Saturday, September 30, 2006

I heard it on the radio

Two unrelated radio items to relate to you.

First, last night I was listening to TodayFM when they were playing their Friday night 80s program. A song finished and the DJ came on and said that someone had called up to ask for some Level 42. Now that has to be a lie. Nobody has ever spent the time or the money to call a radio station to request Level 42.

Then the DJ informed us that Level 42 is playing in Dublin next week. Then I knew. Either the band is already in town and they called or someone involved in promoting the concert must have called. Nobody else would have.

The other item was from a report on Radio 1 from the National Ploughing Championships. They were talking to a farmer about cattle and the farmer said that because so many farmers are part time these days cattle are getting wilder. He said cattle had less contact with human beings and, therefore, a bit more dangerous to be near. That's the kind of thing that I, a 'townie', would never even imagine. Interesting.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Fun over talent

Two weeks ago the NY Times Fashion section had a ridiculous article about the rush of fair-weather fans to the Mets. Now we have a similar, slightly less ridiculous article, not from the Times's Fashion section, but from New York magazine.

Stephen Rodrick's theme is that the Mets are more "fun" than the Yankees. Well, duh, this has ALWAYS been the case. Okay, not always, not when the Mets have been God awful, but nobody roots for the Yankees because the team is fun. "Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for US Steel", was a saying back in the 50s. Yankee fans don't care if the team has 'fun'. The Yankees are 'professional' - like hitmen. Yankee fans want a team that will win - big. Total annihilation is what Yankee fans want, not 'fun'.

Rodrick goes on a fantasy trip to late October and has the Mets playing the Yankees for the World Series. He predicts the Mets will win in six games? Why? Because the Mets are more fun.

It's not impossible (at least not to me even after the worst ten days of the season), but it seems pointless to write a long (and it is long) article detailing how the Yankees are better to then just choose the "feel-good" team. Let's face it, if fun teams won with any regularity the Yankees wouldn't have won a quarter of last century's titles. Ultimately, Rodrick's only slightly better than Andrew Mayer, the "feel-good" fool Met fan, erstwhile Yankee fan, from the NY Times's fashion section.

Kick me, please

I'm not sure it's an admirable quality, but there's no doubt that Bog Geldof loves causing trouble. In his speech to the Labour Party conference on Wednesday Geldof praised President Bush's efforts in combating AIDS in Africa. Although less incendiary, I would bet that the President's initiative – Pepar – would be even less popular among Labour delegates than is his Iraq policy.
"Pepar, which is Bush's almost personal response to the Global Fund, is a highly effective Aids combatant mechanism.

"It works. It's uncomfortable for people to speak these unspoken truths but a lot of that stuff is working."

He continued: "In general in rural Africa women have no power. They also cannot refuse sexual favours. I've seen marked in chalk on these rural huts - 'safe sex, fidelity' ".

He added: "It's giving women a weapon they can use."
At least Geldof is keeping his eyes and his mind open to the possibility that programs he doesn't support might actually do some good. That is admirable.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


That Irish Independent article (see below) is actually about a really interesting development for people flying between Ireland and the US. Although no start date is given, we will soon be able to pre-clear all immigration and customs checks in Ireland before flying to the US. That means flights from Ireland can pull up at domestic gates rather than the international ones.

It's hard to say how big an advantage this will be to travelers, however. When immigration was transferred to Irish airports, that was a big help - especially for non-US passport holders. I can remember seeing hour-long lines at immigration at Kennedy Airport.

This change doesn't seem to offer the same benefit, unless the luggage transfers are quicker at the domestic gates (I'm mostly thinking of Kennedy here). The only wait I've had upon arrival in recent years is waiting the three quarters of an hour for my bags to appear on the carousel.

But, could this mean that someday flights from Ireland could land at airports that are not normally "international" airports? I'd love to imagine that someday I could fly from Dublin to Albany. Unfortunately, I doubt my custom will be sufficient to warrant regular flights between Albany & Ireland.

Eastern Hemisphere

Oops. From today's Irish Independent:
Dublin and Shannon Airports are currently the only airports in the Eastern Hemisphere where US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel screen US-bound flights, enabling passengers to avoid passport checks upon arrival.
What? Now Irish people are afraid to share the same hemisphere as America?

Well, I've got news for the Independent. Dublin Airport is at 6º16' WEST and Shannon is at 8º54' WEST. So there!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Intelligence leaks

Good God. The other day the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times all reported on an intelligence leak. The Irish Times ran a story (sub reqd) on Monday with the headline, "Iraq war has boosted terror threat, says US intelligence". For all the excitement, it turns out that Congress had the full classified report back in April, so the leak is nothing more than a political stunt.

What's worrying, however, is how bad the report is. No, not that the situation is dire, but that it's so basic in its conclusions that I could probably have whipped it off in about half an hour, after a couple of beers on a quiet Tuesday night. I hope the full, classified report is better than what was declassified yesterday.

I honestly don't think there's a single conclusion here that has not been everywhere in the media for a LONG TIME. Here's one 'out-of-the-blue' point:
The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests. Extremist networks inside the extensive Muslim diasporas in Europe facilitate recruitment and staging for urban attacks, as illustrated by the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings.
That never would have crossed my mind. Here's another:
The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
Whoa! You mean, Iraq is a mess and the terrorists are loving it, but if things turn around that will be bad for their cause. Such insight.

Then there's my personal favorite:
We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support.
This I can't get over. Terrorists apparently use the internet to communicate and gather information. If only the Federal government was doing the same we could seemingly scrap most of the intelligence infrastructure for a few people who are good with Google and one person who can put together a short report on what they've found.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

With a little help from my friends

In 1993 and 1994 Bertie Ahern was earning a salary well in excess of the average wage. Yet, he was so financially strapped that his friends had to bail him out to the tune of nearly £40,000. Bertie's just the latest proof that politicians do a better job of making friends than do the rest of us.

Here's a political insight that you probably won't find anywhere else: it's not a good idea for the Minister for Finance to be getting gifts of £39,000 (€49,530) from his friends. The Taoiseach tells us that the money was to cover his legal bills from his divorce. Hmmm.

I'm no expert in these matters, but this sounds like a very expensive divorce. £39,000 was not chicken feed in those days - you could get a three bedroom house in Celbridge for about that much.

The Taoiseach said he broke "no codes - ethical, tax, legal or otherwise". I guess we'll have to take his word for that. The Taoiseach also says "£20,000 of those payments from friends were put towards providing for the education of his two daughters". This statement is very interesting as it seems to indicate that the Taoiseach did not anticipate being able to meet those costs from his annual salary. Maybe he thought he'd lose his political career and earning capacity? If not, then why was his daughters' education suddenly beyond his means?

I can't help wondering if he mentioned these funds to his wife. We know nothing about the divorce, so all we can do is speculate. However, it's possible that she intended to 'make him hurt' and this money may have spared him any 'hurt'. Maybe she could even have claimed a share of this "income"?

I like Bertie Ahern and I think he's done a good job, but this just looks odd, bad, wrong. If he was just a top accountant with money troubles this (the gifts, loans, whatever) would never have seen the light of day, but that's one of the downsides to working in politics. Everything you do is subjected to scrutiny. I can't see how he can continue, but I'm always wrong trying to predict what will happen in Irish politics.

Notre Dame & Israel

I'm a little behind on this, but on the 16th of this month 61 academics signed a letter to the Irish Times (sub reqd) calling on the EU to stop awarding grants and contracts to Irsaeli universities until "Israel abides by UN resolutions and ends the occupation of Palestinian territories". They also want EU academics to refrain from "further joint collaborations with Israeli academic institutions".

I had heard about this, but hadn't paid much attention until I saw Jon Ihle's post on the subject and his mention of Notre Dame. All the signatories are based in Ireland except for three - all of whom are on the faculty of Notre Dame.
  • Prof Seamus Deane, Institute for Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame;
  • Prof Luke Gibbons, Dept of English, University of Notre Dame;
  • Dr Breandán Mac Suibhne, Institute for Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame;
What's going on here? Why is Notre Dame the only non-Irish university listed? Are these three working to ban contacts between Notre Dame and Israeli universities? Is Notre Dame a hotbed of anti-Israeli sentiment?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Clinton & al Qaeda

President Clinton reportedly went to town on a Fox News interviewer on Sunday when asked about his efforts to halt al Qaeda/kill Osama/what-have-you while he was President. I didn't see the interview, but from what I've read Clinton defended his record and accused others of claiming he only struck at al Qaeda in August 1998 to deflect attention from his 'Lewinsky troubles'.

I don't remember what was said or written about President Clinton in the US at the time nor do I know what the general mood in America was. I remember having a few "discussions" with people here where I defended the President's decision and tried to explain that the Wag the Dog premise was way more Hollywood than possible in real life.

My clearest memory was one of being a bit annoyed by things I read in the newspapers. I also remember that there were protests during President Clinton's visit in early September by the "Clinton Protest Committee" (scroll down), many of whom are still at it – full-time protest professionals. (And, no, for the 3,216th time – the protests, etc. didn't start with the Iraq War.)


Until this year I've suspected that Transition Year was a ridiculous concept, and, potentially, educationally disastrous for some 15/16-year-olds. Now I have the evidence of my own eyes to see that I wasn't wrong.

It's not that I have a problem with the content - although much of it is way too trendy, leftist stuff - it's more that I don't think kids need a whole year 'break' from the rigors of education. It would be much better if these lighter, more fun lessons were interspersed throughout the final three years of schooling. Transition Year is nothing more than a year to do nothing hard as far as the Transition Year students are concerned.

I told you so

Okay, not you, but there's at least one man in Dublin (assuming he's still alive) who I told in 1993. I told him that the decision to build a two lane each direction M50 was a disaster. At the time I said it should have been at least three lanes each way, but now four looks like the minimum required. He argued that Dublin would never need a road that big.

Anyway, today it's a 'car park' for '12 hours a day'. Just so I can say 'I told you so' again (but I'll be one among the many this time), six lanes will be totally insufficient even when the new and improved road is finished in 2011. We need eight lanes on the M50 and another 6 lane ring road further out.

Among the five billion

Last week the Belfast Telegraph repeated the claim that a billion people would watch the Ryder Cup. I missed it all. Was it the big deal that we were led to believe? Is it really "the third biggest sporting event in the world"? (After what? The World Cup & Olympics, but bigger than everything else? I don't think so.)

I can tell you from casual observation that there was no buzz about it the way there is when Ireland has a big soccer game (or a even rugby international or All-Ireland). The pubs around me were not, from what I could see, packed with excited fans. In fact, one pub I walked by on Saturday was advertising that it was showing live football (soccer), not the Ryder Cup. Maybe it depends on where you live?

Anyway, I don't really have a problem with the Ryder Cup. I hope the golf fans enjoyed it. Didn't sound like it was much of a competition in the end, but these things happen. What bothers me is that government agencies buy into the hype around such an event, spend my money to help out those who promote the event and then justify doing so with wild and (I would wager) unsubstantiated claims of big financial returns to the country.

Try this, the "Ryder Cup is expected to generate €10 million in additional revenue for the Irish food and drink sector". First of all €10m doesn't sound like all that much. How much did Bord Bía spend to be a sponsor of the event? Secondly, €2m of the €10m is food sold at the event. Well, how much of that food would have been sold even if the Ryder Cup was not held here? Presumably all those who live in Ireland would have bought some Irish food and drinks regardless of whether they were in Straffan or Miltown Malbay.

This is what annoys me about government figures. They NEVER seem to consider the net returns. It's always what they can easily measure and what can't be easily measured (like the downside) is dismissed as unimportant. Never mind that the proposition that Guinness and Kerrygold need the Irish taxpayer's money to sell their products is almost laughable.

Or what about Bord Fáilte's claims that the Ryder Cup return to the Irish economy will be approximately €130m? I won't hold my breath waiting to read the independent audit on that one.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Wrong flag?

Why are fans of the Europe team not waving the EU flag rather than the Irish flag? This is something that I've been wondering about ever since Paul McGinley (or was it Padraig Harrington - don't remember, don't care) 'won' the Ryder Cup for Europe in the late 90s.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bord Fáilte nightmare

On Wednesday I mentioned that Bord Fáilte was over the moon with Tiger's big catch from the River Liffey. What a difference a day makes.

Yesterday's sports talk shows in America were all about two Ryder Cup stories: (1) The fake nude pictures of Tiger Woods's wife published by Dubliner magazine and (2) the stormy weather.

Okay, the first story was just way overblown, but still these things leave an impression. I'm not sure I've ever seen an issue of Dubliner. They got a lot of attention with these stupid pictures. Of course, sports talk shows have to talk about something and this 'story' got their attention. {The reaction here has been ridiculous too. Everyone in Ireland seems to want to give Tiger a hug and beg his forgiveness for the behavior of a few 'adolescent' Irish people.}

The weather's another story, however. Sure it rains in Ireland. A lot of people in America would have a vague understanding of that, but the weather we've had the past few days is actually unusual for Ireland in September. Yet, I heard two prominent sports talk show hosts describe our recent hurricane conditions as 'normal for Ireland this time of year or any time of year really'. Oh boy.

If the weather clears up then that'll be fine for Bord Fáilte. But, if the weather becomes the main talking point, then all the ad campaigns will be useless compared to what people are seeing and hearing with their own eyes and ears. The possibility exists that the Ryder Cup will have a negative impact on tourism.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

He meant it

I've been thinking about the Pope's speech again. What was he really saying? Did he really mean anything with his reference to Islam?

There have been a lot of commentaries claiming that the speech was about faith and reason and that he referred to Manuel II Paleologus just to make a point. Fr. McBrien of Notre Dame says that the Pope's mentioning of Manuel II had "much less to do with the justification of violence attributed to the Prophet Muhammed than it did with the role of reason in the understanding of faith".

If the Pope were still an academic theologian I'd buy that. Fr. McBrien is an academic and he presumes the Pope is only talking to people like him when he makes a speech that is "dense and intellectually demanding - too demanding for anyone not schooled in theology, philosophy, history or cultural studies".

But, Fr. McBrien is missing the bigger picture. If Benedict had wanted to address theologians and only theologians, he'd have made this a much less public speech. He'd have had a private audience in Rome. But, the Pope was speaking in Regensburg, his home town, where the press coverage was complete. He knew this speech would reach a wide audience.

This Pope has been in the habit of making some strong statements to a wide audience for many years. He doesn't pull his punches. For all the great things John Paul II did while Pope, he didn't halt the decline of the Church in Europe, which is what Benedict sees as his primary mission. He doesn't consider it a lost cause, but he clearly sees that it will be a struggle.

If it's not too crude to make an analogy with the business world, Benedict believes that there's a growing market for spiritual support and guidance in Europe. And, he knows that to most Europeans the Catholic Church is 'against abortion, against divorce and against contraception' and that's about it. That is, the Catholic Church is not well placed to capitalize on this growing market despite (or maybe because of) the Church's market penetration and infrastructure.

The Pope sees Islam making huge inroads in 'Christian Europe' and asks, "Hey, what are they doing right that we're doing wrong?" Well, one thing they're doing right is proselytizing in Europe while denying the right to others to do the same in 'the Islamic world'. So, the Pope seeks "reciprocity" - Christians should be able to worship as freely in Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere) as Muslims are in Europe. Such reciprocity would cause Muslims to have to pay attention to the home market, where they currently have a stranglehold.

However, more importantly, the Pope has decided it's time to differentiate the Church in the market. That was the main thrust of the Pope's speech. "If you're a European looking for answers, this is what the Catholic Church has to offer. We think you'll like this better than what the other guy is offering."

Despite what Fr. McBrien might believe (or wish) I think an audience of MBA students would more clearly understand what the Pope was saying last week.

Bord Fáilte loves Tiger

I love this from the NY Times about the Ryder Cup.
Tiger Woods began his week on Monday at the K Club by fishing the River Liffey, which meanders 75 miles, including a scenic stretch of the Palmer course.

After a patient wait, Woods pulled a fish from the water, an achievement that became a quick talking point for the Irish Tourism Board, which did everything but weigh and interview the fish.
I thought I was going to hate the Ryder Cup, but so far anyway, what with the weather, the wacky security arrangements and the coverage in the press I'm enjoying it a lot. I just don't care about golf.

How 'bout this from the Boston Globe.
There are hardly any one-pub villages in Ireland, but this is one of them.

So you'd think getting a stool at the Straffan Inn, or just a good view of the TV, when the 36th Ryder Cup is on at the nearby K Club next week would be a Herculean task. But the real challenge is just getting into Straffan, whose 1,400 residents have gone into a lockdown that conjures images of a zip gun being found in a cell at Alcatraz.
Not everybody's happy, of course, including Bruce Selcraig of the South African Mail & Guardian.
In a country whose courses are famous for legendary sand dunes, demonic bunkers, historic quirkiness (Ballybunion's first tee sports a cemetery) and sight lines that have you looking for church steeples and ancient Celtic ruins, the K Club offers 18 holes of mum's backyard.

Umbrellas allowed

Whew! The Irish Examiner reports today "that umbrellas are one of the few items not banned by the Ryder Cup organisers for visitors to the K Club this week". That's a lucky break given the forecast for heavy rain. However, as any American golf fans here are about to discover, the umbrella can often be a useless item in Ireland as the wind seems to bring the rain at you from all angles.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Last night the Mets accomplished something they haven't been able to do for 18 years - win their own division. I never gave it a thought before I relocated, but for fans of sports on this side of the ocean the fact that in American sports they combine the 'league' (division) with the 'cup' (playoffs & World Series to come) means that winning a division crown is somewhat diminished if the team flops in the playoffs. Not just somewhat diminished, actually; totally discredited is more like it.

Well, I don't care. Right now this is fantastic. It's been a great season, especially for me as this is the first time I've followed the Mets on a daily basis since 1990 thanks to broadband and internet radio.

Back in April I mentioned that Met fans had more hope going into this season than they had in years. Even the hopeful fans didn't expect the team to be this good. The Mets have won their 'league' with 13 games to play. Fantastic.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Where'd it go?

This morning around 7:30 I came across an article on the Irish Independent's web site with this headline: "Reciprocity is the key word in Benedict's tougher line on Islam". Now the URL is dead, this is an "invalid story ID". I know for certain it was valid this morning, so where did this story go? I'll have to see if it's in the print edition.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Never apologize mister …

… it's a sign of weakness". I wonder if the Pope ever saw She Wore a Yellow Ribbon?

If you read the Pope's 'apology' for his remarks on Islam last week you'll see nothing along the lines of "I'm sorry for saying …"
… At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.
He's sorry "for the reactions", not for what he said.

What's going on here? Surely the Pope knew those words would stir up a hornet's nest even if they don't represent his "personal thought" on Islam. I doubt he's in the least bit surprised. So, why did he do it?

I'm not a dedicated Pope watcher. I prick up my ears when I hear something interesting, but for the most part I don't check in with him on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to see what he's been saying. However, from the moment he chose the name Benedict, it's been obvious that Pope Benedict perceives his greatest challenge to be the (re)Christianization of Europe.

I'll be honest and say that I'm not sure I follow everything in the speech that caused all the controversy, but the Pope is basically saying that there's more to understanding than what can be measured. "Theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences."

Okay, fine. The Pope's against rigid secularization. But, that reference to Islam? Either the Pope's a fool and/or totally switched off to what's happening in Europe today or he's reading the tea leaves and sees that there may be an opening for the Church in standing up to Islam. No, not a new Crusade, but an argument. The Pope as much as said that Islam is incapable of co-existing with the rational whereas Christianity requires it. When you see people rampaging, burning churches, murdering in response to what the Pope said you can almost hear him say, "quod erat demonstrandum".

Benedict XVI has decided that the Church is not going down without a fight.

Not so happy a birthday etc.

Memo to the Sunday Independent:

Friday, September 15, 2006

NATO Kaput

Is this the end of NATO?
The unexpected intensity of the combat has raised domestic pressure on the Canadian and British governments, though both are so far standing firm. But other NATO governments are failing to commit their own soldiers as reinforcements; even worse, governments that already have troops in Afghanistan, such as Germany, are refusing to consider transferring some of them to the south from the relatively peaceful bases they occupy.

There's no question that placing soldiers in harm's way is one of the hardest steps for a democracy, and rightly so. But European governments that say they are committed to NATO and its mission in Afghanistan cannot continue to watch from a distance as American, British and Canadian soldiers do the lion's share of the fighting -- and dying. If NATO is to be an enduring military alliance, its other members must step forward.
This editorial from today's Washington Post sounds like the old alliance is just about dead.

I suppose on the positive side, it will remove the old argument about Ireland becoming a member of NATO by stealth every time there's a referendum on the EU.

Islam & Benedict XVI

When I read this article from the NY Times on Wednesday morning I thought this could get interesting. The Times's report on the Pope's speech contained this passage:
He began his speech, which ran over half an hour, by quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, in a conversation with a "learned Persian" on Christianity and Islam – "and the truth of both."

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached," the pope quoted the emperor, in a speech to 1,500 students and faculty.

He went on to say that violent conversion to Islam was contrary to reason and thus "contrary to God's nature."
But, then there seemed to be only a muted reaction so I figured that the Times had basically misunderstood what the Pope said. Uh uh. It just took a day or so for his comments to get the reaction I expected.

I don't know what the Pope was thinking, but he surely must have known that this would cause some 'unease' among Muslims. I wouldn't be surprised to find that Pope Benedict XVI has replaced President Bush as the primary hate figure among a segment of the Muslim population.

The Path to 9/11 contained reference to Ramzi Yousef's desire to kill both President Clinton and Pope John Paul II. If people like Yousef didn't like John Paul II, I'd imagine their dislike (hate?) for Benedict will be far, far greater. The Pope will be wearing a bull's eye from now on.

Director's religion

According to The Guardian, the BBC did not know that the program's director, David Cunningham, was a member of the "religious right" when they decided to show the 'mini-series'.

A spokesman for the BBC said "the organisation did not vet film-makers on their political or religious beliefs". Well, thank goodness for that. I'm sure the BBC has a long list of criteria they use to vet programs. The religious background of the director surely should not be an issue.

I'm not sure why The Guardian thinks this is newsworthy. I doubt they'd have run this story if this headline could have been used, "BBC did not know of 9/11 film's link to irreligious left".

I've seen The Path

All right, I finally finished watching The Path to 9/11 last night. Better late then never, right? (You can actually still watch it online here.}

Overall, I thought it was good, but I'm not sure people who haven't been really locked in to (obsessed by) the details of the September 11 attacks would have followed it as easily as I did. I knew the storyline already and even the names of most of the key people. I also thought there were some scenes where the acting was so stilted that I thought it was almost ridiculous. I don't understand why those scenes weren't cut or reshot.

I can understand why the Clinton folks didn't like it, but they should get over it. Sure if people want to see a criticism of the Clinton Administration in there, they can, but I believe the program was a fairly typical Hollywood good-guys-can't-get-anyone-higher-up-to-listen type offering. Only, in this case the good guys didn't succeed in the end. The good guys were John O'Neill, "Kirk" – an invented/composite CIA character – and, to a lesser extent, Richard Clarke.

I honestly don't think that a Republican administration would have done much differently and I think most viewers would get that impression. The program was less anti-Clinton than anti-government. Too much bureaucracy, too much red tape, too much concern with legalities to deal with this threat was the over-riding theme.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Now this is evil

I know there are people who won't understand this, but I HATE these kind of people:
Andrew Mayer, 50, a stockbroker who lives in Brooklyn Heights, said he favored the Yankees over the Mets when the two teams squared off in the 2000 World Series, but if the rivals meet in another Subway Series in October, he'll be pulling for the team on the No. 7 line.

"The Yankees have kind of sold themselves to Satan and brought in bad-feeling people like Randy Johnson and Giambi," Mr. Mayer said, referring to the surly 6-foot-10 pitcher and the first baseman Jason Giambi, who was implicated in a steroids scandal. "The Mets have now become a more feel-good team."
"Feel-good team"? Aaaahhhhrggghhrrjjjjrrrrrr! Your team is your team. You don't change with the weather. I hate these people more than I hate Yankee fans.

It's fitting that this article wasn't in the sports section, but in the NY Times Fashion section.

{Found through the Thanks, I think.}

What is an 'onslaught'?

On September 13, 2001 the Irish Independent editorialized that
[o]ne thing is certain. We are moving towards a concerted, world-wide onslaught on terrorism. And Ireland, which has suffered greatly from terrorism, cannot stand aside.
Five years later the same paper says
the place to conduct operations should never have been the ground. The grotesquely misnamed "war on terror" should be fought at the levels of intelligence and politics, and at both of these levels it has failed even more spectacularly than on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Would "Onslaught on Terrorism" have been a better name?

I'm not necessarily saying the Independent is being inconsistent, but I remember reading that passage five years ago and being surprised at the paper's firm stance on the need for military action. Maybe they never intended that, but that's how I read it. And, if they did mean military action it's pretty weak to be retrospectively demurring.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Healing a nation's wounds

Someone sent me this article by Keith Olbermann, about whom I knew next to nothing. I was told this is a "must read". So, I read it.

Olbermann writes passionately, angrily about September 11 and the political fall out over the past five years. I guess if I were inclined to buy into Olbermann's perspective I'd overlook some of the things he wrote, but I'm not. Other than what Olbermann wrote about the embarrassing failure to erect a monument and build something - anything - at the World Trade Center site I don't think there's much of value here other than venting.
History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.
I read this passage twice and then spent some time trying to think of any time in the history of the United States when the government had 'near unanimous' support to heal the "nation's wounds" (what wounds?). After Pearl Harbor, maybe, but in 1944 Roosevelt was elected with 53% of the vote - hardly unanimous support three years later. And, Roosevelt wasn't trying to "heal the nation's wounds", but to win a war.

Lincoln wasn't unanimously supported by northern Democrats, many in his own party or even some in his cabinet (I'm ignoring the southerners). But, boy was he trying to heal the "nation's wounds".

I figure the closest ever was during Washington's first term. He was revered from north to south, but even that didn't last. He did some things that annoyed some people (in other words, he governed). He was attacked, viciously often, for his policies with regards to relations with the French and/or British.

Maybe Olbermann meant another country, but I can't think of any democratically elected government having unanimous support other than for a few fleeting moments. That's how it's supposed to work.

He then goes off about The Path to 9/11 (still haven't seen it) implying that (a) it's basically a Bush production and (b) that there can no possible blame for the Democrats in what happened on September 11.
The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.
I wonder if he saw Fahrenheit 9/11? Just a thought. The media is the media and if The Path to 9/11 is not accurate, well that's regrettable so far as people get their whole perception of September 11 from this one program.

He finishes his rant by referencing the Twilight Zone. I found the whole thing bizarre, only barely connected to reality. Olbermann clearly needs a vacation as does the person who sent this to me as a 'must read'.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Al Qaeda's recruit

The Washington Post's article about Majid Khan from Maryland - one of the 'high value' detainees at Guantanamo - contained this odd statement from one of Khan's teachers
"It doesn't make any sense to me," said [Janis ] Sanford, who taught many of the school's foreign students. "I can't imagine it.

"He wasn't one of these kinds of fool-around kids. He just seemed serious. . . . He wasn't a light-hearted jokester."
He wasn't a light-hearted jokester? And, this makes it less likely that he could be a terrorist? I don't know, but I've never thought of Osama and the boys as a 'light-hearted', kidding around bunch of guys.

Five years on

It just doesn't generate the same emotion any more. I remember the day, but the feelings are so much less intense. When I see pictures of lower Manhattan on t.v. these days, I don't expect to see the Trade Center. I've gotten used to it not being there now.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

On TV tonight

I'm surprised to read this morning that the BBC is showing The Path to 9/11 (BBC2, 8pm) tonight and tomorrow. I'm surprised for two reasons: (1) it will be shown in Britain before it's shown in the US (by 5 hours) and (2) the potential for libel suits is much greater in Britain than in the US.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

No, not us. We like the Taliban

Karen Coleman was discussing Afghanistan this morning on the Wide Angle on Newstalk106 this morning. She had a guest who had recently spent time traveling around Afghanistan. It was an interesting discussion, but one exchange really struck me.

The woman (can't remember her name) mentioned that she met a member of the Taliban who was educated and spoke English well. He asked her if she supported the policies of Bush & Blair. Her response was to explain that she is Irish and not American or British. Now, remember, this is Afghanistan we're talking about. Am I misremembering or doesn't the Irish government support the efforts of the NATO-led ISAF that is working to help establish the Afghan government's authority throughout Afghanistan with UN approval?

The things you learn listening to baseball games

I'm listening to the Mets right now and just heard that Mets' manager Willie Randolph has a big fan in Rock & Roll star Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople. Who'd a thunk it?

Hunter now lives in Connecticut and is a baseball fan despite his English upbringing.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wireless in Blackrock

Okay, I know that loads of people have beaten me to this theme, but to me this is just so amazing. I'm sitting in my car outside a school in south County Dublin waiting for my daughter to finish her life guarding class. And, I'm listening to WFAN from New York (even though Mike & the Mad Dog get on my nerves, and they're talking about football - leccch).

When I first came to Ireland I used to look for one of the old style pay phones that only asked for money when you wanted to talk. With those phones I could call Sportsphone (212-976-1313 - still remember the number) every night for free. Now, twenty years later, I can sit in my car and listen to the radio from NY. I could, if I'd brought my microphone, call the US for free using SKYPE. Amazing.

It's all Kirk's fault

In today's (London) Times, Patrick West argues that America's problems today are due to its following Star Trek's lead.
Thanks to a process of osmosis from perennial reruns, Star Trek has propagated the belief that it is proper to interfere in other societies, that it is America's duty to assume the role of (inter-)world policeman, and to correct the errant ways of other cultures – for their own good. And Spock was to Kirk what Blair is to Bush, a lackey willing to assist his master in his curious mission that seemingly has no specific objective.
I'm sure some editor at the Times thought this was cleverly funny in a, you know, "Americans and Star Trek ha ha ha" sort of way. Well, it's neither funny nor clever. Just stupid. A waste of time, ink and paper (or server space if you're reading it online).

West knows nothing of Star Trek and I wouldn't give much for his opinion on anything else either.

Path to 9/11

I've read a few short blog posts and some news items about the ABC two part mini-series The Path to 9/11, which the network is airing this Sunday & Monday. Mostly what I've read is right wing commentators praising the 'docudrama' and members of the Clinton White House criticizing it because some of the facts are wrong. So it's a simple case of those on the right 'Yay' and those on the left 'Nay'. Except for John Podhoretz.
Ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's anger is unquestionably justified.

… Samuel Berger, Clinton's national security adviser, also seems to have just cause for complaint.

… The one person who has no grounds for complaint is Bill Clinton himself.

"The Path to 9/11" gives the impression that, as president, Clinton never took bin Laden's declaration of war against the United States and the West seriously enough. And that is simply the unvarnished, undeniable truth.

Still, even here "The Path to 9/11" gets it wrong. The real truth about the failures of the U.S. government under both Clinton and Bush is not, as "The Path to 9/11" would have it, that the diabolical nature of the al Qaeda threat was obvious and unmistakable and that it was ignored by fools, charlatans and other downright unpleasant people who refused to listen to the Few Who Knew the Truth (meaning the late FBI official John O'Neill and that legend in his own mind, former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke).

The simple fact of the matter is that, with a million other things going on all at once - all of which seemed more pressing at the time, the threat went uncomprehended.
It's always good when someone breaks out from their 'camp' to write what they consider to be the truth.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Eden (?), New York

I lived a good part of my life near Saratoga. It's a nice little city, but it always comes alive in August thanks to the month of racing at Saratoga Race Track. There's something special about Saratoga during August thanks to the racing.

Seeing as I'm not a horse racing fan, I don't really know how Saratoga's track compares with other racing venues, but according to Chris McGrath of the Independent, it's "Eden".
The enchantment of Saratoga has a bittersweet quality. Every summer, this clapboard spa town, lost among blue woods and green creeks in upstate New York, grants a pristine image of how America is supposed to be. For five weeks, it provides sanctuary to some of the best horses, jockeys and trainers in the world.

…The warren of stables beyond the back stretch is the most bucolic in the land: flower baskets hanging along rows of timber stalls, trees spreading shade and birdsong as the sun burns off the dawn mist. Trainers sip coffee, shoot the breeze, watch their horses snorting past the deserted grandstand - with its crouched, sloping tiles, antique boxes, and gigantic wooden fans to relieve the sultry afternoons.
Makes me want to visit again, but the truth is I haven't been to the race track since 1987. Hard to believe.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Terror threat

Over the weekend there was news that the British had arrested a further 14 men for plotting terrorist attacks. Last month the German authorities revealed that they had arrested two men plotting to bomb trains in July during the World Cup. Today, we read that Denmark has arrested 9 more people.

I doubt any potential attacks were in any way coordinated, but are the arrests? Have the authorities found some gold mine of information that is leading to all these arrests or has terrorist activity in Europe increased significantly lately or is all this just one over-reaction after another? Hard to say at the moment, but something certainly seems to have changed lately.

Monday, September 04, 2006

School bags

One of the great difficulties of being an immigrant parent is that you simply have no idea what schools are like. There are things that you don't even think to ask because, well, you just assume that it has to be the same as you experienced it.

It wasn't that long ago that I found out that my children's schools do NOT have water fountains. Kids bring water if they don't want to be parched during the school day. I knew they brought water, but I had thought that was a convenience thing, not a necessity. No water fountains or any means of getting a drink of water? Odd.

This week's Sunday Times has the results of a survey on the weight of school bags. The survey found that
on average, they were carrying the equivalent of 16% of their body weight. International guidelines recommend no more than 10%. More than one in three students (36%) were carrying in excess of 20% of their body weight on their back, or, worse, on one shoulder.
This is nuts, but I don't even understand why it happens. I can't remember what I did during school, but I know I never carried that much weight in my school bag. And, of course, those bottles of water add to the weight on the back.

Is it any wonder that kids are driven to school. If they weren't, they'd need mules to accompany them on the walk.

No pied piper required

I know you know what I think, but I like this topic so I'll take the opportunity afforded me by today's New York Times to revisit it. There are too few children being born in Europe, especially Eastern Europe.
"If you have a fertility rate of 1.2 or 1.3 you need to do something about it – it's really quite a problem," said Tomas Sobotka of the Vienna Institute of Demography. "You have labor problems, economic problems and steep rates of population decline."

Friday, September 01, 2006

Under the crescent

Not sure I mentioned this before, but Mary Fitzgerald's weekly series on Islam in the Irish Times is great stuff. This week's article (sub. reqd., unfortunately) is on the Hudood Ordinances.

She starts with the reaction in Parliament to the attempt to amend these laws, which are particularly repressive of women. For example, four '"pious" adult Muslim male witnesses' are required for a rape conviction.
Pakistan's law minister had barely started his speech to parliament when it happened. With cries of "Allahu Akbar" bouncing off the chamber walls, assembly members belonging to the country's religious alliance rushed the speaker's podium. Grabbing copies of the draft Bill being tabled that day, they ripped the sheets into tiny pieces.

Those still sitting looked on incredulous as what remained of the Bill was thrown into the air.

"This Bill is against the Holy Koran," declared opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman. "We reject it and will try to block it in any possible manner."

One minister stood on his seat and tried in vain to speak above the din, which by then included shouts of "Death to Musharraf".
Ah, democracy.

The Indispensable Man

I'm reading James Flexner's The Indispensable Man. I think I mentioned this before, but I read this book when I was in college and remembered enjoying it.

I finally got my hands on a copy and have been reading it again. The first time I read it I remember concluding that Washington was a great man. Now that I'm rereading Flexner's book I believe I may not have given Washington enough credit. He was far more than great. He was also good, which is what made him so 'indispensable'. The whole American experiment could have easily failed if Washington was not the man he was.

Washington was a great general, but not a great military strategist. Washington was a great political leader - possibly the greatest any democracy has ever produced - but not a great political thinker (he had plenty of those guys around him).

He held the army together from '76 to '83 against nearly impossible odds. He prevented the demoralized army from taking control when the Congress opted not to pay them what they were owed at the end of the war.

He was revered from Massachusetts to Georgia. He could easily have sought to be king or emperor (think Napoleon), but believed so strongly in the concept of 'government by the people' that he couldn't even tolerate such talk. As Jefferson said:
The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.
Without Washington there would have been no Presidency as we know it today, probably no constitution ("… his influence carried this government" said James Monroe after ratification was complete), quite possibly no United States at all. Yup, America would be a completely different place if not for Washington.

{And you Lincoln lovers out there - I'll take you on, but one at a time.}


Fr. Greely says that the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks "should be a time of national disgrace and shame". He asks why a group of fanatics was able to humiliate the US and says that "[u]ntil we admit our shame, we will not be able to avoid another such national ignominy".

He says primary responsibility for the attacks lies with airline industry and Congress because Congress failed to mandate steel cockpit doors. That would be true if we knew for certain that the hijackers broke down the doors to the cockpit before taking control of the planes. Instead, what we know is much more ambiguous. From the 9/11 Commission Report:
We do not know exactly how the hijackers gained access to the cockpit; FAA rules required that the doors remain closed and locked during flight. Ong speculated that they had "jammed their way" in. Perhaps the terrorists stabbed the flight attendants to get a cockpit key, to force one of them to open the cockpit door, or to lure the captain or first officer out of the cockpit.
Maybe they did break down the cockpit doors, but it's just as likely that they gained access through other means.

Unless the airline industry was deliberately ignoring the potential threat to use an airplane as a missile, which I doubt, then what good would steel doors be? They don't protect cabin crew & passengers, that's for sure. In fact, steel doors on the cockpit are much like bullet proof glass in a bank - great at protecting some staff members, but useless against a ruthless criminal willing to kill customers rather than staff.

I go along with much of what Greely has to say about the failures of government. He seems keen to ignore the failures of the Clinton administration (and unquestioningly accepts the word of Richard Clarke), which I'm not willing to do. He doesn't even mention the immigration authorities' failures.

When it comes to September 11, there's plenty of blame to go around. But, ultimately, the US was attacked by "religious fanatics", but these fanatics were also a selected, specially trained unit of a stateless army. We made mistakes, but they committed the acts.

They committed the acts. Greely's whole premise is that our defense can be impenetrable. That's risible. There are always going to be weaknesses and sitting back daring the enemy to find them is asking to be hit. Attacking the enemy was the right decision.

The price of democracy

I just paid 75c to mail my ballot off for the New York State Republican Party primary election for the right be trounced by Hillary Clinton in November.