Saturday, August 14, 2004

Where's my Olympic spirit? 

It's that time again when for a period of few weeks it will be almost impossible to avoid exposure to sport. But I'll try anyway, which in my case means no Channel 7 or SBS on Australian TV. Don't take me wrong; I think it's wonderful that once every four years hundreds of millions of people around the world can for a few days forget about their everyday lives and share instead in the sheer joy, excitement and exhilaration of the Olympic competition. I just can't ever really get into it myself.

Partly I blame the communists. My primary school in Krakow occupied a solid, four storey, nineteenth century building on the edge of the Old City and had no outdoors sport facilities whatsoever. When we wanted to kick around the ball we had to use the nearby park and risk the wrath of ferocious pensioners who didn't appreciate youngsters running around and scaring away the pigeons.

Then when I came over to Australia and landed in grade 10 of high school I was far too busy trying to nullify the language advantage of my peers. So again I missed out on participating in sports. OK, it's all just convenient excuses. I was never a sporty person anyway; I always preferred a good book or the blood sport of politics. And so now, while the rest of my country is going berserk with excitement, I'm restricted to three channels of free-to-air TV. Which hopefully will translate into more blogging.

I was having coffee with a friend of mine today and we couldn't quite avoid catching glimpses of the opening ceremony being replayed on the coffee shop's big screen TV. I have to say we were pretty confused by what we saw of the spectacle. Sydney 2000's inflatable kangaroos on bicycles might have been tacky but arguably had crossed the cultural barriers more successfully than some of the mythological symbolism that the Athens ceremony was so replete with.

The pageant of Greek history was a good idea in principle, and I liked the artistic execution, but - no offence to any Greek readers - it was always going to be impossible to convincingly carry it through while at the same time trying to avoid any mention of some 2,200 years of foreign domination. Hence, after the golden age of classical Greece, the historical flow of the spectacle seemed to stop somewhere in the mid fourth century BC and resume briefly some thousand years later during the Byzantine period, only to then skip another thousand years, thus avoiding any mention of Alexander the Great and the Macedonian hegemony, the few hundred years of the Roman Empire, the early medieval rule by Norman and Germanic princelings and another few centuries under the Turkish yoke. By the time the Greek history resumed with the Byronesque freedom fighters, before moving into the rather non-descript twentieth century, the friend and I have concluded that the Stalinist approach to history is alive and well under the shadow of the Parthenon. The thing about "the glory that was Greece" is that sure, there was plenty of glory, but it wasn't quite evenly spread over the three and a half thousands of years since the height of the Mycenaean and Minoan civilisations. But hey, that's just cranky old us; I'm sure everyone else had enjoyed the show.

As it's difficult to completely get away from politics, even while having a coffee, the friend of mine suggested that what he would really like to see is the Olympic games for countries that don't officially exist. I have to say that the Olympiad for breakaway regions, disputed territories and separatist enclaves quite appeals to me. Why bother with the predictable spectacle of the US, Australia and China yet again dividing most of the medals between themselves, when you can watch nail-biting competition between participants as diverse as South Ossetia, Western Sahara, Kashmir and Bouganville Island? In another plus, proliferation, arms smuggling and jihad relay might also be more entertaining competition sports then your average triathlon, high jump and gymnastics.

So in 2008, see you all at the Golan Heights games.


Friday, August 13, 2004

Bastards ask a question, Bastards get the answer 

Bastards Inc asks a question:

"By the way, is it possible that Arthur Chrenkoff isn't actually human, but a complex set of binary algorithms, created in a similar vein to Google News, that simply collates all the world's news on any given day, and regurgitates it all with a simple, stylised, humourous commentary? Are programmers really that smart? Or is it possible that Steyn has met his match?"
The secret's out; I've been outed. My wife will be pretty shocked when I break the news to her. As for Steyn, I think he's pretty safe for now, but thanks anyway.

By the way, the next "Good news from Iraq" (number 8) segment is coming out on Monday. "Good news from Afghanistan, Part 3", out the Monday week.


The Governor falls 

A quick comment on New Jersey Democrat Governor James E. McGreevey's resignation following his announcement that he is a "gay American" who has had an extramarital affair with another man. According to McGreevey, he resigned his position to avoid being "vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure."

It's a sad moment for McGreevey, but before he's turned into a martyr and a pre-emptive victim of American religious bigotry, let's remember that "gay American" or not, the Governor did not really resign because he was gay. McGreevey took the dive because:

1) he had an extramarital affair, which regardless of the gender of the other party, still rightly or wrongly seems to be a hanging political offence in the United States.

2) he exposed himself to charges of
hypocrisy by previously being opposed to gay marriage.

3) the lover, his former homeland security adviser
Golan Cipel (described as "a poetry-writing former Israeli Defense Force soldier'", has filed a sexual harassment suit against McGreevey. As Drudge writes, "McGreevey's office had called the FBI on Thursday and complained that lover [Cipel] had requested $5 million to quash the suit, which assistants to the governor saw as extortion." The local press is now also raising questions about McGreevey's role in appointing Cipel to the homeland security adviser position in the first place, despite Cipel apparently lacking the necessary qualifications for the job.

Sleazy? Yes, but it has nothing to do with homosexuality. Had Cipel been a woman my guess is that McGreevey would have had to resign too.


John Kerry: the musical 

The whole world is singing about John Kerry. In fact, the whole world has been singing about John Kerry for many years, without quite knowing it, and without John Kerry knowing that he has long ago become a part of pop music history.

I had all the best intentions; I wanted to go just one day without writing something about John Kerry. It's time to admit it: I can't, I'm hooked. And on this occasion I blame the 1980s music for my transgression.

You see, last night I've been thinking once again about John Kerry and his amazing
adventures in Cambodia. I then started humming one of my favourite 80s tunes, Kim Wilde's "Cambodia". Then I realised that she might have been singing about John Kerry:

"Well he was Thailand based
She was an airforce wife
He used to fly weekends
It was the easy life
But then it turned around
And he began to change
She didn't wonder then
She didn't think it strange
But then he got a call
He had to leave that night
He couldn't say too much
But it would be alright
He didn't need to pack
They'd meet the next night
He had a job to do
Flying to Cambodia"
OK, Kerry wasn't Thailand-based and he didn't actually fly, but then again maybe that's just a cover story for his secret missions that his CIA hat had told him to give out. One thing's for sure; the experience sure did change him; he came back a different man.

But Kim Wilde is not the only one who might have been inspired by John Kerry's life and adventures. One of the greatest punk bands of all time, Dead Kennedys (you see there's already a connection there to John F Kerry), sang in their classic
"Holidays in Cambodia":

"So you been to school
For a year or two
And you know you’ve seen it all
In daddy’s car
Thinkin’ you’ll go far
Back east your type don’t crawl

Play ethnicky jazz
To parade your snazz
On your five grand stereo
Braggin’ that you know
How the niggers feel cold
And the slums got so much soul

It’s time to taste what you most fear
Right guard will not help you here
Brace yourself, my dear¡­

It’s a holiday in Cambodia
It’s tough, kid, but it’s life
It’s a holiday in Cambodia
Don’t forget to pack a wife"
The life of the Senator from Massachusetts encapsulated in the wild, throbbing, furious 3 minutes and 43 seconds. That's what I call the power of rock music.

And then there is the Canadian songmaister Bruce Cockburn, singing in
"Postcards from Cambodia" about another memento (beside the hat) that John Kerry might have brought out of the country under heavy Khmer Rouge fire:

"Abe Lincoln once turned to somebody and said:
Do you ever find yourself talking with the dead?

There are three tiny deaths heads carved out of mammoth tusk
on the ledge in my bathroom.
They grin at me in the morning when I'm taking a leak,
but they say very little."
As the dying Kurtz had said, "The horror! The horror!"


Thursday, August 12, 2004

The "Washington Post" comes clean 

God bless the media and their capacity for self-criticism. It's now the "Washington Post"'s turn to flagellate itself for its pre-war news coverage. For "not reporting more skeptically on President Bush's contentions during the run-up to war," or specifically, the WMD evidence.

The paper which broke the Watergate story remains investigative to its very core, so much so that it's now investigating itself: "An examination of the paper's coverage, and interviews with more than a dozen of the editors and reporters involved, shows that The Post published a number of pieces challenging the White House, but rarely on the front page."

How to explain this shocking intelligence failure? What accounts for the "Post"'s unseemly drive to war? A nefarious neo-conservative cabal throwing their weight around at the editorial board meetings, perhaps? Or maybe some dirty advertising money from Halliburton? Or the reluctance to pre-empt yet another Bob Woodward "don't just tell all; tell even more" book?

No. "There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?" says Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks. "I think I was part of the groupthink," says Mr Woodward himself, recalling that no one wanted to write anything that would make them look too silly if the weapons were eventually found. National security reporter Dana Priest adds that the atmosphere simply wasn't conducive anyway to publishing skeptical stories, as they would usually unleash hate mail "questioning your patriotism and suggesting that you somehow be delivered into the hands of the terrorists."

Not to worry. The "Post" has learned the lesson. There won't be any more unquestioning reporting, no groupthink, no fear of appearing unpatriotic. The "Post" will from now on fearlessly expose as mercenary liars all those who choose to question John Kerry's heroism in Vietnam. Ah, so good to have the balance restored.


Holidays in Najaf 

Remember the time when the international left was a lot more bellicose? Remember the Spanish Civil War? (I use the term "remember" in a non-personal and non-specific sort of way, not the way John Kerry "remembers" being in Cambodia on Christmas 1968) It was the last time that thousands of passionate Western lefties put their own asses on the line and joined the Republican side in the fight against Franco. Ever since then, however, the left has preferred to let "the people of color" (as they would say) fight the Western (American) imperialism on their behalf.

Today, once again, it's not the devotees of John Pilger or Noam Chomsky but the Western Muslims who occasionally join in the jihad against the US. Here's the
latest two:

"British Muslims who take up arms against UK and US forces in Iraq could face treason charges on their return, the Home Office said today. The warning was prompted by a Guardian report that two Britons had traveled from their homes in London to join the Mahdi army, a militia loyal to the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

"The two men who traveled to Najaf from the UK were both born in Iraq - one in Najaf and the other in Baghdad - but had lived in Britain since they were children and held British passports. This was the first time they had returned to Iraq, the Guardian reported.

"Asked why they had traveled to Najaf, one - calling himself Abu Haqid, replied: 'Our brothers are fighting down here. They are not eating well, they are not sleeping well - we have to be in the same position as them. We all have a belief, me and my family, when it comes to jihad. We asked our families and they said yes. It is good to protect your country and be there with your brothers'."
Treason charges if they are lucky to return to Great Britain.

I just love those people who choose to live in the West and share in the peace, freedom and prosperity that comes from being a citizen of a liberal democracy such as the UK, but who feel so passionately that their "brothers" back in Iraq should live in an impoverished, stifling theocracy, that they will gladly go back and fight to keep them there.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Education for the alien nation 

A victory for the quality of education:
"A chain of private California schools that taught immigrants there are 53 U.S. states and four branches of the U.S. government was ordered to stop handing out phony diplomas this week."
Now we only need to stop all the other schools from churning out the whole new generation woefully ignorant of history, culture and geography.

I can imagine the test questions: Which of the following are the other three US states?

a) Hollywood
b) 10 Downing Street
c) Michael Moore
d) state of mind
e) Lost Virginia

The fourth branch of the US government is:

a) the media
b) the Elders of Zion
c) the IRS

The real answers are simpler:
"Students learned that Congress had two houses -- the Senate for Democrats and the House for Republicans; that the U.S. flag had not been updated to reflect the addition of Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico to the 'original' 50 states; that the federal 'administrative' branch oversees the Treasury Department; and that World War II occurred from 1938 to 1942."
There might be a method in this madness. Maybe the legislative process would work better if Democrats and Republicans were kept separated. Maybe the Treasury Department does need oversight by the administrative branch. On the other hand, World War Two ending in 1942 is not a good idea - it basically means the Third Reich from Moscow to the Atlantic and the Japanese empire stretching all the way to Australia's doorstep.

The Vietnam War, by the way, was a brief naval conflict in South-East Asian waters that took place between November 1968 and April 1969. It is more commonly known today as Kerry's War.


Killing the messenger, Democrat-style 

I've written about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth before (hasn't everyone? The story is really generating the maximum amount of buzz in the blogsphere and slowly starting to trickle through into the mainstream, particularly in relation to the latest controversy about John Kerry's possibly imaginary Christmas in Cambodia). The Vets' book, "Unfit for Command," is just hitting the bookstores, but it seems that its co-author Jerry Corsi is in trouble for some stupid comments he had left in the past on the Free Republic website. It's all rather juvenile commentary along the lines of "Islam is a peaceful religion — just as long as the women are beaten, the boys buggered and the infidels are killed," as well as digs at pedophilia in the Catholic Church, the Pope's senility, and insinuations that John Kerry is really a Jew.

No shock or surprise there for all of us who have been inside the blogsphere for some time - check the comments on any popular and controversial blog and you'll find unrelenting hyperbole and abuse. I particularly recommend Healing Iraq and Little Green Footballs, which on account of the topics they cover tend to generate the fiercest clashes of civilisations, though not necessarily of civility. Other bloggers, like Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan make the conscious decision to save everyone any future embarrassment (not to mention saving themselves a lot of valuable time) and don't have comments section on their blogs at all.

So, a lesson for all of you kiddies out there: watch what you write if you're planning to author a book in the future. Or if you feel a really strong urge to write something inflammatory, don't sign with your real name and email address. The Democratic Party operatives are already scouring the Chrenkoff blog collecting up dirt on all of you, dear readers. Well, I'm sure they aren't, but if any of you decide to become famous in the near future, I'm sure they just might.

But returning to our current controversy, Jerry Corsi has definitely handed the Democrats a perfect opportunity to play the man and not the ball. In the words of Chad Clanton, the Kerry campaign spokesman: "President Bush should immediately condemn this sleazy book written by a virulent anti-Catholic bigot. It says something about the smear campaign against John Kerry that it has stooped to enlist a hatemonger."

Three comments immediately spring to mind:

1) But Chad, what about the book itself? Whether or not it has been co-written by "a virulent anti-Catholic bigot" (Corsi describes himself as a "devout Catholic", although from his remarks it seems of the Mel Gibson variety) it doesn't address any of the allegations raised in "Unfit for Command" by numerous Swift Boat veterans who served with John Kerry. It's a dangerous tactic, but hardly untried in the Democrat camp, where every question of Kerry's voting record on defense and security issues meets with a reminder that Kerry had, after all, served in Vietnam. "Mr Kerry, veterans allege that you were not in Cambodia in 1968, as you had previously claimed. What do you have to say to that?" "Jerry Corsi is an anti-Catholic bigot."

2) President Bush will condemn this "sleazy book," as soon as John Kerry condemns Michael Moore's "sleazy documentary." And at least the anti-Moore crowd has done a pretty thorough job refuting the Fahrenheit "facts," in addition to having a go at the fat stupid anti-American himself. The other side obviously thinks that killing the messenger will suffice to defuse the issue.

3) John Kerry obviously thinks he's got the Muslim and the Jewish vote all in his bag but is still going after the Catholic one - otherwise why only an "anti-Catholic bigot" and not an "anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic bigot"? That, or Kerry, not being a Muslim or a Jew himself, can only feel true outrage at anti-Catholic slights, in which case how will he be able to properly represent (i.e. feel the pain) of the Democratic rainbow coalition of ethnic and cultural grievances? He's clearly unfit to command the coalition of the victims.

Now I also know why an elephant is a Republican Party symbol; elephants have far thicker skins than donkeys.


Tuesday, August 10, 2004

"Single White Bush-voting Female seeks..." 

An interesting piece in the "Christian Science Monitor" on the phenomenon of political match-making. It seems that a niche market is rapidly developing among the online dating services, to cater to those who are so passionate about their politics that they only want to share their love and their life with somebody of similar outlook (for another article about this issue, see here).

For those on the right, there is
Conservative Match, or Republican Singles. For those on the left, Democratic Singles, or DemDates. I'm not sure if there are any sites for the Naderites; presumably they can always go and screw themselves.

According to the "Monitor" piece, in a "recent study conducted by iMatchup.com, more than 80 percent of Americans [said they] would be willing to date someone with a different political outlook. A Gallup poll conducted for Match.com also found that 57 percent of singles would consider marrying someone with significantly different political beliefs from their own." It's clear that the other 20 and 43 per cent respectively nevertheless do constitute a sizeable potential market.

Having been involved in politics for years I know of literally dozens of couples who met through politics and subsequently married. The stress and strain that high levels of political involvement can place on a relationship require understanding and support that often can only be provided by somebody who shares the passion and the commitment to the cause. It's not, by any means, a prerequisite to marital bliss and happiness, but as with every other time, energy and resources-consuming interest, it helps if the other partner is of a sympathetic persuasion. It arguably makes for less interesting dinner-table discussions, but also less broken plates.

Any matches made in political heaven or political hell among the readers out there?


Monday, August 09, 2004

All in the same EU-Boat, Part 5 

It's that time of the news cycle again to take a look at what our European cousins have been up to recently. It's that time again to find out why the Europeans, God bless them, are more intelligent and cultured, more fashionable and sophisticated, and more morally aware then the Anglo-Saxon riff-raff inhabiting the outlying continents and islands of the world. It's that time again to ponder on the stories below and say:

Dear Europe, get over it. You're just like the rest of us, only older.

broke with the tradition of the German head of state making France the destination of the first official foreign trip, and visited Poland instead. "Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski was delighted with the decision. 'This is a sign of how closer our relations have become,' the Polish leader said in an interview with Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper. In an article Köhler wrote for the Polish paper Gazeta Wyborcza, he stressed his biographical ties with Poland. Köhler was born in 1943 in the Polish village of Skierbieszow, but his family was forced to flee at the end of the war along with millions of other ethnic Germans. 'This means that I can help Poland realize its dreams and hopes in Europe,' said Köhler." It sounds like a diplomatic case of "treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen," but what will the scorned France think?

Meanwhile the German-British love affair seems to be a one way street, according to this recent study of
young people's attitudes conducted by the British Council and the German Goethe Institute. Overall, 50% of young Germans have visited Great Britain; "[they] view the UK as a successful multi-cultural society which is modern and future-oriented. Britain is also considered to be a country where important trends are set, for instance in the art and music scenes." On the other hand, only 37% of young Britons have visited Germany; "[Germany]'s not seen to be trendy, but most young Britons mention Germany's technological capabilities and its drive for perfection... Many young Britons still believe that Germans are not open-minded and - even worse - without any sense of humor." Long live the European Union of Stereotypes.

And in case you had any doubts, Spain has most definitely
ditched the New Europe: "In an interview with French daily Le Monde [of course - ed.], [Spanish Prime Minister] Zapatero said, 'France and Germany are the two decisive countries for the European construction and Spain should be there.' He acknowledged that Spain has re-joined the European family after the departure of his predecessor Jose Maria Aznar, who had 'one foot in Europe ... and one outside to slow it down'." Meanwhile, as the previously quoted story suggests, Germany thinks that Poland is the other decisive country in Europe, and Poland thinks it's the United States, so we're back to square one.

Speaking of Spain, its relations with Great Britain are rather strained at the moment over the decision of the Brit Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon to attend Gibraltar's celebrations of
300 years of British rule. In the words of the Spanish foreign secretary Miguel Angel Moratinos, "This commemoration of a past military event weakens the relationships with Spain. It turns out to be very strange that in this 21st century, the military occupation of part of an EU member-state's territory is commemorated by another member-state." The best response comes from the Conservative Party's Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram: "Grow up."

Lastly, this - about
strained relations with oneself: "Citing bad service and high prices, French residents are choosing other Mediterranean sites, such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Croatia for their holidays. 'This year I'm going to Barcelona because at least people there smile and are welcoming,' a senior Peugeot executive said." Something must be going right in the world when even the French don't like the French.

In the TRANS-ATLANTIC RELATIONS NEWS, the government of Austria is planning to honour their most famous expatriate son, Gov Schwarzenegger, with a 1 euro ($1.25)
postage stamp. "The stamp features a portrait of a serious-looking Schwarzenegger in a suit and tie in front of the U.S. and Austrian flags. It also bears his name, the word Austria in English and the number 100, signifying that it is worth 100 cents." Austrians, depending on their attitude to Arnold, will now be able to either lick or spit at his back.

German government has meanwhile brushed off reports that the United States is planning
to block Germany's bid to obtain a permanent seat at the Unites Nation's Security Council. "The German government stands by its position that the United Nations Security Council should be reformed... Germany is ready to take up its responsibility as permanent member of the UN Security Council." There's already four vetoes on the Security Council to every US action; the fifth one hardly constitutes a reform.

On the positive side, you might remember
Aage Bjerre, the Danish pizza maker and a passionate supported of the American invasion of Iraq. Last year, Bjerre was sacked for refusing to serve French and German tourists, as a form of protest against these countries' anti-American foreign policy. Bjerre also spent eight days in a minimum security jail for refusing to pay the fine for his offence. Well, Bjerre has just been fired from his new job, for again refusing to serve German tourists. Isn't it the time that the right-wing blogdom has finally honoured this champion of the American alliance?

And speaking of Europe's own Axis of Evil (the United States, Great Britain, Israel), who can forget the recent kind offer by French President Chirac
not to receive Israeli PM Sharon, after the latter called on French Jews to emigrate to Israel, following the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in France.

our friends the Germans are reportedly dropping the charges against a Hamburg-based Moroccan Mounir el Motassadeq, accused of aiding the September 11 hijackers, because of concerns that evidence supplied by the Americans might have been obtained through torture. "[The testimonies from America contain] no details as to where [the witnesses] were questioned, nor whether torture or other forms of force were used to make them talk," says a senior German intelligence official. Notice the reversed presumption: you have to prove that terror suspects were not tortured, but since that's too difficult to prove we'll just throw out the evidence altogether. This would be funny if it actually wasn't so serious. I can't say I'm surprised though, remembering the story I reported some time ago, about German military personnel refusing to take Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan because they would have to be turned over to the Americans who might in turn abuse them.

Meanwhile, as America had its own scare with
Syrian musicians, Spain is keen to learn from the experience. The Iberian authorities have now, without providing any reasons, denied entry visas to the Nokhchu youth folklore group from Chechnya. The group was to perform at the 16th International Folklore Festival. The Spanish decision is entirely understandable; after all, we've all heard of the dreaded suicide folk dancers of Grozny.

Somebody else, however,
hasn't learned from the recent American experience: "A German teenager faces legal action after faking his own kidnapping because he didn't want to finish his compulsory military service." Speaking of military service, in case you were wondering about the European military prowess, wonder no more: "A number of Finnish conscripts have been excused their full term of military service because they are addicted to the Internet... Doctors have found the young men miss their computers too much to cope with their compulsory six months in the forces."

In ECONOMIC NEWS, still more evidence why Europe is an economic superpower with a healthy, dynamic, flexible and ever-expanding private sector.

In Germany, Holiday Inn hotel near Dusseldorf airport has become the site of the country's first
"Sandpit Academy", where Germany's top managers are being sent to learn better management and leadership skills. "Organisers of the course say being in the sandpit will teach the managers to communicate with each other as they build sandcastles together." Surely, though, "building on sand" and "building sand castles" seem rather dangerous metaphors to impress on business managers when teaching them the best practice.

Also in Germany, Bernd Lamprecht, a 38-year old executive who have been unable to find work for the past two years, has
put himself up for an auction on eBay with a starting bid of 1 euro. Lamprecht is offering consulting services. Maybe he should start in a sandpit.

In France, an electricity industry worker Corinne Maier is facing a disciplinary action after publishing a book about how to survive inside the French corporate structure
without having to do any work. The book, "Bonjour Paresse" (Hello Laziness), advises readers to choose "useless" jobs such as consultants, advisers, or experts. It also contains gems of advice, such as always carrying bundles of paper to make oneself look busy.

In Belgium, "[a] move by the Brussels Transport Minister to make
public transport free could cost up to EUR 130 million, say critics." Because, as the rest of the world knows, somebody in the end always have to pay for the free things, and it's generally tax-payers.

Speaking of "free" things, "Spain's
state television is expected to chalk up record losses of EUR 757 million this year... Spain's new government wants to reform it and do away with the non-stop diet of bad South American soap operas, films you would never watch and late-night chat shows that is as a national joke." At least if the joke was funny maybe more people would watch it.

Meanwhile, after recent industrial actions involving buses, trains, planes, hospitals, universities, courts and security guards, Italians finally find
a strike action that goes too far: "For the first time, a federation of consumer rights' associations asked Italians to switch off their cell phones for two hours."

It's not all economic bad news, however, as French workers at a car component factory owned by the Bosch concern unilaterally and almost unanimously
voted to accept longer hours for the same pay, in defiance of France's 35-hour working week laws. Even the BBC notes:

"The idea of restricting working hours is based on what economists call the 'lump of work' fallacy - the idea that there is a fixed amount of activity in the economy which can be chopped up into smaller pieces, creating jobs.

"In fact, there is no such correlation. Over the past 30 years, the average working week in France and Germany has contracted by about one-fifth, while unemployment has, if anything, risen; in the US, employment has increased despite a sharp expansion in working hours."
French workers are obviously starting to understand basic economics; hopefully French politicians will eventually follow (to his credit, at least one is already: France's Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has recently said that "[t]he 35 hours have killed growth since 2000.") . Still, the Old Europe will have to wake up to these economic realities sooner rather than later: the Italian company Benetton is yet another concern closing up its factory in Spain and shifting its operations to Eastern Europe. The situation is the same in France.

In SCIENCE NEWS, German scientists at Bremen University have demonstrated yet again why their country is a world leaders in Research & Development and an industrial giant. The latest breakthrough:
blondes are more stupid after listening to blond jokes:

"The researchers submitted 80 students at Bremen University to a test of speed and accuracy, with 40 of the students blonde. The scientists then confronted half of the blonde test group with a negative stereotype about blondes before taking the test. The group that was aware of the negative expectations of blondes performed consistently poorer than the others, unable to answer as many questions in the allotted amount of time."
If only somebody in the 1930s told blond jokes to the Aryan blue-eyed blond beasts, we might have been saved the Second World War.

In EDUCATION NEWS, it seems it's not just the dumb Yankees who
don't know anything about their history - the British kids are catching on fast:

"A sizeable slice of younger Britons think Gandalf, Horatio Hornblower or Christopher Columbus was the hero of the English fleet's defeat of the Spanish Armada... Less than half identified Sir Francis Drake as a key figure in one of the most famous sea battles in British history, the poll for the BBC showed.

"A third of 16 to 34-year-olds did not know that William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, while more than a fifth of 16 to 24-year-olds thought Britain had been conquered by the Germans, the Americans or the Spanish."

In AVIATION NEWS, the management of the Irish budget airline Ryanair accepted the resignation of a senior pilot for allowing two off-duty cabin staff to fly from Spain to Ireland seated in the toilets. The cabin staff involved were sacked after they refused to resign. And from Russia, this story of reverse air rage, as drunken flight attendants on a domestic Aeroflot flight beat up a passenger who complained about their intoxication.

In HEALTH NEWS, German authorities have established another risk factor in their domestic
obesity crisis: geographic location: "More than half of the people living in eastern Germany are overweight, according to the statistics office in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The state of Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania takes the cake, with 56 percent of adults carrying excess kilos." The state of Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania obviously takes far too much cake.

And from Great Britain comes new research, showing that the Scots are significantly
less healthy and happy with life than their English neighbours. "[The study] found that Scots are as miserable now as they were in 1973, despite incomes rising more than elsewhere in the UK. The creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 similarly failed to bring cheer." The relocation of Scotland to somewhere sunnier, drier and more interesting might do the trick.

British men, overall, are champion
couch potatoes who spend nearly half their free time in front of TV. Only Hungarian men, who spend 51% of their free time watching television, are worse than the Brits, whereas German and Norwegian men are the least likely to indulge in TV. According to another study conducted by Eurostat, the EU statistics office, French people spend more time asleep (over eight hours) than other nine European nationalities polled. The Swedes sleep the least. Must be those long arctic days.

Also in Sweden, an
innovative health awareness campaign: "The Swedish organization A Non Smoking Generation covered Stockholm in posters claiming that smoking stunts penis growth and that cigarette filters are filled with mouse excrements, along with other lies aimed at getting kids to stop smoking. 'We wanted to raise awareness about how the tobacco industry always promotes its products -- through lies,' head of the organization Anne-Therese Enarsson told AFP." Coming next to Stockholm: an anti-masturbation campaign.

In OPEN-MINDEDNESS AND TOLERANCE NEWS, the recent Norwegian trend in
public sex continues: "Police in Larvik, south of Oslo, received several calls Monday afternoon from startled passersby who came upon the couple [having sex] in broad daylight, just outside the public library downtown... [The couple] were clearly intoxicated." No kidding. "The man was fined NOK 8,000 while the woman was fined more, NOK 8,500, because she attempted to give police a false name." As all porn stars do.

The Brits, on the other hand, are encouraged to do it in private but screen it in public, with the
Xplicit British Film Festival requesting amateur couples to submit their home made movies. And in Croatia, a Member of Parliament was recently busted for watching a porn movie on his laptop during a parliamentary debate about road safety. Bad jokes about doing 69 in a 60mph zone spring to mind.

Female German politicians, meanwhile, argue that
it's alright to show your chest in public; if you're male, that is:

"[Members of Parliament] Evelin Schoenhut-Keil and Margareta Wolf started a campaign to give female fans the chance to see more of the men on the pitch.

"They got involved after watching Portuguese [soccer] star Cristiano Ronaldo get booked for whipping off his shirt during Euro 2004. After heading the goal which brought a 1-0 victory for Portugal against Holland, Ronaldo pulled off his shirt to the cheers of spectators. The referee, however, showed him a yellow card - saying Ronaldo's show of skin was 'unsportsmanlike conduct'.

"The Green MPs, who are members of the ruling coalition, decided to make a stand against the yellow card punishment. Thousands of German woman have already backed a petition demanding the rules be changed to allow hunky footballers to tear off their shirts and parade their torsos after a winning goal.

"In an open letter to the German Football Association, the MPs wrote: 'Get rid of the yellow card and instead let players show their athletic torsos.' Schoenhut-Keil added: 'We can't understand how the voluntary showing of a gorgeous male chest can be objectionable'."
It's encouraging to know that the German Greens really put their weight behind the issues of vital importance to the people of their country. I'm eagerly awaiting calls by male Green MPs for female beach volleyball players to take their tops off. Meanwhile, France, the birthplace of tolerance, has recently passed a law that would allow the authorities to expel foreign nationals who have called for discrimination against women. At least the American women should now feel safer in France. But, alas, not in Sweden, where the heiress and party girl Paris Hilton has been abused at a convenience store for being a "whore" and an American. No reports as to which quality the assailant considered to be worse.

In CULTURAL NEWS, English Heritage, the body which acts as a guardian of various historic sites in Britain, is advertising for a
court jester, a position which disappeared from the British job market in 1649. According to an add in London Times, the successful applicant "[m]ust be mirthful and prepared to work summer weekends in 2005. Must have own outfit (with bells). Bladder on stick provided if required." If only Michael Moore was thinner. And funny.

Meanwhile, the Swiss
miss out on the blogging epidemic that is sweeping the rest of the world. Even though Switzerland has 48 regular Internet users for every 100 people, only about 1,000 Swiss blogs are in existence. Martin Hitz, a journalist and himself a blogger explains: "The Swiss probably feel they have less of a need to talk to other people than the Americans. It's possible that our reserve stands in the way of a Swiss blog boom, because you have to expose yourself in a blog." We can only wish this modesty and reticence would spread across the border to France.

In (QUASI) RELIGIOUS NEWS, problems are reported at the
"shrine" of "Saint Diana": "Britain's troubled Princess Diana Memorial Fountain suffered another hiccup less than a week after it caused flooding -- this time running dry. Officials said the water flow was stopped Tuesday due to a pump blocked by fallen leaves -- the same cause of flooding shortly after the £3.6 million ($6.6 million) fountain opened eight days ago. But although bad weather was blamed, this time the sun was shining in London." The authorities, of course, blame visitors who throw rubbish into the fountain, including diapers, and allow their dogs to wander into the water.

In LAW AND ORDER NEWS, a Russian man was recently refused a new passport by the police, having been officially listed as dead in a terrorist attack two years before. The clincher is that his "body" has been originally identified by his wife. Who's blind.

And two court stories from elsewhere in the Eastern Europe. A Romanian man started
over 100 lawsuits against his former employer, all because he fell in love with the judge. "Sandu Gurguiatu, 47, says he kept starting new cases because he wanted to keep seeing Judge Elena Lala." Also in Romania, following in the proud footsteps of America's masturbating judge, Judge Florea Visan was forced to resign from the bench after he dropped his pants during an argument with his neighbours and mooned them. "He was also caught on camera urging his young children to shoot the neighbours. Judge Visan, who worked for the Tribunal in Bucharest, is said to have had personal problems." You don't say.

And from the other side of Europe comes the news that Spain, in the estimed company of Brazil, Mexico and Paraguay, is among the world's worst
pirated music offenders.

In REAL ESTATE NEWS, wealthy people with a taste for exotic seclusion are encouraged to buy their own
islands off the Croatian coast. Unfortunately the islands come without beaches, which remain the property of the Croatian government and have to be leased separately.

In SPORTS NEWS, Greek farmer falls
victim of the Olympic torch, as police helicopter accompanying for security reasons the torch relay on the island of Crete spots an illegal marijuana plantation. In other sports news, Germany has triumphed in the world boomerang throwing championships. Said Benoit Vincent, one of the directors of the tournament: "Germany took the lead at the start and never looked back," which is a generally unadvisable, considering that boomerangs do return. Another sporting gold, this time for the neighbouring France: "A French seaweed collector retained one of the world's lesser-known sporting titles at the weekend - that of champion snail spitter, propelling the tiny creature a total of 9.38 meters (31 feet)." Make that cheese-eating, snail-spitting, surrender monkeys.

In ANIMAL WELFARE NEWS, the Belgian government is planning to
ban circuses from having performing animals. "A circus without wild animals is not a circus," circus representative Alexandre Bouglione reacted angrily. "The public come to the performance to see the wild animals. Modern circuses that do not have animals are all subsidised because they are commercially unviable." Poor Mr Bouglione obviously forgets that subsidising commercially unviable ventures is never a problem for European governments.

The Italians are, if anything,
even more hardcore than the Belgians: "[Monza] has banned people from keeping goldfish in bowls. Giampietro Mosca, one of the council officials, said: 'A fish kept in a bowl has a distorted view of reality and suffers because of this... Also, this type of receptacle generally doesn't have a filter and doesn't allow for good oxygenation of the water, unlike in rectangular aquariums."

Please, can anyone let Europe out of its bowl?

That's all for today. See you next time.


Christmas in Cambodia 

This is quite amusing. Glenn Reynolds posts the photo of the excerpt of the increasingly notorious John Kerry speech:

"I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gun boat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese, and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the President of the United States telling the American people I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia."
The President of the United States might have been partly right - John Kerry might not have been there, at least according to Tom Maguire.

If that proves to be the case, and John Kerry is found to have embellished his past in order to make a political point, at least he wouldn't be the first Democrat politician to do so. Who can forget the many lives and many pasts of Al Gore, if Al himself rather would? At least if I ever write something like

"I looked at his handwritten notes, then leaned forward and said: 'Mr President, it's all good, but I think we need a simple clincher. Why don't you just say, 'Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall?'' "
you know I'm only kidding.


Who needs draft? 

Michael Moore and the Democratic Party might be demoralised by the war in Iraq, but fortunately young Americans aren't:

"Whether for patriotism, adventure or economic opportunity, recruits are streaming into Fort Benning, Ga., this summer for infantry training and a frontline role in the war on terrorism.

"Even as news outlets emphasize the chaos and casualties of Iraq, and a divided U.S. citizenry debates the wisdom of the war there, the Infantry Training Brigade at Benning is flush with volunteers, many of whom can expect to face combat in the coming months or years...

"The Infantry Training Brigade at Benning has grown from 24 companies to 30 since spring, and will reach 37 companies by December. The increase in training capacity will be enough to produce 10,500 more infantrymen a year, atop the current annual average of 14,000."
It seems that America spontaneously wants to expand its armed forces - let's hope the Congress can provide resources, and Pentagon the sensible guidance on the best use.

"Lt. Col. Allen Smith, deputy commander of the Infantry Training Brigade, said in a phone interview that the courage of these young men, arriving in groups of 220 almost every Friday, will compare well, in time, to the celebrated, draft-induced 'Greatest Generation' of World War II.

"Despite the dangers and hardships of Iraq and Afghanistan, Smith said, 'We still see a very dedicated young man [enlisting] to serve his country. Tom Brokaw wrote the book about The Greatest Generation. We say, well, this generation has a lot [too]. It’s just that history hasn’t identified yet what this generation is going to do'."
Well, I'm sure we can offer a few suggestions: fighting Islamo-fascism, or helping the spread of democracy and liberty to parts of the world which haven't quite experienced them yet.

(Hat tip: Tanker Schreiber)


Sunday, August 08, 2004

Around the world in 24 blogs 

In Australia, Niner Charlie sees one more good reason for the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement: screw all the leftie Aussie actors.

The Currency Lad notes similarities between the quagmires that both the American and the Australian opposition parties find themselves in: "The fatal weakness in both Kerry’s and Latham’s posturing on security matters is that they have invested enormous capital in too confusing an array of messages. A growing portion of their electorates have decided Democrat and Labor politicians have either been wholly motivated by partisanship or are so confused – at the moral level – about Islamic terrorism, pre-emption, the UN’s inefficacy and domestic security that they cannot be trusted."

From New Zealand, Kiwi Bob at Silent Running reports on the wave of anti-Semitism sweeping the country.

In the United States of America, Blackfive asks a question of military personnel who might be still considering voting for John Kerry: "Would you ever leave your men in a combat zone because you earned the right to go home early, even though you were physically able to continue leading them? Would the rest of you? That's what I thought."

Daniel Drezner looks at why the Americans have stopped reading (books that is; blogs seem to be quite fine, thank you).

Dean Esmay has a lot of thoughts about the Swift Boat Vets issue. So does Brain Shavings.

Levy14 has an interesting new feature at Winds of Change: Hate Watch - "looking hard at the dark places most mainstream media seem determined to look away from, to better understand our declared enemies on their own terms and without illusions."

Pejman investigates the question whether the presidential candidates are stupid. And the Southern Conservative has some thoughts about their electability.

At Solomonia, some ideas about Kerry campaign posters on the Vietnam theme.

Athena at Terrorism Unveiled writes about female terrorists.

Books often get mentioned in blogs, but for Petterico it's actually the other way around.

And A M Siriano writes that sticks and stones don't break tyrants' bones.

In Europe, Barcepundit writes about Spain's attempts at being nice to its Northern African neighbours.

Ne Pasaran writes about a war where too few Americans have died.

And from the Czech Republic, Tomas Kohl writes why George Bush is good for Europe. If only the Europeans actually agreed.

In Asia, Simon World cruises around the continent yet again, finding the best of the Asian blogs.

In the Middle East, Iraq the Model has updates on security situation in the country. So does Zayed at Healing Iraq. And not quite in Iraq, but David Adesnik at OxBlog is encouraged by the signs of growing tolerance in Iraq.

As always, don't forget to check out Homespun Bloggers, the alliance of those of us who do it for love, not money. If you are a blogger yourself and want to benefit from greater exposure, visit and join the growing team. In any case, every Sunday night you can find the "best of" feature of the members' work.

If you are an Australian blogger, Bastard Inc recommends Australian Bloggers Alliance. The rules for joining are simple: "No Nazism. No Stalinism. No Racism. No Islamism (radical Islam, as opposed to moderate, non-political Islam). Link to everyone in the Alliance, regardless of whether or not you agree with them. That's it."

And if you have a lot of time, check out my much updated blogroll.


Amen to that 

Time for the US government to rectify this problem:
"Former Polish President Lech Walesa wrote to President Bush on Friday asking him to lift visa requirements for Poles and condemning the travel requirement as "disgraceful" in light of historic American-Polish friendship...

"Visa requirements are a sore point in Poland, where many citizens feel the country's strong support for the U.S. actions in Iraq has earned them the right to freely enter the United States.

"Further provoking the anger of many Poles is a nonrefundable visa application fee of $100 and a refusal rate which Polish authorities put at about 30 percent."
Currently twenty seven countries, including most Western European states, as well as Australia and New Zealand, are part of the Visa Waiver Program. It's rather sad that nationals of countries like France, Germany and New Zealand can enter the US without visas, while staunch allies like Poland have to wait in the queue. If Poland satisfies machine-readable passports requirements like the other 27 countries, no further obstacles should be places before the Poles. It's exactly the sort of good PR that America needs to convince its allies that it's a good policy to stick with the US.


Vets for Bush 

An interesting but not unexpected result from the latest Rasmussen poll:
"[M]ilitary veterans prefer George W. Bush over John Kerry by a 58% to 35% margin. Those with no military service favor Kerry by ten percentage points, 51% to 41%."
It's quite simple really: the Democrats have a considerable credibility gap on security and defense issues vis-a-vis the Republicans. The gap is very difficult - if not impossible - to fill within the space of a single election campaign, so instead of concentrating on substance (the past record, credible plan, sincere intentions), the Democrats go for the symbolic and emotive ("John Kerry served his country in Vietnam") in a smoke and mirror exercise to make their party look like it's serious about national security for the first time since JFK's days.

The Dem beltway strategists might think to themselves: our man is a Viet vet; that will finally get those rednecks and bumpkins voting for us. The problem for the Democrats is that people can see right through it. Symbolism is not a substitute for substance, especially - as veterans in particular woud know - when you're under fire.

There's been some consternation about the other result of this Rasmussen poll:
"The potential grassroots impact of the war issue is highlighted by the fact that 48% of Americans say they know someone who is currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Among these voters, Bush currently has a ten-point advantage in the poll. Fifty-four percent (54%) of veterans know someone serving in these war zones.

"When it comes to perceptions of the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is likely that information from family and friends has a bigger impact than news coverage."
As Powerline notes, "I figure there are around 200 million Americans of voting age; 48% of that total is 96 million. I think there are somewhere around 180,000 troops currently in Iraq or Afghanistan. If those assumptions are right--I think they're at least in the ballpark--then each soldier stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan is claimed as a friend or family member by an average of 533 people, which seems like an awfully high number."

I'm not necessarily surprised that 54% of veterans know somebody who's currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan; veterans themselves can correct me on this point, but I would venture a guess that veterans are not only more likely than average to have somebody else in their family serving in the military, but they are also more likely to associate with others who do.

The result for the "civilian" section of the American population (48%) is certainly very high, as Powerline suggests. It might be a statistical aberration. It might be a wishful thinking (like all those people who remember voting for JFK but only after his death). Then again, only around 900 Australian military personnel out of the voting population of about 10 million serve in Iraq, and as unlikely as it would seem, I know one of them. Not very well, but it wouldn't in the end surprise me that each one of us, including our soldiers, living today in the US or Australia, or elsewhere in the West, is known, however vaguely, by 533 other people.


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