Friday, June 30, 2006

World Cup one liner

Home advantage matters.

The real sacrifice

It's a sign of the currently accident-prone nature of the Irish government that they've wandered into a controversy on an issue where the plan was to stay as quiet as possible. That issue is embryonic stem-cell research, which was the issue that in summer 2001 George Bush had convinced himself was the most pressing one facing the nation. The rest is history.

Anyway, the Irish version of the problem is whether to install an explicit ban on the research in Ireland, but the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Micheál Martin, went seriously off-message on a trade mission to China -- almost as bizarre, in the parochial context as if, for example, the finance minister started holding forth on policy regarding the nuclear deterrent. Martin made two statements that sound very reasonable: that the science contains many unknowables, and that in the long-term it could lead to cures for diseases [Irish Times, subs. req'd]:

But I said that if it emerged in the future that it could be of value in treating very debilitating and chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease or Alzheimer's, then I would have an open mind.

In saying so, however, he ran up against the a la carte ethics that represent current policy:

A spokeswoman for the Department of Enterprise and Employment in Dublin said yesterday that the official policy in relation to embryo stem-cell research, as set out by the Minister, was that the Government wanted to maintain the position of "ethical subsidiarity".

She said he had said that this meant that Ireland did not tell other countries or seek to influence what other countries did in terms of research programmes and research projects.

This matters because Ireland contributes to European Union pots of money that could be used for stem-cell research, so their position is that there can be no stem cell research in the country, but that they may passively finance it elsewhere. This is the inverse of the George Bush position, in which the research is allowed but federal government funding is prohibited. The Bush position fails the simple consistency test of: if you really think it's wrong, why aren't you banning it?

But the official Irish position is, if anything, more hypocritical, since it contains no commitment not to use any medical gains that arise from the research. Thus the unpleasant stuff can be dumped off to other countries, while the outcomes thereof are cherry-picked. It does provide the unintentional comedy that comes from combining 1950s and 2000s government policy on moral issues:

According to recent reports, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern told Pope Benedict that the Republic intended passing legislation to ban such research. Asked about plans to do this, Mr Martin said he had no knowledge of such proposals.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Nice segue

George Bush, in a brief news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi today, soon after the Supreme Court stunner:

PRESIDENT BUSH: We've agreed to take two questions a side. Walking in, I reminded the Prime Minister of one of Elvis's greatest songs, "Don't Be Cruel" -- (laughter) -- so keep that in mind, Hunt, when you ask your question.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You've said that you wanted to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but you were waiting for the Supreme Court decision that came out today. Do you intend now to close the Guantanamo Bay quickly? And how do you deal with the suspects that you've said were too dangerous to be released or sent home?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Also known as the German Democratic Republic

Note the capital letters, exactly as they appear now on the White House website

President Bush to Visit Chancellor Angela Merkel in East Germany Prior to G-8 Summit

Hitch to dissenters: Drop Dead

Perhaps as evidence that Christopher Hitchens doesn't drink quite as much as his reputation suggests, consider this maliciously clever phrasing in which Hitch can dodge the accusation that he's suggesting that Congressman Jack Murtha should be killed, but comes oh so close to saying so. Hitch is yet again on the warpath -- not against Gitmo or Abu Ghraib, presidential "signing statements", warrantless wiretaps, or incompetent war planning -- but the anti-war left. And amongst his challenges to them:

What happened to the human shields? I didn't think it was wise or principled of certain activists to go to Baghdad in 2003 and swear to put themselves between Iraqi civilians and undue harm ... But the idea of witnessing for peace in this manner has its attractions. That new hero, Rep. John Murtha, repeated a familiar slur the other day, attacking Karl Rove for supporting the war from an air-conditioned office—as if a person with a White House job has no right to an opinion on the war. But would not now be the ideal time for those who hate war to go to Iraq and stand outside the mosques, hospitals, schools, and women's centers that are daily subjected to murderous assaults? This would write an imperishable page in the history of American dissent.

So a single paragraph to defend Karl Rove's honour, link Murtha with the 2003 human shields campaign, and suggest it be revived. Even if he's not specifically suggesting that Murtha go, he may well have thought better of a phrase like "a killing field of dissenters" but we can't know how much he had to resist temptation. Note the article's title: Peace and Quiet.


With not a hint of irony, the Wall Street Journal editorial page (subs. req'd) is concerned about the influence on society that comes with having huge amounts of wealth -- in the context of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now further beefed up by Warren Buffett's money:

We'd also note that the foundations he [Buffett] is donating to may well become "dynasties" in their own right. In addition to his Gates Foundation gift, Mr. Buffett also said he will give major donations well north of $1 billion each to separate foundations run by his three children and another in the name of his late wife. These gifts, too, will be shielded from taxation and will allow his heirs to wield power and influence long after the 75-year-old has gone to his just reward. With their tax-sheltered assets, modern foundations have no expiration date and have become hugely important players in policy debates, the culture and even politics.

Ironic because the WSJ, which staunchly opposes just about any tax, including the "death" tax (estate/inheritance) would have no problem with the descendants having access to exactly the same amount of money as an untaxed inheritance. But somehow, when it's a foundation, which sounds suspiciously touchy-feely, it's a problem. And there's more:

But since giving free advice is our business, we'd suggest that they put at least a smidgen of their money back into strengthening the foundations of the free-market system that has allowed them to become so fabulously rich. There's something to be said for reinvesting in the moral capital of a free society and trying to sustain and export free-enterprise policies.

This is only a hop, skip and jump to the philosophical case for taxation -- that even rich people, who've convinced themselves that they made it "on their own", couldn't have done so without the institutions that the state provides. But this logic goes AWOL when the Journal does its usual editorial fulminations about the taxation system. Anyway, a few sentences later:

On that score we were encouraged by a report this week that the Gateses thanked Mr. Buffett for his gift by presenting him with a book from their personal library: Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations."

Now given the WSJ's view that the Gates foundation should be voluntarily funding certain of their pet causes, let's see what the great Glasgow man would have said:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.


UPDATE: Jonathan Chait at The Plank points out that the WSJ also seems confused about what a foundation is.

The NatWest 3

We're adapting Andrew Sullivan's quote of the day, from Edmund Burke, for a different purpose: as an apt comment on the plight of the NatWest 3, likely facing extradition to Bush country from charges in the Enron collapse -- even though the actual alleged crime was against NatWest, was committed in England, and the extradition is being done under anti-terrorism legislation:

A person is brought hither in the dungeon of a ship's hold; thence he is vomited into a dungeon on land, loaded with irons, unfurnished with money, unsupported by friends, three thousand miles from all means of calling upon or confronting evidence, where no one local circumstance that tends to detect perjury can possibly be judged of;—such a person may be executed according to form, but he can never be tried according to justice.

UPDATE: More from the WSJ Law Blog. And here's a previous post of ours on the three; we also reiterate the disclosure that we're related to one of them.

UPDATE 5 JULY: The Daily Telegraph is at the centre of the campaign to stop the extradition. An editorial and an open letter, accepting signatures.

FINAL UPDATE 9 FEBRUARY 2008: The essay from which the Burke quote is drawn surfaces in a John McCain speech.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

But who's Josephine?

It's a point of comparison that just won't go away: Napoleon. For some reason, the GWoT comparisons have been most frequent to George W. Bush , but it looks now like the American Enterprise Institute is anxious to get someone more Evil stuck with the tag. So, as the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire informs us:

As AEI puts it in an announcement for a July 20 lecture by [Frederick] Kagan at the think tank’s offices: "For as there have been international norms, there have been states that have refused to play by the rules. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has embraced this role for Iran, but he is merely the latest in a long line of leaders to attempt to revamp the international system."

His role model? Perhaps Napoleon. "Idolized by many for his military successes and domestic reforms, he has also been accused of carrying out a "criminal" foreign policy and blamed for the decade of wars that marked his reign," AEI says.

The funny thing is, you can read the blurb and not have it be a stretch that it's actually talking about Bush -- "refused to play by the rules," "revamp the international system," and of course "idolized by many." Also noteworthy is that the discussant for Kagan's talk at AEI is Bill Kristol, meaning that the seminar room would be not a bad place to detect what Bush's Project for a New American Century backers really think about the current direction of his foreign policy.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

World Cup one liner

Well, the tournament needed a team to hate, so Portugal qualify in that regard.

UPDATE: Under FIFA's new rules, the referee's decision is final, except when it isn't. [see also Goal Post]

Tomorrow's clarifications today

Sunday's New York Times Magazine has a long article by Christopher Caldwell about Londonistan. It's worth a read, and not simply because it manages to make Melanie "Scary Spice" Phillips seem respectable. But one paragraph needs some elaboration:

Abdel Bari Atwan ... edits Al Quds al Arabi, an international Arabic-language daily. Its offices are upstairs from a housing authority in Hammersmith, where the redeveloped part of King Street peters out into hairdressers and used-clothing shops ... Atwan interviewed Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Afghanistan in 1996 and recently wrote an authoritative history of his movement. When Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the March 2004 Madrid bombings, it was to Atwan that the claim was faxed.

Well, there's a story behind that. The claim of responsibility came not from al Qaeda per se, but from a group within its propaganda orbit, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades. This is a group that has twice embarrassed the GWOT, once by endorsing George Bush in 2004 election, and once by being the basis of a US terror warning via a threat that lacked any substantiation.

UPDATE 5 JULY: On the topic of whether al Qaeda actually endorsed George Bush in 2004, Mike Power has a relevant link.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Well, he probably pats Brown on the head in the same way

Ron Suskind, explaining to the Times (UK) that there's no mixup of two different Mohammad [middle name] Khans underlying his book's claim that the 7 July London bombing ringleader was known to US intelligence as a danger:

Mr Suskind said last night: "My sources are plain. There’s no case of mistaken identity here. Everyone involved knows the difference between the two guys.

"For somebody who is an expert in terrorism to mix these men up is like mixing up Tony Blair and Benny Hill.

"In America the sources are clear. There’s not any doubt about it being Mohammad Sidique Khan in this particular incident discussed in the book."

No wonder it's the inflight magazine of Air Force 1

What is it with the New Republic's online contributors tossing around the term fascist these days? On the Culture (sic) blog, Lee Siegel:

It's a bizarre phenomenon, the blogosphere. It radiates democracy's dream of full participation but practices democracy's nightmare of populist crudity, character-assassination, and emotional stupefaction. It's hard fascism with a Microsoft face.

On the Goal Post blog, where a couple of days ago there was some connection between Peter Crouch and the liberation of Auschwitz:

With the U.S. out of the tournament, many of us may not quite know which flag to wrap ourselves in for the duration of the Cup. (I only know it won't be the flag of the air fiddling, cry baby, possibly fascist, greasy-maned Italians.)

Truly, truly, charming. But then again, the fish rots from the head.

UPDATE: More comments on Siegel here. And Brad DeLong collects pieces of TNR's War on Blogs in one place. And a Kos diarist (a feud with Kos being the excuse for the taunting about fascism) elaborates.

Media Minute Men?

Powerline's "Trunk" on the New York Times reporting on US surveillance of international financial transactions, a program whose details are classified:

The Times and its likeminded media colleagues will undoubtedly continue to undermine and betray the national security of the United States until they are taught that they are subject to the same laws that govern the conduct of ordinary citizens, or until an enraged citizenry decides, like Bill Keller [editor], to take the law into its own hands and express its disagreement some other way.

"Trunk" is a lawyer, so one assumes that this sentence was carefully constructed to not actually be what it comes very close to, a threat.


Just under 2 weeks ago, Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger made a complete fool of himself on Fox News (where else) by arguing that gay marriage was the slippery slope to people being able to marry snakes. Really. The argument was skewered by Stephen Colbert [see the item Marrying Snakes]. Anyway, back in his regular Friday slot (subs. req'd; alt. free link) he writes of the importance of tradition, specifically: golf. Here are the key paragraphs:

These clubs are famous havens of fustiness. Most still ban denim and only recently, as at Baltusrol and Winged Foot, allowed shorts anywhere. But there is purpose here too. "When the children of new members come to Winged Foot," says Bill Fugazy Jr., a member for 30 years, "they learn club etiquette, attire, the rules of golf and then how to hit a golf ball." When a junior team showed up at Washington's Congressional in cargo pants several years back, the club refused to let them play. This code in turn ensures civility on the masterpiece courses, such as A.W. Tillinghast created for Winged Foot. It deters, says San Francisco's Butch Berry, "people who don't uphold the traditions of the game: a cheater, a bad sport, a club thrower, a vile character."

To Doug Steffen, the head pro at Baltusrol, golf's social contract is clear cut: "When people join one of these clubs, they know what the rules are; then they join the club or they don't."

Take a second to ponder what's missing from his list of things that golf clubs have banned for most of their existence. Although snakes (heterosexual ones only) could probably get in on their own.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Eyes on lunchbreak

New York Times website headlines just before 2pm eastern time:

Bush Compares Iraq War to Hungry's Uprising

Widlfire Continues to Spread North of Sedona

UPDATE: They caught the misspelling of Hungary but still have wild rhyming with the German supermarket chain.

World Cup one line (request)

If the US soccer team manages a miracle qualification for the last 16 and George Bush decides to "pop-in" to visit them and injured soldiers at Ramstein Air Force Base, can the media please not describe this as a surprise visit?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mention the war

Showing the power of Gawker, blogger Susie Gelber converted a Gawker-linked post complaining about The New Republic's World Cup group blog, Goal Post, into a gig at said blog. To bring us stuff like this:

I don't want to risk England not facing Germany. Want to see Germany try to get past England's secret weapon: Peter Crouch. Because the man who makes Beckham's wife look like she could stand to lose a few is a good player, but an even better walking, kicking memorial to the liberation of Auschwitz.

10 readings later, that last bit still makes no sense (aside from being moot since England will play Ecuador). Apart from anything else, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops.

[UPDATE 22 June: if someone over at Goal Post happens to read this, can you close that damned italics tag?]

Trojan phones

It's taken a long time but finally an American newspaper has done extensive reporting on the bizarre mobile phone bugging case in Greece; unfortunately it's a Wall Street Journal article, behind subscription. It explains how the bugging operation required such high level technical capability that very few institutions other than Ericsson and Vodaphone (whose equipment was infiltrated) or a national intelligence agency could have done it.

The key part of the trick was that calls to over 100 phones were simultaneously routed to a set of 14 pre-paid cellphones, so that someone could listen in. It involved a higher level of interception than simply cloning the SIM card of the targeted mobile phones -- so not simply a matter of that cool scene in The Bourne Supremacy. But speaking of US intelligence agencies, here's how the article ends:

ADAE's [Greek telecoms watchdog] technical experts also say the interceptor phones were in contact via phone calls and text messages with various overseas destinations, namely the U.S., including Laurel, Md., the U.K., Sweden and Australia, according to the ADAE preliminary report. Some of these calls and messages were initiated and received directly from the 14 interceptor phones and some were relayed via a second group of at least three other prepaid phones that also were in contact with the 14 interceptor phones.

Some Greek politicians note that one of the U.S.'s principal spy agencies, the National Security Agency, is based near Laurel, Md. The agency recently has been in the spotlight, with some members of the U.S. Congress criticizing the Bush administration for monitoring, without a warrant, calls between people in the U.S. and suspected terrorists overseas. Agency spokesman Don Weber said the "NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law." As for whether the NSA or other U.S. authorities were involved in the Greek incident, he said the agency doesn't "discuss ongoing or pending investigations."

UPDATE 24 JUNE: The separate revelations about the US Treasury/CIA snooping on international financial transfers includes this detail:

Intelligence officials were so eager to use the Swift data that they discussed having the C.I.A. covertly gain access to the system, several officials involved in the talks said. But Treasury officials resisted, the officials said, and favored going to Swift directly.

Prime Ministerial insults

Compare and Contrast:

(1) Dominique de Villepin, to Socialist leader Francois Hollande:

"Mr. Hollande, I denounce your facile approach - and I will even say this looking you in the eyes - the cowardice in your attitude," Villepin said. "I'll say it again: cowardice."

(2) Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to Socialist TD Joe Higgins:

"You have a failed ideology, you have the most hopeless policy that I ever heard pursued by any nitwit,” Mr Ahern said.

"You are a failed person, you were rejected and your political philosophy has been rejected and you’re not going to pull people back into the failed old policies that you dreamt up in south Kerry when you were a young fella. Now go away."

It depends what the meaning of leadership is

In what it looks like his last bit of office work before he left for Vienna, George Bush sent some minor amendments to the Geneva Conventions to the Senate for ratification. Now while minor, they do reveal one side benefit from the US eagerness to have the Iraqi government nominally in charge of combatting the insurgency. One amendment brings certain restrictions on weapons that are unusually harmful to civilians into domestic conflicts, but Bush's letter is keen to emphasize

It does not change the legal status of rebel or insurgent groups into that of protected or privileged belligerents

In other words, they won't have to go to the bother of classifying captured Iraqi insurgents under the non-existent "enemy combatant" Gitmo designation, because the Iraqi government can continue to do it for them. Second, about those pesky weapons that have to be cleaned up afterwards:

CCW Protocol V provides for the marking, clearance, removal, and destruction of such remnants by the party in control of the territory in which the munitions are located.

And who happens to be in control of the territory where all Saddam's conventional weapons were located (but not secured after the invasion) and where the US military now pursues a mini "Powell doctrine" in pursuit of Iraqi insurgents? The Iraqi government!

Finally, in urging the Senate to ratify the amendments (the other of which allows Israel to join the Red Cross), Bush concludes:

These treaties are in the interest of the United States, and their ratification would advance the longstanding and historic leadership of the United States in the law of armed conflict.

Trebles all round!

UPDATE 11 JANUARY 2007: It looks like part of the above took till now to work its way back to Bush insofar as it was a law requiring his signature; the press release announcing the signature again gratuitously notes --

It reflects the commitment of the United States to international law, including the Geneva Conventions.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lord of the foreclosed manor

Even with the media empire gone, Conrad Black just can't stay out of the news, which also sustains the possibility that some of the vast rightwing conspiracy personalities to which he's connected might go down with him. The latest revelation from Patrick Fitzgerald's prosecution of him is the bizarre state of Black's finances, in which the lifestyles of the rich and famous are financed at the interest rates that might even embarrass the toughest urban bail bond agent.

Black is securing his bail with a house in Florida, but Fitzgerald suspects that Black views the house as a millstone -- with good reason -- and would be happy to dump it into the government's hands; with the bail forfeited he could then just remain in Canada and battle any further proceedings to get him to appear in court in Chicago (WSJ, subs. req'd):

The government is seeking a forced sale of his oceanside Palm Beach estate because a payment due June 15 wasn't made on a $10 million promissory note that is secured by the mortgage on the property, the documents say. As a result, the interest rate on the loan was pushed up to 26% from 21%, and the government's ability to eventually recover equity from the property has been jeopardized, according to the documents ...

A financial affidavit provided by Mr. Black at the time of his bail arrangements disclosed four Canadian bank accounts. But Mr. Black may be holding back on disclosing all of his assets, prosecutors argue. He recently paid taxes of about $460,000 on the Palm Beach house and made a donation of 500,000 Canadian dollars (US$446,000) to the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, according to the documents. Mr. Black's bail conditions allow him to live in Canada, with trips to Chicago for court dates

One possibility is that Lord Black is just not that good with money, which might be his planned defence for when the case comes to trial. But we still attach some weight to the possibility that one of these months, he's going to pop up in London, having carefully disposed of all his Canadian assets, and rely on the very tricky US-UK extradition laws to keep him free of Fitzgerald's courtroom.

[Here's a free link from the Chicago Sun-Times, via Romenesko]

UPDATE 27 SEPTEMBER. We've been meaning to revisit this post. Under the current UK-US extradition arrangements, Black is probably better off staying in Canada and making his court appearances in Chicago. If he went to Britain and then fought extradition, he would lose and then be forced to remain in the US until his trial date, assuming he could even get bail at that point. However, the UK parliament may yet suspend cooperation with the US on extradition, a consequence of the outrage over the NatWest 3. Anyway, Black appears to be working on a Plan B -- he is trying to get his Canadian citizenship reinstated.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mr America enters the Miss World contest

A George Bush memo to Condi today:

Pursuant to section 503(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2311), and section 3(a)(1) of the Arms Export Control Act, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2753), I hereby find that the furnishing of defense articles and defense services to the Kingdom of Swaziland will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace.

There they go again

It appears that the White House's summer PR offensive includes a subtle recalibration of their persistent inference -- that they back away from when directly challenged -- that Saddam was connected to 9/11. It was used by George Bush in a speech to the Merchant Marine graduates this morning:

As we saw on September the 11, 2001, the actions of a repressive regime thousands of miles away can have a direct impact on our own security.

The regime is not specified but one assumes it's the Taliban. However, the 9/11 attacks were conceived in various Asian countries, the logistics were run from Germany and Spain, while the preparations, training, and of course implementation took place in the United States. While the Taliban were implicated through harbouring Osama Bin Laden, this was only possible because of a previous lack of state capacity to enforce law and order (as is now unfolding in Somalia) -- not what one thinks is the problem with a Saddam-style repressive regime. But the fact that it takes a few sentences to explain this makes it an excellent line from the White House perspective.

Sometimes a match is just a match

We had hoped to keep all our World Cup postings to a single sentence each, a kind of adjustment for all the excess bloviating that the tournament is otherwise drawing. But we'll go into a longer post to acknowledge what is surely a once-off event -- our complete endorsement of this post from Powerline. In it, "Hindrocket" provides the valuable service of extensive excerpts from a WSJ article offering Henry Kissinger's insights on watching the World Cup. And thus providing the evidence that the whole phenomenon of relating soccer to geopolitics has officially hit bottom.

Dr. K's insights are the kind of hackneyed cultural determinism that were getting John Motson laughed at 10 years ago -- it's not quite the "Teutonic efficiency/Latin flair" drivel but it's pretty close:

The traditional English style focuses on winning through athleticism -- kicking the ball deep and long and then outrunning the opponent, with defenders and attackers well-defined. With the European style, six players typically move forward and pass skillfully and four players remain back ... His favorite is the Latin approach, which is about style as much as substance ... Dr. Kissinger worries that globalization is "brutalizing" the Brazilians, who have lost some of their Latin panache

Now of course the World Cup is a tournament of nations, so aspects of the teams -- but moreso their supporters -- will reflect national characteristics, and so provide grist for the mill for The New Republic's Goal Post blog. But as Powerline's "Deacon" then adds to the post, this has nothing to do with what happens on the field:

In my view, the identity of a national team's coach (and how he perceives the stengths and weaknesses of his players) has more to do with how a team plays than the country's culture does. There have been World Cups (though admittedly not many) when Brazil has played cynically and Argentina has turned on the style, and World Cups when it's been the other way around. ... England often plays artistic football when Wayne Rooney is present and fit, but tends to revert to the long ball into the box when 6'7" Peter Crouch replaces him.

We can go on. Take for instance Argentina. If they win the World Cup, then it's going to be easy for the geo-footers to say that it's yet more evidence of a country showing that it has bounced back from the debt default and crisis of 2002 by doing things its own way. But if the economy was still in the tank, then they'd say that it's because sporting success is the only thing that the country has left.

Similarly, that supposed Latin flair of Brazil has been missing in action so far, and the usual cliche of African teams -- talented but technically deficient -- has been upended by Ghana who gave Italy a tough game and completely outclassed the supposed exemplars of the eastern European technical style, the Czechs. Playing their club football in England for Liverpool seems to have had no effect on Spain for Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia -- contrary to Dr. K's theory -- who had plenty to contribute to Spain's demolition of Ukraine last week.

Last but not least: instead of asserting some claim about belated proof for the efficacy of the Atkins diet, as someone surely will, for Argentina's dazzling futbol collectivo, how about just using the explanation of a good manager and a superbly talented and enthusiastic set of players?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

World Cup one liner

The Thug of the Tournament award has been clinched already: Daniele de Rossi -- and (stretching the one liner a bit), the referee (Jorge Larrionda) follows up with his own bid for worst referee of the tournament.

World Cup one liner

Actually, a question: Why, exactly, are the Czech fans whistling when Ghana have the ball?

Mortally offended

It's not clear what motive former Fianna Fail minister Maire Geoghegan-Quinn has for drawing attention to an article in Le Monde that no-one in Ireland would have seen otherwise. It's their overview of Charlie Haughey's life and near the end it says:

Citant Othello dans son discours d'adieu, "Charlie" affirme "avoir rendu quelque service à l'Etat". Mais le dernier hommage pourrait revenir à Moira Geoghegan-Quinn, ancien ministre de son cabinet, qui décrit ainsi celui qu'elle appelait "Sweetie" : "C'était un personnage entouré d'intrigues, de mystères et d'argent, mais protégé par son populisme, son intelligence et son sens opportun du bon mot."

The "Sweetie" appellation indicating that they mixed her up with Terry Keane, and thus in her view, carrying the implication that she was his mistress; it's possible that an earlier version of the text was more direct about this. Anyway, she claims to already be in touch with lawyers who perhaps will advise her that French libel law is not the jackpot that Irish libel law can be -- or indeed that her current sinecure with the European Union is. If she persists, one might wonder whether she likes the story being out there.

Friday, June 16, 2006

World Cup one liner

We'll give it to Ian Wright on the BBC: "If Brazil scored that goal they'd be saying it was the best ever."

World Cup blogging related quiz

What's wrong with this sequence from Goal Post, The New Republic's special purpose World Cup blog?

The Suez Canal conflict of 1963 was Great Britain’s last attempt to bring back the Empire by trying to forge a stronghold in the Arab countries. However as the history books show, the Brits were humiliated and sent packing (as where the French) ... And this helped usher in a new era of football violence. The massive celebrations that took place after England won the World Cup three years later in 1966 was not, as the papers suggested, a celebration of the beautiful game. It was the emasculated male population expressing a sense of relief that victory was once again

UPDATE: He finally got the word that Suez was in 1956.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

From Baghdad to Dublin

The White House has announced George Bush's nominee to be the new ambassador to Ireland. It's not even news that the nominee, Tom Foley, is a major Bush campaign donor (a "Ranger" in the 2004 cycle). But Ireland does do better than New Zealand, for example, which only got a steakhouse magnate, because Foley's connections run tighter than that. In particular, he was in charge of privatization operations in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority -- a job that is itself revealing of the then White House view that Iraq was a giant economics experiment, and not a country in dire need of security. Of course the obsession with flat taxes and privatization didn't last long, and Foley was soon back at his day job, venture capital. Unfortunately, Dublin will probably stick to the diplomatic route and not object to an ambassador with the taint of having been involved in the disastrous post-invasion period in Iraq.

UPDATE: One odd thing -- we can't find any formal announcement that the incumbent ambassador, James Kenny, has resigned. Kenny took over from Richard Egan, who has pesky tax problems to deal with. And [16 June] of the nomination of Foley has been sent to the Senate with still no public indication of Kenny's resignation.

Doing al-Zarqawi's bidding

Iran-Contra operative and general purpose Middle Eastern warmonger Michael Ledeen, in the National Review:

First [bad news for Iran] is the loss of one of [Iran's] terrorist stars, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the deus ex machina of the terror war against us in Iraq. Not only does that deprive the mullahs of a prime instrument for generating civil war — his constant incitement to the Sunnis to rise up against the Shiites was the cutting edge of their three-year program to turn major Iraqi ethnic and religious groups against one another — but it is a serious blow to recruitment throughout the terror network .... The quick Iranian deception, pretending they were pleased at the death of Zarqawi, shouldn’t fool anybody. They have lost a basic building block of the terror structure.

Actual documents seized from al-Zarqawi's network, as outlined by the US military:

The document, purporting to reflect al Qaeda policy and its cooperation with groups loyal to ousted President Saddam Hussein, also appear to show that the insurgency in Iraq was weakening. According to the summary, insurgents were being weakened by operations against them and by their failure to attract recruits. To give new impetus to the insurgency, they would have to change tactics, it added.

"The question remains, how to draw the Americans into fighting a war against Iran? … Hence, it is necessary first to exaggerate the Iranian danger and to convince America and the west in general, of the real danger coming from Iran," the translated document said.

Ledeen is doing a heck of a job in that regard.

Random Notes

1. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and former Viceroy of Iraq Paul Bremer carefully shifts the blame (WSJ, subs. req'd; alt. free link):

Finally, Shiite militia have contributed to the violence. This is a new phenomenon of the past two years -- during the 14 months I was in Iraq, the coalition confirmed fewer than 100 deaths attributable to sectarianism.

2. An anniversary that shouldn't be a big deal, but in Gitmo-world, it is:

In 1215, at Runnymede, an assembly of barons demanded that King John accede to a document setting out his duties and the rights and liberties of his subjects — the Magna Carta;

3. The new head of the US Marine Corps wasn't a big fan of letting the killing of four American security contractors in Fallujah determine military strategy towards the city -- which the politicians ordered flattened:

Lt. Gen. James Conway ... [disagreed] publicly with the administration. In September 2004, Conway said he and his fellow Marines objected to the initial order to invade Fallujah following the slaying of four U.S. contractors there.

Yet certain soi-disant "liberal" commentators declare that Kos's rather loose and off-the-cuff expression of disdain for the contractors ("screw them") is worse than Ann Coulter sliming the 9/11 widows. It's a strange country. [Kos responds to Kaus in the by-the-way note here]

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

He was against it before he was for it

We had planned on saying little about the death of Charles Haughey, RIP, but the obituary in the New York Times calls for clarification:

But as prime minister, unfazed by his anti-British reputation, he negotiated with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the future of Northern Ireland and supported the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which gave Dublin a consultative role in Ulster (sic).

Besides the clumsy phrasing that leaves the impression that he was directly involved in negotiating the Anglo-Irish Agreement, this is flat out wrong. Fianna Fail, in oppposition, opposed the agreement and since then have sought to downgrade its role as an, er, stepping stone, for the agreements that followed. This opposition to policies that they would later support when back in government also marked their economic policies. But it's bizarre that the NYT would get the Agreement position so wrong, when it's remembered by everyone who was paying attention at the time. Today's statements recall it (Irish Times, subs. req'd):

Current SDLP leader Mark Durkan said Mr Haughey was directly involved in incubating and cultivating the earliest prospects for a peace process.

"That is a something that has never been properly acknowledged by those who disparaged him for other things," he said.

Mr Durkan said Mr Haughey was a "landmark figure" in Irish political life over the last half century. "When he became taoiseach in 1979, he advocated a new British-Irish approach to the North's problems, and he took the founding steps to achieve this. Among his paradoxes was the fact that he then opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement when in opposition in 1985," he said.

An overall friendly statement, appropriate for the mourning period, that still gets the facts right.

UPDATE: Haughey's opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement is also noted in this Irish Times overview, which makes clear its role in the formation of the splinter Progressive Democrats.

Something to declare

The latest installment on the Irish government's tacit collusion with extraordinary rendition:

The Government is to reconsider introducing inspections on US military-related flights landing in Shannon after a US marine being held prisoner was transported through the airport without the necessary permission being obtained from the Irish authorities.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern told journalists the Government was "now going to engage with the US embassy with a view to strengthening the verification procedures and if that entails inspection so be it. We have an open mind in relation to that."
[Irish Election has his full statement]

The Irish Times story goes on to note Foreign Minister Ahern's description of the US failure to declare the imprisoned marine as an "administrative cock-up" -- the only alternative to admitting that the US is so used to transporting prisoners through Shannon that they couldn't be bothered seeking permission.

And of course the unanswered question: if this is what an observant cleaner was able to find purely by accident, who knows what was going on on the CIA flights that were doubtless more fussy about who got a look into the plane while it was on the ground? In fact the IT story also reports that the government has not even conceived of the possibility:

It has emerged the Government has no proper arrangements or protocols in place for the notification of incidents of concern by airport authorities relating to US military flights. In this case Shannon airport did not inform the Government or the Garda about the incident but raised the matter with the US embassy staff.

Presumably Air Force 1 will be exempt from the new inspections regimen, although there is no word whether it stopped there in either direction en route to Baghdad.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Flyover country

Iraq achieves the status of Louisiana.

UPDATE: Perhaps Bush chooses his assistants on their ability to make bigger fools of themselves than he can of himself.

Those were the days

When your friendly local pub would cash a 10,000 pounds cheque -- with a dodgy signature, no questions aksed (sic):

Mr [Frank] Dunlop said his signature was forged on a £10,000 cheque from Monarch in 1993 and he suspected that the late Liam Lawlor got the money as writing on it suggested it had been cashed in Cleary's Pub in Inchicore before being lodged in Ulster Bank, Lucan.

Bush over Baghdad

The jokes that write themselves, from the Wall Street Journal's account (subs. req;d):

Mr. Bush landed at ... a semi-deserted airstrip a good distance away from the main terminal of Baghdad International Airport Tuesday afternoon. He was immediately flown to the fortified Green Zone by helicopter, and then driven to the Republican Palace ... Mr. Bush had arrived in Baghdad after secretly leaving Camp David, where cabinet members and senior military commanders had gathered for what were billed as two days of talks about Iraq. After a working dinner with cabinet officials and aides like National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, the president excused himself at approximately 7:45 p.m. by saying that he was "losing altitude" and wanted to go to bed to read a bit before falling asleep, Mr. Bartlett said. The meeting adjourned around 8 p.m. but the president had by that point already quietly left for Andrews Air Force Base.

Mr. Bartlett declined to specify how the president snuck away without the other officials noticing his absence, but said that the helicopter Mr. Bush flew to Andrews was not the green and white helicopter normally used as Marine One.

"Our cabinet is not completely aware," he said. "They all expected him to show up at breakfast with the ambassador of Iraq."

Mr. Bartlett said the extraordinarily tight protective measures were necessary because of Iraq's tenuous security situation, which also meant that the option of having Mr. Bush stay overnight in Iraq was "never seriously considered."

Just Imports? No Exports?

If, as is an ingrained habit for George W. Bush, you're going to lie to the press corps, shouldn't the lie be simple?

June 12, 2006
President's Remarks to the Travel Pool After Meeting with Interagency Team on Iraq
Camp David

THE PRESIDENT: ... Listen, thank you all for coming today. And tomorrow is going to be a fascinating day, and I'm looking forward to having discussions with our counterparts via SVTS [secure video teleconference]. Thank you.

Why go to the trouble of specifying the technology that will be used for a meeting that he knew at the time was going to be face-to-face?

What they do best

When the Wall Street Journal tries to argue, as they do in a Tuesday editorial (subs. req'd; alt. free link), that the Pentagon wasn't running its own intelligence shop that selectively presented information about a supposed Saddam-al Qaeda linkage, they really need to do better than having their main substantive evidence being ... selective presentation:

Mr. [Doug] Feith's office did not freelance an "alternative analysis." Much of the work it did on the Iraq-al Qaeda connection was a response to a question for the record posed by the Senate Intelligence Committee itself. Nor did the Defense Department "assert" a "strong connection." Judging by leaked excerpts of the still highly classified work printed in the Weekly Standard, DOD merely provided the committee with a list of raw intelligence items on the topic.

Monday, June 12, 2006

He's a rabid anti-bellyite

Why is it that Andrew Sullivan is so eager to explain the utterances of Ann Coulter in terms of the idiosyncracies of Ann Coulter--

She's not a social or political commentator. She's a drag queen impersonating a fascist. I don't even begin to believe she actually believes this stuff. It's post-modern performance-art.

but those of Michael Moore as representing a political movement? --

What the Democrats need .... Purging the Michael Moore wing would help. Peter Beinart lays it all out here.

Phones and lasers

While we're not yet ready to embrace some of the weirder speculation about what really happened to al-Zarqawi, there's an interesting inconsistency relative to previous accounts of the activities of senior al Qaeda figures in this excerpt from a story in Sunday's New York Times:

The general [American command's chief spokesman, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell] gave no details, but accounts circulating in Baghdad in recent days, citing unnamed Iraqi officials, have said that Mr. Rahman [al-Zarqawi's adviser], apparently wary of using a cellphone because of American monitoring, relied on a Thuraya hand-held satellite telephone when calling Mr. Zarqawi. One of the features of satellite phones is that a caller usually has to be outside a car or building when he makes the calls, in order for the handset to have a direct line to the satellite.

Here's the problem: a key anecdote used by the White House to attack media reports of National Security Agency warrantless wiretaps, claiming that the reporting was alerting terrorists to NSA methods, was that Osama Bin Laden had stopped using his satellite phone in 1998 when the media reported on it. We've already noted that this account doesn't square with events in Afghanistan in 2001. Apparently the close links between al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda didn't include tips on avoiding surveillance. In fact, the vulnerability of Thuraya phones also surfaced in the early days of the invasion in 2003, when the US military used signals from the phones to guide weapons, a method that appears not to have been successful. But again, the persistence of the phone despite this apparently public knowledge of its downsides seems puzzling.

Speaking of targeting, one other minor issue. A film that we've mentioned before -- Clear and Present Danger -- once again stands out as getting the tech side of military operations completely right: sometimes Hollywood knows what it's doing. One sequence in the film features a laser guided missile attack on a summit of Colombian drug barons; since the attack is being mounted by clandestine US forces, it has to be made to look like a car bomb. The secret US ground forces establish a vantage point and shine a laser on a pick-up truck in front of the house, and coordinate the firing of the missile with a fighter plane miles away, out of eye and earshot. The plan works fine, except that Jack Ryan and his nemesis, reasoning from different evidence, figure out that it had to be a laser guided bomb. This puzzle about who provided the targeting is present in al-Zarqawi's case too:

[An] aerial drone appeared to have provided the geographic coordinates that were crucial to the bombing, and possibly the laser beam that guided the first bomb. General Caldwell said that the first bomb dropped by the F-16 pilot was a GBU-12 laser-guided bomb, and that it was guided to the target by a laser beam that was independently directed at the house.

The second bomb, which the general identified as a GBU-38, was guided to the target by pinpoint coordinates that the pilot had to program into his weapons system, and the generals said these coordinates came from an "overhead asset," apparently the drone.

The general said that the delay between the first and second bombs was 96 seconds, the time it took for the pilot to plug in the coordinates, and that the pilot's orders were to drop both bombs.

That vague first paragraph leaves open the possibility that it was a Clear and... style hit, with a ground team guiding the first bomb. But there's still the puzzle of why they would have needed coordinates for the second bomb when presumably they had a direct hit from the first one -- unless something happened to the beam. At this point, we emphasize, a loose end rather than something truly fishy.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A feet/inches mix-up?

BBC --
Robbie Williams has promised fans in Ireland a free show after a stunt at the first concert on the European leg of his world tour went wrong.
"I'll be back before the end of the year," Williams told the sell-out crowd at Dublin's Croke Park Stadium.

Williams was left suspended above the stage in a gondola-like construction when it failed to descend to the stage. He finally made his own way back down to wind up the gig, one of 14 European dates on his Close Encounters tour.

Spinal Tap --
David St. Hubbins: I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem *may* have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being *crushed* by a *dwarf*. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.

Ian Faith: I really think you're just making much too big a thing out of it.

Derek Smalls: Making a big thing out of it would have been a good idea.

All about his image

There's a telling insight into the mind of America's Pundit, Tim Russert, in an angry letter to the editor of the New York Times Sunday Magazine from him today. Russert complains about the short interview segment with him that appeared in the mag a few weeks ago; we noted at the time his claim that, in effect, he doesn't ask tough questions on his Sunday talk show because it would make his guests seem sympathetic. Russert's complaint however concerns the sense from the interview that he has an obsession with the contribution of fathers at the expense of mothers -- a conclusion that one might draw from the scoring of number of books he has written about the two: Fathers 2 -- Mothers 0.

Russert claims that the interview was condensed to create this impression, and manages to sound aggrieved:

I told her [interviewer] how my mom would wake me with a soft "Tim, Tim." To me this proved you could be heard without yelling, something I hope is reflected each Sunday on "Meet the Press." ... My mom was a central figure in my life. This was my first Mother's Day without her. Your writer's deliberate mischaracterization of our conversation and her feeble attempt at humor made it a particularly painful day.

Two things to note. First, the plug for his show, yet another installment in his repeated use of his (Irish-American) family heritage as a badge of his street-cred for his elite lifestyle. Second, the claim that mean words from the NYT could cause all this hurt, while thousands of families in the US, the UK, and Iraq deal with the consequences of a war that was most heavily promoted on Meet the Press. Just one example:

Sunday, September 8, 2002

MR. RUSSERT: What, specifically, has he obtained that you believe would enhance his [Saddam's] nuclear development program?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, in the nuclear weapons arena, you’ve got sort of three key elements that you need to acquire. You need the technical expertise ... Secondly, you need a weapons design ... The third thing you need is fissile material, weapons-grade material ... And what we’ve seen recently that has raised our level of concern to the current state of unrest, if you will, if I can put it in those terms, is that he now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium to make the bombs.

MR. RUSSERT: Aluminum tubes.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Specifically aluminum tubes. There’s a story in The New York Times this morning-this is-I don’t-and I want to attribute The Times ...

Russert specifically tosses Cheney the aluminum tubes story that Cheney's office had likely leaked to the NYT in the first place. Russert has never expressed anything like the anguish for being being a platform for war-mongering that he claims to feel from the segment not about his mother.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Expert analysis

The first Fox News analysis of the Guantanamo suicides in the 5pm eastern time slot was provided by ... Bill O'Reilly. Typical sentence: "the hunger strikes are kinda bogus."

UPDATE: To be fair, O'Reilly's buffoonery is no worse than the disgraceful Pentagon propaganda account of what happened:

[Navy Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo] Harris said the joint suicides were clearly planned by the detainees as a way to advance their cause in the war on terror.

The logic here being identical to the medieval detection of witches through walking across hot coals.

World Cup one liner

It crossed the line.

Thank God Rudy was Mayor

Another insight from Rudy Giuliani on his thinking on 9/11; the Wall Street Journal has a Saturday column where a personality does a book selection and Rudy kicks off with:

1. "Churchill: A Study in Greatness" by Geoffrey Best (Hambledon & London, 2001).

On the night after the attacks of Sept. 11, I remember getting home at about 2:30 a.m. and seeing on my nightstand a book I had been reading, a prepublication copy of Roy Jenkins's forthcoming "Churchill." I picked up this biography of a man who embodied every leadership principle I value--courage, optimism, preparation and a determination to stand up to bullies--and began reading about Churchill's becoming prime minister in 1940.

With the chaos still in full swing, Rudy read a book? And of course when he was reading about Churchill, in his mind, he was reading about himself.

Friday, June 09, 2006

World Cup one liner

The ball is juiced.

Farm to victory

At a White House briefing today to explain the exact purpose behind George Bush spending two working days at the Camp David retreat next week having spent the whole weekend from lunchtime today there as well, which will include a teleconference between the American and Iraqi cabinets:

A couple other examples to flesh that out a little bit: for example, the Department of Agriculture will be able to provide input and advice [to Iraq] on crop rotation conservation; the Energy Department can advise on pipeline safety, electricity grid integrity, and of course, oil development; and then the Commerce Department can help advise on fostering small businesses. There is a clear and evident entrepreneurial spirit in Iraq. And so those are just a few examples of what will be brought to bear out of Camp David.

Those with suspicious minds may also be interested in the small list of people who got presidential phone calls upon the news about al-Zarqawi's death:

MS. PERINO: Two. There's Olmert -- hold on, I have that. One moment, just give me a second. The President spoke to King Abdullah of Jordan yesterday, and they discussed the removal of al Zarqawi and noted the significance of it. They also discussed the regional political and security issues. And the second call, in addition to the ones you mentioned, is Prime Minister Olmert. The Prime Minister congratulated the President on the removal of Zarqawi and noted that he understands such achievements are not easy, and that it was difficult and complex.

[For regular deconstruction of the briefings, visit First Draft]


We expect to quickly regret yesterday's post of almost-praise for the White House's measured approach to the killing of al-Zarqawi. One early sign that the strategery was still at work was Bush's sudden dropping into a distracted news cycle of his decision to postpone a trip to Kiev later this month and replace it with a trip to Budapest. Ukraine had been a pet cause of the right a couple of Christmasses ago, and the trip was clearly intended to irritate Pootie-poot with the spectacle of Bush making nice with Russia's "near-abroad."

But someone (Condi?) decided that a little photo-op freedom talk was a safer bet than actual waving of a salmon-coloured flag right in front of the Russian bear -- so Budapest suddenly worked its way onto the agenda. Bush can give a speech that dodges around the question of what he would have done differently in 1956, and for the travelling press corps the food is better in Budapest anyway. And all this was decided very recently, as the Wall Street Journal (subs. maybe req'd) explains:

The White House decision that President Bush will visit Hungary later this month, instead of Ukraine, disrupts top Treasury international official Tim Adams’s travels. After this weekend’s meeting of G-8 finance ministers in St. Petersburg, Adams had been planning to stop in Hungary and Estonia. But the U.S. Embassy in Budapest is overwhelmed by the surprise announcement of a June 22 presidential visit and suggests Adams, the Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs and a former Bush campaign aide, stop somewhere else on the way back to Washington. So Adams and aides scramble to adjust their itinerary. One possibility under discussion is Turkey, a strategically important country prone to financial crises.

Note by the way that despite the supposed hype that the incoming Treasury Secretary will have more policy weight than the outgoing one, the department still gets told to take a hike when the schedule gets too crowded.

UPDATE: On a related note, the WSJ blog notes one of Snow's going-away gifts:

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown gives Snow, an avid golfer and avid free marketer, a five-pound note with a picture of Jack Nicklaus on it and a copy of Adam Smith’s will.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Among the more surprising things about the events so far is the, dare we say it, "grown-up" approach of the White House to the demise of the sectarian killer: a good 12 hours taken to confirm the death, a cautious statement from Bush that most Americans (asleep or frazzled as they get to work) will not have seen live, and the Iraqi PM getting to make the announcement first. While there'll be concerns about excessive focus on high-profile targets, other episodes of mass killing have shown the power of rhetoric to incite it, and of course al-Zarqawi was not just an ideologue but a practitioner of murder.

UPDATE: While being aware of the possibility of coincidences, it's interesting that the Wall Street Journal article to which we linked the other day had noted that Younis Tsouli -- arrested in England -- was closely tied to al-Zarqawi. A sudden burst of high quality intelligence about his group's operations?

Also, he gets an obit in the Times (UK). The related obit in the Telegraph prompts some thoughts on the practice from Chris at Crooked Timber.

FINAL UPDATE: Just to close one loop on this post, Tsouli has now pleaded guilty to incitement of terrorist acts.

World Cup 2006

There's little to add to the saturation commentary already available for the tournament so just a few quick bits of business. First, the eagerly awaited BOBW prediction: to depart a bit from the pack and make things interesting, we're predicting a win for Argentina. Second, what in God's name were France doing playing a full-team friendly two days before the tournament starts? Djibril Cisse had seemed to be in good form in the run into the Cup, not least going by his spectacularly skillful goal for Liverpool in the FA Cup final. Now with a bit of luck he might have recovered from his broken leg in last night's friendly with China in time for the Community Shield (or whatever it's called now) in August.

Third, if you, like us, are enjoying the wave of hype as the big day approaches, remember that there's going to be an early let-down because there will be some real stinkers of matches in the group stages. God bless anyone planning on watching all 64 matches, because, for example, Iran vs Angola is going to be real test of their fortitude. Finally, and this is not a bold prediction, get ready for some weeping on the streets of a major European capital at the end of the group stages, because it's virtually inevitable that at least one heavily fancied team is going to get knocked out early on. For the (unwilling) neutral observer, it'll be fascinating to watch.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The inflight magazine route map

The airline being the CIA. The map comes from the Council of Europe, which has documented overwhelming circumstantial evidence that many European countries have participated in the CIA's rendition programme. For Ireland, the participation is passive, a deliberate choice not to ask what's going on with certain flights, and an argument that's either naive or disengenuous: Condi says that there's nothing funny going on, and that's good enough for us. As we've said before, since George Bush has clearly granted himself a right to lie to his own citizens when he deems national security to be at stake, it's quite clear that Dermot Ahern cannot possibly be expected to be told the truth.

Essence of warblogging


[If you must, the link]

Libel/Contempt Avoidance

Readers of The Times (UK) may want to take note that the story in Wednesday's paper describing the central role of a Britain-based Internet-intensive Islamist activist in recent terrorism investigations, while drawing on a related Wall Street Journal story (subs. req'd), does not include the WSJ's information about the actual and screen names he used on various websites: Younis Tsouli, Irhabi 007. His name was known from his arrest last October, but the two media organisations are taking very different approaches to explicitly linking his activities to the recent spate of arrests.

[previous entry in this series]

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

They know where you live

Today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) has a nice analysis of the factors that lie behind Wal-Mart's troubled entry to the UK supermarket business. They took over Asda a few years ago but, to cut a long story short, the long-time incumbent Tesco has run rings around them and is now planning a limited entry to the US market. While various things explain Tesco's success, one of the most important seems to be the unusually high coverage and scope for data-mining of its loyalty card, the Clubcard.

It has 12 million members and the card is used by 80 percent of customers. Up to 20 percent of coupons distributed to members are redeemed -- 10 times higher than the usual store coupon redemption rate, and 95 percent of cash-back vouchers are used. With so many purchases recorded and an apparently reliable set of addresses behind it, the company has been able to do vast amounts of background research and manage store placement and strategy accordingly. One example:

Clubcard records showed shoppers at a small store in the town of Slough weren't buying full meals. Many people in the town have South Asian or Arab roots.

Tesco decided to replace the store with a supercenter. Focus groups confirmed that people in Slough were buying some products at Tesco but turning to smaller markets for many staples -- large stacks of rice, big canisters of cooking oil and Asian brands. Many criticized the small plastic packages of herbs at Tesco and said they wanted loose bunches that they could touch and smell.

When the new Slough store opened in August 2005, it offered more than 800 foreign products, up from 150 in the previous store. It has a large halal butcher shop, the latest movies from India, newspapers in Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi and Bengali, and a jewelry counter with bangles in yellow 22-karat gold popular in India. The shopping carts are lower and flatter to fit big sacks of rice and flour.

Tesco wanted to know if the strategy was working, so it turned to Dunnhumby [their research firm]. The analysis found that 36% of Slough shoppers were buying goods from the World Foods line. That figure roughly matched the proportion of Slough's nonwhite population.

Dunnhumby then checked addresses of World Foods buyers against government census data that identify immigrant neighborhoods. It turned out that more than a quarter of the World Foods customers were coming from largely white neighborhoods. By examining the shopping baskets of these customers, Dunnhumby concluded that upscale white shoppers with an interest in non-European food were responsible for some of the success of the World Food line.

In the following days, executives huddled over big maps showing Britain's ethnic makeup. They outlined a plan to roll out the World Foods line to 300 stores in immigrant areas as well as to 25 stores in mostly white parts of the country.

A few weeks later, Tesco stores in places like Holland Park, a leafy part of west London, and Bar Hill, an affluent town near Cambridge, were stocking fragrant herbs and frozen samosas. Tesco says the Bar Hill store is selling World Foods better than any of its other stores.

What's noteworthy is not the general idea -- white people want their Asian herbs too -- but the combination of their vast proprietary dataset with government data to guide business decisions. We can't resist this example either:

Shoppers who buy diapers for the first time at a Tesco store can expect to receive coupons by mail for baby wipes, toys -- and beer. Tesco's analysis showed that new fathers tend to buy more beer because they are home with the baby and can't go to the pub.

Finally, there may be a deeper message about the UK being the right "size" of market for a company like Tesco: small enough that it's feasible to have a national database with some basic common structures across households, but big enough to have lots of interesting variation that the data miners can exploit. Which incidentally means that the supposed advantages of George Bush's database of most phone usage in America are likely exaggerated, since it lacks all the other information and has none of the structure that Tesco's database has.

The mystery man

The Wall Street Journal is upset that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is a careful newspaper reader. As part of making the case that Dick Cheney's chief of staff was spinning like a top and leaking like a sieve in July 2003 about the supposed validity of the Iraq WMD intelligence, Fitzgerald notes that the Journal had peculiarly good sources for an editorial quoting directly from the then current National Intelligence Estimate:

So imagine our surprise when Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald declared his intention last month to use that editorial as part of his perjury and obstruction case against former Vice Presidential aide Scooter Libby, who had also questioned Mr. Wilson's claims. It suggests that his case is a lot weaker than his media spin.

Mr. Libby wasn't a source for our editorial, which quoted from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate concerning the Africa-uranium issue. But Mr. Fitzgerald alleges in a court filing that Mr. Libby played a role in our getting the information, which in turn shows that "notwithstanding other pressing government business, [Libby] was heavily focused on shaping media coverage of the controversy concerning Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium from Niger."

The prosecutor comes close here to suggesting that senior government officials have no right to fight back against critics who make false allegations. To the extent our editorial is germane to this trial, in fact, it's because it puts Mr. Libby's actions into a broadly defensible context that Mr. Fitzgerald refuses to acknowledge.

Well then -- unless they're suggesting that government officials have a specific right to anonymous spinning and leaking, why not tell us who their source actually was?

Don't mention his war

When Christopher Hitchens writes, in Slate:

I, for one, will not have them [the Viet Cong] insulted by any comparison to the forces of Zarqawi, the Fedayeen Saddam, and the criminal underworld now arrayed against us.

could it be that the insult is most keenly felt not in Hanoi, but by Christopher Hitchens?

The Troubles

While we try and overcome our dearth of new material -- and having rejected one proposal from sources close to the blog that we veer into celebrity blogging from an Irish perspective -- we point those of you with audio capability to an interesting episode of BBC Radio 4's 90 part history of the British Empire. Yesterday's episode [link good rest of this week only] was devoted to Irish Home Rule in the early 20th century.

While the basic facts are of course well known, the programme had 2 noteworthy points of emphasis. First, the Curragh Mutiny, the obvious counterpoint for anyone who thinks that there was a peaceful glide path to Home Rule in the absence of the Easter Rising. Second, some quotes from Lenin at the end to show how he saw the Rising as a premature example of a working class uprising -- a reference to the participation of James Connolly and Irish socialists in the Rising.

There's also a line in the narrative that goes something like "The Irish Troubles didn't begin in 1969 ... more like 1169" -- a line sure to gladden the people at 1169 and counting.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

They just won't say it

The Wall Street Journal had already elevated the demand for a top job for Ahmad Chalabi to a monthly feature, and now it seems that skating over the Shah's disastrous rule of Iran is headed the same way. Saturday's paper has an interview (subs. req'd; alt. free link) with the Shah's son -- who seems more reasonable than his interviewer Nancy De Wolf Smith, who writes:

Mr. Pahlavi should know, and not only because he is the son of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who for a time made Iran the linchpin of Middle Eastern stability and set his country on a course toward modernity and prosperity.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Briefly noted

Yes, we're a bit short of material in the last few days. But here from today's New York Times is an interesting article about French migration to Ireland [we noted that French TV had covered this a few weeks ago]. We think the food is a bit better than this line merits:

And the food is basically what the Michelin restaurant guide might consider a form of boiled stew

but the experiences speak for themselves. The placement in the overall context of EU population flows is interesting too.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

He's only lived there for 6 years

The Connecticut-born, Andover, Yale and Harvard-educated George W. Bush today, in Washington:

I want to thank Chertoff for his service to our country. Excuse me -- Secretary Chertoff. Sometimes if you're from West Texas, you get a little familiar. (Laughter.) Still adjusting to the protocols here in Washington. (Laughter.)