Monday, January 31, 2005

Get your free legal advice here

It's possible to spend way too much of the day looking at sitemeter to see what search engine requests are arriving at the blog. So when we see that the yahoo engine found us for a search

Extradition Treaty USA Republic of Ireland,

we wonder, are we being read by Whitey Bulger?
The High Kings Strike Back

Where this blog leads, the New York Times and Washington Post follow. With the Post having featured the demented motorway building through County Meath a week ago, the NYT (reg. req'd) does a similar piece today, complete with nice picture of sheep grazing next to historic monuments on the Hill of Tara. As we said about the Post article, we think that the commuter vs preservationist narrative is too simplistic but understandable within the confines of a newspaper story.

But just to highlight one important part of the debate which that angle doesn't capture, take a look at the simple map accompanying the NYT story (or this PDF map); note the proposed M3 along with the indicated existing "highway" -- but also the N2 road just 7 miles to the east (this is the road to Derry). One of the most effective points of the anti-M3 group is against the government's intentions to upgrade both roads even when they are so close together; why not just a single upgrade that would serve both routes and avoid the historic sites?

One other postscript to our previous rant about this. In our comment on the Post article, we pointed out that they interviewed "local politician" Tommy Reilly, a M3 supporter, without mentioning his own history of odd-looking land deals, something par for the course in his party, Fianna Fail. Well today comes news that this history has caught up with him and he has withdrawn as a candidate in the forthcoming Meath by-election, in which the road is sure to be an issue. Could there be a Curse of Tara?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Pride and Pride

We noted a little while back some latent tensions between fellow Crimson-hued conservative bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus, and as the dispute rumbles on, we can't really tell if it's a gimmick to bump up each other's referral hits, or whether there is something more fundamental going on. But the choice of words in the dispute can be revealing.

Before it was Kaus's strange and repeated references to Sully as "excitable." In a post on Friday where Sully does actually sound annoyed, he pleads:

But he takes after me for inconstancy?

Which made us think of one of the six novels we've ever read, Persuasion, where the charge of inconstancy is the one that wounds Captain Wentworth the most:

I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.

Unlike the novel, we don't know whether this drama has a happy ending.

UPDATE 8 MARCH: Happy ending? Not yet. Completely out of the blue (or is that crimson?), Kaus uncorks a random dig at Sully; the context is a Kaus claim that his blogging about MSN to AOL e-mail problems led them to be rectified, which leads him to threaten to shift into "full Sullivanesque Gloating Mode." Has he read our Sully-50 Cent post?

Friday, January 28, 2005

An Irish solution to an Irish problem

We really were hoping not to have to return to the topic of our recent Auschwitz post. But there is uproar, especially in Northern Ireland, arising from several remarks from people who should know better, that appear to link the Nazis and the Holocaust with Ulster Unionism. Of course, Slugger O'Toole has a huge set of relevant links; go to this post and the ones near it to get a flavour.

But whereas President Mary McAleese's one-sided equation of Protestant hatred of Catholics with Nazi anti-Semitism is causing the biggest row, we'd like to comment a less remarked aspect of the same radio interview. The President was also asked whether the country should apologise for then Taoiseach Eamon DeValera's notorious protocol visit to the German Embassy to deliver condolences upon the death of Hitler. Writing in Friday's Irish Independent (reg. req'd), Alan Shatter documents the response:

...she doubted whether there is an apology "big enough" that can be given but acknowledged that "we hid behind bureaucracy, we hid behind words and didn't do all the things that could have been done and should have been done and to that extent we all have a fair degree of complicity and for that I think we should hang our heads with a degree of shame for the things that were within our power to do and that weren't done."

Now, judging from the Prince Harry controversy, it seems that everyone has wised up the apology that's not really an apology when it's along the lines of "I apologize if/to whom I offended/gave offence. So Mary has a different version -- the apology for everything that ends up being an apology for nothing. But what would hurt about a specific, purely symbolic, apology for one diplomatic faux pas from 60 years ago? Other countries have gone through much more wrenching self-examinations, and we can't even manage that?

In his op-ed piece in the Independent, Shatter is too polite to say what he really thinks is going on, but the sub-text is clear:

It is my recollection that such an apology on behalf of the State was eloquently and unequivocally given by John Bruton when Taoiseach on the 28th April 1995 at a State organised Commemoration Service for those Irish people who died in the Second World War and for the victims of the Holocaust.
Perhaps, if the President had been aware of this, she would have been more sure-footed in her language.
Perhaps the President felt in the absence of government approval, she could not adequately address this issue.
As this week is the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz it would be of significant historical importance if either the President or Taoiseach would, before it ends, publicly acknowledge and apologise for Eamonn de Valera's morally repugnant error of judgment.

In other words, our supposedly non-partisan President needs a signal from one particular party, not the one that did apologise before, before she can proceed.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Passion of the Hacks

James Wolcott says it best -- the Punditocracy is devastated that Fahrenheit 9/11 was not nominated for an Oscar, a month of columns bashing the Hollywood elites that now cannot be written. The hacks really needed some Moore bashing to get them through the next couple of months because the War on Cartoons is getting pretty old already and their brave struggles against the War on Easter can't really get going until well into Lent.

So like the Siamese Fighting Fish in From Russia With Love, they turn on each other. In the Wall Street Journal today, reactionary loon and sometime film critic Michael Medved says this:

In fact, the sloppy, dishonest, brain-dead habit of equating "The Passion of the Christ" with "Fahrenheit 9/11" reveals more about Hollywood's bias and blindness than any aspect of the major awards the two films won't receive.

But over at the National Review, K.J. Lopez (as she now is) had this to say:

Whether or not you're a Passion cheerleader, you gotta break a smile at this:
[news text clip] Mel Gibson's religious blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ" missed out on main categories, but did pick up nominations for cinematography, makeup and original score.
Michael Moore's gamble to hold his hit film "Fahrenheit 9/11" out of the documentary category -- to boost its best-picture prospects -- backfired. The movie was shut out across the board.

The smile of, in Medved's words, someone sloppy, dishonest, and brain-dead.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Some days we're just angry

It's going to be a depressing couple of days as the world observes the 60th anniversary of the liberation (if one can call it that) of Auschwitz. There's not a whole lot useful to be said about a crime which gets no less monstrous with the passing years, and it doesn't help much that there are still a few perpetrators who will make it to the grave via a natural death having never faced any kind of reckoning for their role in it.

Instead we propose to be a little more parochial about it and highlight a couple of relevant things from Wednesday's Irish Times (both require subs.). First, there's a letter to the editor from the Polish Ambassador in Dublin contesting an article's description of the camps as Polish. We began reading the letter sympathetic to its argument, because the labelling of the camps as Polish is an old trick of Holocaust deniers. But then we got to this:

We, in Poland, attach much importance to the accuracy of descriptions of Nazi camps located in Poland. Historians estimate that among the people sent to Auschwitz there were not only at least 1,100,000 Jews from all the countries of occupied Europe, but also over 140,000 Poles, 20,000 Gypsies, 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and 10,000 prisoners of other nationalities.

Note the distinction between Jews and Poles -- the latter category clearly excludes Polish Jews, since the number is way too small to cover Polish Jews killed in the camp.*

The paper also contains a damning article by Joe Carroll describing the censorship regime in the neutral Republic during World War II. This was interpreted to include barring any reporting of the Nazi atrocities, and one simply reads aghast of one incident after another:

The chief censor, Thomas Coyne, was writing in May 1945 as the Nazi death camps were being revealed to the world: "The publication of atrocity stories, whether true or false, can do this country no good and may do it much harm." ...

When I [reporter] interviewed Aiken [the minister] years later for my book on Irish neutrality, he brushed aside the charge that he prevented the Irish public from judging which side was in the right by suppressing reports of German and Japanese atrocities. "One side was as bad as the other," he said ...

Reports of atrocities could not be permitted because they might be false. But even if true they must be censored because people might then form opinions on which side was morally right. This could endanger neutrality ...

The censorship even clamped down on reports from the Vatican about the persecution of the Catholic Church, especially in Poland, by the Nazis.

The Irish Press [pro Government newspaper] had told its readers in April 1943: "There is no kind of oppression visited on any minority in Europe which the Six-County nationalists have not also endured."

All in all, our own little contribution to the global indifference to the Holocaust. But of course, we had plenty of company. We especially can't help but be cynical in advance of whatever pleasing photograph will come from Poland on Thursday, of European heads of state with their best sad faces on, perhaps reminding themselves that this isn't some gig like the Airbus launch where the task is to look jovial about the New Europe, but to look mournful about the old one.

We've never in our life had a good word to say about a column of Mark Steyn's. But in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph, he has a hypothetical sentence that perfectly captures the cynical superficiality of it all: "But some of our best photo opportunities are Jewish."

*UPDATE Jan 27: This straightforward BBC Q&A on Auschwitz provides numbers that makes clear that the Polish Ambassador is massaging the numbers, inflating the number of non-Jewish Polish deaths but not including Polish Jews in the count of Polish dead.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

You'll never sue the Irish

Our thousands of readers will know that we don't normally promote arguments whereby events in the Republic of Ireland might blaze a trail for the rest of the world. So we draw your attention to just such an argument, made by the Wall Street Journal for a situation where it's plausible: litigation reform. The article (subs. req'd) recounts the recent history of civil lawsuit reform in the Republic, and with the same issue being a priority for Dubya's 2nd term, it's just possible that there is some relevant experience.

First and foremost of course, the difference: lawsuit reform in the Republic is a matter of one piece of legislation covering the entire country; for the USA, it's the alignment of 51 separate legal frameworks. Anyway, as the WSJ explains, the issue sprang up somewhat suddenly in the Republic -- a surge in claims beginning about 5 years ago, with many high profile exposes of dubious slip-and-fall lawsuits, incidents either staged or due to extreme drunkeness.

We don't have much evidence for this belief, but we've suspected that Ireland's small size and homogeneity makes it prone to fads, and it does appear that the filing of dodgy lawsuits became a mini-fad, perhaps justified by the thought that it's just a write off for someone else, but nonetheless blamed on those Americans when things seemed to be getting out of hand.

Enter Pat McDonagh, supremo of homegrown burger chain Supermac's to successfully lead a lobby group for reform, the key component of which is compulsory arbitration for civil damages claims. Crucially though, for anyone looking for implications for the US, medical malpractice is not covered by the reform. But standard slip-and-fall cases go before the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, no lawyers at the hearings, and the case only proceeds to a regular court when both sides reject the arbitration decision.

Unfortunately for the Journal, their story was printed on the same day that the High Court struck down the restriction on claimants retaining a lawyer (solicitor) for the hearings. While the US is not considering compulsory arbitration of civil claims, there is the related issue of whether a claimant has a right of access to state courts, whereas Dubya's plan is to force these claims into federal court.

Finally, there's definitely one thing that the US tort reform lobbyists shouldn't borrow from their successful Irish counterparts. Their slogan: Irish Business -- Are you being scalped to pay for a wig?
Resistance is Futile

The magnanimous James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal online editorial page allows that:

The world has some two billion Muslims, the vast majority of whom are not radicals; and a religious crusade to convert them to Christianity (or Judaism, or atheism) simply is not an option.

Interesting choice of words -- it's not that the idea is wrong or wouldn't solve the problem, it's just that it's not feasible. But make no mistake, it's the entire religion that's the problem:

The only way to defeat the radical Islamists is to establish an accommodation between Islam and democracy--to assimilate the Islamic world into the modern world.

One might have thought that the way to defeat radical Islamists is to, like, defeat them, but we clearly aren't nuanced enough about it.

UPDATE: Joyous news, as today's OpinionJournal corrects the above to note that there are 700 million less Muslims to assimilate than originally stated:

Apparently the estimate of two billion Muslims world-wide we cited ... is on the high side. Most estimates seem to be in the range of 1.2 billion to 1.3 billion. Still, our point stands: That's a lot of Muslims, and only a reconciliation between Islam and democracy can produce victory against Islamist terrorists.

And remember, all this rhetorical effort by them is being expended to justify an interpretation of Dubya's inauguration speech that the White House has already disowned.
What Maggie should have said

It's textbook news management: with the country distracted by Johnny Carson's death and bad weather in the northeast, the Pentagon lets slip that things at the pre-Magna Carta Guantanamo Bay detention centre are worse than we thought:

Twenty-three terror suspects tried to hang or strangle themselves at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay during a mass protest in 2003, the military confirmed Monday.

And what name keeps coming up in all these prison scandals?

The incidents came during the same year the camp suffered a rash of suicide attempts after Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller took command of the prison with a mandate to get more information from prisoners accused of links to al-Qaida or the ousted Afghan Taliban regime that sheltered it.

That man again, General Miller. Anyway, it's essential for the Pentagon that suicide attempts not become an index of the impact of indefinite detention on the mental state of the prisoners, so some jargon must be found to describe the underlying behaviour here:

Between Aug. 18 and Aug. 26, the 23 detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves with pieces of clothing and other items in their cells, demonstrating "self-injurious behavior," the U.S. Southern Command in Miami said in a statement. Ten detainees made a mass attempt on Aug. 22 alone.
U.S. Southern Command described it as "a coordinated effort to disrupt camp operations and challenge a new group of security guards from the just-completed unit rotation."

Note the double spin implied in the attempts being seen as rational decisions to disrupt the prison, and not evidence of people driven to their wits end by open-ended detentions. Now with our Irish interests we can't help but see parallels to the 1981 hunger strikers in Northern Ireland, and indeed the fact that we haven't heard much about hunger strikers at Gitmo probably just means that the Pentagon is covering them up, since the Irish example shows how devastating a public relations tactic it can be. Maggie Thatcher never could get her no compromise attitude to the hunger strikers to play well in Ireland, with the electoral rise of Sinn Fein as one of the long-term consequences.

But poor Maggie didn't have access to the Pentagon spin machine to squelch the revolt -- a news blackout on the prisoners and coy references to "self-injurious behaviour" if anything bad did leak out. One wonders if the Pentagon has done its own research on the potency of the tactic, in which case they would have encounted the long Irish experience with it; Terence MacSwiney, then Lord Mayor of Cork, died in 1921 in Brixton Prison, London, on day 74 of his hunger strike, and a famous line from his mayoral inauguration speech made it to the history books: "It is not those who can inflict the most, but those who can suffer the most who will conquer". A much better line than any in some other piece of sh*t inauguration speech that was delivered recently.

By the way, one prominent convert to the anti-torture cause has, so far as we can tell, made no reference to the mental harm to prisoners resulting from indefinite detentions. No memos, no photographs, no story.

UPDATE Jan 27: Welcome Sullywatch readers! [kindly directed to the section immediately above by SW] But seriously, in what looks like another piece of evidence that Sully does read Sullywatch, Sully actually does mention the indefinite detentions issue today, in the context of the four Britons released from Gitmo. Nothing on their mental health, though, or that of the detainees still in Gitmo. But once again, the Sully concerned about indefinite detentions is the New Sully, because there are old posts like this:

[June 2002] Excellent skewering of civil liberties hysteria in the case of Jose Padilla by Rich Lowry in NRO. Much of this debate rests, methinks, on the deeper question of whether we really are at war. If we are, then detaining enemy combatants, even American citizens, is constitutional. If not, what on earth is that big hole in the ground in Manhattan?

To mimic his Shakespearian usage: Enter War on Terror. Exeunt Habeas Corpus, Magna Carta.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The reign of the road

We know that our vast readership might have been questioning our sanity lately, given our seemingly quixotic rantings about motorway building in County Meath. We could not have been more pleased, therefore, to see a front page Washington Post article on Saturday about ... motorway building in County Meath [article also picked up by the Philly Inquirer]. It's a pretty decent account of the disputed motorway and its proximity to Tara, and works in mentions of its more new agey opponents, whom we had posted about a while back.

But we do think the article is a little too locked into the narrative of locals wanting the motorway and outsiders being against it. There's a lot more going on than that, including concerns about overdevelopment and the fact that the National Roads Authority has viewed the motorway as an all-or-nothing option, ignoring less radical upgrades of the existing roads. But three cheers to the Post for giving the issue such prominence.

One other point, something for which we don't fault for the article for missing, but which highlights another reason for controversy. Besides all the archeological concerns of this and other motorways, the road building has also prompted suspicions of the property dealings that go along with them. And why wouldn't people be suspicious, with public tribunals still trying to sort out a legacy of 30 years of corrupt land dealings by prominent Fianna Fail politicians?

And so, with this in our mind, we noted one particularly interesting interviewee in the Post article:

On a typical evening, traffic heading northwest from Dublin slows to a crawl from the interchange with the M50 all the way to the burgeoning town of Navan 20 miles away. Tommy Reilly, a local politician who runs a newspaper shop in Navan, says that when he opens at 6 a.m., the main road, which goes through the middle of each town, is already choked with traffic and fumes of commuters heading south.

Ah yes, Tommy Reilly, Fianna Fail candidate in the forthcoming Meath by-election -- if he is able to sort out the paperwork for a dodgy land deal he did with a well-known political operative and registered in the name of a South Pacific shell corporation. Our ancient ruling classes did things like building Newgrange and converting the country to Christianity. The modern one has rather more base concerns.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Dubya and Homer Simpson

They construct questions of bewilderment the same way. First, Dubya, after forbidding the Washington Post interviewers from saying the word "privatization" about his Social Security privatization plan:

The Post: You used partial privatization yourself last year, sir.
The Post: Yes, three times in one sentence. We had to figure this out, because we're in an argument with the RNC [Republican National Committee] about how we should actually word this. [Post staff writer] Mike Allen, the industrious Mike Allen, found it.
THE PRESIDENT: Allen did what now?

And Homer, in the episode where, inter alia, a pile of sugar in his yard turns out to be immensely valuable, briefly:

The beekeepers track their bees down to Homer's sugar pile.

Beekeeper 1: Well, very clever, Simpson, luring our bees to your sugar pile and selling them back to us at an inflated price.
Homer: Bees are on the what now?
Beekeeper 2: Simpson, you diabolical...we're willing to pay you $2000 for the swarm. [starts counting money]
Homer: Deal!
[thunder crashes, rain starts]
Ireland's offshore Republicans

Those dinosaurs in the IRA, stuck in the old ways of personal enrichment like robbing banks. Don't they know that the way forward for self-styled republicans has long since been mastered by Fianna Fail, and involves shady property deals registered in the name of companies based in places that no-one has heard of? It worked for Ray Burke and Liam Lawlor, so why shouldn't their candidate in the forthcoming by-election in Meath ("The Asphalt County'') get some of the action? As someone might have said (we're thinking of the chief bad guy in Die Hard 2), robbery is simply a question of dates.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

An import the EU doesn't need

Pat Cox, former president of the European Parliament and one of Ireland's foremost blatherers on matters European, has an opinion piece in Thursday's Wall Street Journal. As with most WSJ pieces, it's subscription only but you're not really missing much. The general sentiment is clear from the headline Europe's Future Is Freedom. It's a call for economic liberalisation in the EU and a critique of the EU's failure to set any meaningful priorities, other than everything being a priority, in this regard.

But there are a couple of instances where Pat goes a little too far to write things pleasing to the ears of his American readers. First, a comparison of Britain's National Health Service with Belgium's healthcare system:

The governments of Belgium and the U.K. spend roughly an equal percentage of GDP on public health care. Yet Belgium has a much better quality of service .. What's the difference between the two countries? Britain has an essentially old-fashioned, centralized, command-and-control system, whereas Belgium has freedom of provision for doctors and choice of providers for patients. Freedom works.

Pat spares his readers an equally interesting comparison of that Communist UK health care system with the Freedom Works system in the US; but there's hours of fun to be had with these OECD statistics showing that, for half of what the US spends (as a share of total income) on health, the UK doesn't do any worse on health outcomes, and provides healthcare to everybody.

But Pat goes off the deep end entirely with this especially pleasing nod to his editors at the WSJ op-ed page:

But reducing tax rates does not necessarily mean reducing government income. On the contrary, experience in many countries, including my own, Ireland, backs Arthur B. Laffer's theory that levels of taxation can become inversely related to government income.

Now, there are interesting things to be said about the Republic's tax revenue experience over the last twenty years, but let's consider instead Pat's treasured source for this insight, Mr Laffer. Consider that this is someone who Dubya's incumbent chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers, Greg Mankiw, has filed under Cranks and Charlatans, whose pet theory Dubya's dad described as "voodoo economics," of which Mankiw said:

Fads [like Laffer's tax theory] can make experts seem less united than the actually are... when the economics profession appears in disarray, you should ask whether the disagreement is real or manufactured... [by] some snake-oil salesman who is trying to sell a miracle cure...

Which makes Pat a snake-oil franchisee.
The Luck of the Irish just ran out

As we look back over what's now two years of blogging, we notice that a sizable portion of early posts were tirades about the state of modern Ireland, such as this one. But there's not much point in saying the same thing over and over again and the sense of stasis was especially strong with the incumbent government -- in power now for a solid seven years and headed by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern whose main skill is finding the path of least resistance out of any controversy.

The Republic's rapid growth has allowed the possibility of making economic promises that sooner or later can be met, but the related "whatever you're having yourself, lads" approach to Northern Ireland may finally be running into problems. Bertie's emphasis that the leading Shinners must have known about the Northern Bank job is hanging out there like a pretty big matzoh ball, causing grave offence to Saints Gerry and Martin.

And more generally, the peace process is no longer the kind of thing that all right-thinking people must support -- and then get on planes for lavish St Patrick's Day receptions in Washington. It's increasingly clear that Dubya will pull the plug on the festivities this year and indeed with the current vigour of the WoT, it's not clear that the Shinners will even get visas to enter the US this time around.

But it doesn't stop there. We've made reference before to the Republic's maniacal road builders, the National Roads Authority, who bring the best in 1950s planning, plus a dollop of cronyism, to Irish road construction. While the Authority's top project has been the asphaltisation of County Meath, they've extended their brief to paving over any sites associated with the Irish portion of the Glorious Revolution.

The most active struggle against this plan is in Galway, where the NRA wants to run a motorway through the site of the 1691 Battle of Aughrim. With King William as the eventual victor of course, Unionists have traditionally taken a greater interest in preserving these sites, but David Trimble in this case has something concrete to base a claim -- a letter from Bertie telling him the site was safe:

the Taoiseach said "Galway County Council and their consultants are aware of the historical importance of battlefields at Aughrim and you can be assured that full consideration of their significance will be taken into account during route design".

Incidentally, in a related letter from a historian, one gets a sense of just how international this battle in the west of Ireland was:

In a letter to Mr Ahern, Mr Cecil Kilpatrick, BSc, archivists of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, warned that the M6 route would run "through the command post of the Williamite General Ginkel, through the position of the right wing of the Williamite Cavalry commanded by Huguenot General Ruvigny and through the site of a Williamite Gun Battery.

A few other minor matters while we're at it. The official IRA denial (not to be confused with an Official IRA denial) of involvement in the Northern job came in the name of P O'Neill -- indeed, that's what made it official. So for the benefit of all the Google searchers coming our way, rest assured that we're not him, and we're therefore not insulted by Ian Paisley Jr.'s remark that:

"P O'Neill obviously stands for Pinocchio O'Neill," he said.

An accusation that we can neither, as with the Pentagon reaction to their supposed secret plan to bomb Iran, confirm nor deny.

UPDATE Jan 23rd: A profile of the other, mysterious, P. O'Neill from the Irish Times (subs. req'd).

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The hotline to Heaven must be down

Or maybe there's just a new speechwriter. Because there's been a change in Dubya's stock line about the source of man's desire for freedom. It used to be, in a statement astonishing for its claimed knowledge of God's intentions:

freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world.

But on Tuesday, Dubya spoke at event called "Saluting Those Who Serve," not to be confused with his other speaking engagement of the day, at the America's Future Rocks concert. Really, it was called that. Anyway, while the latter event, featuring the worst of the MTV Hits video heavy rotation, wasn't deemed ready for any heavy theology, he did roll out a new freedom line at the former, Kelsey Grammer-fronted, extravaganza:

The road ahead will be difficult and dangerous, but we can proceed with courage and with confidence. History moves toward freedom because the desire for freedom is written in every human heart.

Which is actually an ingenious straddle between Creationism and Evolution. So how about some scientist-for-hire producing a paper on "The Emergence of Freedom through Natural Selection?"

UPDATE 10 MARCH: See our later post where God shows signs of a comeback in the freedom line, a comeback pretty much completed at a Dubya Social Security two-way monologue in Kentucky today:

We also understand freedom is not America's gift to anywhere, freedom is divined from the Almighty.

FINAL UPDATE 19 April: When in South Carolina, there's no room for finesse:

I don't believe freedom is America's gift to the world. I believe freedom is the Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world. (Applause).
You get more sense from a Seinfeld episode

A big part of the torture spin by US Attorney-General nominee Alberto Gonzales seems to resolve around a distinction between laws, directives, and policies. Policies are the mom-and-apple-pie stuff that everyone wants, it's just that when it comes to actually codifying them in laws and directives, then things get tricky. So:

Officers of the Central Intelligence Agency and other nonmilitary personnel fall outside the bounds of a 2002 directive issued by President Bush that pledged the humane treatment of prisoners in American custody, Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, said in documents released on Tuesday.

In written responses to questions posed by senators as part of his confirmation for attorney general, Mr. Gonzales also said a separate Congressional ban on cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment had "a limited reach" and did not apply in all cases to "aliens overseas" ...

At the same time, however, the president has a clear policy opposing torture, and "the C.I.A. and other nonmilitary personnel are fully bound" by it, Mr. Gonzales said.

An absurdity which reminded us of the classic "Little Jerry Seinfeld" cockfighting episode:

New scene in the bodega, starts with a shot of Marcelino's cash register with Jerry's clown check attached under a sign that reads "checks no longer accepted from:".
JERRY: Again, I'm really sorry about the check, Marcelino.
MARCELINO: People seem to like the clowns.
JERRY (takes out his wallet): Look, let me just give you the forty, plus another twenty for your trouble.
JERRY (turning to leave): Aren't you going to take the check down?
MARCELINO: Sorry, no. It's store policy.
JERRY: But it's your bodega.
MARCELINO: Even I am not above the policy.
Springtime for Saddam

In Tuesday's US Senate confirmation hearing, Saint Condi of Palo Alto was pretty much getting the adoring treatment until Senator Barbara Boxer of California decided to play tough, and confront Condi with some of her past contradictory statements (time did not permit the Senator to bring up the more serious matter of Condi's utter incompetence). Condi, under pressure, then produced a new word to link Saddam and al Qaeda; not WMD, no imminent threats or smoking guns or contacts or training camps, but something much serious -- cavorting:

We knew that he [Saddam] was an implacable enemy of the United States, who did cavort with terrorists.

Now as often happens with this administration's spin, one has to head to the dictionary to see what precisely might be intended here:

To bound or prance about in a sprightly manner; caper.
To have lively or boisterous fun; romp: The children cavorted in the water, splashing and ducking each other.

Once again, a point we've made before: is there any difference between Dubya's image of evildoers and that of a typical James Bond/Austin Powers film?

UPDATE: Condi's usage also caught by Jon Stewart.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

White Van Man

We found ourselves today having to give Dubya at least a little credit upon reading in the Washington Post online that (a) he has an iPod and (b) Van Morrison is on it. This is revealed in an informal pre-inauguration Q&A:

Bush's iPod contains the songs of Irish-born, folk-rock singer Van Morrison, whose hits include "Moondance" and "Domino," and country singer Linda Gail Lewis, little sister of rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis. Morrison and Lewis recently united their musical talents on the album, "You Win Again."

We didn't find the upbeat Dubya's fondness for the famously cantankerous Van immediately convincing, but in a list of relevant news stories about Van linked from his VH1 profile, there is one of him denying a rumour that he was to play at the inauguration 4 years ago, so at the very least, his No 1 US fan has a track record in his stated preferences.

In fact it's likely that this will be as close as Dubya gets to an interest in things Northern Irish anytime soon; given his impatience with pomp and the alleged linkage between Sinn Fein and the Northern Bank robbery, it's not inconceivable that the St Patrick's festivities in Washington will get much reduced attention from the White House this year. Any request for Dubya's intervention may require a musical emissary.
Sticking it to The Man

We posted a while ago about the legal problems of Mark Thatcher and the weird resemblance thereof to Dubya. "Sir" Mark copped a plea in South Africa to aiding mercenaries seeking to overthrow the regime in Equatorial Guinea, but his new problem is getting back to his family in, of all places, Texas. His criminal conviction may bar him getting a US visa.

It seems that "Sir" Mark was hoping to use his personal charm, not to mention his surname, to sort out this issue in a meeting at the US Embassy in Mayfair on Monday, but a higher force intervened:

Sir Mark, who was advised that his best hope lay in a face-to-face meeting with officials at the US Embassy in London, was frustrated yesterday because the building in Grosvenor Square was shut because of the American national holiday in honour of Martin Luther King.

Pissing off a Thatcher. Chalk up another one to the great man.

UPDATE Jan 24: the tempting linkage between visas for "Sir" Mark and the Gerry Adams being drawn.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Crimson and the Pink

Andrew Sullivan starts out a post today expressing pity for internment advocate Michelle Malkin and the abuse she receives, but it soon becomes clear that his real meaning is, as Dr Dre might have said "when you diss Michelle, you diss myself." Because when he quotes from one of the abusive e-mails, it turns out that there's another target:

Andy Sullivan, the laughing stock of the blogosphere, even Jonah Goldberg and Glen Reynolds are sick of you [note* -- he's already switched to himself as the victim]. Excitable Andy Sullivan. HIV.

Now as Sullywatch notes, there's a laughable element to Sully's followup complaint of hearing the abusive "faggot" word in Provincetown (or Adams-Morgan), given that either is surely on the other end of spectrum of that classic line from Heathers "this is Ohio, if you don't have a brewski in your hand, you might as well be wearing a dress."

But anyway, we were struck by a choice of word by Sully's enraged e-mailer. Where exactly did he get the idea of labelling Sully as "excitable?" Because there's only one person we can think of who's using that word about him these days, and that would be Sully's good friend Mickey Kaus. Google found us 5 separate examples of the usage, such as:

Just an excitable boy: Andrew Sullivan ... Andrew Sullivan's a friend of mine, but he's too excitable! ... I've called Andrew Sullivan "excitable," but Cole makes Sullivan look like Brian Lamb. ...

We've wondered just what exactly Kaus ever meant by that, but it looks like at least one of his readers saw the code right away.

*UPDATE: post adjusted to reflect the fact that Sully had switched to abusive e-mail that he, not Malkin, had received.
FURTHER UPDATE Jan 21: Sullywatch wonders if there's a Kaus-Sully feud.

Stuck on Spin

There can't be a worse moment for members of a personality cult than when they had constructed a whole edifice of justication around a particular remark of the Leader, and then the Leader goes and retracts the remark. It's like that moment in Animal Farm that we referred to another context recently, where Napoleon was initially against Snowball's windmill, but suddenly he was for it, causing some doubt amongst the non-porcine population of the farm. And so it is today with Dubya's (safely post-election) regrets about his "Bring them on" and "Dead or alive" remarks. [More from Dan Froomkin here].

[Dubya] I don't know if you'd call it a regret, but it certainly is a lesson that a president must be mindful of, that the words that you sometimes say -- I speak plainly sometimes, but you've got to be mindful of the consequences of the words. So put that down. I don't know if you'd call that a confession, a regret, something

So take for instance the reactionaries at the Wall Street Journal online editorial page (James Taranto's OpinionJournal), who leapt to the task of defending the original remarks:

You don't defeat an enemy by putting your sensitive, vulnerable, nurturing side on display. And a little swagger is essential to the warrior culture ... Besides, David Warren [Canadian hack] notes that there's a very good reason to want to "bring them on" in Iraq:

[Warren quote] "President Bush has also, quite consciously to my information, created a new playground for the enemy, away from Israel, and even farther away from the United States itself. By the very act of proving this lower ground, he drains terrorist resources from other swamps. This is the meaning of Mr. Bush's "bring 'em on" taunt ... What the media and U.S. Democrats affect not to grasp, is that the soldiers are now replacing targets that otherwise would be provided by defenceless civilians, both in Iraq and at large ... It is carefully hung flypaper" [end Warren quote]

Flypaper, we [WSJ] would add, that seems to have entrapped the president's domestic opponents as well as the country's foreign enemies.

So there it is -- the genesis of the flypaper theory, that was quickly elevated into core pro-war spin once the WMD wild goose chase was becoming apparent, constructed around something Dubya now wishes he hasn't said. There's that moment with flypaper when you take pity on the futile flapping of the fly and just squelch it. But in this case we wonder if the fly will maintain that he wanted to be stuck there?
Another dodgy dossier?

The market for analogies between Northern Ireland and Iraq is getting crowded. We thought that David Trimble had it cornered, but enter Gerry Adams, indignant at whatever intelligence is in the hands of the Police Service of Northern Ireland that allows them to link the IRA to the Northern Bank robbery:

[Adams:] He [Chief Constable of PSNI] has his opinion. I have my opinion. He may be putting forward his opinion based on intelligence, maybe based on whatever information he has. Is this the same intelligence which started the war in Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction?

UPDATE: Bank robbery-themed digital laugh of the day.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

What's the Spanish for chutzpah?

We know that governments should be held to a higher standard of conduct than rebels/terrorists/insurgents/freedom fighters. But we can't resist laughing at the indignant complaints of the drug-smuggling kidnappers of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, that one of their senior officials was, yes, kidnapped, in Venezuela and delivered to Colombian custody.

The Colombian government initially claimed that he was captured on their soil, but cellphone data put the detainee, Rodrigo Granda, in Caracas right before the supposed capture in Colombia. The government has now effectively admitted that they used bounty hunters to spirit him out of Caracas and into their custody.

Bear in mind, amidst all the FARC squealing about the illegality of it all, that kidnapping is part of their MO, and spare a particular thought, amidst the thousands of kidnapping victims, for Colombian opposition leader Ingrid Betancourt, held by the FARC for 3 years now and counting.

A couple of other comments. This idea of using bounty hunters to push the envelope in the War on Terror -- we're surprised there haven't been more revelations about this tactic in Dubya's WoT, except for that weird case in Afghanistan. And we wonder if three veteran monitors of the Colombian political situation will pop up to make a statement about this obvious injustice against the FARC.
26 is not their favourite number

If the Northern Ireland peace process could be advanced based simply on common agreement on insults, we should be a little further along than we are. Because in a posting about a month ago, we noted how a group of Glasgow Rangers fans had successfully uncorked the "Free State" epithet in a row with security guards at Dublin Airport.

For the benefit of our vast US readership, we should note that in the Irish context, the term Free State refers to the name of the 26 county "southern" state formed by Partition in 1922, and which went by that name until either 1937 or 1949 (we could go into explaining this ambiguity, but you don't have enough time). Anyway, it's generally used to imply some kind of illegitimacy or transitory status of the state currently known as the Republic of Ireland.

So, in a pleasing example of convergence, a new example of the usage is provided by the other extreme -- the wife of a prominent Dublin Sinn Fein politician. The Irish Times explains. There was a late night fracas outside the Abbey Hotel in which 3 Shinners got into an argument with the police:

Garda Gareth Kane said that he had seen Niamh NĂ­ Dalaigh [wife of Sinn Fein TD] at the scene. "She called me a 'f****** scumbag' and 'Free State bastard'." She had been arrested after opening the [detention] van doors.

With two instances of this clearly enough to form a trend, we resolve now to keep an eye out for counterpart instances of nationalists referring to Northern Irish security personnel as "Six County bastards." We promise to report back when we find an example.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

You must be the U.S.A.

Today we bring you an account of disgraceful interference with free trade, originating right in the land of Adam Smith. This is worse than what Airbus does to Boeing, worse than what Chinese exporters are able to do with their artificially cheap exchange rate: it's the provision of a subsidy to those trendy Glasgow Art School boys in Franz Ferdinand to help them make it big in the US. This is revealed in a very funny comment piece in the London Times today by Magnus Linklater, who recounts how:

As Chairman of the Scottish Arts Council I presided over the birth of a scheme to use government funds to back emerging talent on the pop music scene, and Franz Ferdinand are one of the groups to have benefited. Last year they were given £1,700 to help them to attend a major music convention in Texas

The article goes on to explain how he didn't feel qualified to judge the merit of their music, but was uncomfortable with the usual alternative of not giving public money to music that people actually seem to like. As it happens, he has come to like their music and is especially taken by their neo-Eurotrash posing:

I particularly liked one track called Darts of Pleasure. Its last line is in German: "Ich heisse super fantastische/ Ich trinke champers mit lachsfisch." It means "I am called super-fantastic. I drink champagne with salmon."

The boasting about drinking champagne in German makes for a nice counterpoint of course with Snoop Dogg --

I got the rolly [Rolex] on my arm and I'm pouring Chandon
And I roll the best weed cause I got it going on

-- who keeps coming up with funky ass lines like these without needing any government subsidies.

UPDATE MARCH 18 2005: on the other hand, maybe the UK subsidies are necessary to offset the effective protection of the US music industry via onerous visa restrictions on UK bands, as Scottish band Dogs Die in Hot Cars experienced.
An apt out of context quote

Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is quoted in the Washington Post today, concerning security arrangements for Dubya's coronation:

This is the most visible manifestation of our democracy.

Now of course he's referring to the inauguration itself, which already makes it an odd remark, since surely elections are the manifestation of democracy. But anyway, it's jarring to see this bromide in the midst of the description of the "security" (= anti-protestor) arrangements for the event:

Federal officials announced plans yesterday to close roughly 100 square blocks of downtown Washington to vehicles on Inauguration Day and to restrict traffic on another 100 square blocks ... widest planned shutdown of the core business district in memory ...
[Ridge] "Our goal is that any attempt on the part of anyone or any group to disrupt the inaugural will be repelled by multiple layers of security." ... officials plan to deploy 6,000 law enforcement officers and 7,000 U.S. troops ... Combat-ready troops with the 3rd Infantry Regiment showed off M-4 assault rifles and night-vision goggles ... The list of items prohibited from all event sites includes ... and "any other items determined to be a potential safety hazard," the Secret Service said.

All this even as:

Ridge acknowledged that U.S. authorities have received no information for several weeks to even consider raising the national terror threat level. Last spring, authorities predicted a high "election-year threat" continuing through the inauguration.

But as we said back in November, there's always some event somewhere to which the terrorists are said to be directing their attention.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Celebratory follies

Which is worse -- the fake moon, or the fake possibly fascist salute?

President Butt-head

Previously we have noted (as have many others) that there is often a weird sexual subtext to the rhetoric of Dubya's administration. We were therefore somewhere between amused and disturbed at yet another Freudian slip by Dubya on Monday. He took a few questions from the media after hearing from Colin Powell and USAID about the tsunami relief, and there's one segment that appears quite innocently in the transcript:

Who could have possibly envisioned an election in Iraq at this point in history?

Except that, we've just watched the segment on C-Span, and he said erection. He corrected himself immediately, so the transcript should read:

Who could have possibly envisioned an erection -- election in Iraq at this point in history?

Unfortunately, neither the White House or C-Span have video posted on their websites of the slip; the video attached to the White House transcript linked above is of Dubya's speech to a rally at USAID, not of the Q&A with the media. We will provide a link if one appears, but trust us, we checked 3 or 4 times on our digital video recorder to be sure we heard the gaffe right. We did.

UPDATE (that is not an update) Jan 12: we have spent considerable time trying to track down video of the mis-statement. We can't find video of the event anywhere, notwithstanding that this was a reasonably significant White House event for that day -- Dubya getting a briefing from Powell on his South Asia trip and then taking a couple of questions from the assembled hacks on Iraq and Palestine. Is it a cover-up?

FINAL UPDATE: Got it! Just after the 4 minute point in this audio file.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Attention Irish Immigration Authorities

OK, so figuring out who the US is hiding on those planes stopping at Shannon is maybe too difficult, but here we have a case where a bunch of undesirables are announcing their intention to enter the Irish Republic, and even providing the dates on which they plan the stunt. We refer of course to the forthcoming National Review cruise -- that would be the pro-segregation National Review, the "gay + muslim + black = threefer" National Review, the economically illiterate National Review.

Roger Ailes (not the bald repulsive one) has done Trojan work tracking previous versions of this event, in which rich idiots pay lots of money to be on a cruise ship with NR luminaries, but we felt that an intervention was necessary since the next cruise is coming to Ireland.

The speakers include all the usual headcases from the mag and we really wonder if Larry Kudlow's cocaine conviction is not enough to at least keep him out of the country (or the UK, which is also part of the cruise). Anyway, the key parts of the itinerary for keeping track of their time in the Republic are:

July 11, Mon., At Sea
Morning & Afternoon Seminars and Cocktail Party
July 12
Waterford, Ireland
July 13
Dublin, Ireland
Evening cigar and cognac smoker
July 14
Liverpool, England

It's too easy to point out (but we will anyway) that the National Review is pretty much always At Sea logically speaking, so we're not sure what's so special about July 11th in that regard. It's also noteworthy that they are crossing the Irish Sea twice, coming back to Belfast from Liverpool on the 15th, which suggests that someone maybe figured out that July 12th wasn't such a great day to show up in Belfast (Paul Johnson, perhaps?), necessitating a reworking of the schedule.

A wide range of accommodations starting at around $5,000 is available, but there are huge savings to doubling up. We don't know if the featured speakers are also available as roomies. Is that Rich Lowry a looker or what?

UPDATE 12 JULY: Don't say we didn't warn you, Waterford. Jonah Goldberg checks in on the road:

AT SEA [Jonah Goldberg]

Sorry for the radio silence. Been at sea and all that ... Anyway, we're in Waterford -- where they make the crystal. So I think we'll duck into town and buy a crystal baseball mit or maybe a cricket bat. Something really practical.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Bank robbery miscellany

In the days before Christmas, we noticed from sitemeter that we were getting a bunch of hits simply by virtue of having been around to blog about the Belfast bank robbery in what was expected to be a quiet holiday period. The story is now splashed all over the papers with the declaration of the Northern Ireland police that the IRA was involved -- despite the lack of any arrests. We refer you to Slugger O'Toole for a vast range of relevant links and make a few minor observations here.

First, we noted the gloating of the Sunday Independent on their apparent scoop that the Irish Times killed a column of Kevin Myers written a few days after the robbery in which he declared the IRA's culpability. Unlike Mark Steyn, whose only outlet for spiked columns is his website, Myers was able to publish essentially the same column in the Sunday Telegraph.

Second, we wonder if some of the media reports have been coyly hinting at police suspicions about one of the hostages taken during the raid. It's all being said in a carefully libel-proof way, but the frequent references to where the younger of the two hostages lived, his support for Glasgow Celtic, where he liked to drink etc. Perhaps this is one link that the police have already established but can't say so publicly.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Home Rule wasn't Rome Rule

As Dubya's inauguration approaches, it's hard not to ponder the double standards of the punditocracy being deeply troubled (as Daily Howler would say) about a President lying about an affair, but blithe about a President whose time in office has seen executions, war, poverty, and torture. It's especially bizarre that the moral values veneer has attached to the latter and we were looking for some way to tie a few ruminations into a post.

Our first hook was going to be a Michael Novak piece in Friday's Wall Street Journal; Novak has carved out a niche as a leading pro-Dubya Catholic intellectual and we previously posted about this leading him into forgetting his St Augustine in seeking to explain to the Vatican how it was wrong about the Iraq war. In the WSJ article, he tells us of his trip to Sudan to speak about religion to rebel groups, and how he inspired disillusioned Muslims with tales of Catholic progressivity:

Why, one of them asked, when we want only to be devout Muslims, do the radicals in Khartoum quote against us some text from the Koran and tell us we are opposing the Prophet? Why must we practice the barbaric punishments of the seventh or 11th century?

"I am no expert in Islam," I replied, "but I can tell you how we Catholics have come to reject practices that were common centuries ago among our own ancestors."

Given his support for Dubya's war and its associated policies, we'll take this sentiment about as seriously as if he'd explained that the iron maiden used to be an instrument of torture, but now it's just the name of a heavy metal band. Anyway, with our mind already on these issues, we are delighted to participate in the blog division of labour by taking up a query of Sullywatch (which seems to be our thing recently):

not only can you not find a democratic country that remained democratic while recriminalizing abortion, you cannot find a country that took on both the death penalty and abortion with equal vigor (Ireland doesn’t count — we don’t know when its last hanging was, but abortion had never been legal in Ireland before its constitutional amendment to begin with).

This was a de facto continuation of an earlier post in which Sullywatch had asked "Does proscribing abortion do anything to promote a greater social respect for human life?" To the contrary, SW says, arguing that recriminalisation of abortion usually reflects a fetishisation of "life" that goes hand-in-hand with a peculiar disregard for actual living people, not least the mothers of the children-to-be.

In that regard, to SW's list of distasteful regimes that have dated life to conception, we'd add the bizarre mentality of Argentina's dirty war thugs, who didn't drop pregnant left-wing dissidents out of helicopters until after they'd given birth, with the babies going to military families looking to adopt.

Anyway, we have enough of an Irish angle in this collection of issues to run with. First, on the death penalty: last used in the 1950s, remained on the books with theoretical applicability to the murder of a police officer, but formally abolished in 1990, and now in effect impossible to bring back, as a result of a constitutional amendment in 2001 and EU Treaty obligations. And sitting near our constitutional ban on the death penalty is a constitutional ban on abortion.

So the Republic does nominally offer an example of a country with a more "Catholic" alignment of pro-life laws than the USA. But does this provide any inoculation against the charge of moral values hypocrisy -- that the pro-life position is usually just a cudgel aimed at pregnant women, while other examples of devalued life are ignored? Is the Republic an example of anti-abortion law implemented for progressive motives, motives that reflect themselves in other areas of policy?

Absolutely not. First, as SW notes, the bans on the death penalty and abortion evolved from very different sources. The lapse in the death penalty mirrored secular post-war trends in Europe, while the 1983 constitutional ban on abortion just reiterated a legislative ban on abortion from the 19th century.

As for the motives for the 1983 ban, picture a polarising leader looking for an issue to get a big bloc of voters worked up as a necessary distraction from corruption and economic mismanagement. Dubya and his moral values voters in 2004, Charlie Haughey and the pro-lifers in 1982 [the amendment was proposed and written by Haughey's government in 1982, but actually put to the people by a rival coalition in 1983].

Furthermore, the Republic's abortion politics reflect the luxury of having a liberal abortion regime in Britain, so all the predictable downsides of illegal abortion -- the world of Vera Drake -- are avoided. Indeed, our neighbours in Northern Ireland have exactly the same luxury of moral superiority without consequences.

The final irony is that the Republic's 1983 ban, written with "due regard to the equal right to life of the mother" has been interpreted by the not very radical Irish courts as creating, at least on narrow grounds, a right to abortion for Irish women which did not exist before. Not for the first time, the doctrinaire Catholic position got outflanked by an Irish solution to an Irish problem.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Sand and Fog

We've let a little time pass since our last comment on Andrew Sullivan's material -- it's a well covered beat and there's been less to argue with recently as Sully inserts himself at the vanguard of the torture memo backlash. But that hasn't stopped him from skulking around some of the seedier corners of the Web. Amidst his indignation about Alberto Gonzales' upward mobility, we get this:

FOIE GRAS AND ARAB WOMEN: An insight into how many Arab men appreciate rotund women and are force-feeding them into obesity ... [excerpt] ... Kudos for Daniel Pipes and the WSJ for bringing attention to this problem. Where, one wonders, are Western feminists?

Classic closing sentences -- the sourcing to Araba-phobe Daniel Pipes and the indictment of "western feminists" as co-conspirators in the practice. Sullywatch provides the necessary analysis, and asks:

Since we can’t go look at the Journal story [that Pipes used as a source] online without a subscription, there’s no way to tell how selective the quote chosen [by Pipes and Sully] is or isn’t.

Given the vast wealth generated by our own blogging, we have maintained an online subscription to the Journal and can report that although the quote is a fair reflection of the story, the story itself is being scaled up by Pipes and Sully to be something it isn't. It's a mixture of specific anecdotes from Mauritania, and general statistics on obesity from throughout the Arab world.

Pipes and Sully want you to think of the Arab world as being full of Sir Mixalots with camels, as if Nouakchott and Dubai were just a hop, skip, and jump from each other. Yet we know from around the world that obesity and nutrition can worsen even as wealth increases -- China for instance. So why, one wonders, the seizing of a culturally specific explanation in this case?
Someone who won't be getting off the plane for a quick pint

It's already clear that when it comes to the use of Shannon airport by the US government for likely Geneva Conventions violations, the Irish government has no shame. When all else fails, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern can fall back on his favourite excuse, much used for Charlie Haughey's transgressions, that "it's all in the past" -- because of course the US is not going to let us know the next time they have a prisoner in transit at the airport.

So maybe this story from Thursday's Washington Post helps a bit, because it puts a name and some background to one unfortunate who could be passing through the airport sometime soon -- if he loses his court case to block his transfer from Gitmo to Egypt, where he was previously tortured after an earlier (and probably illegal) transfer there from US custody in Pakistan. Since he's an Australian citizen, the Australian government also has some "questions to answer" (another classic Bertie-ism) about why they are not protecting him. Anyway, here are the basics:

U.S. authorities in late 2001 forcibly transferred an Australian citizen to Egypt, where, he [Egyptian-born Mamdouh Habib] alleges, he was tortured for six months before being flown to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to court papers made public yesterday in a petition seeking to halt U.S. plans to return him to Egypt.

And in another utterly predictable detail, Dubya's Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales is implicated in the legal reasoning that is allowing all this to happen. Since he'll have to face real questions about these issues today in his confirmation hearings, the Post story is well-timed.

UPDATE 13 MAY: One belated item; we should have noted before that Habib was eventually released and thus spared a 2nd rendition to Egypt. His revelations have since become a source of embarrassment for the US and Australian governments. Second, in a seemingly procedural issue that adds to Irish government culpability in the broader practice, the Irish taxpayer may be subsidising these rendition flights. The Republic has a reciprocity agreement with the US that exempts military flights from fees for use of airspace; the traffic control authority gets reimbursed for each foreign flight by the Department of Transport. It's likely that the rendition flights are covered by this agreement, in addition to the regular military flights (including troop transport).

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Don't mention the peace

It's worth remembering, amid the well-deserved praise for the scale and effectiveness of the US Military relief operation in Indonesia, that they are performing functions despised by the incumbent National Security Advisor and pending Secretary of State, Saint Condi of Palo Alto:

"Carrying out civil administration and police functions is simply going to degrade the American capability to do the things America has to do. We don't need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Putting the Oy in Ireland

There are days when a pithy letter to the editor in the Irish Times (subs. req'd) perfectly captures modern Ireland. This is one of them:

Madam, - I applaud the new, multi-ethnic Ireland. My local, Norwegian-owned Statoil filling station is advertising on roadside posters its "classic bagel", stuffed with sour cream and bacon. Kosher bacon, I hope. - Yours, etc.,
One name or two?

We're just a couple of posts into 2005 and our vast readership is already complaining about the length of the posts and the weighty subject matter therein. We therefore offer a detour into the arcane world of the New York Times editing of reviews of new urban contemporary albums. In Monday's NYT, we enjoyed the favourable review given by Kelefa Sanneh to the John Legend album Get Lifted.

Sanneh is a very reliable reviewer and we've appreciated, for instance, his willingness to praise the talents of Snoop Dogg while nonetheless criticising Snoop's occasional lapses into misogyny. And as for John Legend, since we've devoted even more time following the disastrous Dubya re-election to watching music videos, we've seen even more of his excellent single "Used to Love U." So where are we going with this? To a recurring puzzling usage in the NYT review:

Like lots of old-fashioned R&B singers, John Legend loves melisma and falsetto, but he also knows his way around a hip-hop beat, and Mr. West [mentor/producer] gives him a handful of good ones. For "Used to Love U," the lead single, Mr. West gives him a chewy electronic bass line and a clattering backbeat to match John Legend's ecstatic piano; for a cheating nonapology called "Number One," Mr. West creates a loping soul track, then adds a verse of his own, happily sabotaging John Legend's suave song ... Sometimes John Legend's high-spirited ad-libs carry him up and away from the melody ...

Having already mentioned his name before this section, why not an occasional Mr. Legend, or Legend? He does it for Kanye West, so it must be a deliberate choice. While we assumed therefore that John Legend must prefer to be called just that, we couldn't find evidence of this on his website, which quickly shortens his moniker to Legend. But full credit to the NYT for sticking rigidly to the full name. Who amongst us doesn't recall the opposite situation, the Mr Loaf fiasco of the late 1970s?

Monday, January 03, 2005

Sunningdale Man

One of the seasonal elements to the British and Irish news cycles is driven by the release of previously secret government papers under the Thirty Year rule, which for this year covers documents and memos from 1974. We posted a little about last year's papers here.

Overall there seems to be less of note this time, since most of the thinking of the Dublin and London governments about the deteriorating events in Northern Ireland is already well known. Reinforced from the new documents is the image of an extremely weak London government, unable and/or unwilling to stand up to Protestant extremism in Northern Ireland. The main attention this year has focused on the fact that Prime Minister Harold Wilson seriously entertained the option of cutting Northern Ireland loose from the UK and recasting it as a "Dominion" -- somewhere between a possession of the UK and a sovereign country.

This is despite the fact that the conventional wisdom even then, and definitely now, is that such a move would have been a disaster. Finding themselves ruling the roost in a precarious mini-state, emboldened Unionist extremists would likely have begun a full-scale sectarian cleansing of majority Protestant areas, precipating a refugee crisis with the Irish Republic, and then British, Irish, or UN troops would have to come in to maintain the peace. This is not a far-fetched conjecture, since events very like this were unfolding in Cyprus at the same time.

Anyway, cooler heads prevailed and although the Unionist militants did succeed in bringing about the collapse of Sunningdale, the power-sharing agreement, London replaced it with direct rule and Sunningdale itself hasn't really gone away as the basis of the current peace process.

But besides the weakness of the London government, there is another aspect of the new papers that we haven't seen commented upon -- namely the mental state of Prime Minister Wilson. On the one hand he displays the almost stereotypical despair of the English at the feuding Irish. But sometimes his musings veer into a severely detached unrealism. This is best revealed in one of his incidental comments (subs. req'd) about the idea of a quasi-independent Northern Ireland:

Wilson envisaged Britain's financial subsidies gradually tapering off over a three- to five-year period. "After that they would be out on their own," he flatly stated.

It's tough to comprehend how Wilson could have seen this as feasible: an already deindustrialising economy, heavily dependent on a subsidy from the UK exchequer even in quiet periods, and then facing the chaos of its new status, yet Wilson thought that the Treasury could just stop writing the cheques.

Two years later, Wilson resigned from office, and it later emerged that he had Alzheimer's disease. Now, in the US, it's lese-majeste to question whether Ronald Reagan's decision-making was impeded by Alzheimer's, but when one sees the drift and flights of fancy that characterised Wilson's policy, there's a tempting comparison with Reagan. Of course, Wilson quit at age 60, perhaps displaying some self-knowledge of his own declining abilities that Reagan (as President*) never did.

*UPDATE, Jan 4 2005. Whatever about Wilson's mental state, the moderate nationalist SDLP had grave doubts about the mental stability of Northern Ireland Secretary Merlyn Rees. Irish government papers record notes made by their Department of Foreign Affairs of comments by senior SDLP leaders about Rees (subs. req'd):

[John] Hume's comment was that Rees "did not appear to be in control of himself". [Gerry] Fitt's verdict, as noted by Donlon [Irish official], was that Rees gave the impression "of being close to a nervous breakdown. At times he was almost incoherent." At the same meeting Gerry Fitt is recorded as complaining that "Merlyn Rees makes many peculiar statements which nobody understands;

(note: we have also added a clarifying parentheses about our Reagan comment above)

Sunday, January 02, 2005

A devalued War on Terror

The BOBW team has returned from a rather brief week in Ireland. While our pre-departure message did mention our belief that there would be lots of news over the Christmas break, 150,000 corpses in South and Southeast Asia was not what we had in mind. In trying to keep track of the disaster from outside our usual abode, we had plenty of excellent TV coverage from a dish, and good access to newspapers, but in terms of understanding how the coverage was playing in the US, our single source was Fox News, which is carried on the Sky dish in Britain and Ireland. Which made for an interesting experiment in terms of how to relate what they were saying to the actual mood in the States.

Leaving aside the frightening thought that some Sky viewers might be watching Fox without making the necessary adjustments, Fox functioned quite well as an iceberg model of US political news -- anything threatening that they hinted at above the surface indicated much more serious problems underneath. So, with the disaster having happened early last Sunday morning, Fox was trying to get into the spirit of understanding the importance of the story, even when it didn't fall into their usual politics/terrorism beat. The anchors used their grave dismay tone a lot, which had been previously been reserved for tales of statuettes of the baby Jesus allegedly being removed from government facilities.

They tried so damned hard to get the pronunciations right, even though they should already know how to pronounce Aceh [as Atch-ay] since the Indonesian government has skillfully rolled the separarist rebellion there into just another entry in the War on Terror. But by Tuesday, Fox was exhibiting a noticeable defensiveness about the White House response to the crisis -- signalled not so much by reporting that there was domestic and foreign criticism of the response, but by pre-emptive attacks on such critics. Who had lots to attack.

The Dr Evil-esque initial contribution of $15m. The complete invisibility of any top US officials, not least Dubya himself, until the lame duck Secretary of State, Colin Powell, could be found to hold a news conference. And then the rejoicing when there was evidence that Dubya was actually doing something, although 'something' consisted of having a meeting at his vacation home in Texas and holding a news conference afterwards*, for which technical problems put the poor dears at Fox in the position of having to broadcast audio only, not helping the sense that Dubya's heart is just not in this global affairs stuff.

And what of the implications of the disaster itself for Dubya's War on Terror and the quest to rid the world of Islamic WMDs? It's hard to see how the next WoT/WMD speech to an international audience can have much weight with the world, since it's so easy to do a calculation of the relative number of deaths from Saddam's WMDs versus this disaster. And given the coordination failures evident in the failure to limit the death toll, it's surely time to talk about the clear sapping of global political effort by the US preoccupation with the WoT and WMDs. The garden variety international summit was never a great forum to begin with, given the pre-written communiques and the boosterish bromides about making everyone better off, but the ineffectiveness has only increased with the compulsory agenda items of WoT/WMD crowding out other issues.

Indeed, there were some signs of sense recently when the Association of South East Asian nations indicated that they might bar Australia from future meetings, since PM John Howard's attempts to direct the agenda towards Dubya's pet topics had been so disruptive. But anyway, our point is that it surely would have helped if some Asian summit over the last 10 years had gotten around to discussing a tsunami warning system. A different USA -- a previous more benevolent, more paternalistic, less single-issue participant in international affairs, might have pushed this process along. But not the current one, which thus faces a world that is starting to tune it out. What's the frequency Dubya?

*UPDATE: The closing exchange of this news conference show that for Dubya, steady leadership in a time of change means staying focused on priorities even in times of turmoil:

Q Any plans for New Year's Eve?
THE PRESIDENT: Early to bed.
Q New Year's resolutions?
THE PRESIDENT: I'll let you know. Already gave you a hint on one, which is my waistline. I'm trying to set an example.
Thank you all.