parliamentary democracy, a coup, or repression of the Catholic minority, and it certainly affected the subsequent evolution of the United Kingdom.

But leaving that aside, let's look at the fun side of the survey; they really ought to tell us how the survey respondents related Kings William and James to the Rings characters and how the rest of Ireland related to the Rings locales. For no particular reason, we'd guess that William was Sauron, and James II would be Theoden, but after that we're stuck, not least because in the actual battle, our Sauron wins. Suggestions welcome. But in the meantime, there is surely a new marketing ploy for Irish tourism: why go to New Zealand to see the Rings sites when you can visit them all in much closer County Meath?
Svengate: Department of Unfortunate Names

[BBC] Eriksson's agent Athole Still said that his client was pleased with the decision.

"I called Sven immediately after hearing the news and he was going out for dinner with England assistant coach Tord Grip," said Still.

Antonym of the day

Thursday's Wall Street Journal contains a tendentious and sloppy opinion piece (reg. req'd) attacking the supposed tacit collusion of US privacy watchdogs with al Qaeda; by mingling the timeline of pre- and post-9/11 strategies for passenger screening, and misstating the reasons for the ineffectiveness of each, it manages to come to the pleasing conclusion that 9/11 was all Bill Clinton's fault, and that those pesky privacy types are facilitating the same again today. The concluding quote:

There is no way to keep a terrorist from flying without first trying to determine who he is. Yet the most innocuous identity verification system prior to a flight is now seen as tantamount to illegal surveillance. With the rights advocates back in the saddle of national security, al Qaeda can blithely get on with its business.

We also noticed the piece's preferred term for privacy groups: privocrats. Now, perhaps this construction is enough to make one the toast of the next VRC cocktail party, but it's also fairly stupid. Presumably intended to be a combination of privacy and bureaucrat, it misses the fact that the typical person with concerns about privacy is not a part of the bureaucracy, which is precisely what has them so worried.

But anyway, if one was curious as to what the opposite of this word might be, there's a ready option from Northern Ireland in Sinn Fein's favourite word, securocrats, capturing that very blurred line between administration and domestic security policy. A term of special relevance to residents of New York City and Washington DC, wondering why more and more of their daily routine is dominated by decisions made by unelected and thinly accountable officials offering the rote response "security reasons" to all questions.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Is this history as tragedy or farce?

It being an especially quiet day on the web, we made the mistake of surfing over to the odious Instapundit to see him plug "Michelle Malkin's audacious new book" In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror. This is a book that the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy will able to promote in its sleep, because the tactics are so tried and tested at this point -- the politically loaded and self-consciously contrarian title, a huge media machine to cover the supposed PC squelching of the book, and the sidestepping of the fact that given the cause and the author, any arguments in the book to advance its thesis will be total shite.

But hey, the author is a woman espousing reactionary causes, which is so, like, transgressive, so clear some spots on the Bill O'Reilly show immediately. The "liberal" media will then feel compelled to allocate some column inches to a "balanced" report on the outrage, and God forbid, some of what the book advocates could actually become government policy.

Our own point of curiosity about this book is to see what the coterie of Irish-American yellers will make of it -- the aforementioned O'Reilly of course, but also Sean Hannity, and even America's Pundit, Tim Russert. Not for the first time, the US War on Terror seems to be taking unwise tips from Northern Ireland, which, if it was getting more attention, might not be what Dubya would want those coveted Irish-American voters to hear about.

Will Michelle's defence of internment cover its disastrous application in Northern Ireland? Even 30-plus years later, we still don't know all the details about its introduction by the British government in 1971, but with each release of the British Cabinet papers (following the thirty year lag) a little more comes out. Such as:

[BBC] The UK Government introduced internment in Northern Ireland in 1971 against the advice of its military commander, newly-released secret documents show.

The decision to detain republican terrorist suspects without trial caused fury and unrest in Catholic communities.

But Lieutenant General Sir Harry Tuzo, head of the Army in the province, had warned it would have a "harmful effect", according to the confidential cabinet papers.

Documents released under the 30-year rule also make it clear that the move, regarded as one of the biggest mistakes of the troubles, was made against the counsel of Whitehall advisers. [PM] Heath himself acknowledged that the measure was an explicitly "political act" intended to shore up the government of Northern Ireland's Ulster Unionist Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, in the face of the rising tide of IRA violence.

So, there's the prior experience with internment of the other main player in the war in Iraq: it didn't work, the military and senior civilian officials were against it from the start, and the Prime Minister who actually made the decision did so to prop up a collapsing government, not because he expected it to be militarily effective. Is anyone taking odds on how long the new Iraqi government is expected to last?

[UPDATE: after this posting, it occurred to us that we are not even fully tuned in to Malkin's insansity; she is advocating internment of US citizens, not in Iraq, thus identical to internment in Northern Ireland, but without the attempt to prop up a teetering sub-national (or foreign?) government. The blog Orcinus does the necessary work in bringing actual historical facts about the US experience with internment to the table.]

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Word parse of the day

historical: meaningless past information about potential terrorist attacks, not requiring any specific action from the White House, such as Dubya's indifference to the summer 2001 terrorism warnings

old: very meaningful past information about potential terrorist attacks, requiring very specific action from the White House, such as the new terrorism alert based on information from 3-4 years ago

Monday, August 02, 2004

Sometimes portals make things disappear

Like zeroes. From today's Wall Street Journal newswire (subs. req'd):

South Korea's Daum Communications agreed to buy Lycos for about $95.6 million from Spain's Terra Networks, which paid $12.5 billion for the Internet portal at the height of the technology boom in 2000.
Euphemism of the day

From an Irish Times article (subs. req'd) describing a government report into a rampant culture of overcharging at one of Ireland's retail banks, National Irish Bank (NIB); one of the bank's favourite tactics was surreptitious increases in the interest rates charged to borrowers:

The report says the tampering with interest rates was known amongst bank staff as "adjusting the decimal"

UPDATE: Too many euphemisms from this scandal to keep track of. In Tuesday's Irish Times, Fintan O'Toole pulls out another one:

When it emerged that a letter accompanying an internal NIB investment bulletin had referred to "the people who have money invested offshore already or whose money is 'Hot'," we got straight-faced denials that hot money meant hot money. Beverley Flynn [Fianna Fail TD and NIB staffer] told the High Court, on oath, that "hot" in this context might have meant "a person who was 'hot' for an investment or pension, somebody about to do business".
But, you left out the best part

Barbara "Lady Black" Amiel has an op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd). It's actually a harmless enough article, although we're not sure what the point is. But the real story is Babs' bio at the bottom:

Ms. Amiel is a London-based writer

Thus leaving out hubby Conrad's huge legal problems, his failed battle to keep the Daily Telegraph and thus the heavily endangered Canadian Hack welfare program (Steyn, Babs, Frum) at that Unionist rag, not to mention that Babs herself is named in a few of the lawsuits against Conrad. Most of which are filed in US or Canadian courts. "London-based writer." Hmmm.
Bill Clinton, David Beckham, and Sven-Goran Eriksson

They are three men with potentially useful contributions to make to the following event, outlined in Monday's Daily Telegraph:

Monica Lewinsky will appear at the Edinburgh TV Festival to discuss the money she made from the revelations of her relationship with former US President Bill Clinton.

She will join Rebecca Loos, who also received payments for interviews following her alleged affair with England football captain David Beckham, in a panel discussion on chequebook journalism.

The panel could also use the insights of Faria Alam, alleged paramour of England football team manager Sven, and key player in the preposterous and preposterously named Svengate "scandal." Of course, the most interesting compare and contrast between the US and UK versions of these media imbroglios is that in the UK the player-hating doesn't reach the point where it's used to change the government. But perhaps America's ace puritan/pervert, Ken Starr, will feel tempted to hop on a plane to Scotland just for old time's sake.

UPDATE 22 JUNE 2005: we're seeing some Google searches come here to determine Faria Alam's nationality, with her being back in the news because of her sexual harassment case against the FA. She's from Bangladesh.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

News stories that have nothing whatsover to do with each other

[NYT, Sunday morning] Bush Planning August Attack Against Kerry

[NYT/AP, Sunday lunchtime] Government Considers Raising Threat Level
Another Bloody Sunday

We suppose we have to give some credit to the Fox News spinners for getting on the job so quickly on the church bombings in Iraq. The spin is as follows:

This proves that the terrorists are engaged in a religious war;
The tactic of church bombings was previously seen in Pakistan, so the perpetrators may well be from Pakistan

What they don't want you to think about:
There have been many bombings of mosques during Friday prayers;
In particular, both Pakistan and Iraq have seen extensive bombings of Shia mosques by Sunni extremists;
Iraqi Christians were not victimised under Saddam

Some things that the spinners don't seem to understand:
Difference between Armenian and Armenian Christian, between Assyrian and Syrian, and they're a bit shaky on the whole Chaldean Christian thing