Monday, March 31, 2003

Do you remember a few years ago?, the last time that a boycott of French goods was mooted, only this time the calls came from the left. France momentarily displaced the Great Satan as the Bete Noire of all conscientious lefties. The same people who are against the war now (and hail the right wing egoist Chirac as their hero!) were urging everyone not to buy French wine and cheese. The reason? - To protest French nuclear testing in the Pacific. How soon we forget.

Here's a thought experiment for you: Let us go back to the French presidential election, Let us say that the French left and centre still couldn't rouse itself from its slumber and ennui and, through inaction, allowed Le Pen to defeat Chirac. Ok, now the odious Front National leader is President, in what way would his behaviour in relation to Iraq differ from that of Chirac?
PC NYT: "No-Go, Bo-Jo"

Conor reminds me of Boris Johnson's chastening experience dealing with the New York Times' delicate editorial sensibilities. Andrew Sullivan pretty much nails the NYT's bias in his "nuanced objectivity" watch but it is still remarkable to me how much editorial interference goes on in this supposed "paper of record".
It pains me to see William Rees Mogg lump Ireland in with Old Europe on one side of a divide he claims splits the current EU down the middle.

"Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, rightly referred to the difference between the old and new Europe. There is a very narrow majority in favour of the French policy in the old Europe. Nine nations — Germany, France, Greece, Belgium, Sweden, Austria, Finland, Ireland and Luxembourg, have adopted a broadly anti-American line. Six nations — Britain, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark — are broadly pro-American. The nine nations have a combined population of 189.7 million; the six have a population of 187.2 million. That is the old Europe, and it is split down the middle."

I don't think this is where our government see us but the opposition and an apparent majority of the people see themselves this way.

UPDATE: I was thinking about this again and I don't think Rees Mogg is quite right here. If we are talking about (notoriously fickle) public opinion, I would say that "Old Europe" Ireland is proportionally more "Pro-American" than "New Europe" Spain. If we are talking about Government policy, I would say that cautious Fianna Fail along with the PDs are as pro-American as they feel they can get away with given the current mood of the electorate. Officially we are "neutral" and don't oppose the war. Our policy appears to be "We would like there to have been another UN resolution". This contrasts with French and German policy which is: "No UN resolution authorising force would have been countenanced". Additionally, out of all the nations listed, Ireland has close ties with the US and the UK and there are significant Irish expat communities in Spain and Portugal. On balance I'd say we have a lot closer links with the "Atlantic" part of "New Europe". 31/3/03 12:42 PM
I am shocked to hear of the apparent suicide in Northern Iraq of Channel 4 News correspondent Gaby Rado.
Lee Harris has a very interesting and thought provoking article on cosmopolitanism versus patriotism which provoked some, er, thoughts of mine.

It seems to me that Harris makes several assumptions that I don't share. Firstly: the notion that you can reliably shape society in the image you desire, through the education system. This seems to be to be a bit of a hangover from marxism: creating the perfect citizen. I do believe it is possible to "educate away" common sense, most of our universities exhibit this phenomenon, but it is not possible to "educate away" human nature. If you are to take a "blank slate" approach, you might believe that there is a choice as Harris puts it, between educating our children to be patriots or cosmopolitans. If however you believe, as I do, that we are predisposed to favour "our" tribe over "others", you are probably more likely to view the default position as "patriot". I would be more worried about the temptations of extreme nationalism over excessive cosmopolitanism. I would agree that it is wrong to teach impressionable american youths that everything done by the USA is evil and that other societies are "better" but I would describe this approach, not as "cosmopolitanism" but as "anti-nationalism". Given that, I think that the fears of excessive cosmopolitanism are largely hypothetical, but the dangers of extreme nationalism are only too real.

Another of Harris' assumptions is that there is no such thing as "objective history". In a narrow sense this is true of course, each historian has their own point of view, but that is not the same as saying that all accounts of history are, by definition, partisan. It is possible to teach and write history with an aim of describing events. It should be possible to teach the facts of any event, for example the conquest of America and the decline of native population, and leave it up to each individual student to decide whether this should be celebrated or lamented, or something in between. The problems with teaching history relate to the overarching narrative. If you are concerned with a marxist view of the world you are more likely to shoe-horn the description of events into your theory and ignore events that contradict this. Likewise if you present history in a "birth of a nation" style (like we do in Ireland) you tend to describe the events as a political argument. You are encouraged to take sides. The danger of this, in Ireland in particular, is that history doesn't stop. If you get carried away in the grand narrative sweep, you might feel it is your duty to right some of the historical wrongs you have discovered.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Priceless: Mark Steyn on setbacks suffered by the Media in its war coverage, he summons an opinion from Monty:

"Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery (Retd) agrees that the media are in trouble, but blames it mostly on a confusion of war aims...... Well, the bally carnage never showed up..... The editors assumed that, by the weekend, they'd have Bush and Blair on the run. Instead, we now stand on the brink of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe: even as I speak, George Galloway, John Pilger and thousands of others are being systematically starved of material.

"And let's not forget that disgusting breach of the Geneva Convention when poor bloody Robert Fisk was paraded across the Independent and forced to eke out 1,200 words about his lavatory paper. So much for superior hot air power."

Broken Clock Alert: The Guardian's Simon Hoggart says something perceptive!

.. Michael Moore, who won best documentary for Bowling for Columbine, had been startled by the booing that greeted his anti-Bush ("Shame on you... ") anti-war speech. "But they cheered me when I won the award," he said, plaintively.

Odd for an American not to read the mood of America better, and strange for such a tough controversialist to be surprised when he arouses controversy. Though I suspect he is so used to the adoring crowds who buy tickets to see him that he couldn't imagine there would be any group of people who might disagree with his views, especially not in liberal Hollywood.

Jonathan Freedland continues to make an ASS of U and ME. Is there such a thing as triumphal defeatism?

But the way things stand now, this war is going badly for the PM. These first 10 days have disproved two of his core, pre-war arguments: that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and that his people would instantly see foreign invasion as liberation.

And how have these been disproved? Well, Jonathan is more impressed with the fact that chemical weapons haven't been used yet than with discovery of actual WMDs, including missiles found in a chemical plant. Maybe Saddam's military infrastructure is so damaged he is not in a position to use them, or maybe he is waiting for a final deadly showdown in Baghdad. Either way it is somewhat of a stretch to conclude definitively that there are no WMDs. As for Iraqi "resistance" I would just direct Mr Freedland to read his own paper, yesterdays issue, comment section:Martin Woollacott.

So, having reassured a sceptical country and party that this war would be authorised by a second UN resolution, he broke his back to get one while the US barely broke a sweat.

"Reassured" is a bit of a loaded word. Blair wished to get a second resolution, at least partly, to get whiners like Jonathan Freedland off his back. Nobody could seriously argue that achieving the consent of countries including France, Russia and Syria, three countries particularly compromised in relation to Iraq, would make the war any more just or moral. Blair himself argued that the second resolution would be desirable "politically" but not necessary.

No topic confirms Blair's humiliation more fully, though, than the Middle East peace process. Blair wants progress here partly because he genuinely believes in it and partly to mollify anti-war anger on both the Arab street and the Labour backbenches.

Jonathan is making another of his assumptions here. I have no doubt that Blair wishes to see progress in relation to Israel and the Palestinians but I don't think he is as naive (as Freedland appears to be) as to assume that this can be achieved by simply applying pressure to the Israelis or by publishing a "roadmap". Political pressure from the US may be necessary to achieve a lasting political solution but it is not sufficient, that is an important distinction which Blair understands. As for mollifying the anger of this unlikely coalition, I'm guessing Blair has already made the calculation that nothing he could do would ever satisfy the "arab street" or the "loonie left"

So how great is the risk for Blair? He has certainly made a massive withdrawal from the electorate's goodwill bank.

That's a confident assertion, Jonathan! It is especially bold in the light of the burgeoning support, polls show Blair is receiving, as the public rally behind the troops.

For one thing, there is no opposition to exploit the opening. The Tories are weak and they back this war as much as the government: if it is a failure, they will be discredited too.

It depends on how you define "failure". In the unlikely event of Saddam prevailing over the coalition forces, we all have a little bit more to worry about than the prestige of the Tory party.

The Labour tribe holds the UN sacred - taking pride in the Attlee government's role in its founding - and feels a gut aversion at Blair's closeness to a pro-death penalty, oil-man, Republican president.

This sentence sounds a little peculiar until you decode it, it's quite simple really: just substitute "Jonathan Freedland" for "The Labour tribe" - Now, that makes a bit more sense, doesn't it?

But none of this yet has the makings of a coup against Blair. The rebels have no leader: Robin Cook would be a natural focus, but he has disavowed all such plotting.

Arsenal captain Patrik Vieira is injured, Jonathan Freedland would be a natural replacement but he has disavowed all such plotting.

And, loyalist ministers point out, the wider Labour faithful are in no mood for ditching a proven vote-winner..... Another insists that "traditional Labour" supports the war, reporting firm backing on the council estates and poorer areas of his constituency: "They back the troops and they know that sometimes force is the only way to deal with a neighbourhood bully like Saddam."

You see: the best thing about a Jonathan Freedland column is that he manages to sum up by contradicting everything he has just argued. I couldn't have put the contrary view better myself. Despite the moans of the metropolitan elite, on this issue at least, Blair has connected with the people who matter: the voters.

Julie Burchill really sticks it to the narcissicistic protesters.

"Surely this is the most self-obsessed anti-war protest ever. NOT IN MY NAME! That's the giveaway. Who gives a stuff about their wet, white, western names? See how they write them so solemnly in a list on the bottom of the letters they send to the papers. And the ones that add their brats' names are the worst - a grotesque spin on Baby On Board, except they think that this gives them extra humanity points not just on the motorway, but in the whole wide weeping, striving, yearning world."

"Contrasting British servicemen and women with the appeasers, it is hard not to laugh. Are these two sides even the same species, let alone the same nationality? On one hand the selflessness and internationalism of the soldiers; on the other the Whites-First isolationism of the protesters. Excuse me, who are the idealists here?"

Who, indeed. I have to say that it is utterly baffling to me: the head of steam (gas?) that has built up behind this anti-war movement. Two thing strike me:

1) I can understand, even sympathise with, a pre-conflict view that the risks are such that caution should prevail. This view, however, is academic now that war has commenced. It serves no function other than posturing to argue that a second (19th) resolution should have been obtained or such and such a course of action should have been followed.

2) This conflict is, for opponents of Saddam, relatively simple. If we put on one side the "procedural preferences", the desirability of keeping countries from France to Russia, Syria to China on board, the continued relevance of institutions like UN, NATO or even the EU, and the the devastation and destruction that will inevitably follow from war. We can then put on the other side the patent evil of Saddam, the threat he represents to his own people, to free "western" countries, to that chimera "the stability of the middle east" and his neighbouring countries. We can even look at the unintended effects of the sanctions imposed on Iraq. To balance the devastation and loss of life it is straightforward to see that ultimately a successful war will save many more lives than it will lose and Iraqis will be in a far better position to build a prosperous future with the yoke of Baathism off their back. On balance it is easy for me to conclude that war is the "least worst" option. What baffles me about the anti-war protesters is that I see little or no evidence that such a similar calculation has taken place. This certainty that this war is wrong, full stop, and the unwillingness to even consider counter-arguments, is ironic coming from those who would accuse Bush of having a, black and white, good versus evil,"Manichean" view of the world and an inability to see shades of grey.

Friday, March 28, 2003

My (almost) four year old nephew has an idea on how to deal with Saddam. He wants to go to Baghdad, get a large construction crane and dangle the despot high above the city. He was so convinced of this plan that he insisted his aunt drove him to Baghdad straight away, he figured they would have no problem picking up the crane on the way, maybe the Americans might lend him one. This idea is no more naive than the suggestion from hardened radio-hack, RTE's Aine Lawler to Robert Kagan that we could just "arrest" Saddam.
Hey! a mention on Iberian Notes

Thanks John!
Martin Woollacot has a thoughtful explanation, in today's Guardian, of the hesitance of Iraqis to rise up against their oppressors and the issue of coerced collusion, including this memorable image.

"In the limbo which prevails in most communities in southern Iraq, the situation is that Saddam's men are still around while the new forces are either outside the city or town or nothing more, so far, than traffic on the highway. Using the still partially intact levers of coercion and bribery on both ordinary people and units of the regular army, they have been able to simulate a kind of resistance to the Americans and British, like electricity jerking the limbs of a cadaver."
William Sjostrom from Atlantic Blog admits that he doesn't like soccer, which might explain his praise for the widely panned film "Bend it like Beckham".
Poor old "Woy", he must be turning in his grave, but which way?

Polly Toynbee maintains that the late Roy Jenkins would be disappointed in his acolyte, Tony Blair while Mary Ann Seighart claims he would be proud.
Wow, what a tune!

This morning driving into work, I had a choice: More idiocy from Morning Ireland or Gilles Peterson's show from wednesday night. I picked Gilles, Good choice: it meant, instead of hearing Aine Lawler ask embarrassingly stupid or slanted questions, I got to hear a brilliant remix of Common's "New Wave", by Playgroup's Trevor Jackson who mashed it up 1980s style with a big sample from Tom Tom Club's "Wordy Rappinghood", Excellent stuff!

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Mark Steyn has the perfect answer for hawkers of the "chickenhawk" slur, in particular Jonathan Mirsky in last week's Spectator.

"With Saddam's prison state, to choose war is to choose potential temporary hell over certain ongoing hell. I happen to believe that's the moral position. But Mirsky's 'chickenhawk' sneer is surely sauce for the dove, too. He thinks I'm in favour of war only because I don't have to live with the consequences of my warmongering, as ordinary Iraqis do; but he's only opposed to war because he doesn’t have to live with the consequences of his moral posturing, as ordinary Iraqis do."
Jacob Levy explains why Australia is supporting the UK and the US. I was struck by this reference to Robert Kagan's argument.

"There is, perhaps, something to be said for a modified version of Robert Kagan's "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus" explanation. This argument begins with the fact that Western Europe, Canada, and New Zealand all inhabit zones of peace. Since they face no credible military threat, or at least no threat that wouldn't first strike a vastly more powerful neighbor (the United States for Canada, Australia for New Zealand) these countries allow their military capabilities to atrophy, which, according to Kagan, encourages a certain willful blindness to threats to the world order."

This also explains the position in Ireland. As Canada is to the US, as New Zealand is to Australia so we are to the UK.
Rioting Pacifists in Barcelona

No a la Violencia...... Exceptúe de Nosotros

The Onion is a bit hit and miss this week. They have been running a more or less anti-war line (although this week's issue contains the priceless headline: "Sheryl Crow Unsuccessful; War On Iraq Begins"). Sometimes it works, as in this hilarious profile of Bush bravely leading frontline troops, or the notion of the US forming its own UN (great idea!). But other times......

"Dead Iraqi Would Have Loved Democracy" is particularly lame. I realise that to criticise satire is to invite ridicule but (here we go!) it just seems to me that this doesn't really make much of a point beyond "killing people is wrong", well duh!

I think that to "get" this joke you pretty much have to buy into the idea that no war is ever justified. By way of illustration for those opposed to this particular war: how does "Dead Jew Would Have Loved Defeat of Hitler" sound? Maybe it's not all that absurd to think that a majority of Iraqis might accept accidental civilian losses if Coalition Forces were ultimately successful in ousting Saddam and his Baathist apparatus.
So it looks like the "marketplace" (really a dual carriageway) was not bombed by Coalition forces after all but was more likely to have been hit by Iraqi "Friendly Fire" - Wonder how soon this will be forgotten by the Media? If it was a Coalition bomb we would never hear the end of it.
The Kurdish Conundrum

Timothy Garton Ash compares Kosovars and Kurds in the Guardian and concludes that we really don't have a clue what to do.

"So, what is to be done for the Kurds? Bush and Blair in Camp David today, divided EU-rope, the UN, "the west" (if it still exists), and "the international community" (whatever that is now), will all pretend that we have an answer. Any reader of this column could write the spokesperson's brief: "minority rights", "internal autonomy but territorial integrity of Iraq", "federal structures", etc. But let me whisper this truth in your ear: we don't have an answer. We're flummoxed and floundering, as so often when faced with the issue of self-determination. "
I was just thinking about priorities and I think that it is important, particularly in evaluating the success or failure of this war, to distinguish between primary and secondary aims of this war. While it is described as a "Liberation of Iraq" and that will hopefully be a consequence of the war, it is misleading to consider this to be the primary objective. The primary objective is to remove the threat to the US, the rest of the "West" and Iraq's neighboring countries (in that order) that is represented by Saddam's regime. What follows from this is the destruction of all WMDs and the breaking up of the terrorist network supported by Saddam. It is important to send a message to other rogue states and terrorist groups that they will be destroyed. It is important also to send a message to states which tolerate terrorism and rogue states that there are consequences to this tacit support.

The fact that this action should lead to the defeat of the Baathist regime and should allow Iraqis to determine for themsleves who leads them is what makes this a "Moral" action even if this is only a secondary objective. It is also what makes it politically possible. Thus this action should not be considered a failure even its ultimate consequence is a disarmed, democratic but anti-American Iraq.
Bo-Jo not Gung-Ho.

Great piece in today's Telegraph by Boris Johnson (via MC).

On ambivalence upon invasion of one's country.

"No matter how much I might dislike the Blair regime, I would have mixed feelings about a "liberating" force that destroyed the MoD, the Foreign Office, the BBC and Number 10. I might even draw the line if I saw a cruise missile disappear into Alastair Campbell's office. And if I saw an Abrams tank rumbling down Whitehall, I might just go to the cupboard, pull out the ancestral jezzail, and have a pop."

This describes very well the mood in the Guardian opinion section.

"It is one of the most unpleasant features of punditry that the pundit will secretly exult in disaster if it means that his point of view is vindicated. The suffering is immaterial. The deaths are irrelevant. What matters to the commentator is that he will have been shown to have been "right", and his "reputation" protected. "

He goes on to argue that Blair can continue the British tradition of keeping both US and the EU sweet. I actually think that there's a more daring opportunity available to Blair and that is to help build a more "New Europe" style EU, decentralised and less "Franco-Germano-centric".

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Just a thought on consequences of the war.

The received wisdom about Tony Blair is that he wants to bring the UK into the Euro. This is politically impossible at the moment and in my opinion is probably a bad idea anyway. Note that I mean this in the sense of being a bad idea for the UK. For me personally, a British Euro would be great. I live near the border and a significant section of my spending is in Sterling.

In any case, Blair feels that such a coup would guarantee his place in history and, at least prior to the current crisis, seemed determined to ensure this. Now I wonder whether "Blair, Liberator of Baghdad" mightn't have a more appealing ring to it. Maybe, with the conclusion of a successful campaign to oust Saddam, he might feel that he has earned his chapter in the history books and might not feel minded to squander all that respect fighting, against the grain of his cherished "Middle England", to abolish the pound.
Robust critique of progress so far in the war from Michael Gove. He argues convincingly that the war is being waged in a New Labour "Third Way" manner that hampers military effectiveness.

"The greatest assurance the Iraqis could have that the West will deliver is not Red Cross parcels piling up at Umm Qasr but Saddam’s demise broadcast on al-Jazeera."
I have to concur with David Quinn (via AtlanticBlog)

"Frankly, I cannot remember a time when I have felt so alienated from so many of my fellow citizens or my fellow Europeans........Well, let me, for one, put it on the record: I like America. I value America as an ally. I believe that Ireland would have had no economic boom were it not for America. I believe America is a force for good in the world. No, more than that; I believe that if America did not exist the world would be far worse off than it is. We would be poorer and less free."

My only hope is that as quickly as this anti-Americanism has developed, so too will it disperse, particularly on the conclusion of this war. The minority of cranks, communists and crackpots will still be there but hopefully the majority gullible, ill-informed and naive elements will eventually "get it". Once it is finished, there should be no "wiggle room" for the likes of RTE, BBC, The Guardian and The Irish Times to spin it as a failure.
Well, looks like I was wrong about Arsenal's desire to retain the FA Cup, they are through to the last four and overwhelming favourites after their 3-1 away defeat of Chelsea. Still, every silver lining has a cloud wrapped around it. Hopefully their remaining FA cup games will go to extra time, penalties even and distract Arsenal from the premiership.
More Canteen Culture:

RTE's Morning Ireland remain sceptical about the Basra Uprising so for verification they turn to a journalist on the ground from....Al Jazeera!, (incredibly described as "Independent" ) who tells them that the Iraqis are rallying behind their troops, this is of course accepted unquestioningly by Aine Lawler. You couldn't, as they say, make this up.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Just a thought on the possibility that Saddam's TV appearances were faked. Now I think it's highly likely, even probable, that a look-alike is used for at least some of them. What I consider implausible is the possibility that the tyrant videotaped himself in advance for use in the event of disfiguring injury or death. Objectively such a plan would be wise: As long as Iraqis feel he is still in power they will be fearful of showing any support for Coalition action. A plan like this would also make sense to a death-cultist like Osama Bin Laden. Where the idea comes unstuck is that it requires the despot to contemplate his own demise, or at least diminishment, something he has shown no inclination to do so far. Which brave person would dare suggest it?

"Great Leader, we have a plan, we want to film you praising the troops and the Iraqi people for fighting the Yankees"

"But they haven't invaded yet, they are weak, they are decadent, they fear mighty Iraq! why would I need to?"

"Well, what if....?"


"What if, Great Leader, in the, admittedly unlikely, event of an attack, you were...Um...unable to appear to your beloved people"

"Why would I be unable? I am Saddam, Heir to Saladin's mantle, I am invincible!"


[Glare from Saddam]

"You know what? Maybe we'll just forget all about it"
Catching a bit of Questions & Answers last night, featuring William Sjostrom I was struck by a few thoughts.

1) It's a pity that Brian Cowen couldn't make it, but on the bits I saw, I thought that John O' Donoghue held up well. Now Fianna Fail have been castigated for fudging the issue of continued use of Shannon by US Military. The argument goes that the war is immoral but FF and PD's are selling their morality for the Yankee dollar. I wouldn't concur with this view but it had seemed to me that Government policy was being defended from the utilitarian view only, i.e. "Whatever we do we can't antagonise America". Having heard O'Donoghue last night, it seems to me that the objecters have this exactly the wrong way around. Populist FF are trying to pander to the fickle electorate. They agree with the use of Shannon from a moral point of view first and a pragmatic point of view secondly. The only way that pragmatism is trumping morality is that the pragmatic line is to avoid antagonising the (currently) anti-war electorate. I particularly liked the way O' Donoghue handled a bit of badgering from John Bruton and John Bowman. The question was asked: Was there any situation in which the government would refuse the use of Shannon? The intention was to provoke O' Donoghue into either a) Saying that the Government had no principles at all or b) Imagining some hypothetical iniquitous American adventure. He handled it perfectly by replying that yes the government would of course deny someone like Saddam the use of Shannon.

2) I used to admire John Bruton, but he's spent too much time with his head wedged up Valery Giscard d'Estaing's backside. He spent his time articulating hypothetical fears and ignoring actual threats. This legalistic, pedantic, procedural argument makes me want to tear my hair out. He referred to the "Primacy of the UN", and fears that the "Precedent set by the US" will lead to a "Hobbs-ian World" where "Multilateralism" has been abandoned. To which the only reply is: "What world do you think we live in?" The fact is the UN has been shown to be effective only in assisting tyrants. We can bemoan this, we can regret this but it is myopic in the extreme to pretend that it hasn't happened. The thing is, these institutions, the UN, even the EU, are just "tools". They are not sovereign higher powers in themselves, if they don't work they will be abandoned. I think that perhaps, rancher though he is, Bruton is morphing into a transnational charmer like Mary Robinson or Chris Patten. These people spend so much of their time with agreeable diplomats that they seem to honestly believe that this bureaucratic apparatus transcends and supercedes the need for any military action. It is this fallacy that has led to the EU nations, excepting the UK, running down their military, imagining that they don't need one.

3) A related point: Fine Gael are "Fine"-ished. Bruton is probably the most conservative person in FG, whose core support is pretty much rural conservative, (they used to have a middle class urban vote, but that has collapsed). If even he is following this line (he even said that he would be, pace France, against this war even with the second (19th) UN Resolution!), the party has completely lost its way. FF have gained a lot of respect from "Yellow Dog" Fine-Gaelers. I think the world will be reshaped by this war. The "Dreary Steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone" may yet prevail once more but it will still be a radically different world afterwards and that is no less true for Irish Politics.

4) Not only Bruton, but a significant section of the audience and, by extension, the public are living in a make-believe world. I was trying to think of the best analogy for this and I was reminded of a TV ad for, I think, Miller Beer. It shows a party going on in a timber chalet, high up the mountain, somewhere like Chamonix. Everybody is dancing and drinking the beer. Inside, the chalet looks normal, but we see that it is, in fact careering down the mountain. Now this was obviously intended to evoke the excitement of snowboarding, but this chalet, one way or another was heading for destruction. The thing is from inside, if you have no interest in what is going on outside the window, you could easily be convinced that there is nothing to worry about. On the surface everything looks as it always has. This is the view of our comfortable society: people who have the luxury to protest against the war being fought, if not in their name, then at least for their benefit, without having to worry about the consequences.
I just want to say that I am baffled by the success of Ja Rule (playing in the background on the radio). He has to be one of the worst rappers there is, he's even harder to listen to than Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy aka P Diddy). At least I could understand how Puffy got to make records, he was the producer and fancied some limelight for himself so he started appearing on the records he produced, if you wanted him to mix your record, you had to put up with his inept rhyming. But Ja Rule? Bring back Eric B and Rakim!
Either Afghanistan raised the bar in terms of expectations or there is a mendacious spinning of events going on in British and Irish media. This war is only days old, tremendous progress has been made, casualties, military and civilian, have been relatively low. But to hear the BBC, RTE, The Guardian etc. you would think this was a Vietnam style "quagmire". The admiration with which accounts of "tenacious" fighting by Saddam's SS, the Republican Guard are reported and the glee and barely suppressed schadenfreude evident in accounts of capture of Coalition soldiers leads me to favour the latter hypothesis.

It still amazes me that these hacks, sceptical of everything they hear from authority, never question their own received wisdom and preconceived ideas in the light of events. Sometimes they come up against an expert who tells them what they weren't expecting to hear and they sound genuinely baffled. I think Eoghan Harris had the right analogy when he referred to RTE's "Canteen Culture", comparing it to the ethos, believed to exist in some sections of the British Police force. In both cases, peer pressure and the echo chamber of a belief system never challenged, prevents truly critical thinking.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Lileks puts present military casualties in stark context.

"At Normandy ten men died every second. Up and down the coast. All the damn day long. "

I said that nobody does it better than Mark Steyn a few short posts ago, nobody that is, except possibly James Lileks.

"My favorite Beeb quote from Saturday afternoon:

"All the signs are that the Iraqi government remains strong and resolute in the face of the advancing troops. But what is Saddam thinking?"

Possibly: "Surely Osama and I will not be forced to gnaw each other's erupting buttocks for all eternity. Qusay! You take the next shift!"

It occurs to me that I perhaps concentrate on criticising or countering left wing arguments and I don't note all that many idiotic right wing arguments. I think the main reason for this is that Loonie Righties are kind of blatantly, obviously wrong and are rarely taken seriously. Loonie Lefties, on the other hand, are often accorded a lot of respect. The other thing is that many left wing arguments are seductive and appear to be reasonable. Many odious far right characters, like for example: Le Pen, appeal explicitly and implicitly to base racist and nationalistic instincts. They have no monopoly on hate, many far left characters also appeal to class hatred, but more common in left wing ideologues is an appeal to people's more generous instincts. A particular policy may "feel" right, but be profoundly wrong because of inevitable, but not immediately apparent, effects. A lot of standard left wing orthodoxy falls into this trap. One little example of this is Water Charges.

In Ireland we don't pay direct for water. A few years ago, there was an attempt to introduce a water charge in Dublin which was resisted, particularly strongly by Left wing politicians. Now, you might well say, why should we pay for water?, isn't it a basic "right"? The thing is, water isn't "free". We do actually pay for water, except that the way we pay has little to do with consumption. We pay in taxes which go towards providing drinkable water at considerable cost. If this is given away free, there is no incentive for people to restrict consumption. This is a recipe for wastage and indeed has environmental consequences. If there is a charge, related to consumption, it will moderate usage.

My brother has just come back from weekend in Barcelona, he was irritated to note that traffic adjacent to his hotel was blocked for the duration of an anti-war protest, but surprised to see the demonstration comprised a pathetic crowd of only 30 or 40 people. He contemplated hanging a "Si a la Guerra" banner from his hotel window to counteract all the "No a la Guerra" ones but thought better of it.
Welcome back, Peter.

Green Enigma is back online and Peter's blogging up a storm!

Sunday, March 23, 2003

I don't think it's exactly what Fareena Alam intends in her paen to the newfound civic spirit among formerly angry young muslims, now peaceful protesters, but this seems to pretty much nail the War =Terrorist Recruitment argument and from the anti-war left too!

"Would the talk of 'shock and awe' and surgical strikes trigger the machismo of our own disaffected youth? Bravado could prevail over brains. As a Muslim woman, I have felt alienated by the maleness of it all. How many new extremists will emerge from these volatile young men, teetering on the brink of militancy?

But perhaps I was wrong. As the war against Iraq goes into full swing, the mood of the Muslim community is reflective. Yesterday at the anti-war demonstration there was a resilient sense of hope. British Muslims once again featured prominently among the tens of thousands of faces, confident that this is still the way to bring sense and peace. "

UK Minister for Europe, Denis McShane spells it out for the EU in today's Observer.

"Some argue that Tony Blair should have crossed the Channel to co-ordinate with President Chirac rather than have flown across the Atlantic to talk to President Bush. One might make the same point in the other direction. After 11 September many European leaders flew to New York to be photographed at Ground Zero and to pledge 'unlimited solidarity' with America in the fight against international terrorism, of which Saddam's Iraq is a major sponsor. When America called in those pledges, not all of Europe wanted to respond. "

US Senator Robert Byrd is in tears. The old Klansman fails to inspire.

"But, today, I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned. "

I have to say, this is an unusual line from the "Why do they hate us?/War=terrorist recruitment" crowd. So, let me get this straight: everybody loved the US up to about last Wednesday but now they all hate America?
Figo II

I am shocked to discover that John from Iberian Notes has renounced Barcelona FC because the club plans to officially protest against the war. I think it is inappropriate for a football club to make such a political statement and I would say that Barca's poor showing in La Liga this season has a lot to do with this diversionary tactic. Their notoriously volatile fans may be placated in the short term by this populist gesture.

But John, your club is bigger than its players, its management, its board of directors, even its current set of fans. It is a club with a great history, surely you can find some way to protest this idiocy short of apostasy? I would be greatly disappointed in the unlikely event of a similar gesture from Manchester United but it couldn't cause me to abandon my club.
After a nervy 2-1 home win over Everton, Arsenal regain their two point advantage over Manchester United. Even though it was hardly a convincing performance, it might just have been enough to get them back on track. The Gunners would still be favourites to retain the championship because of their relatively easy run-in, when compared with United and Newcastle. They now face Chelsea on Tuesday in the FA Cup. My prediction is that they will go out of the cup to Chelsea to concentrate on winning the league. I also predict that United will beat Arsenal at Highbury but I fear that won't be enough to bring the Premiership trophy home to Old Trafford.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Nobody does it better than Mark Steyn

"Is Saddam dead? Some analysts say the guy in the video isn't him - his moustache isn't the right size, and the specs give him the vague air of a pantomime dame. Other analysts say it is him: if the video was a fake, they'd have done a less amateurish job. On the other hand, everything on Iraqi television looks amateurish: maybe that video is their idea of a good job.

The ex-mistress says it definitely isn't the real Saddam. But who knows? Maybe she was never a top-rank mistress and he farmed her out to one of the lookalikes to sleep with.

Incredibly, Jonathan Freedland tries to spin the difference between Coalition force's actions and the shrill predictions of the appeaseniks as being down to pressure from the anti-war camp.

"But the start, at least, of Operation Iraqi Freedom was not like that; it did not come as previously advertised. Instead, it seemed to have been devised with one eye on the concerns of the anti-war movement.

The campaign began not with "shock and awe" but a subtler knife, aimed at the surgical decapitation of Saddam Hussein and his regime."

Here's a few thoughts for you Jonathan, a) What if your buddies were just wrong about carpet-bombing, and major civilian casualties? b) What if Coalition forces' actions are designed for no other reason than to expedite military victory? and finally c) You think Rumsfeld gives a crap what Berlin Squatter Communes and Ivy League Professors think?

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has more on this.

I wanted to explain why I still read the Guardian most days. The thing is, when you get away from the political pieces it's still a pretty good paper and, to my mind, the sports, lifestyle and cultural coverage is better than other UK broadsheets. By way of illustration, the often infuriating Julie Burchill has a nice piece on names, but I was particularly amused by Toby Young today in describing his imminent fatherhood and his lack of wonder.

"The only time my ears have pricked up at the mention of paternity is when a beautiful lesbian and her Spanish girlfriend told me they were interested in having a baby. Did I know any sperm donors? I told her that, provided she didn't mind the sperm being delivered in the old-fashioned way, I could think of at least one man who might be interested. This went down like one of Richard Branson's balloons. When your wife's pregnant, you're not supposed to get excited at the prospect of going to bed with a couple of gorgeous lesbians."
The Guardian reports today that a "senior legal adviser" to British foreign secretary Jack Straw has quit because she didn't agree with the government line that there is sufficient legal basis for the war. Ewen MacAskill, the paper's diplomatic editor maintains this is an embarrassment to Tony Blair.

I think there's a bit of not-seeing-the-wood-for-the-trees type thinking here. "International Law" is evoked every day by opponents and proponents of action to bolster their arguments. There does not appear to me to be any consideration given to the implications of such an transnational legal authority.

Now, I'm no lawyer, never mind an expert on "International Law" but it seems to this layman that the highest duty of any sovereign country is to its own national interest. We don't yet have a World Government (thank God!), any code of conduct agreed "supra-nationally" is by definition voluntary. Countries may agree on manners of behaviour but they will always reserve the right to make their own decisions ahead of being bound by some notional higher authority. It may be that those of us who live in EU countries are so used to the fact that a significant part of national sovereignty has been devolved to the EU that we make casual assumptions that a body like the UN (or indeed the mooted International Criminal Court) retains a similar authority over national governments.
After a superb 3-0 home win over Fulham at a sunny Old Trafford, Manchester United go top of the table, for the first time this season, by one point over Arsenal who host Everton tomorrow.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Adam has posted an interesting comment to my previous post on Irish Architect Tom Power Tomas de Paor. I had been thinking again about Tom's notion that he is a "Critical Regionalist" (note how charitable I am in ignoring his other embarrassing claim that he is a "Baroque Catholic") and wanted to say more on that so I thought I'd also respond to Adam's post in more depth here.

I agree with Adam that architectural journalism is a bit of a cosy club and this makes the "archi-hacks" even more susceptible to the kind of hucksters who can spin a good yarn. A lot of wishful thinking is involved, some of the journos are trained architects who don't actually work in practice and are eager to see their romantic images of the architectural profession validated so when someone comes along with preposterous notions presented with verve and charm they just eat it up.

As to the "Critical Regionalist" thing, this is just one those terms that is almost meaningless. It reminds me of the affliction "Irritable Bowel Syndrome", what IBS means is that you have a pain in your gut, the doctor has no idea what has caused it and suspects that you might be a bit of a hypochondriac. Nobody is satisfied to leave the doctor's surgery with the advice that they are suffering from "Sore Head Syndrome" but tell them they have IBS and they're happy. Likewise, what does "Critical Regionalism" really mean? Ok, you are working in a particular "region", that means that there are certain things you have to deal with, the type of climate, the type of landscape, the type of building materials, the type of crafts available - so what! I guess the "Critical" part is there to make you sound a little bit more detached and intellectual than the vernacular house-builder. But what "Critical Regionalism" really boils down to is that you are not over-eager to be seen as internationalist in outlook. There is nothing in Tom's work, that I can discern, that marks him out to be any less internationalist than his contemporaries. In fact if there is a recognisable "region" his work evokes it is not this region but the northern european region of Holland, Germany and Scandinavia.

Adam also wondered what I thought about this sneer from Brian Logan in the Guardian about the distribution of duct tape in the US. In the words of Logan's chosen expert: "A USA Today columnist"

"...duct tape and plastic offer little or no protection against deadly pathogens".

Leaving aside the conflict of interest Logan might have in declaring hack pundits to be scientific experts, the point he misses is that some preparation, any preparation is better than none. I often feel people don't get the concept of "Good enough" and think that if something is not 100% effective in every given situation then it is useless but this is not necessarily the case. Eugene Volokh has a very interesting piece on this, when he explains that the much derided "duck and cover" advice proffered in the event of a nuclear attack would make a significant contribution to saving lives, particularly from "secondary" effects, e.g. flying debris, heat blasts.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Bloggers on TV!

First, William Sjostrom is asked to appear on RTE show: Questions & Answers and now John Chappell from Iberian Notes is going to be on Spanish Tele 5 show: Crónicas marcianas. Both will attempt to defend the US and the war against a, most likely, hostile audience, Good Luck!
Congratulations to Celtic who are through to the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup after a superb 2-0 away win at Liverpool, for an aggregate score of 3-1.
Ridiculous wishful thinking from Jackie Ashley in the Guardian as she tries to convince herself and the rest of us that after the war, Blair will have to tack to the left.

"And if there is one general message filtering through via the MPs and ministers, it could be summed up like this: "We'll have to swallow Iraq, and Bush, and all that. We're angry but we have no choice. In return we want a Labour government back afterwards. We want to stop hearing trade unionists run down, and tycoons sucked up to, and Labour ministers apologising for taxing the rich to help the poor. We want to stop reading about fat-cat pay rises for members of your government, about rich benefactors, and dodgy friends. We want to read, instead, about a new deal for poorer pensioners, and better pay for teachers. You want to keep Labour in power? That's the price, Tony." "

Keep Labour in power? well maybe the voters might have a bigger say in that than hard-left MPs. "Old Labour" tax-and-spend policies and excessive cosiness with old-style Trade Unions are a recipe for electoral disaster. Another thing these MPs might do well to remember is that Blair will probably forgive them this one rebellion, but any more and he has the power and determination to freeze out insufficiently loyal MPs.
What is happening to Irish radio? First as an antidote to a previous softheaded anti-war rant, Joe Duffy's liveline show yesterday featured an interview with an Irish nurse, who gave a riveting account of life in 1980s Iraq, including a near miss with Uday Hussein in a Baghdad nightclub (her boyfriend sneaked her out of the club after he realised that Uday had noticed her, he knew what happened to women who Uday took a shine to, they ended up raped and/or dead) and a description of the Saddam personality cult enforced everywhere (One Indian Cleaner was severely punished in her hospital for allowing a framed portrait of Saddam to fall). Then we had AtlanticBlog's William Sjostrom on today FM's Last Word.

Now this morning Marian Finucane interviews Kevin Myers about Enda Kenny led Fine Gael's perplexing opposition to the Government's position on the "Shannon Stopover". Myers was excellent as always. Finucane couldn't locate Mr Kenny so she had to settle for Gay Mitchell, once memorably described by Michael McDowell as "the evil of two lessers", I think that the civility, common sense and intelligence of the Mitchell family died with Gay's brother Jim. Mitchell was appalled at Myers' attack on Kenny and suggested that if this was his idea of journalism, he should "send his laptop back". This was particularly lame, especially considering the avowed "technophobe" Myers (I wouldn't be surprised if he typed out his pieces on an old fashioned typewriter!). Mitchell was angry and attacked Myers personally but he was unable to present a coherent answer to Myers whose main points were a) the war, though undesirable, is necessary. b) The US is a friend to Ireland and to withdraw assistance at a time of crisis would cause no discernible harm to the US but immense harm would be self inflicted and c) In any case, whatever about the Green's and Sinn Fein (in his column yesterday he referred to them as the Green Tree-Shaggers and the Green Knee-Cappers), Fine Gael's core vote is Pro-Institutions of the State and Pro-American.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Schadenfreude Alert!

Arsenal go down 2-1 to Valencia at the Mestalla and out of the Champions' League. Valencia and Ajax progress to the last eight. As I predicted before, Arsenal have paid for their complacency and arrogance and they were very poor tonight. As a Manchester United fan I hope they suffer a hangover from this result and drop points against Everton at the weekend.
Bravo William!

Drivetime was infuriation-free for me this evening as Today FM's Last word featured AtlanticBlog's William Sjostrom presenting the case for war to Matt Cooper. A sane, reasonable voice was a nice refreshing change from the usual ill-informed softheaded rubbish.
Great line by Nelson Ascher over at Europundits on knee-jerk anti-Americanists

"if a cure for AIDS were to be discovered in the US, they would, maybe in the name of biodiversity, side with the virus"
Jonathan Freedland keeps saying that he and his anti-war buddies must have an answer for tough questions

"If the pro-war camp says such concerns are academic - who cares about motive, so long as the end result is the same? - we need to have an answer to that too"

And what is his weak answer?

"It is this: our fear is that the Bush administration, given its intentions, cannot be trusted to get Iraq's future right."

Here's a thought for you Jonathan: Ever hear of the phrase "the best is the enemy of the good"? Sometimes "good enough" will do. Will the Bush administration get it absolutely right?, Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Will whatever emerges be better than Saddam's regime? Undoubtedly yes.

Freedland is still very conflicted, as I've noted before. He thinks he is anti-war, but this seems to because of his identification as a person "of the left". Revealingly he states

"More sensitively, should those who have argued against this war want it to go well or badly? Only the pettiest and most small-minded peacenik would want American or British troops to die just to bring the satisfaction of saying "I told you so". "

Well, Jonathan, a lot of your buddies have been arguing just that.
I am amused to find myself in agreement with, of all people, the Guardian's Rod Liddle

"If I were an aficionado of conspiracy theories... I might be wondering if Clare wasn't a sort of leftish "beard" for the PM; a cabinet minister who periodically and vociferously breaks ranks whenever the government seems about to embark on something which the Labour party at large will find antithetical, rages for a bit and then miraculously returns to the fold. Whenever she does this it has the effect of either dissolving or diminishing the opposition to the government line - as I suspect it will have done last night."

I have to say the thought occurred to me, her actions in first claiming she would resign in the event of a war without a second (19th) resolution "flushed" out vain, prickly Robin Cook and in deciding not to resign, allowed her to argue that she had been "convinced" by Blair of the need for action.

Of course, Liddle himself remains "not convinced", but as he puts it

"The key phrase there is "not convinced". I can accept that other people are convinced without assuming them to be agents of imperialism, capitalism or Satan."

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

More False Consensus: David Aaronovitch reminds the media that, despite their assumptions and coverage, not everyone is against this war and takes them to task for their lazy assumptions and indeed peer pressure.

" A senior figure in one broadcasting organisation emailed me a fortnight ago telling me that even to suggest that Blair might have a point about Iraq had "all the young executives in their expensive clothes" behaving as if he'd just broken wind. He wasn't talking about news people, he was talking about everyone."

"The consequence of this has been to imagine a country in which just about everyone, bar some newspapers and most politicians, is opposed to war. Yet today's poll for the Guardian has the gap between pros and antis at just 6% in favour of the latter. So tell me, do you think that the proportions have been 38% to 44% when discovering the views of the British people? And if not, why not? "

As for actual Iraqis:

"All you can do is to pretend (as the Thought for the Day preachers almost always do) that you somehow didn't hear them. So I rage at the radio, "Never mind bombs, Elaine, people in Iraq are dying now. Is this some strange form of solipsism you're suffering from in which Iraqis only count as dead if we actually kill them?"

Some of us have the belief that dare not speak its name.

"....including some of the more thoughtful celebrities - who, sometimes horrified, find themselves supporting action to remove Saddam......They may not buy the Bush bill of goods as described, but they sure as hell don't shop at the Chirac Double Standards Emporium either. When resolution 1441 spoke of "serious consequences" for Saddam in not fully complying with its terms (which he manifestly has not) my correspondents did not understand that to mean balloons on the ends of sticks."

We have this in Ireland too, the media is pretty much unthinkingly anti-war and assumes that there is some kind of consensus on this. I was treated to a softheaded rant from Marian Finucane on Radio 1 during my drive to work this morning. Finucane informs us that she woke in the middle of the night with nightmares at the thoughts of what the "Poor Iraqis" would have to endure in the next few weeks. Her patronising concern for ordinary Iraqis wasn't much in evidence during the three decades so far of Saddam's brutal rule. At the risk of further upsetting poor Marian's sleep, maybe she might like to read Labour MP Ann Clwd in today's Times, including a description of Qusay Hussein's unspeakable brutality .
Dog bites Man

Fine Gael's Enda Kenny and Gay Mitchell are furious that Shannon Airport is still allowing US Military Airplanes buy Irish fuel, presumably they also oppose the sale of tea and biscuits to American personnel waiting for the tanks to fill. These shameless hucksters know damn well that whatever they say will make no difference and simply wish to strike a pose. If they were in power they would accept this, if for no other reason than it is worth a lot of money to the Shannon region. If "Power without Responsibility" is the "Prerogative of the Harlot through the ages", of what is "Responsibility without Power" the "Prerogative"? I'm guessing it is of the "Eunuch through the ages". The irony for FG, unlike Labour, is that this isn't even a vote-winner for them, FG's core constituency may not be rabidly pro-war but they are a long way from being anti-american (ap)pea(s)eniks.

Meanwhile Michael D. Higgins is apopleptic with rage at Bertie's St. Patricks day trip to Washington. As Henry McDonald notes, it is ironic that prominently anti-war Gerry Adams, never likely to turn down an opportunity to schmooze in the USA, has effectively been given a free pass by the anti-war movement who angrily denounce, quietly pro-war Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for accepting President Bush's invitation.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Much as I guessed, the consensus view among the soccer pundits, in yesterday's papers, was that Arsenal's poor form on Saturday in losing to Blackburn was down to "an off day" but United's unimpressive display in winning against Aston Villa was symptomatic of their "lack of fluency". Much was made of Arsenal's "generosity" in drawing games they should have won that "would have" put them "ten points clear" of Manchester United. If you looked at it a little more dispassionately it would be just as easy to say the same of United, most of their defeats were by a single goal and they also drew games that might have been won. The pundits have been seduced by the undoubted skills of players like Henry and they feel more comfortable that a sophisticated professorial continental manager like Wenger should prevail over the brash "old-school" son of Govan: Sir Alex Ferguson. If you look at the record so far though, Arsenal have simply won one game at home that United have drawn and scored a few more goals. That's the difference between the two teams, chasm it ain't.
Adam, If you're reading this, check out Shane O'Toole's fawning profile of Tom De Paor. All of the rest of you are welcome to check it out too.

My previous panglossian ode to Irish Architecture may have helped to conceal my cynical side, but only for so long. There is this recent rush to acclaim young Irish architects on the basis of very flimsy repertoires of work. Shane, as the Sunday Times' Irish architectural correspondent is one of the most prominent culprits here and shows this in his piece on Tom. While I think it is admirable to showcase new talent and to support young architects, there is a lot of wishful thinking too. It is usually the case that architects are considered "young" well into their forties, the reasons for this are that a) it can take a long time to get into a position to build your own designs, but also b) architects don't like to admit it, but there are two types of projects they do: "hack" projects, which aren't necessarily bad, but don't necessarily encapsulate their overarching vision, and the projects that do. It is said that Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe had two offices, one for his recognised minimalist masterpieces and another which churned out the work to pay for the special projects. The thing with "young" architects is that it can take a while to rack up enough "vision" projects to have a coherent portfolio of work. What is happening in Ireland, in this rush to acclaim younger architects, is that "hack" projects are being considered or presented as if they are visonary works, one good example of this is the praise for a very ordinary office block by new practice FKL Architects or great claims are being made for architects based on a few selected works. This is where Shane's coverage of Tom comes in.

Tom is a talented architect but as a bullshitter he is second to none. His gift is to spin out shaggy dog yarns about his projects and to affect an enfant terrible pose, particularly when brattishly criticising earlier generations of Irish architects. Note that in this interview he damns the "Group 91" Architects (responsible for the temple bar masterplan) with faint praise and unwittingly reveals his absurd pretensions.

"I was educated by Group 91, who believed in critical regionalism....Their real achievement was to have regained the ground that was robbed by the importation of corporate American architecture. They gave us the 1930s we never had....Busarus, the masterpiece, had already been made, but Group 91 filled in the gaps....They’ve sold out now, most of them, because modernism is cheaper and easier. Modernism's premise always was: love the machine. I'm not interested in modernism. It's a curse, a post-colonial rage"

Never mind that Shane is actually one of the Group 91 architects himself, a fact he refrains from disclosing in this interview, Tom also blandly dismisses much of the Irish architectural ouevre of the last century with the words: "Corporate American Architecture". It is a facile position to take, but Shane O'Toole should know better than to leave this unchallenged, he has taken great care over the years to highlight, in his columns, forgotten gems of Irish architecture from the twentieth century. I think that it is possible to show new work and retain a critical stance. Until these new practices rack up a body of work equivalent to the likes of De Blacam & Meagher, Grafton Architects, and O'Donnell & Tuomey, they and their cheerleaders would do well to refrain from making exaggerated claims of importance.
Happy St. Patrick's day!

Saturday, March 15, 2003

The title race opens up after Manchester United's scrappy win at Aston Villa and Arsenals' surprise defeat at Blackburn. The gap is now two points and, as both teams play each other "their destiny is in their own hands" as they say. That is: if United win their remaining eight games they will be champions and likewise for Arsenal.

I can't wait to read the soccer pundits in tomorrows papers explain this. They have been assuming Arsenal will retain the championship for months now. Arsenal still have the edge but there are a lot of big games coming up. Arsenal's trip to the Mestalla will have repercussions for the Champions' League and the Premiership. If Arsenal get through to the last eight they might have a bit of a bounce and go on a good run. If, however, Valencia beat them and knock them out, it could dent their confidence and, more importantly, show the other, usually overawed, premiership teams that Arsenal aren't that difficult to beat.
Daniel drew my attention to an interesting post by Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata.Net about trains, cars, and aesthetics (or lack thereof ) of car parks. You might remember I noted in a post below about the Irish language, the Onion spoof poll showing the 95% of Americans were in favour of Public Transport.....for other people. Well, Brian touches on this in his opener about why policy favours trains and practice favour cars. First of, he's mostly on the ball but he's a little harsh on trains. He's right that cars have lots of advantages that trains don't have. Principally: a) They can generally go where you want to go, b) They provide useful storage space for shopping and all the paraphenalia that go with babies and toddlers and c) They are your own private space. It is often noted by architectural commentators that for many people their cars are far more luxurious (and indeed futuristic) than their homes! When you have long commuting distances this is not as absurd as it first seems. While I accept that the sleek aesthetic of trains and all of the history and stories conjured up by trains and train stations might have a small effect in leading people to favour trains as "policy", it's undoubtedly true that a proper train system is a much more efficient way of moving people around, particularly from home to office type work.

As for the aesthetics of car parks there are two separate type of issues here, the first one is the flat car park, the second one the multi-storey car park. As for the first, everyone is familiar with these big boxes surrounded by a sea of carparking, usually located in suburban areas. Brian mentions and then dismisses Trees as a way of beautifying these desolate areas but he's too quick to do so. I remember designing a parking layout for a golf club and planning a grid of trees, that would grow to form a canopy over the parking spaces. The key is the number and the spacing of the trees. The other thing is to break up the parking into blocks, this has non-aesthetic benefits too, it is easier to find your space. Once the car park is on one level there is very little you can do.

The multi storey car park has a lot more opportunities for clever design. I think the key here is not try and pretend it's an office building which happens to have cars inside. There are plenty of positives about designing car park structures, not least of which is that you don't have to create a hermetically sealed interior, you can't simply enclose the whole building. This leaves opportunities for expressing the structure, or playing with light and deep shade. Sometimes the car park can be the most interesting part of a building. The car park of the Castle Court Shopping centre in Belfast is a lot more interesting than the shopping centre it serves. Dublin airport used to have two spiral structures which laid out cars in an inefficient fan layout around a ramp. This was closed due to security concerns. There are actually plenty of interesting car park structures, as I think of them I will add to this post.

First one: There is a brutalist concrete car park structure, designed by Denys Lasdun, in Newcastle, it was under threat and I don't know if it is still standing, but it featured memorably in the film Get Carter. Two effete architects are showing a Mr Big around the structure, explaining their plans for it. They are interrupted by Michael Caine's character who has a bit of business to discuss with said mobster. Several minutes later the architects see their client pass outside on his way from the roof to the ground, courtesy of Michael Caine. One turns to the other and utters the immortal line "I have a funny feeling we won't be getting our fees for this job". ADDED 15/3/03 7:49PM

Second One: This is actually a very cool car park, in Offenburg, Germany, designed by Ingenhoven & Overdiek. ADDED: 17/3/03 10:40PM

Just as an aside and a musical connection, Brian alludes to the Joni Mitchell song when he refers to "paving paradise". One of the most influential nightclubs, from the late 1970s and early 1980s New York, also referred to this song. Larry Levan's Paradise Garage, was located in a converted multi storey car park, (hence the name). The club closed in 1987 and sadly the building is now...a car park. This club, gave rise to (70s/80s) Garage music (pronounced american style: garaajh) which was whatever Larry used to play, this led onto (90s) Garage music (pronounced uk style: garidge) which was music made in America, anticipating what Larry would play if the Garage was still open (or if he was still alive, he died in 1993). Some UK DJs took a particular skippy type of American Garage and speeded it up, eventually adding big bass sounds and this became "Speed garage" which turned into "UK Garage", which is the biggest "Youth" sound in the UK.

Friday, March 14, 2003

I have to say I was appalled at the outrageous piece in today's Guardian by one Neil Clark attacking assassinated Serbian PM Zoran Djindjic. Via Cinderella Bloggerfella (at least he now realises it is an awful name for a blog!) I am glad to discover that Harry Steele has dug deeper into Mr Clark's past. Turns out he was a big fan of.... {drum roll}...Slobodan Milosevic! Quoth Clark:

"The trouble with Slobo is not that he is an 'ethnic cleanser' (three years after the original indictment, we have yet to see the evidence linking Milosevic to atrocities in Bosnia), but that he is stubbornly and cussedly an 'old', unreconstructed socialist. This is why the new designer 'left' parties of Europe have pursued him so mercilessly to The Hague."

Partisan "unreconstructed socialists" in the Guardian? Surely not?
InstaPundit is a Green, AtlanticBlog is a Republican, and I'm a....Libertarian.

How about you?
John at Iberian Notes has a long and very interesting post, reminiscing about coming of age in the 1980s and charting the progress of his political philosophy. Despite the differences between his experiences in Kansas suburbs and mine in provincial Ireland around the same time (we had much better tv and music!) I was struck by the similarities in how he came to his libertarian-leaning views. When you realise how much of the marxist "analysis" of economics is taken on trust and not questioned and when you think about the simplicity of Adam Smith's analysis of the market which does not require suspension of common sense it opens your eyes. One thing that was very important to me, that John doesn't mention, was the collapse of communism in 1989, symbolised by the berlin wall coming down. This was conclusive proof, if any were needed, that the communist system just didn't work, couldn't work.

I think part of the reason people like John and I react so strongly to idiotarian sentiment (most of standard left wing orthodoxy) is that we used to think that way. We understand how views like those are formed and having performed a bit of critical thinking on them, know where they have gone wrong. I am amazed at the clarity of thought of young guys like the OxBlog crew. When I was their age my head was filled full of idiotarian leftie nonsense.
Great opinion piece in today's Telegraph by Irish political operative and scourge of Sinn Fein, Eoghan Harris on Tony Blair and those opposed to war. Here he is on authority and whether it is arbitrary.

"Mr Blair may also wish to argue that he is acting with proper authority, albeit arbitrary authority. As Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas point out, many moral acts are arbitrary acts. If you are standing behind Michael Jackson when he dangles his child dangerously over a balcony, you are morally obliged to act with arbitrary authority and take the child away from him.

In such a case you do not need a certificate from a social worker, either before or after you act. Even if you had the time to look for such a certificate, and failed to get one, you would still be obliged to act. And if you knew in advance that you might well hurt the child in helping it, and be liable to litigation, you would still be obliged to act."

He draws a contrast between "Aristotelians" and "Platonists", arguing that the former deal with the world as it is recognising that individual evil exists while the latter believe that everyone is born "good" but somehow corrupted by society. Although he notes that Aristotelians are natural conservatives" and Platonists, naturally socialist, communist or "politically correct", he also illustrates how these philosophies cross party lines. According to Harris: New Labour Tony Blair is an Aristotelian and former Tory party grandee Chris Patten is a Platonist.

"In some sense, deep down, Chris Patten believes that, if you set down a band of boys on a tropical island they will naturally set up something like the European Union or the United Nations. By contrast, Tony Blair believes they will hunt the fat boy as per Lord of the Flies."

I like his thought experiment at the end: What would the "Platonic" anti-war movement of today have said back in 1939?

"Most of the woollier anti-war activists are Platonists. But their ethically empty rhetoric, if applied to Nazi Germany, would go like this: 'Hitler is no worse than Churchill. Look at Gallipoli, look at the way he shot the miners. How do we know Hitler means what he says about the Jews? Anyway we shall have to wait until he does something to them. And in the meantime, let's leave it to the League of Nations.'"

Thursday, March 13, 2003

I see that Atlantic Blog has also noticed this bizarre deluded piece in today's Guardian about Arab Women, but I must say I was particularly horrified by the sickening insouciance of these lines

"It is sobering to note that the first Palestinian woman to make the political decision to become a human bomb was a nurse, caring daily for children injured or maimed by Israeli bullets. In between these two extremes - the giving and the giving up of life, hundreds of thousands of women go about their business as best they can. "

Make a political decision to become a human bomb?, you make a political decision to join or vote for a political party, to protest or demonstrate. When you decide (or more commonly: are persuaded) to blow yourself up to kill as many Jews as you can, that's not a political decision, that's psychotic and a defiantly anti-political decision.
Thinking about national stereotypes, it occurs to me that there is a sense in which the caricature of Irish people as being "Thick" and "Ignorant" is correct, and that is if you use the Hiberno-English meaning of those terms. A British person understands the word "thick" to mean "stupid", and "ignorant" to mean "uneducated". Obviously it would be an outrageous slur on us to believe that we are all stupid and uneducated. We can however be "thick" and "ignorant", using our own meaning of these words. We do use the word "thick" sometimes to mean stupid, but far more often it is used to mean a type of belligerent stubbornness. If we say that so and so "is being a bit thick about this", what we mean is that he is being willfully obstructive. We have a similar stupidity quotient to most other countries but willful stubbornness we got in spades! As for "ignorant", this word is more commonly used to mean "ungraceful", or "inelegant". It can be used to describe an inert object as much as a person (including persons who exhibit the characteristics of an inert object!). A person who builds a "big ignorant monstrosity" of a house may also be "ignorant" but in the sense of lacking subtlety, not education. Our education system is actually pretty good but plenty of us are a bit "rough and ready".
As you might have noticed from my post below on our Irish Language TV station TG4, and Ciaran's comment, the issue of the Irish Language, Gaeilge, is fraught. If I was to try and sum up the majority Irish view on our language, the nearest analogy for an American would be public transport. I can't find it on the web to link to, but I once read a typically hilarious Onion article relating (spoof) poll findings that 95% of Americans supported the use of Public Transport.... by others. I would say that nobody here wants the language to die, but equally, nobody wants to bother themselves to learn it properly. If there was a magic pill that would allow you to become fluent in Irish overnight, the majority would take it. I'd take it, plus I'd ask for it in Spanish flavour too!

John at Iberian Notes has a lot of stuff on the experience of Catalans with their language and a lot of it sounds similar to our experience with the exception that, unlike native Catalans (as opposed to migrants from the rest of Spain and immigrants), only a tiny minority of Irish people are fluent in Irish. One similarity is that growth of language use is strongest in urban areas among upper middle class enthusiasts who send their children to All-Irish schools (Gaeilscoileanna) this is because, if you are in a lower economic situation, as the "Gaeltacht" areas (native Irish-speaking) are, you will trade off the benefits of using the Irish language (few, from an economic point of view) versus the necessity of being fluent in English, this explains why, in the "Gaeltacht" areas use is waning.
Another great tune on the Gilles Peterson Worldwide radio show last night: Theo Parrish remix of a Freddie Hubbard tune: "Little Sunflower". The original record provides the string sample for the deep house classic "Deep Burnt" by French producer Pepe Bradock and was also used on "the Love" by A Tribe called Quest. Theo Parrish is a genius and somewhat of a cult figure for deep house aficionados. This new track is a lot more "up" than his typical deep style and has a very "jazz dance" feel. Another one to add to the long list of "wants", yet to be released.
Word pairings that grate with me, more of an occasional series

2)"Sustainable Development"

This one really annoys me. It is something which we are all supposed to pay lip service to. In fact, as a member of the RIAI (Irish Architects' Professional Institute), I am obliged to comply with it. Now, you might ask: Why would you be against sustainable development, surely you can't be for unsustainable development? but this is precisely why I don't like this apparently harmless formulation. It necessarily implies that anything which doesn't conform to the definition of "sustainable" is "unsustainable". This is just hyperbole and not true.

It may be unwise to pave a significant proportion of the country in concrete. it may be undesirable to scatter bungalows, willy nilly, throughout our countryside. It may seem ludicrous to fly timber from the other side of the world when there are plenty of trees in Ireland. But all of these things are do-able, and not "unsustainable". Now, there are plenty of good arguments against these three particular phenomena and others often cited, and I even agree with them. The cases against these and other similar issues are ill-served by overstatement and "inextricable entwining" of diverse phenomena. What I don't agree with is the use of this blanket term to embrace everything from common sense to the wilder fringes of "green thinking". By simply using this irreducible slogan you avoid arguing each issue on it's own merits, close down further discussion and also confer legitimacy on some of the crazier, anti-people, anti-growth and even racist positions of extreme Greens and anti-Globalists. You might think this is an exaggeration but population control, "biodiversity", migration and uniqueness of local cultures are some of many issues presented by green extremists in views profoundly antipathetic to people and groups of people.
Lee Harris has a very interesting essay on Tech Central Station. I found it via Andrew Sullivan yesterday. It builds on an earlier essay of his on the Fantasy Ideology of al-Qaeda.

He makes some very good points, especially about political delinquency, where people and societies are indulged to fantasise instead of being forced to make realistic assessments. He rightly notes that the primary point of "our" actions should not be to "win the hearts and minds" of those opposed to us, but to force them to make realistic assessments. This seems to me to be a lot more achievable. He makes a very good point about the delinquency in much of the gulf states that is a direct consequence of oil riches, and income that required very little "work" to achieve. He overstates this case, however, in ignoring the effects of democracy or lack thereof. Many countries without oil display similar delinquency. Oil income or not, a dictator is in a position to indulge whichever fantasies he likes, and people deprived of a means of removing said dictator will also fantasise and may not make realistic assessments.
Celtic host Liverpool tonight in the first leg of the UEFA cup quarter final. Both teams are coming into this on the back of victories over their bitter rivals. Liverpool won the Worthington cup by beating Manchester United. Liverpool fans are more impressed by the identity of their opposition in the final than the nature of this least prestigious of trophies. Celtic, last saturday, beat Rangers to close the gap at the top of the table to three points, Celtic having a game in hand. Anyone who is unfamiliar with Scottish football might be surprised to find out that it is not just a case of two strong teams dominating the others. Celtic and Rangers are not the Manchester United and Arsenal, The Real Madrid and Barcelona of Scotland. In the English Premiership, and La Liga, there are plenty of strong teams, more so in La Liga where, incredibly, Real Sociedad are challenging Real Madrid for the title. Not so in Scotland, the last team the Scottish league trophy left Glasgow was for Aberdeen, then managed by current Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, in the early 1980s. Since then the situation has got a lot worse for the other teams, The "Old Firm" of Celtic and Rangers is the only show in town. What is interesting this year is that the title race looks like being close. Typically one or other team has the title sown up months before the conclusion, not so this year after Celtic's important victory.

Despite Celtic's status as the first British team to enter and to win a European trophy, in recent history scottish teams have not done well in Europe, the last Caledonian triumph was the old European Cup-Winner's cup, by...Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen. The reason for this is that as the other teams declined, there was removed a proper test of the abilities of the two teams from Glasgow. The only time either team played an equal or better team was when they met in the cauldron of an Old Firm Derby: not usually a conclusive test of footballing abilities. With more european experience comes better competition which should lead to improvement. Celtic have a great chance to avenge their defeat by Liverpool in the same competition in 1997 and also have the opportunity to knock out one of the strongest teams left.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Is the US doing too much or not enough?

I remember Tim Blair saying of a demonstration outside the UN that it would have been simpler to reduce the placards down to "US, Do something!" and "US, Do nothing!". Often it is the same person who carries both placards, this is one reason why the superpower can't win. It is this type of thinking that informs most European views on Israel and the Palestinians. Jonathan Freedland, in today's Guardian, exhibits this view in his discussion of the possible consequences for this question after war on Saddam.

The problem is that there is an unquestioned assumption that, with sufficient arm-twisting, the US can somehow "fix" this problem. I just don't think this is the case. I suppose it might be a consequence of "top-down thinking" to assume that complex events can always be "directed". It is possible to charge the US with being biased in favour of the Israelis, but this is understandable, you didn't see young Israelis dancing in the streets of Tel Aviv, celebrating the massacres on 9/11. The fact remains, however, that a solution will only be found to the problem when the number of Palestinians satisfied with whatever two state compromise is proposed significantly outnumber those who wish to destroy Israel and the number of Israelis prepared to take this on trust significantly outnumber those who remain sceptical or hostile towards Palestinians.
"The Reinforcin' O' The Stereotypes" is right. It's funny, but St. Patrick's day is not really all that big a deal here. Don't get me wrong, it is still celebrated, it is our national holiday and a bank holiday, but you might notice that our politicians don't tend to spend St. Patrick's day actually in Ireland. They all go to the US where people seem to make a bigger deal of it. Next monday, Irish pubs, all over the world will feature lurid green drinks and people dressed up as leprechauns. Meanwhile back here in the emerald isle we will have a day off. For years we had these staid parades. I used to live very near O'Connell street in Dublin and, one year, idly watched the parade, happening a couple of hundred yards away, on tv. They have been jazzed up a bit in recent years but, Carnival, they ain't.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Roma are out of the Champions' league after a 1-1 draw at Highbury. Stuttering Arsenal have now drawn four games in a row in Europe, including all of their home games in this second group stage. They are still in control of their destiny: if they can get at least a draw at Valencia's Mestalla Stadium in the last game, they are through to the last eight. They are probably just about capable of getting the draw but they don't look like potential European champions.

UPDATE: My Arsenal-supporting brother informs me that, assuming Arsenal beat Valencia, it is still possible for Roma to qualify if they manage to beat Ajax 2-0 or by more than two goals if they concede a goal to Ajax. 12/3/03 12:03PM
My Tax Euros at work: My son is watching the muppet show on TG4...... dubbed into Irish!!.....including the songs!!

All, no doubt, at considerable cost by the heavily subsidised Irish language TV station.
Is it just me, or can you detect increasing hysteria and desperation in George Monbiot's paranoid rant for today's Guardian?
Christopher Hitchens is a member of "Atheists for Regime Change, a small but resilient outfit"

Where do I sign up?

UPDATE: John at Iberian Notes takes Hitch to task for being anti-religious. I think he's being unfair, but then I admire Hitchens and detest Kissinger and I think John probably holds the opposite view on both gentlemen. 11/3/03 5:12PM
Polite Fictions: Things Irish people don't like to admit to, more of a continuing series

3) We have absolutely no intention of meeting you for that drink/lunch/meal/whatever.

If you meet an acquaintance on the street, or bump into someone you haven't seen in a while, it's quite common to conclude the encounter with a vague promise to meet up some time. This is just a way of avoiding an uncomfortable conclusion to the meeting and allows a good-natured parting. It's usually the case that neither party has any intention of fulfilling this promise. It is superficially insincere but a useful social custom. The problem is when someone unfamiliar with Irish customs encounters this. It may well be the reason that we are considered to be such a friendly bunch. The funny thing is, Irish people are generally good at being friendly to strangers but we are still very clique-y in our close friendships. People who move here, from abroad, can find it great at first with everyone being warm and friendly to them but soon they find out that not all of us "follow through" on our promise of friendship.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Gary Younge, in today's Guardian makes all the classic errors of the self-described left winger squeezing every issue into a "left wing versus right wing" model. I mentioned before about how, though these terms can be useful as a kind of shorthand, they obscure more than they reveal. Younge is in an awful muddle as he tries to argue that Tony Blair is defying "Global Will".

"He could have chosen anything. With such a huge majority and so little coherent opposition in parliament, there have been no end of issues on which Tony Blair might have taken a moral stance and shown leadership against either popular opinion or powerful vested interests over the past six years"

Here, Younge is thinking purely in partisan terms: Blair has "Political Capital" which can be "spent" wisely: pursue standard issue left wing agenda or foolishly: ally himself with Uncle Sam. The assumption is that Blair follows the policies that he can "get away with", that the reason middle-of-the-road New Labour party is more right wing than Old Labour is that it allows them to get elected. Once elected they can then do as many great "left wing" things as "Middle England" will allow them to do. It doesn't seem to have occurred to Younge that along with the political trimming and spinning, many policies were jettisoned as much because they were plain bad policies as the fact that the voters didn't like them. It may suit New Labour to spin a line that "we'd love to do more, but our hands are tied" to keep all the lefties on board, but that doesn't absolve journalists from thinking it through for themselves. This brings us to the issues that Younge feels Blair "should" have alienated the public on.

"He might have faced down the tabloids and made a stand against the scapegoating of asylum seekers...."

It's impossible to for me read these lines without laughing. I can really see Alistair Campbell urging Blair to stop messing about with trifling threats like Saddam when there are bigger fish to fry like...... the Daily Mail.

"......or resisted the pressure from the markets"

This phrase is something that can only be written by someone who doesn't understand market forces. Nobody talks about "resisting the pressure from gravity". When Margaret Thatcher said "You can't buck the market, or the market will buck you" she wasn't "Glorifying the Capitalist Hegemony" she was making a statement of good sense. Market forces exist, you ignore them at your peril.

"...... and raised taxes to fund increased investment in public services."

The hoary old notion raises it's head again and again.

First thing is: I have a thought experiment for those who wish to raise taxes, it's called the Voluntary Tax Fund. This would be set up by the government so that people who feel that they don't pay enough taxes (which appears to include almost every self-described left wing commentator) can contribute "top-up" taxes. Now, how much money do you think will be in the kitty at the end of it's first tax year? and how much do you think will have been contributed by the loud leftie hacks?

Second thing is: how would you expect this "investment" to be spent? It doesn't take a genius to figure out that any new cash injection would be just hoovered up into increased pay for existing public service workers, with bureaucrats creaming off most of that. If Younge himself was unhappy with any private service he paid for, like for example getting a car serviced, would he pay the mechanic more or would he seek alternative provision of this service? Why should it be different with public money?

"But the issue on which he chose to set himself against the wishes of the country and his party has been international law; if necessary, to embark on military action to secure cheap oil supplies for the world's wealthiest nation. "

It's all about OIL!, yada yada yada. This has been debunked so many times, Look Gary: You have a better chance of getting cheap oil by appeasing Saddam, not attacking him, just look at France.

More muddle when he lauds the "vibrant" anti-war movement and concludes that

"This result is the most glaring example of the fundamental dislocation between popular political culture and an isolated political class. We are stuck with a government that does not represent us, prosecuting a war we do not want."

But worries that the war might be successful!

"The most pessimistic scenario is that it (the anti-war movement) will not go anywhere...... within a week of bombing, Baghdad will be trashed from a great height, Saddam will be captured or killed......They will claim victory and their electorates will lose interest..."

But then he reverses his conclusion about the link between demonstrations and popular support...

"Demonstrations are expressions of popular public sentiment - an intangible commodity that often burns brightly and then fades away"

Which is it, Gary? Are the demonstrations indicative of a deep divide between the public and the government or are they just a flash in the pan?

Bizarrely he segues from fearing a successful deposition of Saddam to a desperate plea for recognition of the forgotten "Anti-Globalisation" movement

"As such, the issues it raises are inextricably entwined with those the anti-globalisation movement has been addressing for the best part of a decade."

This is just standard issue left wing thinking by rote, these issues are only "inextricably entwined" if you already have a neat little preconceived idea of how the world works. A bit of independent critical thought from Younge wouldn't go amiss.