Saturday, July 05, 2003

WHO IS SILVIO? Berlusconi’s making the news, but outside of Italy there’s a lot of ignorance of who he is and where he came from. This story gives a good summary:
"Silvio Berlusconi paid for his law and business studies in Milan by working as a crooner with his own band on board a cruise ship.”

Which sounds like a disturbingly American way of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps; why couldn’t he have been a good European and taken a state handout, you ask?
“He is intensely loyal to his friends……. He has even reserved space for them - if they should so desire - to be buried in his family tomb, of which more anon..”

A virtue but also a potential a vice – but nonetheless a characteristic he shares with Bush, but not Blair and most other soft left politicians.
“He outsmarted the competition in television by dreaming up a perfectly legal scheme to create a national television network at a time when the state broadcaster RAI enjoyed a TV monopoly.
He discovered a loophole in the law. The monopoly did not cover local TV. So he set up a commercial network which did not actually infringe the letter of the law, but gave Italians for the first time a taste of the joys of commercial TV. “

So contrary to accepted opinion, he did not create a monopoly in Italian media, he broke one. Thus he represents the unacceptable face of capitalism to state regulated or owned media in Europe today.
“Afterwards we had tea in the garden with Mr Berlusconi and his family. The prime minister relaxed in a white Japanese kimono and his second wife, a former TV actress, poured the tea. “

An Italian drinking tea in a kimono? What better image of the xenophobic right could you imagine?

Internally Italy is a basket case. Externally it is feared; as one of the 4 trillion dollar Euro economies it has punched like a pygmy in international affairs in the past. Many in Europe now fear it is now starting to assert itself. More fear it asserting itself as a force for free market liberal ideals. So when you read about Silvio, put the bull filters on.
NE GAGNEZ PAS: Confederations Cup and Tour de France are under way and:
“There was tension in the air at football's in Paris as the US players took to the field. Boos spread around the stadium as America's national anthem was played, jeers that did not quite finish until the team left the pitch.
Before that came Serena Williams's semi-final against Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne in the French Open in June, when the American was jeered and heckled throughout the match, leaving her defeated and in tears.
Now Lance Armstrong, four times winner of the Tour de France, and his US Postal Services team are in the cross-hairs of hostile French sports fans as he begins the gruelling 2,000-mile Tour de France. “

A predictable but telling comment later in the article though:
“Some in France, however, say Armstrong is simply disliked - American or not. Bernard Lefort, a publisher and freelance sports writer, said he has always been unpopular 'because he wins'. “

SORRY NO APOLOGY: Contrary to wishful reporting in large sections of the press, Berlusconi did not apologise:

“Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has insisted he has not apologised for comparing a German politician to a Nazi guard, saying only that he regretted his words had been misunderstood. …..
He said he had telephoned Mr Schroeder to express his regret that his comments were "interpreted badly". "I did not offer apologies," he said. "I expressed regret that what I said in jest and irony was misunderstood."
Mr Berlusconi repeated his assertion that he had found Mr Schulz's criticism of his business and political conduct insulting and his response was made as a "counter-weight"

Welcome to the Bush Club, Silvio; you say it, we mis-report it.

MAKING NEWS: Mark Steyn picks up on the story I blogged earlier about the UN and fags:

"There was, of course, an admirably anti-smoking political leadership active in Europe 60 years ago, but after the last week one feels the N-word has perhaps become somewhat devalued. Still, Nanny Bloomberg, New York's control-freak mayor, is an awfully tempting target. Musing on the Republicans' antipathy to gay marriage, Nanny told reporters, "I have always thought that people should be allowed to go about their business themselves. I don't know why any of these platforms should deal with issues like that."

Government encourages work until the age of 70 (With apologies to The Who)

People want to put us down
(Euthanase our generation)
Just because we shuffle around
(Talking 'bout degeneration);
To judge from stuff like Radiohead
It's youth that's joined the living dead.
I?m happy to f-f-fade away
From work in my eighth decade, OK?
Yon lolling, slack, hungover youth
Will that day have to work in truth.

Back in the Sixties, had we bred,
We wouldn't have to work till dead.
Our few offspring have no intention
Of paying for our old-age pension.
Their dirty and f-f-faded jeans
Are emblems of next year's has-beens.
Computers, spots and masturbation -
Who needs the younger generation

As I've said before, generational conflict in Europe is a big, dark, looming issue.

Friday, July 04, 2003

"We are up for a fight," he declared. "We want to build on what we have done." In what appeared to be a co-ordinated move to downplay expectations of better public services before the next election and refocus on Labour's traditional values, Patricia Hewitt, the Trade Secretary, said it had been an error for ministers to talk so much about "delivery".

"When we talked about delivery, that may have been something of a mistake because you can't deliver good health or safe streets in the way that commercial companies can deliver pizzas."

In his New Year message on Dec 30, 1998, Mr Blair said: "1999 will be the year of delivery on promises we made to win the election." On May 15, 2001, Alastair Campbell, his director of communications, reiterated the promise for Labour's second term. "If economic stability is the achievement of the first term, transformed public services is the key delivery aim of the second."

No tip for the pizza boy then.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

STUPID WHITE BLOBS: Look at the trouble Michael Moore gets into when he goes outside without his identifying Detroit Tigers cap.

Via Tim Blair

BABEL: The Education Minister has issued a new directive:

“Spanish should rival French and German as the main foreign language taught in state schools, the Government says.”

Since they make more sense


More than 50 years after they stopped fighting one another, Britain and Germany remain divided by a war. But the conflict in question is not the second world war. Tony Blair's support for the US in invading Iraq has prompted young Germans to say it is the British who are warmongers. …Britain "swims in the wake of the US - they are eager for war," said one respondent. Another said: "The British government is the puppet of America...

The responses were flavoured by familiar rivalries: "Starting two world wars and their football team," as one British respondent put it. The positive aspects of German life boiled down to "cars and sausages".

As in war, when it comes to the put down there’s only one winner. Sorry Gerhardt.


The demonstrations that shook Iran for the better part of two weeks have died down, but the aftershocks continue to unnerve the mullahs in the run-up to the general strike called for the 9th of July….

“And am I the only person to smell a connection between Tony Blair's call for the civilized world to support the democracy demonstrators one day, and the murder of seven English soldiers the next?
This administration clearly has no stomach for any sort of campaign against the mullahs, at least for the moment. But it can no more avoid the showdown with the mullahs than it can cause Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein to surrender; this is a fight for survival, and they will not permit us the luxury of setting the timetable at our convenience.

That means there must be regime change in Tehran. In their hearts, or perhaps at a somewhat lower level, our leaders know that. Even the admittedly limited information in the hands of our intelligence community shows the pattern of Iranian skullduggery, and it is only a matter of time before the mullahs pull off some murderous assault large enough to compel us to act. They still fondly remember their glory days in Lebanon, when they killed hundreds of Americans in a single suicidal stroke, an event incautiously recalled by Bashar Assad in the first days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. That is what undoubtedly awaits our fighting men and women if we do not move first to support the freedom fighters in Iran.”

Of course Iran isn’t the only problem, there’s Syria as well, so perhaps Ledeen in being a little harsh. Nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that during Gulf War 1, Saddam flew a large proportion of his air-force across the border to Iran for safe keeping. Although the Iranians subsequently reneged on the deal and didn’t return most of the aircraft, this shows that the two countries are prepared to co-operate in the face of the Great Satan. And given that Iran seems to be further ahead in its nuclear weapons program than previously thought, it might be worth considering whether Iraq’s WMD program flew across the border as well. After all as Linden notes:-

"“And the Iranians brazenly sabotage our reconstruction efforts, as in the case of the monster water treatment plant in southern Iraq, which was dismantled and carted off across the border, or the several factories that were broken up and either smuggled into Iran or sold to them.”

BTW: I think I forgot to mention to you that I'm posting some my blogs over on Gweilo while Conrads away.
GIRLS, GIRLS! Parliament or playground? You judge;

“The flamboyant media tycoon-turned-politician finally lost his temper, rounding on Herr Schulz for suggesting that “the virus of Italian conflict of interest is being transferred to the EU”.

He declared: “Mr Schulz, I know there is a producer in Italy who is making a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you for the role of commander. You’d be perfect.”

The words caused uproar. Pat Cox, the Parliament’s Irish President, called on Signor Berlusconi to withdraw the remark. When he refused, Mr Cox suspended the debate. “


“The German government called in the Italian ambassador in Berlin to tell him Berlusconi's comments were "unacceptable." The Italian Foreign Ministry summoned the German ambassador late Wednesday and told him Schulz's remarks were "a grave, unacceptable offence" to Berlusconi's dignity and to the Italian and European institutions. “

And so the EU faces months of paralysis after Berlusconi insult.
All this during a debate to re-establish Europe’s position as a world power.

The incident marred what began as a suave introduction to the Italian presidency, with a carefully crafted, silken speech pledging to revive a stagnant European economy and rid the EU of a "Hamlet syndrome" of self-doubt in world affairs.

You don’t say.


You lead one of the poorest nations in the world, there are genocidal killers still loose in your country whom you’ve made minimal efforts to detain and what does the UN hector you for?

"Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been named the biggest smoker among world leaders. The United Nations has appealed to him to quit the habit, and after several failed attempts he said he was ready to try once again."

Next week the UN tackles world leaders with bouffant hair-does. Hopefully.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003


The BBC is willing to offer the government an olive branch by admitting that the source who claimed that No 10 had "sexed up" intelligence information may not have been entirely correct. But it will do so only if Downing Street accepts that its story was legitimate in the context of general concern about the government's use of intelligence material.

It is unlikely that No 10 will accept such a compromise,”

But perhaps they should since this admission clearly and publicly encapsulates what passes for acceptable journalistic standards today.

It was not entirely correct that the Republican Guard were elite but the story was legitimate in the context of an obsessive concern about Vietnam repeating itself.

It was not entirely correct that there was a massacre at Jenin but the story was legitimate in the context of an insidious concern about the “Jews”.

It was not entirely correct that the Baghdad Museum was looted but the story was legitimate in the context of a snobbish concern about the American military's ignorance of ancient Mesopotamian culture.

It was not entirely correct that the Palestine Hotel was deliberately targeted but the story was legitimate in the context of journalists overriding concern for themselves.


Monday, June 30, 2003

SARS THE FINAL TOLL: Taiwan has now declared SARS free day and so perhaps it’s time for a quick back of the envelope calculation.

Okun’s law is the rule of thumb that for each 2.5% of growth lost, unemployment will rise by 1%. Most estimates put the loss of growth in the Asian economies at around 0.5% meaning unemployment is likely to rise by 0.2% as a result of SARS. H H Brenner in the 1970’s found that an increase of 1% in the unemployment rate in the US lead to an additional 37,000 deaths – through suicide, homicide, stress, ill health etc. So a 0.2% increase in unemployment (from a 0.5% cut in growth) would lead to 7,400 additional deaths in the US.

So lets apply the Okun-Brenner projections to the countries affected by SARS.

“Taiwan had the world’s third-worst SARS outbreak after China and Hong Kong, with a death toll of 84

It’s population is about 8% of America’s, so that means about 590 people can be expected to die as a result of the economic slowdown. For Thailand we could expect 1,776 to die (while 2 actually died of SARS), for Malaysia 590 (2 died), for Singapore 100 (31 died), for China 35,000 (where many died of SARS but certainly not that many).

So for all of these countries, the economic death toll far exceeds the actual deaths. The notable exception is Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong has been hit far harder economically; it has had its growth forecast for the year cut by 1.8% - meaning expected collateral economic deaths of about 750, more than twice the actual death toll. And remember that these are annual figures and so will persist for as long as the lost growth is not recaptured.

Given that more will be killed by the economic slowdown than by were SARS itself, the question is - were the travel restrictions, media hysteria and other measures either necessary or proportionate?
ADAMISM OF THE DAY: Phil Adams’ highly original article in the Australian is about Bush’s poor grasp of grammar:

“We see the same thing, writ large, in the public utterances of the most powerful man on earth, George W. Bush. The excruciating misuse of language that made former US vice-president Dan Quayle an international joke has not destroyed Dubya”

As an example of the now gone golden days he cites:

“English historian Simon Schama contrasts the grandiloquent voice of British imperialism with the dumb and dumber dialogue of its US counterpart. He quotes George Nathaniel, Viscount Curzon, waxing lyrical on Britain's manifest destiny: "To me the message is carved in granite: out of the rock of doom – that our work is righteous and shall endure."

Which is a great quote - except that the punctuations all over the place.
WMD OVERBOARD: The BBC shows no signs of backing down over the Iraqi dossiers. In many respects, the BBCs behaviour bears a striking similarity to the actions of the A(ustralian)BC in the “children overboard affair”, as touched on by Kevin Rudd.

In the Australian case, the ABC misjudged the public’s mood, thinking that general sympathy for asylum seekers meant the public supported the entry of all asylum seekers under any circumstances. In fact 90% supported enforcing the immigration rules. In Iraq, the BBC thought that the public’s inherent reluctance to go to war meant they would not support any war under any circumstances. In the end 70% supported the war.

In the Australia, the ABC’s cause celebre was Mr Baktiari. In the end it turned out that Mr Baktiaris was not from Afganistan and not an asylum seeker. The BBC pinned its case on an inevitable quagmire. In the end it turned out that Iraq was not Vietnam.

In revenge the ABC then focused on the technicality of whether the Australian Navy lied when it said that children were thrown overboard from a sinking asylum ship. In the end, the public couldn’t have cared less whether they were thrown overboard or eased into the water from a deliberately sunk ship; the children were put at risk either way. Similarly, the BBC has now focused on whether the claim by MI6 that Iraq could strike the UK in 45 minutes was a lie. In the end the British public couldn’t care less whether Iraq could have struck in 45 minutes or 45 days; they were at risk either way and in any case they weren’t expecting to be Saddam’s first target.

The ABC is a small public broadcasting company with limited credibility. In the end that’s what the BBC will be.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

IT’S ALL ABOUT SHEEP The ingenious kiwis intend to turn sheep into oil: -

New Zealand is a country with an awful lot of sheep.
Now the country is experimenting with using the fat to create fuel for vehicles, and plans have been drawn up to create a bio-diesel refinery… New Zealand's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority has drawn up plans to use 120,000 tons of animal fat as a bio-diesel.”

Of course the downside is that New Zealand then risks being invaded by the Bush Administration. But the upside is that they’re then likely to get the free trade agreement with America they’ve always pinned for.

“A senior Japanese politician has been forced to apologise after sparking outrage by appearing to condone rape.
Seiichi Ota, a lawmaker with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said at a debate on Japan's declining birth rate that at least gang rapists had a healthy appetite for sex.

"Gang rape shows the people who do it are still vigorous, and that is OK. I think that might make them close to normal,"

Umm, yes. Last tried as a method of arresting population decline in China and Korea 50 years ago.

“The newspaper editor Supratman is standing by his punchy page one headlines, even though they could send him to jail for six years.

"Mega's a blood sucker", "Mega's mouth smells of diesel", "Mega's more vicious than Sumanto [a celebrated Javanese cannibal]", and "Mega's only in provincial class" have all been deemed to insult President Megawati Soekarnoputri, breaching articles 134 and 137 of the criminal code.”

But you’d have to wonder why he’s risking jail time for a few lame lines when the lady writes them better herself:-

“Similar scenes in January prompted Ms Megawati to tell her party: "When I look at my pictures - and I actually look pretty there - and see people stomping on them, I feel like I want to throw up . . . like a volcano about to explode."

OK head back and here we go.

WEAK DEFENSE: The BBC New Labour divorce proceedings continue to be acrimonious but this sounds like a pretty weak rebuttal:
“Mr Sambrook last night launched a fresh defence of the BBC's reporting. "The real question for the BBC is were we right to report what we actually said, when we said it? We believe the answer is 'Yes'," he said.”

Well of course the answer to the question of whether you can report what you said is yes. The more important question is whether it’s true. More interestingly though:

“The BBC's determination to back Gilligan was underscored by its decision to fund his legal action against Phil Woolas, the deputy leader of the Commons, who accused him of misleading the foreign affairs committee when he gave evidence.”

Which looks suspiciously like champetry since the purpose of the committee was not to investigate the BBC but rather to determine whether the House had been misled on the WMD question. So it might be hard to argue that Mr Gilligan was acting in the course of his duties and therefore that the BBC has a legitimate interest in funding the litigation. I’m sure the BBC’s legal department have considered this matter but since they seem to have a pretty soft grip on whether the news should be published or verified first, this might be a case or right cheque consider legality later.

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