Monday, February 28, 2005

Rugger 'n' Gangsta

Longtime readers will know that we like Snoop Dogg, such as in this tribute paid to his subsidy-free output. Therefore we'd really like to see pictures or footage of Snoop's appearance at Dublin's Point Depot/Theatre last week. Snoop was one of the guest performers at the Meteor [cellphones] Irish Music Awards, and the Irish Times review today (subs. req'd) brings us this nugget of information:

It doesn't help that when Snoop - possibly the thinnest man in hip-hop - dons an oversized Irish rugby jersey, he looks like a toothpick dressed in a tent.

Snoop was clearly showing a masterful command of the public mood, with the big rugby match against The Man (England) coming up later in the weekend, which Ireland won. But since he wears oversize sports shirts all the time (usually of the Pittsburgh Steelers), we're surprised the reviewer wasn't familiar with this look. Or maybe a rugger shirt fits differently. But anyway, Snoop also knew how to dish out the flattery to the Dublin G's:

"This is the livest motherf**kin' place on the planet," the motionless rapper hollers, inexplicably. Still, the crowd go wild.

This post now concludes without any lame attempt at an -izzle word.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The other Entente Cordiale

Despite the distractions of a big weekend of European sport, we won't flag on one of our mandates to find an Irish angle to any international news story. Consider therefore the scandal in France that led to resignation of the finance minister Hervé Gaymard and his replacement by France Telecom CEO Thierry Breton, the latter doubtless already owning some fabulous Paris apartment which will save him the bother of having to get the ministry pay 14,000 euro a month for one for him, as with his predecessor. The scandal clearly highlights a changed mood in the French media towards a huge grey area of high official conduct that was not illegal but clearly involved some very polished snouts in the public trough. For instance, this London Times story notes how President Mitterand operated under very different rules -- with the mistress and daughter thereof living in an annex of the Elysée Palace.

Which is where we get several Irish angles to les affaires. Mitterand himself was a role model for Charlie Haughey, whose corruption and stroke politics sent the Republic down a cul-de-sac in the 1980s. It stands to reason that the Republic's ruling class would want to avoid aping too obviously their British counterparts, with the French offering a perfect alternative. So Haughey liked the French style in general and Mitterand's version of Imperious Republican in particular. It was especially helpful that one could easily manage the man-of-the-people trick even in the midst of this high living: Charlie could get measured for his tailored shirts at Charvet, then go to the opposite corner of the street to Kitty O'Shea's for pints with vacationing plebs, while getting the finished shirts sent home in the diplomatic bag.

Now there are differences. Mitterand ran a much better economic policy than Charlie did, or at least allowed the technocrats to take over before too much damage was done. And to contemporaneous observers, he was less corrupt than Charlie. But this perception owes a lot to the extraordinary deference he received from the media, and yet despite this, he, like Charlie, felt the need to spy on the more inquisitive media types. Not least anyone who might show too much interest in his living arrangements as mentioned above.

Hence the creation of an anti-terrorist surveillance unit reporting directly to Mitterand. While it's all well and good to have one own's personal spying unit to keep an eye on pesky hacks, if it's going to be called an anti-terrorist unit, it does need to justify its existence with some actual terrorism busts. So what could be better than the discovery of an IRA arms smuggling operation in 1982, complete with 3 high profile arrests? Except that, the whole thing was a set-up. The case unravelled and the wrongfully arrested "Vincennes Irish" marked the beginning of the end for the unit. [Surprisingly difficult to find a good English language link for this affair; here's a French one where your Franglais will get you through]

The end took a long time to come, though. Mitterand managed to go almost his entire 14 years in office without any serious scrutiny of the spying unit, with only a Belgian interviewer having the guts to bring it up towards the end of his final term (at which point Mitterand finished the interview). And now, 10 years after that and 20 years after the Vincennes stunt, a court case is finally dragging out the facts. Charlie Haughey's successor, Bertie Ahern, has left the French high living to other family members, but he's no less keen on imitating those long timelines, for investigating dodgy conduct.

UPDATE 7 JUNE: The death of Sean Doherty reminds us that Charlie Haughey, like Mitterand, ran his own secret operation to spy on journalists.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Now the circle is complete

It seems that Blogistan has been afflicted with a wave of introspection about where blogging is headed. Henry at Crooked Timber tries to provide the serious analysis, but we think he has way too much confidence in the power of link counts to provide a quality ranking of blogs. Because these link counts have as much to do with ego-stroking as intrinsic quality.

Take for instance Slate magazine's approach to blogging. We've always felt that a fair bit of Slate's output is well-captured by its colour scheme -- Crimson, as in Harvard University. Basically, when you're reading anything in Slate, look for the Harvard connection. It won't be far away. House blogger, Mickey Kaus. Google his name and Harvard and see what happens.

Then there's an ill-advised piece in Wednesday's edition which is getting the cover page treatment on Thursday. It's a rumination on how bloggers and rappers have much in common. As Atrios asks, "Does Slate actually pay people to write this stuff?" But the cover promo (may change by the time you click*) is especially laughable: a juxtaposition of 50 cent, rapper, with Andrew Sullivan, blogger.

Now on the one hand, we think maybe the writer had blundered into a real insight. If he'd redone the lyrics of "In da club" to be about Sully's blog pledge drives and his, shall we say, interesting, Internet lifestyle, there would be some laughs. Sadly, much of 50's lyrics would drag us into one kind of obscenity or another, so let's merely note that the relatively clean couplet:

I'm feelin' focused man, my money on my mind
I got a mill out the deal and I'm still on the grind

could well describe Sully's more vainglorious boasting after his readers have sent him cash. Or, as captured by Fafblog, Sully's boasting about the power of blogging itself.

But that brings us to the bigger problem. Sully is not actually a blogger. He quit. Or at least he said he did, with Sullywatch still being in business one of the few consolations of his reticence. So how can it be that someone who's so ambivalent about the tag is emblematic of the species for Slate? Was it that they were looking for some dude who went to Harvard, who might be a blogger, and is not Kaus? And anyway, that whole "bloggers = rappers" was already done, hilariously, by the aforementioned Fafblog.

*update: part of cover image here.
Dubya & Pootie-Poot highlights

We're going to have to try and catch TV footage of the Bush-Putin news conference later because based on the transcript, it sounds like (unintentionally) they put the laugh in Bratislava*. First, it was a field-day for anyone monitoring Dubya's habit of suddenly springing insider jargon, which as Mo Dowd once pointed out, is an old Bush family habit possibly linked with being under pressure. So today, the dude who likes to say 'nucular' suddenly uncorks:

... MANPADS ... mil-to-mil exchanges ...

Thanks to Google, we can at least verify that the first acronym, which we suspect most people watching didn't recognise, stands for man-portable air defense systems. A weirdly convoluted way of saying shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, but we suppose that SFAAM, while being a good bubble word for the fight scenes in an old Batman episode, doesn't sound sound half as cool as MANPADS, which conjures up the geriatric aisle at the supermarket if not the weirder images from his previous favourite 'man' term, mandate.

Make sure now that you're sitting down for Dubya's statement of how US democracy operates:

PRESIDENT BUSH: I live in a transparent country. I live in a country where decisions made by government are wide open, and people are able to call people to -- me to account, which many out here due on a regular basis. Our laws, and the reasons why we have laws on the books, are perfectly explained to people. Every decision we have made is within the Constitution of the United States. We have a Constitution that we uphold. And if there is a question as to whether or not a law meets that Constitution, we have an independent court system, through which that law is reviewed.

There's not enough space on Blogger's servers to track every laughable assertion here. Let's just get the ball rolling with mere mentions of Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force, the secret terrorism suspect detentions, Gitmo, the bamboozle sales pitches for the tax cuts and Medicare legislation, and the Rehnquist-Scalia-Thomas votes that put Dubya in the White House back in 2000.**

We'll keep going. One gets the impression from the news conference that one of Pootie-Poot's critiques of having more liberal media laws in Russia was that such a media would say nasty things about him. Dubya had this soothing model from back home to offer:

Obviously, there has got to be constraints. There's got to be truth. People have got to tell the truth, and if somebody violates the truth, then those who own a particular newspaper or those who are in charge of particular electronic station need to hold people to account. The press -- the capacity of the press to hold people to account also depends on their willingness to self-examine at times when they're wrong. And that happens on occasion in America. And that's -- that's an important part of maintaining a proper relationship between government and press.

I can assure you that the folks here are constantly trying to hold me to account for decisions I make and how I make decisions. I'm comfortable with that. It's part of the checks and balances of a democracy.

Note for Dubya, accountability is something the media has to do, and it sometimes involve media people losing their jobs. Not his administration. He's right about one thing though -- the folks in the USA are indeed constantly trying to hold him to account. Not succeeding.

*UPDATE: Feb 25. It's not just us. James Wolcott basically wonders what the f**k was going on at that news conference. And Dan Froomkin goes to the trouble of providing links for an almost identical (to what we listed) set of contradictions to Dubya's view of American democracy.
Plucky little Ireland

Is no more. Not so long ago, the Irish Republic could still plausibly play the role of the rebel child of the western world -- a little less wealthy, a little bit nonconformist, less cynical and less tainted by the imperial legacy of its bigger neighbours. And the travails of Irish emigrants in Britain and the USA were part of the foundation of progressive political movements in these countries (at least before the latter mutated).

Two disparate news stories bring to mind how much this has changed. First a little item way down in the RTE headlines notes allegations of disciminatory pay practices on Dublin's Big Dig:

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is to investigate claims that Polish workers employed on the Dublin Port Tunnel project are paid less than Irish employees ... The company says the claims have arisen due to a misunderstanding.

This is merely the latest of recurring allegations that overseas workers on big transport projects are, not to put too fine a point on it, screwed, with a willfully complicated corporate structure of consortiums, contractors, and subcontractors concealing who exactly is doing the screwing. The workers in question are nearly always from our fellow EU countries, which in theory would heighten the legal peril, but that hasn't dissuaded the capitalist running dogs from their behaviour.

As for this 'misunderstanding,' it'll be interesting to see the details. But P O'Neill's sources have explained that a standard scam on these projects is to pay the foreign workers what looks like the proper wage, but then impose massive deductions for local accommodation and trips home -- costs far in excess of what these services would actually cost if the worker was directly purchasing them. This of course is just the old company store scam from the Victorian days, but with a cheery leprechaun on top to make it OK.

But wait, there's more. Thursday's Washington Post has a damning story on how global corporate money is supporting the bizarre and ruinous personality cult in Turkmenistan -- one of Dubya's allies in the War on Terror. The cult itself:

The president's image [Niyazov, not Dubya] adorns vodka bottles and is shown constantly in the top right corner on national television. A 36-foot-tall, gold-leaf statue of the president rotates atop a 250-foot base to follow the sun. The streets of the capital, Ashkhabad, are shut down when he chooses to whiz around town in one of his cars. And he has renamed months of the year after himself, his mother and his book.

In what sounds like a nice synergy between bribes and flattery, foreign companies get business in Turkmenistan by agreeing to translate and distribute copies of the dude's book, and amongst those companies:

The Irish firm Emerol, which has contracts in Turkmenistan worth tens of millions of dollars, published the book in Lithuanian -- one of its directors is Lithuanian, according to company registration documents filed in Dublin.

A quick Google search reveals that this company seems to be an aspiring Halliburton, but with this stunt, it seems that the student may have already surpassed the master. One advantage that the Oirish company may have had is our deeper experience with personality cults, since we've been doing them in Ireland for quite some time now. Dev of course, then Charlie Haughey, and in an essential scaling up of the cult model, the drawing in of other family members as with Bertie Ahern. Maybe this will be something for Bertie and Dubya to compare notes on during St Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Strasbourg helps the Hapsburgs and Stuarts

Although, with characteristic European efficiency, they are 304 years too late. There is some legal wrangling in Britain about the precise status of Prince Chazza's proposed marriage to Camilla, although as usual with the British constitution, the issue is not much whether it can happen, but whether a simple Act of Parliament is required to facilitate it. One complication arises from Camilla being divorced, therefore necessitating a civil wedding but posing the question of whether a royal can do this.

The government's legal adviser says Yes, and in so doing, also has implicitly argued that an oft-cited piece of sectarianism in the British constitution -- the prohibition on royal marriage to Catholics -- has already been repealed. This prohibition from the 1701 Act of Settlement has hung around as an awkward or useful point (depending on your point of view) since then. It was not directly at issue with Camilla, but what was at issue was other old legislation that appeared to bar civil marriage to the royal family. Anyway, the government argues that the latter was intentionally repealed by Parliament, but as a failsafe argument, they add:

We also note that the Human Rights Act has since 2000 required legislation to be interpreted wherever possible in a way that is compatible with the right to marry (article 12) and with the right to enjoy that right without discrimination (article 14).

This act incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. And with this reasoning, a London Times legal analysis argues that the ban on Catholics is gone as well:

"He [Charles] has a right to marry and the right to enjoy that right without discrimination on religious or any other grounds - so that gives him an inalienable right as a human being. Even princes have rights.

"Actually the advice now being given to the Palace is that a Catholic could marry into the Royal Family, indeed a person of any religion could marry into the Royal Family... What he's effectilvey saying in that last paragraph is that the Act of Settlement of 1701, which is the Act that says that the sovereign can only marry in the Church of England, is as dead as a doornail."

Thus whatever becomes of the marriage itself, the government is doubtless pleased with the chance to air this reasoning. We await the reaction from Ian Paisley.
The town window test

Dubya is in Germany today, in Mainz. He took questions from a small group of former participants in a USA-Germany exchange program. Someone asked him about his latest much hyped reading material:

Q Okay, once again, welcome. Mr. President, you said in a recent interview with The Washington Times that if people want to get a glimpse of how you think about foreign policy, they should read The Case for Democracy, by Netan Sharansky. In this book, as you know, Sharansky suggests the so-called town square test.


Q Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fearing arrest or physical harm. My question for you: Did Sharansky's book have influence on your approach toward Russia?

His answer was drivel ("...One of the interesting things about being with a Chancellor, or in Putin's case, a President, is that we share something: We make decisions") but leave that aside and consider instead the status of Town Square Test in Mainz today:

[Financial Times] "In a contemporary echo of the Lady Godiva legend, anyone living on the route of the presidential motorcade is being discouraged from taking a peek at the 60- to 80-strong column of vehicles conveying the US president. In police leaflets, residents have been asked to keep their windows shut and stay clear of balconies 'to avoid misunderstandings'."

So we propose a rival test to Sharansky's; following the FT writers, let's call it the Godiva test: to assess the state of democracy in a country, is a member of the public allowed to look at its head of state?
A pint of Sudan 1 and a packet of worcester-flavoured crisps, please

Coming soon to an American news program near you is a food scare which originated in Britain. Unlike the country's sorry history with foot and mouth disease and mad cow, it seems that the latest scare is relatively well contained and will likely cause no casualties among man or beast. The scare arose when it was realised that a red food colouring contained a banned carcinogenic substance, Sudan 1 (with a name like that, it's gotta be bad), and that said colouring had been used in a surprisingly wide range of products, which are now being recalled.

Now if blogging is worth anything, it's surely the right to proclaim vindication of one's own cranky positions in the face of any event, and so yes, that's where we're headed. The trouble first become apparent when it was realised that the additive had been used to make Worcester sauce, which in turn had been used to make Worcester sauce flavoured crisps. [Don't worry, your bottle of Lea and Perrins sauce is safe]. At which point we maintain that this disaster has been looming once the range of crisps broadened since our younger days from the choice of two: cheese and onion or salt and vinegar.

Nothwithstanding the Irish pride in the cheese and onion flavour given its invention in the country, we were salt and vinegar people, but this particular choice was increasingly beside the point as we gazed with the disdain of the expatriate traditionalist at the ever expanding range of flavours -- prawn cocktail, barbeque, and the American import of sour cream and onion. So in the quest for new flavours of crisp, you have the slippery slope that led to the manufacturing process for Worcester flavour, and the realisation that the additive had been used in many other processed foods as well. The same slippery slope that had a pit-stop for "essence of Guinness" but we'll return to that abomination on another day.

In fact, the lists of affected products (here and here) is a fascinating insight into the chain of production that lies behind what you see on the shelves and in the freezers in a typical British supermarket, as well as into the evolution of food tastes from the old days of Bovril. It took a bit of study from the BOBW team to pick the strangest food item, but we give the award to:

Pot Noodle: Hot Dog & Ketchup Flavour.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Chelsea 1 Twins 0

Bill Clinton lied to protect his family from his own bad example and was impeached. Dubya says that it's his operating principle to lie to protect his family, and he's still in office. The only difference is that Dubya's opponents have yet to find a way to get him under oath while he follows his own rule. In Bill Clinton's admission that he lied to the pervert Ken Starr, he said:

I can only tell you I was motivated [to lie to Starr] by many factors. First, by a desire to protect myself from the embarrassment of my own conduct. I was also very concerned about protecting my family.

And in the Candidate Bush tapes just released by Linda Tripp Doug Wead, Dubya says:

"Do you want your little kid to say, 'Hey Daddy, President Bush tried marijuana; I think I will.' . . . I wouldn't answer the marijuana question. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."

Of course, Bill's daughter Chelsea ended up finding out anyway and had to handle a marital crisis in the public glare. And seems to have done all right in the process. Now as for Jenna and Barbara, thank God that Dubya was able to keep his pot smoking a secret all this time, because otherwise they might have turned out to be hard-partying spoiled brats or something.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Big in Iraq

Who amongst us doesn't remember the final scenes in Spinal Tap, where just as the aging rockers are resigned to having hit the end of the road, estranged lead guitarist Nigel returns with news that the band has hit the charts in Japan and estranged manager Ian wants to put together a tour. And the band rocks happily ever after.

Well, now consider the equivalent in Irish nationalist politics. With Sinn Fein having spent the weekend on the ropes, claims flying about links between their members and the Northern bank robbery and their own leadership role in the IRA, what lifeline could possibly emerge? A bizarre story in Time magazine that really should be getting more attention in the US, bringing word of secret negotiations between the US military and Iraqi insurgents.

Upon hearing first word of this story on Sunday morning, we thought immediately of an obvious analogy to the secret British negotiations in the 1970s with the IRA, which would make for another entry in the Irish angles of the War on Terror, along the prisoner abuses and the alleged IRA -- al Qaeda similarities.

But it's not just us saying this. It's the terrorists themselves! Consider this excerpt from the Time story:

Although they have no immediate plans to halt attacks on U.S. troops, they [insurgents] say their aim is to establish a political identity that can represent disenfranchised Sunnis and eventually negotiate an end to the U.S. military's offensive in the Sunni triangle. Their model is Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, which ultimately earned the I.R.A. a role in the Northern Ireland peace process. "That's what we're working for, to have a political face appear from the battlefield, to unify the groups, to resist the aggressor and put our views to the people," says a battle commander in the upper tiers of the insurgency who asked to be identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Marwan.

We'd be happier if the story had a direct quote from the insurgents saying that the Shinners were their model, as opposed to what could be interpreted as the reporter putting words in their mouths. But assuming the story is accurate, two quick reactions. First, as we mentioned above, it's an odd weekend for claiming Sinn Fein as a model, when the model seems to be under the biggest strain in its history. Note to insurgents: twenty years down the road, when you've almost negotiated your way into power, might be a good time not to rob a bank. But second -- from the US side, what happened to "they hate us, they hate our freedom, they hate our values?" Can an Iraqi insurgent sex symbol be far behind?

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Worlds collide

It looks like we now have a pretty good read on what Andrew Sullivan meant when he said he was giving up blogging; most likely because the critics were getting to him, the new mode is to pop up and lob pleasing observations to the world and then be gone before fire is returned. Thus it will be the same intellectual heft as before, but now he'll be The Elusive One, they'll seek him here, they'll seek him there ... let's just have Ray Davies take over at this point:

And when he does his little rounds,
'Round the boutiques of London Town,
Eagerly pursuing all the latest fads and trends,
'Cause he's a dedicated follower of fashion.
etc etc.

So Saturday's little rounds include a Quote of the Day extracted from Slate that brings together two of his recurring themes: ever present gay subtexts in manly worlds (except the White House) and his longstanding endorsement of steroids. In fact, his disillusionment with Dubya may even date from Dubya's War on Steroids, instead of the more frequently cited War on Gay Marriage or War on Fiscal Solvency.

The quote in turn just dwells on the weird anecdote from baseball slugger Jose Canseco's book, in which he alleges that he and Mark McGwire used to adjourn to a men's bathroom stall to shoot up their performance enhancing drugs. An image Sully loves.

But there's one problem. It is precisely this anecdote that features amongst the biggest doubts about Canseco's story -- because the two giant sluggers wouldn't have fit in any of the Oakland Athletics stalls. But why should simple matters of feasibility interfere with a good gay 'roid story?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Ireland's smart nationalist

As our regular readers can tell, we're in the midst of an anti-Fianna Fail obsession at the moment. So it was in that mode that we deliberately sought out the irritation of reading Martin Mansergh's column in Saturday's Irish Times (subs. req'd). Sometime soon we'll devote a longer post to the truly pernicious influence that this man has had on Irish politics, but let's just note for now that he has capitalised a thousandfold on his self-styled image as a Church of Ireland nationalist who could be a bridge to both nationalists and Unionists on the island of Ireland.

This bridge-building may have included getting the IRA to stall a ceasefire declaration in 1997, but that's also material for the longer post. But anyway, beneath that polished C of I veneer lies just another Fianna Fail hack who is never quite done with pandering to his unique pantheon of Irish nationalist heroes. In the current climate, with his former negotiating partners the Shinners under pressure and the interests of the Shinners and Fianna Fail diverging, he can sound very confused.

Thus Saturday's column, which starts out as a rumination on the interesting question of why people in the Republic take such interest in the British royals and yet there is reticence at the official level for a formal visit. Mansergh tries a straddle between his nationalist and royalist sentiments, and collapses in the middle:

The murderous attack on Lord Mountbatten and his party was in breach of the laws of hospitality, not to mention ignorance of his role in presiding over British withdrawal from India.

He refers here to the devastating 1979 bomb attack on the Queen's uncle's yacht in Sligo, which we suppose was indeed a tad inhospitable. It would seem that in Mansergh's mind, the choices were to invite Lord Mountbatten in for tea or blow him up.

And there's his completely illogical final clause, that if only the IRA had looked up their history and seen that Mountbatten had been the last governor-general of India, that they would have decided not to blow him up. Of course, if they had looked up their history books, they would have read about a botched Partition that probably cost a million lives in 1947, plus another million 25 years later when the postponed unravelling of East and West Pakistan finally happened.

And what would a Mansergh column be without a Valentine to his hero, De Valera? His claim here is that Dev used the distraction of Edward and Mrs Simpson to create our glorious Republic, previously a mere Free State:

Ireland as a member of the Commonwealth and nominal dominion at that time was involved [in the abdication controversy], and de Valera used it skilfully to push through the External Relations Act, which reduced the role of the crown to a vestigial one in relation to diplomatic accreditation.

It allowed Ireland to become a Republic with a President, a Constitution that works well and reflects the ethos of our society.

Note: the country did not declare itself a Republic till 1949, when Dev was in opposition, and India's declaration of itself as a Republic the next year rendered moot Dev's thought process on how to achieve that status. And that Constitution, barely seventy years old, has been amended 23 times since Dev wrote it. It must be that in Mansergh's mind, Dev invented the referendum as well.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Crooked high jinks

Perhaps it's something about the nature of financial shenanigans, or at least the ones that get reported, that the practitioners have some need for jokes as they pursue their schemes. A while back we noted how the Citibank bond traders trying to manipulate a market amused themselves with Austin Powers references for their tactics. Now, following up our previous post about the busted IRA money laundering operation comes the revelation:

A suspected Real IRA member who was arrested with euro 94,000 at Heuston Station has been remanded in custody at the Special Criminal Court.
The court heard that 30-year-old Don Bullman from Leghanamore, Wilton in Cork was suspected of being involved in an IRA money laundering operation.
Gardaí found a box of Daz washing powder containing the euro 94,000 in cash on the back seat and also recovered six mobile phones.

A money laundering operation using boxes of washing powder. Hilarity ensues.
They might be going away, you know

It's one of those odd coincidences that the ground under two seemingly permanent states of affairs in two different parts of the world suddenly became very shaky this week. It had seemed that most people were happy to turn a blind eye to the never quite resolved status of Syria in Lebanon and the relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA, constructive ambiguity being the order of the day in both cases. But now it seems that there is a greater demand for clarity.

We had posted about a month ago on the strain on Sinn Fein resulting from the widespread assumption of IRA involvement in the pre-Christmas Belfast bank robbery and as widely noted in today (e.g. Slugger O'Toole and Crooked Timber), Irish police swooped down on an island-wide money laundering operation on Thursday evening that may have laundered cash from the northern job. We have nothing in particular to add to the continually updated news today, just a few minor things to note.

In yet another odd conjunction, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was in Spain to promote his autobiography, and claims to be just watching the news (subs. req'd) like the rest of us:

The Sinn Féin President, Mr Gerry Adams, who will fly back from the Basque country this eveing said he was very concerned but cautioned against rushing to judgment.
"I do think it is a serious situation. Of course I'm concerned I'm actually flying back to try and get a handle on all of this. I've asked for a report," he told RTÉ radio.
"At the moment I would urge people just to be measured . . . not to be judgmental about all of this . . . I can tell you categorically that the Sinn Féin organisation is not involved. I can tell you that without question.

About this time last year, the presence of the Sinn Fein leadership in the Basque country would have initiated all kinds of fevered speculation about a pan European front in the War on Terror; recall that initial period after the 11-M atrocity in Madrid where Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble was joining the mendacious ex-PM Aznar in blaming the Basques, and citing the use of cellphone detonators as a potential IRA connection. But now the Shinners are in enough trouble of their own making without any wild extrapolations needed to stir the pot. Also, Gerry's denial likely hinges on a fine distinction between the culpability of an organisation and its members.

One other thing. Longtime readers of this blog will know of our distaste for the Republic's natural party of government, Fianna Fail. Thus we are frankly hoping that as the police tighten their squeeze, persons from the ruling class get dragged in. So far, the prospects are quite good, via the Irish Independent (reg. req'd):

ONE of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's most trusted troubleshooters is linked to a Cork-based finance company at the centre of the investigation into the money seized yesterday by gardai.

Banker Phil Flynn is a director in Chesterton Finance, the money-lending company whose other two directors are being questioned by detectives about yesterday's seizure of cash in Co Cork.

Mr Flynn, who is a former vice-president of Sinn Fein and a current director of the recently launched Daily Ireland newspaper, said he had been trying to get in touch with [the directors] ... He added: "Chesterton is not a big operation, it does short-term lending to people who can't get a loan elsewhere."

That last sentence description of what this fine company does could cover, shall we say, a range of potential activities. Gombeen men with baseball bats is what we have in mind.

UPDATE: Another potential Fianna Fail angle, via the London Times:

The couple [from whose home money was seized] are the founders of several financial companies, including Finance & Legal Clients Ltd and Chesterton Finance, which provide loans and other financial services and sponsor events such as horse races.

Remember, the world of horse racing in Ireland is very, very small, and at the nexus of Fianna Fail's dodgy connections.

UPDATE 2: Philip Flynn has this evening resigned from public and private positions, now that one explicit link with the laundering operation has become clear:

Earlier, Mr Flynn told RTÉ News that he had travelled to Bulgaria with the Cork businessman who is at the centre of the garda money laundering investigation. Mr Flynn said they had travelled there a few weeks ago to look at possible property investments.

Trips to Eastern Europe, mysterious property investments -- the classic Fianna Fail cocktail. We also encourage our vast readership to check out this excellent anti-Fianna Fail website. Even if you don't get the references, you'll love the pig pictures.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Beer Before Liquor

It's been a while since we've anything to say about the travesties of the modern market for booze, as reflected in the ownership of Guinness by multinational drinks conglomerate Diageo. But our eyebrows were raised upon seeing (WSJ -- subs. req'd) the company's assessment of how its drinks relate to each other strategically:

Looking ahead, Mr. Rose [Diageo finance director] said future growth will be driven by "product innovation" and "premiumization," or customers "trading up" to more expensive brands.

Mr. Rose said Diageo "sees great opportunities at the super-premium end, "with products like Ciroc vodka encouraging consumers to move up Diageo's product portfolio."

Incidentally, that Ciroc may or may not be a vodka, since it's made from grapes and not the more customary grains or spuds. But anyway, if Ciroc is at the top of Diageo's "product portfolio," what, one wonders, is at the bottom? In this world of cognacs accidentally named after towns in Meath and coffee liqueurs, can the humble pint get any respect?
Washington's Mile High Club

There's that awful liberal elite with their lucrative professorships and top positions in fabulously wealthy non-governmental organisations and control of key information technologies like blogging. And there's that plain old elite with a lifestyle revealed by this damning story in Thursday's Washington Post. The story concerns detailed information that has been made available about the use of the "corporate" jet of Riggs Bank, a well-known DC Bank.

That would be the Riggs Bank that acted as banker for the corrupt assets of General Pinochet*, that handled money for some of the 9/11 hijackers, that helped the Saudi elite evade financial regulations even after 9/11, and was only too happy to facilitate the dictator of a corrupt oil-rich developing country which wasn't Iraq. So you'd think a bank with such a record would be shunned and ostracised by America's betters?

Not on your life. Company policy for the Gulfstream jet was that it only be used for corporate business, or for personal trips of top officials only, a taxable benefit. Instead it became the personal taxi and influence-peddling toy of chairman Joe Allbritton:

Sen. Ted Stevens (Republican-Alaska) and his wife, however, accompanied the Allbrittons on the plane in July 2003. Courtney Schikora Boone, Stevens's spokeswoman, said that the senator was going to California on official business and that Allbritton offered Stevens a ride ...

NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell was invited to join Allbritton and his wife on a flight from New York to Washington in December 2002.

Mitchell said Barbara B. Allbritton approached her "at the last minute" in the airport in New York while Mitchell was waiting for the Delta shuttle to Washington.

"Barbara said, 'We're flying back to D.C., would you like to go with us?' " recalled Mitchell, whose husband, Alan Greenspan, is chairman of the Federal Reserve, which regulates Riggs's holding company ...

Riggs's jet flew [George] Bush [Senior] in November 2000 to Washington from Houston to attend the 200th anniversary of the White House, Becker [GHWB spokeswoman] said. Two subsequent trips on the plane from Houston to Washington, in December of 2002 and 2003, were to transport the former president and his wife to Washington to join his son and other family members for the Christmas holiday at Camp David, she said.

We're not conspiracy theorists. But we see where they get their ideas from.

*UPDATE 26 Feb: Riggs settles a Spanish case arising from their concealment of Pinochet's assets. The usual "we thought we had a good case but we're paying $9m anyway" weasel statement from the bank.
The evolution of the terrorist species

There's surely an irony in the fact that while Dubya's administration doesn't believe in the theory of evolution and doesn't want anyone else to believe it either, his handpicked CIA chief nicely outlines a geopolitical version of the theory now unfolding in Iraq:

In his first public appearance as U.S. spymaster, CIA Director Porter Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence there was an emerging terrorist threat from experienced fighters now battling U.S.-led forces in Iraq later joining international militants.

"Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks," Goss said.

Now remember that the one-time (albeit ex post) logic for invading Iraq was 'flypaper' -- a fight that would attract terrorist pests to a single point where they could be killed. It seems therefore that the US has created a new class of, er, superfly.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Leadership, Dubya style

[Pres. Bush in Portsmouth, New Hampshire] And what I want to assure you all is that I like calling Congress to do big things, because that's what we got elected to do.
Which one is Sauron and which one is Saruman?

[BBC] Iran and Syria say they are to form a common front to face challenges and threats from overseas.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A pint of Irish coffee and a packet of specific proposals, please

Today's New York Times brings an update on one of our recent themes -- the lax behaviour of the Irish immigration authorities in the face of continued entry of undesirables to the country. We refer of course to the presence of "smart conservative" (TM) pundit David Brooks and assorted other hacks and politicians who stopped off for a quick one at Shannon on the way home from that very important international security conference in Munich last week, the one that Rummy eventually decided to go to when the immediate threat of him facing a war crimes investigation was removed.

Anyway, Brooks tells us that it was Irish coffees all round for the strolling solons and pacing pundits, notwithstanding his earlier prescription that it would require pints of plain to really get the US policy process moving along.

Full credit to Brooks for pulling the trick of turning his travels into column fodder, as he recounts witnessing US troops in transit in Shannon, emblematic of the Irish Republic's membership in the shadows of the Coalition of the Willing. Leading into the usual drivel about Americans and Europeans being so different. For example, Senator John McCain went to Munich and showed how tough he was:

Then it was time for a little straight talk. He ripped the Egyptians for arresting opposition leaders. (The Egyptian foreign minister held his brow, as if in grief.) He condemned the Iranians for supporting terror. (The Iranian hunched over like someone in a hailstorm.) He criticized Russia for embracing electoral fraud in Ukraine. In the land of the summiteers, this was in-your-face behavior.

But while pundits are never done swooning before McCain and working in pleasing references to the Straight Talk Express, McCain's act is getting pretty old at this point. It's one thing to fly to Munich and yell at a few suits. It's quite another to take a real stand back at home, where the Straight Talk Express seems stuck in the station on the question of Dubya's torture policies, an especially bizarre lacuna for the former POW in North Vietnam.

Brooks then goes on to describe words he might have said to the Marines in transit at Shannon to convey the spirit of the Munich meeting:

But I'd tell the marines that I didn't hear too many Europeans giving specific ideas on how to make Iraq a success. Instead, I heard too many speakers evading this current pivot point in history by giving airy-fairy speeches about their grand visions of the future architecture of distant multilateral arrangements.

Indeed, there is much frustration in a process where one side is offering specific plans and proposals, but the other side only wants to talk about grand strategies and visions, the kind of thing that Europeans always want to do. Which must explain why Saint Condi of Palo Alto's recent visit to Europe went down so well. Because after all, back in March 2001, it was that pesky terrorism czar Richard Clarke who was offering mere "plans" to deal with Al Qaeda, which Condi spiked on the ground that it needed to be part of an overall strategy. Fluent in French, Russian*, and Eurovisiony. What a woman!
Why does the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy hate Cork?

One of the problems with being a transnational hack is that one is prone to getting busted on matters of local detail, especially those inserted in attempts to localise an otherwise generic column for a specific readership. We noted Mark Steyn getting caught in this trap before, given his challenge of writing a column for the Daily Telegraph from a bunker in New Hampshire tuned to a single TV channel (Fox News).

It happens again today, though only a blog with as obscure a set of obsessions as this one could catch it. Steyn seeks to mock the indifference of the global meeja to stories of UN malfeasance while lapping up evidence of American highjinks gone awry in Iraq:

Now how about this? The Third [US] Infantry Division are raping nine-year olds in Ramadi. Ready, set, go! That thundering sound outside your window isn't the new IKEA sale, but the great herd of BBC/CNN/Independent/Guardian/New York Times/Le Monde/Sydney Morning Herald/Irish Times/Cork Examiner reporters stampeding to the Sunni Triangle. Whoa, hold up, lads, it's only hypothetical.

We suppose it's flattering that Steyn feels the need to include Irish newspapers in the Global Liberal Media Elite (perhaps the same column is set to run in the Irish Times soon), but in the reach for the 2nd Irish newspaper, he dates the last time he was paying any attention to Irish newspapers. 9 years ago, at the latest. Because back then, the Cork Examiner, published in the Republic's 2nd city, formalised its national ambitions and dropped the regional qualifier from its title. Of course it could be that, instead of not actually knowing this, Steyn resents this Corkonian expansionism and wants to keep them in their place.

But in the absence of this explanation and to help him stay current on the local references, can one of his buddies participating in the National Review cruise of Britain and Ireland this summer bring him back a days worth of newsagent purchases during one of their stops in the Republic?
Man at work

On interesting thing about Dubya's administration is that sometimes, they really are telling the truth, but we choose not to notice:

" '[Bush has] become a biking maniac,' said Mark McKinnon, his media adviser and frequent cycling companion ... He's obsessed with it ... He now likes to do nothing but work out on his bike, and he does it with a frenzy that is reserved for people like Lance Armstrong.'"

Besides telling us about Dubya's time allocation, there is one other thing -- if Dubya is biking with Lance Armstrong intensity, when does he get the calf blood infusions?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Now we know that the Anglosphere extends to Kent

It seems that one characteristic of Andrew Sullivan's blogging since he said he was giving up blogging is increased dissing of former warblogger colleagues, which maybe now is being accompanied by cultivation of new alliances. In his Sunday Times column today, mostly a critique of the UN, there's a game of spot the odd one out invited by this passage:

If the UN is powerless before genocide and corrupt in the face of dictatorships how can it be relied on to do anything of real significance in the world? That kind of work is left to the despised leaders of the West — the George Bushes and Tony Blairs and Michael Howards.

We've no idea what Sully was thinking with that final name -- a quick way to make a generic column sound more British, or an inkling of his that the Tories actually have a chance in May, thus requiring establishment of some bona fides with them? Because it's hard to see what marks out Howard, Leader of the Opposition and Member of Parliament for Folkestone & Hythe, for special inclusion as a leader of the West. It would seem that the qualifications for receiving such an honour from Sully amount to being available on his Washington TV screen for about 5 minutes every Sunday night.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Our new Nordic Gods

We've noted several times the mania of Ireland's National Roads Authority for paving over the Republic's historic sites, particularly the ones in the eastern part of the country covering many vintages of Irish settlement. But they still have the upper hand in these struggles, by virtue of the power of government. Therefore we constantly watch for any sign that they finally tread on the powers-that-be, as opposed to some old dudes' graves. And we have it, from Friday's Irish Times:

The National Roads Authority (NRA) may oppose the Ikea superstore proposed for Ballymun in north Dublin.

Mr Peter Malone, the chairman of the road building agency, has warned that the NRA is concerned the development will add further to congestion on the M50 motorway.

... the Swedish-owned furniture retailer is expected to lodge a planning application by the summer. It follows the relaxation earlier this year of the planning guidelines to allow the one-off development of large stores in designated areas.

In the quest for furniture whose names contains lots of weird letters, Irish shoppers must currently travel to Britain, and the Ballymun store is intended to anchor a retail regeneration of a depressed area known to the world via U2's "seven towers" reference. So a lot of people, including the father of a certain sappy novelist, are behind this project.

Viking heritage, No. A chest of drawers named Kvork for 50 euro that'll fit in the boot of my Twingo? Hell Yes! And who's trying to stop me from having this?
Know your TV lesbians

At first we weren't even going to bother reading this article in yesterday's Times. Then we saw the caption next to the main photo. It clearly shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Willow with Kennedy, her final season lover, but refers to them as Willow and Tara (her long-term girlfriend earlier in the series).

So what is the story about? How television totes out glamorous, "safe" lesbian characters to up ratings during sweeps. Which perhaps inadventently explains why Times editors used a photo of Willow's skinny lipstick lesbian gal pal--i.e., the hot one--instead of the more pear-shaped, hippie girlfriend their text refers to. After all, with newspaper audiences dwindling, who can blame 'em?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The gift of the (benefit) grab

As we've mentioned a few times recently, it's going to be difficult for politicians from Northern Ireland to get any face time with Dubya anytime soon. But that doesn't mean that there isn't anyone with a Northern Ireland background who can get quality time with Dubya. And we don't mean Van Morrison. Courtesy of Josh Marshall's tireless monitoring of the White House's campaign to abolish the Social Security program, we learned today of the featured speakers at one of Dubya's rallies in support of the effort.

These rallies feature Dubya's favourite kind of audience composition -- shills, boosters, and stooges. And among categories one or two, if not three:

"Background Information on Conversation [sic] Participants"
White House Fact-Sheet Released for Presidential Social Security Event in Raleigh, North Carolina
February 10th, 2005

"Andrew Biggs, Associate Commissioner for Retirement Policy, Social Security Administration (Washington, D.C.)"
"Before joining SSA, he served as a staff member for the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services, a Social Security analyst at the Cato Institute, and a staff member on the Commission to Strengthen Social Security. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from The Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, a Master’s from Cambridge University, and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science."

We haven't been able to track down Mr Biggs' full background, but the assumption has to be that since he went to Queen's, he's probably from Northern Ireland*, and it's sad to see the good names of Cambridge and the LSE being dragged into this propaganda effort as well. Josh Marshall and Atrios have rightly noted the fox-in-the-henhouse aspect of having Biggs go to his current senior position in the social security administration from the Dubya-loving, Social Security-hating Cato Institute.

And we'll have to look at the transcript of today's event to see his expert explanation of how Social Security is saved by dumping trillions of dollars of debt onto the same future generations that will experience severe benefit cuts. And how, if Dubya's plan is so great, we have to wait till 2009, one year after his term ends, for it to begin. Perhaps down the road, Queens will augment its Seamus Heaney centre for poetry with an Andrew Biggs centre for bullsh*t economics.

*UPDATE. Further research leans against him being from NI; this wedding announcement has him as a New Yorker.

Saints and Sinners

It's an eventful day in Irish media circles because the Irish Times has run an editorial apologising for a column by one of their opinion page regulars, Kevin Myers, who runs his own apology today as well (may require subs.) The column at issue ran on Tuesday and was a tirade about out-of-wedlock births, single motherhood, and the impact of the welfare system on the behaviour thereof.

Myers has peripheral links to the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy, having another column in the Sunday Telegraph and a rhetorical style similar to Mark Steyn. It's quite possible that the latest offending column reflected lingering hostility towards his editors, who had canned a pre-Christmas column that, as it turned out, correctly blamed the IRA for the Northern Bank job (which now imperils the scale of the St Patrick's Day festivities at the White House this year).

His key device in the column was to continually refer to out-of-wedlock children as bastards, and the mothers therefore as Mothers of Bastards, which nicely abbreviates to MoB. Hence sentences like:

All of which [outline of welfare payments to single parents] is a long-winded way of describing insanity - because we all agree it is mad to bribe impressionable young women into a life of MoBbery, which is crushingly limiting, with little sense of achievement or personal ambition, and no career to speak of, other - that is - from cash-crop whelping.

And, reflecting our view that the column was part payback for his editors' perceived softness towards the IRA, he got in this dig as well:

After all [noting Sinn Fein opposition to welfare changes], Sinn Féin/IRA have strong proprietorial feelings about single-parent families, having made hundreds and hundreds of them out of what had originally been two-parent families: why, God love them, they've even dabbled in making a good few no-parent families.

So between today's editorial, his apology, and a letters page entirely given over to the issue, it's all Myers all the time at the Irish Times. As public apologies go, its reasonably frank -- "In my desire to make my point powerfully, I used stupid, offensive language, and I deeply apologise for that." -- while being clear that he still believes in the substance of what he wrote.

So far, at least, he still has his gig with the paper. But in one bit of consolation to Myers, we'd point out that he appears not to have broken the ultimate taboo of the Irish media world -- criticism of our literary giants. Because we learned via Maud Newton's blog that critic Terry Eagleton believes that he has been blacklisted from being a reviewer for the Irish Times after he was judged to have been mocking Seamus Heaney in a contribution last year:

Writing in his diary for the New Statesman, Eagleton says he wrote a poem satirising a self-congratulatory [European Union] event Heaney gave his seal of approval to, which was subsequently published in the paper's literary pages, "only because they hadn't a clue what it was about."
Eagleton continues, "Once the penny dropped, all review copies and telephone calls ceased instantly."

What did poor Terry expect, taking on our dominant role in the European Union and our "you'll never beat the Irish" poetry in one go?

UPDATE: We had hoped to use the vast resources of BOBW to find for our readers the offending Eagleton article. But we can't find it in the Irish Times archives, consistent with his claim that it's now considered lese-majeste. Nonetheless, we did find coverage of the original event which drew the satire, an EU enlargement ceremony in May 2004, reminding us of our own remarks at the time about the pompous platitudes. Here's the paper's story (may require subs.) and the actual Heaney poem. Read the poem and you'll see what tempted Eagleton.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Dubya as a Tory

It's possible to be over-alert to the shenanigans of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy and therefore to see a coordinated campaign where there is none. But given the oft-expressed Anglophilia of the VRC, we couldn't help but notice three articles in today's Wall Street Journal with possible sub-texts in praise of Washington's Exalted One. There's nothing that the VRC, already planning for Dubya's head on Mount Rushmore, loves better than analogies of him with leaders past, especially British ones.

Now we've argued before that the right comparison is with Joe Chamberlain, but of course the prized comparison is with Winston Churchill. Or rather, the WWII vintage of Winston, because his lifetime record would create more questions. For instance, Brad DeLong puts one uncomfortable reference here, and if Jonah Goldberg is looking for a suggestion on what should be the first book he reads about Iraq, we'd recommend Winston's Folly by Christopher Catherwood.

But nonetheless undeterred, do Dubya's boosters read this review of a new Churchill museum in London and wallow equally in imagined similarities to Dubya and visions of their own such museum for him in Washington?

Then there's Niall Ferguson, who perhaps is being quite savvy by sucking VRC members in early on with hymns in praise of Dubya ("At least someone in the nation's capital -- and happily it's the man in charge -- seems to be learning some lessons from history ... Mr. Bush is the world's first idealist-realist ... American presidents have a professional obligation to indulge in highfalutin rhetoric").

But then comes the sting, as Fergie pursues a comparison of Bush with Woodrow Wilson, for whom of course messianic internationalism didn't end so well. As a side note, we predict that the Wilsonian comparison will draw Andrew Sullivan once again out of his half-hearted blog slumber, to claim that he thought of it first.

And finally, the WSJ has a seemingly inoccuous review of a biography of William Pitt the Younger by William Hague (subs. req'd). [It was Hague's job to lose the last UK election to Tony Blair.] As with the Churchill piece, too much of it seems like text candy for the VRC:

Taking the Lead in Times of Trouble ... Aided by advice from Adam Smith, he sorted out British finances (in a shambles after the American war), rebuilt the Navy and dominated politics for a decade, before being unwillingly sucked into war with Revolutionary France ... As a war leader Pitt took time to learn the job and made some mistakes, but by his death in 1806 (at age 46) he had become good at it, sending Nelson to victory at Trafalgar and drafting a postwar settlement that became the basis for the 1815 Congress of Vienna

So: inexperienced leader, confronted with financial chaos, forced to choose war, learnt on the job, great victories at the end. Who could they have in mind? Our interest was further piqued by the reviewer, Martin Hutchinson, whose bio lists him as the author of "Great Conservatives," and for whom a Google search quickly leads to output on the weird nativist website vdare, a link which opens up a line of thought way too extended for this already too long post. Go to Rittenhouse Review for a quick primer on another of vdare's contributors.

But perhaps, like Ferguson, Hutchinson is just being sly and drops the bad news just as the "Bush is really like Pitt the Younger" piece was being assembled for National Review Online:

Less successfully, he [Pitt] repressed the Irish rebellion of 1798 and instituted the 1801 Act of Union between Ireland and Britain -- not one of history's more successful experiments. As a war financier in 1798, alas, he invented the income tax.
It's worse than we thought

Washington Post story on Karl Rove's promotion to Deputy White House Chief of Staff: [WH officials] said the new role was a smart fit for Rove, whom they called better versed on policy than the public understands. "I don't think people realize how much of a wonk Karl is," said Michael J. Gerson, a senior Bush adviser. "He's more up on more issues than anyone at the White House."

This might just be the best example of how the theory of comparative advantage can't always be right.
Perfidious Albion

Just another entry in the annals of how allied countries still spy on each other. The UK Treasury accidentally released a memo describing its concerns about full disclosure of documents relating to the UK's forced exit from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992. The report in today's Times of London notes that:

Another sentence revealing that the UK got wind of a French interest rise will be excluded because it implied that Britain had been spying, according to [BBC Radio 4] Today. "It is not clear what the information source for this was. The source could be covert and still in use," the leak says.

And to think that people believe that central banking is a boring business.
Is Tim Russert a real Irishman?

We've long wondered what it would take to scare America's Pundit, Tim Russert, out of his utter obsequiousness towards the Establishment. As have others. Since Tim likes to play up his Irish heritage as part of his regular guy persona, we previously had mistakenly thought that the neocons having latched on to internment might jolt him.

Now comes an opportunity, via the Irish Times, where Dubya's fiscal insanity -- tiny budget cuts offered in the face of trillions of dollars of new borrowing -- collide with Russert's sentimentality:

No allocation has been made to the International Fund for Ireland in US President George Bush's proposed budget, although a spokesman for the Irish embassy in Washington said the Government was confident that an allocation would be made when the budget came before Congress for approval.

So Tim, can you look your Irish cousins in the eye this summer if you haven't given someone in the Administration a good grilling about this lapse over the next few weeks on Meet the Press?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

He can handle the truth

[Dubya in Detroit today]: My 2006 budget eliminates, or substantially reduces, more than 150 federal program that are not succeeding, that are duplicating existing efforts, or that are not fulfilling an essential priority.

[Washington Post, today]: According to the proposed budget, the White House would take a 1.7 percent reduction in its spending.
You're less of a one if you spell it right

Those of us with sorta jobs that allow much time for the Internets have been enjoying the exchanges between University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole and Dubya State University Spin expert Jonah Goldberg. The dispute concerns what the latter actually knows about the Middle East. God forbid that we actually link to his hated organ so we refer you instead to James Wolcott's funny summary of the dispute as it then stood, and you can go to Cole's blog from there.

We'd like to add one etymological sidenote to the debate. In today's flailing salvo, Goldberg makes the following remark:

And while my reputation in some quarters may be that of a warmongering idjit ...

The final word is a variation of 'idiot' that we had not encountered before. Which is interesting because Jonah likes to hang out at Fado and is one of the celebrities on the forthcoming National Review cruise of Britain and Ireland. So to be able to write and sound like the locals, we can help him with the spelling. It's eejit.
More hip-hop Gaelic names

Our thousands of readers will doubtless recall a post from last summer where we discussed the unusual usages that emerge when Irish-sounding monikers are adopted by contemporary pop culture. So in our MTV watching of the last few weeks, we have noted the emergence (to us) of hip-hop star Ciara and her hit "One, two step" which has the seal of approval of a featuring Missy Elliott.

Our assumption, being Irish, was that her name was pronounced Kira but recently silent blogging partner R Morgenstern suspected otherwise and indeed careful listening to the song reveals that it's pronounced See-Ara. Interestingly, a quick surf through girl's name websites shows agreement that while the name should be pronounced with the hard 'C,' its actual Celtic meaning derives from 'dark' or 'black,' indicating an obvious route to being selected as an African-American name.

We can't explain the change in pronunciation, though. So whereas some Irish popstar names with odd pronunciations helped popularise the Irish version (e.g. Sinead), there could be a reverse effect in this case. P O'Neill's niece may not be pleased.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Big Audio Dynamite

We've decided to reinterpret Dubya's presidency -- it turns out that it's actually an extended riff on various themes in popular culture. The unfortuate demise of John Vernon, aka Dean Wormer from Animal House, reminds one of Dubya's boozy college years (and a good few years afterwards, too). And to stay with the college years topic for a second, since we know he's reading Tom Wolfe's trashy novel devoted to the modern version thereof, could it be that this is accompanied by his own compare and contrast exercise with the more, er, innocent antics of Delta House?

But we're only just getting started. Today brings news that, contrary to the apathetic approach of the mainstream media to the story, there's actually pretty substantial circumstantial evidence that Dubya was wired during the presidential debates. Now whereas Dubya's traditional defenders at the National Review Online and Wall Street Journal editorial page will defend the wire on the grounds that it was a waste of The Exalted One's time preparing for the debates, we'd rather see Dubya's wire as a witty pop culture reference to great moments in hidden audio assistance.

Perhaps it was one of his hip twin daughters who liked the parallel of the earpiece stunt to the funny Sondra Lerche song-contest video for Two-Way Monologue, so we recommend that, if you have the speakers and the connection speed, that you check that one out yourself [go to the link for that song title with the photo above it; the first link is for a live performance only].

But for Dubya himself, a child of the sixties, surely he must have loved the similarity of his own situation with that of Goldfinger. Not to mention that Goldfinger's cheating was taking place in Miami Beach, with Dubya's just down the road in Coral Gables. One more compare and contrast: unlike with the Sondra Lerche video and Goldfinger, Dubya hasn't yet been officially caught in the act. But can Karl Rove correspond to anyone other than Oddjob?
Limited Supply

Bad news from the music industry today as record company EMI issued a profit warning and the share price crashed 16% as a result. The company was clear about the source of the profit shortfall:

It blamed poor sales since Christmas and delays to the releases of new albums by Coldplay and Gorillaz.

For the lack of anything better to blog about, we note the position of the unfortunate EMI shareholders, who don't have the same trick available as Coldplay in The Scientist video to make time go backwards after a troubling event, by which reckoning the share price would be up 16%. We also wonder whether the BBC headline writers, if not the EMI chairman and CEO, are engaging in similar Coldplay wordplay with this section of the story:

'Not scientific'

Commenting on the delay to the release of the Coldplay and Gorillaz albums, Mr Levy [chairman & CEO] said that "creating and marketing music is not an exact science and cannot always coincide with our reporting periods".

Sunday, February 06, 2005

We don't want no stinkin' maple leaf with our propaganda

As we searched for a Fox News Sunday transcript to back up the wild allegations in our previous post, we found ourselves in the FAQ section of said show. There are four FAQs in total, of which number three reveals a matter clearly deeply troubling to Fox News Sunday viewers:

Q: Why is the Canadian flag flying during FOX News Sunday?
A: The flag flies over the Teamsters building next door and does not have any affiliation with Fox.

We think it's high time that the French government proposed a certain property transaction with the Teamsters.
Cheney pushes the history eraser button

The rehabilitation of Saddam Hussein is underway. We managed to catch a brief audio clip of a Dick Cheney interview given to Fox News (where else?) on Sunday. Cheney was asked about the prospect of an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq. A typical report on what he said goes like:

"I think the Iraqis have watched the Iranians operate for years and create a religious theocracy that has been a dismal failure, from the standpoint of the rights of individuals ... And I think there are a great many people involved in the political process in Iraq who will seek some kind of balance."

But wait, there's more. We also heard him add that further proof of Iraq's distaste for Iranian theocracy was that they fought a war against it for eight years in the 1980s *[quote below]. Yes, Saddam's border war with Iran, motivated by territorial greed and opportunism, is now back on the right side of history as a struggle of secularism against theocracy. Which is great for noted Middle East expert Daniel Pipes amongst others, whose only fault was being 17 years early in his recommendation that US policy needed to tilt towards Saddam.

As an addendum, we're having a difficult time right now finding an actual transcript of what Cheney said about the Iran-Iraq war; we're assuming that Fox will publish it later on Sunday, unless the quote is deemed to be a gaffe on the order of Dubya's "erection -- election" stumble of a few weeks ago.

UPDATE: Here's the full quote; note the key sentence, which was deemed worthy of a ... by the Washington Post story above:

I think the Iraqis have watched the Iranians operate for years and create a religious theocracy that has been a dismal failure, from the standpoint of the rights of individuals.
They fought a bloody, eight-year war between the Iraqis and the Iranians against that kind of theocracy.
And I think there are a great many people involved in the political process in Iraq who will seek some kind of balance.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Don't mention the fund

A random query: in his remarks about Social Security (such as during this rally in Nebraska), why does Dubya never refer to Social Security's holdings of Treasury bonds by its proper name, the Trust Fund? He always drops the second word, e.g.

a personal retirement account will earn a greater rate of return than that which your money earns in the Social Security trust ... If you invest your money in conservative stocks and bonds, you're likely to get around a 4 percent rate of return, which is greater than double than the money you're earning right now in the Social Security trust. And over time, that means your own money will grow faster than that which is in the Social Security trust.(Applause.)

Could it be that if you spell it with with a lower case 't' and don't mention the money part, that it's not really there?

UPDATE Feb 9: It seems that yes, indeed, Dubya's inability to refer to the Trust Fund was a harbinger of its demise. Because today, there's a new line:

Some in our country think that Social Security is a trust fund -- in other words, there's a pile of money being accumulated. That's just simply not true. The money -- payroll taxes going into the Social Security are spent. They're spent on benefits and they're spent on government programs. There is no trust. We're on the ultimate pay-as-you-go system -- what goes in comes out. And so, starting in 2018, what's going in -- what's coming out is greater than what's going in. It says we've got a problem. And we'd better start dealing with it now. The longer we wait, the harder it is to fix the problem.

UPDATE: Here's a shocked Bush visiting the Social Security Trust Fund filing cabinet in West Virginia.
That program is already running

[Washington Post] Here's Judy Woodruff on CNN yesterday:

[Karl Rove pretends to do CNN report on Dubya's rally in North Dakota]

"WOODRUFF: I'd say more than not bad. I think we're ready to hire Karl Rove right now. We'll start -- we'll make the phone call right after the show."
This one goes down to zero

Is it the job of Dubya's spokespersons to leave us all as bamboozled as Marty di Bergi was in Spinal Tap as Nigel explained the virtues of having an amplifier volume knob that's marked up to 11? Apparently so. Part of Dubya's social security reform is to cut the previously promised level of benefits and replace them with an individual account whose returns may or may not exceed what would have been received under the old system. And the unnamed Senior Administration Official who defended this included the following:

"Even if [the social security recipient] break[s] even, we would argue I'm still better off because I own the money," a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity ... "it's protected from political risk. Government can't take it away."

See -- we're going to take away what we promised before, but replace it with something justified on the basis that we can't take it away. We're trying to get the right analogy here -- maybe an insurance salesman who, when he can't sell you a dodgy home insurance policy the first time around, breaks into your house and points out that you really could use home insurance. But is it all just a plan to keep us confused while they're really up to something else?

UPDATE Feb 7: It's now at the point where Dubya is confusing himself.
I Can't Stand It I Know You Planned It

It's merely one of the minor contradictions in the official image of The Exalted One, but for someone who wants to be compared to Churchill, he'd last about two seconds in the House of Commons:

[Wall St Journal] A close Bush ally accuses Democratic lawmakers of guerrilla tactics in applauding State of the Union address at inappropriate times, hoping to disrupt Bush's cadence.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bond traders behaving badly

It's a shame that this Wall Street Journal story is subscription only because it's a hilarious account (to the extent that these things can be funny) of how a group of Citibank bond traders in London tried to manipulate the market in European government bonds last summer. Besides wanting to make a ton of money, it seems that the traders had an understandable fixation with Austin Powers films, something we have ourselves (such as in this most recent reference).

Basically the traders put in huge bids in the bond futures market to drive up the price in the spot market, and then dumped a huge bond holding into the latter at the artifically high price. European regulators have since decided that this was market manipulation. So where's the laughter? The traders named the overall strategy "Dr. Evil," and the sub-component where they built up the initial futures postiion was called Mini-me.

And the sums of money involved would have lent themselves to repeated Dr. Evil style pronunciations of million and billion, complete with his trademark little-finger-to-lip motion. One wonders, when Dubya's moronic budgeteers are coming up with their lunatic Social Security "reform" plan, do they engage in the same high-jinks behind the scenes?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Overseas Media Miscellany

A good day for spotters of things Irish in the New York Times. First, in an illustration of the quirks of running an international call centre out of Nairobi, the following anedcote is relayed:

Susan Mina, a Kenyan who has never stepped foot out of Africa, speaks English like the haughtiest of Britons ... Still, every once in a while, some Swahili slips out of her ... It happened the other day when she was trying to get a British man to sign up for a new cellular telephone service ... She sat near the Nairobi airport, doing her business as a sales agent for KenCall, Kenya's first international call center. The man's accent - she pegged it as Irish - was unintelligible to her. "Pole sana?" she blurted out, which is what one says in Swahili instead of "Huh?"

Indeed, who amongst us has not lunged for Swahili when confronted with an impenetrable Irish accent? Slightly more seriously, one of Dubya's former speechwriters, Matthew Scully, gives us a Behind the Speech look at what will go into the crafting of Dubya's State of the Union speech tonight (note to self: verify that Bond or Lord of the Rings film is on during this timeslot). And in looking for a way to communicate how much of a chore drafting speeches can be, Scully offers this:

Almost as dreaded as drafting a State of the Union, for example, are those yearly chores like writing remarks for the St. Patrick's Day visit by the prime minister of Ireland. How many different ways can you accept a bowl of shamrocks [sic], or celebrate the sterling qualities of the noble Irish people?

Fair enough. That it's been the same counterpart on the Irish side every year, Bertie Ahern, can't help with the sense of ennui about this occasion. And finally, the NYT has a more extended piece on, yet again, the Republic's grapples with wealth versus identity. Our own view is that some of the supposed downsides of the Republic's increased wealth are fairly understandable and generic.

When people get richer, they want more sophisticated stuff. So in the old days, we were happy sitting in our thatched cottages with the pig in the parlour and the sack of spuds in the corner and watching Fiddler on the Roof with dodgy reception on RTE. Now we watch Seinfeld off the dish in our O'Mansions while snacking on pesto-flavoured potato chips. It's progress.

What's more troubling is the slavish application by the powers-that-be of outdated notions of what modernity means. Our favourite example -- roads. Sometimes we wonder if the Republic's entire road building policy can be traced to one now important individual being on his holliers in the south of France 10-15 years ago and seeing their slick tolled autoroutes and wondering why can't we have those in Ireland? And he decides to make it happen.

God forbid that any thought go into why France and the Republic are totally different: the former a country of 62 million people whose roads also serve as essential transit routes for a huge chunk of Western Europe. So of course it makes sense to build flashy roads and toll them. But Ireland? Five million on an island which doesn't form a land route to anywhere. At least, however, our vacationing National Roads Authority suits are spared an inferiority complex on the way down to Provence.