Saturday, July 17, 2004

Iyad Allawi ate my children 

As you might be aware by now, an Australian journalist based in Baghdad, Paul McGeough, has published an article, which claims that the interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has personally executed six suspected terrorists just days before the transfer of sovereignty.

According to two witnesses that McGeough relies on, "the prisoners - handcuffed and blindfolded - were lined up against a wall in a courtyard adjacent to the maximum-security cell block in which they were held at the Al-Amariyah security centre, in the city's south-western suburbs. They say Dr Allawi told onlookers the victims had each killed as many as 50 Iraqis and they 'deserved worse than death'." Which Allawi then proceeded to administer to them.

According to a
report, "McGeough... has left Iraq, but stands by his story. 'If you have a story like this, it's not a good idea to remain in the country,' Mr McGeough told Ten News."

Outrageous bullshit or outrageous truth?

The problem is not just that the media is inclined to think the worst of the Coalition and their Iraqi "puppets", but that in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib controversy, journalists don't have to work too hard to convince the shocked public that in the Wild Mid East of Iraq anything is possible, including the Prime Minister shooting dead six prisoners.

The damage is already done - in Australia, the
Labor opposition is on the offensive, wanting to have their cake and eat it too: while the claims "appear... to be unbelievable", Labor's Foreign Affairs spokesmen, Kevin Rudd, is still calling on the government to investigate the matter.

Allawi, by the way is
denying the story; Paul McGeough is sticking to it.


The link, the link 

More apologies for slackness; apart from cleaning up the house been busy on a blog-related spin-off project. More about it early next week, if everything goes according to the plan.

In the news today, "Time" magazine reports that it's neither of the two main favourites: Iraq or Saudi Arabia: "Next week's much anticipated final report by a bipartisan commission on the origins of the 9/11 attacks will contain new evidence of contacts between al-Qaeda and Iran...

"A senior U.S. official told TIME that the Commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and ten of the 14 "muscle" hijackers - that is, those involved in gaining control of the four 9/11 aircraft and subduing the crew and passengers - passed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001. Sources also tell TIME that Commission investigators found that Iran had a history of allowing al-Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border. This practice dated back to October 2000, with Iranian officials issuing specific instructions to their border guards - in some cases not to put stamps in the passports of al-Qaeda personnel - and otherwise not harass them and to facilitate their travel across the frontier. The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks."
Still, if true, a damning revelation. Not to mention a reminder that is Arab Sunni extremists can cooperate with Persian Shia extremists, then what's really stopping them from working with "secular" Arab tyrants?

John Kerry has been known to contend that the war in Iraq has been a distraction from the war on terror, presumably because he's of the opinion that no ties existed between Saddam and al Qaeda. If the report does indeed find there was cooperation between the mad mullahs of Tehran and Osama bin Laden, will Kerry now call for a military action against Iran? I wouldn't hold my breath, and not just because "[a]mong Sen. John Kerry's top fund-raisers are three Iranian-Americans who have been pushing for dramatic changes in U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran." But that would be too conspiratorial. We should instead wait for Michael Moore to produce another controversial documentary about ties between a major American political personality and a Middle Eastern dictatorship.


Friday, July 16, 2004

A great day 

A great day for free trade and a historic day in the relations between the United States and Australia. US Senate, by 80 votes to 16 passes the free trade agreement between our two countries. Even John Kerry finally got around to supporting the deal, after his primary season flirtation with protectionism. In Australia, alas, the Labor Party leader Mark Latham is still playing games so we're not quite there yet. But hopefully pretty soon cheap Australian imports like Chrenkoff will be available on the American market without tariff barriers.



Apologies for light blogging again - I have much to say, but alas Blogger is stuffing up again. I know, I know, Dean Esmay will be telling me to switch to another platform. I will, I will; shortly.


Thursday, July 15, 2004

Thanks, Tony 

Not a great day for Tony Blair - but not the worst either, although even the "Daily Telegraph" has a go at the Prime Minister ("For those, like this newspaper, who supported the decision to invade Iraq last year, yesterday's report from the committee chaired by Lord Butler made uncomfortable reading."), although the "Telly" faults Blair for deficiencies in the process rather than the outcome.

I have to say that I'm rather fond of Tony, even though if I were a Brit I would still vote Conservative. I'm not alone in this, either; since S11 I've spoken to many right-wingers active in politics who, their ideology notwithstanding, cannot help liking Blair. The evidence here is not just anecdotal - go to any of the major (particularly American) conservative publications and you're more likely than not to find a kind word written about the Labourite Prime Minister.

Maybe it's because we don't have to live in Great Britain. Notice that the UK "Spectator" is far less enthralled by Tony than the rest of the Anglospheric Right. Maybe because they resent finding themselves in bed with the enemy while supporting the same good cause (the war); maybe because, unlike us, they have to live with the consequences of Blair's domestic and not just his foreign policy.

Regardless, it shows you what unlikely alliances wars make. Those who consider the war on terror as the issue today, will embrace all fellow travelers and forgive, or at least overlook, their other contrary tendencies. Hence, we're happy to have Chris Hitchens onboard, just as we're happy to have Tony Blair. Just as, over the long years of the Cold War struggle, we were happy with company and support of George Orwell, democratic socialists within the Congress for Cultural Freedom, or Lane Kirkland of the AFL-CIO.

The wars against totalitarianism, whether of the fascist, communist or Islamist varieties, are thus the ultimate test that separates the political wheat from the chaff. People like Blair understand that these sorts of choices go beyond partisan politics, beyond the comfortable everyday left-right dichotomy, and touch the very essence of what it means to be a citizen of Western liberal democracy.

In the end we all have to ask ourselves this simple question: are we for freedom and democracy, or are we content to find one of the myriad of excuses to make the wrong choice or pretend we don't have to make the choice at all? Many find this "if you're not with us, you're against us" thinking intellectually insulting; too Manichean, too simplistic, too dangerous. Yet the wars against Nazism and communism were not won by a nuance, and ultimately neither will be the one against Islamofascism.

That's why, the Third Way or no Third Way, we'll always remember that when the chips were down, Tony was with us.


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Fondly remembering the decade of nothing 

Are you ready for the 1990s nostalgia yet? I'm not, but it seems many are:

"Though they ended not even half a decade ago, the '90s - the decade that gave us grunge, Ghost and Generation X - are showing signs of a revival to rival our recent fascination with such '80s icons as slouchy boots and slashed sweatshirts...

" 'The cycle is shortening very quickly in terms of when people are ready to get nostalgic about the past,' says Cliff Chenfeld, Razor & Tie [music compilation company] co-owner. The company released its '70s albums in the early '90s, its '80s records in the mid-'90s, and its '90s collections just after 1999. Witness the speed of pop culture: 'The Spice Girls seems like it was a century ago,' and the group reached No. 1 in America in 1997."
Yet laughs aside, it's easy to see why many would be tempted to cast a longing look back at the 20th century's fin de siecle:

" 'The last three or four years have been so depressing on so many levels that it makes people even more nostalgic for the '90s,' Chenfeld says. Back then, 'we were basically at peace, the economy was really good, and our biggest worry was whether the president acted inappropriately in his private life'."
Stuck between the end of the not-so-bloody yet still quite unsettling Cold War and the beginning of the war on terror, the 1990s provided us with a breather from reality. The wheels of history seemed to have if not quite ground to a halt then at least somewhat slowed down, and for a brief, shining moment we stopped thinking about the serious things, and thought instead of nothing much. And we loved it. Just think of the '90s highlights:

- "Seinfeld" - the sitcom, which its creators proudly proclaimed, was about nothing;

- Clinton Administration - the presidency about nothing;

- the new-found reverence for the UN, multilateralism and the "international community" - institutions, which spent the decade largely doing nothing, particularly as far as the Rwandans, Bosnians, Kosovars and many others were concerned;

- the IT bubble - irrational enthusiasm about companies that owned nothing and produced nothing (and in the end provided nothing by way of long-term return);

- which brings us to the New Economy - the economy about nothing;

- Y2K - the technological Armageddon, which in the end turned out to be a nothing kind of disaster;

- boy and girl bands - manufacturing music about nothing.

And so on.

Then, we wondered if the President of the United States really got sucked off by an intern in the Oval Office. Now, we wonder if the President of the United States sent the country to war based on faulty intelligence. And yet, despite having elevated oral sex to a respectable topic of political conversation, it's the 1990s and not the current decade that seems so innocent.

No wonder so many want to go back. The John-John presidential ticket in many ways embodies the longing to turn back the clock. All the talk about the need for America being respected again internationally, the elevation of trial lawyer as a hero and cultural icon, the importance of good haircut; it all sounds so September 10, so "Clinton II: Revenge of the Nerds".

Yet, as always, there is no going back. The reality is there is no "end of history" (even if Fukuyama didn't quite mean it like that) and decades that combine peace, prosperity, progress, optimism and exuberance are an exception rather than a historical rule. We always fool ourselves that this time will be different, but reality always manages to outwit us and have the last chuckle at us, the privileged few - for, of course, the 1990s were the decade of nothing for only a few scattered peaceful islands somewhere in North America, Western Europe and East Asia.

And so, we, the happy islanders, managed to sleepwalk through one whole decade. Then, at 8.50am, September 11, 2001, the alarm went off and we walk up. The wheels started turning again; history resumed its march.

Historians like to think of "short" and "long" centuries. Thus "the long 19th century" lasted from 1789 to 1914. "The short 20th century" can be said to stretch from 1914 to 1989. When the history is written sometime in a hundred years' time, I have a feeling the 21st century will be seen to have started in September 2001, and the magic, surreal, gilded twelve years between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers will remain a "long decade" adrift, neither here nor there, a never-never time when for a moment we thought we have almost managed to regain innocence before it slipped out of our grasp and we lost it, irrevocably, again.


Around the world in 17 blogs 

Tim Blair has got more media reactions to Michael Moore.

Gnu Hunter on how media manufactures stories. It's all about the questions you ask.

At Yobbo's World, see what happens to a blog when it publishes something that one of the most popular right-wing blogs links to. Then see what happens when the same blog publishes a photos of a slutty Sydney schoolgirl. Hilarious.

For Australian readers, or all those generally interested in the publicly-owned media left-wing bias, make sure you check out a new blog, Public Media Watch. The "watcher" certainly does a lot of pretty comprehensive fisking, for instance in this new piece on some old ABC Iraq war reporting.

Dean Esmay has some thoughts about the emergency plan to postpone presidential elections.

Right Wing News has 10 questions for John Kerry - all they need now is somebody in the media to ask them.

Pejman remains pro-same-sex marriage, but rather disgusted at Kerry's position.

Blackfive has an interesting letter from a soldier in Iraq.

Southern Conservatives relates his personal "Fahrenheit 9/11" experience.

Slings and Arrows compares and contrast Clinton's Balkan adventure and Bush's war on terror.

Conservatives Anonymous write on men, women and the Republicans.

DownEastBlog has an extensive discussion of the recent hoax hate crime in France.

David Adesnik at OxBlog has an interesting post trying to establish just how many Iraqi civilians have died since the invasion.

Israellycool takes a look at how Israelis translate Hollywood movies.

Mohammed at Iraq the Model writes: "There's an Iraqi proverb that says 'when two Iraqis sit together to talk then politics will be there'. Something similar was said about the Poles too.

Simon World has another huge round-up of what blogs in Asia are writing about.

Last, but not least, check out Homespun Bloggers, a project by Tom of MuD & PHuD, to provide an umbrella blog for all the bloggers out there (yours truly included) for whom blogging is not a job but a labour of love. Homespun Bloggers aims to be a showcase of non-professional talent and will among other things, feature regular "best of" compilation from the participating blogs. If you're interested in joining the Coalition of the Enthusiastic Amateurs, visit the blog and email Tom.


It's all a question of interpretation 

The charitable view:

"[UN] Sanctions fuse burns as Sudan fiddles."
The uncharitable view:

"Sudan burns as UN fiddles."
Read also this piece by Makau Mutua, professor of law and director of the Human Rights Center at the State University of New York at Buffalo:

"Darfur is not an accidental apocalypse of mass slaughters, enslavement, pillage, and ethnic cleansing. The Darfur pogrom is part of a historic continuum in which successive Arab governments have sought to entirely destroy black Africans in this biracial nation...

"What is required for peace in Sudan is either regime change, in which a democratic, inclusive state is born, or a partition, in which the black African south and west become an independent sovereign state free of Khartoum and the Arab north."
I wouldn't hold my breath, though; after all, it's black people killing black people. The real outrage seems to be a very precious and easily exhausted commodity; hence it's reserved for special cases only; such as when the Americans or the Israelis are the perpetrators. Mutua writes that "[t]he tragedy of Darfur wouldn't be permitted if it were taking place in Europe." I'm not so sure; Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo came pretty close while the EU and the rest of the "international community" kept dragging their feet. The signs for Darfur aren't too good.


Too many men 

Something to whet your appetite and get you thinking on Wednesday morning. James Q Wilson comments on a new book by "Bare Branches" by Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer. Hudson and den Boer look at the male/female ratio in China and India (too many males, not enough females) and try to draw various implications out of it: for instance, lots of males = military aggression.

Wilson comments: "These things may happen, and they may not. We have no reliable information from the modern world as to whether high sex ratios lead to military aggression or political instability." My gut feeling is with Wilson on this point; I doubt that, for example, Germany and Japan in the 1930s had a significant gender imbalance that could explain their militarism. There seem to be many other reasons why countries go crazy and go to war; it's not so much how many men you have, but what you do with them.

Wilson, however, points to other, more likely consequences of the "too many men, not enough women" scenario: higher crime rates, but as a compensation of sorts also higher rates of marriage and lower rates of illegitimacy. In the end, though, Wilson cautiously notes, "how this works out in practice depends on the culture in which men and women grow up." On this point, I'm reminded yet again of the little noted fact that China is slowly but increasingly becoming a Christian nation. Will the religious impulse tame the wild instincts of surplus Chinese men, or, more likely, their leaders? Stay tuned; while our attention has been focused on the Mid East and Central Asia for almost three years now, there's a lot going on under the radar elsewhere in the world.


Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Clinton turns into a pretzel on British TV 

Bill Clinton, on his book signing invasion of Great Britain, nuances himself into oblivion, trying to defend Tony Blair without giving aid and comfort to George Bush:

"What [Blair] was trying to do was to preserve the integrity of the UN resolution, the unity of Europe and the transatlantic alliance and in the end it became impossible to do all three. So he had to decide – it was a terrible, terrible dilemma and any British prime minister would have been in, I think, a terrible position here,"
Clinton told Britain's Channel 4.

"Mr Clinton said Mr Blair had three options to consider when most thought he only had two – to go to war or not.

"He said there was also the possible position of the role of the weapons inspection team.

" 'If Hans Blix had finished his job, or said ‘I can’t do any more because this man won’t cooperate, so I think he has chemical or biological weapons, which were unaccounted for’ – that’s the proper language, unaccounted for – then I would have supported actions,' he said.

" 'That was Tony’s position, so they tried one more time to go to the UN to get enough votes for that position, but they couldn’t do it'."
In other words, Tony meant well and tried his best, but it was not to be, or as Clinton said in defence of his Third Way pal, "I agree with Tony on this. He believed at the time, and I think British people need to at least take into account of this in judging whether he did right or wrong."

This is all very reminiscent of Clinton's recent comments that he agreed with Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq, but not with the timing of the war. On the other side of the Atlantic, Clinton now seems to be saying that in the end, even bad timing can be forgiven, particularly if your name is Tony.

If it all sounds like too much hair-splitting to you, it probably is. Purely cosmetic glosses aside, the US and the UK position on Iraq was pretty much the same all along, and so, what's good for Tony should also be good to George. But if not as charitable to his successor as he is to his British pal, Clinton at least avoids recriminations and conspiracy theories about Bush's rationale for the war:

"They thought they could make a new democracy there, shake up the authoritarian machines in the Middle East, increase their leverage to make peace between Israel and Palestinians and they thought the peace-making process after the conflict would be much easier than it has been."
Which doesn't sound all that bad, does it?


Monbiot is a moonbat 

Another perspective on the bias in the media: yes, they're biased, says George Monbiot in the "Guardian", but to the right. Even the BBC, that bastion of rampant pro-American jingoism and militarism, not to mention other Brit news outlets like Sky:

"The Cardiff [School of Journalism] study, for example, shows that 86% of the broadcast news reports that mentioned weapons of mass destruction during the invasion of Iraq 'suggested Iraq had such weapons', while 'only 14% raised doubts about their existence or possible use'."
That's because all the intelligence services in the world, including the French, German and Russian ones thought that Saddam still possessed WMD. It's called reporting, George; "raising doubts about [WMD's] existence or possible use" is commentary, something that you're free to do as a commentator.

But that's not the end of the indictment:

"The Glasgow [University Media Group] study shows that BBC and ITN news reports are biased in favour of Israel and against the Palestinians. Almost three times as much coverage is given to each Israeli death as to each Palestinian death. Killings by Palestinians are routinely described as 'atrocities' and 'murders', while Palestinians deliberately shot by Israeli soldiers have been reported as 'caught in the crossfire'."
I don't know whether this says more about Monbiot, the BBC or the Glasgow University Media Group.

There's of course a powerful and sinister conspiracy behind this dastardly suppression of alternative viewpoints - a vast, right wing conspiracy, in fact:

"The US, British and Israeli governments can make life very difficult for media organisations that upset them, as the BBC found during the Gilligan affair. The Palestinians and the people of Iraq have much less lobbying power. The media are terrified of upsetting the Israeli government, for fear of being branded anti-semitic. Powerful governments can call on the rightwing press for support. Rupert Murdoch, who has a commercial interest in the destruction of the BBC, is always happy to oblige."
Don't worry, George, there's always al Jazeera. And lastly, this message:

"When most of our journalists fail us, it's hardly surprising that the few who are brave enough to expose the lies of the powerful become heroes, even if their work is pretty coarse. When a scruffy comedian from Michigan [Michael Moore] can bring us closer to the truth than the BBC, it's time for a serious examination of why news has become the propaganda of the victor."
And when a scruffy comedian from England [George Monbiot] thinks that we need Michael Moore because BBC is too far to the right to tell the truth, it's time for a serious medical examination. Which, judging by Monbiot's bio, wouldn't be the first time:

"During seven years of investigative journeys in Indonesia, Brazil and East Africa, he was shot at, beaten up by military police, shipwrecked and stung into a poisoned coma by hornets. He came back to work in Britain after being pronounced clinically dead in Lodwar General Hospital in north-western Kenya, having contracted cerebral malaria."
Please insert your joke here. But this gets beyond parody:

"In Britain, [Monbiot] joined the roads protest movement. He was hospitalised by security guards, who drove a metal spike through his foot, smashing the middle bone. He helped to found The Land is Ours, which has occupied land all over the country, including 13 acres of prime real estate in Wandsworth belonging to the Guinness corporation and destined for a giant superstore. The protesters beat Guinness in court, built an eco-village and held onto the land for six months."
If in the end Monbiot & co held to their eco-village for six months only, it probably means that after all The Land is Guinness'. Fascist courts might take away from George the land that belongs to somebody else, but his delusions are always safe with him.


"Liberal media are fanatics" 

Check out Orson Scott Card, my favourite Mormon science-fiction writer in the "Opinion Journal" talking about media bias. Card, by the way, is not a conservative, but he doesn't apologise for being a patriot.

"What makes the liberal bias in the mainstream media so pernicious is that they deny that they're biased and insist that their twisted version of events is 'reality,' and anyone who disagrees with them is either mentally or morally suspect. In other words, they're fanatics. And, like all good fanatics, they're utterly convinced that they're in sole possession of virtue and truth."
You can also check his regular contributions on The Ornery American.


Monday, July 12, 2004

Not all ex-terrorists are dead terrorists 

Says Walid Shoebat:

"I decided to convert to Christianity as a result and fight for justice for Jews everywhere. It's a myth that Palestinians are the underdogs, it's not an Israeli-Palestinian war, but an Arab-Islamofascist war against Israel. Once we get the big picture, we can see who the under-dog is - the Jews. There was only one reason we called for the destruction of Israel, and one reason alone - we simply hated Jews."
There is such thing as an ex-terrorist, albeit a low-level one (wouldn't count on a conversion from bin Laden, though). Meet this Palestinian Christian and Zionist - he even has his own website.


Run around in circles and cry "coup d'etat!" 

Just wait for the Democrats to have a ball with this one:

"U.S. counterterrorism officials are looking at an emergency proposal on the legal steps needed to postpone the presidential election in case of [terrorist] attack, Newsweek reported on Sunday."
If this story gets any traction, and you can be sure that so many will want it to, you can expect the fresh outcry about trying to steal the elections ("Wasn't 2000 enough?"), not to mention the conspiracy theories galore (any terrorist attack that might so delay the election will be seen by the fringe, and not so fringe, as an inside job - the Reichstag fire '04 - to help Bush stay in power), even wilder than those that have already deemed S11 a CIA/Mossad operation.

Never mind that we're talking about contingency plans for an unlikely extreme scenario (hey, imagine the "heads-I-win-tails-you-lose" Democrats having a go at the President if something were to happen and there were no contingency plans) of a terrorist attack taking place the day before, or on the election day, which would postpone the elections for a few days only anyway.

Who'll be the first to claim that Bush's "October Surprise" will be the December election?


All in the same EU-Boat, Part 4 

It's that time again when we take a closer look at what's been going up and going down amongst our more cultured and sophisticated, not to mention morally and intellectually superior, Old World cousins. It's that time again when, at the end of it all, we are forced to say:

Dear Europe, you're just like the rest of us, only older.

(For the previous installments, click here for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, and for something more serious, here's the latest good news from Iraq, and good news from Afghanistan).

In an encouraging diplomatic news of the last fortnight, Germany and France are starting to notice that they share the continent with others: "French-German ties 'are not sufficient' within the enlarged 25-member European Union (EU) and should be 'open', French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier declared." And "French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy declared... that the French-German dialogue 'should not be exclusive'. 'To be 25 (members) is very different from the European community of 6 or 9. In reality, there are today in Europe six countries - France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy and Poland - which have and will have the same problems to settle'." Actually, there are more countries in Europe with problems to settle, and some of those problems are called "France" and "Germany", but it's a good start.

In other European Union news, the Dutch provide another example of the triumph of hope over experience:

"On the eve of the Netherlands taking over the European Union presidency, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende urged on Wednesday for a crackdown on drug trafficking and called for harsher domestic and European-wide sentences."
A noble sentiment, but as the article helpfully reminds the readers

"The Netherlands is unpopular with its European neighbours for its toleration of soft drugs. The Dutch are also renowned as the world's largest producers of ecstasy and vast quantities of cocaine are smuggled through Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam."
Psychologists call this sort of behaviour denial and projection.

Even without drugs, integration continues to bring people together across the continent. A few weeks ago I wrote about the growth of "war tourism" in Bosnia; today it's time for "fertility tourism" as Western Europeans travel to Eastern Europe for cheap IVF: "Treatment in countries such as Hungary and Slovenia costs around 2,400 euros (£1,608), compared to between £2,000 and 4,000 in the UK. IVF success rates are as good in Eastern Europe as elsewhere, but clinics are often unregulated." First, low corporate taxes, now more unfair fertility competition from the Eastern upstarts. When will they learn.

For some, World War Two had finished in 1945; for Eastern European countries, it is said that the war hasn't truly ended until 1989. But poor Belgium had to wait until 2004:

"Bread may become more expensive in some parts of Belgium starting this Thursday, when the Belgian state will relinquish its practice of regulating prices that dates back to the World War II era... The Belgian state began setting prices on bread in 1940 in order to ensure it was widely available and affordable to as many people as possible."
Bread queues and mass starvation are sure to follow. That's not the end of bad economic news from Belgium, however: "Seven months after the Belgian government unveiled a new tax amnesty law designed to encourage people to repatriate millions of euros stashed illegally in foreign bank accounts just 500 people have declared their clandestine overseas nest eggs, it has emerged." Who would trust the people who want to make your bread more expensive?

And speaking of legacy of World War Two, "Germany's Federal Administrative Court ruled Thursday that the German army can fire a conscript if he is a member of the far-right German National Party (NPD). According to the ruling, a soldier can be sacked if the military organization is seriously threatened by his presence among the troops. The court was reacting to a conscript, who had appealed against his expulsion from the army by pointing out that the NPD was still not outlawed." If only they'd tried it in 1933.

In another German "better late than never" moment, "Interior ministers of Germany's 16 states have largely endorsed a proposal to set up a central database for suspected Islamic extremists in Germany. At a meeting in Kiel, German Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily stressed that in light of the growing danger posed by Islamic terrorism, 'all information had to be saved and analyzed centrally in future'." It would have been better if all the information has been saved and analyzed centrally in the past instead, but we shouldn't be too harsh on the Germans; the Islamist terrorist threat, after all, has only emerged over the past few weeks.

Amongst general economic stagnation, Germany proves that it still has got what it takes to provide innovative, cutting-edge, international business services:

"A German company that offers alibis for love rats who want a fling on the side has proved so successful that it is now expanding abroad. The Perfect Alibi agency has been such a success in providing straying Germans with plausible excuses for a weekend away that it is to open an office in Austria next month.

"Perfect Alibi head Jens Schlingensief says he gets around 350 customers a month coming to him for the perfect excuse to give their wives, husbands or partners. The lies can cost as little as £5 for a reassuring SMS to be sent to a distrustful spouse, or as much as £40 for an invitation to a weekend seminar."
Now, if only they used their powers for good...

Germany is also in the middle of another epidemic, aside from adultery: "Growing numbers of people are becoming addicted to text-messaging, a German doctor warned on Friday, estimating there were some 380,000 sufferers nationwide... Amongst the most extreme cases were a teenage boy who spent 8,900 euros ($11,010) compulsively texting people he didn't even know and a married couple who could only communicate by text message, even when they were sitting side by side." Knowing German predisposition for words like Machtvollkommenheit (sovereignty), Geisteswissenschaften (Humanities), and Wiederbelebungsversuch (resuscitation), texting in German must take ages. Trust the Germans to come up with such a painful addiction.

Meanwhile, to the east, in neigbouring Austria, it's better if you don't rely too much on charity of others, particularly if you're in a hurry:

"Austrian bureaucrats who held a collection for a family who lost everything in a fire have admitted they put the money in the safe - and forgot about it for more than a decade. Instead of helping the unnamed family get back on their feet, the savings book, containing almost £10,000, was sitting in the safe in the mayor's office in Nussdorf in the province of Tyrol. The cash was discovered when the old mayor stepped down and handed the combination to the safe over to successor Andreas Pfurner, who wanted to know what the savings book was for."
The authorities tend to collect a lot of money while forgetting what it's for; the Austrians can choose to call it charity, others call it taxation.

And in Switzerland, an education controversy: "Teachers in Switzerland have dismissed calls for extra staff to be brought in from Germany to boost pupils' German language skills. Their comments follow claims by a senior education official that children taught in the Swiss-German dialect end up with poor grammar." And if you teach the Swiss kids to text in German they will have very large phone bills.

Leaving the Germanic world for a moment, France continues to strut the world stage, offering wit and wisdom to less sophisticated countries elsewhere (i.e. everyone else). One day Mesopotamia is on the receiving end:

"France... reiterated its opposition to the death penalty 'under any circumstances' after the new Iraqi government took legal custody of former president Saddam Hussein and said it would reinstate capital punishment."
(still trying to locate what I suspect are numerous expressions of French concern at death penalty in Iraq under Saddam.) Next day it's Israel:

"French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier called for an end to Israel's confinement of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to his West Bank headquarters...

" 'Considering what he represents, (his situation) is not dignifying for him and is not dignifying for the Palestinian people he represents. We consider that this situation cannot last as he is the elected and legitimate president."
Or, as Mark Steyn wrote about Palestinian politicians, he's in the ninth year of his five year term.

Yet France retains the uncanny ability to be quickly forgiven and forgotten: Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has just told the French that his country is ready to resume diplomatic relations; and elsewhere, Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner recently announced that "When the French foreign minister goes to Israel, he will be received as foreign minister of a friendly country, with which we have our discussions and sometime our differences, but we consider France as a friendly country."

Israel might indeed consider France to be "friendly" but the feelings are not reciprocated: "The number of racist and anti-Jewish acts in France is rising sharply, with more recorded so far this year than for all of 2003, the government announced Friday." In a totally unrelated development, "[t]he study by the French domestic intelligence services found many areas were populated by poor, young French of north African immigrant backgrounds. The report, leaked to Le Monde newspaper, found at least half of the 630 suburbs it looked at had already become separate ethnic communities. The report warned the ghettoes, cut off from mainstream French society, could encourage radical Islam to take root."

Not all is well, however, with the French charm offensive:

"An ambitious French plan to launch an international all-news television network to rival CNN and the BBC has hit a brick wall because there are no funds available, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Thursday...

"Officials last year put forward the idea for the International News Network (CII under its French initials) after feeling that the French global viewpoint was being ignored by the two main channels that span the globe, especially in light of the US-British invasion and occupation of Iraq opposed by Paris."
There's always al Jazeera.

As the brutal northern hemisphere summer approaches, Spain proves that you don't have to be occupied by the United States or overrun by terrorists blowing up electricity pylons to suffer unreliable power supply:

"Spain has suffered its first power cuts of the summer, with a heatwave stretching what critics say is an already over-strained electricity network to breaking point. Power cuts affected the southern city of Seville, with failed traffic lights bringing chaos to the roads yesterday and Monday as temperatures climbed above 40C (104F) across the south and west. Sudden surges of demand from Spaniards and the growing number of tourists have provoked fears of a return of the power cuts that have blighted recent summers."
Yes, you can always blame the foreigners. In other Iberian news, Spain considers engaging in neo-colonialism in its old patch - all for a good cause, though: "A group of Latin American environmental experts have suggested forests in South America could act as 'carbon sinks' to absorb carbon dioxide emissions produced by Spanish industries."

Just to demonstrate the variety in Europe, in Spain they die of heat, in Iceland they freeze to death: "Idan Keinan a 25-year-old resident of Netanya, [Israel], froze to death during a trip to Iceland on Monday. Keinan, an El-Al employee in London, called his sister and told her that he was freezing to death."

Belgium, this week, provides a sad example of the dangers of American cultural imperialism as a "couple whose 15 children's names are linked to Elvis Presley say they cannot think of a name for their 16th child." The couple, whose previous children sport names like Elvis, Priscilla, Dakota and Tennessee, are stumped by the fact that their latest addition to the family is a boy: "If it had been a girl we would have called her Linda. Elvis once had a lover with that name. But we have run out of ideas for a boy." Instead, the boy is likely to be named Ohio: "There's no connection with Elvis, but it's in America."

Elvis? Ohio? Good God, the native European culture is so much more sophisticated than that. Take for instance Keith Flint of the hard core dance group Prodigy and his latest foray in the world of high fashion:

"Flint shocked Milan's fashion elite by simulating oral sex with a male spectator and licking a woman's face during a Versace fashion show. Flint livened up his performance in Milan by jumping off the catwalk and moving his pelvis close to a man's face before 'terrorising' other spectators with sexual innuendoes.

"Host Donatella Versace had tried to avoid a different kind of scandal by forbidding Flint from wearing a T-shirt with references to Satan on the catwalk."
Flint, apparently, had a new album to promote; others just do it for good causes:

"A Norwegian couple face court action after they stripped off and had sex on stage during a rock concert. Tommy Hol Ellingsen, 28, and his girlfriend Leona Johansson, 21, say they did it to help save the rain forest... Ellingsen and Johansson are members of an organisation called Fuck for Forest which is dedicated to having sex in public to save the environment.

"Their latest stunt came in the middle of a concert by Kristopher Schau and his band Cumshots at the Quart music festival in Norway. After the couple walked on stage, Ellingsen asked the audience: 'How far are you willing to go to save the world?' He and Johansson then took off their clothes and began their enthusiastic performance as the band carried on playing around them."
The report adds that the "[t]he couple previously raised about £10,000 by having sponsored sex in public but couldn't find an organisation prepared to take the money." Maybe if they Screw for Seals, Wank for Whales or Onanize for the Ozone Layer, the respective charities will be more welcoming of, ahem, donations.

In only slightly related news:

"Two Estonian students clinched the country's seventh straight wife-carrying world championship on Saturday, winning the 'wife's' weight in beer and a sauna.

"Using the 'Estonian Carry,' where the woman clamps her thighs to the sides of the man's face while hanging upside down on his back, Madis Uusorg carried Inga Klauso 830 feet through a pool and over hurdles in just over a minute."
The report doesn't say whose wives these were, what they were carried for, or if the carriers would have preferred the wives to hang upside down on their front instead.

In European automotive and transport news, "[f]emale traffic wardens in Berlin have won the right not to wear their distinctive caps after complaining that their hairstyles were suffering... The city authorities said they had bowed to complaints that the caps flattened women's hair. Female traffic police also said the caps tended to blow off on windy days." In Italy, meanwhile, trains definitely don't run on time anymore like they used to:

"A demonstration that has blocked rail travel between northern and southern Italy dragged on for a fourth day Monday as protesters near Naples kept up their occupation of train tracks to push for the closure of a local garbage dump."
And back in Germany, attempts to put speed limits on the country's famous autobahns - something like 130 km/h (ca. 80 mph). "It just makes sense," say Ernst Ulrich von Weizsacker, chairman of the environmental committee of the German parliament, "We do a lot of things to force industry and households to get their carbon dioxide emissions down, why shouldn't we do the same for cars?" In case you were wondering, human safety is also a consideration.

In sports news, the Dutch proved once again the importance of having the priorities right:

"Dutch politicians were allowed to watch the national team play in the semi-finals of Euro 2004 on Wednesday evening. According to the AFP news agency, the speaker of the Dutch parliament announced he would close Wednesday's evening session at 1800 GMT so that members of parliament and their staff can get home to see the match against Portugal, slated to start 45 minutes later."
A few more football matches, a few less pieces of legislation, and European economy might actually start to recover. Still in Holland, self-esteem rules, even if the ultimate results only reinforce sexist stereotypes:

"Emmen Zoo recently bought Kenwood the moose from a zoo in Toronto... [b]ut when he was put in the mooses' enclosure he was immediately bullied by a female called Winya. 'She's a real bitch,' said biologist Agaath Kooi. 'She ran after Kenwood and kicked and bit him wherever she could. And although Kenwood is much bigger than her, he let it all happen.'

"Kooi decided to take Kenwood out of the enclosure and put him in a barn with a big, friendly moose called Icmu to give him more self-confidence. And, by the time Kenwood was ready to take his place again with the herd in the enclosure, he was a different moose. Kooi added: 'When Winya ran to him to give him a kick, he immediately kicked her back. Ever since Kenwood has gained respect from her.'

"Kenwood now runs around his field with his own harem of female mooses and zoo staff are waiting to see which he decides to mate with."
Gender roles re-established and patriarchal oppression continues - how can the Dutch zoo-keepers be proud of that? But self-esteem in essential not just for animals:

"A driver who told a parking attendant "You are nobody!" has felt the weight of Italy's legal system, which ruled the seemingly innocuous words constituted slander -- and fined him heavily. The tiff over a parking space led to Giulio C. being fined 300 euros ($370) plus 500 euros legal costs when a court in the northeast city of Trieste turned down his appeal. The court ruled the phrase 'you are nobody' 'means precisely 'you are a nonentity' and to state that a person is a nonentity is certainly offensive because it is damaging to the dignity of a person'."
That's not to say that only humans, and not animals, are important in Italy: under the new law, owners who abandon their pets in cages will now face up to 18 months imprisonment. "The law was well timed, with heat burning across this nation and many Italians beginning the annual exodus from the humid cities to beaches or the mountains. All too often, a cat or dog or goldfish gets left behind." What about elderly grand-parents?

In war-ravaged Bosnia, one man gets his dream: "A beer-mad Bosnian who has drunk more than 15 pints a day for almost 50 years has been offered a lucrative contract promoting his favourite drink. Marijan Camber, 61, from Sutina, was made an offer he couldn't refuse after a local paper pictured him drinking his 400,000th bottle."

In other beer news, Sweden gets genetically modified beer, as a "consortium of the world's largest biotech companies led by Monsanto Co. helped finance a Swedish brewer's new light lager that is produced with the usual hops and barley - and a touch of genetically engineered corn." Beware of beer with two heads. Not everyone in Europe, however, is as sanguine about GM alcohol: "A lobby group of France's most powerful wine-makers have announced they will fight new government attempts to develop genetically modified vines, warning that they could have a 'catastrophic' impact on the industry." The National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) wants to study vines "designed to be resistant to one of the most devastating diseases to affect grape harvests." Sour grapes are a French national treasure that has to be preserved at all costs.

Still in France, a horrible example of prisoner abuse: "A French prisoner serving 30 years for murder and cannibalism was under psychiatric evaluation Friday after killing another detainee and trying to eat his brain, officials and a prison guards' union said." Must have watched too many those damned Yankee Hannibal Lecter movies. It's not just the human life that's cheap:

"France is to defy the wishes of environmentalists and animal-lovers and allow a limited cull of the wolves which have colonised the French Alps in recent years. The Environment Minister, Serge Lepeltier, will announce next week that he will permit the shooting of about half a dozen of the 55 wolves now ranging in 10 packs from the Italian border to the edges of the Rhone valley."
Despite the fact that the Environment Minister's plan includes - surprise - subsidies for the employment of extra shepherds and guard-dogs - the farmers aren't happy: they are demanding "shoot-on-sight", "zero wolf" policy. If only the French were as hard on terrorists.

That's all for today, folks. I hope you can join me next time.


Osama, you're fired 

Donald Trump, the zillionaire celebrity and reality TV star, whose world-famous hair looks like a large, sick rodent that crawled up on his head and died there, doesn't think President Bush's foreign policy has been very successful (via Damian Penny):

"The Donald has turned thumbs down on the President's war in Iraq, calling it a 'mess.'

" 'What was the purpose of the whole thing?' Donald Trump asks in an Esquire interview. 'Hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and no legs?'

" 'The Apprentice' star said it's folly to think Iraq can be turned into a 'wonderful democracy.'

The real estate baron said if he were President, Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden 'would have been caught long ago.'

" 'Tell me, how is it possible that we can't find a guy who's 6-foot-6 and supposedly needs a dialysis machine?' Trump said. 'Can you explain that one to me? We have all our energies focused on one place - where they shouldn't be focused'."
Mr Trump, how about putting your (or at least somebody else's) money where your mouth is? How's this for a new Trump-centered reality show - "The Apprentice Bounty-hunter", where Donald takes a dozen ex-military personnel and enthusiastic amateurs and directs them on the hunt for bin Laden. As the winner will already pocket the $25 million reward from the US government, this shouldn't cost Donald much. Or how about "The Apprentice: Iraq" where Donald takes under his wing twelve budding Iraqi politicians and entrepreneurs, setting them the task of getting their country back on its legs again.

It's always easier just to criticise, but Trump should surely know by now that it's better to do something constructive, particularly when you can also make a buck out of it.



Apologies for light blogging over the past week and a half. A car accident and a pretty rough dose of head-cold are not very conducive to writing, even bad quality writing. The normal service should resume from now.

So that's what blogligation feels like - even though this isn't my day (oe even night) job, and I get only a few dollars out of ads, I feel this strange sense of obligation to keep providing all you dear readers with interesting links, insights and commentary - and I feel even stranger guilt if for one reason or another I'm not able to do so up to quantity or quality that you might have gotten used to by now.

See what you've done to me?

By the way: Congratulations to a reader from Marlton, New Jersey, who has become the 222,222nd visitor to my blog, having looked through Google for "good news from Iraq."


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?