Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Put it on the couch

George Bush --

Here's my philosophy -- that government ought to trust private medicine; that we've got a fabulous health care system. Does it have issues? Sure, it's got issues.

At least he didn't do finger quotes around the word issues. However, he never explained what those issues might be. He did on the other hand claim --

Our system is so good that many people from around the world like to come here to get treatment.

The point being of course that they come here to get treatment by paying loads of money. But that's not one of the issues that he has in mind.

Fake but accurate

At National Review's The Corner, Iain Murray exults--

Readers might remember that after 9/11, the military band at Buckingham Palace broke with tradition and played the Stars and Stripes. Yesterday, as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia arrived to meet Her Majesty the Queen, they played a somewhat different tune to greet the visiting monarch's arrival: Darth Vader's theme music. The video has to be seen to be believed ... More on the report at ConservativeHome

The video seems to come from Newsnight Channel 4 News. The band did play the Star Wars theme1. They also played the Indiana Jones theme. But more importantly, this was their warm-up-the-crowd music before the King arrived. When the King arrived, they played, as one would expect, the Saudi national anthem.

Yet the BBC Channel 4 report appears to have been spliced to have the Darth Vader music playing as he steps out of the car. Watch a different BBC report, where admittedly it's hard to hear the background music with the reporter yakking, but it's not Star Wars. Furthermore, the account from The Times, while revelling in the buffoonery of the ceremony, is quite clear on the sequence --

As the King stepped out of his car they switched to the – mercifully short – Saudi national anthem as the green and white Saudi flag was unfurled atop Horse Guards alongside the Royal Standard.

However since no expensive phone-ins were involved, it's not clear that there's any scandal.

UPDATE: With Andrew Sullivan having linked to the Channel 4 report, titling it "Darth Abdullah", this manufactured sequence seems set for another round of popularity.

1 To be technically correct, they played the Imperial March ("Darth Vader's theme").

FINAL UPDATE: To guard against linkrot, here's an alternative link to the doctored Channel 4 audio and here's a direct link to the BBC video which includes the King walking up the steps with different music, 1m15s in.

How many non-union workers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Zero. If it's the Celtic Tiger, where all the wealth is just a veneer over a parody of 1970s industrial relations in the public sector:

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has suspended a number of electricians without pay in the south of the country in a long-running dispute over who should be allowed to change light bulbs in hospitals.

The electricians, members of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU), were suspended yesterday evening from their jobs at Cork University Hospital, St Finbarr's Hospital, Kerry General Hospital and Mallow Hospital in Cork.

TEEU members are refusing to implement a labour court recommendation that permits workers other than electricians to change light bulbs.

On the other hand, with Bertie making himself one of the highest paid leaders in the world, perhaps the electricians can't be blamed for holding out for a little extra cash.

A B-list scandal

Aren't there actual scandals that the papers could be pursuing instead of this shite? Mike Power provides the background.

UPDATE: One additional thought. Fox News is available in the UK and has UK corporate cousins who would gain from the "accidental" mention of the royal name. One hopes that Murdoch World was not engaged in a conspiracy to subvert the course of justice.

FINAL UPDATE: "Scandal" related mischief from Guido and Mike Power.

Not afraid to show his face

In case anyone was wondering, Prince Bandar, British Aerospace awkwardness bedamned, was at Lizzie's State Dinner for King Abdullah at Buckingham Palace last night.

UPDATE: In an unrelated observation, Viscount Linley did not have the courage of Prince Bandar and thus was not at the dinner.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fox/Hen House

In what is not a parody of a corporate White House, it was today announced --

The President intends to nominate Carl T. Johnson, of Virginia, to be Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration at the Department of Transportation. Mr. Johnson most recently served as President of the Compressed Gas Association.

No word on whether he earlier had any roles with the Volatile Chemicals Association.

Noises off

A little bureaucratic mystery may lie in this memo from the US Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell. The underlying issue is that George Bush and Dick Cheney (who has his own authority in such matters) have been declassifying the "Key Judgements" section of National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) on terrorism and Iraq. The declassifications are used to suppport whatever policy position Bush is implementing at that time. Which may not be the same policy he is pursuing a few months later.

So McConnell's memo says --

The declassification and release of unclassified versions of the Key Judgments (KJs) from some recent National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) does not portend that this is going to become a standard practice.

With regard to this matter, the following guidance is provided:

It is the policy of the Director of National Intelligence (DN) that KJs should not be declassified ... There is both a real and a perceived danger that analysts will adopt less bold approaches, or otherwise modify the way they characterize developments, and that the integrity of the NIE process could be harmed by expectations that all or portions of the NIE are likely to be declassified.

The possibility that the KJs or other positions of an estimate will be leaked is not a sufficient reason for preparing unclassified KJs.

One could read between the lines to interpret McConnell as saying that using the Key Judgements as White House talking points has hurt the analytical value of the process. Just another day of Kremlinology in the Bush Administration.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The World War I omelette

Previous evidence has indicated that Christopher Hitchens' preferred map of the Middle East wouldn't look that different from the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Now comes the information about his preferred map of Turkey --

Then there remains the question of Cyprus, where Turkey maintains an occupation force that has repeatedly been condemned by a thesaurus of U.N. resolutions ever since 1974. It is not our conduct that should be modified by Turkey's arrogance; we do a favor to the democratization and modernization of that country by insisting that it get its troops out of Cyprus, pull its forces back from the border with Iraq, face the historic truth about Armenia, and in other ways cease to act as if the Ottoman system were still in operation.

Treaty of Sevres
, your time has come. [treaty explained here]

Not that there's anything wrong with that

Doesn't "present at the birth of our adopted son" mean that there was an arrangement with the birth parents ahead of time that the son would be put up for adoption? It was also nice of the Middle East in general and the Iranians in particular to generate a need for a David Miliband visit to see Condi just when he would be needing to pick up a baby anyway [apparently Miliband had returned to London and then had to leave again for the birth in the US].

Just to be clear. Having a child and finding a good home for a child are worthy enterprises and different people choose different ways to do it. But transnational adoptions by politicians are surely worth a raised eyebrow, if only of the Roger Moore-in-his-later-James-Bond-film variety.

The rich man's burden

Former Maggie Thatcher inner-circle member and now leading Anglosphere reactionary John O'Sullivan has a complaint, which arises in a by-the-way anecodote in a praise of "New Europe" (i.e. the bits where a few people still luvv George W. Bush) --

Portuguese conservatives tend to be very Atlanticist (as do the Portuguese in general) and thus pro-American. If we want to halt the galloping anti-Americanism that now distorts European politics, we should be looking at how Portugal was not lost—and talking to the Portuguese as well as to pro-Americans in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

Coming back through London, I took a taxi from Fulham to Notting Hill to a friend's home for dinner. It cost 24 Pounds (approx. $48.) Shortly before we reached our destination, we found ourselves crawling behind a bus that bore the following advertisement: "London-Marrakech Return Air Fare: 22 Pounds." Or $44. Characteristically the politicians here are worried about the cheap air fare rather than the expensive taxi one.

So on the one hand, all-embracing geopolitical advice that would have them nodding sagely at the cocktail parties. On the other hand, a dude who doesn't ask why exactly it is that it's now a 2:1 dollar/pound exchange rate (hint: George W. Bush) and who couldn't be bothered figuring out that it takes about 10 minutes to get from Fulham to Notting Hill (on the District Line), much quicker than a taxi stuck behind a bus and much less than $44.

Youths riot, Western Civilization Threatened*

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer; caption

Actually since the disturbances were not in Europe and don't involve people who "look like" immigrants or Muslims, it's really just a bunch of over exuberant Red Sox fans. The Amerabia blog posts will have to stay as drafts.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Leaving the Holodeck

Here's what should be good news from Iraq --

BAGHDAD - At least 32 people were reported killed in a fresh wave of Iraq violence, authorities said Saturday.

Police sources told Presse-Agentur DPA (German national news agency) at least 16 Al Qaeda-affiliated militants were gunned down overnight during armed clashes between them and police forces in southern Samara, 118 kilometres north of Baghdad.

The militants belonged to The Islamic State of Iraq, an Iraq-based extremist group with strong links to the Al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network.

‘Two of the militants were Arabs, while one was Iranian. These were among the dead in the clashes,’ said an official source who refused to be identified.

Here's the problem with the good news. The official US position is that the Islamic State of Iraq does not exist --

"Along with al-Masri, al-Mashhadani co-founded a virtual organization in cyberspace called the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006," [General Kevin] Bergner said. "The Islamic State of Iraq is the latest efforts by al-Qaida to market itself and its goal of imposing a Taliban-like state on the Iraqi people."

In Web postings, the Islamic State of Iraq has identified its leader as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, with al-Masri as minister of war. There are no known photos of al-Baghdadi. Bergner said al-Mashhadani had told interrogators that al-Baghdadi is a "fictional role" created by al-Masri and that an actor is used for audio recordings of speeches posted on the Web.

"In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al-Qaida in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq," Bergner said.

So if Bergner is right, the incident in Samarra was perhaps al-Qaeda in Iraq falling out with its imaginary bloggers. Now in fairness to the US military, other news accounts are identifying the opponent as the "Islamic Army". But it's not like they would make a good set of allies for the democracy project in Iraq either.

Abramovich in "managerial swap" shock

REUTERS/Luke MacGregor; caption

A deal that Chelsea fans would probably take right away, while Giants fans will when the inevitable late season slump happens.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Recession in last throes

Dick Cheney did an interview with Larry "Kuds" Kudlow for CNBC. By Cheney's standards it's not the worst. He did repeat the standard Bush lie that most of the people paying the top rate of personal income tax are small businesses. This is the myth of small business owners who haven't set up as corporations and so pay the personal rate. For every one of those people, there are ten high income professionals (doctors, lawyers, investment bankers) who put quasi-corporate income (e.g. from partnerships) on their personal taxes. That's who Bush thinks most needs a tax cut.

Anyway, Cheney was asked about the many signs that the economy is in trouble:

And the suggestion that somehow it's hard times out there, I just -- I think is a misstatement. Clearly, there are pockets where people run into difficulties, where we have economic slowdown for one reason or another -- Michigan is still having troubles because of the auto industry and so forth -- but I think overall, in terms of macroeconomic policy and what's worked for the economy for the last several years now, it's what the President put in place, not what Senator Clinton suggested.

So other than Detroit, there's no problem. Is he reading any newspapers?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Ain't that America

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque; caption

If you were looking for a symbol of where the USA is in the 7th year of the Bush presidency, a flashy patriotic White House SUV in front of a burned out house wouldn't be a bad start.

The Bureaucratic Expeditionary Force

White House announcement made while Bush was in the air en route to San Diego --

The President has named Brian V. McCormack to be Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives and External Affairs. ... Earlier in his career, he served as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics at the Department of Defense and Special Assistant to Ambassador Paul Bremer. He also previously served as Personal Aide to the Vice President.

That's quite a profile. Defence procurement. Right-hand man of Iraq Viceroy Paul Bremer. And bag carrier for Dick Cheney. And now in charge of strategery and "external affairs" for George Bush. What could they have in mind?

California fires

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters; caption

Apparently the post-Katrina approach to disaster relief does not extend to getting pillows for the firemen.

Wholly owned subsidiary

Not that one needed much proof of how the right wing blogosphere is a relentlessly on-message part of the Republican machine, but consider the spectacle of Laura Bush's trip to the Middle East ("And no matter what you might read in the newspaper, people do appreciate the gift of freedom")-- in which she has avoided Israel and worn the dreaded Islamo-scarf, without a peep from the same people who were up in arms about Nancy Pelosi in Damascus a few months ago.

UPDATE: The right wing gets goaded into a response. Hilarity ensues.

FINAL UPDATE: Laura is asked about the belated criticism during a Fox News interview --

Q Of course, Mrs. Bush, with a higher profile almost inevitably comes criticism. And some conservatives in this country are upset with you -- and we have a picture up there on the screen --

MRS. BUSH: Oh, you've got to be kidding.

Q -- putting on a scarf given to you --

MRS. BUSH: Oh, really?

Q -- by a Saudi doctor. And let me put up a blast, if you will, from The Weekly Standard: "That she would oblige her hosts by wearing a shmata," which is Yiddish for a scarf, "on her head is a tacit endorsement of Islam's subjugation of women."

MRS. BUSH: Well, I did not see it that way at all. In fact, I'd had the meeting with them totally uncovered. I mean, you saw other photographs, obviously.

Q Right.

MRS. BUSH: And they saw this as giving me a gift from their culture. And it was the scarf with the pink ribbons and the pink edging on it, the breast cancer scarf, that I put on.

I will say that I told them that I had always felt like they were closed to me, that I wouldn't be able to reach them because of the way they're covered, and one of the women said to me -- she said, "You know, I may be all dressed in black, but I am transparent."

And what they were saying to me is they want to reach out. They want American women to know what they're like. And these women do not see covering as some sort of subjugation of women, this group of women that I was with.

That's their culture. That's their tradition. That's a religious choice of theirs.

Now, I did meet, on the other hand, in Kuwait, where women just got the vote in 2005, with a group of women activists, several of them who had run for office the first parliamentary election after women got the vote -- didn't win, any of them, but they made the first step, certainly, by getting in the political process.

And in that meeting, very few women were covered. And they don't feel like they have to be. But you know, I think we all have these stereotypes of each other, Americans and Arabs, and it's a really good thing to be able to break those stereotypes down and get to know each other.

The interviewer, Chris Wallace, should have asked her how she felt about the identical criticism of Nancy Pelosi.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Under his skin

Perhaps the moment most revealing of Gordon Brown's state of mind this afternoon in the House of Commons, when he was obliquely rebuked by the Speaker with a call for "temperate language" after accusing David Cameron of misleading the House, is not the statement itself but his demeanour just as he stood up to respond to Cameron's question. He clearly throws his papers in front of him before he begins to speak, in contrast to his usual style of standing up and then laying down the papers. It happens just after the 15 minute mark in the video.

That Irish property market: a case study

1. Solicitor, who one might think is busy enough with his legal career, gets loan of €9m

2. Loan is secured by 20 properties which solicitor says he owns. No one wonders why solicitor owns 20 properties.

3. 6 weeks later, €9m is spent.

4. 6 weeks and a few days later, lending bank discovers that solicitor doesn't own many of the 20 properties.

5. Solicitor promises bank to send fax showing that that he has title to some of the properties.

6. Solicitor disappears.

[full details here]

A nation once again

Wednesday's Irish Times reports that the UK-Republic of Ireland Common Travel Area -- the ability to travel without a passport between the two jurisdictions -- is on its last legs. With the UK planning to bring in electronic border controls i.e. an instant check of all arriving passengers against various databases, anyone arriving from the Republic will need a passport just like from anywhere else.

Now the common travel area has been dying a slow death, as (speaking from the inbound direction), immigration at Dublin airport has been checking everyone's passport for a long time now. Nevertheless, at least one glaring loophole will remain --

It does not appear that the British intend to apply the e-border to the land border between the Republic and the North, as that would be impossible to police.

So what about "bad guys" entering the islands through the Republic and then heading north to enter Britain via unregulated travel from Northern Ireland? There are only two options. Either the Republic and the UK have to agree completely harmonised entry controls, or travellers from Northern Ireland will have to be checked, with a passport, like those from the Republic when they enter Britain. It'll be interesting to see how that choice is determined.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Enhanced speechwriting techniques

In a speech today, George Bush does nothing to resolve the longstanding trail of confusion about an alleged plot to fly a plane into Canary Wharf --

In this new war, the enemy conspires in secret -- and often the only source of information on what the terrorists are planning is the terrorists themselves. So we established a program at the Central Intelligence Agency to question key terrorist leaders and operatives captured in the war on terror. This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us stop a number of attacks -- including a plot to strike the U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles, California, or a plot to fly passenger planes into Heathrow Airport and buildings into downtown London.

Much like the American tourist looking for directions to "downtown London", it's not clear how far any of these plots ever got. But the London one is a particular mystery. The only traceable source for it is what's been released from the high-value detainee interrogations, including the one featuring a "dunk in the water" for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The talkative KSM admitted to 31 actual or potential terrorist plots in total, of which London was number 13:

I was responsible for planning, surveying, and financing for the operation to destroy Heathrow Airport, the Canary Wharf Building, and Big Ben on British soil.

Bush has made the same remark before, although then making specific reference to Canary Wharf so one wonders why it was dropped. Anyway, besides the Bush speeches, the only other accounts are all leaks to various news outlets, some met with appropriate scepticism. And it's on all this that Bush wants everyone to trust him with his powers to not torture detainees.

Casting a cold eye on Dublin 15

National Review's John Derbyshire takes a look at immigration issues in Dublin. He goes in with the perspective that --

The Irish seem determined to repeat in meticulous detail all the social-policy follies and blunders committed by British and American governments since the 1960s.

Which is, roughly speaking, correct. He doesn't note that while the Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan seems to grasp that dealing with immigration is going to pose serious problems, his brother Conor who is actually in charge of that portfolio thinks it will all be fine because Ireland never colonised other countries.

In the ether

Listening to news/talk commercial radio in Washington DC is an interesting case study in what the USA has become. A steady stream of ads from defence contractors aimed at the many tentacles of their prime customer, the US government. One could pick out any of them because the overall format is similar. Today's example would be the ad for the F22 Raptor, whose virtues are extolled over a soundtrack of solemn martial music.

One virtue is the number of sub-contractors involved -- 1000, the ad proclaims. Then we're told that the plane is "destined to avoid wars and save lives." Yet later we're told that it's designed to "get in safely, get the job done, and get out." That "getting the job done" may involve dropping a 1000 lb bomb on a house is left unsaid, because after all, God has assured us that if you bomb a house with bad guys in it, any other deaths are the fault of the bad guys.

Anyway, the biggest virtue of the F22 Raptor is that all this subcontracting, job creation, and occasional bomb-dropping is "defending freedom." Since Pratt and Whitney, Boeing, and Lockheed-Martin say so, it must be true.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The war that never happened

It's too challenging to go through the latest Dick Cheney warmongering speech and pick out all the falsehoods, so just a couple of things. Apparently the latest breezy description of the George Bush secret detention and interrogation program is "tougher customers and tougher interrogations" -- the point of comparison being the supposed paradise at Gitmo. Then, to the list of charges levelled at Iran, there's --

that attacked Saudi and Kuwaiti shipping in the 1980s

This of course would be during the Iran-Iraq war, when the US supported Saddam, who was attacking Iranian oil installations and was receiving financial support from the other countries on the Arab side of the Gulf. All context that would be too embarrassing to mention.

Sometimes films are true

Writing in the Washington Post to dispel "myths" that may arise from the film Rendition, Daniel Benjamin says --

[myth] 5. Pretty much anyone -- including U.S. citizens and green card holders -- can be rendered these days.

Not so, although the movie "Rendition" -- in which Witherspoon's Egyptian-born husband gets the black-hood treatment and is yanked from a U.S. airport and taken to a North African chamber of horrors -- is bound to spread this myth. A "U.S. person" (citizen or legal resident) has constitutional protections against being removed from the country through rendition, and there have been no incidents to suggest the contrary.

There's just one problem. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 (S.3930) --


(a) In General- Section 2241 of title 28, United States Code, is amended by striking both the subsection (e) added by section 1005(e)(1) of Public Law 109-148 (119 Stat. 2742) and the subsection (e) added by added by section 1405(e)(1) of Public Law 109-163 (119 Stat. 3477) and inserting the following new subsection (e):

`(e)(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

`(2) Except as provided in paragraphs (2) and (3) of section 1005(e) of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (10 U.S.C. 801 note), no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.'.

(b) Effective Date- The amendment made by subsection (a) shall take effect on the date of the enactment of this Act , and shall apply to all cases, without exception, pending on or after the date of the enactment of this Act which relate to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of detention of an alien detained by the United States since September 11, 2001.

The key phrase is "any alien." A permanent resident of the United States of America (i.e. Green Card holder) is a resident alien. This is one of those issues that keeps coming up, so you'd think Benjamin would have looked into it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Was it a try?

On repeated replays, probably not. But given the skill of the play leading up to it, and the scarcity of tries in the latter stages of the rugby world cup, and the difficulty of determining that it was not a try, shouldn't it have been one?

UPDATE: There's a simple rule change that would deal with cases like this. The field referee should make an initial decision based on what he sees on the field. The video ref can then decide whether there's enough evidence to overrule the call as it was made on the field i.e. the American football rule. Since there is no camera angle that shows conclusively when Cueto touched down the ball compared to where his leg was, the try would have stood. As it should. Otherwise the IRB could be looking at top-flight rugby devolving into a kicking and possession game.

Too safe to live in

Michael Ledeen, writing in today's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) is ready to declare VAQ day (victory over al-Qaeda), unless there's a Weimar-style stab in the back ("[generals and soldiers] fear that the political class in Washington may yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory"), and offers this pleasing development --

As Robert McFarlane reported in these pages, Baghdad's Anglican Canon, Andrew White, has organized meetings of leading Iraqi Christian, Sunni and Shiite clerics, all of whom called for nation-wide reconciliation.

Indeed, McFarlane did so report, on the 25th of August (subs. req'd) --

This process of nurturing reconciliation by bringing Iraq's religious leaders together -- gradually in small groups leading to a conference this past June involving over 70 leaders, and devolving now here in Cairo to the six most senior clerics in all Iraq -- has been led by Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest who has established his contacts and credibility with Iraqi leaders during more than nine years of service in Baghdad.

Note the date of the conference: June. Because --

July 10, 2007
Baghdad vicar leaves Iraq after threats

The vicar working on the release of five Britons held hostage in Baghdad has fled Iraq because of what has been described as “a serious security threat”.

Canon Andrew White, who last week said he was warned by a member of al-Qaeda months ago about the nature of the failed terror attacks in London and Glasgow, today announced that he had left the country because of fears for his safety.

Presumably for his own safety, The Google can find no apparent sightings of Canon White in Iraq since then. Some reconciliation.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Does he know something we don't?

White House --

President Bush Thanks Mel Martinez for Tenure at [Republican National Committee]

Mel Martinez has served his party with the same distinction he serves his country. When Mel accepted the position as General Chairman of the Republican National Committee, his goal was to ensure our party had the structure and resources in place for all Republican candidates in the 2008 elections to be successful. He has more than fulfilled that mission.

Note that the 2008 elections are being declared a success 13 months before they happen. Mission Accomplished Indeed.

Nothing but a g thing

One knew that Andrew Sullivan would not be able to resist the James Watson/African IQ controversy --

No one disputes that the raw data overwhelmingly show clear bell-curve (geddit?) differences between racial groups on IQ. That applies just as much to bell-curve variations between Asians and Caucasians as between Africans and Caucasians. No one disputes either that the IQ variations within ethnic and racial groupings exceed any differences between them. What's disputed is the relative influence of genes and environment - and their interaction - on these results.

No No No No No No No. What's disputed is that there is any meaningful sense in which one can speak of a single, numerical, rankable characteristic called "IQ" which adds anything to our understanding of issues like educational outcomes, achievement, wages, anything. Once you're down the road, as Sully is, of trying to put everyone on this single scale and use it to explain other stuff, you've already lost.

UPDATE: Henry at Crooked Timber elaborates. See especially this excellent comment.

He won't have to make excuses this time

What are Presidential friends for, if not for a nice dinner party right after a divorce?

President Bush will welcome French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Washington on November 6-7, 2007, for his first visit here as President. The President and Mrs. Bush will host President Sarkozy at a dinner at the White House on November 6. On November 7, the two leaders will visit Mount Vernon, the historic home of George Washington, to hold further discussions.

The stunt of heading down to Mount Vernon is presumably for a photo-shoot of the two leaders strolling around the trees that are descended from the original GW's trees, symbolizing ... something or other. The speechwriters are already frantically using The Google to come up with material.

Culture of life, indeed

The Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link), in the course of making the "rules of engagement" excuse for 24 civilian deaths in Haditha, Iraq (5 of whom the Journal deems guilty of being "military age"), concludes --

The critics rushed to judgment; facts and evidence were discarded to fit the antiwar template. Most despicably, they created and stoked a political atmosphere that exposes American soldiers in the line of duty, risking and often losing their lives, to criminal liability for the chaos of war. This is the deepest shame of Haditha, and the one for which apologies ought to be made.

Note the values: the deepest shame is not the 24 dead civilians, but that people said mean things about the Marines.

UPDATE: Even as the Marines work back from the original charges, they still apply a higher standard to civilian deaths in combat than the WSJ does.

Public Health, filtered

George Bush has issued a strategy for public health and medical preparedness. It's supposed to deal with biohazards arising from natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Since it was written by specialists, most of it sounds sensible. But it's still strange when set against the last 6 years. For example --

The United States has made significant progress in public health and medical preparedness since 2001, but we remain vulnerable to events that threaten the health of large populations. The attacks of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina were the most significant recent disasters faced by the United States, yet casualty numbers were small in comparison to the 1995 Kobe earthquake; the 2003 Bam, Iran, earthquake; the 2004 Sumatra tsunami; and what we would expect from a 1918-like influenza pandemic or large-scale WMD attack.

No mention of the one actual man-made biohazard attack on the US, the anthrax letters.

Then, in amid the common sense parts --

Present public health and medical preparedness plans incorporate the concept of “surging” existing medical and public health capabilities in response to an event that threatens a large number of lives. The assumption that conventional public health and medical systems can function effectively in catastrophic health events has, however, proved to be incorrect in real-world situations.

A "Surge", if you will, doesn't work in the face of large scale risks? Say it ain't so!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Not the one from Mission Impossible

Bono with a new twist on one of his occasional expletives --

Bono, lead singer of U2, told the Financial Times it was “an IMF-ing outrage” that Liberia had overcome civil war and met stringent reform standards to qualify for debt relief but that the fund was unable to keep its promise to write off the [International Monetary Fund's] portion of the nation’s $4.5bn (€3bn, £2bn) debt.

He also criticised bureaubabble, which is a not-bad neologism.

Compare and contrast

Mark Steyn now --

Enjoy yourself [Jonah Goldberg] in la belle province [Quebec]. The best-looking gals in North America.

Mark Steyn a little while ago --

New Orleans – welfare swamp enlivened by occasional transsexual hookers

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Here's one of the stranger criminal defences you'll ever hear offered in any courtroom. The context is the trial of Frank Ward for shooting well-known Dublin publican Charlie Chawke. Ward, in the course of a robbery, blasted Chawke's leg with a shotgun and the leg had to be amputated from the knee. Other than that Chawke is OK now and has had the energy to deal with being a bit player in Bertie Ahern's bizarre financial affairs. But that's another story. Ward's defence is not just that Chawke tried to grab the gun that was being used to rob him, but that ...

[Chawke] had "as a businessman" sought to use the situation to take advantage of an "ODC". Mr Ward defined "ODC" to Judge McCartan to mean "ordinary decent criminal".

So you see, it's not just that Chawke was tactically wrong to grab the gun, he was morally wrong. Ward was also faced with a mountain of evidence and enough sense broke through on Day 2 of the trial for him to take a guilty plea. Maybe someone pointed out to him that the array of charges is actually light compared to the reports of what actually took place, which included shooting at a pursuing police car and pointing the gun at the police. Yet no charge of attempted murder.

Not under grace

Although it might not have seemed that way at the time, in today's George Bush press conference, Newsweek's Richard Wolffe did get a meaningful answer on a question for which Bush has his usual dodge --

Q Thank you, sir. A simple question.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. It may require a simple answer.
Q What's your definition of the word "torture"?
Q The word "torture." What's your definition?
THE PRESIDENT: That's defined in U.S. law, and we don't torture.
Q Can you give me your version of it, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Whatever the law says.

Note that the God-fearing president suddenly sees no higher authority than laws that he wrote for determining what is torture. An elementary distinction, but being legal is not the same thing as being right.

UPDATE: The New York Times editorial board blog points out that despite the legal obfuscations, Bush has almost certainly broken the legal definition of torture.

Divide and conquer

National Review's Stanley Kurtz on the real risk from a breakup of Belgium --

So the move to partition carries powerful economic lessons as well. If Belgium does break up, Brussels, the capital of Europe, could become an independent city-state. It would also be the first Western European state with a Muslim majority. What an extraordinary story.

No source is given for the claim (an Amazon link to a book doesn't count). There's no obvious source on the web either, although various places attribute related findings to one sociologist's extrapolation from official data sources, using a disputed technique. But isn't it odd that Flemish people would have spent all this time fussing about an emerging Francophone Brussels when the real issue is, allegedly, its takeover by Muslims?

Incidentally, another indirect source for the claim seems to be a reference to the most popular baby boy's name being Mohammed. There are some fairly obvious problems with that one, not least that most common does not equal majority.

Statistics for Pundits

The Washington Post's attractive conservative, George Will --

Under the [health insurance] bill that Democrats hope to pass over the president's veto tomorrow, states could extend eligibility to households earning $61,950. But America's median household income is $48,201. How can people above the median income be eligible for a program serving lower-income people?

This point goes around so many times so let's keep it simple. Suppose that the economy has 100 people and total income is $200. Suppose that 99 of the 100 people make $1 and the 100th person makes the remaining $101. One might reasonably define "lower income" as making $1. After all, there's one dude in the economy making more than everyone else combined. So in this setup, you can go all the way up to the 99th percentage point of the income distribution and still find a lower income person. Not just up to the 50th.

That's an exaggerated example. But that's America. The income distribution is so skewed that one can be well above the median and still not that well off.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Horse's mouth and another part of a horse

Slate's Mickey Kaus --

it seemed clear the MSM [mainstream media] was hyping the [subprime mortgage]crisis because a) it was the story of the moment; b) economic news is always bad news; and c) the anti-Bush, anti-GOP press is now in permanent campaign mode--and the economy is one of the few things the Republicans, and Bush's policies, might be able to take some credit for. If it tanks, they're really dead. So the press has a catastrophist bias when it comes to the economy. Remember when Enron was going to sink it in 2002? However big the subprime problem is, it was never going to be as big as the press makes out.

George Bush's Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, this morning --

The ongoing housing correction is not ending as quickly as it might have appeared late last year.

And it now looks like it will continue to adversely impact our economy, our capital markets, and many homeowners for some time yet. Even so, I believe we have a healthy, diversified economy that will continue to grow ... Today, average nationwide home prices are barely up in the year through June, sales of existing single-family homes are down by nearly 25 percent from the peak in 2005, and the inventory of unsold homes has increased to levels last seen in the early 1990s ... Current trends suggest there will be just over 1 million foreclosure starts this year - of which 620,000 are subprime ... In addition to affecting individual homeowners, the housing correction is also having a real impact on our economy. Annual housing starts peaked at an annual rate of almost 2.3 million units in early 2006 before falling off more than 40 percent through August of this year ... But let me be clear, despite strong economic fundamentals, the housing decline is still unfolding and I view it as the most significant current risk to our economy. The longer housing prices remain stagnant or fall, the greater the penalty to our future economic growth.

Kaus does have that unfalsifiable last sentence to get him out, but it does seem as if the MSM anti-Bush conspiracy has even penetrated the Treasury Department.

The past is prologue

National Review's Jonah Goldberg, in the context of a NR discussion about whether the WW2 Allies should have declared war on the USSR in 1945, and having been educated as to the many, many problems with this thesis --

[argument that] we couldn't because the American people were too exhausted from the war. That's true, but it leaves out an important point. The American people were also exhausted by the New Deal, which had kept the American public in a de facto state of war for nearly an entire decade before the real war even started. The relentless exhortations, the scarcity, the propaganda: these things began long, long, before Pearl Harbor and even before Roosevelt was promising voters he would keep America out of another European war.

An odd statement that the people were exhausted by the recovery from the Great Depression, but an even odder quasi-insinuation that Pearl Harbor was in fact a clash of two militaristic countries, and finally a clause that could be repackaged for George Bush --

The relentless exhortations, the abundance, the propaganda

The last 6 years in a nutshell.

Itchy trigger finger

[AFP wire] -- A Patriot missile was launched accidentally from a US military base in the Gulf state of Qatar, landing in a farm but causing no casualties, Al-Jazeera television reported on Tuesday.

"A Patriot missile landed on a farm belonging to a Qatari national after being fired by accident from the As-Sailiyah camp," the Doha-based satellite channel said.

The US military said it was looking into the apparent misfire, but declined to give any further details.

Among the salient facts about Qatar: it's just across the Gulf from Iran.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Verb of the Day

Consistent with the observation that George Bush's biggest linguistic disasters occur when he's trying to sound like he cares about the less well-off, consider this usage regarding the need for wider availability of health insurance:

Secondly, I believe government ought to incent people to go -- to be able to have available -- ought to incent -- ought to change the system to make sure an individual can get into the marketplace and be able to better afford private insurance.

Coming soon on the National Rifle Association calendar

Multinational Force Iraq press release --

The friendly, casual atmosphere in the room looked similar to a suburban book-club meeting, or maybe a Mary-Kay cosmetics party. Except that these women were not learning how to apply foundation, they were learning how to lock and load an AK-47.

“Who can show me how to do it?” asked the instructor, an Iraqi Army sergeant, holding up the weapon.

One of the women jumped up and took the automatic rifle, expertly disassembled it and put it back together. When she cocked it by loudly slamming the charging handle back, the rest of the women applauded.

He's not reading Le Monde

AP Photo/Matt Dunham; caption

Given all the mayhem on the field there's something amusing about the sight of Lawrence Dallaglio engrossed in France's respectable conservative daily.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ou est Cécilia?

REUTERS/Eddie Keogh; caption

[Sunday Times] Le Nouvel Observateur, the weekly French magazine, said that Mr Sarkozy had poured out his troubles to Mikhail Saakashvili, his Georgian counterpart, when they met for the France-Georgia World Cup rugby match last month. It quoted Mr Sarkozy, 52, as saying: “Thankfully there is the rugby. With that you can forget all the rest.”

Perfidious Albion strikes again.

A Sovietologist puzzled by Russia

Day 2 of Condi Rice's rough visit to Moscow. Her irony-free discussion of the dangers of unchecked presidential power has been widely noted. A few other clangers. First, it seems that Putin wasn't joking when he referred to putting an anti-missile system on the moon, in the context of the disputed system that the US wants to put in the Czech Republic and Poland --

QUESTION: Did his -- does that concept include lunar -- (laughter). Because fundamentally, you know -- because, you know, the Russians -- the Kremlin spokesman, you know, their interpretation of that comment was a bit of a shock.
QUESTION: Was that, you know, he was not trying to make fun of it. He was trying to say that, look, you know, we can get to a point where this -- is that --
SECRETARY RICE: I thought it was kind of a joke. I don't know what you --
QUESTION: You didn't see it as derogative form?
SECRETARY RICE: No. Look, President Putin does have this kind of way of speaking, you know, and he makes these sort of offhanded comments from time to time. That's how I read it. It didn't really occur to me that it was a comment that was serious.
QUESTION: Did you laugh?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, actually, I did, I think.1

In addition, things with Turkey may be worse than has been discussed so far. This also came up in her chat with journalists --

QUESTION: What is the status of General Ralston?
QUESTION: He's gone, right? So now it's --
QUESTION: His resignation has been accepted or --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have not had a chance to talk, so let me not comment. I know that he is -- he is desirous of, you know, not having to continue. But he has said that he'll try to help where he can and when he can. And he's terrific. He's really done a good job in trying to bring that together.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) so you're hopeful that he'll stay on?
SECRETARY RICE: No, I think that we will have -- it'll be a different relationship. But I know that he has offered that when he can help, he will.

General Ralston is the US Special Envoy for countering the PKK. So for some reason he doesn't see much point in continuing in his job. On the other hand, it was also revealed that arch neocon Eric Edelman, last heard from accusing Hillary Clinton of treason -- is being sent over to soothe the Turks. Great.

1 Media accounts indicate that this is an accurate representation of her reaction to Pootie-Poot's "joke".

Score tries, win the game

REUTERS/Robert Pratta ; caption

Maybe it's just Setanta's gombeen pricing on the rugby that already had us irritated, but their carping on England's negative tactics and bad refereeing -- and not French mistakes -- as the key to the outcome of the match was particularly grating.

There can be only one

Rather than directly confront the increased weight given to concerns about global warming with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore, Saturday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) runs through a list of causes -- carefully chosen to not be anything that George W. Bush might be against -- that did not receive the prize this year. Indeed it is true that with only one prize per year, the committee has to decide on one that is of particular global significance. It's not as if the other causes lose legitimacy from not getting a prize. Anyway, some of the suggested recipients have been busy giving awards to each other:

[not given to] Or to Britain's Tony Blair, Ireland's Bertie Ahern and the voters of Northern Ireland, who in March were able to set aside decades of hatred to establish joint Catholic-Protestant rule in Northern Ireland.

Well, Tony and Bertie had their love-in during Tony's swan-song earlier this year, and the Northern Ireland cause has been recognised previously in awards to John Hume and David Trimble.

Here's another --

In Olso yesterday, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was not awarded to the Burmese monks whose defiance against, and brutalization at the hands of, the country's military junta in recent weeks captured the attention of the Free World.

Thus they do not know, or do not care, that the prize was awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991. 16 years later she's still under house arrest and the thugs are still in charge. If the Nobel committee was part of the UN, they'd be citing this as proof of its ineffectiveness.

Perhaps the strangest thing about the reaction of the American right to Gore's prize is their view that a win for Gore is a loss for them. He's moved on from 2000. They haven't.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Summer romance

Who amongst us has forgotten the time when a glorious alliance of the USA and Ethiopia was going to achieve a great victory in the War on Terror in Somalia? Well, it looks like the Ethiopians are being dumped as the favourite in Horn of Africa geo-politics --

President Bush will welcome President Yoweri Museveni of the Republic of Uganda to the White House on October 30, 2007. The President and President Museveni will discuss Uganda's leadership in Somalia

For more background, here's a very well-timed Financial Times analysis.

Cooling their heels

As salient a fact as any about what is a very rough visit by Condi Rice and Robert Gates to Russia --

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Anatoliy Eduardovich Serdyukov and Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov at Putin’s residence outside of Moscow.

According to pool reports, Putin did not meet with Gates and Rice until 40 minutes after their arrival.

UPDATE: The subtle barbs continued; interview with Sergey Brilev of RTR TV --

QUESTION: How do you call yourself these days -- a Sovietologist?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we've dropped that term, clearly.

It's all he knows

George Bush seemed to surprise the Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd) with the limits of his statement about the dollar --

WSJ: Next week, the G7 finance ministers are going to be meeting here. And there has been a lot of concern, obviously, about the value of the dollar around the world, and some calls for the U.S. to put more action behind its vow that we support a strong dollar. How do you respond to them, and do you think Treasury needs to intervene at all at this point?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Secretary Paulson, of course, is our main spokesman on this issue, and he reflects the view of this administration that the strong dollar policy is the correct policy. And we also believe that the best way for a currency to become valued is through the market.

WSJ: That's it?


The "strong dollar" mantra doesn't have quite the same weight when a dollar buys less than 50p in London.

Everyone loves the Irish

National Review's Mark Steyn, in an apparently approving reference to the fact that the Republic of Ireland is having the beginnings of a debate about integration of immigrants, which he contrasts with Britain --

John [O'Sullivan], you're right that the Steyn-Heinsohn theses on Europe's demographic weakness are not part of the debate in Britain, in part because its politico-media culture is much more centralized and so, if something doesn't seem important in a select few London postal districts, it doesn't get much play ... On the other hand, I was on a TV show last week in Dublin discussing immigrant integration. Ireland has evolved from a famous exporter of people to a voracious importer thereof: the auld sod's immigrant community has gone from nothing (save for a few English, Scots and tax-avoiding "artists") to ten per cent of the population in little more than a decade. The "Integration Minister", who was on the show, says he's confident Ireland can avoid the mistakes of Britain and the Continent, but everyone says that when in they're in the first flush of immigration romance.

Here's the segment from Prime Time. There were various interesting remarks. Steyn contrasted the inability of Irish emigrants to late 19th/early 20th century America to live in an exclusively immigrant culture compared to the opportunities offered by satellite television, the Internet, and neighbourhood clustering today where Muslim immigrants are concerned. Yet (at the risk of repeating an old point), the big northeastern cities did have heavily Irish communities for a long time, and there were also more return visits than people think. One example being Eamon DeValera, who doesn't seem to have come back from his time in America with much other than American citizenship, which of course played a crucial role in his subsequent history in Ireland.

But anyway, Steyn is right to point to Conor Lenihan's naivete. At one point Lenihan seemed to be claiming that Ireland wouldn't have any problems with integrating immigrants because it wasn't a colonising country, a bizarre theory that for one thing has trouble explaining why it's the 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants to Britain that are more alienated than their parents and grandparents who had the actual experience of colonial rule. In addition, Ireland has a dodgy cocktail of low quality housing, poorly-serviced suburbs, and a hybrid church-state education system, adding up to the classic recipe for social exclusion. Prime Time should bring back the same panel after a couple of years of slower growth to see how well things look then.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Everyone has an Irish cousin

It's tough enough for every civilian in Iraq but especially difficult for Iraq's Christian community, which runs a severe danger of extinction. So to have 2 of them killed by contractors for contractors for the US State Department is a new low. Not entirely surprisingly, there is a large scattered family of the woman who was driving the car (as an informal taxi), including in Belfast --

The woman, Marany Awanees, was the youngest of nine siblings in the Mamook family, including three brothers who are part of the Armenian diaspora in Europe and the United States. One brother is a computer programmer living in Glendale, Calif., near Los Angeles ...

“She was a lovely sister, my younger sister, a lovely, lovely sister,” another brother, Paul Mamook, an electrical engineer in Belfast, Northern Ireland, said in a telephone interview ... Paul Mamook said he called his sister after the Sept. 16 shooting by guards with Blackwater USA that killed as many as 17 people who were stuck in traffic near Nisour Square in Baghdad. The shooting struck fear in him, he said, because Ms. Awanees was a taxi driver. “I phoned her, and I said, ‘Whenever you drive, watch and check, and be very careful,’” he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “But I never expected it to happen to her.”

One wonders if the perilous state of Iraq's Christian community is one of the issues holding up Tony Blair's rumoured conversion to Catholicism.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

If you have a boat

National Review's Iain Murray, complaining about Al Gore as a likely Nobel Peace Prize recipient --

Moreover, a movie whose upshot is that the poor in Calcutta and West Africa should be denied access to the energy that can lift them out of poverty?

He couldn't have picked a worse example than Calcutta. As a city on the Bay of Bengal and in that strip of India/Bangladesh squeezed between the Bay and the mountains, it will suffer the worst from global warming as sea levels rise and snow melts become more frequent.

Loose lips

William Hague, paying careful attention to transcripts, yesterday in the House of Commons --

Mr. Hague: No one believes the Foreign Secretary any more when he argues that this is not the EU constitution. When the Prime Minister met the Irish Prime Minister on 17 July, even he referred to it as the European constitution.

It was actually on the 16th, but yes indeed:

Prime Minister:

Can I say first of all what a pleasure it is to be here in Belfast with the Taoiseach for this meeting of the British-Irish Council ... The Taoiseach and I have had a meeting this morning. We have discussed the European constitution and how that can move forward over the next few months.

The problem for Brown is that his counterpart had less problem calling it an EU Constitution, since the Republic of Ireland will have a referendum. Even so, Bertie was more careful --

We have had a chance of discussing some of the issues between us, obviously dealing with the reform treaty of the European Union.

Maybe Gordon should borrow one of Bertie's staffers. Incidentally, when one searches the Number 10 website for "Bertie Ahern", it asks whether you meant to search for "berate her".

Monday, October 08, 2007

Orange Crush

Christopher "Did that play of mine send out/certain men the English shot" Hitchens in Slate --

If any country has enjoyed a long reputation for peaceful and democratic consensus combined with civic fortitude, that country is the Netherlands. It was one of the special countries of the Enlightenment, providing refuge for the family of Baruch Spinoza and for the heterodox Pierre Bayle and René Descartes. It overcame Catholic-Protestant fratricide with a unique form of coexistence, put up a spirited resistance to Nazi occupation, evolved a constitutional form of monarchy, and managed to make a fairly generous settlement with its former colonies and their inhabitants.

History of Belgium --

The Belgian Revolution had many causes; principally the treatment of the French-speaking Catholic Walloons in the Dutch-dominated United Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the difference of religion between the Belgians and their Dutch king. The main cause of the Belgian Revolution was the domination of the Dutch over the economic, political, and social institutions of the United Provinces. The Belgians had little influence over the economy and resented Dutch control ...

Also at this time, the more numerous Dutch provinces represented a majority in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands' elected Lower Assembly, where the Belgians felt significantly under-represented. However, the Belgians saw the main political domination in the fact that King William I was Dutch, lived in the present day Netherlands, and largely ignored the Belgian demands for greater self-determination ...

Another cause of the Belgian Revolution was the Belgian peoples' faith, Roman Catholicism, which conflicted with that of their Dutch King, and his belief in Calvinism. Although there were and still are many Roman Catholics in the present-day Netherlands, the Belgians saw themselves as purely Catholic and demanded a higher role for the Church, and for Catholics, in their government. In a sense, the Belgian Revolution was a revolution of a French-speaking upper and middle class that exchanged Dutch hegemony for French-speaking hegemony.

If that's Hitch's benign interpretation of Dutch history, no wonder he got Iraq so wrong.

The W is for Dubya

An interesting correction from the New York Times --

An article on Sept. 26 about the controversy surrounding an antiwar advertisement placed in The Times by misstated the middle initial of the commander of American troops in Iraq who was the target of the ad. He is Gen. David H. Petraeus, not David W.

A Freudian slip, since the initial of course belongs to the man who delegated to Petraeus the policymaking powers regarding Iraq.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Haka becomes a scrum

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth; caption

France taking a new approach to demystifying the All-Blacks' famous dance.

UPDATE: It worked.

FINAL UPDATE: Compare the French approach to the South Africans watching the Fiji dance.

Free trade, on our terms

Tomorrow the people of Costa Rica will vote by referendum on accepting Costa Rica's endorsement of the US-Central American (+Dom. Rep.) Free Trade Agreement. The US has been using bilateral and regional free trade agreements as leverage to force other countries to sign deals on similar terms i.e. by saying to Country Y, "we're going to give country X this deal so they'll have an advantage over you unless you sign this deal too."

There are many problems with those mode of moving to freer trade, not least that it goes against the basic free trade principle of giving all your partners the same terms without any one of them having to negotiate for it. But George Bush is an Imperial Preference trader at heart.

Anyway, back to Costa Rica. Lest the people get too uppity and reject the deal, the White House has issued an extremely rare eve-of-voting statement regarding a vote in another country (the only precedent being their assistance to Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad). Included in the statement is the following --

With respect to trade preferences provided under the Caribbean Basin Initiative which will expire in September 2008, the United States has never before confronted the question of extending unilateral trade preferences to a country that has rejected a reciprocal trade agreement.

Voters in Costa Rica should be aware that many of those assuring Costa Rica of continued access to the U.S. market have consistently opposed measures that would open the U.S. market to goods from Costa Rica and other countries, whether through trade agreements or through trade preference programs.

i.e. if the voters reject the new deal, then we'll lose interest in continuing Costa Rica's existing trade access, but it won't be our fault -- it will be those awful alter-globalization meanies who say such awful things about the wonders of free trade. So it's a threat that they won't even take responsibility for implementing. Classy people.

UPDATE: The Yes camp just shades it, 51.6 to 48.3. In fairness to the White House, it should be noted that Peter Mandelson had been issuing similar-sounding threats to developing countries in the context of EU trade negotiations but (a) not right before referenda and (b) he subsequently caved. And more context from Brad DeLong, who's wary about having a vote but in favour of the trade deal.

George Bush, Dissenter

In an interview with al-Arabiya TV, with a range of low points, this is the worst --

Q: I would like to know what was your reaction the first time when you heard that 15 Saudi Muslims were among the hijackers who committed this crime and this terrorist act. How did that affect your relationship with the Kingdom, which plays a major role in the region and particularly Crown Prince Abdullah -- now King Abdullah -- who is a personal friend of yours?

THE PRESIDENT: King Abdullah is a personal friend of mine, and I respect him. You know, I have seen murder before in my own country. I have seen evil people take innocent life. And when that's happened, I haven't condemned everybody else around.

I will give you an interesting story. I was in a community yesterday [Lancaster Pa.]-- a gunman came and killed five young Amish girls -- this is last year -- and the gunman was killed. The Amish community, which is a religious community here in America, went and reached out to the wife and children of the gunman in compassion and love. And I'm not saying I was that -- you know, I hope I could be that compassionate. It was a great act of compassion.

And the reason I tell you that is my reaction on September the 11th was, I vowed to find the killers -- those who ordered the killing -- and bring them to justice. On the other hand, never did it enter my heart and my mind to be embittered toward a group of people, innocent people, who had nothing to do with the murderer. In other words, I was focused on the individuals and their commanders, not citizens in the Middle East, of any country, particularly Saudi Arabia.

It's stating the obvious, but his attempted comparison of himself to the Amish is ludicrous -- the latter who eschew most of the trappings of modern life, and of course eschew aggression and revenge, compared to the man who a few weeks after 9/11 was invading Afghanistan, and even at that time was indeed plotting aggression against citizens of one particular country. He's right that it wasn't Saudi Arabia. It was Iraq.

Why does any church let this guy in the door?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Euphemisms are like buses

From a report about new US State Department procedures for dealing with its mercenary contractor Blackwater --

An internal State Department review ordered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recommends overhauling U.S. diplomatic security practices in Iraq after the Blackwater USA shooting incident in which 13 Iraqis were killed, a senior U.S. official said Friday ...

"She wants to make sure there is a management feedback loop," McCormack told reporters.

The person at the top wants to start managing. Imagine that.

Euphemism of the Day

Rich "We're Winning" Lowry, in Baghdad --

population-control measures

i.e. turning Baghdad into a collection of walled ghettoes.

One word he didn't say

National Review's Iain Murray is up in arms (following up on earlier outrage from K-Lo) --

Clinton Blames Bush for Anti-Americanism

Bill of that ilk, that is, in his latest soft-ball interview with the BBC. BritainAndAmerica has the details. He also blames the President for continuing his own policy on Kyoto, which I suggest here amounts to stirring up anti-Americanism.

Indeed BritainAndAmerica has details --

Asked why anti-Americanism is so strong at the moment, Bill Clinton said the Bush administration “squandered” the goodwill that America received after 9/11.

He didn't say "Bush administration." He said "we, the United States government." [at 6m25s mark] He took collective responsibility for decisions taken by the government, which is exactly what one would expect a former President, trying to be diplomatic, would do. It's an interesting contrast with Bush, who never takes responsibility for anything that goes wrong.

In fact Clinton hardly mentioned George Bush at all, only interviewer John Humphrys did. And he refused to get drawn into ruling out an attack in Iran. There's really nothing to complain about.

The complainers also seem to forget that Clinton was doing interviews to promote his charitable initiative and book -- itself about charitable giving. Not every interview can be about the greatness of George W. Bush.

Pushing the envelope

Via the Irish Times, here's the contribution of Martin Mansergh TD in the Dail debate on an Irish arms export control bill. It followed some remarks by Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh --

I was surprised by elements of the last contribution. Only Dáil Éireann has the right to declare war, therefore, there was no war over the past 30 years. It is all very well to moralise about other people exporting arms, but are we certain that the IRA did not export expertise in bomb-making and other guerrilla warfare-terrorist tactics and techniques? Many questions are unanswered about places such as Colombia where three members of, let us call it, the republican movement - although I do not believe there was very much republican about these activities - were found in Colombia in FARC-held territory where the human rights abuses are absolutely appalling. During the summer, 11 locally elected politicians were taken out and shot by FARC and other politicians have been held hostage for a period, as in the case of Ingrid Betancourt. I wish spokespersons for Sinn Féin would not moralise from a height without adopting a self-critical attitude to some of the activities they have defended and stood over in the past.

It's to say the least interesting that Mansergh would try to bait SF and the IRA in this fashion, since there are persons within those organisations who likely know far more than is publicly known about Mansergh's 1990s contacts with the IRA, a period when he presumably thinks they were waging an illegal war. It would be awful if they chose to enlighten the public about those contacts in response to yesterday's moralising.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

How international treaties work

According the US. Every country gets to decide for themselves what the Geneva Conventions mean. So says the White House --

Q But what's to stop another country from then taking their own definition and interpretation based on the administration's --

MS. PERINO: As I understand it, under the Geneva Conventions, every country was supposed to interpret it for themselves, and now we have.

Q You don't think there's any ambiguity there in the definition of torture for other countries to abuse Americans if they are captured?

MS. PERINO: No, I think that the countries that we deal with that are our allies, that are a party to the Geneva Conventions, follow that, and they follow their laws. And obviously, if any American was tortured anywhere, we would have big problems with that


Q Back on Elaine's question about clarity, you said something that if there's a problem with understanding, it's left up to the countries to try to decipher --

MS. PERINO: As I understand it, I believe that the Geneva Conventions, that every country could interpret for themselves what those -- what that language meant. I'm recalling that from the debate that we had in this country from a year and a half ago.

In fact, as a reporter pointed out, questions of interpretation are resolved by an International Criminal Court. Without wanting to seem overly dramatic, we seem to be getting to a point where an ICC indictment of George Bush is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

A huge victory over Islamo-Euro-metricism

Diageo is allowed to continue selling those little Bailey's bottles across the European Union. They're 1/8 of a pint = 0.071 of a litre, which was not an admissible size. In reality the case says more about German protectionism than a supposed EU metric rampage, such as the one that was going to get rid of the pint of plain.

No we're not being ironic

This Mark Steyn post about David Cameron's speech and its media reception is excellent. He doesn't even point out the oddity of the Telegraph using a hyperbolic quote from Iain Dale, prolific blogger but also occasional Telegraph writer and presumed Conservative Party member. It makes for an interesting counterpoint to Andrew Sullivan's opinion of the speech. See also Mike Power.

Irish expletives, or not

With the hilarious news that the Minister for Defence, Willie O'Dea, got into a fight in a pub in Limerick comes the crucial and poorly understood distinction (outside Ireland) between the 4 letter f-words "feck" and the other one. The former is semi-acceptable and can be printed while the latter is not. Note that Bono's Grammy obscenity case relies on exactly this distinction.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

It's not personal if the President does it

Truly a mother lode in the George Bush Q&A in Lancaster Pa today --

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. You know, probably the most disappointing thing about my experience in Washington is the harshness of the discourse; is the zero-sum attitude. And I've tried to do my part by holding people with respect and to -- you know, talking about people in such a way that it doesn't degrade the process. I want this little guy to look at Washington and say, wow, this is something I may aspire to.
... I'll still try to do my best to treat people with respect. It's the best thing a President can do, it seems like to me. And the other leaders ought to be doing the same thing. If you disagree with a person, don't make it personal. Don't feel like you have to tear the other person down in order to make a political point. (Applause).

George Bush, in an election rally in Sugar Land, Tex. last year --

Well, however they [Democrats] put it, their approach comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses.

The insurgency will not be televised

George Bush, recapturing the spirit of his disastrous Q&A sessions which had been on hold for a while --

Q I said, are you disappointed in the Americans that condemn the Iraqi war now, since after -- right after 9/11 it seemed like we were all ready to go to war over it?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not -- listen, people don't like war. I'm not disappointed in America at all. I love America. And I fully understand, you know, that people just are anxious about seeing death on their TV screens. I also understand that, you know, the enemy understands that. And so these spectacular bombings of innocent people are meant to achieve a couple of objectives: one, shake the will of those inside of Iraq, or wherever they kill -- Afghanistan, Indonesia, the Philippines -- all aiming to disquiet societies that live under democracy. But they're also smart people -- they know that these spectaculars will get on our TV screens.

That "death on our TV screens" is one of his stock lines, but ...

U.S. authorities confiscated an AP Television News videotape that contained scenes of the wounded [from Polish ambassador attack] being evacuated. U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl told AP the government of Iraq had made it illegal to photograph or videotape the aftermath of bombings or other attacks.

When spin collides

George Bush, before a sycophantic audience (except for her) in Lancaster, Pa --

That's why I brought up the example of the S-CHIP [sic] corporation. When we cut taxes on everybody who pays taxes, we cut taxes on small businesses, too

He has therefore confused S corporations, which is part of his misleading spin for tax cuts, with S-CHIP, the program which provides health insurance to poor children.

UPDATE: An apt observation from Paul Krugman --

Mark Crispin Miller, the author of “The Bush Dyslexicon,” once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms — “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and so on — have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.

What Gordon Brown should do

Call a referendum on the EU Constitution. Put the issue to rest for once and for all. Right now it looks like the only referendum will be in the Republic of Ireland.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Gordon of little faith

In Basra yesterday --

I want to thank our Australian colleagues here in advance - because of the defeat that will be inflicted in the Rugby World Cup ... So let me, on behalf of the British people, thank you [soldiers], let me say I cannot predict how the Rugby World Cup will end. I am sorry about Wales, sorry about Ireland. Scotland and England still have a chance. I suspect England have a better chance of a place than Scotland, even although I am a Scottish supporter.

Scotland are playing Argentina while England play Australia. Argentina have a nice cup so far but still would not have been a top seed going in. The Paddy Power odds on England and Scotland going out are identical. So why wouldn't he embrace his Scottish allegiance a bit more fully?

Today's Iraq Hypocrisy

Is contained in this arcane announcement from the White House. After wading through the bureaucratic jargon, one learns that the absolute most number of Iraqi refugees that the US will admit in this fiscal year (which just began) is 38,000, and that's assuming that the entire Near East/South Asia plus all the unallocated quota goes to Iraqis, which it won't, because Iraqis have so much difficulty getting passports and security clearances.

But the real weasel touch is provided by this bit --

I [George Bush] also specify that, for FY 2008, the following persons may, if otherwise qualified, be considered refugees for the purpose of admission to the United States within their countries of nationality or habitual residence:

a. Persons in Vietnam
b. Persons in Cuba
c. Persons in the former Soviet Union
d. In exceptional circumstances, persons identified by a United States Embassy in any location

So for a bit of legacy anti-Communist grandstanding, he's willing to specify that one can be current residents of these countries i.e. not internationally displaced, and still be a refugee. Iraq is not on the list, except implicitly through item (d), which probably won't be used much.

And all this is against the backdrop of 4.2 million Iraqi refugees.