Saturday, September 30, 2006

Not on the same page

One dilemma for the Washington Post with the latest Bob Woodward book -- besides being scooped by other papers on their own reporter's story -- is present in the silence of former Bush speechwriter Mike Gerson, a key figure in several anecdotes:

Card, Hadley, Gerson and the first lady's office declined to comment or did not return telephone calls.

If Gerson doesn't address the allegations, or denies them, perhaps the Post could ask him to go into more detail when he becomes their twice-a-week op-ed writer next year.

7-7 changed everything

Maureen Dowd finds an anecdote in Bob Woodward's State of Denial:

W. [Bush] and Karl Rove "shared an array of fart jokes," Mr. Woodward writes. A White House aide put a toy that made a flatulence sound under Karl’s chair for a morning meeting on July 7, 2005. When officials learned of the terrorist attacks in London that day, the prank was postponed. But several weeks later, "the device was placed under Rove’s chair and activated during the senior staff meeting. Everyone laughed."

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday quiz

Is the following quote from (a) Borat or (b) the President of Kazakhstan?

And nobody in Central Asia will feel safe and peace if we'd be surrounded by countries populated with terrorist people, and if we'd be surrounded by countries where some people crave to put their hands on the nuclear weapons, which Kazakhstan renounced in the past voluntarily, and thus contributed significantly to global security.

Answer here.

Yes Minister

Given the focus on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's activities as Minister for Finance in the early 1990s, it's worth looking back at one well-documented episode from this period: the devaluation of the (Irish) pound in 1993. The potential for a devaluation had been brewing since the sterling crisis in 1992. Bertie and the central bank had strenuously resisted devaluation pressures that followed from Black Wednesday, and by the end of 1992 they seemed to have seen off the crisis. This central bank article takes up the story:

Exchange controls were terminated on schedule at the beginning of January 1993 and there was relief that no immediate outflows ensued. Pressure, however, emerged from a different source. The Financial Times, on 6 January 1993, interpreted a statement attributed to the Minister for Finance (i.e. Bertie), to the effect that:

"I said I was prepared to hold the line until the end of the year. That has now passed. If the system does not correct itself . . . the pressures on industry are something that cannot be lived with indefinitely"

as an indication that the defence of the Irish pound might soon be abandoned. This unleashed a wave of speculation and over the following days there were substantial outflows. When sterling weakened later in the month, following an unexpected cut in UK official interest rates, the pressure became unsustainable. The Irish authorities reluctantly decided on a downward realignment of 10 per cent in the Irish pound’s bilateral central rates against other ERM currencies on 30 January.

There was a second Exchange Rate Mechanism crisis in August 1993, but this was dealt with by widening the bands rather than explicit devaluations, and so had fewer direct implications for the pound.

Anyway, the point of all this is not to recall the glorious period when Private Eye awarded its coveted Bore of the Year to the ERM of the EMS for 2 straight years, but to observe that 1993 was a, shall we say, exciting, time to engage in a little currency speculation (punt sterling and punt-deutschemark would have been particularly attractive) and certainly hearing a few words from the man at the steering wheel during this period was a valuable proposition.

UPDATE 4 DECEMBER: Just for future reference, and possibly unrelated to the above, this Financial Times article from 2nd December says --

JP McManus, a former bookmaker, reportedly made his first million betting on the Irish pound leaving the European Exchange Rate Mechanism

It doesn't specify which departure.

FINAL UPDATE 3 MAY 2007: A snippet from the Irish election campaign trail with Bertie (Irish Times, subs. req'd) --

In the face of one [question], which probed his relationship with NCB Stockbroking executive Padraic O'Connor, Mr Ahern refused to answer and remained silent for a number of seconds.

O'Connor (bio) was an adviser to Bertie during the exchange rate crises.*

[reference]* Mr Ahern said he had regular contact with Mr O'Connor in 1993 as he was providing advice to him in his role as minister for finance.

ONE MORE UPDATE SEP 26 2007: Here's an interesting Dail exchange which concerns Bertie's allegedly passive attitude to the punt devaluation and here's a description of the economic environment right before the devaluation.

FINAL UPDATE 29 NOVEMBER 2007: The O'Connor-Ahern link is now very much in the news with O'Connor's mysterious 5000 pound donation to Bertie; O'Connor says it was to his constituency operation but Bertie and Des Richardson say that it was part of Bertie's personal "dig-out". Here's a Sunday Business Post article from about the same time as we wrote this post exploring the conflict-of-interest problem that Bertie had in his dealings with O'Connor.

HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE 1 FEB 2010: The Irish Times goes down memory lane, given the anniversary. Note that Bertie knew for a full week prior to devaluation that it was coming.

Beltway currency

From today's Wall Street Journal politics blog --

House Government Reform Committee finds 500 contacts between members of since-disgraced lobbyist Abramoff’s team and Bush aides over three years. An email shows one offering White House strategist Ken Mehlman, now national Republican chairman, two tickets to a sold-out U2 concert.

The administration has distanced Bush from Abramoff. But the report documents instances in which White House officials may have helped him. In another email, lobbying partner Tony Rudy tells Abramoff that “Mehlman said he would ‘take care of’ ” a funding request. An RNC spokeswoman called it “not unusual” for Mehlman to talk to supporters interested in policy while working at the White House.

UPDATE: Mehlman at U2 was one rock star seeing others, apparently.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sources and methods

We had meant to do this post ages ago and then the subject seemed to lapse, but it's now back again: the White House loves to quote extensively from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in justifying their policies, but this is not the earliest vintage of terrorism that they cite favourably, although they may not know it. That honour belongs to the IRA.

Consider this line from a George Bush fundraiser in Alabama today; the line was repeated by Bush surrogates in the House of Representatives so it's clearly been distributed on the talking points as well:

We have to be right 100 percent of the time, and the enemy only has to be right once.

This usage and its variants came into currency after the Brighton Bomb of 1984:

The blast tore apart the Brighton Grand Hotel where members of the Cabinet have been staying for the Conservative party conference. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Dennis narrowly escaped injury. The IRA has issued a statement claiming it had placed a 100lb bomb in the hotel.

The statement read: "Today we were unlucky, but remember, we only have to be lucky once; you will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no war."

Incidentally, despite the potential seriousness of the Brighton bomb as a direct attack on the state, the UK did not see the need to weaken habeas corpus or the definition of torture, as Bush and Congress are now doing.

UPDATE: Relevant comments from Lord Falconer in an interview with the Washington Post, noting that by the 1980s, the UK had learned lessons from the 1970s approach to the IRA.

A Lord Lucan move

One reason for concern about Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's claim that no one at a Manchester event 12 years ago was interested in his capacity as then Minister for Finance is that the transaction -- a suspiciously large payment for a very simple speaking event -- on its face resembles an old Liam Lawlor trick, in which publicly available information was stapled together and presented for payment under a "consulting" contract, the remuneration in fact being a bribe.

The real victim

Powerline's "Hindrocket" --

I'd never heard the word "macaca" before it was used against Senator George Allen ...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Artistic licence

One thing to keep in mind as furious right-wingers embrace the latest distraction from Iraq, the cancelled Mozart opera in Germany. The controversial heads-of-the-gods scene, Mohammad's head included, does not appear in the original Mozart version --

The production of Idomeneo by Hans Neuenfels was only mildly controversial when it was first performed in 2003. The plot of the opera, first performed in 1781, centres on Idomeneo, the King of Crete, who is saved by Poseidon from dying in a storm. To repay the god of the sea, the King is obliged to sacrifice the first person that he sees on reaching safety. This turns out to be his son.

The opera, with the usual entanglements of love and jealousy, shows how the King tries to escape from his debt to Poseidon. In the end his sacrifice entails handing power to his son and the woman he loves. The epilogue, as conceived by Neuenfels, has the King coming onstage with a bag of cut-off heads. With great care he props them on chairs. The message is clear: the gods are dead and humans have to take over their own destiny.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong notes the addition, among other criticisms of a Peter Beinart article.

Small government

As the Republic of Ireland inches closer to a general election, it's as good a time as any for a (useless) reminder that other small countries don't see the need for as big a political class as Ireland has. Consider the opening of this Financial Times article which is mostly about financial markets in New Zealand:

In a country as small as New Zealand, it is no surprise that government ministers sometimes double up on their jobs.

Nevertheless, Michael Cullen takes multi-tasking to extremes. In addition to being finance minister, he is deputy prime minister, leader of the House of Representatives, attorney-general and minister for tertiary education.

Contemplate the Irish attitude that if you stick around long enough in Fianna Fail, there's an apparent entitlement to rotate through every Cabinet position in sequence. There is an alternative.

Moving the goalposts

As good an example as any of the conflation of very different causes under the Islamist rubric occurs in a Wall Street Journal editorial today, praising George W. Bush for selective declassification of the National Intelligence Estimate, which they interpret as a victory for their stance the previous day against selective disclosure of classified information. Anyway --

On balance, we have supported that policy, just as we have supported a more robust, pro-active policy against Islamic terror since its emergence more than three decades ago at the Munich Olympics.

One wonders if part of the appeal of the Munich reference is the echo of 1930s Germany.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The flypaper zombie

In a remark likely to embarrass even its intended beneficiaries, the Wall Street Journal politics blog reports --

... the Bush administration got a political boost from Iraq’s president. In an interview on the PBS show The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he disagreed with the [National Intelligence Estimate] report’s contention that the Iraq war had worsened the global terrorist threat. "I think the invasion of Iraq reduced the danger of terrorism on the United States of America because all terrorist groups are now concentrating on Iraq," he said.

Thus, the flypaper theory is back, and as usual left unsaid is any discussion of when the Iraqi people volunteered to get caught in the crossfire. Note also that Talabani is Kurdish, so his sense of how Iraq gains from being a shooting gallery might be a bit warped.

UPDATE: Flypaper may be all that's left of the Iraq war rationale, given the now declassified findings of the National Intelligence Estimate --

The Iraq conflict has become the "cause célèbre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.

Meaning that the only hope of success is to attract all these people to Iraq.

FINAL UPDATE: Right on cue, the flypaper enthusiast James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal wheels it out in connection with the killing by British troops of Bagram escapee Omar al-Farouq (who was hiding in Basra, not participating in the insurgency):

we know the argument is that if Saddam Hussein hadn't been toppled, Faruq wouldn't have been in Iraq. That is, he wouldn't have been in Iraq where allied troops could kill him.

But wasn't the accusation against Saddam that terrorists were taking refuge there while he still ruled?

Monday, September 25, 2006

With the pint in one hand and ...

We know Darren Clarke is the toast of Ireland at the moment, and maybe we're just getting old, but there's something not quite right about this being the image of a celebrating Irishman in the modern era.

UPDATE: Simon Barnes in Tuesday's Times (UK) has excellent related thoughts, particularly regarding the double-standard vis-a-vis drinking in golf versus other sports.

The gaze to the middle distance

Today's Washington Post has what is likely a carefully leaked pre-election story about the inner George Bush, the one who is allegedly troubled by the death toll in Iraq --

Bush deals with [war] stress through vigorous exercise, working out six days a week. When he goes for long bicycle rides, he often invites others to join him, but he asks them not to ride in front of him so he can have the illusion of solitude. "Riding helps clear my head, helps me deal with the stresses of the job," he told reporters last month after an 80-minute ride.

Would this be the same type of bike ride where he yells out "Air Assault!"?

Fruit of the poison tree

Adding to the questions about what exactly the purpose of the Guantanamo Bay "trials" will be, this quote:

"I think what we have here is an orange. What we're doing is squeezing out the juice and what we're left with at the end of the day is pulp that will just stay here," said Navy Capt. Phil Waddingham, lead officer here for the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants.

"We have dangerous men here who should not be allowed back to the battlefield," he said.

Not his day

On the day after presenting the Ryder Cup, a few glitches for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the midst of questions about mysterious payments to him 13 years ago when he was Minister for Finance:

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has indicated that he does not intend to make any statement today on the controversy over personal donations to him 13 years ago.

He was speaking to journalists at an event at Dublin Zoo. Later the Taoiseach's appearance at a function at Griffith College in Dublin was briefly delayed when he and his entourage were stuck in a lift for around five minutes. The engagement is now going ahead.

Actually, Bertie's itinerary of the last 24 hours does make one wonder what proportion activities such as openings, presentations, and "engagements" account for in his day.

UPDATE: Tuesday's Irish Times shows Bertie emerging from the lift.

Friday, September 22, 2006

What were they thinking?

We had thought about doing some snarky comment wondering what in God's name Mary McAleese is wearing in this photo from the Ryder Cup opening ceremony (something to make the Protestants feel less overwhelmed by green?) but it seemed too easy, especially as women in public life are often an easy target for sartorial criticism .... but then along comes this photo of George H.W. Bush at the matches today -- doing a heckuva job of erasing the association betweem Bertie Ahern and yellow trousers.

Mysterious remark of the day

Continuing this theme, what did George Bush mean by the following in his photo-op Q&A with President Musharraf today?

PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: I think, as the President said, we are on the hunt together against these people. Now why are we bothering or how to -- the semantics of the tactics of how to deal with the situation? We will deal with it. We are on the hunt together. You want the person -- if at all we confront him [Osama bin Laden], if at all we find out his location, we are quite clear what to do.

But let's not get involved in how it ought to be done, by whom it ought to be done. There's total coordination at the intelligence level between the two forces, there's coordination at the operational level, at the strategic level, even at the tactical level. So, therefore, we are working together, and when the situation arises, we need to pick the right decision to strike. That's how I --

PRESIDENT BUSH: You probably don't want to let them know what we're thinking about anyway, do we?

Thinking about what now?

Historians may also want to note that this must be the 1st news conference where a head of state declined to answer a question because of a book deal embargo:

PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF: I would like to -- I am launching my book on the 25th, and I am honor-bound to Simon and Schuster not to comment on the book before that day. (Laughter.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ryder Cup

It wouldn't be Ireland if there wasn't a dance performance in the opening ceremony. Although it looks like Spinal Tap's Stonehenge was the model for this part. Which still makes more sense than this.

UPDATE: The BBC's man in Straffan is amusingly mystified.

Stop us before we render again

To normal people, the case of Maher Arar, a dual Canadian-Syrian citizen detained in transit at JFK and "rendered" to Syria for interrogation is a case study in what's wrong with the war on terror: Arar was completely innocent of any links to terrorism, received no due process before being moved to Syria, and was tortured when he got there. But the Wall Street Journal editorial page (subs. req'd) sees a different lesson:

the temptation to get vital information by "rendering" such suspects for interrogation by governments that have little respect for human rights will only increase if the CIA's own al Qaeda interrogation program is shut down. This may make some in Congress feel better about themselves, but it won't do much for the "rights" of those interrogated.

That is, by their chosen analogy, if the CIA isn't allowed torture innocent people, other countries will have to be found to do the job.

UPDATE 22 SEP: Since we're on the topic of Arar, one of the insidious aspects of the case is the eagerness with which Canadian authorities sent him to his fate. Consider then the seemingly unrelated case of Gavin Tollman, who has been carefully staying out of US jurisdiction since being indicted on tax evasion charges. However, US prosecutors got word, it's not clear how, that he was doing a stopover in Toronto en route to Bermuda and had him arrested there and detained in a high security prison. The idea was to pressure him into waiving a formal extradition hearing so that he could "consent" to a handover at Niagara Falls.

However Tollman got a lawyer, who got a judge to throw out the extradition request owing to the subterfuge. The judge therefore joins Governor George Pataki of New York in rebelling at the overreach of these extradition requests -- although it's still fine with Tony Blair. One little detail from the Times (UK) story is that the setup was arranged by US Department of Homeland Security Officials in Ottawa; presumably alleged white collar criminals are now seen as a security threat. The story is also consistent with US Attorney General Al Gonzales' hasty backtracking on his denials about the Arar case by claiming that such cases would now be handled by DHS.

Hugo versus the Devil

What will go down as one of the classic moments in UN speeches (a category with not many classic moments) occurs at the 1min 50sec point in this UN video of Hugo Chavez's General Assembly speech, in which he makes the sign of the cross having just referred to the Devil, George Bush, being in the spot where he was standing the day before. In a post-speech news conference, he repeatedly referred to Bush as Senor Sulphur (Señor Azufre).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ryder Cup

Ireland hit by blustery rain shock.

Not sounding like they care

A busy day in Manhattan for the White House transcribers:

President Bush Meets with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority
Waldorf Astoria
New York, New York

PRESIDENT BUSH: Mr. President, thank you for coming. ... So, welcome to Washington, D.C. [sic] I think this is our fifth visit. Every time, I've left our visits inspired by your vision.


Press Briefing by Elliott Abrams on the President's Bilateral Meeting with President Abbas ...

MR. ABRAMS: Unchanged. That is, the Palestinian cabinet under Prime Minister Hamas [sic] is under the control, as we see it, of Hamas, a terrorist organization.

If you can't trust an Iranian crook, who can you trust?

In the course of outlining decades of Iranian duplicity vis-a-vis the West, Michael Rubin (who we last noted here) includes this comical example in his Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) article today:

While the Iran-Contra Affair is remembered today for the Reagan administration's attempts to circumvent Congressional prohibition of funding of the Nicaraguan resistance, it also illustrates the inadvisability of trusting Tehran. President Reagan sought to win the release of American hostages in Lebanon but, as soon as Washington compensated Tehran for its bad behavior, its militias accelerated hostage seizure. Diplomatic enticement -- bribery by another name -- backfired. But diplomacy is not just about incentives; it is also about trust. What could have been just a failed initiative turned to scandal when, on the seventh anniversary of the embassy seizure, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, today the chairman of the Expediency Council, broke a pledge of secrecy and revealed the meetings to the international press.

It's so unfair -- the White House was illegally shipping weapons to Iran in return for hostages, and the Iranians went and told the world about it! Anyway, it's a small world because that same Rafsanjani was the favourite to win the Iranian Presidential election last year, until a White House call for a boycott backfired and put Ahmadinejad in the job instead. While this might be interpreted as some far-seeing revenge for 1986, it's more likely the case that the neocon obsession with Iran has given them a knack for always winding up dealing with the wrong guy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

September surprise

The White House has announced that Presidents Karzai of Afghanistan and Musharraf of Pakistan, previously scheduled to visit the White House on different days later this month, will now jointly meet with George Bush. It looks like there's a perceived sudden need to knock heads together, with the chaos in Afghanistan certainly a logical explanatory factor. But with an election coming, the thought comes to one's mind that they're up to something.

You just can't get good Crusaders these days

Powerline's "Hindrocket":

I'm not a Catholic, so the Pope has no unique significance for me. Still, what strikes me most about these demonstrations is how confident even the most militant Muslims are--notwithstanding their childish talk about "Crusades"-- that Christianity is a religion of peace. Would it be possible to push that assumption too far? I'm not sure.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The incoming US Ambassador to Ireland

As we noted when he was first nominated, Tom Foley landed the job of George Bush's representative in Dublin the way all Bush's nominees get the cushy diplomatic slots: through hefty campaign donations. But just so everyone is clear on exactly how connected Foley is, his name pops up in a devastating book about the disastrous early reconstruction period in Iraq, when the provisional government was being stocked with political hacks and inexperienced 20-somethings. Hence this anecdcote from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book:

Twenty-four-year-old Jay Hallen was restless. He had graduated from Yale two years earlier, and he didn't much like his job at a commercial real-estate firm. His passion was the Middle East, and although he had never been there, he was intrigued enough to take Arabic classes and read histories of the region in his spare time.

He had mixed feelings about the war in Iraq, but he viewed the American occupation as a ripe opportunity. In the summer of 2003, he sent an e-mail to Reuben Jeffrey III, whom he had met when applying for a White House job a year earlier. Hallen had a simple query for Jeffrey, who was working as an adviser to Bremer: Might there be any job openings in Baghdad?

"Be careful what you wish for," Jeffrey wrote in response. Then he forwarded Hallen's resume to O'Beirne's office. Three weeks later, Hallen got a call from the Pentagon. The CPA wanted him in Baghdad. Pronto. Could he be ready in three to four weeks?

The day he arrived in Baghdad, he met with Thomas C. Foley, the CPA official in charge of privatizing state-owned enterprises. (Foley, a major Republican Party donor, went to Harvard Business School with President Bush.) Hallen was shocked to learn that Foley wanted him to take charge of reopening the stock exchange.

"Are you sure?" Hallen said to Foley. "I don't have a finance background." It's fine, Foley replied. He told Hallen that he was to be the project manager. He would rely on other people to get things done. He would be "the main point of contact."

Sidenote: the O'Beirne referred to was the Bush hack in charge of filling provisional government positions; he's the husband of Kate O'Beirne, leading war cheerleader at the National Review. Anyway, the end of this particular part of the story is that the Iraqi stock exchange reopened using its pre-invasion low-tech methods that had worked before, and, given the dreadful circumstances of the economy, worked again, despite the attempts of the wide-eyed Yalie to give it an infeasible makeover. Unfortunately, most of the overpaid, over-Bushed, and over there Americans were not so easily sidestepped.

UPDATE: There's now a full-scale right-wing assault on the book, but it has a self-refuting character, as the various attack dogs are forced to acknowledge that they know all these people placed in Coalition Provisional Authority positions. Example Ramesh Ponnuru ("Jim O’Beirne is a friend, as is his wife, my colleague Kate O’Beirne," "[neocon daughter], also a friend of mine, does have a background in accounting, and she wasn’t managing the budget"). And here's what that "daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator," Simone Ledeen, says were her qualifications --

In my case, I have an MBA, spent a year in post-Communist Eastern Europe at a newly privatized publishing house, and have worked at an economic consulting firm and a venture-capital group.

Nothing, therefore, that brought any experience of reconstruction or the Middle East.

FINAL UPDATE 20 SEP: A 2nd wave of assaults today as the Washington Post prints a very minor correction regarding Simone Ledeen, and the National Reviewers assert that having a MBA is qualification for disbursing a $13 billion budget in a war-torn country:

[Andy McCarthy] the wonderful Simone Ledeen, daughter of our friends Michael and Barbara Ledeen ... Simone did not manage any budget in Iraq. She executed the budget, which was actually managed by her superiors. Moreover, Simone was highly qualified to do this work. She had an extensive background in accounting, including a master's degree in business administration ... while Simone was serving her country, in that same dangerous place, by doing such scut work as making sure officials there got paid, Chandrasekaran was given the awesome responsibility of shaping world opinion against the war ...

[Jonah Goldberg] ... I, too, am a fan of Simone Ledeen's ... but I would just like to say that based on years of knowing Jim O'Beirne that he's always struck me as one of the most honorable, wise and decent men I've ever met ...I am pleased and grateful such men of integrity work in our government. America could use a lot more Jim O'Beirnes.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

One elector, one vote

In John "torture memo" Yoo's preposterous justification for an imperial presidency today in the New York Times (dissected broadly here and here by Glenn Greenwald), he makes this claim:

But the presidency, unlike Congress, is the only office elected by and accountable to the nation as a whole.

Not really. If he was talking about France, for example, it would be correct: every citizen gets the same ballot with the same list of names competing for the job of President, and the person with the most votes wins. But the US President is not a directly elected official; as Yoo presumably knows, he is chosen by an electoral college, and citizens of each of the 50 states vote for presidential electors, not the president, and the distribution of electoral college votes is essentially the same as the distribution of seats in Congress, meaning that small states have more weight.

And this it not just technical nitpicking, since if the position of President really was a directly elected position, George Bush -- having lost the vote count in 2000 -- would not be President. Indeed, the ballot confusion that helped him in Florida would not have happened, because there would have been a single national ballot. As someone chosen by the majority of delegates to an institution based upon the 50 states, he has little more claim to holding a national office than the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Sometimes words have two meanings

Only a few days after a correction that put some plain English on White House spin, the New York Times Week in Review section completely caves into that spin with this "Editors' Note" --

An article last Sunday reported on the debate over how to try 14 terror suspects recently transferred to United States military custody. The Bush administration has proposed that the suspects be tried in military commissions under procedures the White House has presented to Congress, including rules that would allow the admission of evidence obtained under coercion or duress. Civil libertarians, on the other hand, say the suspects should get the stronger due-process protections of an ordinary court-martial.

The article included comment from Richard Goldstone, the South African chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, who objected to the provision “that evidence would be admitted even if obtained under duress or torture.”

The administration disputes this characterization of the proposed rules, saying they do prohibit the introduction of evidence obtained through torture. The article should have included this viewpoint, and should have reflected the fact that part of the debate is about how the term “torture” is interpreted.

While interesting in revealing White House sensitivity to the issue, it completely fails the "they would say that, wouldn't they?" test: The White House is never going to say that it's pro-torture, instead it's going to seek to change the accepted meaning of the word, the accepted meaning as captured by an international expert like Richard Goldstone. And note that it's only those wacky "civil libertarians" who want some due branch in these executive branch trials. This would all be a parody of "objective" journalism, except that no one (other than Tony Snow) is laughing.

UPDATE: Ian Buruma in the NYT Book Review, in discussing Frank Rich's book, puts it as follows --

If the opinions of columnists count for too much in the American press, the intelligence of reporters is institutionally underused. The problem is that there are not always two sides to a story. Someone reporting on the persecution of Jews in Germany in 1938 would not have added “balance” by quoting Joseph Goebbels. And besides, as Judith Miller found out, what is the good of quotes if they are based on false information?

Uppity bloggers

Lee Siegel, whose Culture blog for the New Republic was canned for his sock-puppetry on the comments section, pops up in Sunday's New York Times magazine to take one more shot at his critics. It's clear that he's no wiser about the cause of his blog downfall than a few weeks ago -- in particular, he's still (willfully?) confused about the difference between anonymous and pseudonymous, the reasons why people use pseudonyms, and indeeed the reasons why they blog in the first place.

For him, blogging is an expression of rage (hence his neologism "blogofascism") -- rage at the prospect of lifetime obscurity, and a vehicle for inner rage that would otherwise be repressed if we wrote under our own names. In fact, the truth is more prosaic -- consider for instance Josh Marshall's explanation for his pseudonymous guest blogger, DK: stuff said on the blog might cause problems at work. But here's what Siegel says:

On the sock-puppetry: misplaced satire ... Anonymity is a universal convention of the blogosphere, and the wicked expedience is that you can speak without consequences. What was wrong about it is that I did it under the aegis of The New Republic, as a senior editor of the magazine.

What's wrong is that he did it as a commentator on himself, using it to launch personal attacks on his named critics (see how Ezra Klein got dragged into it, for example). But he goes on --

Everyone seems to be fleeing from the responsibilities that come from being who you are. I think that is why the blogosphere is thriving. It allows people to develop a fantasy self .... Look, putting a polemicist like myself in the blogosphere is like putting someone with an obesity problem in a chocolate factory.

Just to pick one counter-example, Christopher Hitchens does a fine obnoxious job of being a polemicist without having to go into comment sections of blogs under an assumed name to do it (that we know of, anyway).

Anyway: the blogosphere strips argument of logic and rhetoric down to the naked emotion behind it ... At least for those who practice incessant character assassination, which represents a good portion of the blogosphere, they vent out of the pain of being unacknowledged.

which must explain why Bill Clinton always got such reasoned coverage in the media, before there were blogs. More generally, a much simpler hypothesis for his rage is his lack of understanding that blogs have created a new form of access -- when someone with a perch in the media writes BS, they can actually get called on it, and God forbid, lots of other people might see it.

UPDATE: More from Brad deLong.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Word of the day

Does anyone think that George W. Bush knew what a "berm" was before he apparently scooped his own military and announced that the new security plan for Baghdad involves building one around the city?

And so they've got a plan now, they've adapted. The enemy moves; we'll help the Iraqis move. So they're building a berm around the city to make it harder for people to come in with explosive devices, for example. They're working different neighborhoods inside of Baghdad to collect guns and bring people to detention. They've got a "clear, build and hold" strategy.

4 results for: berm
–noun 1. Also, berme. Fortification. a horizontal surface between the exterior slope of a rampart and the moat.
2. Also called bench. any level strip of ground at the summit or sides, or along the base, of a slope.
3. Also called backshore, beach berm. a nearly flat back portion of a beach, formed of material deposited by the action of the waves.
4. Chiefly Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. the bank of a canal or the shoulder of a road.
5. Chiefly Alaska. a mound of snow or dirt, as formed when clearing land.
6. a bank of earth placed against an exterior wall or walls of a house or other building as protection against extremes of temperature.
–verb (used with object) 7. to cover or protect with a berm: The side walls were bermed to a height of three feet.

UPDATE: Bush may not have scooped his military, but exaggerated what is planned. Or maybe the military thinks that making it sound like the city is under siege is too embarrassing.

Pope Benedict's Regensburg speech, summarised

Christianity = 22/7
Islam = π

[actual text here]

Clearer on the concept

The simplest argument against the extradition of the NatWest 3 was the issue of territoriality: why should there be a trial in front of Enron prosecutors in Houston for an alleged crime committed in London against a British bank, with the only US jurisdiction arising from wires carrying faxes and e-mails being in US territory? Tony Blair's government chose not to understand this point, which now leaves it compared unfavourably with Governor George Pataki of New York.

An extradition case came his way because Louisiana was seeking the extradition of Sportingbet chairman Peter Dicks, arrested on arrival at JFK last week on foot of the outstanding Lousiana warrant. [his case is part of an apparent clampdown by American prosecutors on foreign Internet gambling operations, as in Betonsports]. Dicks' lawyer successfully appealed to the governor, who has the final say on whether to execute the warrant (WSJ, subs. req'd):

Mr. Slotnick [lawyer] said he and his client argued that Louisiana's request for extradition "is inappropriate and that Peter Dicks has not committed any crimes there or anywhere. He hasn't been in Louisiana for 20 years." On Thursday in court, Mr. Dicks was informed that the governor had withdrawn the warrant. Restrictions on Mr. Dicks's $50,000 bail that barred him from leaving New York also were lifted.

Dicks can now return to London and while there is a hearing in 2 weeks to hash out some issues in the case, it's clear that Pataki has no intention of reinstating the warrant, and of course Dicks could chose not to come back at all. For one thing, in these days of air travel scares, you never know where your London-JFK direct flight might land -- perhaps in another US state with a governor looking to get tough on supposed vices. On the other hand, if Dicks does stay in England from now on, St. Landry Parish La., could always try and get the Feds to extradite him from the UK -- which under Tony Blair's interpretation of extradition law, is easier than state-to-state extradition within the US.

UPDATE: Dicks is free for good.

It's funny because it's true

There is now a US chapter to the Euston Manifesto. Analysis and critique here and here. Anyone sharing in the claimed aspirations of the manifesto -- a thorough remaking of the Middle East, from a liberal hawk perspective, can sign. An ever expanding list of worthies is appended, whose comments capture what's wrong with the manifesto e.g. "thoughtful, nuanced, courageous, and immensely decent statement", "I believe the Democrat who adopts the manifesto's message as the guiding sentiment behind their foreign policy will be the Democrat who wins the 08 nomination."

But at some point, it's not clear when, the pranksters arrived. For instance, a signatory: Michael Ledeen, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute. Heh indeed. It's possible it's actually him. Not so with a later arrival: Paul Wolfowitz, President,, Get them damned Arabs!

UPDATE: The Wolfowitz signature has been removed but Ledeen's is still there.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The real Annie Moore

In what will be a much read story, today's New York Times has the tale of the historical mix-up about the life story of Annie Moore, the first entrant at Ellis Island and believed to have died in Forth Worth, Texas. It turns out she was a Manhattan lifer. The partner statue to the one mentioned in the story is in Cobh, Queenstown as it was when she left it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

With enemies like these ....

Today's Wall Street Journal editorial page (subs. req'd) provides a welcome boost to David Cameron -- by trotting out the usual Bush cult cliches to criticise him, especially his newly outlined need for British assertiveness in the "special relationship." From the heading -- "The new Tory leader sounds like John Kerry" -- to the essence of their problems with him:

On the day marking the worst terrorist atrocity in history, he even chided the U.S. for "stoop[ing] to illiberalism" by running a prison in Guantanamo, where the men who planned 9/11 were just transferred and where no human rights abuses have been found. This Tory wants a "a new emphasis on multilateralism" where the U.N. "confers the ultimate legitimacy." If these are the new Tories, we'll take the French. (As it happens, French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy marked 9/11 in New York by saying, "Yes, I love the Americans.")

If they already know that the 9/11 planners are in Gitmo, one wonders what is the point of the trials that they support. Anyway, speaking of Sarkozy, here's the picture that could return to haunt his Presidential campaign next year. Cameron won't have such problems. And speaking of that picture, take a careful look at what's on the writing desk to the left of Bush: the famous "Uncle Sam" Army recruiting poster that meant nothing to Bush when he, unlike John Kerry, was dodging the draft.

The safety of the dominions

In what is perhaps a reflection of the need to be well away from the Leader's orbit when making awkward statements, Condi Rice and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, seem to have felt a bit freer to make awkward comments away from home:

1. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was too early to say who might have been behind the [Damascus US Embassy] attack. But she praised Syria for responding quickly. “The Syrians reacted to this attack in a way that helped to secure our people, and we very much appreciate that,” Ms. Rice said Tuesday during a visit to Canada.

2. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, is expected to make the strongest attack of US terror policy by a senior British minister, in a speech in Sydney. He will make the comments in the Magna Carta Lecture, delivered annually in Australia by senior British legal figures, to an audience of senators, MPs, judges and academics at the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

He will accuse the US of "deliberately seeking to put the detainees beyond the reach of the law in Guantanamo Bay" ... In his latest speech, Lord Falconer is due to say: "It is a part of the acceptance of the rule of law that the courts will be able to exercise jurisdiction over the executive. "Otherwise the conduct of the executive is not defined and restrained by law.

"It is because of that principle, that the USA, deliberately seeking to put the detainees beyond the reach of the law in Guantanamo Bay, is so shocking an affront to the principles of democracy. Without independent judicial control, we cannot give effect to the essential values of our society."

UPDATE: The need to acknowledge that Syria successfully battled terrorism is sufficiently galling for the right that they're forced into entertaining the theory that the attack was faked. And Condi may have a 2nd agenda, in the post Jack Straw era, for being in Canada! Is Peter MacKay the next Belinda Stronach? In fact it's such a small world that Stronach is not only MacKay's ex-girlfriend, but also a side-player in the Clinton scandal-mongering by Republicans, who sought to link romantically link Bill to her.

The depths

George Bush did a on-the-record interview with selected reporters including staffers from the National Review today. He seems to have been a bit more free-wheeling than in his more scripted press conferences. Some lowlights:

1. His euphemism for battles: kinetic action.

2. A line that says it all: people should understand that “as long as the War Crimes Act hangs over their heads, they [interrogators] will not take the steps necessary to protect” Americans.

3. A mindset that does not lend itself to admitting mistakes, anywhere in government: He said he had “confidence and faith” in the military leaders, including Gen. Casey, who are on the ground [in Iraq] and not asking for more troops.

Asked what if Gen. Casey is wrong, Bush said, “Then, I picked the wrong general.” Bush emphasized that he’s not a military expert and he’s not in Baghdad, but “I know how to ask the right questions [of the generals].” Again, he said of Casey, “If he’s wrong, I’m wrong.”

4. Tough talk = multilingual curse words: Asked if generals might be inhibited in asking for more troops because it might be such a politically unwelcome request, Bush used a dismissive expletive for the notion. He expressed his conviction that his generals know he has what it takes—briefly showing his fluidity (surely, fluency?) in Spanish (cojones?) —to get them the troops they need even if the politics isn’t favorable. To increase Gen. Casey’s comfort level with him, Bush said he had invited Casey and his wife to spend time with him informally.

UPDATE: Some odd religious remarks by Bush from the same interview are placed in context here and here. And in a more extended excerpt, it's revealed what the dodge on the requested legislation governing the CIA interrogations will be:

[Bush] So the approach is to say to Congress, here is what — step one, U.S. law will define what Article III means; two, please tell us — not "please" — define the techniques that are unacceptable [he corrected this to note it's behaviors not techniques that will be so defined]; three, provide liability protection for those tasked with getting information under the law.

God knows what "technique" will therefore be allowed, as long it's not part of a "behavior."

How important is Uruguay?

Important enough to have the position of US Ambassador to Uruguay sold to the highest bidder, in the manner of how George Bush fills all prestige or cushy diplomatic posts, such as the recent example of Barbados. But definitely not for the more distant example of São Tomé and Príncipe, cursed to get an actual qualifed State Department career officer (something that Marty Peretz fails to understand when he ridicules Bush critic Joe Wilson for having held that post). Anyway, here's the dude who's off to Montevideo:

The President intends to nominate Frank Baxter, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Oriental Republic of Uruguay. Most recently, he served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Jeffries and Company, an investment banking firm. Previously in his career, he served as a Director of the Securities Industry Association and also as a Director of the National Association of Securities Dealers.

The Orange County Register has a nice table of where he stands in the list of California Republican donors: $850,000 in donations for the 2003-04 cycle, enough to get to #39 on the list (peripheral mention of unrelated affair: Ron Burkle is #43). It's quite possible that he does not even speak Spanish.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Today's New York Times corrections, explained

One of today's corrections says:

A front-page article on Thursday about an announcement by President Bush that 14 high-profile terror suspects had been transferred from secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, incompletely described the interrogation technique of waterboarding, which intelligence officials say was used on one suspect. The technique involves strapping a prisoner to a board with his feet elevated above his head and placing a wet cloth down his throat or over his nose and mouth to create the sensation of drowning.

Thus spelling out the sickening technique that George Bush wants to retain for detainees in the CIA detention program (his repeated refusal to disavow it, most recently in an interview with Matt Lauer, signalling that this is the case). But one point of curiosity is surely what the original article said. Unfortunately the NYT is being trixy in that regard and the article now seamlessly blends in the correction. Of course there is an "alternative set of procedures" (as Bush would say) for finding the original text, and it is as follows:

a technique known as waterboarding, in which a prisoner is strapped to a board and made to feel as if he is drowning

which made it hard to distinguish from a dunking prank. So two cheers to the NYT for the correction; one cheer deducted for the dead tree version, sitting on tables everywhere, which does not enlighten people as to what is being done in their name.

UPDATE: The NYT still does better than the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which describes the procedure as follows --

Last year ABC news reported that 11 top al Qaeda figures broke only after "waterboarding," which induces a feeling of suffocation and is the most controversial of the known techniques employed. There's a legitimate debate to be had over waterboarding and other tactics. But part of our problem with the McCain Amendment was that Congressmen refused to engage in an honest debate lest they be accused of approving "torture," which no one sanctions but is a word used to slur anyone who wants aggressive interrogation.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Another reason to stay off the phone in the car

[BBC] Ashley Cole claims he joined Chelsea because he was angry that Arsenal made no serious attempt to keep him. The England defender wanted £60,000 a week but says the Gunners board were only prepared to offer him £55,000.

.... Cole, who is thought to have agreed a five-year deal with the Premiership champions, claims in his book that Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein had initially agreed to the wage demand with his agent, Jonathan Barnett.

The 25-year-old left-back was told of the board's refusal to sanction the deal while he was driving his car and says he "nearly swerved off the road".


On 9-11, someone found time to get a coffee and biscuits platter. And Diet Coke for Dick Cheney.


Our initial plan was to say nothing about the 5th anniversary, since at least until 2009, it's going to be managed as a Republican party event. But a couple of things. First, given that the killing of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in 2001 looked very soon afterwards like a precursor to the 9/11 attack, it's unsettling to see the Taliban, 5 years later, again managing a strike against a popular Afghan leader; this time it's Abdul Hakim Taniwal who by all accounts was an invaluable member of the government. A disturbing echo.

And second, Christopher Hitchens in the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; free link), taking evident pleasure in the following thought:

"We" -- and our allies -- simply have to become more ruthless and more experienced. An unspoken advantage of the current awful strife in Iraq and Afghanistan is that it is training tens of thousands of our young officers and soldiers to fight on the worst imaginable terrain, and gradually to learn how to confront, infiltrate, "turn," isolate and kill the worst imaginable enemy. These are faculties that we shall be needing in the future.

A nice mixture of almost-parodic tough talk from a Washington keyboarder, and the very Bush sentiment that winning the war on terror is simply a matter of being willing to be ruthless enough.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Glorious Tenth

While most of Dick Cheney's interview with Tim Russert today went over known aspects of his extremely dark worldview, there was one riposte at the end worthy of note:

MR. RUSSERT: Should I be relieved you didn’t bring your shotgun in today?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I wouldn’t worry about it. You’re not in season.

Which begs two questions: when is the season, and who's the game?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Random consumer electronics post

Compare the range of products and pricing offered on Amazon (UK) for digital radio (searched for as DAB radio) to the equivalent search on Amazon (US), (searched for as HD radio), noting in particular that most of the items on the latter list are not digital broadcast radios. There are certain technologies that the US is just not very good at.

UPDATE: The selection does improve if one considers receivers for audio-video systems, such as this Onkyo model, but then the decision to get a digital receiver becomes tied to the decision about one's sound system -- and also it fixes the listening to one's home, defeating one big of advantage of radio.

FINAL UPDATE JUNE 2007: There's now a $60 DAB radio in the US. Hopefully a bigger market for receivers will promote a bigger set of DAB choices.

With advisers like these ...

Gordon Brown is taking political advice from Bob Shrum -- master of many Democratic election losses -- and economic advice from Alan Greenspan -- master of generating multiple financial bubbles (equity, bonds, housing). Is it a competition to show that he has more American friends that Blair's one, George W. Bush?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Loose lips, again

Now who would have incentive to leak something like this? --

[Key] European nations warned that Iran is trying to weaken international opposition to its contentious nuclear program by stalling on giving a clear response to terms set by the six world powers for negotiations, according to a confidential document obtained Thursday.

"The Iranian goal obviously is to split the international community," said the document, drawn up by Britain, France and Germany, and made available to The Associated Press ahead of a key meeting of the five Security Council nations and Germany ... The European assessment of Iran's strategy in the nuclear negotiations is described in a 1 1/2 page document labeled "In Confidence" that was sent to dozens of capitals last week.


The good people at A Fistful of Euros are celebrating their 3rd birthday and have invited a set of guest posters to help them mark the occasion; our contribution is there today.

Our man in Belfast

The Irish Times report (subs. req'd) on Northern Ireland's astonishing 3-2 win over Spain in Belfast, at the other end of the M1 from Dublin, is taken from the Guardian service. The Irish Independent's story comes from the (London) Independent.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tony Blair must be so proud

George Bush's 3rd terrorism speech contained two key stunts: the claim that he can have a 9/11 trial as soon as Congress gives him the authorising legislation that he wants, and a demand for a war crimes exemption for the CIA program that runs the interrogation of detainees. Regarding the latter, an explanatory White House "Fact Sheet" says --

[Geneva Common Article 3] prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." These and other provisions are vague and undefined and could be interpreted in different ways by American and foreign judges.

Which is in effect an admission that tactics which reasonable people believe fall into these categories have been, and will continue to be, used. Note also that the "Fact Sheet" is entitled Bringing Terrorists to Justice, making no pretence at presumption of innocence.

Something's missing

In today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd), Robert Kaplan alternates between endorsing the need for a complete shake-up of the Middle Eastern political map and criticising George W. Bush for failing to think through the consequences of his efforts at this task. But the overall tone is one of crisis=progress, even allowing for Bush's lack of foresight. This extends to the benefits of an aggressive Tehran, which he argues is making Sunni Arab states more aware of the need for change; perhaps therefore he implicitly claims that Bush's call for a boycott of last year's Iranian presidential election, which helped elect Ahmadinejad, was actually a good thing.

But there is a strange element to the argument -- that not only are we witnessing the final breakup of the Ottoman Empire, which was bound to be messy, but:

Europe's recent past should warn us about the Middle East: Recall the violence that ensued when authoritarian regimes unraveled in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, where populations were divided on the basis of sect and ethnicity, and kept poor by a mafia state socialism. The states closest to Central Europe, blessed by the enlightened imperial legacy of the Prussian and Hapsburg empires, have enjoyed a much easier transition to democratic rule than those under the rule of the Ottoman Turks.

Note the mix-and-match of time horizons. The Turks get blamed for an empire that they dumped in 1920, but the Germans and Austrians get the credit for 19th century institutions that came into play only in the 1990s. Wasn't there some other stuff originating from Germany and Austria between those periods?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The baby elephant in the room

There is one notable omission from the "secret" memo written by Tony Blair's handlers and leaked to the Daily Mirror (link via Slugger) --

Labour MPs are increasingly predicting disastrous results in Welsh and Scottish Parliamentary elections next May. This has led growing numbers of backbenchers to call on the PM to make his departure date clear way before those elections.

But the memo says: "Wales and Scotland - devolution despite the bumpy ride has been a success, TB should embrace this. His profile should be raised in the major urban areas in advance of the elections."

Iraq: We need to incorporate this into our media plan. It's the elephant in the room, let's face up to it. Most importantly - are we up for it? Is TB up for it?

The other devolution experiment, Northern Ireland, is not mentioned at all.

Know your place

Not that one needs a reminder of the bizarre version of English spoken by the White House, but try to grasp this, yes, Orwellian, bullet point from today's "updated" National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (full text). One of the elements of the strategy for winning the LWOT (the Long War on Terror) --

Fostering Intellectual And Human Capital By Creating An Expert Community Of Counterterrorism Professionals And Developing A Domestic Culture Of Preparedness. This Culture of Preparedness rests on a shared acknowledgement of the certainty of future catastrophes; the importance of initiative and accountability at all levels of society; the role of citizen and community preparedness; and a delineation of the roles of each level of government and the private sector in creating a prepared nation.

Exit Islamofascism ... Enter Islamo-Stingray

In what should win an award for the greatest segue of all time, the National Review's Cliff May uses the death of Aussie naturalist Steve Irwin from a stingray to warn of the dangers of -- Iran!

But I do wonder if Irwin, having taken risks so oftten in the past, having cheated death on so many occasions, may not have gradually become over-confident in the face of danger.

Nations, as much as individuals are susceptible to such thinking. Kissinger said – I wish I could find the exact quote – that past victories can lead to defeat because those past victories can appear to have been inevitable.

I worry that because Americans proved equal to the task of defeating the Axis is the 1940s, and because the Communists lost the Cold War, too many of us have come to think we will of course defeat the Militant Islamists or the Islamo-Fascists or Radical Jihadis or whatever term you prefer. But the outcome of those other pastwars was not inevitable. Nor is the outcome of this one. Every stingray is a very real and present danger.

Bonus Irwin material at the Corner: Mark Steyn comparing Jonah Goldberg, favourably, to "my distinguished compatriot Barbara Amiel" i.e. Mrs Conrad Black, for an attack on Irwin which Steyn deems Hitchensesque (again, a compliment).

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The pull of the land

It's worth looking at this Saturday Washington Post article about the Irish property market if only for the picture of the fabulous renovation job done on a Galway farm cottage. But the picture is not typical of the scenes accurately described in the article: bungalow blight in the countryside and awfully designed and built housing estates in the Dublin suburbs. It also notes the frenzy of interest in owning property overseas, which has long since extended beyond traditional Spanish locales to the EU accession countries, Africa, and Asia. Cultural explanations for this tendency are commonplace e.g. from the owner of the above cottage

He noted that a century ago, when Ireland was under British rule, Irish were tenants on this land, not owners. Now, he said, many Irish own not one, but two homes.

Hard to tell whether this is an actual explanatory factor, or if it just sounds good. It does leave Ireland poorly diversified if global property markets take a hit.

One reason to wear black

Perhaps a sign of the restricted range of our reading material this weekend, but if you're clinging to the notion that Bono always looks he seems on stage or TV, then you'd do well to avoid the September 11 issue of Us magazine, page 53, which features a picture of Bono on a beach in Croatia. The claim of the picture is that there's something going on with Bono's stage-hair (colour and quantity), but he could do with a few runs up and down the beach as well.

UPDATE 27 SEPTEMBER: In fairness, Bono seems to be taking his new hair out on stage.