Saturday, March 26, 2005

Easter Miscellany

As seems to be happening to a few bloggers lately, P O'Neill has some work commitments that will cut into blogging over the next week or so. But we're hopeful that either there can be some opportunistic blogging by us over that week, or that blogging partner R Morgenstern may re-enter the fray from her recent lull. So don't stop coming back.

We'll leave you with a few comments having read John DeLorean's obituary in Saturday's Irish Times (subs. req'd). One is left with the impression that DeLorean was a man before his time -- ensnaring Arthur Andersen (RIP) in accounting scandals before it was cool, and a strategic embrace of Christianity before the current occupant of the White House did:

A typical DeLorean touch was his conversion to fundamentalist Christianity in 1982 when he experienced the full-immersion baptism - in his exquisitely tiled swimming pool. He also changed the name of a semi-secret $9 million company he owned in Utah from Logan Manufacturing to "Ecclesiastes 9: 10-11-12", a switch that added to the delay before hundreds of creditors in Britain, America and France (from where he got the Renault engine for his car) could claim it.

Most of the money regained actually came via court cases against the international accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, which was sued by the British government for failing to spot fraudulence in the DeLorean Motor Company.

Incidentally, those passages from Ecclesiastes show that for DeLorean, unlike Dubya, religion required a little humility:

10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

11 I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

12 For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

He wisely, given his circumstances, left out the previous line about staying with your wife for life. With the US at risk of celebrating a very theocratic Easter, no harm in a nod to someone who took his religion with a wink.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

And I will call it .... Mini-Sully

It was the eagle-eared Dan Drezner who first drew our attention to this revelation from Andrew Sullivan at a Brookings Institution blogging forum on Monday:

[transcript, page 69] MR. [Jack] SHAFER: ... So I would say that I tend not to predict, because I always predict wrong, but I would venture that what we'll see is, you know, the full First Amendment rights and prosecutions of libel extending to the blogosphere that we--

MR. SULLIVAN: I bought an expensive liability insurance ... at the very beginning. Which actually took up a certain of the money that we raised. Precisely because.

And set up a [limited liability company], you know, so that the blog exists independently of me as a little company, as it were, just so--because I was nervous, given how many people might have it in for me, that I might be liable to that.

So one of the mysteries posed by Sullywatch about what Sully did with all his pledge drive cash is solved, but who exactly was likely to sue, and for what? To view things from the other perspective, was it the fact that he has always had blog liability insurance that freed him up for his most toxic rhetorical salvoes against his critics?

But mostly, because we've been watching the brilliant Ludacris video for Number One Spot so much, we can't get this image out of our heads of being played by Verne Troyer, carried around in a Baby Bjorn by an Afro-d Andrew Sullivan. Maybe he is just like a rapper after all.
Reality TV gets tired and emotional

Just to show that we try to do follow-up on seemingly long-forgotten posts, we'd like to bring you all the latest news on the farcical Irish TV reality show Cabin Fever, in which the contestants were living and working together on a boat. In an unplanned plot twist, the boat sank and it was lucky that no-one drowned. The official report on the sinking is out today, and the overall impression is that the ship captain from the Simpsons would have done a better job than the ship's actual captain, who at least had the wit to "lose" the ship's Global Positioning System unit before investigators could get their hands on it.

But by that point, it sounds like he probably had sobered up, and realised what a shambles he was in. Overall, the report is a masterpiece of euphemisms, but what it amounts to is -- no-one on board had a f**king clue what they were doing, which they compounded by all getting plastered:

The report of the investigation into the sinking of the reality television programme vessel 'Cabin Fever' at Tory Island [Donegal] in 2003 says the vessel had no effective watchkeeping and that the contestants were fatigued.

The investigation report cites lack of effective watchkeeping, breaches of the vessel's passenger operating licence and interference caused by filming requirements on the number of experienced crew on board.

It says the vessel should not have left Rathlin for Tory in bad weather because it was only allowed operate in favourable conditions, and the investigators say there was no clear command structure aboard.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board says that fatigue had developed amongst crew and contestants, exacerbated by a late night out on Tory before sailing.

Coco Television [producers] has disputed the comments about the late night out. Coco says they had a substantial meal, with two glasses of wine per person.

Since everyone expects lawsuits, we wonder if Coco's statement needs to be carefully parsed. Was everyone drinking? If not, the two-glass average means that some people had more than two glasses? And how big were the glasses? Aarrr!
It sounds better with The Edge's soaring guitar work

In Wednesday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) Claudia Rossett draws attention to Bono's strange word usage in the preface to Jeff Sachs' The End of Poverty:

"In Jeff's hands, the millstone of opportunity around our necks becomes an adventure, something doable and achievable," writes Bono (who has evidently not learned how to handle the millstone of metaphor).

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Tonight I'm gonna (Rock you tonight)

White House website announcement following the meeting of North American leaders in Texas:

Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Prosperity Agenda

Security and prosperity partnership of North America


[Previous entry in this series]
Maybe the torture is to shut them up

A safe five months after the election comes news that John Kerry was right in one of his central accusations about Dubya's mishandling of the Afghan War -- that because of inadequate troop levels, Osama was able to escape from Tora Bora in December 2001. We had noted Dick Cheney's incoherent but confidently asserted denial of the claim, and Dubya's team got a few news cycles of their favourite tactic -- ridicule -- out of similar denials. Consider for instance the related output of their puppets at the Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal site:

Tora Bora Baloney
John Kerry tells fish stories about Osama bin Laden.

Thursday, October 14, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

As John Kerry tells it, Tora Bora is the place where President Bush let Osama bin Laden get away. In the candidate's oft-repeated formulation, the al Qaeda leader was "surrounded" and escaped only because the president "outsourced" the job of capturing him to Afghan warlords.

Well, that's not the way the battle's commanders remember it. [General Tommy Franks being the key source for later claims] ...

Anyway, it turns out that some of the most useful Gitmo revelations are ones the administration didn't want to get out:

A terror suspect held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was a commander for Osama bin Laden during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and helped the al-Qaida leader escape his mountain hide-out at Tora Bora in 2001, according to a U.S. government document.

The document, provided to The Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information request, says the unidentified detainee "assisted in the escape of Osama bin Laden from Tora Bora." It is the first definitive statement from the Pentagon that bin Laden was at Tora Bora and evaded U.S. pursuers.

Given the time that Freedom of Information requests take to process, this is information that must or should have been known to Bush, Cheney, and Franks, when they made their denials. What was it Bill Clinton lied about again?

UPDATE: Pertinent link to Brad DeLong.

FURTHER UPDATE: The evidence of lies by Bush and Franks continues to come in. In a NY Times article seemingly lost in the papal frenzy, the senior German intelligence official provides, matter-of-factly, the Kerry version of events:

The head of the German intelligence agency, in an interview published here Tuesday [April 12], said Osama bin Laden had been able to elude capture after the American invasion of Afghanistan by paying bribes to the Afghan militias delegated the task of finding him.

"The principal mistake was made already in 2001, when one wanted bin Laden to be apprehended by the Afghan militias in Tora Bora," the intelligence official, August Hanning, said in an interview with the German business newspaper Handelsblatt.

"There, bin Laden could buy himself free with a lot of money," Mr. Hanning said ...

In his interview, Mr. Hanning was critical of [relying on local militias] as it applied to the goal of capturing or killing Mr. bin Laden, who, he said, was able to insulate himself inside a protective network of supporters after the early efforts to arrest or kill him failed.
Dumped by Ms. Big

Since we like to cover as broad a range of issues as possible here at BOBW, we had hoped to coax occasional blogging partner R Morgenstern, who keeps us savvy about American pop culture, out of her blog lull to provide expert analysis on the decision of the Gap to end their ads featuring Sarah Jessica Parker and switch instead to the Devon Diva, Joss Stone (reported here in a subscriber only WSJ article).

Having failed to do that, we direct your attention to Ms Stone's website, whose graphics reminded us of old Rush album covers, or indeed the newest Rush album cover, proving once again that progressive rock never really went out of style. We also note Gap's choice of words in explaining the decision:

While the company will always seek partnerships with celebrities, musicians and rising stars, "we don't have any future plans to sign a single person to a multiseason deal," Gap said.

What, only married people get multiseason deals? No wonder those women of Sex and the City fretted so much.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Too big for their wellies

Is it possible for Irish rock stars to be too influential? We're starting to wonder. There was that period of speculation about Bono as the new Number 1 at the World Bank, instead of the Wolfie II replacement for Wolfie I. And then there's Bob Geldof's high profile role as a member of Tony Blair's Commission for Africa. We've had some things to say before about Bob: his talent for accidental poetry, but also his very naive embrace of Dubya as a better President for development issues than Bill Clinton.

It looks like neither of them intend to hold back anytime soon. We're pretty sure we heard it on French news last night (our imperfect French prevented us from confirming) that Bono is now a campaigner for passage of the EU Constitution, signalled by his having signed a supporting petition of celebrities assembled by Socialist politician Jack Lang. And Geldof has interpreted his Commission for Africa membership as a mandate to make statements calling for the Ugandan president to quit. You'd think that the dude who helped get rid of Idi Amin and Milton Obote would have some credibility in the bank with Bob, but apparently not.

There's no word yet on whether Bono will become a more controversial figure for his EU embrace, but some Ugandans are annoyed with Sir Bob:

Ugandans march against Bob Geldof
Hundreds of people have marched through the streets of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, to protest at Sir Bob Geldof's call for the president to step down. Launching the UK Commission for Africa report this month, Geldof, a rock star turned campaigner said Yoweri Museveni wanted to be president for life ...
Many of the protesters were draped in dry banana leaves, the symbol of the third term for Museveni campaign. They held placards which read: "Geldof sober up and shut up", "No to drug addicts and Rock Homos".

Now it would be better if the protestors hadn't strayed into the personal in the War on Bob; the spectacle of the know-it-all European telling Ugandans how to run their affairs is damning enough.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Tory Schism

Iain Duncan Smith is an intelligent politician who chose the difficult job of leading the British Conservative party in a time of Labour domination. He was relieved of that burden but stays active in politics. In today's New York Times op-ed page, he has a piece advising the Republicans against their idea of restricting Democratic obstructionist tactics in the Senate; the Dems have been using these to block some of Dubya's more loony judicial nominees.

Smith goes through the UK experience with the filibuster restriction, noting its origins as a response to the debating tactics of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Doubtless constrained by a word count, he doesn't go into all the background on the tactic and its eventual demise, but it's worth noting that the Irish party's power in the Commons arose not just from the gift of the gab but its pioneering professionalism, including the application of the parliamentary whip. It was the Tories who brought in the guillotine as now applied, but the Liberals had lost patience with being out-manoeuvered by the Irish too.

One final bit of meandering; the Irish group also played a role in the demise of the other minority blocking instrument mentioned by Smith: the House of Lords. In that case, though, it was to their benefit -- a deal on taxes and Home Rule forced through the House of Lords by the Parliament Act.

There's something of more general interest about Smith's article -- it stands as an illustration of the gulf that now exists between traditional notions of "conservative" and the current American version thereof. For Smith is making the classic conservative argument in favour of parliamentary obstruction; that existing institutions get the benefit of the doubt, that majorities aren't always right, that legislation on executive branch whim can backfire.

And yet consider what the Republicans were up to over the weekend -- a rushed Congressional session, during adjournment, to pass a bill aimed at one specific tragic medical case, and in a symbiotic relationship with a cable TV news feeding frenzy. Let's stack the Terry Schiavo law against Smith's nostrums:

It has always been appropriate for parliaments to have the power to stop hasty legislation. And this democratic responsibility is even more important in today's electronic age. A dangerous combination of frenzied news coverage and trigger-happy legislators has put many bad laws onto statute books across the world. As the old saying goes, providence moves slowly but the devil always hurries. Bicameral legislatures, powers of filibuster, and the need for supermajorities on issues of vital importance are useful blocks on devilish legislation.

Consider finally Smith's specific example of how bad things happen when bills can get rammed through the legislature:

In the run-up to the general election expected to be held on May 5 - the first since the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11 - Prime Minister Tony Blair has decided to put national security at the heart of his campaign. As part of that effort, his party proposed legislation that would allow suspected terrorists to be put under house arrest in contravention of historic liberties. Mr. Blair wanted the home secretary, not a judge, to make the initial decision to arrest a suspect. He initially gave the Commons barely a day to approve one of the most controversial bills of recent decades.

In this precise episode lies the divergence in the two approaches to the War on Terror. Blair at least believed that he'd have to have parliamentary approval before imposing detention without trial -- a power that Dubya's lawyers says he has simply by virtue of being the Commander in Chief. And under this legislation, detention would mean house arrest -- not a military jail, and not being spirited out of the country. As it happens, there was a widespread parliamentary revolt at Blair's proposals and they were significantly modified.

In short, the American Opposition faces an aggressive and reactionary executive branch with a regimented and gerrymandered House of Representatives. The Senate filibuster is one of the few checks and balances left. It would be nice to believe that Smith's advice would carry some weight. We're waiting to see if soi-disant American Tory Andrew Sullivan pops up to endorse Smith's thoughts, but of course Sullivan is deeply compromised by his own previous rantings about how to pursue the War on Terror.
It's funny because it's true

The New York Times has a story on Ricky Gervais today, timed for the week when the US version of The Office will be aired. Ricky recounts what he's been up to since David Brent, including

stand-up comedy shows, the most recent one, "Politics," in which he took on the persona of "a slightly stupid, slightly bigoted character who comes down on the wrong side of things," Mr. Gervais explained - attacking Mother Teresa, for instance, instead of McDonald's.

You mean, someone like Christopher Hitchens?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Best Irish pub names ever

Or at least the ones that make good use of literary references; from an Irish Times guide to Tel Aviv, where the Republic will play a World Cup qualifier over Easter:

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK/IRISH PUBS: Molly Bloom's (2 Mendele Street) is Israel's oldest and best. It opens, as is Tel Aviv custom, from 4pm until the last customer leaves. Other Irish pubs include Leo Bloom's, Dublin - a Gothic affair built in Ireland and shipped to Israel in containers - and Temple Bar.

[Previous post in this series]
You'll never beat the (Northern) Irish

Friday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) uses too broad a category to describe an interesting phenomenon:

White House on the Thames

Anyone born in America can grow up to become president of the U.S. Apparently, anyone born in the British Isles can, too.

When it comes to casting actors to play the Commander-in-Chief, Hollywood's two biggest new projects focusing on U.S. presidents star natives from across the pond. Next month, Kenneth Branagh will play Franklin Delano Roosevelt in "Warm Springs," an HBO film that chronicles FDR's experiments to reverse the effects of polio. And in 2006, Steven Spielberg plans to begin production on "Lincoln," to star Northern Ireland-born Liam Neeson.

In fact, there's no need to refer to the Thames, or arguably the British Isles, since both actors are from Northern Ireland. Belfast and Ballymena, respectively.

And while American actors might be justifiably annoyed, there is one historically valid defence: the accent might actually be closer to that of the actual president than a modern American accent, at least in the case of Lincoln/Neeson. But of course the real reason for casting Neeson as Lincoln is surely his fine performance as Michael Collins. So, does that mean Alan Rickman (DeValera) as Jefferson Davis?

Friday, March 18, 2005


We hadn't intended to dig up two two-year old posts today but perhaps we're back at some point in the blogging cycle again. Anyway, going back for an old post reflects the fact that we don't have a lot to say about the depressing aftermath of the Saint Patrick's Day "Festival" in Ireland, from RTE:

Gardaí have said extra patrols will be on standby over the weekend following a spate of street violence and drunkenness that led to hundreds of arrests throughout the country yesterday and overnight.

714 people were arrested for public order offences throughout the country over the course of the St Patrick's Day festivities.

The full story is a litany of arrests and destruction that doubtless began as "just a bit of craic."

We wondered two years ago "what it is in the Irish character that (in some cases) makes for these fairly sudden transitions from reasonable and well-behaved to alienated and aggressive" and provided no answer. But one thing is clear -- official stupidity certainly doesn't help. Consider for instance, how the boosterish promoters of Dublin's parade described it:

"Mischief, Mayhem and Madness" is the theme of this years Parade and it’s definitely a party atmosphere on the streets of Dublin.

As bloggers here in the US are fond of saying: Indeed. Last week the parade organisers were acting as if a grevious wrong was being done to them by the government's refusal to sanction removal of the light rail overhead wires for large floats, only adding to the sense that it was up to the city to accommodate a "right" to celebrate these new three Ms of Irish life. Perhaps the drunken hooligans merely took this request to relocate rail infrastructure a little too far. More generally, we might be able to drop the Fighting Irish stereotype if our betters would stop playing it up, and then being shocked, shocked, when something like this happens.
Not ready for Euro primetime

In an old post about the Eurovision song contest, we noted its ability, despite its pop culture trashiness, to reflect contemporary geopolitical issues. Consider the contest's pronounced eastward shift in the last few years, with this year's contest (determined by last year's winner) being held in Kiev. This synergy with Dubya-style people power being so perfect, we wonder if Dubya will offer to show up to the contest himself.

But in the ever expanding pools of entering countries, a sign that people power is not yet bringing peace and goodwill to the Middle East. Israel is an entrant of long standing in the contest; their entry from quite a few years back is still stuck in our head even though we can't remember whether Milk and Honey was the name of the band or the song. And there's a certain logic to Israel entering European competitions for everything, as in football, because of the de jure and de facto Arab boycotts.

So for some reason, it was decided that Lebanon would enter this year, a decision that predates the March of Babes in Beirut. But, perhaps confused by the 'Euro' prefix, no-one seems to have thought through what it would mean to have Lebanon and Israel in the same regional competition. So today:

Lebanon has withdrawn from this year's Eurovision Song Contest, after refusing to show the Israeli entry on Lebanese TV channel Tele-liban.
The channel told the European Broadcasting Union that Lebanon's legislation made it nearly impossible to broadcast the Israeli performance.

While one might argue that from a Eurotrash avoidance perspective, the Lebanese are better off staying out, it's another demonstration of how, as in football, Israel is probably a net gainer from the Arab boycott.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Dubya shows King Billy his Derry air

With Bertie, at the White House: In America, we have a phrase for that -- it's called e pluribus unum, out of many, one. You'll find that on the great seal of the United States, which, by the way, was largely designed by Charles Thompson, a native of Derry.
Worst Irish (sic) pub name ever

From a pool of entries in the Washington area:

Finn Mac Cool's

Bonus prize for name with most unintentionally ironic commentary on modern Oirland:

51st State

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Kick away the ladder when you're at the top

Dubya, at today's news conference:

Q Mr. President, are you trying to send a message to the IRA by not inviting Gerry Adams and the other Northern Ireland politicians tomorrow?

THE PRESIDENT: I talked to Bertie Ahern about this and -- at the EU, and he just asked who was coming to the events, which -- I said, you are, for certain.

No word on whether Bertie's sure invite was conditional on not wearing those trousers.
I'll see your blurt and raise you one

Dubya has often spoken of his admiration for Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, two men successful in private business before politics (except for Duyba), both having or had ownership in successful sports teams (except for Dubya), and both having been forced to use mere wealth, powerful connections, and simplistic populism to combat liberal elites in their respective countries. And they both seem to be engaged in the act of dropping big policy announcements in surprise settings.

Yesterday it was Silvio announcing that he intends to start withdrawing the 3000 Italian troops out of Iraq starting in September. Except that, in making the announcement on a chatty national TV show, he never told Dubya or Blair that this was the plan:

At the Pentagon, a spokesman said ... "Although we are still awaiting the details of the apparent Italian policy decision, as we understand it, it would start in September with a phased or gradual withdrawal," the spokesman said. "There is ample time to work any potential issues that may arise."

Asked whether he thought Mr. Berlusconi had made his announcement because of the shooting of the intelligence agent, Mr. McClellan [White House spokesman] said, "I'm not sure I'd make a connection there."

Which given McClellan's standards of non-communicativeness, is pretty close to a 'Yes."

Anyway, whether he was peeved at Silvio or liked the idea of uncorking a stunner at an unexpected moment, it seems now that Dubya used a telephone conversation with Silvio to float his decision that Paul Wolfowitz, not Bono, is going to be President of the World Bank:

[WSJ] Mr. Bush said at his press conference he had already begun lobbying foreign leaders, noting that he had called Premier Silvio Berlusconi to talk about Iraq and other issues earlier in the day and said that he had discussed Mr. Wolfowitz, "my nominee,'' with the Italian leader.


[Washington Post] Bush revealed his choice in response to a question at the press conference, an unusual way for a president to first make public such a nomination.

which for this crisply-functioning White House, makes it sound like a decision made in a fit of pique (either by Dubya or Wolfie) requiring a hurried off-the-record briefing before the news conference.

Apart from the global ramifications, it means that an interest in Irish-USA policy decisions will require a lot of attention to the White House over the next two days, as Dubya will be in the company of another famous on-the-fly policymaker, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

If Dubya is reading memos, then Osama has already won

In our constant ruminations about what trenchant observation to next bring to our readers, we had expected that there would be a post about a revealing Q&A with former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, which appears in this week's print edition of Sports Illustrated. We don't know whether it reveals more about Ari having his guard down or the weakness of the White House "Press Corps" that the SI reporter was able to get a couple of interesting things out of Fleischer.

At first we were disappointed to see that the online version of the story doesn't reproduce one 9/11 anecdote that appears in the print edition. Showing that there's always a silver lining, Ari explains how Dubya took advantage of the equipment upgrades to Air Force 1 after 9/11 to get DirecTV (satellite TV) with the Major League Baseball premium package so that he would watch baseball from anywhere in the air.

But the linkable version of the story does contain another Dubya-loves-baseball anecdote that reveals what he was up to before 9/11:

Fleischer: I remember going to a [Colorado] Rockies game [Aug 14, 2001] in the middle of the P-3 crisis when China intercepted our aircraft. I remember we were talking in the Oval Office and there was this issue of should Bush go or not. Our military forces are basically being held hostage: Should the President leave? And the President was crystal clear. He said to the the staff: "I'm going to game. We are not going to create a hostage-like environment in this White House."

He sent a signal to the nation that this is a crisis that will not get out of control and I'm going to go to the game. It was interesting because he understood what the impression would be when he would go to the baseball game. I remember at the game Dr. [Condoleezza] Rice would leave to work the classified phone line that was installed up on a suite level. We would get updates at the game about what was happening with China and our forces.

So look what was going on -- 4 weeks before 9/11, Dubya AND Condi head to a ballgame, while already in the midst of standoff with China, and with the national security people extremely, extremely nervous about the prospect of a terrorism attack. Remember the two memos: "Bin Laden determined to strike in US," "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly." Any room for those in the Presidential seats at Coors Field on that day?
When you diss Dubya, you diss yourself

David Brooks, in today's New York Times, writing the Social Security "reform" obituary:

Furthermore, Republicans didn't really have a strategy to get their proposals through Congress. They seemed to think that if the president held enough town hall meetings around the country, they could somehow bulldoze the Democrats.

David Brooks, in the New York Times of January 8th [$ link]:

The president's role [in Social Security Reform] -- at the Inauguration and the State of the Union address and after -- will be to educate the country about the problem and lay out some parameters. He doesn't need to say what the legislation should look like. That's too wonky. He should talk about what the country should look like. Social Security is more than accounting; it's values.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Vast Rightwing Conspiracy Word Usage Watch

It used to be that they'd make a point of using 'kerfuffle.' But it's clear the new magic word is 'pusillanimous.' Examples:

National Review Online: RE: IRELAND'S YASSER ARAFAT [John Derbyshire] Shannen: Indeed, recent British policy towards the IRA has been pusillanimous ...

Andrew Sullivan: Worth taking a second today to remember the people murdered in the heart of a free society [11-M]. And the pusillanimous response from some European leaders.

(to be updated)
The other Karen

Sunday's New York Times has a detailed story on the extensive US government production of news-style videos, which often find their way, without disclaimers as to source, onto regular local news broadcasts. The revelations of a few months ago, of pseudo-news booster videos for Dubya's elderly healthcare prescription plan by "Karen Ryan, reporting" turn out to be just a sliver of a broadbased propaganda effort across many government departments.

Unfortunately, the seemingly decentralized nature of these efforts, as well as the decentralized nature of the news distribution business itself, make it difficult to spot a guiding hand. But there are enough clues there to identify some suspects. Consider first one segment in the NYT article, tracing how a pleasing story about post-Taliban Afghanistan found its way into local TV news in Memphis:

The explanation begins inside the White House, where the president's communications advisers devised a strategy after Sept. 11, 2001, to encourage supportive news coverage of the fight against terrorism. The idea, they explained to reporters at the time, was to counter charges of American imperialism by generating accounts that emphasized American efforts to liberate and rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq.

An important instrument of this strategy was the Office of Broadcasting Services, a State Department unit of 30 or so editors and technicians whose typical duties include distributing video from news conferences. But in early 2002, with close editorial direction from the White House, the unit began producing narrated feature reports, many of them promoting American achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq and reinforcing the administration's rationales for the invasions.
Several segments focused on the liberation of Afghan women, which a White House memo from January 2003 singled out as a "prime example" of how "White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror."

Now consider a different NYT story from Saturday, following up a Washington Post scoop on Friday that Dubya is looking for a way to bring back his favourite "strong woman" Karen Hughes, from self-imposed exile in Texas. The NYT reports that the specific position identified for her is the Middle East public diplomacy slot at the State Department, a job that people keep leaving. And what is her prior diplomatic experience?

... a former Texas television reporter who is not known for her expertise in foreign affairs. But she is personally close to Ms. Rice, has the full confidence of Mr. Bush, and was the driving force behind an American campaign during the war in Afghanistan that publicized the plight of Afghan women.

That campaign was part of her larger responsibility at the time as the coordinator of wartime public relations, an assignment Mr. Bush gave her 24 hours after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. "When he called me that morning, he told me that this will be an ongoing process of educating the public," Ms. Hughes said in an interview in November 2001. "He said, 'O.K., go for it.' "

Since then, Ms. Hughes has made several trips to Afghanistan to highlight American assistance to Afghan women, who were kept out of schools, offices and public life under the rule of the Taliban

At the risk of spelling it out even further, note: Hughes, a former local news TV reporter, who was given the job of the PR campaign for the Afghan war by Dubya, and then these videos appear from the State Department on that very topic "with close editorial direction from the White House." Much circumstantial evidence therefore that the whole propaganda machine was driven by Karen Hughes -- and Dubya thinks the world can now benefit from the same treatment.

Friday, March 11, 2005

A confession

Having seen a new set of references to the Madrid bombings as "3/11" (e.g. Andrew Sullivan, Wall Street Journal), we were about to dig up our post from last year which saw this as indicative of forcing world events through the Global War on Terror spectacles, since the correct date format for that tragic day is 11-M. But the good people at Sullywatch were ahead of us in locating their and our old posts on this.

And in adding the link to us, SW notes:

gotta love that timestamp for that post!

Yes, the post shows a stamp of 3.11 AM. This timestamp, it turns out, will be the incidental event, like Jeff Gannon's preposterous "question" to Dubya, that brings one of our dark secrets crashing into the open. For, although doing 97.3 percent of our blogging from the USA's eastern seaboard, we have Blogger set the timestamp to GMT. You should view this as exactly covered by Spinal Tap manager Ian Faith's explanation of why he carries around a cricket bat -- that it's an affectation. Or as Ian might also say, a totemistic refence to the passage of time in the homeland.

One final thought on this matter for a lazy Friday afternoon/evening. This makes for at least one thing we have in common with Andrew Sullivan. Because as Sullywatch has observed a few times, Sully also has the blogger timestamp set ahead -- it's usually 1 hour but we're convinced we once saw it 1.5 hours ahead. Which means that, for some reason, he's making totemistic references to Newfoundland.
The Prodigal Drinkers

While we normally note the inconvenience of having Wall Street Journal articles available to subscribers only, hiding its Unionist-friendly op-ed page from our vast readership, our first reaction upon seeing this story was to be glad that they were hiding such blasphemy:

To Mark St. Patrick's Day, We Test a Range of Stouts (But None From Ireland)

What follows is a description of stout/porter tasting in London with no Irish blackstuff featured. They even rounded up a couple of Irish people to participate. Things end happily however, as it seems that the thought of Guinness and its Irish competitors was dominating the proceedings even with no actual imbibing:

Titanic Stout, from the Titanic Brewery in Stoke on Trent, was one of those that fared badly with our panel. While the aroma enticed, the taste didn't match. "It tastes like molasses or black treacle," Christina said. Our novice, Marianne [Limerick], was particularly perturbed, saying it tasted like "hair dye." Alan chipped in, "It's like rotting wet grass." ...

Iceni Honey Stout, from Iceni Brewery in Norfolk, also had the panel itching for a Guinness. The stout was light-bodied with a tart lemon taste, lacking any sweeter honey overtones. "It's brutal," Mike [Kerry] said ...

My own personal disappointment, which led to the realization that some chilling might have been desirable, was Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout from Samuel Smith Old Brewery in Yorkshire. This has become one of my favorite stouts, although I often find it is served too cold in pubs. Yet at room temperature, much of the typically rich, smooth taste imbued by the oats was lost. Others in the group were more forgiving ... But it still didn't beat Guinness, in their view.

But a handful did manage to stand up to Guinness -- offering delicious hints of coffee, chocolate and toffee, along with the right measure of bitterness. Dorothy Goodbody's Wholesome Stout from the Wye Valley Brewery in Herefordshire met with near-unanimous approval ...

Mike and Marianne chose Young's Double Chocolate Stout from London-based Young & Co. Brewery as their favorite ....

The winner ... was St. Peter's Cream Stout from St. Peter's Brewery in Suffolk. This stout packed a punch. While most of the other stouts had an alcohol level of 4.5% to 5.5%, St. Peter's clocked in at 6.5% ... We tasted coffee and chocolate notes, as well as hints of molasses and yeast.

BUT overall, we found our group of stouts lacking when compared to the old standby, Guinness

Indeed. And if one is having to look for chocolate or coffee flavours to enjoy stout in the first place, it might be time to switch to alcopops. Or Starbucks coffee liqueur. Anyway, with Guinness in effect winning the contest without even having to show up, we conclude that Diageo's relative indifference to Guinness (which hasn't quite saved us from atrocities like Surger and Guinness Extra Cold) might be enough to help it continue rule the roost.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

That bit of Africa below the Sahara

When you set yourself up as a superior debunker of a news story, there's a particular burden on getting your own facts right. But given that we're talking about the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto as a factchecker, who was off by a mere 700 million on an estimate of total number of Muslims in the world, the following is not a surprise.

And it's not like his target is that difficult: a fishy-sounding and thinly sourced claim in the Saudi media that the public version of Saddam's capture was staged and that he was actually captured the night before. Since part of the allegation is that "a Marine of Sudanese descent" was killed in the "real" operation, Taranto pursues a logical avenue:

This site lists all U.S. combat fatalities in Iraq. On Dec. 12, 2003, two men were killed in action: Jarrod Black and Jeffrey Braun. Both were soldiers, not Marines; and neither one has a Sudanese-sounding (i.e., Arabic) surname. Nor were any Marines or any servicemen with Arab-sounding names killed on Dec. 10 or 11.

Now leaving aside the fact that if you believe the original story (which we don't), you're not going to be convinced by an official casualty list, there's a more basic flaw: "Sudanese-sounding (i.e., Arabic) surname." This is a bizarre (and easily checkable) mistake for someone like Taranto to make, because the black African non-Arabic speaking residents of southern and western Sudan have been a long-time cause of US foreign policy, and have formed a useful rhetorical stick with which to bash Islamic governments.

With fact-checkers like these, we're in a great age for conspiracy theorists.
Big Al gets dissed

You'd think with the all fiscal hackery that Alan Greenspan has supplied for Dubya over the last four years, that he'd have some expectation not to get casually trashed by Dubya. But with a Social Security "reform" plan to sell, and Big Al probably in his final term at the Federal Reserve, nothing is sacred:

[Dubya in Kentucky, today] You might remember 1983, they solved the Social Security problem -- they said it's a 75-year fix. Well, here we are, 22 years later, looking at a system that's going to go into the red in 2018. You know, it's one thing to tell the people that you're going to fix it; but this time we are, permanently.

And what short-sighted Freedom(TM)-hating person could have put their name to that 1983 Job Not Done? The Greenspan Commission.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong notes that Dubya is also off on the 75 years part.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Dumping Saint Patrick for Saint George

Even though this year's White House guest list for St Patrick's Day will be very different from last year's, Americans can rest assured that many species of the migratory birds of March will be putting in their usual appearance on this side of the Atlantic. In addition to the Dublin VIPs, the op-ed pages of Dubya's preferred organs will feature their annual drawing of equivalences between Northern Ireland and the Global War on Terror (hereafter GWoT). Stepping up to the plate in today's Wall Street Journal is Dean Godson.

As usual (and the WSJ really needs to reconsider this policy, at least for opinion pieces), the article is subscriber only [*but see below]. But the gist is easy to communicate. Godson accurately takes note of the changed attitude over the last 3 months to the IRA, especially in the Republic, and if one just extracted his description of these events -- the Northern Bank job, the murder of Robert McCartney, and the toughening of anti-IRA rhetoric by the Republic's politicians, you'd have a perfectly respectable account of the current political dynamic vis-a-vis the Troubles.

But Godson couldn't stop there -- it had to become an out-and-out love letter to the home office of the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy. And given Godson's own impeccable ties to the VRC (, we shouldn't be surprised; check out these mentions of him by Canadian hack David Frum, and this profile showing fine VRC credentials. Hence his two themes (1) NI is just like the Middle East -- and indeed could benefit from being in Dubya's Greater Middle East Co-Prosperity Sphere, and (2) it's all Bill Clinton's fault.

Item (1): Is the Irish republican movement becoming the Hezbollah of Ireland, a state within a state? ... Sinn Fein/IRA is a viciously anti-American movement whose closest foreign collaborators include the PLO (Arafat is a particular hero to republicans); the Colombian FARC (to whom it has supplied urban warfare techniques in exchange for cash to fund its rise to power in the Irish Republic); Castro's Cuba; and Hugo Chávez's Venezuela (where many IRA men, including a close relative of Gerry Adams, hang out).

Significantly, one of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's lieutenants gave an interview recently to Time magazine in which he cited Sinn Fein/IRA's success as the model for the Iraqi insurgents' admixture of political and military action.
[indeed, we had blogged about this interview and were surprised it did not get more attention -- BOBW]

Sinn Fein/IRA was in the vanguard of opposition to giving U.S. military aircraft landing rights at Shannon International Airport during the Iraq war

Item (2): But a key responsibility for this disastrous fudge lies with Bill Clinton and figures in his administration such as Anthony Lake, Nancy Soderberg, Sandy Berger and Jim Steinberg ... when his [Clinton's] close friend Tony Blair suspended Ulster's [sic] provincial parliament in February 2000 in order to punish the republicans for their failure to disarm -- as they had promised to do in George Mitchell's review of late 1999 -- Mr. Clinton conspicuously did not back the British prime minister.

And of course, having served the appetiser and main course so nicely, there's only one possible dessert:

Because the nationalist heartlands of Northern Ireland are still one of the few places in Western Europe that do not pass Natan Sharansky's "Town Square Test" of being able to say what you think of your rulers without fear of retribution. After years of cynical Realpolitik, Northern Ireland desperately needs a bit of Lebanese-style "people power" to loosen the grip of the thugs. Mr. Clinton's legacy to Ulster [sic] is a set of paramilitarized ethno-religious Bantustans; Mr. Bush's could yet be true freedom.

Note especially the pleasing reference to Dubya's favourite author, and the call for a Beirut-on-Lagan uprising with Dubya as its patron saint. This path to peace seems clear enough, and yet he has left out one thing -- whether Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, and Glenn Reynolds will find the Freedom(TM) women of Belfast sufficiently good-looking for repeated ogling from their TV screens.

*UPDATE 16 MARCH: We found a free link to Godson's article on a website with an odd set of concerns: local taxes and the Global War on Terror. Nearly as odd as this blog's range of issues.
The Irish Suspect Protection Program

There is huge media attention on Tuesday's revelation from the IRA that it "was prepared to shoot the people directly involved in the killing of Robert McCartney," who had the misfortune of getting embroiled in a dispute with some IRA goons in a Belfast pub. The newspapers seem captivated by the vigilante justice angle, and politicians have fallen over each other to criticise the same aspect. He's a relevant link on Slugger O'Toole (also check out the adjacent posts & main page), and here's Wednesday's New York Times take.

In the apparent consensus that the admission is a PR debacle for the IRA, revealing how out of touch they are with public opinion, having been already on the ropes for the Northern Bank job, we want to just float an alternative possibility. If one was among the actual perpetrators of the killing, and it has now been announced to the world that the IRA had considered shooting you, what are the options at this point? Maybe, going to the police, telling them everything, and being put in jail. Which is what the McCartneys have told the IRA, and everyone else, they want to see happen. It might be worth waiting a few days to see what shakes loose in the legal process before deciding that the gunmen don't do nuance.

UPDATE: New movement in the criminal investigation, via RTE:

Police in Northern Ireland have arrested a man in connection with the murder of Belfast father-of-two Robert McCartney.
Police said the man was arrested on suspicion of murder. He was detained after going to a Belfast police station, accompanied by his solicitor.

FURTHER UPDATE 10 March. Suspect released "pending further enquiries."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Who's the patron saint of news management?

It's going to be an awkward run-in to St Patrick's Day for the Irish government. In the past they could rely on a media happy to go along with the boosterish elevation of the holy day into a weeklong festival and avoidance of the question of why it is that the national holiday requires most of the country's top officials to leave the country. But the scheduling of two by-elections for the end of this week and the public's loss of patience with the gap between Celtic Tiger hype and reality has changed the equation.

We've blogged before about the Republic's deficiencies, with roads being our pet peeve, but in terms of misery, it's the health service that probably involves the biggest signal that the country on top of so many economic league tables is facing relegation along one dimension. Any day's headlines are a litany of substandard healthcare: overcrowded emergency rooms, interminable waits for operations, patients in trolleys in corridors or even in the hospital car park.

And that's just the people whose ailments might at least be eventually solved by a stay in hospital. Even worse are the problems of families with serious long-term care problems. Every few years some new case of State indifference eventually works its way to public attention, and right now it's autism. It's a sign of the unresponsiveness of the Irish political system that even a government that suffered a serious black eye at the hands of one particularly vigorous mother of an autistic child still blunders into new versions of the same problem. At its core, the problem is the State's very rigid and minimalist conception of how it should support autistic individuals and their families, coupled with a strategy of stalling when anyone gets too demanding.

Hence the current crisis, unhelpfully located in County Meath, where one of the by-elections is taking place. The O'Hara family in Kells has four autistic children, and a years-long dispute between the family and the health authorities seems to have come to a head when the family started complaining to the media about their lack of support from the State. The State is now taking proceedings to have the children committed to residential care, against the wishes of the parents.

However Tuesday's Irish Times reports that a short-term truce has been reached with the parents in which the children will stay in care pending a psychiatric assessment of the parents. The parents sound sanguine about this although given the legal sledgehammer that the authorities were bringing to bear, their only real choice was likely to go along with it, if only to minimize any further bewilderment for their children.

There's not much else to say. It would certainly help if the overseas media got out of their regular rotation of Irish (non-Troubles) news stories: tech boom vs tradition/literature/smoking ban and showed a country that is not always, unlike in the Guinness ads, brilliant.

UPDATE 9 MARCH: A couple of new developments (subs. req'd) in the case. The O'Haras were in court yesterday to seek the return of their children. But the case was postponed until Friday and the judge ordered that neither side speak to the media. This won't have much effect on RTE, going by their website, which avoids the case like the plague anyway. However, the profile of the case may be enhanced because it is to be raised in the European Parliament:

[Member of European Parliament] Kathy Sinnott who has expressed support for the O'Haras. Ms Sinnott said she was planning to raise the issue during a European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg later today.

UPDATE 11 MARCH: A protest today about lack of services for autistic children in the midlands. Today is also supposed to be another day in court for the O'Haras. It should be noted that the family has two legitimate grounds for complaint: services for their children, and the motivation of the health authorities in seeking to commit their children to care.

FINAL UPDATE: The O'Haras got their day in court, and won (link may require subs.). A judge considered the case behind closed doors and granted them custody of their children. It seems that the original State insistence on a psychiatric exam has also been set aside. The final word is best left to an expert:

The O'Hara's family doctor and chairman of the Irish Society for Autism, Dr James Hayes, said he was ecstatic at the outcome. "This frightful event should never have occurred," he said. "Whatever the crisis, there are other ways of dealing with it. Justice has been done and the family have been reunited."

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Valley of the Squinting Websites

Two seemingly unrelated articles in the (London) Sunday Times draw our attention. First, somewhere in the intersection of tragedy, comedy, and farce is the latest twist in the paternity issues surrounding the children born to Kimberly Quinn, publisher of the Spectator magazine. The Times reports that while former Home Secretary David Blunkett has been ruled out as the biological father of her baby by a paternity test, it's still not entirely clear who the biological father is, with an unnamed "Indian media tycoon" emerging as a candidate. However, Quinn's husband, Kilkenny man Stephen Quinn, seems to want it to be understood that he is the father, although we wonder if he'd like his specific choice of words back:

"no further testing is required: Lorcan is our son." He added that it was "totally absurd" to suggest the boy looked Asian, "he looks like an Irish rugby player."

Given Mrs Quinn's reputation for affairs, such a phrasing easily lends itself to the question: an Irish rugby player -- which one?

Anyway, one aspect which has driven the continued media interest in this saga is the willingness of the principals in it to speak to their preferred sources in the media as each new twist emerges. Which brings us to Andrew Sullivan's column in the same paper. Sully tries to develop a half-baked neo-Orwellian theme that technological progress is leading to greater intrusions on privacy, but in doing so, presents a very selective set of anecdotes to support his case.

Strangely for someone with libertarian pretensions, missing from his analysis is the role of choice. His first privacy victim is, of all people, Dubya, via the taping of his off-the-record conversations as candidate Bush with a family associate in 1999. Note here Sully's ability to explain the injustice done to Dubya without mention of what Linda Tripp did to Monica Lewinsky, and likewise his discussion of White House avoidance of electronic paper trails without mentioning Inquisitor-General Ken Starr.

Sully then turns to the Web as a tool of privacy encroachment, and is now definitely relying on his British readers being less au courant with his own issues in this regard than their American counterparts. Sully's Web victim is Jeff Gannon/James Guckert, White House plant in the briefing room, and player-manager of a gay escort service. And of course any notion of the latter as a secret life goes out the window once one remembers that this information was pieced together from publicly accessible websites. So Gannon in fact becomes a proxy for Sully's own Internet visibility, an issue recurringly documented by Sullywatch, with the Gannon-Sully commonality tied together here.

So the Quinns and Gannon and Sully have all chosen in different ways to air their private lives; the rationality of those choices is a different question. Then there's the role of political choices in eroding personal space, something Sully never mentions at all, because it's too tied in with his pro-life, pro-War on Terror policy positions; for him it's technology per se that's at fault:

The technology that has liberated us in so many ways is also capable of suffocating that inviolable personal space that once had another name. That name was freedom.

But long before there were webcams, there were curtains for Polonius to hide behind and for Westmeath gossipers to peek from. And if things have gotten more Orwellian over the years, it's in the ability of the State to use a person's state of mind to place them in legal peril. We mention Bill Clinton, his impeachment set in motion by his sense of having wronged his family. And Martha Stewart, five months in Club Fed for having believed she might have done something wrong. It's in instances like this, not in iPods or blogs, that today's real thought police are to be found.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Does bravery depend on who's on the other side of the gun?

The 101st Fighting Keyboarders did much preening and strutting around the rumoured circumstances of the killing of one Italian hostage in Iraq last year. Here's James Taranto at Opinionjournal, approvingly citing Michael Ledeen at National Review Online:

... Italian hostage, Fabrizio Quattrocchi ... After forcing him to dig his own grave, they put a hood over his head and ordered him to kneel so he could be killed. He wouldn't go for it. He tried to remove the hood, and defiantly yelled at them "I will show you how an Italian dies." The scene was a propaganda disaster for them, and good old al Jazeera, the modern mother of lies, announced that they had the tape but wouldn't release it ... It showed Western bravery, not Arab domination, so they couldn't show it.

Indeed, for Mark Steyn, this became the gold standard for hostage behaviour, from which British-Irish hostage Ken Bigley fell well short.

So today, in a predictable consequence of the cavalier attitude of the Pentagon to collateral damage in Iraq, we have another brave Italian:

American forces fired on a car carrying a freed Italian hostage as it approached a checkpoint in Baghdad on Friday, killing an Italian intelligence officer and wounding at least two others, including the just-released journalist ...

The intelligence agent was killed when he threw himself over Sgrena [freed hostage] to protect her from U.S. fire, Italy's Apcom news agency quoted Gabriele Polo, the editor of Sgrena's newspaper Il Manifesto, as saying.

We'll update as the VRC spinners check in with their analysis.

FIRST UPDATE: the story carefully being avoided by the spinners so far. Atrios says the sensible thing. So far, it's looking like a 4-M event for Italy, but getting the typical no-news-on-Friday treatment in the US.

SECOND UPDATE (7 MARCH): It seems that the only good dead Italian in Iraq is one whose death can be spun in favour of the Exalted One. So the VRC checks in today with the spin on the Friday killing of an Italian secret service agent at a US military roadblock:

GIULIANA SGRENA [Jonah Goldberg]
Michael [sic] Instapundit has a very useful post on the awful incident where an Italian spy was killed protecting the Communist reporter.

Following his link to Instanpundit (and who is Michael anyway?), another slime phrase: "Italian ineptitude." On the other hand, the NYT and Washington Post have stories placing the deaths within the broader context of the jumpiness of US soldiers at roadblocks. Most of the Iraqi civilian victims thereof go unreported.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Complete the sentence

Dubya today at CIA HQ began a sentence with:

If al Qaeda was structured like corporate America ...

which offers too many possibilities for alternative endings. Let us suggest three:

... then they would have been too busy awarding themselves huge pay raises to ever get around to any actual terrorism

... then they would have used staged power cuts, pension plan collapses, and bogus accounting to undermine the country instead of violent attacks

... then as people who, like me once, have to "make payroll" I'd have looked into their souls and convinced them, suit to suit, to give up.

Reader suggestions welcome, as always.
A pint of Guinness and a packet of respect please

A quick follow-up to what we thought was just an incidental observation on how drinks conglomerate Diageo doesn't seem to care much for having Guinness in its "product portfolio." The Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) reports today that Goldman Sachs has resigned as Diageo's corporate broker, having realised that a close advisory relationship with Diageo rival Allied Domecq could pose a conflict of interest.

In elaborating on this decision, the WSJ explains:

[Diageo] became the world's largest spirits maker through a series of acquisitions starting in 1997, and since then it has been shedding noncore assets. As a result, it is now a pure spirits company ...

which barring some broad interpretation of the word "spirit" (spirit of Ireland?) would seem to exclude Guinness. A reporting error, maybe, but perhaps reflective how Diageo's suits view the black stuff?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Freedom-loving fembots

Not so long ago when it was the Orange Revolution instead of the Cedar Revolution, we wrote, mockingly:

Like most amateur followers of the Ukrainian election dispute, we had assumed that the side that was able to mobilise the better looking protestors was surely the right side to support.

But we have been overtaken by reality, at least reality as processed through the National Review Online filter:

(links to other VRC sites with pictures of Beirut protestors)

The tyranny of the frat boys.

UPDATE 8 MARCH: Another installment from the "Phew, what a scorcher" crowd: Mark Steyn in today's Telegraph:

the smouldering, raven-tressed, black-eyed Beirut babes so fetchingly demanding their nation's freedom on the covers of this week's Economist, Newsweek, Weekly Standard et al. ... the aforementioned Lebanese totty ... the Beirut babes
That's how we feel about Dubya all the time

White House website, 10.30 AM eastern time:

March 2, 2005
                                                                                              March 2, 2005

It's meant to be the title to a release called "Fact Sheet: Better Training for Better Jobs" and the release itself seems to be apostrophe-challenged (e.g. "in our Nations job training programs," "President Bushs WIA Plus proposal"). The Internets is hard!

UPDATE: So the White House eventually got their text character problems sorted out. If only their personal character problems could be mended as easily. Anyway, as we noted above, the botched release was part of a job training emphasis by Dubya today, manifested in one of his Social Security style "discussions" in Maryland, and there are some interesting things in that transcript:

So I look forward to continuing to work with friends and allies to advance freedom -- not America's freedom, but universal freedom, freedom granted by a Higher Being.

Note -- it's the White House transcribers that capitalised those last two words. So God is sneaking back in to Dubya's freedom line, having been given the boot not so long ago.

Later comes mention of Dubya's new energy plan: the land!

I like the idea of using corn and soybeans to help produce energy. I mean, after all, it would be neat, someday, Governor [Ehrlich, of Maryland], if somebody walked in and said, we're growing more crop, and therefore, we're less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

Someone really needs to explain to Dubya the very basic physical laws of energy creation and destruction before he pursues this idea much further. And while Dubya is taking Energy 101, the aforementioned governor of Maryland might want to check in for Econ 101:

[Governor] We're at 3.8, 3.9 percent [unemployment]. We want to go to 0.0 [unemployment], Mr. President. I want to report to you 0.0. How about that for a goal? (Applause.) I told you we set high benchmarks around here.

We know that we do a lot of Spinal Tap references on this blog, but 0.0 unemployment is exactly the same mentality as Nigel's "This one goes up to eleven."

But Dubya is getting some economics training:

There's a -- the term of art these days is productivity and how does the worker become more productive.

This usage likely provides insights into the way Dubya's advisers are explaining stuff to him: "Mr President, the term of art is deficit/exchange rate/interest rate etc." Perhaps an Alan Greenspan clause?

FURTHER UPDATE 7 March: The same glitch is back at 3.22 eastern time today -- the sequence of  characters and an apostrophe-less news release following. This time it's "Making a Difference for America s Youth"
But you left out the best part

Back today to an occasional theme of ours: how New York Times corrections could sometimes use a little elaboration. In Wednesday's paper, the following correction runs:

A front-page article on Monday about the capture of a half-brother of Saddam Hussein, who has been accused of helping to finance the insurgency in Iraq, misattributed the report of his transfer to Iraqi custody. That information, depicting the capture as a Syrian action, came from Iraqi officials and from an American scholar with contacts in Syria, who said he had been informed of the transfer by Syrian officials in Damascus.

So of course we want to know: which American scholar? Our first thought was Juan Cole, in which case the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy would have a problem, for while Cole is one of their bêtes noirs, they relied on the original story as an example of how the Syrians were cowed by Dubya's manliness (or is it Condi's boots?). However, Cole has no mention of the incident so far. But wouldn't it serve the cause of a more open journalistic process at the NYT to provide the name?

UPDATE 4 March: Another potential name. In their story on the Saudis telling Syria that the jig is up in Lebanon, the NYT includes the following:

"Assad needs the Arabs to support him in keeping troops behind," said Joshua Landis, a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma and editor of the Web site Syria Comment. (link added)

FURTHER UPDATE 7 MARCH: Mixed signals at the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Page. Friday's notable and quotable (subs. req'd) makes a few sentences from the Mark Steyn column above their highlight of the week, including the since retracted account of the Syrian handover of the Saddam relative. Yet a weekend column on the companion OpinionJournal site gets it right:

This week, Saddam Hussein's half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan, was arrested with Syrian assistance and handed over to the interim Iraqi government

-- a much more careful phrasing than the hackneyed VRC notion that this dude was sunbathing in Damascus till last week. The writer of this piece actually works for a Beirut paper and so, unlike most of the VRC spinners, has some expertise in this area.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Lines in the sand

We weren't planning to say much about Christopher Hitchens' latest gloatfest in Slate, and then decided to confine our comments to Slate's own electronic discussion forum, The Fray(TM). But with neo-nonblogger Andrew Sullivan having provided an approving nod to Hitch's piece, we'll revise and extend our comments here. The article notes the lack of recent references to the notion of the "Arab street" as something that might act as a constraint on Dubya's Greater Middle East Co-Prosperity Sphere (we know we're lifting that appellation from someone but we can't remember who).

But with his trademark laziness, Hitch never supplies any actual instances of someone ever using the term "Arab street," let alone someone who has since dropped it. Not that he's likely to have even tried, but one possibility is that a Google search only provided a bunch of Fouad Ajami articles, and of course Ajami was always insightfully cynical about the concept. As opposed to Hitch's brand of neo-colonial cynical.

Anyway, we're already distracted --- Hitch concludes with a call for "clarity of language" and yet provides two weird usages in the article:

... the sight of Iraqi and Kurdish voters waiting their turn to have a say in their own future ...

Where Hamas has done well in local elections in Gaza, it has been due to grass-roots welfare and social policy as much as to intransigent anti-Zionism ...

Note the first implication that the Kurds aren't Iraqi, so Hitch should tell us if breaking up Iraq was always part of the plan. And then that strangely qualified description of Hamas as anti-Zionist, and not the more obvious anti-Israel. So good Hamas provides public services and even bad Hamas is against something easily cast as an expansionist philosophy, Israel only for the Jews, but not specifically against Israel. In fact, Hitch's nods and winks to a dismembered Iraq and a non-Zionist chunk of land between the Jordan river and the coast reminds us of something.
The queue starts over there, Bertie

The White House has still made no announcement about the format of yet another year's observance of Ireland's national holiday by Irish politicians in Washington, DC. But the White House website does provide an interesting signal of where Dubya's team believes the global winds of change are blowing this year, and it ain't the ould sod:

President Bush will welcome Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, to the White House on March 16, 2005. The Cardinal is respected throughout Lebanon and around the world for his religious leadership and for promoting intra-communal harmony among the different faiths in his country, and as an important voice for Lebanese independence, freedom, and democracy.

We strongly suspect that if the Maronite Cardinal had asked for a time slot on the 17th, he would have gotten it. And who knows what events could impinge on Dubya's timetable between now and then. God forbid that the Irish politicians and hacks observe St Patrick's Day at home!

UPDATE: Bertie gets his invite. But only "civil society" leaders from NI. And Gerry might not even get a visa!