Saturday, May 29, 2004

Help for those who were tortured

Dr Chris Neilson, founder of the Irish Foundation for Torture Survivors, was tortured in a S. African jail under the apartheid regime. Dr. Neilson is asking the Irish government to allow Iraqi torture victims come to Ireland for help. All very noble, very decent.

Except, it seems as if he only wants to help those who have been "tortured" since Saddam was removed. There are so many words that leap to my mind when I read this stuff, but none of them is appropriate for this "family-oriented" Web Site.

What about those who had their hands cut off or worse under Saddam? There are thousands who could use some help, I'm sure, but because these victims don't suit Dr. Neilson's political agenda, they're not deserving.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Spring 1994 - when it was great to be a sports fan in NY

Veteran NY Times Sports columnist George Vescey is at a loose end because there are no sporting events in the NYC area this weekend. Doesn't happen often.

So, Vescey thinks back to the glorious spring/summer of 1994 when the Rangers & Knicks dominated the city (note how he mentions Roberto Baggio, but not Ireland's 1-0 win over Italy on June 18 at Giants Stadium). A great May/June for sports in New York no doubt about it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Tre strikes and you're fuori

Italy has seen the light.

New York, New York

Chris is reliving her trip to NYC via the blog. I think she's in love. Maybe she should have gone in January?

Anyway, Chris, did anyone happen to tell you about the Citicorp Building's design flaw and the fear that the building might fall in a relatively normal windy storm?

I worked there in the mid-80s, but didn't find out about this story until afterwards.

Poisoned chalice

Why on Earth does New York want to host the Olympics? {Or London or Paris or Madrid or Moscow?}

First of all, the Olympics are doomed. More than any other major sports spectacle, it depends on the public believing the athletes are "clean" and competing "fairly". Well, stories like this one from today's NY Times are an indication that this is far from the case.

Unlike baseball, football, or basketball (or soccer & rugby in Europe), the Olympics has no ardent following who will not be able to resist. For many people, those sports are like an addictive drug - irresistible. The Olympics are a two week holiday that a sports fan can easily live without. And, those non-fans who watch the Olympics will surely be turned off by stories of rampant drug cheating.

So, Marion Jones, Kelli White et al, you are ruining your sports more certainly than are Barry Bonds or Rio Ferdinand.

So convinced am I that the 2012 Olympics will be a disaster that I would applaud a decision to award the games to Havana.

There is only one good reason for New York to host the Olympics and it is to shut up morons like this guy from the Boston Globe. HELLO - Norman, what does it cost to park in Boston? Last time I checked (summer 2003) it was more than NYC!

You say soda . . .

I am really intrigued by this map of soft drink names that I came across over at Frank's site.

After I saw this yesterday, I circulated it amongst my friends and family. One friend wrote back, "fascinating - most of the country is wrong", which I suppose is exactly how I reacted. I mean, how can it be anything other than "soda". Although I've heard some people use the word "pop", I've never known anyone who used it. To me, using "pop" was like stamping "hayseed" on your forehead.

And, what about those southerners who use "coke" for everything. Is that because Coca-cola is from Atlanta and nobody down south drinks anything else?

{On a related note, can someone in Ireland please explain the use of the word "minerals" for soda? I've been wondering about that one for almost 20 years.}

On another level, I find it really interesting. How is it that there's a large circular region on the "coke" - "pop" border where "soda" is used by more than 80% of the population? And, look at Alaska, what a hodge podge. How does anyone communicate up there if they can't agree standard words for everyday items?

The western states are similar to the northeast, which proves my theory that most westerners are transplanted northeasterners who moved away seeking an easier ride (you know, no shoveling mounds of snow, no scraping icicles off your chin, no mosquitos the size of crows).

One last thing, compare this map with the electoral map from 2000 by county. They're not identical, but there's a general trend for Bush voters to say "pop" or "coke" and Gore voters to say " soda". Don't know what that might mean.

Every cloud . . .

One positive aspect of the Newshound troubles last night is that I missed the final episode of Friends. I was never a big fan of the show and am not sorry to see it go. Of course, American television has never recovered from the Phil Silvers Show and I Love Lucy going off the air.

Newshound troubles

I expect the Newshound to be up and down today, at least until my service provider can sort out the current problems. Not sure how long that might take, but it's much better now than it was late yesterday.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Newshound difficulties

I'm not sure what's wrong tonight, but something is seriously wrong with the site. The service provider is looking into it. I hope they resolve it soon or at the very least put up a less doom-laden message.


I've read a lot of stuff like this over the past 18 months:
No matter how exalted the aims of the US in that war, in the final analysis it was a colonial war very similar to the wars conducted by the ex-colonial powers when they went out to conquer the rest of the world, either in the name of Christianity or bringing civilisation to undeveloped countries or bringing the rule of law to uncivilised populations.

They use exalted aspirations for their purposes, but the Irish people know this as they suffered 700 years of colonialism.

What we have heard from American sources [is that] they were there to remove the weapons of mass destruction which Saddam Hussein was supposed to have acquired.

What we read and hear from our commentators in America and sometimes congressional sources, if you remember going back a year ago, there was the issue of the oil reserves in Iraq and that in a year or two they would be producing so much oil in Iraq that, as it were, the war would pay for itself.

[This] indicated that there were those in America who were thinking in those terms of acquiring the natural resources of Iraq for America.
It's a colonial war and we're only after the oil. Nothing surprising here, except for the fact that this is from Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain and Ireland, nephew of the Saudi king. These are the people Michael Moore is saying George Bush has a close relationship with? With friends like these . . .

Friday, May 21, 2004

Marriage and population

There's a rock-em sock-em battle between Stanley Kurtz {thanks to Frank for the link} and Andrew Sullivan going on regarding gay marriage and its effect on marriage as a whole. Both of them have been citing statistics from Scandinavia to support their case, but as far as I'm concerned neither one of them has made a case from the numbers and examples they've used.

Kurtz uses a lot of statistics and does a good job of illustrating how marriage and, consequently, family life is dying in Scandinavia. However, his linking of this trend to partnership rights for gay couples seems tenuous. I agree with him that the move to allowing homosexual marriage is part of the continuing, long-term effort to separate marriage and parenthood. However, any real claim for cause and effect between gay marriage and the decline heterosexual marriage is still unproven with these numbers.

This morning Sullivan is claiming the debate is over because of an article in Slate by M. V. Lee Badget, who uses statistics to show that Scandinavian marriage rates are actually rising after those countries passed registered partnership laws in the 90s. Although Kurtz's use of statistics is somewhat stretched, Badget's seems bonkers. She believes that the fact that the rate of increase of unmarried, cohabiting couples with children was lower in the 1990s than the 1980s is somehow good news. After it rose by 70% in the 80s a slowing in the rate of increase was inevitable, but the rate is still growing. Good news would show a fall.

However, neither Kurtz nor Badget have bothered to factor in immigration in their numbers. Between 1980 and 2003, the percentage of immigrants of Denmark's population rose from 2.6% to 6.2%. And, if you consider that most immigrants are probably young, it stands to reason that immigration could be a significant influence on the marriage and child birth statistics over that time frame. Without a more thorough look at the marriage and child birth statistics for immigrants, the numbers do not support either case.

My own guess is that immigrants, especially those from the former communist bloc and Islamic countries, are more likely to be boosting the marriage statistics. I definitely think it's important to separate the native Danish experience from the immigrant experience as this gives a better understanding of the effects of the changes to marriage on Denmark's culture and population.

{Note: My population chart is based on populations statistics from Danmarks Statistik and the immigration numbers from Migration Information Source.}

"No pictures please"

New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority wants to ban photography on the city's buses and trains. This ban is intended to enhance security.

I suppose I can understand the thinking. Taking pictures can be part of an intelligence gathering operation for any prospective terrorist.

Unfortunately, taking pictures of subway platforms and trains is also a big part of a tourist's NYC experience. Every visitor, it seems, wants to be photographed in a setting made familiar by thousands of movies and television shows. It would be a real shame to stop that.

I think the MTA is mistaken for a couple of reasons:
  • any terrorist can discreetly use the latest in miniaturized photography equipment to get what he wants without risk of detection;
  • there is probably more chance of thwarting a terrorist attack by encouraging people to take pictures on the subways — what terrorist will not think twice if he's just found his face accidentally included in a family picture taken on a subway platform;
The MTA should reconsider. Perhaps some form of compromise, such as photograph friendly areas could be developed? Yes, we need to do all we can to be safe, but this change would be of minimal benefit and will only serve to further alienate the public.

Vaccination rate

From today's Irish Independent:
The uptake of the MMR vaccine is still 15pc below the national target rate of 95pc needed to prevent an epidemic . . .

Last year fears about the MMR vaccine were eased after two studies, one in Finland and the other in the US found the vaccine was safe.
Is anyone asking Kathy Sinnott about this?

Thursday, May 20, 2004

U2 & Christian Bands

U2 is, apparently, the favorite band among Christian band members. I suppose that's not really surprising, I wouldn't have expected them to be big fans of the DK's.

Kathy Sinnott

I haven't been following the coverage of the European Elections in Munster, so I don't know how Kathy Sinnott is doing down there. However, I read in this morning's Irish Examiner that a rival candidate has "fired an unprecedented broadside" at her.

Brendan Ryan (Lab) is questioning Synott's policies across a number of fronts, but he didn't raise the one issue I'd like her to address.

Kathy Sinnott came to prominence when she took the government to court in an attempt to get the state to provide primary education for her 23-year-old autistic son. Although she was ultimately unsuccessful, I had a lot of sympathy for her. How could anyone not even if you thought the court ruling was correct (and I did)?

But, after that she became the most prominent member of the "MMR causes autism" campaign. My sympathies started to wane.

Now that she's a politician (this is her second campaign) I think she must be held accountable for her MMR-autism campaign. British research has shown that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and now American research has confirmed the British findings.

Unless Kathy Sinnott publicly accepts these findings, I don't think she's fit to be elected. In fact, she's a danger. More than anyone else she's responsible for the fall in vaccination rates and the rise in the incidence of measles in Ireland.

She helped make parents afraid of the vaccine and turned many against it. I remember my wife and I worrying about it before our son was vaccinated. Parents worry even when reason tells them not to. They don't need scaremongering politicians to fuel those fears.

We need children to be vaccinated and we don't need elected officials denying scientific facts to the detriment of our children's health.

Laura's radio show

I was driving along yesterday changing radio stations when I half heard George Hook say that Newstalk was going to be broadcasting a syndicated radio show from America. As I said, I wasn't really paying attention so when I heard that the woman's name was Laura I immediately thought of Laura Ingraham.

I thought to myself, "Wow, that will be an eye opener". But, I found out later that it's not Laura Ingraham that Newstalk is going to pick up, but Dr. Laura. I don't know much about Dr. Laura, although I have heard of her book The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.

So, I'm disappointed, but also somewhat relieved. I would have felt obliged to listen to Laura Ingraham on Newstalk, but the 10-midnight time slot that Dr. Laura's filling is not really radio time for me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Don't be too American

That's the essence of the US Olympic Committee's advice to the American athletes who will compete at this summer's games in Athens.

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of the lack of humility that a lot of athletes exhibit, but often that's down to the nature of the sport. You're more apt to see "strutting" by the winner of the 100m dash than the winner of an archery gold regardless of what country wins.

So, if the USOC wants American athletes to just be a little more humble, fine. But, if I were an athlete and they asked me to tone it down simply because it might provoke anti-Americanism, I'd tell them to go to hell.

Brooklyn beers

Brooklyn used to be the beer capital of America. Now it's reduced to trumpeting its yuppie brews.

When I was a kid, Schaeffer had a great slogan that I doubt you'd hear today. "Schaeffer, the one beer to have when you're having more than one".

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

18 years ago today . . .

Everyone has those moments when you "can't believe how long it's been since . . . " Well, I just had one of those. It's exactly 18 years ago today I graduated from college. That means I'm now out of college for as long as I was waiting to go.

It's a cliche, but the college years are the best.

Pilgrims & pioneers will find a way in Iraq

I enjoyed this article by David Brooks. He compares the current situation in Iraq with other moments in US history when idealism gave way for "desperate pragmatism".

Not much by way of hard analysis, but a light "cheer up" piece.


Mark Bowden says that soldiers involved in the photos at Abu Ghraib should "feel ashamed, as should our military and our nation". He's talking about the abuses and he's right, we should feel shame.

But, what about feeling shame simply because so much of what was in those photographs was sexually depraved? I wonder if many of the soldiers feel shame for that because shame is one thing that too many Americans no longer feel or even comprehend.

Not all the photos depicted Iraqis being abused or even their involvement. Some of the pictures were of the soldiers having sex amongst themselves in front of others, including Iraqi prisoners. If they were willing to do that, is it any wonder they thought it was all right to arrange their prisoners in vile poses or force them to perform sexual acts against their will?

We've created a society saturated with sex. Pornography is everywhere and it is far more celebrated than denounced.

The development of digital technology has not just made pornography more freely available, but seems to have encouraged a whole swathe of the populace into becoming pornographers. And, of course, since nothing is shameful, taking pictures isn't enough. They must be disseminated as well.

Of course, it's not simply an American phenomenon. Britain is hardly any different and may actually be worse. Ireland, despite its label as "Catholic" or its past image is nearly the same. Mid-morning discussions of "dogging" (if you don't know, don't worry about it) on our tax-funded national radio station are indicative of the scale of the problem and a disgrace.

Discretion, privacy, shame. Yesterday's ideas, apparently.

Monday, May 17, 2004


Milton Friedman believes there is a strong possibility that the euro zone could collapse "in the next few years".

Too many economic and cultural differences between the various countries to sustain a single currency.

I don't know about that. As a theoretical question, I suppose it's possible. But, politically it would be a disaster and spell the end of the EU.

Harder than rocket science

Why baseball is every intellectual's favorite game.
To understand how a knuckleball works, it helps to have a basic familiarity with Bernoulli’s principle, the Magnus effect, and the Prandtl boundary-layer theory, for a start.
{Thanks Carrie.}

I should add that in high school I had a math teacher who tried to convince me to throw the knuckler. I've often dreamt of what might have been if I had taken his advice.

{UPDATE 3:25pm: Oops - I forgot the link to the New Yorker article on the Knuckleball.}

Rumsfeld and Abu Ghraib

The New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh that has spawned headlines everywhere about how Rumsfeld ordered the abuses at Abu Ghraib does seem to have a ring of truth to it. Yet,as I read it I couldn't get past the fact that Hersh's two primary sources are "a former high-level intelligence official" and a "senior C.I.A. official". There's no indication as to who the "former high-level intelligence official" worked for or why he's "former" rather than "current".

So we have one source who is no longer working in intelligence and another from the CIA, an organization that is engaged in its own bitter turf wars with the Pentagon. I can't dismiss Hersh's thesis as the NY Post does today, but I do think I'll withhold judgment until I know more.

Again, however, I think this article highlights the difficulties we face fighting an enemy that can hide so easily. One thing is certain, however. If the photographs from Abu Ghraib were part of an operation ordered from on high, it was obviously handled very incompetently.

Boycott Dublin?

In a silly move, Dublin City Council has voted to fly white flags as a "protest" during President Bush's visit to Ireland in June. {I know there are many people in the US who will see some symbolism in the "white flag" being flown in an EU capital.}

It's a silly move because it's grandstanding and pointless. But, it's annoying nonetheless. Therefore, I recommend that Americans counter with their own silly, ineffectual protest. Americans coming to Ireland should boycott Dublin. Spend your dollars in Meath, Clare, wherever.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Going to NYC

Chris is off to NY tomorrow for a week. If you have any suggestions of what she should see/do while there, put them in the comments here. She still has not added comments.

Here's my suggestion.

Cutting off heads

Amir Taheri has a short history of the use of beheading in the Muslim world. Not pretty, but I'm not sure how unique in history it is to the Muslim world.

I hadn't realized that more than 3,000 Soviet soldiers had their heads cut off during the Afghan war.

Hand wringing

Front page of the Wicklow Times this week is an article about the expenses our TD's get. This was an item in the Irish Times {sub required} a couple of weeks ago.

It's annual game that we play. The press requests and gets the expenses report. They publish the figures, which to any layman sound outrageous. The politicians go through the normal routine of playing the game, going on Joe Duffy or whatever. Then all is forgotten and they get on with the serious business of cashing in.

The Wicklow Times piece reports that of the Wicklow TD's FF's Joe Jabob topped the list with 64K in expenses. FG's Billy Timmins was close behind. The figures aren't really that important, but what struck me was this comment from Labour's Liz McManus:
I unfortunately don't determine these things. You put yourself up for the job and you accept the terms.
Whoa!! Whoa! Whoa. Hold on there deputy McManus. You're an elected representative in the national government. Are you saying that nobody in the government has the power to change this situation? I would imagine that the Dáil could pass legislation changing this situation.

I know a lot of people out here who commute to Dublin daily. We live almost exactly 15 miles from Leinster House. Why should TD's who live in this region get 61.63 per day as travel expenses? (Or 139.67 if they live more than 15 miles away?) Nobody around here that I know gets anywhere near that amount. In fact, they get to pay exorbitant amounts in fuel and rail/bus costs without recompense.

Our elected officials should expect no more.

{By the way, although Liz McManus's politics would be a long way removed from my own, she was easily the smartest and most gracious politician who called to my door during the last general election.}

Note to newspaper/other web sites

There is no need to use a capital "E" for euros when putting the paper online. You can generate a euro sign by typing the following code: €

Here's a good example of what I'm talking about.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Abu Ghraib - has the world gone mad?

What's with the Vatican's Foreign Minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, who claimed that the abuses were a "more serious blow to the United States than Sept. 11. Except that the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by Americans against themselves". Yes, I see. Just as interning Japanese-Americans in World War II was a bigger blow than Pearl Harbor.

Excuse me, Archbishop Lajolo, but just how many angels can you fit on the head of a pin?


Boston police are after a stalker who they believe has moved back to Ireland. However, as long as he stays out of the US, the police will not be able to get him.

Baathists hold on power

Alaa has a very interesting post on beheadings carried out under Saddam's regime. I find it interesting how he obviously makes little distinction between Fedayeen Saddam, Baathists and the group that murdered Nicolas Berg. I wonder if we in the west try too hard to find lines of distinction between them.

Alaa's account of one black time in 1999:
. . . the night before the Fedayeen had attacked scores of houses and dragged women and young girls to streets and beheaded many with swords leaving the heads at the doorsteps of the victims houses. Some of these heads were left in place for more than twenty-four hours. The atrocities lasted for several weeks. The pretext for this behavior was a campaign against prostitution. The women who were beheaded were alleged to be prostitution madams and some of their young girls. I remember that my young boys came home suffering from shock as one of these houses was in our area and they knew the occupants quite well. The victims were taken by surprised and there was nothing to arouse their fears before that night. This was typical of the Baathists when they planned some atrocity to attack suddenly at some predetermined moment without any previous warning. Throughout the reign of the Baath party and particularly the Saddam era, it was customary to suffer periodic atrocities carefully planned and imaginatively variable to keep the people terrified all the time. It was considered necessary not to leave the people too long without some thing awful to keep them intimidated properly. The Baathists were masters of the “Terreur”, and it was the essential means of their hold on power.

Ireland to buy Red Sox?

That's the tongue in cheek suggestion of NY Times writer Floyd Norris in light of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's attempt to buy Liverpool FC shares with Thailanders' (Thailandeese - what do we call people from Thailand?) tax money.

Norris also suggests that the American government might want to buy Arsenal FC, but the fact that Osama bin Laden is a big fan might be a turn-off. Norris obviously doesn't realize that Arsenal banned bin Laden from Highbury in late 2001.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Canada's PM

Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, said yesterday that he believed Saddam had WMD and that those weapons have now fallen into the hands of terrorists.

Does this mean Canada is about to join the coalition of the willing?

Baseball's origins

Legend has it that baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, NY in 1839. However, this legend was shown to be false a long time ago. Now it seems that baseball was being played in Pittsfield, MA in the 1790's (and, presumably, before that). A baseball historian has found a by-law passed in the town in 1791 that banned baseball near the town hall. Civic authorities, much like twentieth century parents throughout the US, were worried about their windows.

This AP report indicates that baseball evolved from cricket and rounders, which the report claims are English games. I had a friend who worked in the National Museum who claimed that rounders was actually an Irish game, not English. Does anyone know?

Army reserves

Jason, who is a reservist serving in Iraq, has a long post on the problems with reserve units. Underfunded training programs are the root cause of a real leadership problem, although he does say "I don't think you can hang all of what happened at Abu Ghraib directly on the lack of training".

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

One China

From the People's Daily Online:
"On the Taiwan issue, Ireland has reaffirmed its commitment to the one-China policy and supported China's reunification cause."
I wonder what that support is? I'm sure John Gormley would accept that this is the morally right position, regardless of what the Taiwanese people want. God forbid that expedience ever play a role in any Irish foreign policy.

Torture - always unacceptable?

Since the release of the photos from Abu Ghraib I've been thinking about torture and whether it's always wrong. Now, let me state up front that I don't think those pictures were actually depicting torture or at least not torture in the dictionary sense of causing severe pain or anguish. The pictures were cruel, pornographic and humiliating. The fact that there were pictures at all, never mind those happy, smiley American faces, tells me that this was not a serious business. If this were serious, information-gathering torture, there'd be no record whatsoever.

From what I can gather, most, if not all, of the prisoners who were subjected to these horrific humiliations were not high-value, "ticking bomb" type suspects, but rather some insurgents, everyday criminals and innocents.

But, this business has me wondering again if I would be willing to tolerate state-sponsored torture in any circumstances. And, the truth is, I might be.

In the immediate aftermath of September 11 I would have been quite happy to think that the CIA or some such body might torture a captured al Qaeda operative (preferably senior) if that was going to help prevent future attacks of similar scale or worse.

One thing I do know is that I don't like "blind eye" torture. You know, where the higher-ups demand results and claim they'll "turn a blind eye" to the methods, which in the end leads to people in the lower ranks paying the price. If we're going to have torture, we all, as a society, should face up to it. For that reason, I really admired Alan Dershowitz's proposed model for sanctioned torture. I can't say whether his proposal was the best possible model, but I admired his courage in even proposing anything along these lines.

I think Dershowitz's attempt to put a legal stamp on torture (in specific, limited circumstances, it has to be said) is better than William Buckley's declaration that to "attempt to describe legitimate reasons for torture breaks the spiritual back of the law" or that intelligence gathering is a work of art better left uncodified.

In January 2003 The Economist correctly identified the problem for those who are given the job of getting information from suspected terrorists.
A detailed account of American interrogation methods appeared recently in the Washington Post. The article quoted American officials who describe beatings and the withholding of medical treatment, as well as "stress and duress" techniques, such as sleep deprivation, hooding, and forcing prisoners to hold awkward positions for hours. The officials also say they sent alleged terrorists and lists of questions to countries known for far harsher interrogation techniques.

Although well documented, the account has produced official denials and only a desultory discussion among American commentators, who seem no keener to discuss the subject than the British and French were when the issue arose in Northern Ireland and Algiers. This is understandable. But to evade the question is hypocritical and irresponsible. By speaking anonymously about their interrogation methods, the officials seem to be asking for help: how far should they go in trying to elicit information to stave off another large-scale terrorist attack? They deserve an answer.
They absolutely do deserve an answer. Many believe that torture doesn't work, and if that's the case then those at the top need to ensure that there is no more "blind eye" use of it. But, if torture does have some potential value, then I think we all need to take a deep breath and speak up as to when we will consider it.

Fergus goes over the top

Fergus Finlay writes about the Abu Ghraid scandal in this morning's Irish Examiner. He runs through some of the Taguba Report with a view to asking whether President Bush should really be welcomed here in light of this report. {His answer is 'no', by the way.}

Finlay is so desperate to cash in on this bad news (for the Americans) that he overstates things. If he'd asked the Taoiseach to "make the president aware of our concerns" that would have been fine. But, to ask for the Bush visit to be cancelled? Are all leaders of countries whose prison systems (whether domestic or military) are less than we'd like to be shunned?

Does this mean Ireland shouldn't be welcoming Wen Jiabao,who arrives today? Surely, Fergus wouldn't want to welcome the man who oversees the torture of Falun Gong members or Tibetans? Or that threatens a small island nation that has the audacity to want to rule itself?

The Taguba report was commissioned by the army under leadership from the administration. Finlay states that if not for the leaked photos "there would never have been a public statement, just a quiet series of disciplinary actions against senior officers (most of which involved demotions) and the scapegoating of some privates". Perhaps, but it's worth remembering that the army did preserve the photos when they could have deleted them. And, the army did suspend/demote people early in the investigation. Charging and trying people always takes more time.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Saddam & al Qaeda

I've read so many times that the administration's claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda were wrong and that this position had been "discredited". Well, maybe, but maybe not.

One of the most spurious arguments from the anti-war crowd was that Saddam had nothing to do with September 11. I accept that Iraq may have had no involvement in the planning and execution of that attack, but that does not mean that there was no relationship between the two.

The September 11 argument ignores two other possibilities:
  1. Saddam was funding al Qaeda with little tactical input other than America be the target of any attacks he funded - think "oil for food"
  2. Saddam's aid for al Qaeda only began in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
Personally, I believe number 1 to be the case, but if not, then number two seems almost certain given that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is apparently in Iraq and is presumed to be coordinating al Qaeda operations in the region.

One of the justifications used by those who claim there were no links between Saddam and al Qaeda is that Saddam was a secularist and would have been an enemy of bin Laden's. But, this lengthy Letter from Baghdad indicates that Saddam was beholden to the clerics and imposed a stricter form of Islam on Iraq than is generally assumed.

It may be that our understanding of Iraqi society was based on what existed before the first Gulf War.
An entire subspecialty of forensic medicine in Iraq deals with virginity, Shaker said. In any criminal case involving a woman, it's the most important piece of information. "It rules our life," he added. The surprising thing about these details of his profession is their ordinariness. In the West, Iraqis developed a reputation for cosmopolitan modernity that is now decades out of date. In order to win the support of Iraq's clerics, Saddam obliged people to adopt a harsh form of traditional Islam. In private matters of religion, family, and the treatment of women, the vast majority of Iraqis are far more conservative than most outsiders understand.

Smoking ban - the downside

It seems that the streets are dirtier now because all the smokers are throwing their butts on the ground outside the pubs.

I can tell you of another downside, one that I think is much worse than a few extra cigarette butts on the ground - drunk men gathered out front of pubs in broad daylight.

On Saturday, I had to bring my daughter to Dun Laoghaire. Our destination was next door to a pub and while we waited for the door to be opened so that we could go in, we had to endure listening to a conversation of several drunken men. Nothing they said was all that shocking, but their demeanor was something that I didn't really want my daughter exposed to.

I'm sure women will find walking near pubs increasingly uncomfortable.

Another significant difference between NYC and Ireland, one that Minister Martin never addressed, is that there is a much greater propensity for Irish people to go to pubs and get drunk in daylight hours than there is in NY. Forcing these people out onto narrow sidewalks during daylight hours is ridiculous. I wouldn't want to own a shop near a pub.

Can the ban and get rid of Minister Martin.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

'Cool Hibernia'

To be honest, I can't really follow a lot of what this guy is trying to say. But, I did find this bit interesting:
There is hope, however. The model of "Cool Britannia" in the late-90s has been replaced by the keen, goal-oriented capitalism of "Cool Hibernia." Ireland's unprecedented economic growth, fueled by the likes of Ryan Air, is a stunning example of common sense put into practice. What social conditions are necessary to reach the heights of "Cool America"?
Is this the same Ireland that I live in? I don't deny RyanAir's success, but "keen, goal-oriented capitalism of 'Cool Hibernia'"? This is the same Ireland that may be about to experience electricity shortages due to strikes?

Try this:
Rather than worry about old age pensions, government-funded healthcare schemes, and what more government could do for us, we must realize that we as individuals are best positioned -- both in terms of efficacy and morality -- to handle our own needs.

Economics reveals the true passions and interests of individuals. We must come to know ourselves through the marketplace, and more success than failure is sure to follow. Perhaps tiny Ireland has discovered a drug to cure our "insanity."
The author of this piece is a Wexford (that's Pennsylvania) native and an associate professor of politics and government at the University of Maryland in Europe (Norfolk, England).

I don't think he's seeing the full picture when it comes to his "Cool Hibernia". Or I suppose I could ask what drug exactly has he found here?

Friday, May 07, 2004

"Craven behavior"

Yesterday, the NY Times castigated the Disney Corporation for "blocking its Miramax division from distributing a film that criticizes President Bush and his family". The Times was referring to Michael Moore's latest "documentary", Fahrenheit 9/11.

The Times concluded its editorial by proclaiming "it is clear that Disney loves its bottom line more than the freedom of political discourse". This editorial came on the heels of two reports (May 5 & 6) in the Times about Moore's complaint that Disney would not distribute his movie.

Now it turns out that Michael Moore has known for a year that Disney was not going to distribute this movie. He admitted it on CNN yesterday. So, today, the Times had an article talking about Moore's obvious pre-Cannes marketing stunt? Well, actually, no. I couldn't find it on their web site today.

Now who's being craven? I think it's clear that the Times loves its political agenda more than the truth.

I really wish Irish people weren't so smitten by this guy.

Spider Man 2 promotion off base(s)

A small victory for the fans yesterday when Columbia Pictures asked Major League Baseball not to advertise Spider Man 2 on the bases during their June promotion. It's pretty obvious that Columbia Pictures has more respect for baseball fans than do the game's owners and administrators.

Echo article on blogging

Here's the picture that accompanied the article on Irish Blogs in this week's Irish Echo. {It's a big file, for a smaller version, try this.}

Get off the field

A fine between one and five thousand dollars and, possibly, up to a year in jail for running onto the field of a sporting event in New York. What a difference to here, where some people streak for charity at games.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Oil crunch

Very sobering essay on oil supplies at CBS's MarketWatch web site.

This is probably more for Tony to critique, but his pessimism with regards to events in the Middle East is serious. I'm sure it was in all the papers, but I hadn't realized that those ABB workers killed in Saudi were killed by their fellow workers. This paragraph really grabbed my attention
I refer here to the massacre of five employees of the Swiss-based ABB who had been contracted out to run a petrochemical a joint venture of Exxon Mobil and Saudi Basic Industries Corp in Saudi Arabia. It was an inside job. Their killers were Saudi nationals who worked there. This prompted the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia to urge all US nationals -- numbering in the tens of thousands -- to leave the country immediately, because neither the kingdom nor the United States can guarantee their security. This represents a retreat by the United States of historical proportions.
Retreat of "historical proportions"? Well, that could be a bit over the top, but that doesn't mean that our economy (US, Ireland or EU - doesn't matter) won't be in for some very rough times.

{Found through the Corner.}

"Majority" of Saudis

From the Arab News:
The much-touted interviews that US President George W. Bush gave two Arabic television stations yesterday failed to impress the majority of Saudis who watched them.
Now, I have no reason to question this assertion, except no where in this article does it indicate how the journalists who wrote it arrived at the conclusion that a "majority" were unimpressed. No poll is mentioned and my guess is that the journalists wrote "majority" because they "know" it's a majority.

I'd love to know how often the Arab Street is "polled" about anything by their own local media.

Oh No, not that

I may be forced to "root" for the Yankees. Baseball's authorities want to use the bases, pitching rubber and on-deck circles for advertisements for Spider Man 2. The Yankees, however, will not use the ad-bases during the game because they don't want to compromise the Yankee tradition.

Why do they always have to be right as well as annoyingly good? Now, I'm in the position of having to root for the Yankees on this one.

Abu Ghraib & Saddam

Jason calls LA Times columnist Robert Sheer to account for equating what went on in Abu Ghraib last winter with what Saddam did while he ruled Iraq. Jason has condemned the actions of the soldiers at the prison, but he also says this
One can still condemn the actions of those soldiers without trivializing the deaths of hundreds of thousands at the hands of Saddam Hussein.

I say this because to attempt to equate what happened under U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib with what happened there and places like it to Lahib Nouman and people like her is to commit the 21st century equivalent of the Holocaust denier.
Although Jason has singled out Robert Sheer, he's by far not the only one.


The Irish Echo has another article on blogs. Who is that Fay guy that Stephen McKinley is quoting?

Phoenix, here I come

And, all without leaving my Wicklow home! Apparently, the eastern part of Ireland, like parts of N. Africa, is going to suffer from increasing desertification. I wonder if that means the pond that pretends to be my back yard will one day be okay to walk upon?

No wonder my mail keeps getting lost

An Post has incorrectly labeled Crete as Cyprus on a new stamp. That explains so much. Next time I'm writing to New York, I'll put New South Wales and maybe I should use Louth for Laois.

{An Post claims that the island is Cyprus and not Crete. Here's a good map of the area, of the physical geography. "Cartographer's licence", sure, you keep telling yourself that.}

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The "right" Hook

This evening George Hook was discussing the Abu Ghraib situation with John Gormley. You know what you're getting with John Gormley. I mean, for God's sake, his proposed response to September 11 was "an unprecedented diplomatic offensive to address the root causes of Islamic aggression".

Gormley's in the Green Party, which today responded to the threat of nuclear terrorism in Europe by calling for the closure of Europe's nuclear power plants. So, while they may be "friends of the Earth", I often think they're fairly distant friends to this planet. And, they're certainly not what you'd call "pro-American".

I wasn't surprised by Gormley's views on the prison scandal. The fact that he believes that this is pretty much representative of the American army and, indeed, the government is par for the course. He's calling on the Irish government to condemn the US government for the prison behavior. {I haven't heard it mentioned yet, but those humiliating pictures from the prison somehow remind me of the scandals in orphanages and other institutions in Ireland.}

But, George Hook is hosting a mainstream newstalk radio program. He could have at least mentioned that President Bush and his administration seem to be scandalized by what went on. He could have mentioned that President Bush had only just completed addressing the people of Iraq through Arabic language t.v. stations. He could have said that it hardly seems like this is American policy seeing as all we know we have learned from the army itself. He could have at least questioned the value of Ireland condemning the actions in the Iraqi prisons when the US administration had already condemned them.

Instead, Hook and Gormley performed a merry little two step about how Ireland has always been on the "right side" in foreign affairs. Weak, awful radio. Uggh.

William says we Americans are slowly taking over in Ireland. I'd be happy if we could take over an hour on the radio once a week.

Abu Ghraib - the report

The army's full report is available online. If anything, it's probably worse than I imagined. Not only were prisoners being abused, but the report also makes it clear that that prison guards were untrained for the job they were performing, that they didn't follow basic procedures in documentation, often didn't have a very good idea as to how many prisoners they were guarding and that prisoner escapes were common.

The documentation was so shoddy that there were "unreported cases of escape that were probably “written off” as administrative errors or otherwise undocumented". The report also says that the prison population was over its capacity while the prison was simultaneously "undermanned and under resourced". Some of the Iraqi guards were unreliable and provided weapons to inmates and helped others escape.

All in all it's a complete disgrace to the soldiers & marines in Iraq, to the military generally and to the US.

This passage damns General Karpinski
Lessons learned (i.e. Findings and Recommendations from various 15-6 Investigations concerning escapes and accountability lapses) were rubber stamped as approved and ordered implemented by BG Karpinski. There is no evidence that the majority of her orders directing the implementation of substantive changes were ever acted upon. Additionally, there was no follow-up by the command to verify the corrective actions were taken. Had the findings and recommendations contained within their own investigations been analyzed and actually implemented by BG Karpinski, many of the subsequent escapes, accountability lapses, and cases of abuse may have been prevented.
The unit in charge of the prison was originally intended to go home in May of last year. When their mission was extended, morale suffered and "there did not appear to have been any attempt by the Command to mitigate this morale problem".

The only bright spot in the report is near the end
Throughout the investigation, we observed many individual Soldiers and some subordinate units under the 800th MP Brigade that overcame significant obstacles, persevered in extremely poor conditions, and upheld the Army Values. We discovered numerous examples of Soldiers and Sailors taking the initiative in the absence of leadership and accomplishing their assigned tasks.

Naming all 50 states?

Chris is blowing her horn because she can name all 50 US states. But, does she know their capitals? I won a prize in 5th grade for being the first in the class who could name all 50 state capitals. Used to do a pretty good job on the state flowers too. I also used to know all the capitals of Canada's 11 provinces and two territories. As I type this, I'm trying to see if I can recall them. Not too good yet. I can hear Google calling to me.

I'm outraged

William says he can't find any outrage from the "usual suspects" over the killing of a pregnant woman and her four daughters last weekend. The victims were killed, deliberately, in the family car in Gaza by Palestinians.

William compares the relative quiet over these murders with the noise that followed Israel's attacks on the two top Hamas guys.

Digest this from the NY Post, if you can:
After riddling the car with gunfire on a road leading to Israel, the two terrorists then ran up to the vehicle and coldbloodedly pumped bullets into each of their victims' heads to make sure they had finished the job, Israeli police said.

One of the gunmen also shot the swollen belly of the eight-months-pregnant mom at point-blank range.
I have to admit that this one really passed me by over the long weekend. I know I heard something about it, but obviously not enough to make me take notice.

The victims were Tali Hatuel, 34, her four daughters: Meirav, 2, Roni, 7, Hadar, 9, and Hila, 11 AND, of course, the unborn baby that the killers intentionally shot.

So now, belatedly, I'm outraged.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Canadians, I know you're out there

I've been watching a lot of hockey lately (have I mentioned that I love NASN?) and I've noticed a lot of changes since I was last able to overdose on hockey, which was the spring of 1991. The biggest change is that there are far fewer goals. When I was watching hockey regularly, 5-3 games were the norm, but now it seems as if the team that scores 2, wins. Last night was another 1-0, sudden death OT game (which I only saw this evening).

So, all you hockey fans out there, what gives? I have a lot of ideas, but seeing as they're based on 40 or fewer games, I'm not sure that they're valid. Am I right? Are the games more low-scoring?

"I believe preemptive war is wrong"

Father Andrew Greeley doesn't like the current talk in America about politicians being denied the sacraments if they are pro-abortion. I have to admit, I'm uneasy with the idea of singling out politicians like this, although I do think the Bishops have a duty to state and restate what the Church's position is on this issue.

However, Fr. Greeley is so worked up about it, that he says some dumb things in his article in today's NY Daily News. The dumbest is the title to this post.

How can he believe that "preemptive war is wrong"? Some preemptive wars - fine. But all preemptive wars? If France & England had waged war on Germany and eliminated the NAZIs in 6 weeks in 1938, which they could have done, would he consider that to have been wrong?

Fr. Greeley also casually insults the Bishops when he writes "I have never heard any of them (Bishops, it's not clear which Bishops he means) criticize gay bashing." Surely, he's read his Cathechism, which states "Every sign of unjust discrimination in (homosexual persons’) regard should be avoided" or Human Sexuality, written by the Bishops, which says, "(Homosexual persons) should not suffer prejudice against their basic human rights". Or, what about
(Homosexual persons), like everyone else, should not suffer from prejudice against their basic human rights. They have a right to respect, friendship and justice. They should have an active role in the Christian community
from To Live in Christ Jesus.

Don't these statements indicate that the Bishops don't just criticize "gay bashing", but are actually advocates for acceptance and the rights of homosexuals? {See here for more.}

The whole thrust of his article is so weak that he shouldn't have bothered. His flippant comment on gay bashing shows he made little effort with this column, presuming he wasn't just being dishonest. The Daily News (and others) should seek a refund.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

More on Abu Ghraib

I was thinking about this yesterday and I think I should have added anger to shame and "deep disgust" to how I'm feeling about this scandal. I'm angry because I can't help thinking that the behavior of these troops at Abu Ghraib has completely dishonored all the sacrifices that the soldiers & marines have made in Iraq. I don't think it means the coalition has "lost the war", but it's a serious blow. I still cannot understand it.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Abu Ghraib - bad, but not Saddam bad

Here's what Alaa has to say about it,
I am an Iraqi, and hate what I saw, but I would like to say in all honesty that compared to the practices of the old Baathists, this is a drop in an ocean. The terrors of Saddam torture houses make this isolated condemned practice by a small group of perverted individuals seem nothing, awful as it is. And more important, the outrages of the Saddam regime were sanctioned and perfectly well known and approved from the highest levels of the state and there was no question of any criminal investigations of the practices, the victims simply buried in any convenient ditch near by. But we never heard any righteous and noisy protests from Any Jazeera or Arabiya, nor did we witness much “Arab” anger during many years when torture, rape and murder were going on a regular basis and massive scale. Perhaps those hundreds of thousands of victims were not “Arabs” and did not deserve the righteous pity of the brotherly Arab masses.

More discipline issues

It's not in the same league as the Abu Ghraib issue, but I'm also annoyed by the American soldiers who are violating Irish law and obviously making a nuisance of themselves at Shannon Airport by smoking in the restrooms (reg required). This is garbage.

Six times troops have been caught smoking there and once the airport had to be evacuated after they triggered the smoke alarm.

Interestingly, in yesterday's Irish Times (sub required), one airport police officer was actually pretty sympathetic, moreso than I would have been.
Troops can be travelling for up to 20 hours without being allowed to smoke, and so the first chance they get they try to have a quick cigarette. You have to feel a bit sorry for them but it is a pain in the neck for us.
I doubt there's a single airport in the US that allows smoking, so these people must be aware that they're not allowed to smoke. I presume that they're not allowed outside to have a cigarette, which maybe could be remedied?

"Bush ist dumm und böse"

Heartening article by Mathias Döpfner, who is the Chief Executive of the German publisher currently trying to acquire the Daily Telegraph.

Found this through Davids Medienkritik, where you can also find a translation.

"Deep disgust"

That's what President Bush said and probably how I feel about the revelations and pictures about what was going on in the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The reason I say "probably" is because I think I feel worse than that, but I can't come up with the words to express it. I think shame is also a big part of it. That they may have been trained to do this makes it even worse.

I keep hoping that there'll be some explanation that will make this seem not quite as bad as it appears now. I doubt it, though.

May 1, 2004 - Poland joins the EU

17 years ago this week I was in Poland. I can clearly remember May Day in Lublin as a light-hearted affair with colorful parades and street theatre. Unfortunately, neither I nor any of the other 3 guys I was with could speak Polish and there were very, very few people who spoke English. So, we were unable to judge how happy the people were.

What was clear was that Poland was incredibly poor. Farmers ploughing behind horses, children dressed in rags and too many people ready to do anything for us "rich" Americans for a lousy dollar bill. The 4 of us combined had dinner and drinks in any restaurant for less than a Happy Meal cost in New York. We had so much more than they had that we felt awkward and uncomfortable.

My clearest memory of that trip, however, is from May 3 in Krakow. We had no idea, but May 3 is a special day for Poles. In the 1980s, May 3 was a date of protest for Solidarity. On Sunday, May 3, 1987, we came out of Mass in Krakow Cathedral and found ourselves accidentally in the middle of a huge protest. It was exhilarating and maddening, especially as we watched the bravest protesters get clubbed by the police when they attempted to exit the Cathedral grounds and enter the city.

Now fast-forward 17 years and Poland and 7 other former Communist bloc nations are today joining the EU. I'm not a great fan of the EU, but I am happy for the Poles et al because as frustrating as the EU is, it's still a huge improvement over what they had for 50 years after WWII. Today they feel that they are rejoining Europe, which is great.

{By the way, if you're planning to go to Poland, my recommendation based on 17-year-old memories is go to Krakow rather than Warsaw. Krakow was spared the worst of WWII bombings and the old city is beautiful. The old city in Warsaw is a recreation and felt like it.}