Tuesday, November 30, 2004

We are all biblical scholars now

Maybe it's a sign of the end of the world approaching. But we feel that we are being sent a subtle message by seemingly disparate incidents -- that the number of refences to the Bible seems to be growing. We were put in mind of this by a recent P O'Neill conversational tangent (of which there are many) of just why it is that the scene in 24 Hour Party People where Tony explains the routine involving a band called Barabbas is so funny.

Then today, "smart conservative" New York Times columnist David Brooks tells us that we should all be reading the writings of an Anglican evangelical intellectual who in turn stresses Barabbas's fellow prisoner Jesus as the source of all wisdom. Finally (in another sign of the coming end of the world), we found ourselves thinking that Ian Paisley is being at least slightly misunderstood in the latest rhetorical salvoes accompanying the Northern Ireland peace process:

Earlier, Mr [Gerry] Adams [Sinn Féin leader] responded to a call from the [Unionist] leader Ian Paisley for the IRA to 'wear sackcloth and ashes'. The Sinn Féin leader said the politics of humiliation do not work.

Now if one goes to the Bible (where else would Paisley draw a quote like that), one finds that that sackcloth and ashes have less to do with humiliation and more with anguish and mourning. In the fine words of Radiohead, you do it to yourself, just you and no-one else. It's not humiliation, no more than penance is humiliation. But of course this is Ian Paisley we're talking about. So we won't stretch this exegesis too far.
Not entirely gone away

One hopes that the many retrospectives on Dubya's election victory will get around to studying one of the biggest mysteries of the campaign: the complete disappearance of Abu Ghraib as a news issue, after the initial burst of revelations and reports in early summer. Which is related to the fact that the Abu Ghraib inquiries seem to have made no attempt to reach up the chain of command in assigning responsibility.

Yet the issue is not entirely dead. Today's New York Times brings news of a Red Cross report alleging treatment "tantamount to torture" at Guantanamo Bay. This is important for Iraq because one thing we did learn back when the media cared about Abu Ghraib was that it had been "Gitmo-ised" through a set of recommendations from General Geoffrey Miller, who is linked by his high level involvement in both facilities.

Anyway, we can predict with confidence that the VRC spinner counterattack on the NYT report will focus on who leaked it to the NYT** -- which is actually an interesting question. The NYT is of course coy about its source:

The New York Times recently obtained a memorandum, based on the [Red Cross] report, that quotes from it in detail and lists its major findings.

The paper notes that the Red Cross itself treats its report as confidential, but felt that this had been abused by the Pentagon, which would disengenuously defend Gitmo by saying that the Red Cross hadn't complained about it -- knowing of course that the Red Cross people couldn't say anything under their own rules. Still though, one is left with a sense that the leak did come from within the Pentagon, which would support previous evidence that not everyone in there views the Geneva Convention, like Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales, as obsolete.

We suppose that the NYT has to treat at face value the rote legalisms of the official Pentagon response, but this one is especially laughable:

personnel assigned to Guantánamo "go through extensive professional and sensitivity training to ensure they understand the procedures for protecting the rights and dignity of detainees."

In other words, New Improved Geneva Convention Violations: Now with 10% More Corporate Babble!

In a separate story, the Wall Street Journal reports (subs. req'd) that former Abu Ghraib detainees are going to attempt a war crimes prosecution against senior US officials using provisions of German law. It's clearly an uphill struggle for either the Red Cross or these detainees given the current mindset in the upper echelons of the US government. But maybe, maybe, these efforts can keep the issues ticking over until the the moral values voters widen their horizons beyond rumours of condom instructions in schools.

**UPDATE: as above, we told you that the VRC counterattack would be on
the fact of the leak. Thurday's WSJ editorial
(reg. req'd):

For decades, the very core of Red Cross methodology has been strict confidentiality agreements with cooperating governments. The practice has obvious drawbacks ... But now the ICRC has thrown confidentiality aside to attack the U.S., of all countries. And it matters little that the original leaker in this case may have been in the U.S. government. Officials at ICRC headquarters were only too happy to confirm the document's authenticity ...

Monday, November 29, 2004

It takes an Irish person to get the truth

Washington Post "media critic" Howard Kurtz during his weekly online discussion forum today:

Limerick, Ireland: Why is the American media the laughing stock of the western world? Is it craven self-interest, incompetence?

Howard Kurtz: It's actually craven self-interest, incompetence AND malevolent, greed-driven self-loathing.
al Qaeda slams third party candidates

"The results of the elections do not matter for us," Mr. Zawahri [Osama's right-hand man] said in the three-minute excerpt. "Vote whoever you want, Bush, Kerry or the devil himself."

Freud would have a field day

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Bill Clinton was President, and anchors and pundits couldn't contain themselves as they tossed out phrases like "physical evidence" and "stained dress," and doubtless had huge giggle fits once they went off camera. Now George Bush is President and double-entendres are one of those things that went out the window with the restoration of honour and integrity to the White House.

Except that, with this crew, the psycho-sexual subtext to what goes on is way more bizarre, not withstanding the ability of our glorious pundit class to ignore it. The media never did want to touch the sexual aspects of the Abu Ghraib abuse, for instance, and yet this weekend New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd introduced us to an angry white male -- her brother -- who voted for Bush because he'd heard that somewhere in Maryland, schools are teaching kids how to use condoms.

But let's consider the White House itself. The constant references in reporting to Dubya's close relationship to various women in his administration. Condi's status -- including her blurted out reference to Bush as her "husband." Since the election, the continued reference to Dubya's "mandate," despite the obvious fun that that word lends itself to.

And from today's Washington Post about the reshuffling for Dubya's second term:

With the three Cabinet replacements Bush has announced so far for his second term, he kept his circle tight by dispatching White House staff members to take over the State, Justice and Education departments. Aides said many other such moves will be announced, because Bush and senior adviser Karl Rove are determined to "implant their DNA throughout the government," as one official put it.

Remember, this is the same Karl Rove who was rebuffed, with extreme prejudice, when he once asked the new Education Secretary for a date. Can someone get these guys a shrink? And as for our giggling 1990s pundits -- they're with Benny Hill in the grave.

UPDATE 25 Feb 2005: Others are noticing the weird subtexts among Dubya's coterie. Here's the State Department's picture of Condi Rice's coat and boots ensemble in Wiesbaden that launched the latest round of psycho-sexual speculation, as in the linked Post story.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Films of increasing relevance

So, like much of the country in which we live, we watched a lot of films over the weekend. Mostly Bond films, which never get old. But there's a couple of others that had us thinking -- there is the phenomenon of the big-budget thriller from 10 or 15 years ago, films that were presumably not meant to have any lasting relevance, and yet somehow they seem prescient.

We've always viewed Executive Decision as being in this genre -- it was brilliant entertainment the first time around, but now is almost creepy: the Arab hijacker who instructs the 747 captain (we're working from memory): "don't try anything funny -- I'm a trained pilot."

Then there's Clear and Present Danger. Of course when written it combined elements of the Iran-Contra scandal with the lunacy of the War on Drugs. But consider its theme -- the CIA torn between professional spooks with some sense of realism versus politicians and spinners with madcap schemes and obsessed with the next public relations stunt. The expertly directed ambush scene in Colombia, in which hidden locals with guns and rocket-launchers expose the fallacious belief of the American tough guys that if you wear dark glasses and travel around in big SUVs, you're safe.

On the other hand, if you ever thought it's only Hollywood that wants happy endings? In the film, the National Security Adviser (and implicitly, the President) are brought down in scandal. In the real world, Dubya gets re-elected and Condi gets promoted.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Birds of a feather

As if to mitigate doubts about his work ethic, Dubya is hard at work at the ranch this holiday weekend -- and not just clearing brush either. The Northern Ireland peace process is in the midst of its latest round of last final negotiations, with Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party playing the squeaky wheel role this time. The DUP is torn between its pragmatic desire to have ministerial functions in a devolved administration and its long-time absolutist position on IRA disbandment.

So how is Dubya helping? It doesn't yet rise to the standard of Bill Clinton's engagement, but he did phone Ian Paisley today to encourage Paisley to move things along. This is the right use of his time, because these two have quite a lot in common. "Doctor" Paisley has his degree from Bob Jones University in South Carolina, scene of a deeply cynical appearance by Dubya during his 2000 primary campaign. Paisley and Jones share a deep anti-Catholicism, although they would refer to it as Popery. And of course, Paisley doesn't have to do much to get his rhetoric to work for Dubya:

[Paisley] I reminded the president of the fact that he would not have terrorists in his government, and that we must be satisfied that IRA terrorism is over and cannot return.

There is one subtext to Dubya's latest intervention. Up until now, it's Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble who has presented himself as the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy's go-to guy on Irish terrorism issues. But the whole point of Paisley agreeing to some new deal would be for his party to replace Trimble's as the dominant party of Unionism. Trimble therefore joins the long list of Dubya's erstwhile friends who end up feeling burned.
A player-hater

New York Times cultural columnist Frank Rich appears in print in the Sunday paper but the web version is already up. It's another go-round at the hyprocrisy that bedevils controversies about indecency on television, although as Daily Howler has been pointing out, those analysts at the vanguard of the hypocrisy counter-attack are often relying on dubious generalisations about what else Outraged in Peoria does with their time. However, Rich seems to sign on to an extremely negative generalisation about one particular group -- professional football players:

Again as in the [Janet] Jackson case, we are also asked to believe that pro football is what Pat Buchanan calls "the family entertainment, the family sports show" rather than what it actually is: a Boschian jamboree of bumping-and-grinding cheerleaders, erectile-dysfunction pageantry and, as Don Imus [NYC radio yeller] puts it, "wife-beating drug addicts slamming the hell out of each other" on the field.

There's no other way to read that sentence than the claim that the typical NFL player is a wife beating drug addict. Is that really what he thinks? We await the reaction to the sentence, although perhaps it will slip by in the holiday weekend haze.

UPDATE [Nov 29]: Daily Howler, already linked to above with reference to an earlier stage of the dropped towel controversy, today documents further problems with Rich's logic (scroll down past his homage to a fine Irish film).

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A day that will live in red state infamy

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species — published on this day in 1859.
The new Imperial pronunciation

We liked William Grimes when he was the food critic for the New York Times, and especially when he was keeping a laying hen in his urban back yard. But now he's a book reviewer. And while today's review of "The Stories of English" by David Crystal is innocuous enough, we wonder why he felt the need for this pleasing nod to English, Dubya style:

Those of us who tut-tut when "nuclear" comes out "nucular" need to be reminded that polite Victorians pronounced balcony with the stress on the second syllable, like baloney.

Isn't it obvious what the difference is here? The bal-CONY utterance is merely a stress on a different syllable. But Dubya's version of nuclear adds syllables that appear nowhere in the actual word. And then of course there's the matter that when you're trying to sound all stern and resolute and presidential and un-French about nuclear weapon threats, it probably helps your credibility if you're pronouncing the word properly.
Today is a good day to be fired

It's already a mystery as to how Donald Rumsfeld still has his job after the fiasco in Iraq, but it's an even bigger mystery how he still has it after his utterances on Tuesday about the stalled intelligence services reform bill:

[Rummy, as quoted in the NYT] And any member of Congress who is "saying that I had blatant opposition to the bill is incorrect because the bill didn't exist in the form that it currently is, and the president didn't have a position on the bill at the times that I was briefing him."

Mr. Rumsfeld noted that House-Senate conference work and negotiations on possible compromise language was continuing and said that "the president's position is evolving as the negotiation evolves."

The President didn't have a position ... his position is evolving? Doesn't this make Dubya sounds like a dangerously nuanced flip-flopper who might even look French? Doesn't Rummy understand that Dubya is more like Moses, who comes down from the mountain with ten clear positions already carved in stone, and not subject to discussion?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A little Egyptian mischief

When you follow Northern Ireland politics, you get used to bizarre behaviour at high-level political meetings. Thus a staple of the peace process, given the refusal of various parties to have direct discussions with each other, is the "proximity talks" format, in which the various squabbling parties only agree to meet separately with intermediaries, who then relay their basic points to the other side.

But under Dubya's presidency, this kind of behaviour is starting to look positively mature. From early on in his administration, Dubya has been using invitations to Camp David and Crawford as his signal of who gets to be a Heather. And then there's the whole policy of not talking to crazy dudes with nukes because ... well, it's not clear why, except that it seems too Clintonesque.

And so it is with the Iranians. Colin Powell has been busy shredding whatever remains of his dignity in his last few weeks in office, and his engagements this week required a snub to the Iranian foreign minister, even though they would both be attending an Iraq reconstruction conference in Sharm-al-Sheikh.

But of course, a pre-dinner instruction like "I absolutely, positively, won't sit beside X" merely invites the merry pranksters of the Egyptian protocol machine to arrange exactly that:

In a surprise encounter, Powell and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi were dinner partners at the opening meeting Monday night. U.S. and Iranian officials, who had said there were no plans for discussions between the two men, expressed surprise at the dinner-table arrangement, and both sides said they believed the pairing was set up by Egypt, the conference host.

Despite this setback, the good soldier, peerless diplomat, and inventor of the doctrine that you win wars by bombing the sh*t out of the other side, gamely adapted:

Powell and Kharrazi engaged only in "some polite dinner conversation," a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Powell. "I do not consider the nuclear issues polite dinner conversation."

Not polite dinner conversation? If it was good enough for James Bond and Dr No, why isn't it good enough for the State Department?
The Detroit Distraction

We can already tell that it's shaping up to be a slow news week, because after all, it's Thanksgiving in the USA, therefore there will be no world news. Which brings us to a smaller point. We had thought about posting on the big sporting news in the USA -- the fan-player brawl during a basketball game in Detroit last week and the resulting severe suspensions which fell mostly on the visiting team's players (the Indiana Pacers). However, at the current rate of bloviating about this incident, there's really not that much original to say.

We are mainly struck by the divergence between how the incident would have been handled in European soccer versus the US National Basketball Association, an issue brought up by a Swedish reporter at NBA Commissioner David Stern's news conference on Sunday. In particular, under the European rules, the home team is responsible for the behaviour of the fans, in which case Detroit would have been looking at massive fines and future sanctions (e.g. being forced to play a number of games in an empty arena, or on the road).

So while the player suspensions roughly correspond to similar incidents in Europe (Eric Cantona's lunge at a fan in 1995 being the prime example), there is not a hint of this principle being applied in this case, although the players' association will doubtless argue for it in their appeals of the suspensions.

But our broader point is that for anyone looking for a case study of how the Iraq war has just completely dropped off the radar screen in US domestic politics, the last week is it. The week began last Monday with a controversy about a dropped towel during a pre-game skit on Monday Night Football, drawing the predictable consternation from Colin Powell's son. That was enough to keep the pot boiling till the Friday night mayhem, and (based on our cable news monitoring this evening), the political pundits are having to wait in line behind the sports reporters to get booked on the evening shows.

The upside of this is that we get talking heads who actually, like, know their stuff, but the downside is another week where the chaos in Iraq is relegated to 15 minutes into the newscast. We're not (yet) conspiratorial enough to think that Karl Rove is involved. But he must be happy with the outcome.

Monday, November 22, 2004


Of which country, whose name begins with 'U,' is the following news item speaking:

Exit polls yesterday showed challenger Mr X winning but the central electoral commission said today [establishment candidate] was 3 per cent ahead.

Answer: Here.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The terrorist electoral calendar

Today at BOBW we inaugurate a new feature to give our readers an insight into the terrorist mindset. Who amongst us doesn't know that al Qaeda times their terrorist incidents to ensure that wobbly liberals win elections? So for instance, mastermind Osama wanted John Kerry to win the Presidential election, so he released his video on the Friday before election day, which helped Dubya get elected. That'll learn 'em!

But they won't stop there -- there's always some new election coming up that they'll try to sway. So every so often, we will post a reminder of the coming targeted event, so that if an international terrorist event occurs, you'll understand why.

So, if a terrorist attack occurs between now and December 13th, it's designed to influence the actual electoral college votes. Because, remember, those electors that were picked a couple of weeks ago are not formally committed to Dubya and Kerry respectively, and don't make their actual selection till the 13th. Don't think that Osama doesn't know that.

Friday, November 19, 2004

A riddle for a slow news day

What do fox hunting, teenage homosexual relations, and Irish Home Rule have to do with each other? In the British context, these issues are all subject of legislation which was passed under the Parliament Act, which restricts the House of Lords to at most delaying legislation passed by the House of Commons. Once a bill is passed by the lower house, it can eventually become law even when rejected in the upper house (Dubya might be considering similar ideas for the Senate, by the way).

Anyway, seven years after they first announced their intention to do it, Britain's Labour government has forced through the ban on fox hunting despite rejection in the House of Lords. The ban will take effect next year. However, opponents have announced a court challenge based on an untested feature of the Parliament Act.

Under that wacky British non-written constitution, the constitution itself is essentially just precedent and previous acts of Parliament. The original ability to override the upper house dates from 1909, when the Liberals wanted to pass a redistributive budget (land taxes for a social safety net) but the House of Lords blocked it. Using the support of Irish nationalist MPs, the Liberals got the original restriction through both houses of parliament -- although they only got it through the upper house by threatening to create enough additional lordships to give themselves a majority if the existing lords wouldn't do it.

In addition to their budget, the Liberals then used it to pass an Irish Home Rule Bill in 1912, giving significant self-rule to the island of Ireland. It was due to take effect in 1914 but some other event happened that year and the rest is history.

So where were we ... now it's 1949 and the then Labour government wanted additional restrictions on the Lords, so they passed an amended Parliament Act in the Commons and pushed it into law, bypassing the Lords, under the original act. One can see why this wheeze looks a bit fishy, although it encapsulates the fact that the British constitution is ultimately what the House of Commons says it is. If this is too abstract a notion for our vast American readership, envisage Tom DeLay as custodian of your constitutional rights.

Nevertheless, pro-hunt campaigners have announced a court challenge to the ban on this very point, and if successful it would call into question other legislation passed under the revised Act, notably the equalisation of the homosexual and heterosexual ages of consent, the cause celebre of Bronski Beat back in the day.

Recently we had been criticising Andrew Sullivan for his inconsistency. But, showing that wonders will never cease, since he's against the fox hunting ban and for equal legal treatment of gay and straight relationships, he's managed to get this one properly aligned more or less along libertarian lines.

Ironically though, successful opposition to the first as a challenge to the Parliament Act will endanger the second, which nicely illustrates why his gay conservative niche is so difficult: the same upper class twits who want to run with hounds aren't so happy about equal opportunity bonking.
Those polite Canadians

One of the great outrages of modern times, second only to those liberal racists who dare to criticise St Condi of Palo Alto, is the fact that the Fox News Channel is not available in Canada. How that country has managed to carry out even basic functions (e.g. flu shots for all) without a daily diet of Brit Hume, Fred Barnes, and Bill O'Reilly, we'll never know. But the problem has now been solved:

[WSJ, subs' req'd] Canada's broadcasting regulator gave the country's cable-television companies permission to add the Fox News Channel to their digital services, after concluding that the popular U.S. channel wouldn't undercut Canada's all-news stations.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission noted that Fox News "offers little or no Canadian coverage" and said the network's "news/talk programs are more focused on editorial opinion and discussion" than those of Canadian channels CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet.

It's nice of those regulators to say that Fox News doesn't undermine Canadian news channels because it's actually an opinion channel -- leaving us to extrapolate what kind of opinion they mean.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

They can run but they can't hide

Except that, they weren't hiding:

[WSJ, subs. req'd] Soldiers [in Fallujah] found a large sign in Arabic inside a building on the wall reading "Al Qaeda Organization" and "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger,"
The wearing of the green

OK, so this is a post that would fit very well on another blog or at least should be subject matter for the other world on this blog, R Morgenstern. But, P O'Neill asks, what in God's name is going on with this outfit that Madonna is wearing? We've been vaguely keeping up with Mrs Guy Ritchie's eager adaptation to life in Britain, but as the Sun points out, there's a glaring Celtic quality to this ensemble -- that's Celtic with both the soft and hard 'C.'

Then again, we knew already from her August visit to Slane in County Meath that Madonna wasn't sartorially fussy about how she made her ethnic sympathies clear -- scroll down a bit on this link to see her very tasteful "Irish Do It Better" t-shirt from that trip.
Hey Ladies

Is there any woman in Dubya's inner circle for whom one of these phrases does not apply?

one of his favorite aides ... earned her invitations to Camp David ... most loyal but least visible top aides ... enjoys an especially close relationship with Bush ... appear to enjoy his complete confidence ... Bush, who is said to regard her as family ... unquestioned loyalty

It's good that Dubya is so moral and all, because with other Presidents, descriptions like the above plus pictures like this would set off, as they say in Ireland, "auld talk."
Dubya's excellent new Secretary of Education

[Washington Post] At the White House ceremony announcing [Margaret Spellings] nomination [as Secretary of Education], Mr. Rove, who said he was once 'brutally' turned down after asking Ms. Spellings for a date in the 1980's,

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

It's named after the Fiddler on the Roof dude

[New York Times] No details [of Russia's new nuclear weapon] were immediately available, but Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said earlier this month that Russia expected to test-fire a mobile version of its Topol-M ballistic missile this year and that production of the new weapon could be commissioned in 2005.
Hawker Stalker: Kramer was wrong

Report from the front:

* M Street, Georgetown, Monday, lunchtime. A beautiful, sunny, clear day. Me: heading to Chipotle for a few soft tacos. George Will: Strolling along past Urban Outfitters, the sunlight dappling his bright yellow locks. Dude! If you're going to go for the dye job, at least get it professionally done. Clairol Nice 'n Easy Champagne Blonde just doesn't cut it in 2004.

[UPDATE: Here's what Kramer had to say]

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

How the National Football League could save American diplomacy

[Dubya today nominating Saint Condi of Palo Alto for Secretary of State] As many of you know, Condi's true ambition is beyond my power to grant. (Laughter.) She would really like to be the commissioner of the National Football League.

That's our true ambition for Condi, too. Somewhere that she can do no harm.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Blame the Yanks

One of modern Ireland's plagues is the VIP culture -- government ministers speeding here, there, and everywhere in hopes that Sight of Minister in Official Car = Votes. Years of electoral success for Fianna Fail vindicates this strategy. But, combined with the pathetic state of Irish roads (the mania for building motorways around Dublin notwithstanding), something like this was bound to happen:

A car carrying the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht [Irish-speaking] Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív, has been involved in a head-on collision with another car in Co Kerry.
Mr Ó Cuív suffered a broken finger and bruising. He and four other people were taken to hospital. It is understood none were seriously injured.
The accident happened on the Muckross Road outside Killarney this afternoon.
Gardaí [our lads in blue] believe the other car involved was being driven by an American person.
That big lad from Ancient Greece

Since we've been doing a lot of political posting recently, it might be time for a temporary excursion into other fields. And so it is that we finally got around to seeing some previews for the Oliver Stone Alexander film over the weekend. As our well-informed readers doubtless already know, the title role belongs to Irish actor Colin Farrell. And while we try to avoid the all-round boosterism that comes with Irish success abroad, we certainly didn't see any harm in an Irish actor getting a big part in one of those epic productions where the acting is secondary to the battle scenes anyway.

But that was before we heard the words come out of Colin/Alexander's mouth. The accent, my God, the accent. A quick Google search revealed that this does appear to be considered, shall we say, an issue:

An insider tells the magazine [ContactMusic], "He sounds like a Dublin bus driver."

Now, we tried to go through the obvious thought process on this one ... lots of classical roles are played with English or American accents, and no-one ever complains about those; indeed it's a safe bet that the popular conception of actual historical characters incorporates them having the accents that come with English theatre training.

So are we just giving into this well cornered market when we say that we cringed at Colin's Bertie-esque inflections? Maybe. It's just that ... Farrell is trying to have it both ways: he plays to the stereotype of the Irish wild man in what often seems like a deliberate strategy to build an aura in Hollywood:

Hellraiser Colin Farrell almost faced the wrath of movie maker Oliver Stone after breaking his ankle and his wrist with three days of Alexander still to film. The Irishman fell down a stairway after living it up at a party co-star Val Kilmer threw for the cast and crew in Thailand and passed out. He woke up in agony with broken bones, and Stone admits he came close to ruining the film's ending.

So sometimes we get the antics and the aut(h)entic, gritty Dublin films, but other times we get an aspiring Patrick Stewart.

Again, we might be wrong. Is Colin being truer to his own self than Navan man Pierce Brosnan, who told his oft-repeated accent story to Sunday's New York Times:

Q: Did anyone ever ask you to lose your Irish accent?

A: It's not really Irish anymore. I have my own sound. When I was a young actor in London, they didn't like it -- they forced me to play the token Paddy. But in America, I found my voice. It's now an international sort of accent.

UPDATE [Nov 24]: It looks like there's a reviewer consensus that Farrell's accent is a bit of a problem, but as such it pales in comparison to the film's much bigger problems, which can be tracked back to director Oliver Stone. Here's one review in Slate:

At his [Farrell's] best, he's shrewdly small-scale. You can imagine him firing up the lads at the pub before he gets too stuporous. But all the armies of the Western world? He doesn't begin to have the stature—or the lung power.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

One's embarrassing English friends

Every so often when scrolling through the comments on an Andrew Sullivan related post on a blog, someone says something along the lines of "who gives a f*ck what he thinks," a sentiment with which we'd agree except that he is influential, although lately that has meant just influential enough to get on Bill Maher's show on HBO and make a complete fool of himself both with what he said and what he ...er... did.

So anyway, having established that we do give a f*ck about what he says, here's a topic where it will be equally revealing if he doesn't have something to say. One of the values of reading Sullywatch every day is to track Sully's chronically inconsistent positions on privacy, a classic sign of inconsistency being that he has retool his position with each new case that comes onto the radar screen, including of course his own [Here's one post from Sullywatch in 2002 trying to make sense of his then position on the issue].

The new problem: Sullivan likes dropping references to his English chums into his blog, and archetypal chum Boris Johnson has made this list a few times. Boris is the court jester for the UK branch of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy -- as Tory MP, editor of the Spectator, columnist for the Telegraph, and general media personality. He got into trouble parroting some VRC spin about the murdered hostage Ken Bigley but this mess is now dwarfed by personal problems.

It had been rumoured for months that the married Boris was having an affair with Petronella Wyatt, a well-connected columnist at the Spectator (the type of connections that are signified by having a mother named Lady Verushka Wyatt). To be honest we thought that this was already fact, since the incomparable Private Eye has been making reference to it for months.

But Sunday's British papers bring the allegation that not only has there been an affair, but that it produced an unwanted pregnancy and that Boris paid for the abortion [here's a link to the tabloid version of the story]. A toxic set of circumstances for the principals, for sure, but what will the self-styled Catholic Tory pro-privacy anti-hypocrisy pro-life pro-Boris media rebel make of it?

UPDATE: He clearly is reading the news from England so he can't claim not to know about it.
FURTHER UPDATE [Nov 24] Boris's travails even made last Friday's New York Times. Perhaps, like us, Sully still has a stack of recent NYTs to work through.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Fake but accurate

We've noted before how the New York Times corrections section provides a useful index of Republican enforcement of particular spin points. There is another revealing one today. In the wide coverage of the fact that Dubya has replaced the guy who thought that brothels were a bigger threat to America than Osama with the guy who helped trash the Geneva Conventions, it was often said that the latter, Alberto Gonzales, had described the conventions as "quaint." Well, he did, but:

[New York Times correction] The passage [from his legal writings], discussing the war on terrorism, read in full: "In my judgment, this new paradigm [War on Terror] renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, scrip (i.e., advances of monthly pay), athletic uniforms and scientific instruments.'' The version in the article yesterday was truncated after "some of its provisions."

So the interpretation is clear: the White House sees the impact of a potential spin point New Attorney General says Geneva Convention Quaint, and is moving to head it off as quickly as possible. A couple of responses. First, the 'quaint' word was clearly anchored to what sounds like a 1940s conception of POW life. So we suppose the point is that Dubya's lawyers are strict constructionists when it comes to the text of the 1789 Constitution, but not to the much more recent Geneva Conventions.

Second, note the previous clause of the disputed sentence -- he clearly says that the restrictions on interrogation are obsolete, and in that section he's not talking about the sort of POW life envisaged in a certain movie starring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydow, and Pele.

And there is a broader point. Why wouldn't the Republicans be alert to the potency of the arguably out-of-context quote, since they made such effective use of it themselves? Who among us has not heard that John Kerry said "I voted for it before I voted against it," that he wanted a "global test" for US self-defence operations, and that he said "who among us" at a stock-car race in Wisconsin?

The bottom line is that, as sweet as it would be to hit them with their own trick, sensible liberals should stay away from the claim that Gonzales said that the Conventions were quaint. There's enough dirt in everything else he wrote to avoid that distraction.
How they do things in blue states

[New York Times]
In Minnesota, Flu Vaccines Go Waiting
The state has a surplus of 120,000 vaccines because even the people considered most vulnerable are forgoing the shots so there will be enough left for others.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Go Cheers Yourself

Who among us is not familiar with the word 'Cheers' as a common salute over alcoholic beverages and the name of that bar where everyone knows your name? But a little while ago, one of our friends from Africa alerted us to another context for this word which we feel has been proliferating: an e-mail (especially if work-related) ending in 'cheers' is usually a sign that either (a) the sender has refused to do something that was asked or (b) the sender is dumping work onto someone else. The 'cheers' is taken by the sender as a way of defusing the negative content of the message. We also suspect a higher rate of prevalence of this usage amongst non-native English speakers. Instances or contra-instances welcome.
Stuck on our own flypaper

Wasn't the logic of flypaper, one of the cooked up ex post rationales for invading Iraq, that a war there would attract all the super-duper evildoers to one place, thus making all of them fight concentrated US firepower? But this wasn't meant to be something that the US imposed on itself:

[New York Times] Insurgents opened a new front in Mosul and killed 13 in a Baghdad car bomb, while U.S. troops moved into Falluja's south.
Elitist, moi?

It would be laughable if we weren't in for four more years of it: the spectacle of pundits and commentators who spend their days (and their wealth) in the smarter parts of the northeast corridor, railing against "an elite" that "demeans middle American values" and so can never understand the appeal of The Infallible One.

There is no finer example of this than an article by Marty Peretz, sitting behind the subscription window in the Wall Street Journal. That's Marty Peretz, embittered spokesman for those misunderstood ordinary people in middle America -- and owner of the New Republic, with a teaching position at Harvard, a founder of the thestreet.com and holder of a zillion corporate board positions.

The article is a tendentious screed not worth your time, so we'll just note his (unintentionally) comic lurch for Pseud's Corner right after his opening salvo against those elitist Dems:

The American people have plumb busted the hearts of the country's liberal elites, and the sentiments evoked among these elites are not dolorous but actually quite nasty. So much so that they reminded me of a poem by the communist playwright Bertolt Brecht,

Brecht? He could only top that by insisting that the word elite really should be spelt with an accent on the first 'e.' One thing is clear: the logic behind his choice of editors for the New Republic looks ever clearer with time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

News you can't use

For reasons too complicated to go into, we found ourselves surfing the Statistics Canada website today. Where we found the following exciting news:

Canadian farmers more than doubled their area planted in pumpkin, squash and zucchini between 1986 and 2001, making them the nation's seventh most important vegetable crop, according to a new report.
Pumpkins were the fastest growing vegetable crop between 1986 and 2001. (For the sake of simplicity, the term "pumpkins" refers to three vegetables: Pumpkin, squash and zucchini.)
This fast growth appears to be related to the popularity of this vegetable during Thanksgiving and Halloween.

And if wasn't already clear that we have too much time on our hands, we have some quibbles here. For one thing, since Thanksgiving and Halloween happen, like, every year, how can these holidays alone explain the brilliant recent growth in the pumpkin crop? And then, if you're going to lump squash and zucchini in with pumpkins for statistical purposes, doesn't that weaken the explanatory power of Halloween? How many carved zucchinis with candles inside did you see on the doorsteps last week?
Next year in Dublin

We were thinking about a longer post on this topic, but to be honest -- we've got nothin'. So here's the basics: today's New York Times has a long article on the phenomenon of the returning Irish i.e. both legal and illegal Irish immigrants in the US deciding that they've had enough and returning home. This Crooked Timber post fleshes out some of the discussion but one point we'd like to make is that those emigrants reading about their return to a "fast-paced multiracial society" back home -- don't expect it to mean good Chinese food. Oh, and one thing hasn't changed -- Fianna Fail are still in charge.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Of that ilk

On the day that Yasser looks finally to be on the way out, and the invasion of GroznyFallujah proceeds, it seems to be the role of Irish home news to provide some light relief. The New York Times has a lengthy article in their sports section on the Olympic showjumping affair, and then there's the events recounted in this court case, which cry out for a modern day Synge to do them justice:

The Laois Gaelic football team captain, Colm Parkinson, has pleaded guilty to two assault charges after a nightclub disturbance in Athlone.
Mr Parkinson, 26, from Meelick in Portlaoise, was charged with assaulting two men in separate incidents inside and outside Bozos nightclub at Church St in Athlone in the early hours of Sunday, 24 October last.

... Earlier the court heard from Inspector Tom Curley, who said that in relation to the first assault, victim Patrick Macken was sitting in a toilet in a nightclub texting friends when he was assaulted by Mr Parkinson ... In the second incident, the court heard that Mr Parkinson had arrived outside a chip shop some time later where a row was already going on ...

Mr Quinn [the accused's solicitor] said that his client held a finance degree, and was a star GAA player. He said he came from an upstanding family and had a very good reputation.
Other than no-one reading anything, it's a great life

It's already clear that the burden of imposing the "smart conservative" narrative on Dubya's value-voting victory is proving too onerous a task for NYT columnist David Brooks. Because in today's attempt to attribute Dubya's success to people who live in America's answer to Slough, he trips up on the quality of life in these places:

The places I [Brooks] was writing about are so new, and civic life is as yet so spare, there are few lecture series or big libraries to host author talks.

But a few sentences later:

On the one hand, people move to exurbs because they want some order in their lives ... they head for towns with ample living space, intact families, child-friendly public culture and intensely enforced social equality.

On second thought, maybe he's onto to something. If there is a civic culture out there, it's a child centered one -- which might explain Daily Howler's utterly accurate depiction of the rationale offered by some loud-mouthed but easily offended red staters for their votes:

Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! For ourselves, we’re tired of all the blubbering self-pity which emanates hourly from talk radio. We heard it yesterday, right here in this city [Baltimore], as a "balanced" panel of four talk-show conservatives cried about "elitist" Dems who went to Harvard. Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! Big wet tears splashed down their cheeks as these fakers and phonies tossed hay to the herd.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Devaluing the values voters

Remember when we said that we wouldn't be reading any of the post-election punditry, given its inevitable reliance on a bogus notion of morality? We lied. At least a little. Because we ventured into some of the election analysis in Saturday's New York Times. One thing is clear -- Dubya's blue state boosters have reacted pretty badly to the implication of the election they have common cause with the likes of Ella-May from Mobile, Alabama.

So there's a big pushback against the already famous moral values question on the exit polls and the related focus on gay marriage as the sleeper issue in the election. The morals question acted like flypaper to the Dubya-voting respondents. It's pretty tough being someone like David "smart conservative" Brooks, moving in the urbane circles of Ardmore Pa. and Bethesda Md. and seeing the messianic appeal of Dubya to JesusCountry voters.

So Brooks, in a piece called "the values-vote myth" and Andrew Sullivan, inter alia, push a two-part critique: (1) the percentage of voters from various religious classifications didn't change much from the 2000 election, so there's no sign of a new voting block being driven to vote by moral issues, and (2) the moral values question on the exit poll itself is flawed, because it's a catch-all term picking up "none of the above" responses in the poll.

Both elements of the critique are, of course, shite. First, unchanged voter composition: elections are decided by numbers, not percentages. Both parties did a much better job of voter mobilisation than 2000 -- there is more of every category voting, but, at the risk of sounding like an economist, there's still the question of how each party managed to appeal to those additional voters. Republicans needed additional numbers of evangelical voters to offset highly motivated new Democratic voters i.e. they needed an issue to tip previously lukewarm evangelicals into going to the polls. And what better than conjuring up for such people the spectacle of weddings involving men of the same gender in polygamous marriages with household pets?

Second, the flawed poll question. Gary Langer, the ABC director of polling, who was on the committee that selected the question (against his wishes) says:

This distortion comes from a question in the exit poll, co-sponsored by the national television networks and The Associated Press, that asked voters what was the most important issue in their decision: taxes, education, Iraq, terrorism, economy/jobs, moral values or health care. Six of these are concrete, specific issues. The seventh, moral values, is not, and its presence on the list produced a misleading result ... this hot-button catch phrase had no place alongside defined political issues on the list of most important concerns in the 2004 vote.

Notice the circular logic here: I, the pollster, believe that elections are decided by "issues." Therefore, any voter response to something that is not "an issue" is evidence that the poll question is wrong. But look at the actual campaign that Dubya ran: short of specific policy proposals, and long on references to his own leadership, resolve, and moral values (including the phrase hijacked from the Vatican, his reverence for a "culture of life").

And it's telling that analysts who, unlike Brooks and Sullivan, are unencumbered by the need to disassociate themselves from a particular narrative, are likewise skeptical:

But Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, called critiques "garbage.''
"The people who picked moral values as an issue know what that means," he said. "It's a code word in surveys for a cluster of issues like gay marriage and abortion."
Mr. McInturff said that if "moral values" was really a "catchall" with a confused meaning, then more Democrats would have picked it. Of the 22 percent who chose "moral values," 80 percent were Bush supporters, 20 percent were Kerry supporters. "It's self-selected by people for whom these issues are very important for their votes," he said, adding that the margin by which Mr. Bush carried these voters arguably made the difference in the election.

So here's our word of probably useless advice for disappointed liberals: tune out the self-serving drivel of the crypto and smart conservatives, and the self-hating liberals (like Richard Cohen). What's wrong with taking seriously the winning side's own explanation of how they won?

UPDATE: As a special service to our readers, we link here to the schedule of Bill Maher's show on HBO this week, for additional chances to catch a bizarre spectacle involving the aforementioned Andrew Sullivan, brought to national attention by James Wolcott.

FURTHER UPDATE [Nov 15]: The angry old man of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy is pushing the Brooksian line, with his own nasty insinuations thrown in. Charles Krauthammer, who we previously posted about when he was using the Stalinist trick of equating dissent with mental illness, has that plus so much more in this section from his currrent rant (in the Washington Post and WSJ):

In the post-election analyses, the liberal elite, led by the holy trinity of The New York Times -- Krugman, Friedman, and Dowd -- just about lost its mind denouncing the return of medieval primitivism. As usual, Maureen Dowd achieved the highest level of hysteria,

Here's an experiment: suppose that a liberal columnist referred to the 'holy trinity' of the neocons, Krauthammer, Wolfowitz and (say) Andrew Sullivan, and went on to label Ann Coulter as 'hysterical' -- anyone want to guess what the lines of attack from the right would be?

EVEN FURTHER UPDATE [Nov 17]: Brad DeLong links to a post that is very apropos the question of whether voters think about "issues" the same way that pollsters do.

ONE FINAL UPDATE (Dec 23). Opinion polls are shown a clear plunge in support for the Iraq war. The plunge is pronounced since the election. Pundits scratch their heads and wonder why Dubya got elected if the war was so latently unpopular -- it's as if those voters were all worked up about other issues in election season ... like moral values!

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Oirish subsidiary of the Anglo-American Corporation

Back in June, the English satirical magazine Private Eye did an extremely funny take on the Bloomsday celebrations in Dublin. It was accompanied by a map relating present day Dublin to the sights and events of Bloomsday -- one place had become the Bank of Sinn Fein and another was allegedly now a Starbucks. [unfortunately the Eye web-content is still pretty skimpy so we only have memory to work from].

It was telling how accurate the parody was that the only correspondence it generated was to do with whether an old picture used in the piece depicted the Cairo gang -- a group of British intelligence agents killed by Michael Collins. But the mockery of the new Oirish Dublin compared to its Joycean counterpart was dead on.

Anyway, another feature of the map was a supposed Dublin bypass, which was shown as a one-inch wide swathe through the centre of the city. While well capturing the mania of our National Roads Authority to build a motorway in the least appropriate place, the parody has already been trumped by reality. Because the geniuses who run Dublin's light rail, the Luas, have decided to connect its two lines (why they are not connected now reflects much previous idiocy) and the preferred route goes right through Trinity College Dublin.

The current plan calls for taking a chunk (subs. req'd) of the Provost's Garden, which will destroy the current frontage of 1 Grafton Street and transform the context of a walk known to just about everyone who has been to Dublin. In what we assume was an intended provocation, a letter writer to Thursday's Irish Times wanted the line actually run across the interior campus, to provide the riders with a view of a college they would otherwise never see (we report, you decide).

This all comes in the same week as the news that Dublin is losing Bewleys but gaining Harvey Nichols. And to cap it all, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that Dubya's win was better for the Irish economy, because Kerry's policies would have been more restrictive for US inward investment in the Republic. We're increasingly wondering if the real Ireland is now to be found in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

After the Fall

Despite our manic rate of posting of yesterday, our sense is that the thousands of BOBW readers still await our definitive statement and reaction to the US election results. In the short-term, it has simplified our lives, because there are now huge sections of news coverage and analysis that we don't have to bother with. Sure, the pundits have lots to say, but we don't -- not when 58 million people knew what they knew about Abu Ghraib and civilian deaths in Iraq, voted for Dubya, and then told pollsters and reporters on the way out that they were "values voters."

And when we complain about civilian deaths in Iraq, we are saying that the US military's legalistic formulation "we don't deliberately target civilians" is not enough. Dropping bombs on urban areas may be strategically and tactically rational, but there is no moral veneer that can be attached to such a decision.

So as far as we are concerned, the political analysis going on right now is essentially beside the point in the face of a very selective definition of morality. As a pointer to the future it has been interesting to watch the emerging uncertainty amongst people who were once some of Dubya's biggest boosters. But they have a long way to go. For instance, Josh Marshall catches an amazingly naive Andrew Sullivan asking for Dubya to be given a fresh start for his second term, the antithesis of what having run and won on one's record is supposed to mean.

Sullivan also has found a dodge to avoid fully confronting his realization that gay people like him are the new Rovian wedge issue -- FEDERALISM WORKS. But he seems to be confusing the US with Switzerland. One doesn't pursue central government power the way the Republicans have just for the fun of a minimal state foreign and defence policy while letting 51 flowers bloom domestically. Dubya's federal courts are going to be coming after state autonomy in social matters sooner rather than later.

And while we're on this topic, we're willing to bet that somewhere in the bowels of the Justice Department, there is someone taking a look at whether the Federal government can fight California's approval of state funded stem cell research. To engage in amateur lawyering for a second, the interest on the state bonds to fund this research is presumably a tax deduction from federal income -- therefore contravening Dubya's ban on federal funding of stem-cell research. Although that argument would require Dubya to acknowledge that a tax cut is a form of government expenditure, which would open a hornet's nest.

But such Kerry-style nuanced analysis is for later. For now, we are devoting ourselves more fully, via the wonders of television, to football and music videos, especially those from the urban contemporary genre. Political thoughts still intrude on the latter -- for instance, watching the side-splittingly funny video for Kanye West's The New Workout Plan, we wonder, during the Anna Nicole Smith sequence -- would her character be a moral values voter?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

One sign of God's continued existence

BBC 2136 FULL-TIME Deportivo La Coruna 0-1 Liverpool
A good night's work for Liverpool is completed as they hold on for a comfortable victory.
Back to the nation's business

MR. McCLELLAN [White House Press Secretary]: It was down the hall, they were outside the Vice President's office. And then he [Dubya] was headed over to the residence to see Mrs. Bush, who I know had placed a call to him. And he was going to get in a workout, which he probably has finished about now.
The Number of the Beast

In the spirit of post-election rage, we're going to allow ourselves the claim that the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy now has 59,471,754 unindicted co-conspirators.
The Hugo Chavez approach to slow counts

Thankfully, things in Ohio never got to the point where Dubya would have been taking tips from Hugo (subs. req'd):

Venezuela sent troops to two opposition-held states that still haven't tallied Sunday's local voting. Governors say Chavez plans to oust them
The moral values election

1. Of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character: moral scrutiny; a moral quandary.
2. Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior: a moral lesson.
3. Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous: a moral life.
4. Arising from conscience or the sense of right and wrong: a moral obligation.
5. Having psychological rather than physical or tangible effects: a moral victory; moral support.
6. Based on strong likelihood or firm conviction, rather than on the actual evidence: a moral certainty.
Election night impressions

1. Someone at CNN needs to tranquilise Larry King and remove him from the panel as discretely as possible.

2. The exit polls were shite.

3. The spin that the huge lines at polling stations were a great sign for democracy is wrong. They are a sign of an antiquated electoral system.

4. Some retrospective interpretation. At about 6.40pm on the East Coast on Tuesday evening, we were working our way home and listening to the radio; CBS radio says their exit polls show that "moral issues" were very important to voters. We briefly wonder if this is standard code for the media to signal they have an exit poll showing Bush is doing well. But think nothing more of it. Until a few hours later.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The embargo spouts a financial leak

Slate magazine has made a tradition of publishing the exit poll data despite the supposed moratorium on such data while polls are open. And here's another example of the kind of Big Media inconsistency they have in mind when they justify the policy. If you go to the Wall Street Journal today looking for exit poll data, you won't find it. BUT, if you to the markets report update, you find (subs. req'd):

The first whiff of election results, however premature, knocked stocks from their perch Tuesday, wiping out a day of surprising gains that had carried the Nasdaq Composite Index above 2000 points for the first time in four months.

"This was an election-driven day. No earnings reports. No economic data," said Brian Bush [we're assuming no relation], director of research at Stephens Inc. in Little Rock, Ark. He said the Web site Drudge Report posted some form of exit-poll data in two battleground states -- Ohio and Pennsylvania -- that indicated Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, was doing better than President Bush.

"The market reacted very negatively to that," Mr. Bush said. "Many of us observed the market seemed to be predicting a Bush victory." After the early polling numbers turned up on a number of Web sites and online blogs, the stock market stumbled and the losses snowballed all the way to the closing bell.

So when the supposedly illicit data is now itself generating news, the quandary only deepens.
One result is already in

In the frantic quest for exit poll data, any website offering exit poll data is crashing.
Not big college states

Pretty boy Scottish historian Niall Ferguson, now at Harvard (motto: ennui, c'est nous) sets himself up as the voice of optimism about the US in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph -- there is no latent fissure in the US over politics, despite the bitter election campaign:

Having spent much of the past few months on the road, giving lectures in states as diverse as Massachusetts, New York, California, Michigan and Minnesota, I am happy to report that civil war is not imminent.

But ... Niall, check out a typical state-by-state map for 2000 -- all these states went for Gore, and only the final two show any wavering in terms of going for Kerry in 2004 (and in the end, will probably go for Kerry). And Niall is not telling where he was in these states -- for instance, we doubt that Ted Nugent attended his talk in Michigan.

Niall's audience in Michigan would doubtless have been capable of getting worked up about the Michigan vs Michigan State football game. But if you're looking for a political schism in this crowd, you're not going to find it. Next time, it would be worth presenting the Empire stuff to, and discussing politics with, the Florida crowd that swore a collective pledge of allegiance to Dubya.
From the mouths of hacks

In the spirit of building bridges after a divisive election campaign, we will flag the wisdom in this Mark Steyn column about the election:

For all those who complain with feigned ennui about the choice of candidates – the lesser of two evils, the evil of two lessers, yawn – the political system has contrived to throw up two men who are almost perfect embodiments of the choice facing the country.

Indeed. Is there anyone out there who didn't go to Harvard and/or hasn't some new connection to the New Republic or Slate who doubts that there's a real choice in this campaign?

Monday, November 01, 2004

Thank God Meryl Streep was not available

[Irish Times, subs. req'd] A star-studded cast has been lined up for My Boy, a film about the life of the late Irish singer Phil Lynott.

Gary Dourdan, who plays police officer Warrick Brown in the hit US series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, will play the role of the singer who died tragically of a drug overdose in 1986. An ex-bass player, Dourdan has been studying Lynott's life for the past few months.

The American actor joins a strong cast that includes Oscar- winning actress Holly Hunter, who will play the rock star's mother Philomena Lynott.

Hunter recently spent time in Ireland to perfect her Irish accent and she will return here next year to begin filming.
Bizarre but not unprecedented

Our visit today to the GUBU blog -- a necessary distraction from thinking about the many different fiascos the US election may present tomorrow evening -- draws our attention to the strange tale of Waterford Crystal (the horse, not the glassware). The horse, ridden by Cian O'Connor, won a gold medal in showjumping for Ireland in the Olympics. But the nags, like their human counterparts, are drug tested, using the same procedure: two samples are taken, and if the A-sample tests positive for banned substances, the B-sample is tested to confirm.

And the cycle of blame and excuses is the same for horses and humans as well -- "I didn't cheat," "it was for medical reasons," -- as was quickly seen when the horse failed the A-sample. The B-sample was on some circuitous route from Paris, to Cambridge, and maybe or maybe not to Hong Kong, because one way or another, it has been stolen. The rule seems to be that if the B-sample is lost, the entire test is voided. So, in the TV crime show terminology, we have Cian on motive, but not yet means and opportunity.

In any event, bringing our New World perspective to this incident, we were reminded of the Albert Belle affair in baseball. Albert was hitting suspiciously well for the Cleveland Indians in 1995, and during a game in Chicago, the White Sox decided that there were enough grounds to ask the umpires to confiscate his bat and test it for "corking" (in which the player has an illegally altered bat with a lighter interior, to get a faster swing). The suspect bat was stored in the umpires' dressing room. And it was stolen. The creative thief crawled from the Indians dressing room through air conditioning shafts, and through the roof panels, to substitute another bat.

It wasn't a very good substitution because the umpires could immediately see that the bat was different, but it did remove the presumably incriminating evidence. Of course, if Cian was involved in the disappearance of the B-sample, the logistics are much more complicated than crawling through some roofing. But there's no Olympic gold for ingenuity.

UPDATE Nov 2: Things get weirder, after the theft, a break-in and missing files.