Wednesday, February 28, 2007

One option is off the table

In an interview with the travelling journalists on his plane back to Oman yesterday, Dick Cheney indicated that there's one strategy he won't be pursuing to weaken Iran -- lower oil prices, which have been widely documented as putting severe pressure on the Iranian government. His statement occurred in the context of an inexplicably anonymous interview with "Senior Administration Official" even though, as the Wall Street Journal notes, it's clear from the start that it's Cheney. Anyway --

Q If I could change the subject to something that came up earlier in the trip. You've talked about Iran and the other threat the U.S. faces there, to what extent do you think your -- it's been described as hawkish, or you're keeping the military option on the table puts a level of risk into the equation that oil markets, for example, factor in and actually help the Iranian government because they're so reliant on oil? Is there a --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's a bit of a stretch. All I said is what we've said consistently for months, even years now, which is that all options are on the table. We haven't taken any option off the table.

Q If you took the military option off the table, markets around the world --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What do you think would happen?

Q I don't know what would happen. But people say oil prices go down 10 percent or 15 percent and that would start to hurt Ahmadinejad.


Since every part of the questioner's thesis is well documented (note inter alia the rise in oil prices since the latest round of sabre-rattling began), the only conclusion is that Cheney wants high oil prices.

The interview is also noteworthy for his repeating the claim that the US can't leave Iraq because it would be a bad signal to Afghanistan about its commitment there, when of course the US can always send a direct signal to Afghanistan by adding more troops, removing them from the Iraq quagmire. As Tony Blair has done. But for Cheney it's all about "signals" as opposed to constraints and actions.

[Note: much more from the invaluable Dan Froomkin on the interview, including its bizarre groundrules; the Iran-oil price discussion, perhaps the most interesting part of the interview, was initially omitted from the New York Times account]

Iran/Not Iran

Multinational Forces Iraq

In the above picture, Captain Clayton Combs of the 1st Cavalry Division holds an Explosively Formed Projectile, which is a flat cone that elongates when propelled by explosives, allowing it to penetrate armoured vehicles. The key sentence in the MNF-Iraq story accompanying this picture, referring to a raid in Baqubah is --

This was the first time Combs’s unit has found an EFP manufacturing plant.

Elements in the Pentagon had previously claimed that EFPs were too specialised to be manufactured in Iraq and so had to be coming from Iran. The MNF story makes no mention of an Iranian connection.

Funny/Not Funny?

[BBC] [Wales] First Minister Rhodri Morgan is under fire for making a joke about Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley. He made the quip at a dinner on the eve of the Welsh Labour conference in the presence of Wales and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain and PM Tony Blair.

He said Mr Paisley converted to Catholicism before dying because he thought it better to lose a Catholic than a Protestant.

Peter Hain doesn't quite say it's not funny but does say it's inappropriate and in poor taste. No comment from Blair. Ian Paisley's son thinks it is. The fact that Hain comes out against may mean that he expects to have his Nothern Ireland job a little bit longer.

For the annals of tempermental chef stories

The venue is Thornton's in the Fitzwilliam Hotel on St Stephens Green in Dublin. It has one Michelin star. There's a table of 7. A venison dish arrives for one customer and on account of being deemed "insubstantial" the diner requests a side order of French fries. Main courses are eaten and dessert menu presented. Still no fries. Diner attempts to cancel order whereupon furious eponymous chef appears --

"He said to Glenn in no uncertain terms: 'We don't have French fries on the menu. These were ordered for you. They were cooked specially for you, so you eat them, you d***head' and he threw them down on the table," Mr Murphy [another diner] claimed.

The Irish Times (subs. req'd) has all the details. The chef denies this version of events but admits using bad language and all sides agree that the seven customers were asked to leave. Now the fact that the fracas apparently took up a fair bit of time on the call-in show Liveline may say something about the priorities of Celtic Tiger Ireland, but the chef apparently did draw the support of other customers there the same night, at least as regards their own level of service.

Anyway, our own non-expert verdict: (1) A table of 7 is the outer limit of what's feasible in a premium restaurant, as it seriously stretches the order flow in the kitchen, so the sudden side order may have been the straw that broke the camel's back, but (2) if the restaurant really didn't have fries, the waiter should have suggested a potato alternative when the initial request was made. However if the request came as an order for "chips", the chef was right to be furious.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

It's like 2002 all over again

At National Review's The Corner, Byron York --

Regardless of what is being said on the Huffington Post, if, as is being reported today, the Taliban has attempted to assassinate the Vice President of the United States, isn't it time for a major American attack on Taliban facilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Their China/Our China

From the Wall Street Journal markets roundup (subs. req'd) today --

Stocks declined sharply Tuesday, as weakness in Red China sent markets around the world into the red, durable-goods data disappointed and uncertainty increased about Iran and Afghanistan.

A term that many people will only know from reruns of You Only Live Twice.

UPDATE: The adjective "Red" was pulled.

It's like 2002 all over again

Why, exactly, does house blogger for The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan, link in a "Heh Indeed" way to the Islamophobic Little Green Footballs and its post hypothesizing that the 3 French expats killed in Saudi Arabia were killed because they were infidels who took a "wrong turn" towards Mecca? Because the evidence doesn't indicate much other than this being an al Qaeda unit that was waiting for the first foreigners to come along in an area in the Saudi desert, but not particular close to Mecca or Medina, and not in an area where the road sign that LGF shows would be relevant. In fact, the incident appears to have happened much closer to the Iraqi border than Mecca, illustrating the true source of instability in the region.

UPDATE: News accounts differ on whether the tourists were on a Muslims-only road; the BBC says so, but the New York Times says not, as the road leads to a site recently opened to tourists. The Financial Times says that the tourists had been spotted by the terrorists at a campsite and then followed; more a sign of bad luck than a "wrong turn." [Notice the subtle word play in that phrase, by the way].

Incidentally, LGF proprietor Charles Johnson was the propagator of a never-confirmed claim that Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was killed because he was non-Muslim, when all evidence indicates that he was killed by extreme nationalists who targeted him for being Armenian.

One more thing: even the LGFers are wondering why Sully linked!

This time they've gone too far

The normally pro-whatever-the-markets-come-up-with Wall Street Journal editorial page (subs. req'd) finally finds something it doesn't like about private equity takeovers -- a nefarious conspiracy of environmentalists and ruthless profit-maximizing Wall Street investment bankers not to pollute the air with coal fired power plants. This is in the context of the biggest private equity deal yet, the KKR takeover of the Texas power company TXU, but even the Journal knows that they need a theory as to why the takeover specialists would profit from an alliance with the greens, so they link it to the opposition in Texas to TXU's plans to follow the exhortations of George W. Bush and use more coal --

As for TXU's current shareholders, the agitation of the greens may have helped bring down TXU's share price last year, so the environmentalists probably did KKR and partners a favor. There may even be a trend in the making here -- environmental protesters bring down a stock, making a private-equity transaction look more attractive, and in return, the equity firm and its management partners buy off the greens with this or that environmental promise. We're not suggesting any such quid pro quo here, but if we were TXU's mom-and-pop investors or Texas energy consumers we'd certainly be asking some pointed questions.

Geddit? Silly power company proposes more coal, environmentalists object, share price declines making it a cheaper takeover target, the company drops its plans and the share price goes back up -- cleaner air and fat profits for everyone. This all sounds like a fabulous conspiracy except for the complete absence of any theory explaining why the environmentalists, probably trying to scrape together the $3 for a latte at Starbucks, suddenly have the power to determine share prices at $35 billion companies.

Who knows where this line of reasoning could lead. If it turns out that rich people are disproportionately interested in Al Gore's Oscar winning film, could the Journal develop a sudden interest in progressive taxation?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Believe nothing

It seemed fishy at the time -- confusion about why exactly Dick Cheney's plane was stopping in Singapore; the Aussies thought it was an unscheduled stop but the spin from Cheney's office was that it was scheduled. Then the weird spin about a suddenly not very important bag that someone had left on the ground near the plane. But the media still decide to move along to another story. And now Cheney pops up on a SURPRISE! visit to Pakistan. Why do the hacks believe a word that Cheney's office says?

Irish protestors should note that the odds are now much higher that Cheney's plane will stop in Shannon, as the Atlantic route is now the more likely one home.

UPDATE 27 February: The Cheney curse continues. His security team apparently considering Pakistan so dangerous that his visit couldn't be announced in advance, he then flys to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, presumably because Kabul is considered too dangerous and then gets stuck there because of a snowstorm, in time to hear a Taliban suicide attack this morning. The incoherence of the war on terror -- tied down in Iraq while the Pakistan-Afghanistan situation spirals out of control -- crystallised.

Note also that news accounts on Monday had mentioned Cheney's presence in Bagram, so there was not necessarily a leak from inside the Pakistani or Afghan governments directly to the Taliban. Anyway, Cheney's last reported location was Muscat so the Shannon stopover is still a possibility.

[Dan Froomkin has a nice roundup of the late stages of Cheney's trip, including the news that he flew from Singapore to Muscat on his usual jet but then used a military plane ("The Spirit of Strom Thurmond") with a mobile home inside for the travels from there on].

FINAL UPDATE: Cheney's refuelling stop was in Britain.

America's favourite Irishman

George Bush at his dinner for the governors last night --

And so tonight is a night to -- a festive night. Our friend, Ronan Tynan, is going to entertain you. I'm looking forward to it. I hope you are, as well.

UPDATE: Here are the pictures.

FINAL UPDATE: Ronan's appearance was an apparent synergy with the declaration of Irish-American heritage month.

Nothing else to say

REUTERS/Kieran Doherty; caption

It's the quickest way through traffic in a real crisis

9/11 rerun rehearsal, via the Washington Post --

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dozens of high-level officials joined in a White House drill yesterday to see how the government would respond if several cities were attacked simultaneously with bombs similar to those used against U.S. troops in Iraq.

White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend and the Homeland Security Council that she heads mapped out in advance a massive disaster involving improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The attack targeted 10 U.S. cities, both large and small, at the same time, said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity ...

President Bush went on a bike ride yesterday morning and did not take part in the test.

Note in particular his insouciance about a drill for a bombing technique that has been perfected as a result of his botched invasion of Iraq.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


(White House/David Bohrer; caption)

Another day of idiocy on Dick Cheney's visit to Australia. This time he's an equal partner with John Howard regarding David Hicks, the Gitmo detainee. Here's Howard --

And I have asked that within the constraints of the separation of powers in the United States system between the executive and the judicial process that the trial be brought on as soon as humanly possible and with no further delay.

Thus showing that he has no understanding of the problem with Guantanamo -- that it's entirely an executive branch operation, with everyone held there at the discretion of George W. Bush and whatever procedures he establishes. The detainees have no virtually no access to the US judicial system, as reaffirmed by this week's US Appeals Court decision.

Cheney at least was a bit smarter about this issue --

Mr. Hicks is near the head of the queue, if I can put it in those terms. He has been charged. The question that happens now -- or the issue that arises now is under our procedures there is what's called a convening authority. This is a quasi-judicial function inside the Department of Defense -- a judge, in effect -- who will make the decision based on the charges that have been presented as to whether or not a commission should be convened for the purpose of trying this individual, in this case, Mr. Hicks. We cannot interfere with that process. It is a judicial process. And we're not allowed to call over and say when are you going to be through, or what are you going to decide. We can't influence it. That would be a violation of the procedures.

Thus what the Military Commissions Act established was a shadow "separation of powers" within the executive branch, but it's a fiction. For one thing, does anyone believe that Dick Cheney would hold off picking up the phone to a Pentagon official if he really wanted to? Anyone in the CIA's WMD division can answer that question. Anyway, Dick Cheney believes that the president as commander-in-chief has essentially unlimited powers in wartime, especially over military matters like these trials.

One more thing. The sole US concession to Howard is that Hicks can serve any sentence in an Australian jail, which would put Australia in the position of enforcing a penalty determined by a process that would not meet its own legal standards. Somewhat surprisingly, Cheney dealt with the other contingency --

And of course, if he were not found guilty, then he'd presumably be returned to Australia having been found innocent.

But wouldn't he still be an enemy combatant, as the previous Combatant Status Review Tribunal said he was? By the way, Australian Labor Party -- above is your first campaign poster. What is that bird over Cheney's head?

[2 additional notes: Attaturk visually elaborates on that bird, and why, exactly, does Cheney's plane really need to stop in Singapore?]

Friday, February 23, 2007

One leader, one victim

Another Dick Cheney interview in Australia, this time with The Australian, and now the claim that people criticise the USA's anti-terrorism policies only because they didn't have direct experience of 9/11 --

And we -- especially after 9/11 felt required to take action that not everybody agreed with. But then we had firsthand experience of the consequences of a failure to act. And so I think one of the results of that is some people who disagree with those actions or I think in some cases may hope that it's not necessary to be as aggressive as we've been take exception to the policies that we put in place. But I also like to remind them they weren't there in New York and Washington on 9/11 when we lost 3,000 one morning to 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters.

Cheney therefore implicitly claims that everyone who was in New York and Washington supports his policies, and that 9/11 is only terrorist event allowed to inform one's opinion of anti-terrorism policies. He also overlooks the fact that his boss was in neither city on 9/11.

Another cause hijacked

It's one of those things that we would occasionally see evidence of but never quite enough to cross the critical level to make note of, until today: there is a nascent campaign by the reactionary right to package George Bush's War on Iraq as analogous to the Abolition of Slavery. The specific vehicle for this is a sudden burst of endorsements from suspicious sources for the film Amazing Grace, the Michael Apted-directed biography-history of William Wilberforce and his abolitionist struggle against slavery and the slave trade. And by "suspicious sources" we mean the exultations about the film at National Review Online --

[Mark Steyn] But Wilberforce’s life reminds us that great men don’t shirk things because the focus-group numbers look unpromising.

[Rich Lowry] This month is the bicentennial of what was, to use contemporary argot, one of history’s most successful “faith-based initiatives.”

Someone driven by Christianity who has to fight hard in their own time to liberate millions of people from bondage but who history will see as a hero. Geddit?

As it turns out, this drivel rang a vague bell in terms of our own blogging and sure enough looking back at 2003, it was Amity Shlaes pioneering this line of argument in the pages of the Financial Times. That analysis speaks for itself, so let's just note the essential point from there -- the same Britain that set about abolishing slavery in the early 19th century still had the disasters of the Irish Famine and the dispossession of Africans in their native lands ahead of it. Abolition was a case where the country's conscience broke through and achieved progressive change, but it wasn't itself a transformation of the country's character.

But anyway, that's almost too serious a point for this latest rebranding of the War on Terror. Wilberforce and his allies were people with a sliver of power that they leveraged to the maximum extent. They worried about human dignity. Many of them, as Quakers, were pacifists. George W. Bush is president of the most powerful country in the world. He has never shown any personal concern for the welfare of Iraqi citizens, let alone War on Terror detainees (who are, after all, the ones being moved around the world in shackles). And of course Bush and Cheney would sneer at a Quaker foreign policy, indeed anything that falls short of all guns blazing, as weakness that invites further attack.

Still, the only obstacle that's probably giving Team Bush any pause about running with this analogy is its anchoring of the War on Terror in the Christian faith, which is the one thing that from the start they said they weren't doing.

[Note: interesting BBC R4 documentary about Wilberforce]

Suddenly not scary

Dick Cheney, perhaps affected by the thin air at "Altitude Restaurant" in Sydney, the site of his interview with ABC (US) News --

Q Is it getting harder for them, though? You see the latest spate of helicopter downings, the military says this seems to be a new strategy to take down helicopters. We've seen the use apparently of chemical bombs now in the last week in Iraq. Is it getting harder?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's just the terrorists doing what terrorists always do, adjusting and adapting their strategies. We can do the same obviously, adjust and adapt. The chemical weapons they're using aren't very sophisticated at this point. What they've done is apparently put some tanks with chlorine in them together with conventional explosives ...

Anyone care to speculate what the portrayal would have been if it was Saddam Hussein's army that was sticking explosives to a chlorine tank? Sort of like how weather balloons became a mobile weapons lab.

[The rest of the interview is broken into nice bite-size chunks by Dan Froomkin]

Indecent right

If Nick Cohen is serious about trying to understand why the war on terror has become so unpopular in Britain, as he claims to be to readers of Friday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link), he should spend less time looking for Dave Spart signs at Islamist rallies, and more time looking at who appears with him on the opinion pages in the same day's Journal (also subs. req'd): influential conservative lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey pushing the neologism "lawfare" to drive a critique of a supposed fusion of legal advocacy and terrorists as the latest central front in the war on terror.

Rivkin and Casey are particularly furious at the litigation generated by cases of people held or disposed of at the pleasure of one man -- George W. Bush -- and claim that

Lawfare designed to delegitimize the use of American military force, and the American way of war, certainly has the potential to undermine public support for the war effort, both at home and abroad.

It's another kind of lawfare -- the redefinition of torture and the dumping of traditional legal rights -- that has achieved this outcome, and not some supposed fifth column of lefties orphaned by the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What exactly do they have in the White House basement?

George Bush today in a visit to an alternative fuels research centre in North Carolina --

THE PRESIDENT: So the enzyme begins to break down the raw materials in a particular raw material that will enable us to make more ethanol, is that what you're saying?

MR. NAGY: That is correct.

THE PRESIDENT: Now -- so, is this a -- is this like a huge distillery?


(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser; caption)

The above is Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, aka Abu Omar, the Egyptian cleric seized in Milan by Bourne-wannabe CIA agents and rendered to the tender mercies of the Egyptian detention system. [His case is another subject raised in the WSJ fulminations discussed in the post below].

Demonstrating if nothing else a considerable talent for public relations, Abu Omar popped up today at the trial of Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman ("Kareem Amer"), sentenced to 4 years in prison for insulting al-Azhar university and President Hosni Mubarak. Omar recounted his own abuse in an Egyptian prison and demanded to be returned to Italy, where he had been legally resident.

What he has therefore managed to exemplify is that rights are a messy business -- deciding who should get them and who won't is incredibly difficult to implement, and furthermore, if you're denying them to "bad people" (Abu Omar), you're probably denying them to "good people" as well (bloggers). So it would be nice if all the conservative bloggers who hitch their wagons to Abdel Kareem Soliman acknowledge that the character of the repression they denounce in his case is present in Abu Omar's case as well.

UPDATE: Cases where a conservative highlights the blogger case with no mention of the US willingness to dump Abu Omar into the same jails: Iain Dale; Cliff May, (tbc). And, to their credit, the reporters at the US State Department daily press briefing zeroed in very quickly on the contradictions in the US position: that Egyptian prisons are good enough for the subjects of the rendition policy, but not for the blogger.

Disobedient Old Europe

An amazingly weaselish editorial in Thursday's Wall Street Journal Europe (subs. req'd); the WSJ is unhappy that European countries are pursuing legal remedies against extraordinary renditions -- cases where their citizens or residents were plucked off the streets by US agents and moved to 3rd countries without any legal process. Notice the antiseptic language and insinuations --

In Germany as well, counterterrorism has been easily politicized. Back in 2003, Khaled al-Masri, a German national of Lebanese descent, was arrested at the Serbian-Macedonian border by Macedonian police. A terrorist suspect, he was handed over to the CIA agents, who moved him to Afghanistan. There he claims to have been interrogated also by a German intelligence agent. Berlin denies this allegations. A few months later, the Americans released him. The CIA hasn't commented on the case.

According to various leaked German intelligence reports, Mr. al-Masri had close contacts to radical Islamist groups. Since his return, he has made a career for himself on German TV shows as an innocent victim of American aggression.

The fact that al-Masri didn't meet even the CIA's flimsy criteria for getting dumped into Guantanamo Bay clearly cuts no ice with the Journal, which apparently knows a terrorist when it sees one (or at least sees his profile).

And there's the conclusion, an old standby of this crowd --

The Continent doesn't share America's perception of the threat from Islamic terrorism, nor its means of fighting it. We hope that Europeans don't soon find themselves missing these "CIA thugs."

One wonders what sense of "hope" is being used in that last sentence.

UPDATE 26 FEBRUARY: The WSJ returns to this topic in a Monday editorial (subs. req'd; alt. free link) --

It doesn't help that many Europeans embrace the preposterous legal notion of "universal jurisdiction," the idea that an ambitious prosecutor can indict and try anyone for an alleged crime committed anywhere in the world.

This is the climate in which, for example, a German court this month issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents allegedly involved in transferring a German-Lebanese terrorist suspect, Khaled al-Masri, to Afghanistan for questioning. It made no difference that Mr. al-Masri had been arrested in Macedonia.

For one thing, would American prosecutors be expected to ignore a crime committed against an American citizen in another country?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Nothing but a gangster party

(White House photo/David Bohrer; caption)

What's interesting about the above photo of a Dick Cheney breakfast meeting in Japan is who else is at the table: the VP's national security adviser John "Year of Iran" Hannah and David Addington, his chief of staff -- both of whom are neck-deep in the revelations from the Scooter Libby trial. Thus the entire team that helped land poor old Scooter in the dock will most likely be sitting a continent and an ocean away when the jury verdict comes in. Incidentally, the other American at the table is US Ambassador to Japan Tom Schieffer -- brother of CBS pundit Bob, and longtime baseball crony of George W. Bush.

Angry at numbers

From Dick Cheney, who is big in Japan, during his interview with ABC News (an interview which as a side effect has probably sunk John McCain's presidential campaign) --

You can't look at Iraq in isolation. You've got to look at it in terms of its impact, what we're doing in Afghanistan, what we're doing in Pakistan, what we're doing in Saudi Arabia. All those areas are part of the global battlefield, if you will, and you can't quit in one place and then persuade all your allies who are helping you in all those other theaters, if you will, to continue the fight.

Apparently the fact that quitting in Iraq would mean that more troops would be available for those other central fronts in the war on terror doesn't figure in Dick's strategic thinking.

A minor disturbance in the force

On the day when Tony Blair will announce a substantial reduction in forces in Iraq, the PM's website reports other serious business --

21 February 2007

We received a petition asking:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to recognise Jedi Knights as a religion on par with Christianity, Islam and other beliefs.

Details of petition:

"The belief of Jedi Knights in 'the Force' is no more irrational than any other religious belief - but with less bigotry."


The Government has no overarching role in regulating or recognising personal belief or faith. The Government can only legislate for actions and not for belief. The Church of England, as the established church, puts its own measures before Parliament but the Government takes no view on them. All earlier legislation restricting freedom of worship or limiting the civic rights of members of particular faiths have long since been repealed.

The UK has a long held commitment to freedom of worship and belief, and our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights are incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998. As such people are free to form religions and free to follow their own practices and beliefs provided they remain within the law.

UPDATE 22 FEBRUARY: Reader LR points out that the web page has changed since we first linked to it, and the government response now concludes --

May the Force be with you.

FINAL UPDATE: The government has also refused to ban Halloween (no word on any similar proposal for Guy Fawkes Day).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The new obscurantism

As even their carbon-based corporate patrons slowly bail out, new strategies are emerging from conservatives in their challenging of the evidence of human-induced global warming. Hence from within National Review's blogging empire, a new one called Planet Gore -- based on the highly scientific principle that one disputes evidence by taking issue with one of the people who cites such evidence. The blog provides no bios for any of its contributors, and its brief statement of purpose says --

[National Review Online] has gathered a team of experts to report and comment on the myriad scientific and economic issues surrounding the global warming debate. So check back regularly for informed news and views about climate change, alternative energy, environmental activism, and of course, Al Gore's carbon footprint.

So far one of the featured "experts" is Jay Richards, who (given the absence of bios) has to be Googled to reveal that --

Jay W. Richards is Research Fellow and Director of Acton Media at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy and theology (with honors) from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he was formerly a Teaching Fellow.

That must be quite a meteorological program they have at the Princeton Theological Seminary. It's less clear what the scientific expertise of fellow contributor Kathryn Jean Lopez is. But it is clear that the blog will be yet another card in the constantly shuffled deck of "institutes" that counter the slow march of theory and evidence with screaming about Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi.

On retainer

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds comes up with spectacular logic to explain why a terrorism suspect would have given political donations to the Republican party --

ABC NEWS: Accused terrorist is big GOP donor. This is an embarrassment -- though if I were a terrorist I'd be a big GOP donor, too. It might help, and at the very least would ensure that prosecution would be an embarrassment.

The same type of insurance would presumably be available to Islamist terrorists who explicitly endorse the Republican party. Oh wait, they've already done that.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Word of the Day


As used by the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) today --

Asked for further information about any act of commemoration at Croke Park next weekend, the PMOS replied that clearly, the first match at Croke Park had been special in its own right. The second match, because of the teams involved, had also a significance around it. However, first and foremost, this was a game of rugby, and that was how both the IRFU and the GAA wanted to treat it, and that was entirely how it should be. What was entirely proper was that there should have been discussions about how we should handle it, but a consensus had been reached, and we fully supported that consensus. The PMOS said that he was not going to get into processology about the discussions, but they were normal discussions that took place around any event such as this one, and they were nothing out of the ordinary.

For a translation into English of this Yes, Minister worthy classic, here and here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

God wills it

At National Review's The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez has one example on top of her mind in discussing how candidate theology is off-limits from the pundits --

But when was the last time a Catholic (John Kerry? Ted Kennedy?) was asked by a mainstream reporter: "You believe you receive the body and blood of Christ during Communion. Do you consider yourself a cannibal?..." I don't think theology-related questions should be off limits (and how candidates respond to odd questions is always revealing, frankly...), but it's a curious thing to watch.

She later elaborates that it would be helpful to the man "who will have to continue this war" to have a belief in God. Yet one might have thought that in terms of its potential for creating policy disasters, transubstantiation would come down the list when there's a President who says --

I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That's what I believe. And that's been part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan, I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. And I can't tell you how encouraged I am to see freedom on the march.

The unexplored issue of a president who claims to (1) know God's will and (2) be in the process of implementing it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

She's learned nothing

Condi's remarks during her "SURPRISE!" visit to the US Embassy in Baghdad --

But this mission, bringing a stable and secure Iraq, is also essential for the security of the United States of America. Because on September 11th when those 19 men drove our own airplanes into the Pentagon and into the World Trade Center and would have driven it into the Capitol in Washington, we realized that we were no longer isolated from danger and terror, that the great oceans that had protected us for almost 200 years were no barrier to fear and destruction on our own territory, and we recognized at that point that we were going to have to come to the source of the problem, that we were going to have to go on the offense, that no matter how well we tried to defend America with port security and airport security, we couldn't play defense because the terrorists only have to be right once and we have to be right 100 percent of the time.

And that's an unfair fight, and therefore we decided we had to go on the offense. And that meant coming to the source of the problem here in the Middle East and trying nothing more grand than trying to actually bring about a different kind of Middle East. And a different kind of Iraq, an Iraq freed of Saddam Hussein, an Iraq freed of the tyranny that was a part of this land for so long, that's the different kind of Iraq that can be a pillar of that different kind of Middle East.

I spent some time a couple of summers ago reading the biographies of the Founding Fathers. And I'm going to tell you something. By all rights, the United States of America should never have come into being. If you looked at fighting the greatest military power of the time, Great Britain; if you looked at trying to conquer this new land; if you looked at the squabbling between the Founding Fathers, they were wonderful, but boy, did they fight.

Note, inter alia, the description of Iraq as the "source" of 9/11, the supposed foreign policy conservative talking about a grand project to remake the Middle East, and yet again a botched historical analogy, as it is now the Iraqi insurgents who are taking on the "greatest military power of the time," which, like Britain in 1776 is handicapped by its long distance from the fight and the mischief-making of its rivals.

One other thing: a recurring symptom of the Bush administration's delusions is not that they don't read history, but they read the wrong kind of history. Amid all the biographies and histories drawing on the US and UK, have they ever read any books about, like, the Middle East?

That high-tech Quds Force

Press release from multinational forces Iraq --

DIYALA – An Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement patrol seized a weapons cacheand one suspect after they noticed a donkey loitering in an area about 10 km from the Iraq-Iran border Feb. 14.

The patrol moved in to locate the owner when they identified a cache beside the donkey consisting of more than 30 mortar rounds and three anti-tank mines.

The two individuals, who attempted to flee, were located hiding behind a berm. The patrol captured one of the suspects. The cache items were secured for disposal and the suspect was taken in for further questioning.

No word on the donkey.


"George [Lucas] doesn't claim to be Ibsen" --

Ian "Emperor" McDiarmid valiantly making excuses for the abysmal dialogue in the Star Wars films, in the context of his appearance in Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman. The interview was on BBC Radio 4's Front Row, Wednesday 14 February, and can be heard till next Wednesday here. McDiarmid is being generous. After Phantom Menace, Lucas should never have been let near a script again.

Friday, February 16, 2007

No good side of chaos

Six years of George Bush is enough to make one's eyebrows arch when there is a "terrorist" attack in Iran just as the administration seeks to ratchet up tension with the country. And in a week when Bush supporters had been calling for "quiet" military action against Iran. And when Michaels Ledeen and Rubin are suddenly very busy at The Corner documenting signs of supposed chaos inside Iran, with Ledeen asserting "A good time for President Bush to finally call for regime change."

But among the many reasons to be careful for what you wish for: if, as circumstantial evidence suggests, the unrest in eastern Iran is due to separatism in Baluchistan, this would be a major headache for Pakistan -- an issue that came up in a seemingly unrelated context here over a year ago.

Still digging

New Republic supremo Marty Peretz in Friday's Wall Street Journal (subs. req'd; alt. free link) --

But the enthusiasm of the Democrat Party for Afghanistan is rooted in the fact that Afghanistan is not a strategic asset for the West. It is only a moral triumph. The Democrats prefer to look away from the colder long-term calculations of American and Western interests in the Middle East. We need more than moral triumphs there. We need strategic triumphs. If Iraq turns out not to be the latter sort of triumph, it will be remembered as one of the most momentous blunders in our history.

I think the odds against us are huge. One reason is that Iraq is neither a state that coheres nor a society that coheres. Its civil society, if that is what it is, is not quite a civilized society. The carnage between Shia and Sunni, and the carnage among other religious and ethnic communions, since the end of Ottoman rule have left deep and bloodied breaches in Iraq.

Note both the adoption of the Bush-DeLay incorrect name for the Democratic Party and his criticism of that party for not embracing a war that by his own logic was a doomed effort to civilize a society that didn't want to be civilized.

[Note: this is just one more example of word-choice trickery by Peretz]

UPDATE: Peretz, having undoubtledly seen the above via Matthew Yglesias now says that "Democrat Party" crept into the article and was unintended. Which is more explanation than he ever offered for how Rhodesia suddenly got changed back to Zimbabwe.

FINAL UPDATE: Some time before 0338 GMT, the online version of the article was changed to add the "ic" to Democrat.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

He was just in a pub in Kilnaleck

photo: Times (UK)

The man above is Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, believed by Spanish police to be a key organising figure in the 11-M bombings, current whereabouts unknown, and described in the Times article as

A tall man with a pale complexion and flame red hair, Setmarian travelled widely and was often mistaken for a Westerner. He was frequently described as having "Irish looks".

On the more serious side, his being unlocatable means that some form of US secret prison program continues, because while last seen headed into US custody in Pakistan, he is not one of the listed "High Value Detainees" in Guantanamo Bay, whose transfer there was supposed to have emptied the facilities elsewhere that had been part of the extraordinary rendition program. The likely trick being used is that he is being held in a 3rd country without formally being arrested or charged, which would trigger some paperwork that might signal his whereabouts.

UPDATE 27 MARCH: Such as the system for holding Abdul Malik, a new transferee to Gitmo from a Kenyan prison.


Blogging at National Review's The Corner, Iain Murray (of the now no longer Exxon-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute) equates the cases of an imprisoned Egyptian dissident with a not-very-likely-to-be-imprisoned English blogger --

Remember What They Did to the Real Guido Fawkes [Iain Murray]

Braving the ice, there are hardy souls currently demonstrating outside the Egyptian embassy here in DC over the incarceration of political blogger Abdelkareem Soliman Amer, 22, who is in prison because Egyptian authorities didn't like what he had to say... Bizarrely, a British political blogger may be in jail soon as well. Guido Fawkes has been threatened with imprisonment if he doesn’t hand over all his research on the dealings of a think-tank connected to Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Guido has an amusingly illustrated (as long he's not taking the imagery too seriously) account here, while those of you with a little time to spare can scroll through the anti-Guido case here. Incidentally, the appearance of Guido as a cause celebre on The Corner would be a development predicted by the anti-Guido dossier.

And, the title of Murray's post sidesteps the fact that real Guido did try to blow up Parliament, and the King.

The actual military plan also involves magic

The website of multinational forces Iraq, giving an example of the civil administration work being performed in al-Anbar --

"Can you fix the damage that was done to my house when Marines were fighting ali-baba (what locals call insurgents)?"

It's not explained why the locals use this term, but it could be a mordant joke giving the trajectory of the fictional Ali Baba and his enemies, or indeed that of the actual historical figure on which the tale is based --

Sudanese saga of king Ali Baba of the Bija tribe ... The king refused to pay the taxes to Al-Mutawakkil, the tenth Abbassi caliph in Baghdad. The rebel king sealed all gold mines in the mountains and stopped central officials from going to the whole Red Sea area. Baghdad did send its army in to keep its power upon the vital gold market in the Islamic world ... and within five years it managed to crush the rebellion. Ali Baba, taken to Baghdad, carried all the gold hidden by his men to the caliph. A public display of the great treasure and the defeated king was shown in all important cities in the road to the capital Samarra creating the legend of the caves and the legend of the thieves. In the end, Ali Baba was granted amnesty in Samarra and upon his return he gave gold to the needy in all major towns in the road as a good gesture to the muslims whom he fought.

An Irish prosecution

In which the prosecution as part of its case presents evidence helpful to the defence, which would be fine, except that it was the wrong evidence -- the actual evidence being much more damaging the defence, so the jury is hastily briefed on what happened, given the new evidence and told to make a decision on that basis. If the defendant is found guilty, he has a ready case that the trial was botched, and if a confused jury finds him not guilty, another trial will be difficult if not impossible. One wonders how the Minister for Justice spends his time.

That explains a lot

George Bush, giving a speech to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) at the Mayflower Hotel today -

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. [AEI] President. (Laughter.) That's got kind of a nice ring to it. (Laughter.) Chris, thanks for inviting me. I appreciate the chance to come and share some thoughts with the men and women of AEI. I admire AEI a lot -- I'm sure you know that. After all, I have been consistently borrowing some of your best people. More than 20 AEI scholars have worked in my administration. A few have returned to the fold -- you'll have to wait two more years to get another one to return to the fold. Dick Cheney is occupied. (Laughter.) He sends his best.

1789 and all that

Just to spell out what's been said before, the imminent dispute between George Bush and Congress over the funding of the Iraq war couldn't happen in a parliamentary system.

If in such a system the head of government was pursuing a war that the majority in the legislature did not support, either side would call a vote of (no) confidence. The head of government would lose the vote, and the governing party would either find a new leader who could command a majority in parliament by dumping the war, or call an election and there'd be a new leader with a similar mandate 4 weeks later. Alternatively, the legislature would lose its nerve and not bring down the head of government over the war, in which they'd have to take their lumps and fund the war as well.

But in the American system, the head of government can issue orders to the military and then challenge the legislature not to fund them. If they don't fund, the military has conflicting mandates and is paralysed -- and the president refers to a co-equal branch of government as traitors. The only other instrument of Congress is impeachment: difficult to mobilise and, if successful, putting Dick Cheney in the job.

So on it goes, a head of government accountable to no one except his own vision of how he'll appear in the history books. Perhaps the miracle is that they got 200+ years out of such a flawed system before it collapsed.

I for one welcome our new Achaemenid overlords

Andrew Sullivan --

Our long-term strategy has to be: detach Persia from its fanatical religious leadership; wean ourselves off oil as much as possible; then reach out to Persia and Turkey as the two great Islamic civilizations that can control the unruly expanse between them.

[post title explained here]

What they were doing: 3

We've falling a bit behind on tracking what the revelations from the Scooter Libby trial say about the priorities of the Bush administration in the summer of 2003, but National Review's John Podhoretz has done it for us. He notes that the defence wanted witnesses to testify as to the volume of information that Libby was dealing with every day, to indicate that he would be too distracted to remember who he told what and when, and the judge consented to a reading into the record of one day's morning security briefing --

June 14, 2003 ... Libby was presented with info concerning:

"Bomb diffused...explosions...E African extremist network...Info on possible AQ attack in US...conncern about specific vulnerability to terrorist attack...Proposed ME plan, Israeli military action...Country's security affecting AQ...International org's position concerning country's nuke program...Iraq's porous borders present security threat... Potential suicide attacks against US forces in IRaq ... Potential terrorist attacks against Americans in Karbala by unspecified means

But of course this is precisely the period when he was concerned not with any of these activities, but with spinning to protect the infamous 16 words about uranium in the State of the Union address.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Still got it

Two years ago, we wrote , re Andrew Sullivan, of an --

Iron Law of Sully ... he invokes his Irish ancestry when he's feeling alienated from his American conservative friends

Today, in a long post continuing his debate with atheist Sam Harris and in the broader context of his feud with the National Review --

But it also comes from where I was born and grew up - England. The Catholicism I imbibed was a minority faith in a majority Protestant or agnostic culture. And I can track its origins through history - through my Irish ancestors who held onto it despite cruel persecution,

Incidentally, in his clearly sincere invocation of the universality of catholic faith, he's dodging around the role of the Anglican church, which claims the same continuity as the catholic one. Leaving himself open to the question of why, rationally, he remains catholic.

[thanks to reader CS for the tip]

Avoiding the news

Dick Cheney, this morning --

Vice President Cheney attends the National Association of Manufacturers Breakfast Meeting
J.W. Marriott
Washington, D.C.

8:30 A.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Thank you all very much. Thank you, John, and I appreciate the warm welcome and the chance to be here today with all of you. I especially want to welcome everybody from out of town. It's good to be here. The streets are kind of bad outside, but I guess you're all staying in the hotel, so that wasn't a worry for all of you. But the good news is, the federal government's shut down today. (Laughter.) So everybody's safe. (Laughter.) Just consider this your Valentine's Day present. (Laughter.)

Wrong. The Federal Government is open today, allowing a 2 hour delayed arrival. If he doesn't know what's happening in DC, how does he know what's happening in Iraq?

Random technology post

An alternative title for the post was going to be "How Bill Gates broke my MP3 player" but that would have been over the top. Anyway, our story begins with a well-functioning Sansa m240 MP3 player, working equally well as a music player with CDs loaded onto it via Windows Media Player (WMP) or with podcasts downloaded via right-click-save-target-as, sidestepping the need to deal with any additional software.

Until an attempted download of a podcast last night where the podcast in question wanted to start Windows Media Player before it would download, leading WMP to suggest an upgrade to version 11, which when installed then denied all knowledge of any content on the still-attached MP3 player, and refused to download any content to it. Furthermore, even the old save-target-as method was not working, because Windows couldn't communicate with the attached player either.

Anyway, after some cursing, it seems (from a novice perspective) that WMP v11 is now forcing the Sansa to default into "MTP mode" when it detects it, and not "MSC mode" which apparently was the previously normal mode of operation. It further seems that WMP v11 does this to facilitate one's purchases of digital music from Urge, the MTV site. And by the way, does anyone else see the irony in MTV being furious at its low foothold in the digital music business (to the extent that it is firing hundreds of people), when it helped create the digital music market in the first place by sucking so badly at playing, like, actual music, on the channel as opposed to the 15th rerun that day of Punk'd? Punk'd Indeed.

The bottom line now is that Bill Gates didn't break my MP3 player, but he has added several minutes to using it, since so far it has to be unplugged and reset to the friendly MSC mode before old style downloads of podcasts can resume. If this is how the WMP/Urge partnership is working for other people, the competitor music websites don't have much to worry about.

The past is epilogue

The one bit of actual news in George Bush's erratic press conference today was his explicit statement that it would be unpatriotic for Congress not to fund his deployment of troops in Iraq, despite the earlier agreement of the reactionary legal scholars around him that withholding funding is a key instrument of Congress in power disputes with the President. One can pick historical analogies ad infinitum with this crowd, but not a bad one would be to note that the US constitutional system is at about the state of England in the Second Barons' War. That would be 1264 AD.

We're at the Phantom Menace stage

For those of you keeping score, mark up another notch in the intellectual implosion of American conservatism: this post at National Review's The Corner essentially amounts to the claim that Americans are OK with torture because they were OK with Han shooting first in Star Wars. And this is all in the context of torture and the show 24, whereas one might have thought that torture should be discussed in the context of actual cases of torture -- a category that is not lacking after 4 years of the war on terror. Unfortunately, our new torture theoreticians don't even have the wit to to argue that Americans would be OK with torture as long as they could visualise the person being tortured as Jar Jar Binks. January 2009 still seems a long way away.

He'll watch it all on TV

Preditably, Powerline's "Hindrocket" declares an initial victory for the Surge --

Moqtada al Sadr has bolted to Iran, apparently because he fears for his safety as more American troops pour into Baghdad. Sadr reportedly took the top command of his "Mahdi army" with him to Tehran.

Two reactions. First, al-Sadr's militia had no role in the major bombings in Baghdad, the targets being Shiite areas and the bombers facilitated by the absence of the militias. And second, that's quite a security cordon they've got around Baghdad and on traffic between Iran and Iraq.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A story like that has to be true

It is --

Heavy metal legend Bruce Dickinson was at the controls as Rangers football club flew to Israel for a Uefa Cup tie.

Detachable Conscience

Mentions of guns from Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds in the period since two multiple-fatality shootings in Salt Lake City and Philadelphia --

A MODEST CIVIL RIGHTS VICTORY in the Georgia legislature [progress on a bill that would allow concealed guns in cars]

HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN: [link to picture of a 10 year old firing a gun]

Duck Soup

Serially incompetent "blogger" Cliff May is at it again at The Corner (and no doubt soon at the "Foundation for the Defense of Democracies"), this time alerting readers to a dangerous alliance of Communists and Islamists --

The Islamo-communist Alliance [Cliff May]

From a press release circulating in Europe:

Gathering of Arab Resistance forces in Europe

For March 24/25 a major gathering of political representatives of the resistance forces from Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon have been scheduled.
It will take in Italy in Chianciano between Rome and Florence. It is the first time such an event has become possible in Europe. There are two major factors for this change. Firstly, while the anti-war movement is suffering from a serious reflux the anti-imperialist component

And it goes on, the kind of thing that Private Eye would put a Dave Spart byline on and a "continued p94" at the end. But Cliff gives no link or specific source for where he got it.

Still unaware of the technique of just cutting and pasting a line from the item into Google, he therefore passed on the opportunity to let readers see the whole thing for themselves . At least the item appears genuine, unlike some of Cliff's previous findings -- but it's basically a bunch of dudes at the radical left/Arab nationalist intersection who happen to have a website and fancy a trip to Italy in the Spring. Who wouldn't.

But does the world really need to be quaking in its boots, as Cliff implies, from the mortal threat posed by, for example "Revolutionary Communist League (RKL) Thuringia, Germany?" Apparently so.


George Bush finds one flaw in his father that he hasn't replicated, in an interview with C-Span --

Q I'm going to ask this as an open-ended question: What other President do you look to as either a role model, or for inspiration, or guidance?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, it's the obvious, and that would be my dad. I'm not -- I am who I am because of him. But I view him as a way to kind of reconfirm the basics of life. In other words, when I talk to my dad, we talk -- I hear love. That's what I hear. And I am actually more concerned about him than I have ever been in my life, because he's paying too much attention to the news.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Woe in the big house

Our credentials as an Irish blogger would be somewhat imperilled without a word or two about Sunday's defeat in le match de rugby at Croke Park. Which is as a good a time as any to bring the blog up to about, say, 2003 in the blogging world -- with photos. Hence, this excellent photo of the spectacle all the way up to the nosebleed seats --

(REUTERS/Charles Platiau; caption)

But, if only in the way that anything after the fact can be interpreted as an omen, it didn't seem promising that the rendition of the French anthem was at least as thumping and rousing as the two Irish ones, setting the stage for --

(REUTERS/Patrick Bolger; caption)

Anyway, we suspect that 2 weeks is long enough to allow the spice of England's visit to build despite the deflation of yesterday.

One world under George

It's really quite an achievement to use the principle that "politics stops at the water's edge" to criticise Barack Obama for his response to Australian PM John Howard's statement --

"If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats"

as oppposed to criticising Howard's interference in the domestic politics of another country, but Powerline's "Trunk" manages just that. Howard's bizarre attack calls to mind a less noticed utterance from foreign minister Alexander Downer a few months back, which was likewise let pass by a somnolent US State Department.

UPDATE: US Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace is in Australia and met John Howard today, and visited their Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. No word on whether he dissed it like Downer did the Malibu memorial, or whether Pace told Howard to stay out of US politics.

When even a guest list lies

White House

Guest List for the for Ford's Theatre Celebration Dinner --

... The Honorable Karl Rove, Assistant to the President, Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor, Office of the Chief of Staff ...

Slippery slope to a better place

Andrew Sullivan observes

These two Catholic countries [Spain & Portugal] fascinate me, because, like Ireland, they are leading examples of how once-theoconservative nations have moved into modernity.

It is an interesting comparison, although the application of the label "theoconservative" is a stretch, since Sullivan has used that in the US context to refer to an alliance of religious conservatives with one particular political party, whereas in the European case, the embodiment of Catholic teaching in law reflected a broad swathe of opinion across many parties (even if some were better at using it for their own purposes).

But one thing the Portugal comparison does highlight is how narrow the margin for change is when it happens: the abortion referendum in Portugal technically failed due to low turnout, although the government is now planning on legislating anyway. The Republic of Ireland's divorce referendum passed in 1995 on the 2nd attempt by a less than one percent margin -- just over 9,000 votes, and abortion law remains far stricter than the new law in Portugal will be. Yet once change does occur, it seems to become entrenched, vindicating one fear of the church that once people see the more liberal regime in action, they'll get to like it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Just out of curiosity ...

... Why does UK politics gossip-monger Guido Fawkes have an Irish mobile phone? --

Guido's kidneys ache and every pore of his body still oozes vodka and Red Bull.

No sign of the mobile phone, glasses, or credit cards. (Co-conspirators should contact Guido on the Irish mobile).

UPDATE: This interesting BBC Radio 4 profile points out that Guido's website is hosted in Nevis, as a litigation safeguard.

FURTHER UPDATE: Guido has at various times dropped hints about his Irish allegiances, and in this post makes clear that his daughter is, or is eligible to be, an Irish citizen.

FINAL UPDATE 17 MAY 2007: The only political party of which Guido is a member is the Progressive Democrats.


Signs of the times in the Republic: after a long wait, Little Caesers pizza will soon be available, having resolved a long-running naming dispute with a Dublin restaurant, and an apartment building in Stillorgan will offer a 24 hour concierge service (both links subs. req'd).

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Not a good signal

In an attention-getting libel case, a Belfast restaurant successfully sued The Irish News paper over a bad review. Coverage here, here, and here. One thing that might have gotten the reviewer annoyed right at the start: an Italian restaurant trading as Goodfellas.

UPDATE: It's not easy to find the original review, but here's the gist of it from the Irish News report of the day their reviewer gave testimony in the libel case --

[1 February 2007; The Irish News; Pg. 3] On the third day of the hearing before Mr Justice Coghlin and a jury of four men and three women, Mrs Workman recalled her visit to Goodfellas with two friends and said her overall impression was "hugely disappointing" because she had expected an authentic Italian meal of fairly decent food.

"I had been recommended this place by a friend living in west Belfast and I had very poor food," she said. "It had not been a pleasant experience."

Mrs Workman was taken through her review by Brian Fee QC, appearing with Bernard Fitzpatrick for The Irish News, and she told the jury that although she and her friends requested 'non-smoking' the general atmosphere was quite smokey. She said that at the table next to them people were smoking and there were lit cigarettes in the ashtray.

"We ordered Cokes and, as I described in the article, they were flat, not chilled and tasted watery," she said. Mrs Workman said the garnish accompanying a prawn starter dish was also floating in a warm sauce, the pate had not much flavour and when she cut a ring of her squid dish the meat was a grey translucent colour. "It did not taste like fresh squid and in the article I said it was reconstituted fish meat because it did not have the uniformity of texture," she said.

Turning to the main courses which all of her group tasted, Mrs Workman, who now lives in Cork, said the chicken marsala was smothered in a fairly thick sauce which did not taste as though marsala wine had been used. "It is a typical Italian dish which I have cooked myself and this dish bore no resemblance to real chicken marsala," she said.

The court was told that the pasta in a spaghetti dish was overcooked and soggy while the salami in a pizza was processed and of a spongy texture.

Mr Fee referred Mrs Workman to her rating in which she gave Goodfellas one mark out of five. At the opening of the case the mark was said to correspond to "Stay at home."

FINAL UPDATE 8 MARCH: A New York Times article about restaurant review litigating mentions the Irish News case, although it at one point incorrectly mentions the Irish Times as the newspaper in question, and it also refers to the Belfast case as reflecting properties of the legal system in "Ireland."

Note: The verdict is being appealed.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

5 seconds from disaster

For a country that has done so well in taking advantage of being a small country, the Republic of Ireland so nearly got humiliated on the field of play by a smaller one --

2138: GOAL San Marino 1-2 Republic of Ireland
Five seconds to go and Stephen Ireland stabs the ball home in a scramble inside the San Marino box.

His next post will be about the Gold Coast

Why, exactly, does New Republic supremo Marty Peretz choose to refer to Zimbabwe by the name it had under colonial and then illegal white minority independent rule?

There has been a very scrupulous [sanctions] regime in place against Rhodesia for five years, one that is directed against the political elites and not the general population.

UPDATE: He changed the sentence without any acknowledgment of what was there before. Nice blogger ethics Marty!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

UnTotal Football

Confirming a move that was flagged a few days ago, Liverpool Football Club have announced their sale to George Gillett and Tom Hicks, owners of the Montreal Canadiens (Gillett), Dallas Stars, and Texas Rangers (the latter two by Hicks). The move is disturbing for Liverpool fans, not least this one, having revelled in the past at the mocking "USA! USA!" chants that greet Manchester United, under the ownership of the Glazers and sponsored by AIG.

Amongst the technical details of the deal, it was executed via the pair's "Kop Football Limited company", an awkward name for an entity claiming to be bringing new ambition to the club. Nor is there any escaping the intimate connections between Tom Hicks and George W. Bush, the former being a key part of the answer to the question of how the latter -- a serial failed businessman -- made his money. The low point will be, as can't be ruled out, if prominent Republicans suddenly start popping up in the prawn sandwich boxes at Anfield.

"It looks like he is hauling ass. Ha ha"

Thus did one of George Bush's flyboys laugh as he and another pilot had strafed a British military convoy 48 hours into the Iraq war in March 2003, killing one British soldier and injuring several others.

This controversy has been rumbling for weeks but has achieved a critical level today with The Sun's publication of the transcript of the cockpit radio recordings between the two pilots and their ground command. The Sun also has released the video itself which can be seen on their website (expect slow load times). But the affair will further deflate the last few months of Tony Blair's premiership, as the row over whether the classified Pentagon video could be seen in a civilian coroner's court has contrasted with the eagerness of Blair's government to extradite to the US British citizens who are indicted for financial crimes under anti-terrorism legislation.

On this morning's BBC Radio 4 Today show (sound file), a US Embassy official, in trying to defend the witholding of the video (prior to it being leaked) made reference to how the US military follows a "clear body of law." A claim made on behalf of the most lawless president in US history.

UPDATE: Instead of making the cheap call that the bereaved family now be allowed see the tape -- which they already can, via The Sun -- Constitutional Affairs minister Harriet Harman should be demanding that the Pentagon release the results of its own inquiry into the incident, which likely found that the pilots "followed the rules of engagement," the standard cop-out in deaths of civilians or friendly forces.

UPDATE 2: The Pentagon has now confirmed the obvious --

At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said the U.S. military's own investigation concluded that the firing was accidental; that the pilots "followed the procedures and processes for engaging targets," and that as a result no disciplinary action was taken against them.

It's small consolation to the family, but one virtue of the British system of civilian inquests into military deaths is that the coroner can speak more bluntly about potential culpability in a death than the Pentagon's system of protecting its own can.

Hello cowbell in the head

In a new low for the classic rock genre, Powerline's "Trunk" had been doing a couple of posts in various ways related to the Blue Öyster Cult song Don't Fear the Reaper, when he got this e-mail --

I'm Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser from Blue Oyster Cult, lead guitarist and the author and vocalist of "Don't Fear The Reaper."

I'm a longtime frequent Power Line reader, and I'm enjoying the play BOC and The Reaper have recently gotten on the Power Line blog, in the "Don't Fear the Professor" and "More Cowbell" posts.

Keep up the good work. You folks, Glenn Reynolds and others are some of my prime news aggregators these days. Heck, I've even got the t-shirt.

Yes, he really gets his news from Powerline and Instapundit. God knows how many other classic rock guitarists and lyricists now behave the same way. There could be a major crisis of faith here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

War on symbolism

The pathetic and tragic state of the "War on Terror" is hinted at in this sentence in the routine account of death in Iraq --

A car bomb exploded near a children's hospital in Andalus Square in central Baghdad, killing six and wounding nine.

because there was a time when Arabs naming things after Andalusia was itself taken as part of their supposed irrendentism vis-a-vis "The West."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Don't tell Ruth Kelly

Still trying to figure out the meaning of this cryptic remark from Terry Wogan at a ceremony where he received a Limerick Special Lifetime Achievement Award (Irish Times, subs. req'd) --

While shocked to learn that he no longer has a vote in Ireland, the TV host said he would like to see the current Taoiseach returned to power.

"I can vote in England but as a Catholic I wouldn't be voting Labour, let me put it that way," he joked.

Audience of two

Since the choice of closing song over the PA system at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff didn't make much sense from the home team's perspective, with Wales having lost, the blasting of Free's All Right Now must have been intended as a sign of support to the sports-junketing summitteers, Bertie Ahern and Peter Hain.


Two problems evident with The Surge before it even begins are implicit in this AP wire report from Baghad. First, just because you're planning on having more troops soon doesn't remove the need to have some security in Baghad now --

"It is a tragedy. The terrorists want to punish the Iraqi people. There was no police or American presence in this market yesterday," said Adnan Lafta, a 51-year-old seller of gas cylinders.

The bombing came just days before American and Iraqi forces were expected to start an all-out assault on Sunni and Shiite gunmen and bombers in the capital.

Second, if you announce that your stepped-up enforcement will be concentrated in Baghdad and al-Anbar, this shouldn't be a surprise --

An Iraqi militant group tied to al-Qaida in Iraq announced Saturday it had launched its own new strategy to counter the coming U.S.-Iraqi crackdown.

In an audiotape posted on a Web site commonly used by the insurgents, a voice purported to be that of Abu Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, said the group would "widen the circle of battles" beyond Baghdad to all of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi heads The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of insurgent groups in Iraq.

This is all in addition to evidence that the preparation for The Surge has itself become a source of terrorism.

UPDATE: Monday's New York Times goes into more detail on the catastrophic consequences of partial surge -- enough to remmove the Mahdi army from the streets but not enough to replace the security they provided.


Readers of the blog who are also interested in European football (and please avoid the smart remarks about how few people that is) may be interested in our brief post on the Sicily riots as part of our guest blogging stint over at Rising Hegemon.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Two cheers

For Quentin Peel in Saturday's Financial Times, who in the context of Jacques Chirac wanting an abort/retry/ignore/fail on his Iran comments in an "off-the-record" interview last week, notes --

The trouble is that all the rules of attributable and non-attributable briefings - on which most political journalism relies across the globe - are getting abused. The assumption that an official will speak more truthfully if "off the record", or indeed on "deep background", can no longer be taken for granted.

A senior US official was doing the rounds in London last week, seeking to sell President George W. Bush's new Iraq strategy. Speaking off the record, he insisted that the insurgency in Iraq would never have happened if it were not for the outside influences of al-Qaeda and Iran. "That is not an assertion, it's a statement of fact," he said.

Only a few weeks before, however, the same official admitted to a different audience that the violence was overwhelmingly home-grown in Iraq. But that was on deep background.

The latter deep background interview is consistent with the bleak National Intelligence Estimate ("the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics") but of course it was the former quote that was intended to make its way into the papers.

But no third cheer for Quentin, because he doesn't name the official. It was most likely someone in Condi's entourage during her extensive Middle East and European trip for just over a week ago, but it could also have been Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was in London the previous week. Anyway, the practice will only stop when reporters start to burn their bad sources.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Mission Accomplished

George Bush today, to the National Hockey League champions the Carolina Hurricanes --

At the start of this season, this team was ranked 28th out of 30 teams. I like to be around people that keep expectations low. (Laughter).

[previous instance of his apposite sports analogies]

Choice of Friends

When the Times (UK) says, regarding the joint bid by George Gillett and Tom Hicks to buy Liverpool Football Club --

Significantly, Hicks, who owns the Texas Rangers baseball club as well as the Dallas Stars ice hockey franchise, also has experience in construction and stadium development, an attractive prospect for Liverpool, who are eager to start work on their proposed 60,000-capacity home in Stanley Park next month.

it might be helpful to note that Hicks' experience with stadiums amounts to having been a part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball club with one George W. Bush, whose highly profitable investment in the club came courtesy of some very convenient decisions by Arlington Texas City Council regarding the building of the stadium, after which Bush cashed out and went to be governor of Texas in the blaze of glory of having completed the stadium. It's clearly unlikely that Hicks can pull of a similar trick in Liverpool, unless he's been working the halls of power more than we know.

[Note: Hicks has been active in the UK for a while]


While there are various selections as to the key paragraphs in the unclassified portion of the new US National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, inevitable in such a condensed document, our own nomination is this -

A number of identifiable internal security and political triggering events, including sustained mass sectarian killings, assassination of major religious and political leaders, and a complete Sunni defection from the government have the potential to convulse severely Iraq’s security environment. Should these events take place, they could spark an abrupt increase in communal and insurgent violence and shift Iraq’s trajectory from gradual decline to rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political, and security consequences. Three prospective security paths might then emerge:

Chaos Leading to Partition ...

Emergence of a Shia Strongman ...

Anarchic Fragmentation of Power...

Note that 20,000 extra US troops will have little power to prevent these "identifiable ... events", the only issue facing them being whether to stick around to see which of the three paths emerges afterwards.


In addition to the usual blogging here, we're guest blogging for about 10 days on behalf of the indisposed Attaturk at Rising Hegemon. Since we're hoping to replicate the direct style over there, it'll make for an interesting compare and contrast with the posts here, which will continue as normal.

He loves the 80s

One criticism that has dogged Andrew Sullivan's book, The Conservative Soul, is that it expresses nostalgia for a kind of refined conservatism that has never existed in the US. David Brooks zeroed in on this problem at the intellectual level, given Sully's attempts to root his alternative American conservatism in the very English Michael Oakeshott. But prolific blogger Glenn Greenwald takes another run at it, this time arguing that the lawless constitution-trashing conservatism practiced by George Bush, and viewed as an aberration by Sully, has clear roots in the Reagan administration. Sully responds --

His strongest arguments are on Iran-Contra and the deficit. I remember Iran-Contra well, because I was a young geek at [the New Republic] and witnessed the fervent debates in the magazine at the time. My view was that the Iran-Contra deal was wrong, illegal and stupid (and wrote editorials on those lines). I was pro-contra, but not in favor of illegal executive shenanigans to fund them.

So what is there of the Contras besides the illegal funding? Well, there's the human rights abuses, the illegal acts of war by the US against Nicaragua on their behalf, our old friend John Negroponte next door in Honduras turning a blind eye to death squads in return for Honduran help in supporting the contras, and of course the guiding philosophy for supporting them -- US military support for armed movements anywhere that were fighting perceived Soviet influence. Like this guy.

e-vote, RIP

Two seemingly unconnected events in Florida and the Republic of Ireland seem to signal the end of the road for paperless touch-screen voting systems. First, Florida, leading a national trend to abandon such systems --

Gov. Charlie Crist announced plans on Thursday to abandon the touch-screen voting machines that many of Florida’s counties installed after the disputed 2000 presidential election. The state will instead adopt a system of casting paper ballots counted by scanning machines in time for the 2008 presidential election.

Voting experts said Florida’s move, coupled with new federal voting legislation expected to pass this year, could be the death knell for the paperless electronic touch-screen machines. If as expected the Florida Legislature approves the $32.5 million cost of the change, it would be the nation’s biggest repudiation yet of touch-screen voting, which was widely embraced after the 2000 recount as a state-of-the-art means of restoring confidence that every vote would count.

Ireland hasn't even gotten as far as a Florida 2000 fiasco in terms of something that would rationalize the government's determination to introduce touch-screen voting despite the lack of confidence of voters in it, and this certainly won't help: the company in charge of the stalled project seems to be playing card tricks with its assets (Irish Times, subs. req'd) --

The company that won the Government's €50 million contract to supply electronic voting machines, which will have to be upgraded before they can be used, has gone into voluntary liquidation.

Powervote Ireland Ltd has nearly €1.9 million in cash in the bank and €2.6 million worth of assets, according to its latest returns filed in the Companies Office up to September 30th, 2005. Last night the Department of the Environment insisted the liquidation would not affect its efforts to get the Powervote/ Nedap e-voting machines into use in the State, following the Commission on Electronic Voting's questioning of the security of its software.

In a statement the department said it had been advised by the company last September that it was about to carry out a "technical restructuring" of the Powervote group. This involved the transfer of all obligations and rights under the contract with the department from Powervote (Ireland) to Powervote Services.

Luckily the degree of incompetence around this project has been sufficient to prevent it from being up and running in time for the general election later this year.