Friday, December 30, 2005

Birds of a feather

In the otherwise comprehensive Washington Post coverage of the corruption scandal centered around lobbyist "Casino" Jack Abramoff, one little detail didn't make it that does get dropped into an article in Friday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd):

Mr. Abramoff was considered the king of the skybox, entertaining lawmakers, staffers and reporters, including this reporter a few years ago when he worked at another news organization. Mr. Abramoff, who is negotiating a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, spent more than $1 million a year on luxury boxes at the MCI Center, Baltimore's Camden Yards and a pair of luxury suites at FedEx Field for [Washington] Redskins games. Mr. Abramoff also had a pair of floor seats for Wizards [NBA] games and rinkside seats for Caps [NHL] games.

While it's nice of the WSJ reporter [Brody Mullins] to out himself as a recipient of largesse, what other reporters also had snouts in the trough?

UPDATE: Reader DM asks a relevant question -- what was the previous news organization at which the WSJ reporter got the skybox ticket? A Google search shows bylines at Roll Call and National Journal.

UPDATE 3 JAN: Followup post on Jack's M.O. with reporters here.
The Global War on Hostages

It's the latest fad of 2005 for the keyboarding Right -- making fun of hostages. In this, they continue down a trail blazed by Mark Steyn. We won't even bother looking at the warbloggers, or the comment sections thereof, because as Mike Power explains, laughing at hostages is among the less problematic things you'll find there. No, let's look at a place that should know better, the Wall Street Journal's online opinion page, Opinion Journal, and James Taranto's column therein. And they should know better because one of their colleagues, Daniel Pearl, was himself a murdered hostage.

Hilarity ensures for Taranto today because the victims in two separate hostage takings are French and German -- two countries that wouldn't go along with King George's plan to invade Iraq given the unsuccessful search for WMDs. So the item is headlined "weasel watch" and goes from there:

"The Arabic-language TV network Al-Arabiya aired video Wednesday of a French engineer held captive in Iraq and said his captors threatened to kill him unless France ends its 'illegitimate presence' in the country," CNN reports.

Well, if the French can't figure out a way to surrender without engaging in the first place, no one can!

[some shite warblogger] notes a Reuters report that Juergen Chrobog, who served as Germany's ambassador to the U.S., has been kidnapped in Yemen. "This November," [warblogger] writes, Chrobog "was quoted in our blog as a admirer of 'soft power.' " In 2003, the Times of London reported, Chrobog "was reported to have told Foreign Ministry colleagues that America was turning into a 'police state.' "

Writes [warblogger], "Why he would travel to Yemen during these troubled times is beyond me." Maybe he just craved anarchy.

It's too easy to turn this line of questioning around to Daniel Pearl's case, so we won't. Let's just note that they were at the same game a few weeks ago with British hostage Norman Kember and his 3 North American colleagues:

Of course, as the Guardian notes, the hostages, who represent an outfit called Christian Peacemaker Teams, were already on the same side as the terrorists: "The group had been campaigning on behalf of a number of detainees held by the US in Iraqi jails."

The Guardian may have typos, but they still know what the presumption of innocence means.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The GWoT gets serious

Signs of the new George Bush, from Thursday's Washington Post:

Bush, who had plenty to be morose about through the fall, responded with vigor as well. Instead of heading immediately to bed after the Oval Office address, as he usually does, he stuck around to chew through themes for his upcoming State of the Union address, another high-ranking administration official said.

His speech ended at 9.18pm.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Powerline: Dead Tree edition

A little while back, based on their sudden expertise on a 1970s Northern Ireland human rights case, we labelled David Rivkin and Lee Casey the print equivalent of Powerline -- strident, flailing, pseudo-authoritative defences of George W. Bush. They expanded the scale of their operations with an op-ed piece in the New York Times a couple of days ago, defending George Bush's domestic spying program on the grounds that the President gets to do any activity that is merely prohibited by laws written some time ago.

Here's a nice brief analysis of their central point from TAPped, but one clause from one sentence illustrates where small government conservatism has gone:

the contretemps its revelation [NSA spying] has caused reveals much more about the chattering classes' fundamental antipathy to strong government in general

It's time to start referring to the seemingly endless supply of lawyers willing to argue for this rubbish as smoked salmon statists.
A message to our accidental visitors from the Low Countries

While it's been great watching our hitcount zoom up due to referrals from digital music (mp3) blogs, the blog that you're actually meant to be going to is this one.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Shlock and awe

In the tradition of the Stella Artois nucleator and Guinness Surger, the Wall Street Journal notes the demise of an alcohol gimmick too far:

Sidney Frank Importing Co. Inc., the New Rochelle, N.Y., company that built the Grey Goose vodka franchise -- and sold it to Bacardi last year for $2 billion -- is also interested. It hopes to license the Tommy Bahama brand, now on clothing made by Oxford Industries Inc., for a super-premium rum it would introduce in 2006. The company is assuming it will do better than its last attempt. Several years ago, it tried selling a $50 rum in a bottle that played calypso music and flashed lights when poured. It was pulled from the market.

Although reading the excerpt again, we wonder if booze named for a clothing line is the bigger outrage.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Jester to the Court of St James

Other than the campaign funds raised, there really is no upside to King George's policy of selling ambassadorships to political donors. Our favourite post on this topic from earlier this year is Lord of the Onion Rings, a tribute to the ambassador to New Zealand, but (no disrespect to NZ) the stakes are a bit higher when a hack is sent as Ambassador to the UK. Hence this morning's revealing segment on BBC Radio 4's Today show. Both governments are probably glad that it aired on a holiday morning, but here's what happened.

Today's James Naughtie did an interview with US Ambassador Robert Tuttle last Thursday and it ran this morning (sound file, no transcript available). Naughtie raised the issue of renditions and specifically mentioned Egypt and Syria as countries to which renditions have taken place. Tuttle went out of his way to deny that there had been renditions to Syria, which is a demonstrably false statement given the well-known case of Maher Arar, detained as a transit passenger at JFK en route to his home in Canada, and flown to Syria and tortured.

After the interview ended, Naughtie explained when it had been taped, and continued that the US Embassy had contacted Radio 4 the next day and requested that a statement of clarification be read. In the statement, the Embassy acknowledged that there were "media reports" of rendition to Syria, but otherwise refused to admit a mistake, and then segued to a restatement of Condi's pleasing formulation that the US doesn't do bad stuff. Naughtie closed the segment with an interview with BBC's Washington correspondent, who outlined Tuttle's double gaffe of having gotten drawn into a discussion about a specific country, and then getting his facts wrong once he had done that.

The episode encapsulates several problems -- aside from Tuttle's lack of .. er... diplomatic skills, note the official US government policy of not admitting any specific mistake in the GWoT, a policy that contributed to all the confusion between Condi and Angela Merkel a few weeks ago. But also, something that perhaps King George is not going to know, just because people have lots of money doesn't make them very smart.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Now and then

White House website, today:

The United States is deeply troubled by the conviction today of Egyptian politician Ayman Nour by an Egyptian court ... We are also disturbed by reports that Mr. Nour's health has seriously declined due to the hunger strike on which he has embarked in protest of the conditions of his trial and detention.

Rummy on the Gitmo hunger strikers in November:

And they've made a decision that they [Gitmo commanders] think it's appropriate for them to provide nourishment to people who, for whatever reason, at various points in their detention decide they want to not provide normal nourishment to themselves. ...

But there are a number of people who go on a diet where they don't eat for a period and then go off of it at some point, and then they rotate and other people do that. So it's clearly a technique to try to get the attention of you folks, and they're successful. Yes?

Ayman Nour. Attention-seeking dieter.

UPDATE 30 DEC: Since we're on the topic of hunger-strikers, it's worth adding here the news that the number of them at Guantanamo is now 84 and has doubled since Christmas Day.
There can be only one

The Christmas Eve Times of London reports:

THE Prince of Wales has discussed rejecting the title Charles III when he becomes King to avoid unhappy associations with some of the bloodiest periods in the monarchy’s history.

Yes, there were always going to be some laden echoes to a Charles III since a few people around Britain and Ireland think that there already was one, so what would be the alternative?

The Prince’s favourite alternative name is George VII, in honour of his grandfather —one of the best-loved monarchs of the past century ... "They [the Royal Family] will decide at the time, but he has talked about George."

A head of state named George, asserting the powers of the English King, a reign marked by great bloodshed? For God's sake Chazza, don't do it.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Southern Ireland is dead and gone

Today's Times of London notes an interesting anniversary:

in 1920 the Government of Ireland Act was passed, which, when it came into effect the following May, divided the country into the six counties of Northern Ireland and the 26 of Southern Ireland.

The parliament of Southern Ireland is mainly notable for only having met twice, and both times to hand power to another institution; once to the Provisional Government headed by Michael Collins, and then to endorse the Anglo-Irish treaty which created the Irish Free State, the present day Republic of Ireland. In its own way, the parliament of Northern Ireland also set about putting itself out of business, although this took 50 years to accomplish.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


US Vice President Dick Cheney, defending the NSA spying program:

Either we're serious about fighting the war on terror or we're not.

The situation on board US Vice President Dick Cheney's plane on its return to the USA from Oman:

"Working passengers began lining up their laptops to share the power from a couple of working outlets - particularly the reporters who urgently needed to prepare their articles to transmit during a quick refueling stop in England.

"But when Cheney said his iPod needed to be recharged, it took precedence above all else and dominated one precious outlet for several hours. The vice president's press staff intervened so a reporter could use the outlet for 15 minutes to charge a dead laptop, but then the digital music device was plugged back in."

[via Dan Froomkin]

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Well, His birthday will be a holiday soon too

Has Christopher Hitchens finally come to his senses? --

... a one-party state ... On all media and in all newspapers, endless invocations of the same repetitive theme. In all public places ... an insistent din of identical propaganda ... the authority of the Great Leader ... compulsory worship and compulsory adoration ... Fox News campaign ... unswerving orthodoxy ... Oliver Cromwell—my own favorite Protestant fundamentalist ...

No. Hitch hasn't come around to seeing his adopted country in the hands of a new Lord Protector. He's upset about the arrival of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sampler Platter

1. The Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) maintains the momentum on a story that they began: quantifying the enormous tax advantages that accrue to US multinationals who locate their profits in the Republic of Ireland. They note a Sunday Business Post story:

A tiny subsidiary of Microsoft Corp. is the most profitable company in Ireland, and five of the country's 10 biggest profit makers are units of U.S. multinationals, according to a study ... Round Island One reported €3.23 billion ($3.88 billion) in fiscal 2004 pretax profit. The largest domestic company on the list was Allied Irish Banks PLC, ranked No. 3 with pretax profit of €1.41 billion in calendar 2004, the study said ... The list is a ranking based on the most recent filings by hundreds of Irish companies...

A unit of Boston Scientific Inc. that earned €475 million reported having only one employee. Seventh-ranked CRH PLC, by contrast, an Irish building-materials company, said it had 60,411 employees.

Given the well-established practice of pay-for-play opinion columns by right-wing hacks, we suggest that the Dublin Institute for Culture and Knowledge offer an analysis of the enormous productivity that can achieved through low taxes: €475 million/1 employee!

2. Fintan O'Toole in Tuesday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) does a compare and compare:

June 2003 letter from the general manager of Carlton Screen Advertising, the largest agency for alcohol ads in Irish cinemas, to the then minister for health, Micheál Martin: "An impartial and independent consultant with 19 year's experience advises and oversees all decisions reached by the Cinema Advertising Association [CAA]"

December 2005 Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney announces new code for cinema adverts for booze: "An impartial and independent consultant with 19 year's experience advises and oversees all decisions reached by the [CAA]"

As Fintan notes, in writing the policy document as a cut-and-paste from a two year old lobbyist letter, they forgot both to correct the stray apostrophe and update to the fact that the consultant should now have 21 years experience.

3. Also from Tuesday's Irish Times, Anthony McIntyre speculates that the top echelon of Sinn Féin is riddled with British spies, so:

A particular irony in all of this for the voter in the Republic is that after decades of being free from British involvement in their part of the island, the dilemma they face is that by voting Sinn Féin they increase the likelihood of returning MI5 to the Dáil.

Could it be that the United Kingdom is the political equivalent of the Hotel California?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bush no good=Opinion

Today, and presumably into the future, the Washington Post website links to their excellent White House Briefing column as

OPINION: Froomkin Questions Balance of Power

The link used to be a simple White House Briefing, followed by few words from something in the column. Apparently, collecting links to news stories about the White House and interspersing it with commentary is "Opinion," as distinct from something else that goes on at the Washington Post dealing only with immaculately conceived facts. For background on the Froomkin dispute see Atrios and Brad DeLong.
Observe the daughters of Ulster

Marching towards the registry office. Andrew Sullivan takes note of the historic civil partnership ceremony between Shannon Sickels and Gráinne Close at Belfast city hall today:

The one thing that has always united the Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland - as is the case with many religious extremists - is hatred of gays. I remember during the UK tour for "Virtually Normal," the first book to argue for marriage rights as the central cause for the gay movement, that I was on a TV show in Northern Ireland. It was the first ever network show on gay issues in Northern Ireland ever, I was told. I was beamed in remotely. They asked ten gay men and women to come to give their side of the story. Only three turned up. The rest were that scared of the social consequences. Yesterday, the first civil marriage took place in Britain for two lesbians. In Belfast. Gay sex was a criminal offense in Ulster as recently as 1982.

Now he's sort of right but the technically the post is a shambles. First, the ceremony was today, not yesterday, which he would have known had he not violated the first rule of Northern Ireland blogging: Thou Shalt Link to Slugger.

But what really dooms the accuracy of the post is its geographic impreciseness, especially for someone who displays occasional strains of Irish nationalism. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but it is not in Britain. If it was, then his claim that gay sex was criminal in Ulster (sic) until 1982 would not be valid, because this was an exception that Northern Ireland had from the rest of the UK. The law in Northern Ireland was aligned with that of the rest of the UK by the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights against the UK in the case of Dudgeon (1981).

Note the implementation of this under direct rule from London -- bearing out Sullivan's point that it would not have met popular approval in Northern Ireland. But by the same token, his claim this is the single topic uniting Catholics and Protestants in NI is incorrect, because exactly the same state of affairs still exists with respect to abortion: legal in the UK, but not obtainable in NI by virtue of a special exception.

And we can't let that "Ulster" usage ago. While homosexual acts were illegal in NI until 1982, they were illegal in Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal and the other 23 counties in the Irish Republic until 1993:

In 1988 [Senator David] Norris took a case to the European Court of Human Rights to argue that Irish law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The court, in the case of Norris v. Ireland, ruled that the criminalisation of homosexuality in the Republic violated Article 8 of the Convention, which guarantees the right to privacy in personal affairs. The Irish parliament (Oireachtas) decriminalised homosexuality five years later.

As the Slugger link explains, there is no immediate prospect of civil partnerships in the Republic, but their availability in NI will likely create legal pressures down the road to implement them.
Bertie's magical mystery tour

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the allegations of a Sinn Fein spying ring at Stormont and the unveiling a 20 year British agent in their ranks there:

bewilderment and confusion ... totally sceptical about [] the police raid on Stormont which was reported to have discovered a major IRA operation ... That film piece that they still show of all of the storm troopers charging up the stairs with heavy armoury to collect a few files, and to arrest a few people. It never added up ... I've never been happy with it ... Mr Ahern insisted he did not have any insight into what had transpired during the day. "All I know is that the chap who is running the Sinn Féin office up there turned out to be a spy." ... He said he was confused about the fact that one minute Mr Donaldson was being told by the security forces that his life was in danger "and the next minute he's coming down to RTÉ . . . This spy drove from Belfast to Dublin to be interviewed by Charlie Bird. He's obviously stopped being a spy. So it sounds extraordinary." ... It is a confusing state of affairs and if all of this proves to be true it would be a serious concern but we have to wait and see what really is the position."

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the use of Shannon airport for rendition flights:

Mr Ahern said the Government had received repeated assurances from the US authorities, including from secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, as late as last week. "The US secretary of state, whom we all agree is one of the most senior people in the administration after the president and vice-president, has given us that assurance. In the position I hold, I must accept that."

If only Tony Blair and Peter Hain had the clarity of Condi Rice!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A talking point fights the last war

What could be going on when the Wall Street Journal online editorial page is finding common cause with the World War I vintage of the American Socialist party? Spin for the White House that passed its sell-by date by the time it hit the shelves. Here's the context. The Journal had opposed the McCain amendment bannning cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by US personnel anywhere in the world, and James Taranto at the WSJ offers this explanation of why it passed:

The McCain amendment, along with U.S. Supreme Court decisions in favor of terrorists' rights and the threatened Democratic filibuster of the Patriot Act's renewal, represents, in part, an overcompensation for the excesses of previous wars. In the past, the Supreme Court has upheld genuine outrages against civil liberties during wartime, such as restrictions on free speech during World War I (Schenck v. U.S.) and the internment of innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II (Korematsu v. U.S.)

So follow the link on the first case: it's 1919 Supreme Court case upholding convictions of Socialist party activists for violating the 1917 Espionage Act through distribution of anti-war material to military recruits. But with these heh-style links that the right does, there's always a subtext. Because it's the same Act that has caused so much trouble for them in the Valerie Plame outing; one of the laws that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove may have broken concerned leaks of classified information, which is also a crime under the same Act.

Christopher Hitchens had even chimed in to note the analogy between the Act and the UK Official Secrets Act, and in fact the sudden interest of the Journal in the rights of socialist agitators suggests that Hitch may have provided the point to them in the first place. Anyway, the principle is established: prosecutions under the Espionage Act are a relic of wartime zealousness.

Alas! Move forward now to Dubya's Saturday morning address on the leaks to the New York Times about the National Security Agency's domestic spying program:

As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country.

In particular, it's illegal under the Espionage Act. The right has usually preferred analogies of the GWOT with World War II. Look next week for a surge in analogies to the Great War.

UPDATE 21 DEC: Powerline doesn't seem to get this point either --

[Max] Boot does not point out that, unlike the leak of Plame's position and relationship to Joe Wilson, the leak of the information regarding the NSA eavesdropping program is flagrantly illegal.

Indeed, they had cited chapter and verse on why the NSA leak was illegal:

Federal law (18 U.S.C. § 798) prohibits the disclosure of several narrowly defined categories of information,

Work back to sections 793 and 794 and you're at the Espionage Act.

UPDATE 2 FEB: Powerline now falls squarely into the trap:

Rather, the central issue raised by the Times story is whether the Times itself violated the Espionage Act by publishing highly classified communications intelligence during wartime.

And [10 March] Jack Shafer at Slate goes carefully through the attempts to breathe life back into Espionage Act prosecutions.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Further news from the White House

Although we reported on the top story from Thursday night's White House Christmas Party for the media, we neglected to pass two other key observations from that evening:

1. Matt Cooper seems to be gaining all the weight that Karl Rove has been losing. Perhaps that was the deal they struck?

2. Have you long suspected that wingnut talk radio's Blanquita Cullum looks suspiciously like the late puppet (and Hollywood Squares regular) Madame? Us too. And it's true.

Friday, December 16, 2005

À la recherche du temps perdu

An interesting choice of location for Gerry Adams to be discussing today's stunning revelation of a 20 year long spying operation by a covert British agent within their ranks:

Sinn Féin has revealed that a member of the party in Belfast, Denis Donaldson, was expelled last night after it was uncovered that he had been working as a British agent. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams will hold a press conference today at 4pm (Friday 16th) in the Joyce Room in the Gresham Hotel, O’Connell Street, Dublin.

The Gresham being one scene in one of Michael Collins' most famous intelligence coups against the UK government, the assassinations of the Cairo gang:

Some members had decided that they would be safer residing in hotels. Captain McCormack and Captain Wilde were in the Gresham Hotel. The IRA unit gained access to their rooms by pretending to be British soldiers with important dispatches. When the Captains opened their doors they were shot dead.

Note also that this is not the first time that the existence of a long-standing British spy within Sinn Fein and the IRA has been revealed; consider the case of Freddie Scappaticci from a couple of years ago.

UPDATE: Saturday's Irish Times links the Freddie and Denis cases and suggests a belief that Freddie's supposed codename, Stakeknife, is actually a composite name for a group of agents.
Dispatch from the war on Christmas: This one goes all the way to the top

Print journalists at Thursday evening's White House Christmas Party had the opportunity to have their photograph taken with the president and Mrs. Bush. Those who made their way through the series of lines and cattle chutes to the photo room got their two seconds with the First Couple, who were heard to wish them:

"Happy Holidays!"

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Not one of us

National Review's The Corner has an Anglo contingent, whose mandate includes assuring American readers that their brand of conservatism is alive and well in the land of Churchill. So there is much scrutiny of new Tory leader David Cameron's credentials. As we argued recently, the strategic similarities between Cameron & Bush are considerable, but there's still the question of policy. Hence alarm bells ring at the Corner, picking up an item from The Spectator's blog:

'Last Tuesday, as Cameron prepared for his coronation, one of his top aides, Nick Boles, addressed a private meeting of right-wing think tanks and campaign groups at the Adam Smith Institute.While the hope of many Conservatives has been that Cameron is “really” on the Right but would use better PR to sell a Thatcherite agenda, Boles made clear to the audience that they would be disappointed. The issues of tax cuts and school choice were raised. Mr Boles said that they would not campaign for vouchers and “choice” was not their priority.

In reply to questions about tax, he said that tax pledges and guarantees had been tried before in previous elections, they had failed, and they could not commit themselves to cut taxes beyond the current aspiration. Mr Boles said to the audience that, just as Blair said that he won as New Labour and would govern as New Labour, so – “Dave has run as a compassionate conservative and will govern as a compassionate conservative”.'

Now, Cameron probably had to say that. Given how leaky such meetings are, telling its attendees that he had some double secret plan to rule from the right would not have been very clever, but there's no doubt that some of the mood music (and appointments) coming from the new team is somewhat discouraging.

Several angles here. First, the Spectator blog says that they altered the original post following complaints from Boles -- in particular, an allegation the word centrist was used appears to have stung. Note nonetheless the vague Dubya-like commitment to 'compassionate conservatism' despite the aversion to a pledge to cut taxes.

Second, it's a small world. Nick Boles is a friend of Time magazine's house blogger Andrew Sullivan, and in fact was a victim of the Curse of Sully in his own bid to be the MP for Hove. But it surely goes part way to explain Sully's enthusiastic reception for Cameron, having his chum as one of his top aides.

Third, a supposed meeting leak like this has to seen in the context of past blow-ups about Tories have secret plans to place their rhetoric at the center but govern from the right -- as George Bush has done. In another pre-UK election post, we recounted how exactly such a statement had cost Tory MP Howard Flight his job, with another Nick (Herbert) being drafted in to replace him.

Anyway, the apparent claim that Cameron is not a radical, whether well-founded or not, does give Sullivan and the Corner something else to feud about, besides torture. In an unrelated issue, Sully also plays the old Tory card in a side remark about the War on Christmas:

Moreover, the only people actually to have banned celebrating Christmas in the past were ... Christians. Some early American Puritans banned it; so did Cromwell in England during his religious dictatorship.

Note the innovative packaging of Cromwell as the English Taliban.
Catholic: It's the new Protestant

New York Times columnist David Brooks builds his Thursday column (subs. req'd) around "The Victory of Reason," by Rodney Stark. In the Brooks version (not having the read the book, we have to take his word for it), Stark claims to overturn the idea that the Catholic Church was a hindrance to the development of capitalism and argues that instead it was an incubator:

Catholic monasteries emerged as capitalist enterprises, serving not only as manufacturing and trading centers, but also as investment houses. And engineers invented or commercialized a vast array of technologies: the compass, the clock, the round-bottom boat, wagons with brakes and front axles, water wheels, eyeglasses, and so on. These innovations and discoveries, Stark argues, were not made by the newly secular, but by people who had a distinctly Christian sense of the sacred ...

The church recognized the dignity of free labor at a time when most other cultures did not. It valued private property and emphasized the essential equality of human beings despite their unequal incomes and stations.

Better historians than us will need to sort this out, but the Brooks version never specifies what the assumed alternative is -- how do we know that monasteries and universities sponsored by royals were not just as productive as the church's centers of scholarship? Indeed, one of the reasons why the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy or Roman was that the princes liked to keep a fairly close eye on what was going on in the religious institutions, a tension that was one of the seeds of the Reformation.

But anyway, the really strange part of the Brooks column is the lessons for today:

it is not enough to simply liberate people and assume they will automatically pursue economic prosperity. People need to be instilled with certain beliefs, like the belief that the future can be better than the present and that individuals have the power to shape their own destiny.

Ideas and culture drive civilizations. The Catholic Church nurtured one of the most impressive economic takeoffs in human history.

That's an interestingly vague use of 'need' -- who does the instilling? And exactly who needs it? Presumably not Brooks himself, but maybe certain others, an attitude that cropped up recently in the context of the neocon original gangstas, Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, and Gertrude Himmelfarb, nicely summarised by James Wolcott:

Mind you, I have no proof, but I imagine that the Fox Newsers, like Kristol and co., profess and promote religious faith must more than they practice it. They caricature liberal elites for "looking down" on religion while they themselves only pretend to look up to it, like Noel Coward imagining himself a nun. They approve of religion in part because, you know, it gives the little people something to do and makes them more manageable.

Finally, Brooks seem to be wondering where the recipe can be applied next:

Today, as Catholicism spreads in Africa and China, it's important to understand the beliefs that encourage people to work hard and grow rich.

China, which is doing just fine with a tiny Christian community, and Africa which is struggling to get any kind of momentum even with the most diverse religious mix in the world.

One point of Irish interest. The supposed constricting effect of Catholicism on economic growth was always one of the more hackneyed explanations of why only Ireland's northeast industrialised. But it's presumably just a coincidence that the Republic has prospered just as the church has gone into decline!

UPDATE: In the context of Christianity in Africa, reader C.I. submits the following Desmond Tutu quote:

When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.

Another perspective on Brooks' equation of Christianity with progress.

2nd UPDATE: More on Stark's book in the NYT here & here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Carry on up the Lagan

A slightly odd tone in an obituary in the Times of London today:

General Sir Roland Guy, GCB, CBE, DSO, Adjutant-General, 1984-86 ...

Roland Kelvin Guy was born in Srinagar, Kashmir, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Guy ... As a young officer he was selected to be adjutant of the Kenya Regiment, a Territorial Army unit comprising British expatriates in Kenya.

He was ideally suited to this environment and formed friendships which lasted his lifetime. Although the regiment was not committed as a whole to anti-terrorist operations against the Mau-Mau, many individuals were. Thus he gained active service experience which proved useful during the Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia in the early 1960s and later in Northern Ireland ...

The spring of 1971 saw swiftly mounting tension in the Province as the Stormont Government of Prime Minister Brian Faulkner sought to restore the pre-1969 status quo. Guy knew that his riflemen would face a very different attitude in the republican areas from the friendly reception they had received in 1969, and he trained them rigorously for it. Urban tactics, accurate shooting and physical fitness were the key elements.

Guy’s battalion was responsible for Belfast city centre during the 1971 introduction of internment, which brought a week of rioting, sniping and bomb explosions. He handled subordinates with the Green Jackets’ traditional light touch, but kept a firm grip on his operational area by getting out and about to see for himself, encouraging and inspiring his riflemen. They appreciated his style and used their initiative accordingly. As well as keeping a lid on the week of mayhem following the introduction of internment, his battalion scored notable successes against the increasingly confident Provisional IRA ...

Guy received the DSO in the first list of operational awards to recognise that the security forces were engaged not in “keeping the peace” but — because the peace had already been lost — in a counter-terrorist campaign.

Now the army was handed an impossible job in this period, but the equation of tactics in Northern Ireland with those of the Kenyan uprising in particular is jarring and perhaps not as flattering as is intended.
The season for making amends

With Christmas party season in full swing, the White House sneaks something up on the website:

On December 7, President Bush issued a new Presidential directive to empower the Secretary of State to improve coordination, planning, and implementation for reconstruction and stabilization assistance for foreign states and regions at risk of, in, or in transition from conflict or civil strife ...

The directive establishes that the Secretary of State shall coordinate and lead integrated United States Government efforts, involving all U.S. Departments and Agencies with relevant capabilities, to prepare, plan for, and conduct stabilization and reconstruction activities. Depending on the situation, these operations can be conducted with or without U.S. military engagement. When the U.S. military is involved, the Secretary of State shall coordinate such efforts with the Secretary of Defense to ensure harmonization with any planned or ongoing U.S. military operations across the spectrum of conflict.

Translation: we screwed up. The Pentagon should never have been in charge of reconstruction in Iraq. The experts in this thing are in the State Department. 33 months too late, they make the right call.
Payback time

A few loose ends on a complicated controversy in Ireland; the ultimate issue is the use of the media to conduct a state vendetta against a private individual, Frank Connolly. The affair is extremely well covered on Where's me country?? and GUBU -- just a general link in both cases, since there are accumulating posts on the topic.

We had mentioned Connolly obliquely a couple of months ago as providing an example of the inversion of the usual notion of the journalist as the recipient of a tip from an insider: in one aspect of a tangled investigation of Garda corruption in Donegal, Connolly as a journalist had been the source for a politician's information that police had assembled a bomb before later "finding it" on the site of a disputed TV mast. Note for future reference that this mast was disputed because it was part of a strategy of shutting down illegal TV booster dishes that were in wide use in Donegal at the time to receive UK TV channels. One of the companies that was expected to gain from legitimate retransmission rights was owned by Tony O'Reilly, who also owns the Independent newspaper group. So the framing of the protestors had side benefits for Tony.

Move forward in time to this story in the 26 November Irish Independent, in which journalist Sam Smyth clearly has access to an official document purporting to be a false passport application from Frank Connolly. Last week Justice Minister Michael McDowell used a parliamentary query to confirm his view that Connolly had travelled to Colombia (further alleged, to meet the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). McDowell also revealed over the weekend that he was the source for the Independent story.

While the main focus of the story is correctly on McDowell's behavior -- which is really vintage Karl Rove "slime and defend," by the way -- it also says a lot about media ethics at the Independent. Conflicts of interest abound in Tony O'Reilly's holdings, but you'd wade for a long time through Indo stories to find any disclosure of them. And Smyth's 26 November story says nothing about sourcing -- just a reference to a belief of the gardai. Plenty of parallels to the Valerie Plame identity disclosure scandal in the USA.

Finally, in McDowell's not at all contrite statement to the Dail, he says:

The fate of Irish democracy, in large measure, depends upon the capacity of the Government to frustrate the Provisionals' plan to subvert Irish democracy by these unlawful means.

Looking back over the last 35 years of Irish history, we can think of three times when the state was in danger of collapse: the potential impact of a destabilized Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the public debt crisis in the 1980s, and the festering culture of corruption whose legacy has still not been dealt with (although it has generated a good blog). The Provisional IRA is only connected to the first, and it's far from the whole story in that. In a nice bit of timing, David McWilliams had written in Tuesday's Irish Times (link via Slugger O'Toole) about the thinking of people like McDowell, as it pertained to the school he went to. It would seem that his self-image as true custodian of the Republic has gone to his head.

UPDATE: GUBU diagnoses that everyone is now in "move on" mode but asks:

Well, if everyone thinks that what McDowell did was kosher, name and shame a guy when you haven’t enough evidence to charge him, well then let’s go with it.

Indeed. Isn't it now time for McDowell (and Bertie, who supports him) to call on the British government to release all the documentation in the dropped case of the alleged Stormont Sinn Fein spying ring?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Wise Men of Wall Street

Building predictably on material from their op-ed pages last week, Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (free with reg.) offers a full endorsement of waterboarding, and makes an interesting prediction if they don't get their way:

We realize that our views on this subject won't carry the day, at least not until the U.S. suffers a more serious attack.

Note: they said 'until' and not 'unless.' At least they didn't offer an explicitly divine justification for terrorism, as they have done in the past.
Riots in France. No Muslims involved.

And therefore none of the shite from the right on how Eurabia is here and now. The northwestern city of Rennes had youths running through the streets and smashing stuff, but the explanation is mundane: "raveurs" upset that their "rave-party" had been cancelled by the prefect, even though the mayor had given the go-ahead:

PARIS (Reuters) - Hundreds of French youths smashed shop windows, ignited trash cans and pelted police with bottles through the night to protest against a ban on a rave party they planned in the western city of Rennes, officials said on Sunday.

Two police were injured and about 30 youths were detained during the unrest, which began mid-afternoon on Saturday as protesters chanting "freedom!" and "we want a field!" marched through the capital of the Brittany region.

Police in full riot gear fired tear gas to disperse the crowds but the protesters, many of whom police said were drunk, stayed on until the early morning.

Although it could be that penetrating rave culture is an important part of the secret Islamist "Project." Mike Power provides context. The spectacle of upset white youth in France also contradicts Powerline's dogwhistle analysis of the riots in Sydney:

The difference between the riots in Australia and those in France seems to be that the Australian riots are a two-way street.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Mission creeps

Dubya is confusing Atrios:

Two Missions

So last week the preznit told us we were fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here.

This week he's telling us that we're there to spread Democracy.

It's simple. The Iraqi insurgents have already said they model themselves on Sinn Fein, and now so does Bush:

Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we ... [Karl, fill in the latest poll-tested phrase here. Txs. GWB]

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Friends in high places

Every so often, as with Dan Senor and Campbell Brown for example, one finds indications that the military-industrial complex really needs to be renamed the military-media complex. Hence this detail from the Sunday Times of London that we hadn't seen anywhere else. It concerns the revelation that the Pentagon has been using a PR firm, the Lincoln group, to plant fake news stories in the Iraqi media. The principal in the mystery is Christian Bailey, who as Frank Rich nicely summarises (behind subscription) in the New York Times:

Though the 30-year-old prime mover in the shadowy outfit, one Christian Bailey, fled from Andrea Mitchell of NBC News when she pursued him on camera in Washington, certain facts are proving not at all elusive.

Ms. Mitchell and other reporters have learned that Mr. Bailey has had at least four companies since 2002, most of them interlocking, short-lived and under phantom names. Government Executive magazine also discovered that Mr. Bailey "was a founder and active participant in Lead21," a Republican "fund-raising and networking operation" - which has since scrubbed his name from its Web site - and that he and a partner in his ventures once listed a business address identical to their Washington residence.

But wait, there's more. Does Frank know about the New York Times social connection?

[Sunday Times of London] The baby-faced Bailey has a reputation as a socialite with ties to young Republicans. He left Britain in 1999 to try his luck as a dotcom entrepreneur in California before heading to New York and then Washington.

In New York, Bailey quickly became known as a charming host. A friend said: “He was a very popular boy because he would always have fun people and beautiful, intelligent girls around. He was always very fashion-conscious.”

In 2003 Bailey was treasurer of The Oxonian Society in New York, a club for anglophiles, where the former prime minister John Major was recently guest of honour. Bailey is a licensed helicopter and aircraft pilot, who has hired planes and flown guests to elegant picnics on the beach.

He was tempted to leave New York, where he worked for a hedge fund, after being drawn to Washington’s social scene by a friend, Jennifer 8 (sic) Lee, 29, described by one newspaper as the latest “hostess with the mostest”.

That would be New York Times Metro desk reporter, Jennifer 8. Lee. Hopefully, in the post-July Miller era, she is telling her fellow reporters all she knows about the case. But if so, New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth doesn't see fit to mention it. Here's his entire profile of Bailey, also from today's NYT:

Before coming to Washington and setting up Lincoln in 2004, Christian Bailey, born in Britain and now 30, had worked briefly in California and New York.

Pick up your internal phone book, Jeff. Even with the middle name being a number, it's not so hard to look her up.

It's not torture, it's European

One of the most persistent talking points on the pro-torture American right is the claim that the European Court of Human Rights had declared that a list of abusive techniques applied by British security forces to internees in Northern Ireland were not torture -- and therefore that the CIA would be OK doing something similar. This claim was part of the original infamous torture memos, and although the White House has since disowned that memo, a replacement memo was developed which has not been publicly released.

But the point lives on. It surfaced again in Saturday's Wall Street Journal in an article (subs req'd) by David Rivkin and Lee Casey. The same two had an article in Friday's European edition criticising the Condi-bashers in Europe, so they clearly have decided to set up shop as the print equivalent of Powerline -- flailing defence of whatever it is that George W. Bush wants to do. So anyway, the Irish case:

[US] law also forbids "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment, but these terms are similarly ill-defined by statute. The leading international judicial decision is a 1977 European Court of Human Rights opinion, ruling that Britain's use of five stress methods against the IRA, including "wall standing," hooding, sleep deprivation, reduced rations and constant loud noise, was not torture and constituted cruel and inhuman treatment only if they were used together in combination.

which comes pretty close to the "joke" routine on The Daily Show the other day, claiming that something can only be "cruel, inhuman and degrading" if it's all three at once. But there are important details about this case usually omitted from the pro-torture accounts of it. In particular, the UK government had long since conceded the point that the techniques were against international convention (and probably their own law) before the decision was handed down. Here's the key passage in the judgement [accessible via Wikipedia]:

On 16 November 1971, the British Home Secretary announced that a further Committee had been set up under the chairmanship of Lord Parker of Waddington to consider "whether, and if so in what respects, the procedures currently authorised for interrogation of persons suspected of terrorism and for their custody while subject to interrogation require amendment".

... Both the majority and the minority [reports] considered the methods to be illegal under domestic law, although the majority confined their view to English law and to "some if not all the techniques". The Parker report was published on 2 March 1972. On the same day, the Prime Minister [Ted Heath] stated in Parliament:

"[The] Government, having reviewed the whole matter with great care and with reference to any future operations, have decided that the techniques ... will not be used in future as an aid to interrogation." He further declared:

"The statement that I have made covers all future circumstances. If a Government did decide ... that additional techniques were required for interrogation, then I think that ... they would probably have to come to the House and ask for the powers to do it."

i.e regardless of the case itself, the techniques likely broke domestic law and even in an emergency would have to be explicitly approved by Parliament. And there's more. The case was referred to again last week in the Law Lords' ruling that evidence obtained under torture overseas is not admissible in UK courts:

Lord Hoffman: What is torture and who has the burden of proving that it has been used? In Ireland v United Kingdom (1978) 2 EHRR 25 the European Court delicately refrained from characterising various interrogation techniques used by the British authorities in Northern Ireland as torture but nevertheless held them to be “inhuman treatment”. The distinction did not matter because in either case there was a breach of article 3 of the Convention [on human rights].

For my part, I would be content for the common law to accept the definition of torture which Parliament adopted in section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, namely, the infliction of severe pain or suffering on someone by a public official in the performance or purported performance of his official duties. That would in my opinion include the kind of treatment characterised as inhuman by the European Court of Human Rights in Ireland v United Kingdom but would not include all treatment which that court has held to contravene article 3.

So the bar has only risen since Ted Heath's prohibition of the techniques. Most importantly, the five techniques do not include the one that the pro-torture right don't want to talk about: waterboarding. The spinners do leave themselves one back door to get waterboarding in, with just one snag -- it would have to be part of basic training on regular recruits as well:

Where, however, to draw the lines in a manner that will ensure clear standards for all American interrogators? One alternative would be to regulate both the methods and intensity of interrogations with reference to the "stress" methods used by American forces as part of basic and/or advanced training courses. Every recruit into the armed services is subjected to a stress program which is purposefully designed to break down civilian attitudes, remaking the person into a warrior.

Programs differ among the services, but all involve isolation from the outside world, some sleep deprivation, and a rigorous level of physical activity which can, and does, result in injury -- sometimes serious injury or death. Punishments often involve additional exercises that can, to put it mildly, be painful. (The Marines call it "incentive physical training" or "quarter-decking.") Just as challenging, of course, is the psychological component, which can involve the use of insulting and humiliating language and deliberate efforts to shame an individual before his or her fellows -- particularly effective on teenagers and very young adults.

Our military may well bristle at any analogy between basic training and stressful interrogation methods, and it would be obscene to compare dedicated drill instructors to the thugs of Abu Ghraib. However, establishing the type of stress methods routinely used in military training as the standard for interrogations offers an objective measure that should be familiar to every interrogator.

Would these exercises make it to the Army's TV recruiting commercials?

UPDATE 10 OCTOBER 2007: The talking point is back again (subs. req'd; alt. free link)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Just Axin'*

Why did our TV schedule Thursday night promise Jake Gyllenhaal on Jon Stewart and Andrew Sullivan on Colbert and instead we got Ken Auletta and Peggy Noonan, respectively?

*other possible headlines included "Has shooting already begun on Bareback Mountain?"

Friday, December 09, 2005

Bono and the Professor

Bono's credentials with the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy have held up remarkably well, due not least to his careful avoidance of partisan politics in the US. But the esteem is fraying. A couple of weeks ago the Wall Street Journal online was trafficking a story about Bono having a hat flown at a cost of nearly $2000 from London to Italy and Friday's print edition lumps him in with Jeffrey Sachs of the UN for wanting to hold Africa to low standards in terms of corruption rankings.

Sachs argues that poverty causes corruption and so that ratings of corruption should make allowance for levels of poverty. Since most of Africa is poor, by this standard most of Africa is not corrupt. The WSJ (subs. req'd) is not happy:

The report also gives the dangerous impression that corruption is under control -- as Irish rock star Bono also did recently on U.S. TV. "The bottom-line argument here in the U.S. is that people didn't believe [aid] was getting to the people that it was supposed to, because of corruption and stuff like that," he told Conan O'Brien this fall. "They didn't want their tax dollars redecorating presidential palaces. We've covered that now." Just like that.

Now the Journal sort of has a point, because Africa has experienced a fair bit of political regression recently, which could well undermine the benefit of aid. But there is the issue of the amount of money at stake in this debate relative to other things that the US is up to. For instance, in the same day's paper:

New U.S. embassy in Baghdad is 16% complete, a Senate report says. The 104-acre complex will include 21 buildings, swimming pool, food court and power station. The report concludes the complex is within its $592 million budget and ahead of schedule for June 2007 completion.

A very large and suspiciously self-sufficient "diplomatic" facility for a country that's supposed to be almost ready to have the stabilisers taken off, as Dubya has been telling the people recently. It seems therefore that Africa's problem in fact is that its presidents aren't bad enough to attract the big bucks that come with getting deposed by the US.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Read Subheadings With Care

When one goes to the Wall Street Journal opinion page and sees

Peggy Noonan
What does it mean that your first act on entering a country is breaking its laws?

one may naively think that Peggy could be referring to the CIA rendition flights, which break the laws of the European countries where they land. But No. She's talking about illegal immigration.
This is a love song

As its reign as Time magazine's Blog of the Year comes to an end, Powerline produces the most embarrassingly sycophantic post, ever. It's about Scott's ["Trunk"] trip to the White House Hannukah party:

An evening to remember

... Thinking it was junk mail, I almost threw it out, until I noticed that my name and address on the envelope were handwritten. Inside was the invitation to the White House Hannukah reception held yesterday evening ...

Upon admission to the White House we were given a card with our names and address and directed where to stand in line to have a photograph taken with the president and Mrs. Bush. That took a load off our minds! We'd been worrying that issue to death over the past few weeks.

.... Even walking down the first floor hallway was an emotional experience ...

Both President and Mrs. Bush greeted us like old friends. We both expressed our admiration and thanked him for his service. Mrs. Trunk told him he was her hero. "Thank you for saying that," he said.

.... At either end of the second floor were rooms where food was set out buffet-style ... We visited each of the open rooms in the East Wing on the first and second floors at least twice each and then lingered in the second floor hallway, chatting with Joshua and his friends from around the country. We wanted to take it all in and remember every detail; we didn't want to leave.

As we walked past the band and down the stairs, the band was playing "I Could Have Danced All Night." I felt like I had never understood that song until that moment.

If only they had played Stairway, the evening would have been perfect!
A uniter not a divider

The Wall Street Journal Europe (subs. req'd) claims to be unimpressed with new Conservative Party leader David Cameron: "Pardon us for not joining the David Cameron love-fest just yet ... Mr. Blair, however, wasted no time in branding the Cameron era as the "new consensus" -- a mocking reference to the "socialist consensus" that another Tory leader, Ted Heath, embraced in the 1970s. Repeating that history is in no one's interests, certainly not the Tories'."

But there is more to encourage them than at first appears. In particular, there are signs that Cameron is basing his bid for power on the model of George W. Bush. Three indicators. First, the choice of education as an area to establish reforming but populist credentials, just as Bush did building his reputation as an education reformer in Texas and then hyping his No Child Left Behind Act as evidence of cross-party politics when in the White House.

Second, the elevation of Iain Duncan Smith to an influential role designing social policy -- which brings in Smith's alliance with US Senator Rick Santorum under the rubric "social justice conservatives." Policy suggestions here will doubtless mirror Bush's favourite substitution of government programs by religious groups. And finally, Cameron has continued to use the phrase "compassionate conservatism," which is of course a direct borrowing from Bush.

And we know we said three indicators above, but here's a fourth: the return of William Hague to the shadow cabinet guarantees favourable US coverage from Time magazine's house blogger, Andrew Sullivan, who approvingly notes the elevation of his "old college friend" -- a designation that normally carries the Curse of Sully.

The links between the Conservatives and the US Republican party frayed with the Iraq war. But it will be useful to watch for increased signs of strategist traffic between them, especially after Tony Blair leaves.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Advice Jacques Chirac can ignore

A few weeks ago, the American right was unanimous that the French riots reflected the inevitable doom of Europe due to its morphing into Eurabia. Now the Wall Street Journal (free link with reg.) offers a new diagnosis -- not enough torture:

The danger here [outrage towards Condi] is less to America -- which will continue to protect itself in any case -- than it is to Europe. The phony outrage over American anti-terror practices will only make it harder for European governments to take the actions required to stop terror on their soil -- witness French paralysis in the wake of the recent riots.

One approach to being stuck in a moral cesspool is to try and pull others in.
Of that ilk

Given the incompetence of the Global War on Terror, it's not inconceivable that the reason the unfortunate Khaled al-Masri -- the German citizen kidnapped in Macedonia and tortured in Afghanistan -- came to the attention of the American authorities is that he shares a surname with members of the GWOT rogues gallery -- the loony cleric Abu Hamza, and the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades. The latter being the group that endorsed George W. Bush for president last year. One minor problem with this theory is that the innocent al-Masri was born in Lebanon, so it's not immediately clear why he has a surname that signifies being Egyptian.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Evidence of the Intelligent Designer?

Or is the similarity of this image from today's science section of the New York Times (digitally viewable here) to a classic masterwork merely a sign of His support for stem cell research?
Prodigal sons

We admit to having hit a bit of a blogging rut so while the batteries get recharged, a couple of incidental musings. We've done a few Pete Doherty posts recently and we thought of him again last night while listening to the ... er .. highlights of a bizarre debate in the House of Lords about that vile weed, bracken. One Lord (who we think was a Labour peer) was singing the praises of it, listing one benefit after another, and towards the end of the impressive list, at least one lord in the background can be heard shouting "Up the bracken!" which we choose to interpret as a nod to Pete's days with The Libertines and in particular the fabulous Up the Bracket. The interjection can he heard near the end of Monday's Today in Parliament.

And speaking of wayward genius, we also happened to catch a report on French news about the film La Vie est à nous which looks like a light comedy/drama about two women friends in a French village where the peace and tranquility is disturbed by the arrival of an outsider -- in the form of a striking lorry driver played by Eric Cantona. Unlike Roy Keane, the fellow ex-Manchester United man had been clear that he saw acting a post football possibility and to his credit, he is finding work. The one clip with him from the report is either funny or embarrassing (we hope to God he's playing it for laughs) -- he's at the counter with the would-be love interest and he says something like "May I drink from your glass? I like a glass from which a woman has been drinking." A scene that we can't imagine Keane, or indeed George Best, playing.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Longtime readers will know of our interest in (and dubious attitude to) the marketing strategies of multinational alcohol conglomerates. So we suppose it's somewhat refreshing to read (in the Wall Street Journal, subs. req'd) about a chief executive of one such company who admits to not understanding why consumers like one of his products; the company being Scottish and Newcastle and the product being Foster's Super Chilled (they own the European rights):

And the brewer whose identity was once built around warm English ale now has an ad campaign for Foster's Super Chilled lager that asks, "Well, you wouldn't want a warm beer, would you?"

"Why Europeans would want to drink beer cold in this weather, I have no idea," Mr. Froggatt [CEO] jokes. "But they really do."

This is a debate that we had noted a while back in connection with the existence of Guinness Extra Cold, the consensus amongst the purists being that it's for people who don't actually like the taste of beer -- the extra chilling removes the taste.

Also noteworthy is their main American success story:

Meanwhile, sales of Scottish & Newcastle's main export to America, Newcastle Brown Ale, have been growing by 10% annually. A marketing campaign with rock bands like Green Day has helped make it fashionable among younger drinkers.

One wonders if Green Day's adoption of an English punk pose (not to mention The Who-style ambition of American Idiot) has created this niche for them as intermediaries. Our own suggestion to the marketers looking to boost the cachet of English beer in the USA -- create a trend of pairing the pint with salt and vinegar crisps (the traditional, artifically flavoured ones).

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Guinness is good for you*

*If the alternative is cocaine. Shane McGowan explains it to Pete Doherty.

[We also thought about the caption "Lose your teeth. Save your brain."]

Friday, December 02, 2005

They saw him coming

It was unfortunate timing that the Republic of Ireland's foreign minister, a purveyor of half-baked Bushisms, was meeting Condi Rice on the day that an awkward article ran in the New York Times:

A recent analysis done for The New York Times of 26 planes known to be operated by C.I.A. companies shows 307 flights in Europe since September 2001. The information was culled from Federal Aviation Administration data, aviation industry sources and, to a lesser extent, a network of plane spotters who often report to human rights groups.

It finds that there were 94 flights in Germany, the most in Europe. (An investigation has opened there on whether Mr. Nasr, the suspect seized in Italy, was flown out of an American air base in Germany.) Second is Britain, 76 flights, followed by Ireland (33), Portugal (16), then Spain and the Czech Republic (15 each).

The print version of the article had a nice map showing Ireland's role in the CIA supply chain -- and also an ad for Aer Lingus on the same page promising "warm welcomes and warm memories" in Ireland. So anyway, 33 flights. What could they possibly have been doing?

[Irish Times, subs req'd] Shannon airport has never been used for CIA rendition flights, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has told Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern. Mr Ahern said in Washington yesterday that he accepted Dr Rice's assurance, which had confirmed what US officials had told the Government consistently.

"She was very categorical that Shannon has not been used for anything untoward. We fully accept the categorical assurance of a friendly nation," Mr Ahern said. During what officials called a "forthright" exchange, Dr Rice told the Minister that the United States was not a rogue state and upheld US and international law.

It's worth dwelling for a moment on one of the many problems here. The Bush administration has embraced a legal theory of untramelled executive branch power at time of war -- which surely includes the power to lie to other countries. Of course it could just be that Condi is as out of it as she was in the summer of 2001 and really has no idea what is going on. Maybe we're holding Dermot Ahern to too high a standard.

UPDATE 5 DEC: RTE has more on the Shannon flights:

In Sweden a parliamentary investigation concluded that the arrest of two Egyptians at Stockholm airport, and who were allegedly stripped and hooded and put on a CIA flight en route to Cairo, was a violation of Swedish law.

The two men later complained to the Swedish ambassador to Egypt that they had been tortured. RTÉ News has learned that the plane which took them there, which had the registration number N379P, had landed at Shannon 13 times between 2002 and 2003.

The plane was then re-registered as N8068V and landed three times in 2003 for refuelling. However, the N379P registration turned up in Cork once this year.

In another case, a gulfstream jet (N85VM) allegedly involved in the CIA kidnapping of an islamic cleric in Milan landed in Shannon eight times. A further plane, N313P, claimed by Newsweek magazine as being part of the CIA's covert network, landed 13 times at Shannon.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said that these planes were registered as civilian aircraft so there was no requirement for advance notice, and that no inspections were carried out.

Amnesty International has more. The planes that stopped at Shannon have featured in the most notorious rendition cases.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

More dodgy stuff at Shannon

Why is the US military shipping helium from the US to Iraq? This emerged from yet another genre of stopover at the "neutral" Republic of Ireland's Shannon airport today:

[RTE] The US Embassy has confirmed that a US military aircraft, which made an emergency landing at Shannon Airport this morning, was carrying helium gas bound for Iraq. The C-17 transport plane had to divert to Shannon airport when it developed hydraulic and brake problems. The gas is contained in 58 cylinders onboard the plane and is used to float radar balloons for the military.

There's nowhere closer than the USA to procure helium for Iraq? And what about Saddam's own much-hyped mobile weapon labs, information from the accurately named Curveball, which in fact were just machines for making hydrogen (although not helium) for balloons?

The RTE story continues

A spokesperson for the US embassy stated the cargo and flight were not in contravention of any UN resolutions.

Now why might people think that?

UPDATE: Friday's Irish Times (subs. req'd) has more:

Normally located at McChord air force base in Washington, it was en route from Kansas to an RAF base in Mildenhall in England ... After informing Air Traffic Control at Shannon of the problem, the plane circled over the sea for about two hours to burn off excess fuel before landing amid fears that the weight of the cargo on board would cause the plane to overshoot the runway ... emergency services described yesterday's incident as one of the most serious in recent times. Coast Guard services were on standby, along with gardaí, paramedics, and firefighting crews ...

the US embassy ... said the gas carried on board was used in "radar balloons of the type that have been used by law enforcement agencies in the United States for many years. "While this cargo is technically considered 'hazardous', it is non-flammable, commonly used in consumer applications [eg, birthday party balloons], and transported in accordance with international safety regulations."

The statement continued that, pursuant to UN security council resolutions, "this cargo is in transit to the multinational forces in Iraq operating at the request of the interim government of Iraq. "Its transit through Shannon airport, as is the case with all other traffic supporting the multinational forces in Iraq, is in compliance with Resolution 1546, Section 15, which calls on all UN member states 'to contribute assistance to the multinational forces, including military forces, as agreed with the government of Iraq'."

No explanation of why such an apparently generic cargo has to be shipped such a long distance.
Department of interesting excuses

1. Pete Doherty, explaining his arrest for possession of crack cocaine to The Sun:

Speaking of his drugs arrest, the singer added: “Me and The Wolfman (a song-writing partner) were off to bury the stuff by my grandfather’s grave in West London — to draw a line under our drug-taking days.

“We were just unlucky to get pulled over. Kate [Moss] doesn’t know I have been arrested and only got out of the nick at 6am.”

2. Conrad Black's co-indictee Jack Boultbee didn't show up from Canada for his arraignment in Chicago and didn't have a representative in the U.S. District Court. The WSJ (subs. req'd) says:

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Kent told Judge Amy St. Eve that someone claiming to be Mr. Boultbee's attorney sent a message saying that Mr. Boultbee "had other personal matters to attend to today, which we think indicates an unfortunate disrespect for this court."

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Victory is simply a question of dates

Those relying on the farcically redesigned Pajamas Media for their summary of President Bush's newly announced strategy for victory in a war that began in 2003 will read:

and the White House earlier today declassified a document describing that strategy circa 2003. The 38 page document is here: Strategy for Victory (2003).

Now the double references to 2003 are a bit suspicious, not least because the White House surely belatedly realized that they had set up the political comedians for the obvious jokes about the strategy coming 2 years after the war. But Pajamas Media goes above and beyond the call of duty in labelling the document as they do, because when you follow the link, there is nothing in the title about it being a 2003 document:

November 30, 2005
National Strategy for Victory in Iraq

Sections of the actual document (pdf) refer to recent events, so it makes no claim to being a 2003 document, other than a few scattered quotes from Bush from that year. So why did Pajamas Media provide the document with a falsely dated title?

UPDATE: PJM link updated to reflect their update, which still backdates the title of the White House document. Also, inbound link to us from Atrios, who awards them a coveted Wankers of the Day award. And via Roger Ailes, Pajamas Media hyping a non-story about a supposed leak of classified information.
Don't tell them in Michigan

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) has an interesting story on how General Motors is bravely planning on increased non-US sales of the "smallest" of its Hummer 4WD vehicles, the H3. Brave because a time of increased concern about global warming, oil prices, and George Bush's militarism would not seem to be a good time to be selling a teens-MPG behemoth that draws on a US military design. But the marketers have a plan -- to convince purchasers that it really won't look that out of place next to a Swatch car:

The tone of advertising slogans for the H3 also contrasts with the more attitude-filled campaign for the H2. For the H3, advertising phrases include, "Any Smaller and It Would Be European" or "Available in the Petite Section." For the H2, the tone was more aggressive, with slogans like "You give us the money, we give you the truck and nobody gets hurt."

In its attempt to sell the vehicle based on the opposite emphasis to the sales pitch in the US -- the ability to crush anything else on the road -- it's similar to how Guinness shields its home market from innovations like FastPour and Surger. Maybe GM should contact Diageo about a version of FastPour that would work for filling the H3's petrol tank.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

This just in: New Harper's editor also a mime!

Or at least, along with his agility with "cattle, sheep and a gun," Roger D. Hodge seems to be able to lean passionately on thin air.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sources are for suckers

Mort Zuckerman, editor-in-chief of US News and World Report, uses his proprietorial spot in the magazine to discussing this new fangled blogging thingy:

Given the fact that the disseminators of blogs, such as Google, have a unique protection from legal liability for what is posted, the blogs often resort to blood sport in their commentaries on politics and life, with many repeating and reporting without fact checking. (Alas, the idea that Jews plotted the 9/11 attacks began as a blog and took hold in the Muslim world as fact; in fact, it was a lie put out by Hezbollah.)

This new age of journalism is challenging the "trustee model" of journalism, where journalistic professionals served as gatekeepers, filtering the defamatory and the false. Today, a large segment of the public believes the new media are flavoring their reporting so as to tell us not so much how the world works but how the media believe it ought to work. No wonder only 44 percent of the public now say they are very, or fairly, confident of the media's accuracy.

Our quick count shows those two paragraphs containing 4 specific assertions and four sweeping generalizations, the latter protected only by their vagueness from being substantiated. And it's not like the claims are even internally consistent -- did the 9/11 claim come from Hezbollah, or a blog, or maybe from And what is this "unique legal protection" that Google has? Or indeed this golden age of trustee journalism, where the gatekeepers protected us from falsehoods like Al Gore having claimed he invented the Internet? Indeed, in terms of political speech, bloggers are having to fight to get the same rights that other media already have in terms of election campaign regulations.

In sum, we have a non-fact checked, unsourced tirade about bloggers from one of the pillars of dinner-party centrism. Stick to firing employees on maternity leave, Mort. It's what you do best.

UPDATE: Inward links (and much associated traffic) with additional thoughts from Atrios and Kos. And Zuckerman's own sloppy record on fact-checking is discussed by Wampum.
Winston off the hook

Seemingly tiring of comparisons of George W. Bush with Winston Churchill, the American Right spent Sunday exulting in a new comparison: Bush and Napoleon. We already knew that they had killed irony but now they're dancing on its grave. They're sourcing the analogy to a James Hoagland column in the Washington Post, which in turn relies on a quote from an Egyptian -- but hey, that's better sourcing than they ever had for their WMD hype. So --

National Review's The Corner: Must-read Hoagland column on changes in the Middle East >>
" is a Middle East in which those who believe in democracy and civil society are finally actors, even though we still face big obstacles," says Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egypt's battle-scarred democratic activist.

Ibrahim originally opposed the invasion of Iraq. But it "has unfrozen the Middle East, just as Napoleon's 1798 expedition did. Elections in Iraq force the theocrats and autocrats to put democracy on the agenda, even if only to fight against us. Look, neither Napoleon nor President Bush could impregnate the region with political change. But they were able to be the midwives," Ibrahim told me in Washington.<<

Powerline: What Bush and Napoleon have in common

Read a little, via Wikipedia, about how successful the Corsican's Middle Eastern expedition was:

In a largely unsuccessful effort to gain the support of the Egyptian populace, Bonaparte also issued proclamations casting himself as a liberator of the people from Ottoman oppression, and praising the precepts of Islam.

... Although Bonaparte had massive success against the native Mamluk army in the Battle of the Pyramids (his 25,000 man strong invading force defeated a 100,000 man army), his fleet was largely destroyed by Nelson at The Battle of the Nile, so that Bonaparte became land-bound. His goal of strengthening the French position in the Mediterranean Sea was thus frustrated, but his army nonetheless succeeded in consolidating power in Egypt, although it faced repeated nationalist uprisings

In early 1799 he led the army into the Ottoman province of Syria, now modern Israel, and defeated numerically superior Ottoman forces in several battles, but his army was weakened by disease and poor supplies ... Eventually Bonaparte was forced to withdraw from Egypt in 1799, under constant British and Ottoman attacks..

Apart from the failure, it's a neocon fantasy trip. What took this analogy so long?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Of Irish Interest

Quick notes on what New York Times readers read about Ireland in the last couple of days. Friday's papers saw "Donabate Journal," a report on the perilous state of the craft of thatching in Ireland, with a bunch of quotes from a cottage owner in the town and a thatcher working on it. Two indices of the trouble -- both the raw materials and the skills often have to be imported -- the latter from Britain:

In contrast to Ireland, Britain saved its thatched roofs through aggressive conservation efforts after World War II and formal training programs, so its style of thatching developed while Ireland's remained relatively static.

Peter Childs, a Briton who has worked in Ireland for a decade, employs those techniques here because the roofs last longer and have a cleaner, more tightly woven look.

The Sunday Book Review has a 2nd review of John Banville's The Sea, a privilege that sometimes happens with big name authors given the vehemently negative nature of the first one. This one by Terrence Rafferty is nowhere as negative and even speculates that the novel began as a parody of a more English style of novel before veering of in another direction. There is also a link to the complete first chapter.