Saturday, September 11, 2004

Remembering S11 

Today, the media - and the blogsphere - will be full of commentary and reflection on the third anniversary of September 11. Since today starts earlier in Australia than it does everywhere else (I'm not counting Pacific islands), I might as well get in early.

There's little doubt that for my generation S11 will be what John F Kennedy's assassination was for my parents and grandparents. I don't mean a source of endless conspiracy theories for the political fringe dwellers, although that will be the case too (I have on my lap as a write, the first edition of the first conspiracy book ever published about the JFK assassination; Thomas G Buchanan's "Who Killed Kennedy?" It took Buchanan, who quite appropriately was a communist, a year to see his theories in print; for the new millennium's Grassy Knoll crowd, the power of the Internet insured that it was only days if not hours before the "Jews/CIA/the Bush junta did it by flying remotely controlled planes to unleash the New World Order" meme started circulating around the world). No, what I mean is S11 was one of those rare moments that define the collective memory of a generation. We will always remember where we were and what we were doing the moment when the news broke that a plane has hit one of the World Trade Centre towers.

I certainly can. Because of the time difference between New York and Brisbane, it was towards the end, rather than the beginning, of September 11 (or 11 September as we Australians prefer it). I was trying to have an early night; I already went to bed and switched off the lights in my room. I still wasn't quite asleep though when around half past ten PM I heard one of my flatmates (who today also happens to be a blogger) say "Shit!" rather loudly before a few moments later coming down the corridor and knocking on my door. "Mate, you have to see this," he said. This better be good, I thought. It wasn't good of course; not in that sense. For the next four and a half hours we sat transfixed in front of the TV, watching with disbelief the smoke billowing out of the skyscraper, then the second plane hitting the other tower, the third explosion at the Pentagon, and then the World Trade Centre collapsing into rubble.

SMSs were flying thick and fast that night. I don't know of any of my close friends who were not awake and following the crisis as it unfolded live on our screens. We didn't really know what was happening, or who was behind it all (after all, until the second plane smashed into WTC, a freak accident was the most popular explanation for the first crash), but somehow we all understood then and there the seriousness of what has just happened. Instinctively we knew that this was a watershed - not in a rather melodramatic and cliched sense of "the world has changed on S11" (for overwhelming majority of us it didn't) - but we knew that this was a portent of things to come; serious things, or as my flatmate would say, "serious shit." We knew it even in Australia, a world away on the other side of the globe. I remember one of the last SMS I received that night, around 3AM September 12 our time; it simply said: "It's war."

By that stage in 2001 I was already a veteran of many years of political involvement and even more years of political interest, but both have been quite mundane and down-to-earth. I haven't been expecting that so soon after the end of the Cold War we would all have to start living again through another international crisis. I would have never guessed on September 10 that so much of my spare time over next three years would be filled with the Middle East and the Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the war on terror and the war against Saddam. I'm sure it was the same for many if not most of you who are reading this.

It's going to be a long war, which hopefully will never evolve into a world-wide conflagration, a world war with WMD thrown in for good - or rather bad - measure. Just fighting another Cold War will be difficult, expensive, destructive and painful enough. But there is no other option. Many still delude themselves that it didn't have to be like that; or that we can still stop the train of events if we do X or Y or Z. But these people forget that this is not a war of our choosing. Not because our past actions didn't matter at all, but in a sense that it's one of those rare moments in history when two diametrically opposed systems of values face each other across a chasm - you can change some policies, do some things differently, but nothing will ultimately change the fact that this world is too small for both to indefinitely coexist with each other in peace.

Many have in the past underestimated liberal democracies. It was a bad mistake. The road will be hard and it will be long; there will be victories and there will be setbacks; but I know that in the end we will pull through this one too.

P.S. These are some thoiughts and reflections from other bloggers: Pieter at Peaktalk (and here), Instapundit has a roundup, and Joe Katzman at Winds of Change has another excellent round-up. There's more from Dean Esmay, and Oxblog.


Friday, September 10, 2004

Jakarta, September 9: the story continues 

Note: Also see the previous post for the initial news and commentary.

Responsibility by SMS: The Indonesian authorities have admitted to Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer that an officer in the paramilitary police unit, known as BRIMOB, has received a warning of the attack via a cell phone text message some 45 minutes before the explosion occurred. According to reports, the message indicated that foreign embassies would be targeted, but did not specify any particular one. The text message also gave the authorities an ultimatum to release Abu Bakar Bashir, the militant cleric and spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, currently accused of involvement in JI's previous terrorist attacks (this adds credence to theories, mentioned in the previous post, that the reasons for the attack are a mixture of domestic Indonesian and international anti-Western and anti-Australian agendas).

The explosion: According to the latest reports, as many as three suicide bombers might have been involved. "Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said early reports indicated the bomb may have contained up to 200kg of low explosive potassium chlorate, detonated by a high-explosive TNT charge. The bomb was probably placed in a minivan - a method similar to the Bali bombings and last year's attack on the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta."

The reactions: BBC reports on what the Indonesian media is making of the Jakarta attack. It might just be a matter of unfortunate selection, but half the papers seem to be blaming the police and the authorities for insufficient counter-terrorist efforts, and the other half are blaming Australia for making itself a target. No word on the terrorists themselves.

Meanwhile, the government of Iran has condemned the attack as "unjustifiable." It also called "for cooperation of the international community to eradicate terrorism." According to the US State Department, Iran remains "the most active state sponsor of terrorism."

And the French Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous said that France "strongly condemns the attack which struck Indonesia" and recalled "our joint determination to combat terrorism and to that end, press on with cooperation efforts." France is continuing to negotiate to release its two hostages currently being held in Iraq.

The "Sydney Morning Herald" is on the same wave-length, asking its readers whether Australia should negotiate with terrorists. As I'm writing this, 62% say no, but sadly, there are 30% out there who think it's a good idea.

More to come?: Australia's intelligence agencies have warned the Prime Minister Howard of a possibility of another attack in Indonesia of a similar magnitude.

Update: It seems that more might indeed be to come. Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty says there are indication that another suicide bombing squad could be at large in Jakarta right now, preparing to strike.

Meanwhile, Brian Deegan continues to advocate appeasement... sorry, negotiations with terrorists: "[H]e says history is full of deals with what were once considered terrorist organisations. He cites the British and the IRA , the Israelis and British in the 1940s, and the African National Congress working with the South African Government. He says it is not a novel approach but it could save years and lives." Jemaah Islamiah's goal is to create a fundamentalist Caliphate that includes much of the South East Asia including parts of northern Australia. Since Mr Deegan lives in Adelaide, negotiating away some of the the Northern Territory and northern Queensland must not seem like a such a big deal to him. I live in Brisbane - it's much closer. One could also add that the goals and ambitions of al Qaeda/JI are somewhat more expansive than those of the IRA, the Jews or the ANC, which would make for more difficult negotiations.

Speaking of Adelaide, the main suspect in the bombing, Malaysian-born al Qaeda/JI operative and a master bomb maker Dr Azahari Husin studied engineering at the Adelaide University in the 1980s. Maybe Mr Deegan and Dr Husin can sit down and negotiate - one Adelaide man with another.


Smile, the whole world is against you 

Another international poll showing how no one in the wide world likes George W Bush. Fortunately for the President, the "emerging Democratic majority" can't vote:

"A majority of people in 30 of 35 countries want Democratic party flagbearer John Kerry in the White House, according to a survey released showing US President George W. Bush rebuffed by all of America's traditional allies.

"On average, Senator Kerry was favored by more than a two-to-one margin -- 46 percent to 20 percent, the survey by GlobeScan Inc, a global research firm, and the local University of Maryland, showed...

"Kerry was strongly preferred among all of America's traditional allies, including Norway (74 percent compared with Bush's seven percent), Germany (74 percent to 10 percent), France (64 percent to five percent), the Netherlands (63 percent to six percent), Italy (58 percent to 14 percent) and Spain (45 percent to seven percent). Even in Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) is Bush's closest ally in the war on terror, Kerry trounced the incumbent 47 percent to 16 percent. Kerry was also greatly favored among Canadians by 61 percent to Bush's 16 percent and among the Japanese by 43 percent to 23 percent."
I'm happy to say that my country of birth - Poland - was one of three where Bush was favoured (the other ones being, strangely, the Philippines and Nigeria). While this particular poll did not include Australia, a Ray Morgan one, conducted last month, sadly showed a similar result to the rest of the allies: 55% would vote for Kerry, 22% for Bush and 23% are undecided. I can believe that - I know quite a number of otherwise conservative voters who have bought into the whole media-generated "Bush is a spoiled, corrupt, moronic war-monger" meme. Fortunately, however, Australians overall are not averse to electing right-wing governments.


Those forged documents 

In case you've been living under a rock for the past twenty four hours - or in case of Australia, been too preoccupied with the Jakarta bombing - you know by now that the number one story on the right hemisphere of the blogsphere are the forged documents that CBS was trying to (I'm sure unwittingly) use to discredit George Bush's National Guard record.

I can't add anything to the controversy, except to refer you to the usually excellent Powerline blog which is
copiously covering the controversy. See also Little Green Footballs, and one of the friends of this blog, Pacetown, who actually had a valuable contribution to the debate, for which he was rewarded with much traffic (also here).

Once again, it's not the media doing the digging, but the blogsphere which is keeping the bastards honest.



Sometime overnight my time, and Thursday day-time for the American readers, this blog has passed another small quasi-milestone with 400,000 hits since the start on 31 March this year (or really, a 0.4 of a milestone on the way to the big one mil). No time for self-congratulations, though; instead just a quick note of appreciation to all of you readers who made it possible. The regular readership base is slowly building up, and while it's nowhere near the first league (Glenn-league?) or even second or third league size-wise, your friendship, support and encouragement are most definitely first class. So thank you once again.


Help needed 

Chief Wiggles needs your help to save a life of a little Iraqi girl:

"Tabarak, a nine month old Iraqi baby, has a tumor since birth that is growing rapidly now threatening her life. She will shortly die if something isn’t done. Her condition is worsening daily but the much needed treatment cannot be performed in Iraq to prevent her death. She needs a life saving operation to remove the tumor, allowing her to have hope for another day, another chance to live a normal life. She requires a combination of steroids, laser therapy, surgical resection, and plastics reconstruction, which can be performed in the United States."
If you have medical contacts or can donate money, please see Chief's post for details.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

Jakarta, September 9 

Note: Please keep scrolling down for continuing updates. See also a subsequent update.

The war continues on Australia's doorstep:
"The Australian embassy in Jakarta was damaged by a powerful explosion that blew up vehicles in front of the complex. At least three people were killed. However no Australian embassy staff had been confirmed injured, the federal government said."
You can bomb all you want; it won't change the fact that like your other totalitarian soul-mates in the past, you're on the losing side of history.

Update: A more recent report says up to six people were killed and 99 wounded. The interesting detail, of course, is that the explosive device appears to be a car bomb (or a motorcycle bomb), which was detonated on the busy street outside. There was damage to the embassy compound (the article notes shattered windows and a destroyed gate, although "Jakarta Post" reports the damage to the embassy and surrounding buildings was "extensive"), but it was the passers-by who bore the brunt of the explosion. Once again, the al Qaeda-affiliated Jemaah Islamiah (if that's indeed who the culprit is) has shown that in its willingness to "send a signal" to Australian infidels it couldn't care less that the people who actually die are innocent fellow Muslim countrymen and women.

Update II: Mike Jericho's got the pictures.

The toll now stands at 11 dead and up to 160 injured:
"[The blast] ripped apart the heavily-fortified gates of the mission, shattered thousands of windows and left a deep crater in the road outside... [T]hose killed were mainly Indonesians, including police and embassy security staff, cut down in the road by the explosion just four metres from the front gates of the compound. The massive blast, heard up to 15km away, tore the glass fronts off nearby office towers and showered flying glass into the embassy building, causing minor injuries among mission staff."
All sides of politics in Australia have condemned the attack. The Prime Minister John Howard told the reporters that Australia "is not a nation that is going to be intimidated by acts of terrorism," and the Labor Opposition Leader Mark Latham said: "The terrorists responsible for this attack are evil and barbaric and must be dealt with as harshly as possible."

Pundits are already speculating that the attack will benefit politically the Government, which is perceived as stronger on the issue of national security than the Labor Party. Also, with the public attention switched again to terrorism, Labor might find itself starved for news oxygen. There are, however, other possibilities; the Labor Party has been trying for quite some time to build up its anti-terror credentials, accusing the Government of getting too distracted by Iraq to pay enough attention to threats in Australia's immediate neighborhood. The Jakarta blast might provide a good opportunity for Mark Latham to run with that point.

The fingers are pointing at Jemaah Islamiah (JI) as the culprit. Indonesia's police chief, General Da'i Bachtiar thinks the explosion bears all the hallmarks of the 2002 Bali bombing and the 2003 Marriott hotel blast. A counter-terrorism expert, Professor Harold Crouch, who happened to be inside the embassy at the time of the attack, agrees with the assessment: "I can't think of any other candidate at this point and so I think it's pretty clear it must have been them".

Specifically, the main suspect seems to be the Malaysian-born, British-educated engineer and al Qaeda/JI operative Azahari Husin. Husin, an expert bomb-maker, has been on the run from authorities for the past three years. He and another Malaysian, Noordin Mohammed Top, are also believed to be responsible for the bombing attack against the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2003.

Why the Australian embassy and why now? Four possibilities emerge:

You can find out more about Jemaah Islamiah here, here and here. The group is widely seen as the main al Qaeda affiliate in the South East Asia, and as part of the design to create a hard-line Islamic caliphate in the region, it has history of attacking Western and Australian targets, most infamously in Bali in October 2002, the terrorist outrage widely regarded as Australia's own S11.

Update III: The ever-dependable Tim Blair is running extensive updates of news, comments and reactions to the bombing. In other developments:

An intelligence failure? The Prime Minister John Howard: "You can say... whenever an attack occurs there is an intelligence failure." I prefer to reserve this term for the situations where at least some of the information was there, but due to the intelligence agencies' negligence or wrong judgment, the dots were not connected - or if they were, the action wasn't nevertheless taken. In the case of Jakarta bombing there is no evidence of any warnings more specific than the usual chatter about attacks on Western targets.

The responsibility: Jemaah Islamiah has indeed now
claimed responsibility for the attack. "We decided to make Australia pay in Jakarta today when one of the Mujahideen brothers carried out a martyrdom (suicide) operation at the Australian embassy," says the statement published on the Internet. Pay for Australia's involvement in the war in Iraq, by the way.

The spin begins:
Malcolm Farr in the "Daily Telegraph": "The bombing in Jakarta could become the event that crushed Mark Latham's bid to get a Labor government elected. The atrocity was an unwanted intrusion into the election campaign but one that voters will be unable to ignore... It raised the prominence of national security in the election contest and, for now at least, pushed economic debate down the list... The timing resembled the Madrid bombing, designed to encourage voters to punish the incumbent government for aiding the US in Iraq. There will be the view that Iraq has increased the threat against Australia. Mr Howard has one powerful argument in reply: the bombing did not happen here. That makes it quite different from the Madrid murders and could be seen as evidence that attack prevention efforts in Australia have been successful. The latest Newspoll survey on anti-terrorism, taken less than a week ago, found 51 per cent of voters thought Mr Howard was more capable of handling national security - 32 per cent nominated Mr Latham. "

The same
Newspoll shows that John Howard has an even bigger edge over Mark Latham as far as economic matters are concerned, so "raising the prominence of national security in the election contest" should actually benefit Latham, or at least hurt him less. Still, if Labor loses, the commentariat will once again be able to cry foul that the election was "stolen" by international events.

Update IV: Reactions: Readers' comments in a forum by Australia's News Ltd make for an interesting glimpse into public reactions. I was suprised by the general lack of "terrorism is bad, but..." and "the root causes" rhetoric. There are a few exceptions, but they are few and far between. Encouraging (also here).

Meanwhile, more evidence that
grief can cloud your judgment, this time from the South Australian Magistrate Brian Deegan, whose son Joshua died in the 2002 Bali bombings, and whose death has obviously sent his father into political never-never land:

"Mr Deegan... who is running against Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer in the federal election, called on Mr Downer to meet Jemaah Islamiah (JI) to negotiate an end to the terror... 'He is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, it's his portfolio. If we are at some kind of war, then we should negotiate,' Mr Deegan said. 'He (Mr Downer) should speak to the head of JI and ask him: 'Why? What's the problem?''"

The ordinary Indonesians who bore the brunt of this attack aren't as understanding as Mr Deegan. Says Ibu Martono, a housewife whose children were bruised by the falling debris: "We're beyond angry. I want to kill those who did this." Mr Deegan might be willing to negotiate Iraq or Indonesia into the hands of Islamofascist jihadis, but it's Mrs Martano who knows she'll be the one to pay the price. And Mr Deegan himself should know better than to suggest that his safety and liberty can be in the long run bought with somebody else's.

Australian Socialists, meanwhile, continue to provide some light relief in an otherwise bleak situation. According to Lisa Macdonald, Socialist Alliance co-convener, the Jakarta bombing "showed that the Howard government’s ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation—fully supported by the [Labor Party]—does nothing to reduce the risk of terrorism at the same time as it contains dangerous attacks on everyone’s civil liberties." As the bombing had happened in Indonesia and not Australia, I'll reserve for the moment my judgment as to the efficacy of Australia's domestic anti-terrorism legislation.


Couldn't have put it better myself 

William Kristol writes in the "Weekly Standard":

"John Kerry said yesterday that Iraq was 'the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.' Translation: We would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power.

Not an unheard of point of view. Indeed, as President Bush pointed out today, it was Howard Dean's position during the primary season. On December 15, 2003, in a speech at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles, Dean said that 'the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer.' Dean also said, 'The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at the extraordinary cost, so far, of $166 billion.'

"But who challenged Dean immediately? John Kerry. On December 16, at Drake University in Iowa, Kerry asserted that 'those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe today that we are not safer with his capture, don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president.'

"Kerry was right then."
(hat tip: Tanker Schreiber)

John Kerry, of course, may well consider Iraq to be "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time" and at the same time - and on a purely moral and humanitarian level - be happy that Saddam has been removed from power. He is, after all, no stranger to holding over-nuanced and seemingly self-contradictory policy positions. But
as Bill Kristol notes elsewhere, as the man who would lead the nation, Kerry should at least be able to answer these questions:

"Would we be safer with Saddam still in power? Would the world? What would such a world look like? Surely we couldn't have left 150,000 troops in the nations bordering Iraq for two years. Surely, then, the inspectors would once again have been expelled. And the sanctions regime was collapsing. Does Kerry then believe Saddam would not have moved to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction? Would that have been acceptable? Does Kerry believe pro-American, anti-terror forces in the Middle East, to say nothing of the forces of reform in that region, would be stronger or weaker if Saddam were still in power? What would have been the global effect on American credibility if we had authorized the president to use force, as Kerry voted to do, and then backed off? And what would a Kerry administration do now? How could a President Kerry ask any young American to be the last one to die for a mistake?"
And that might require a more comprehensive response than a catchy soundbite.


Meanwhile in Sweden 

Apologies for sparse blogging yesterday. My host, Blogger, had a nervous breakdown (or "a simultaneous failure across multiple machines responsible for the publishing of Blog*Spot blogs"), which prevented publishing any new posts. Back to normal now, and fighting the good fight.

While you're here, Dave from Israellycool brings the news about a curious Palestinian conference currently taking place in Sweden. Check out
his posts on the topic.


George Bush and war leadership 

Andrew Sullivan irritates a lot of people on the right, including many readers of this blog, with his unusual mixture of strident anti-Bush and anti-Republican but pro-war on terror views. I continue to find him interesting to read, even as I argue with him, since it's more productive to debate somebody who shares the basic assumptions (the Western way of life is under attack, we are at war, etc.) - that way, at least, all the preliminaries having been settled, we can get down to business of talking about the ways and means and strategies.

Recently, Sullivan had these thoughts about
Bush, leadership and politicisation of war:
"Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the Republican convention and the Bush campaign is to present the president as a war-leader in the abstract... What I think the Republicans have realized is that the war on terror is far more popular and winning an issue for Bush if it is stripped of its actual events, and setbacks and triumphs and difficulties. That's why the convention rhetoric approached propaganda - focusing not on what has happened, but on the virtues of a strong war-leader. The dynamics of both wars - of instant military success, followed by damaging and difficult follow-through - were deliberately obscured. This is good politics; but it strikes me as risky war-management. People need leaders who level with them about failures and difficulties in wartime - not gauzy North Korean-style biopics about the invincibility of the Great Leader."
In reality, far from having a dig at George W, Sullivan has described all war leaders of note. War leadership is in many ways an abstract quality and great war leaders are not managerialists who dwell on the detail but those who can give a clear and inspiring big picture to the people they lead into conflict. The public face of war leadership is, opposite to what Sullivan argues, exactly about stripping the war of its detail, because detail distracts and confuses (also, let's not forget that nowadays we have the media to keep on reminding us - ad nauseam - about problems, failures, setbacks and defeats). What really matters is the grand narrative of the struggle. But sticking to it has nothing do to with projecting "the invincibility of the Great Leader" - I lost count how many times Bush and those close to him have made the point that we are at war, which will be a long and difficult one. I think people are increasingly accepting of this fact, even if the media isn't quite yet.

Sullivan goes on to bemoan the Republican-induced lack of bi-partisanship and inclusiveness:
"But then this war, vital as it is, has been exploited by the Bushies for political purposes since it began. How else to explain the 'Mission Accomplished' photo-op or the bare-knuckled 2002 Congressional campaign? Some on the left would have politicized this war under any circumstances. But others might have rallied to a war that was conducted with less hardball domestic politics. In this, Bush is, of course, the opposite of Churchill, who brought in opposition leaders to play key roles in his war-cabinet. I know that's not the American tradition, but a little less politics might have gone a long way. And made the middle-ground voter a little more sympathetic to the narrative that the Republicans are now so effectively deploying."
The crucial difference, of course, is that the war on terror is more akin to the Cold War than World War Two. If America were to be involved in another total conventional world conflict, I'm sure there would be a place at the table for the Liebermans - and maybe even the Kerrys - of the Democratic Party.

It's all to easy to romanticise the past. The war on terror is hardly the first conflict to have fractured the American body politic, and I'm not just talking about Vietnam. Sullivan seems to forget how much "hardball domestic politics" were involved throughout the Cold War. The Democrats, to their credit, started off with a succession of strong leaders, people like Truman, JFK, or Johnson, who today would be described as liberal hawks. But even during the age of the Democratic Cold Warrior we witnessed incessant debates about containment and roll-back, the missile gap and the bomber gap, not to mention who lost China or the space race. And these were the good times, because after 1968 the Democratic Party gave us Humphreys, McGovern, Carter, Mondale and the Congressional establishment that went to war with the Republicans on just about every issue of the conduct of the Cold War.

History repeats itself, not necessarily as Marx had said the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce, but deja-vu is, nevertheless, one of the most common realities of politics. History repeats itself, because while politicians would like to think they are addressing the better angles of our nature, we remain stubbornly all too human. And that's unlikely to change.


Wednesday, September 08, 2004


The American death toll in Iraq hits 1000, which John Kerry described as a "tragic milestone." It's a milestone that I'm sure, sadly, many hope will hang around George Bush's neck and pull him down come November - then the sacrifice will not be in vain.

Agence France-Presse for a change does something radical and actually asks the American soldiers themselves what they think:

"The deaths of 1,000 American troops in Iraq since the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein has only strengthened US resolve to restore security to the strife-torn country, soldiers said.

"Dismissing parallels with the 1961-75 war in Vietnam, officers lashed out at the media for playing the grim-reaper over the mounting casualty toll and failing to appreciate the sacrifices made by each soldier."
Captain Gregory Wingard, 39, at the 1st Infantry Division's Camp Warhorse near Baquba, north of Baghdad:

"It sucks. The newspapers glorify it. Everyday, reporting the numbers going up and up, trying to push a point... Sad as it is for those 1,000 families and their friends, they're nothing to the number of Iraqis that get killed trying to defend their own families... We are winning the hearts and minds... It's nothing like Vietnam."
Sergeant Kimberly Snow, 35, from Ohio:

"There's one word you have to push back at them. Gettysburg: 63,000 killed in a single day."
National Guard Major Tony Quinn, from North Carolina:

"If 1,000 died today, that'd be pretty significant, but its just another number."
Captain Michael Adams, 37, from Oregon:

"Every single soldier knows the risk. You do the best you can with your day and don't think about it. If I was to get killed tomorrow by an IED, I would not regret coming over here... Six months ago people were afraid of their own shadow. Now I've seen kids playing in the park, farmers are out working. Now they can have a chance at rebuilding their country."
Specialist Robert Bybee, 21, deployed in Tikrit:

"Obviously when you loose people, its a tragic time. But you don't loose morale. It strengthens your resolve."
To the American soldiers - thank you. As John Kerry pointed out, you make 90% of the troops on the ground and you take 90% of the casualties. Although these numbers are not quite right, it's true that you do most of the heavy lifting.

To the other soldiers in the Coalition of the Willing - also thank you. John Kerry has kindly described you as "500 troops here or there" and the value of your contribution and assistance to the Coalition in Iraq as "the phoniest thing I've ever heard." Don't mind him; you're there - France, Germany, Russia and Muslim countries are not, however much John Kerry dreams that would be the case.


Tuesday, September 07, 2004

CNN spins the bounce 

CNN seems to be quite happy to be able to bring you the smallest post-convention bounce in the polls. None of the double-digit leads of the Time or Newsweek polls here:
"The percentage of likely voters who said he was their choice for president rose from 50 right before the convention to 52 immediately afterward. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee, was the choice of 45 percent of the likely voters interviewed in the most recent poll. He had 47 percent in the poll taken August 23-25."
The conclusion, therefore, is pretty clear:
"Bush's convention bounce appeared to be 2 percentage points."
Or maybe not:
"Still, the 2 percentage point bounce could be illusory, since the poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points."
So maybe there's no bounce at all. And even if there is, it's nothing to brag about:
"Incumbents have gotten an average bounce of slightly more than 6 points in previous elections, so Bush's apparent bounce seems small by historical standards."
Here CNN has probably switched from likely to registered voters, but in any case this figure is actually just under 5.6% for the last seven incumbents, and just over 4.6% for the last three. But what's a few points between friends?

Alas, CNN does nothing to explain, or excuse, Bush's apparently minimal boost in their post-convention opinion poll. Which, coincidently, is what the venerable news channel did to Kerry's no-bounce after the Democrat convention, by giving plenty to opportunity for the Dem spin machine to spin the results away:
"The figures from this poll supported Democrats' statements leading up to the convention that Kerry would likely not see a 'bounce,' the term for a temporary increase in a candidate's support after a significant event. Democrats said the Kerry campaign was already riding a bounce going into the convention.

"Kerry's campaign argued that challengers historically run behind incumbents by about 15 points heading into a convention. Instead, Kerry entered the convention already polling neck and neck with Bush.

"Also, Kerry chose his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, earlier than any previous presidential hopeful, and received the bounce that usually accompanies that decision well in advance of the convention."
So when Kerry doesn't receive a bounce it doesn't matter because he's already been performing very well prior to that, whereas when Bush doesn't get it, well, he's underperforming. By historical standards, you know. True, Kerry might have been receiving his post-convention bounces pre-convention, but looking at the actual numbers, so has Bush: since July 8-11 to September 3-5 when the current poll has been taken, his support went up from 46% to 52% - that is by six points (and 5% among registered voters). Over the same period, Kerry's fell from 50% to 45% - or five points.

Oh well.


...and a funny headline of the day 

This, from the pundits at the Associated Press:

"Cheney May Help or Hinder Bush's Chances"
No wonder the media doesn't think there is anything wrong with John Kerry's "nuanced" approach to politics.


From a porch in West Virginia 

Some golden reporting from the campaign, from "The Daily Telegraph":

"Amid mounting concern in party circles over the state of his campaign, the Democratic candidate played the 'man of the people' card, appearing on a porch in sleepy, rural Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and challenging President George W Bush's record on health, education and finance...

"The setting - amid the clipped lawns and painted fences of middle America - should have been perfect for his rebranded message. Mr Kerry must have made thousands of such stops in his long political career, yet even his supporters conceded that for all their hopes of a new dawn, he still lacked the passion that is the hallmark of Mr Bush's campaigning.

"When he stepped on to the porch and greeted the family of the owner, a local trade unionist, he crossed his hands in front of him, looking distinctly awkward in his blazer and dark shirt.

"Mr Bush's campaign staff will have loved his opening comments, praising the limited menu of a local cafe. Mr Kerry said it was perfect 'for confused people like me who can't make up our minds about what we're going to eat' - words which would fit perfectly into a pro-Bush attack ad."
John Kerry: he can't make up his mind what to eat - how can he make up his mind how to lead?

Anne Pillion, a 38-year-old mother of four and a Canonsburg local, had this advice for Kerry: "He doesn't need to be more charismatic. He needs to find a way to get the message across. It's the packaging. It's not that he should reduce his message to a soundbite but people who are on the fence still don't know what he stands for." And who can blame them? Off the porch and speaking at a rally, Kerry
called the invasion of Iraq "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." This, only a month after he admitted he stood by his October 2002 vote to authorise the President to use force. Which seems either pretty stupid or pretty devious.

Kerry also indulged in some
word-play with George Bush's middle initial: "W stands for wrong — wrong choices, wrong judgment, wrong priorities, wrong direction for our country." Kerry should be careful - I can think of a few words which start with "F".


Unsavoury headline of the day 

AAP comments on Prime Minister John Howard's election promise:

"PM offers cash to remember war"
Actually, as the article explains, the Prime Minister has offered to provide funding of some A$7.8 million to help commemorate some significant anniversaries coming up next year, such as the 90th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli and the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Although if I had a dime every time I think about World War Two...


The neo-neo-conservatism revisited 

A few days ago I reflected on some leftists and moderates, who in the aftermath of S11 and Iraq have been increasingly rethinking some of their old beliefs and dearly held assumption about America and its place in the world. I compared this soul-searching and gradual movement to the right to the experience of an earlier generation of left-of-center intellectuals during the Cold War who subsequently went on to become known as neo-conservatives. I wondered whether we are perhaps seeing the repeat of the political journey and the birth of the next neo-conservative generation.

Some readers took it as an opportunity to reflect on their own current ideological stances; others weren't too happy about the old neo-cons, which suggests that even some on the right have now bought into the myth that this nefarious cabal is really in charge in Washington. Others still thought that we shouldn't waste time on talking about labels.

Glenn Reynolds, one of the people I had in mind as a moderate mugged by reality into supporting President Bush and the war on terror, wrote back "I thought only Jooz with names like Vulfervitz could be neocons!" thus suggesting to me an angle I haven't thought about before: if at least some of people I talked about - most of them Gentiles - turn out to be the neo-cons of the future, just imagine what spanner this will throw into the works of leftist and Islamist anti-Semites. Although I can still imagine some poor soul on a desperate search for the Zionist puppetmasters at the heart of the American Republic suggesting that Glenn's real surname is Reynoldsohn.

Dean Esmay, another pro-war moderate, wrote:
"I don't think I quite fit [the neo-neo-con] description for several reasons, not least of which is that I left the Democratic Party in disgust over the issue of school choice and their shabby treatment of small businesses some time ago. Then again, while I sometimes vote Republican, I'm no Republican either, and I staunchly refuse to call myself one. For a while I fancied myself a conservative but then realized that I wasn't one of those either. This was all before 9/11, although in many ways I came to consider myself less aligned with Republicans and less conservative after that watershed event."
Dean also noted that he feels a lot more comfortable with the term "neo-liberal." Lastly, he had this to say: "[T]he outcome of this November's election will say a lot about whether there is truly any 'neo-neo-conservative movement' to speak of." Maybe, maybe not. The point I made in my original post was that if we're indeed seeing the beginnings of the neo-neo-conservative movement, we are still at very early stages - the equivalent of the 1950s and 60s for the original neo-cons, where these former socialists and liberals only just started to break away from their former comrades over the issue of communism, but still had some years of thinking ahead of them before finally coming over to the right. The fact that Glenn and Dean and others don't feel themselves Republicans or conservatives yet at this point in time doesn't mean much - since it took the original neo-cons decades to get there, I don't expect any quick conversions today. Ultimately we will know - not after the 2004 presidential election, but the 2024 one.

It's nice to make such long term predictions - if I'm proven right eventually, I'll make sure to remind you all of that. If not - well - who will remember in twenty years' time anyway?


It's a mad, mad Tuesday 

Michael Moore will not be entering "Fahrenheit 911" into the Oscar competition for Best Documentary. He's going for the Best Picture Oscar instead. It would be too much to hope that this is a belated recognition of the fictional nature of the film.

Meanwhile, John Kerry, who very recently used a wheelchair-bound, triple amputee to
deliver his letters, has in a new sign of desperation kept a patient about to undergo a quadruple heart by-pass on the phone for 90 minutes. Cheeseburgers and extra fries will not kill Bill Clinton, but John Kerry just might.

And -
we were here first:

"Anthropologists stepped into a hornets' nest on Monday, revealing research that suggests the original inhabitants of America may in fact have come from what is now known as Australia. The claim will be extremely unwelcome to today's native Americans who came overland from Siberia and say they were there first.

"But Silvia Gonzalez from John Moores University in Liverpool said skeletal evidence pointed strongly to this unpalatable truth and hinted that recovered DNA would corroborate it... She said there was very strong evidence that the first migration came from Australia via Japan and Polynesia and down the Pacific Coast of America."
Far from Australia being the fifty first state of the United States, as left-wing critics are claiming, it's America which is the seventh state of Australia.


Monday, September 06, 2004

All in the same EU-Boat, Part 6 

It's that time of the month when we once again have a look at what's been going on among our European older cousins. We all know that Europe has reached a higher level of political, economic, social, not to mention moral, development than the rest of us mere mortals around the world. What can we, the uncultured, unsophisticated, unwashed, barbaric, tacky and ignorant masses learn from the Mother Continent this time around? Actually, probably only this:

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

In political news, the famous (albeit now rapidly aging) Italian porn star
Cicciolina (born Ilona Staller in Hungary) is planning a run for the mayor of Milan in 2005 on a platform of making this northern Italian city "an exciting place." Well may we say, she should know how to, but in addition to her other talents, Cicciolina has got plenty of political experience already under her garter belt:

"She entered politics in 1987 when she won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of [Italian] Parliament, on the Radical party ticket. Three years later, Staller publicly offered to have sex with Saddam Hussein if the then-Iraqi leader agreed to free foreigners being held hostage in Iraq before the Gulf War. Staller did not run for re-election at the end of her 5-year term, but her interest in politics remained -- she made a failed bid to get on the ballot for a parliamentary election in her native Hungary in 2002."
There's a lesson there for all of us: get screwed by Cicciolina, or risk getting screwed by the Americans.

Meanwhile in Belgium, the
European Union headquarters is preparing to reopen, true to form, "[s]even years late and three times over budget." It was shut down for renovations in 1991 after asbestos has been discovered in large quantities throughout the building.

"Incoming Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has already decided the new building will house all 25 European Commissioners, to foster team spirit. The new commissioners will enjoy grand offices on the top three floors of the 13-storey Berlaymont. They can expect five windows - on the basis of hierarchy - and an office of at least 75 square metres which will soon be filled with leather sofas and other trappings of euro power. The 230,000 square metre building will also be the workplace of 2,200 of the Commission's 18,000 Brussels-based staff.

"The large, bright reception hall resembles more a modern airport or shopping mall than the heart of Brussels bureaucracy. The building is also designed to withstand unhappy EU citizens: specially-fitted anti-demonstration windows will keep warring protesters at bay. The command centre of the EU HQ is on the 13th floor, where Barroso and his commissioners will meet for weekly strategy sessions. Entering the room gives the impression of walking into a sci-fi movie. Under a futuristic light fitting shaped like a large egg, an oval table is equipped with James Bond-like pop-up computers. A large, dark wall protrudes out over Europe's capital. Bullet-proof glass and protective walls will hopefully put paid to any terrorist attacks.

"To boost the Commission's tarnished public image, contractors have installed ground-breaking energy conservation technology. This includes reflective outside panels, which use heat sensors to warm the building in winter and keep it cool in summer. But the Berlaymont has been unable to distance itself completely from Greenpeace accusations that contractors may have used illegal Indonesian timber in the refurbishment process."
The Commission's public image might become further tarnished when the Euro-citizens learn that the total cost of reconstruction is expected to top 1 billion Euro. Oh well, the Commission will just have to put in even more energy-saving technology to placate the taxpayers (although a cynic might say that with 2,200 Commission employees "working" in the building, there won't be much energy expended anyway).

In international relations news, so much for the "ugly American" being the only one with an international image problem: according to a
poll conduced by the Emnid Institute, "63% of Germans have felt embarrassed at least once by other Germans while away on holiday. Asked what they found most annoying about other Germans, 88% said it was the noise they made. Excessive complaining (82%) and constant requests for German food (66%) were also frequently criticised, the Berliner Kurier reports. And 65% of people interviewed said they felt embarrassed to witness the bad dress sense of fellow Germans - including the notorious combination of socks and sandals."

Meanwhile, the French are starting to get
ignored even in Europe: "European Commission chief-in-waiting Jose Manuel Durao Barroso denied Friday that France had got a bad deal by being given the relatively lightweight transport portfolio in his new EU executive." The Franco-snubbing continues on the grass-roots level, too, with Spain eclipsing last year's favourite France as the biggest tourist destination in Europe. Maybe it's because there are too many noisy, complaining, tastelessly dressed German tourists in France. Then again, maybe not, as the research suggests that Germans like holidaying mostly in Italy, Austria and Turkey. So maybe it's just the French.

And maybe the French are
finally getting the hint: "French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier... told his country's 300 ambassadors and chief diplomats around the world to ditch arrogance for influence in their dealings and concentrate on projecting Paris's power through the European Union." After the meeting, the Foreign Minister was taken aside by a few senior officials who explained to him that Paris's power had run out sometime around 1940 and arrogance has been the only economical substitute since then.

Spain's good fortune in tourism stakes, meanwhile, may not continue for too long, as the local authorities are starting to
crack down on tourism companies and bars which encourage excessive consumption of alcohol among young tourists: "One newspaper in Catalonia has reported that a German operator is offering five hours of free drinks a day for its clients at their hotels in the Costa Brava resort of Calella. Some Dutch operators arrange to take their customers on a crawl of more than 10 bars on the first night of their holidays for a cost of just EUR 9, the newspaper added."

In defense and the war on terror news, a Belgian airliner was recently forced to make an emergency landing after an
"aggressive kitten" escaped from a box into the cockpit. According to another report, "The scared animal was 'very aggressive and scratched the co-pilot'."

The good news though, is that the Europeans are finally
waking up to danger: "Governments across the world must step up counter-terror cooperation to prevent a repetition of the Russian school hostage crisis, Dutch Foreign Minister and current European Union spokesman Bernard Bot said Friday. At the same time, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the conflict in Chechnya could only be solved through political means, warning Western governments against being drawn into a clash of civilisations with Muslims, but added: 'We have to defend our values, even under difficult circumstances'." Or maybe not. We might know once Europe makes up its mind.

Overall, European nations can breathe easier: after centuries of military adventurism, German army might finally be
too busy having sex to engage in new conquests:

"Germany has introduced a new guideline that allows both heterosexual and homosexual relationships between members of its armed forces, provided it involves two consenting adults.

"The Bild Daily has reported that while sex during work hours will continue to be considered a disruption of service operations, the new ruling will be pretty liberal on what soldiers do in their leisure time."
Blizkrieg might have worked well as a military doctrine, but being on the receiving end of a lightning-fast conquest might leave female soldiers rather unsatisfied.

In economic news, there are signs that Great Britain is catching the
Continental disease, as businesswoman Beryl King is "banned from asking for 'hard-working' staff in a job ad because it discriminates against the lazy." Then again, it's a good sign that in the UK even the lazy ones are still looking for work.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, French farmers continue their proud tradition of
rent-seeking: "French produce farmers upset by falling revenues due to oversupply and imports are staging disruptive protests to get help from the government, which is considering price-fixing that could violate EU competition rules. Milk producers invaded supermarkets in Lyon and other cities Thursday, putting stickers on milk cartons and bottles showing the prices they are getting paid versus the retail price. In Nancy, groups of farmers pushed shopping carts full of dairy products into the street without paying for them and handed them out for free to passers-by." Ah, the Golden Age when the government officials would push shopping carts full of taxpayers' money into picturesque village lanes and hand out the bundles of francs for free to passing farmers.

The Germans, too, are increasingly in the
doldrums: "Poverty levels in Germany are increasing, and greater discrepancy in wealth distribution is expected in coming years, according to Data Report 2004, a survey released by the Federal Statistics Office." As Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung comments: "When it comes to living standards, Germany has also slipped into Europe's mid-field. Not surprisingly then the report also concluded that Germans were among the least satisfied people in the 15 European countries surveyed in the EU before the accession of the 10 recent entrants." So the Germans are becoming an increasingly unhappy bunch: "Pessimism is spreading through German society, a survey released on Tuesday showed. The survey found that 34 percent of all Germans between 14 and 69 considered their situation to be worse today than it was two years ago. Last year, the total was 28 percent. "

But at least the Germans will be able to console themselves, thanks to an ingenuous invention created out of an old slot machine by an artist, Jennifer Baumeister. In the
Comfort XxL, "[a]t the push of a button, a screen shows a short video of somebody saying encouraging things... Baumeister videotaped some 100 people, and their messages range from two young women chanting 'You are great! You are beautiful! You are so fantastic!' to a man's more down-to-earth 'Remember, it could be worse'." Other suggested messages include: "Don't worry, you're still an economic superpower," "The future belongs to a Paris-Berlin axis," and "Remember, it could be worse - you could have reunited with the whole of the Eastern Europe, not just East Germany."

Not quite on the economic topic, but Comfort XxL reminds me of the new
talking Dutch toilets:

"The citizens of Amsterdam may now take counsel of talking toilets that expound on the perils of smoking or the futility of war and berate them on hygiene and cleanliness. The first such toilets, fitted with sensors to detect exactly what visitors do and to pass comment if appropriate, were installed in a central Amsterdam cafe... Depending on circumstances, the toilet might remind you to wash your hands or ask you to lift the seat."
The last time a toilet spoke to me was some years ago, when I was really drunk, so unfortunately I can't remember its exact words, but I think it might have been "You are great! You are beautiful! You are so fantastic!" Another thought: has the European Union been getting the ideas for its foreign policy lately from a talking toilet?

Finally, and back on the economic subject, the new
European currency is proving too much for some: "A dog in Germany has been treated for an expensive case of indigestion after eating a wad of Euro notes.

"The dog's owner, a woman from Stockstadt, had withdrawn 450 euros (£300) and left them under a bank statement on the passenger seat of her car. Later when she returned to her car after shopping, the money was gone and she found her dog had collapsed in a pool of vomit.

"Believing someone had broken into the car, poisoned the dog and stolen her money, the woman called police. Officers took the owner and dog to the nearest veterinary surgery. They quickly realised what had really happened when the dog began coughing up six 50 euro notes. The rest of the money soon followed, along with the bank balance sheets. 'The dog just kept spitting out pieces of money,' said a police spokesman."
Who needs an Automatic Teller Machine when you have a dog?

In culture and the arts news, from the "
it had to happen one day" file: "A cleaner at the Tate gallery [in Great Britain] threw out a modern art exhibit because she thought it was rubbish. She thought the piece, cardboard and paper and wrapped in a see-through binliner, was a sack of litter... She had no idea it was all part of an installation by German artist Gustav Metzgerand displayed on the floor at London's Tate Britain. Metzger's work, First Public Demonstration Of Autodestructive Art, stood proudly in the gallery's Art And The Sixties display." We don't need more artists, we need more cleaners.

The Bosnian city of Mostar, meanwhile, will
immortalise the kung-fu legend Bruce Lee by building a monument in the centre of the city: "A statue of the action hero is intended to remind people of Lee's 'loyalty, friendship, skill and justice'. The city remains ethnically split with Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs divided since the 1992-95 war. Writer Veselin Gatalo said: 'Lee is a true international hero and is a hero to all ethnicities in Bosnia and that's why we picked him'." Enter the Dragonovic, perhaps?

Across the border, the parliament of Serbia-Montenegro has
failed to approve the country's new national anthem in time for the Athens Olympics. "[T]he head of the Serbian Orthodox church denounced the new tune - a hybrid of an old Serbian song and a new Montenegrin one - as a 'centaur'." It's unknown which part of the anthem is human and which one resembles horse's ass.

commercialisation of tragedies arrives in Europe: "The man in Germany convicted earlier this year of killing and partially devouring his homosexual lover has sold film and book rights to his case for an undisclosed sum." In the United States he probably wouldn't get much time to make money out of his deeds before getting executed. How barbaric!

And still in Germany, a victory over the
American cultural imperialism is achieved: German children no longer have to be intimidated by a Malibu Barbie, now that "James Waldron, head designer for the fashion label Rena Lange, has created a special Oktoberfest Barbie wearing an Alpine dirndl dress - complete with beer jug." Speaking of traditional German fashion, "[d]emand for traditional German clothing such as lederhosen for dogs is said to be increasing in the run up to Oktoberfest." As long as dogs don't wear socks and sandals.

In history news, a Swedish geographer has discovered the secret that so far had eluded generations of historians: Ireland is really
Atlantis: "Geographer Ulf Erlingsson, whose book explaining his theory will be published next month, says the measurements, geography, and landscape of Atlantis as described by Plato match Ireland almost exactly. 'I am amazed no one has come up with this before, it's incredible,' he told Reuters." We agree.

Meanwhile, somewhat more recent - and real - history is at stake in Germany, as the last remaining 1.3 kilometre stretch of the
Berlin Wall is falling into disrepair. Because of the uncertainty as to who owns the wall, no one is volunteering with the necessary 1.5 million euro to fix it.

Other German-related history continues to cause problems across Europe. A heated controversy has erupted in Estonia, as town of Lihula unveils a
monument to commemorate Estonians who had died during World War Two while fighting alongside the Nazis. "This monument is for people who had to choose between two evils, and they chose the less evil one. They had already experience of the Soviet occupation, and they didn't want it to come back," said Tiit Madisson, the governor of the Lihula parish. A plaque on the monument reads: "To Estonian men who fought in 1940-1945 against Bolshevism and for the restoration of Estonian independence." The Croats are having similar problems, with the authorities urging the village of Lovinac to pull down a plaque commemorating a minister in the collaborationist World War Two government.

In sensitivity and tolerance news, can it get any more
sensitive than this? "A leading German dictionary publisher plans to launch a guide it says will help men translate the subtext of female conversation. The Langenscheidt publishing group, best known for its well-respected yellow foreign language dictionaries, will launch sales of a 128-page book to translate such baffling female banter as: 'Let's just cuddle' into 'No sex tonight please!'." A one-page guide on the subtext of male conversation is coming soon.

In Holland, meanwhile, an attempt at
a PC censorship: "A Dutch group wants to ban the word 'thin' from the dictionary because it's insulting to underweight people. The group, called Small Intestines Anonymous, represents people who struggle to put on weight. They say the word 'thin' is a term of abuse used by 'fat over-rulers' to put down slender people." I'm sure the activists will be able to work an anti-American angle into it.

Back in Germany, men are losing their last
bastion of masculinity: "German men are being shamed into urinating while sitting down by a gadget which is saving millions of women from cleaning up in the bathroom after them. The WC ghost, a £6 voice-alarm, reprimands men for standing at the lavatory pan. It is triggered when the seat is lifted. The battery-operated devices are attached to the seats and deliver stern warnings to those who attempt to stand and urinate (known as 'Stehpinkeln')." Why not instead manufacture toilets with the seat permanently attached down? And won't the WC ghost simply make German men urinate standing but without lifting the seat?

In the media news, the notoriously stuffy British TV is becoming
more watchable: "Starting nightly on August 16, Get Lucky TV will broadcast via satellite to European audiences the daily news read by a series of nubile young women who will gradually -- but tastefully -- remove their clothes on camera." One of the news anchors, Lily Kwan, says: "I got into Naked News very accidentally. I was actually studying to become a dental hygienist. I was attending school when I soon realized that I needed something a bit more creative to cultivate my creativity." Not to mention her vocabulary.

Meanwhile, the Olympic officials were attempting to get the
Greek edition of "Playboy" off the shelves for "brutal insult" to the spirit of the Olympics: "Headlines such as '2004 seconds of ecstasy' and 'Go for a Sexathon gold' corrupts the Olympic image, they say. Playboy also contains headlines such as 'Gianna's wild Rogge and Roll' - a reference to International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge and Athens 2004 chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. It also sports a cartoon of the Olympic rings composed of condoms."

In health news, a British builder who woke up from a
41 day coma has told his mother to "f*** off". Joan Hopkins, 39, is reported to have cried with relief: "I told the nurse I'd know when he was getting better because he'd swear at me... It was such a relief - it was his way of telling me he was going to be all right. He hasn't stopped talking since." Unfortunately.

In education news, teachers at a fundamentalist Christian school in Norway have complained to the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority that the school's headmaster keeps
trying to exorcise them. In the past, the school was criticised by the Inspection Authority for listing Jesus Christ as its executive manager (that's not a joke, by the way).

Meanwhile in Germany, when in doubt -
sue: "A German teacher ended up in the dock and was ordered to give a pupil higher marks after her parents complained their daughter should have been given better grades... The couple's legal team claimed that the questions posed in assignments were unfair because they were phrased in an ambiguous way, and demanded that the child be marked up and allowed to enter grammar school. The judges agreed - and corrected the marks on one assignment by two grades, giving the girl top marks on the paper. Another assignment was awarded a higher mark as well." At least the American judges only decide the outcome of presidential elections.

And in Romania, a
Star Wars academy has opened its doors to aspiring Jedi knights. It "teaches about the religion of the Jedi, use of the light sabre and speaking in Wookiee has opened its doors in Romania... The academy is also offering special modules for true devotees, like cooking some of the dishes seen in the Star Wars films including Wookiee Cookies, Princess Leia Danish donughts, Sand Trooper sandwiches and Twin Sun toasts." Don't you sometime get the impression that some of your lectures got their academic qualifications from a Star Wars academy?

In law and order news, the classic "Sir, would you like to
buy a bridge?" offer became a reality, thanks to seven enterprising thieves in Bosnia: "A rare iron bridge that survived three wars has been stolen by a gang of scrap metal dealers. The bridge near the city of Mostar came through the Balkans war of the 1990s because locals covered it with sandbags. The 40ft bridge had been built by Imperial architects from the Austro-Hungarian empire... [The police] said the bridge sections were sold to a local scrap yard for £90, where most of them were melted down before they could be saved."

In Norway, the authorities have developed a novel way to
fight road congestion: "Renathe Opedal was hopelessly stuck in traffic during rush hour when an overeager attendant slapped her with a $73 parking ticket." A speeding ticket would have been more surreal.

Prostitutes in Basel, Switzerland, are taking to wearing
roller skates so that they can faster escape the police. Speaking of Eurohookers, "German prostitutes have rejected the first ever employment contract created by union officials. The refused to sign the deal, which includes six weeks holiday and a pension, because they are to embarrassed to admit what they do. The union contract attempts to regulate everything from the duties of a 'sex worker' to working hours and holiday claims." We won't take it laying down, said the prostitutes' representative, announcing the strike action.

In related news, a gang of robbers in Norway was
caught on video tape by a crew making a porn movie. I'm sure the tape will be extensively copied and distributed throughout the Norwegian police force - for training purposes, of course.

Meanwhile, in Holland, a
fetish panic: "The Dutch Labor party wants to pass a law making unsolicited toe-licking an offence after police were unable to prosecute a would-be Casanova with a taste for female toes because he had committed no crime."

In Spain, a German prisoner and his girlfriend have
glued their hands together during a prison visit, in order to fight the man's extradition back to Germany. As the old Spanish police saying goes, the couples that stick together get extradited together.

And in Belgium,
identity problems: "Christina Lauwers from Antwerp was informed by the Central Administration for the Registration of Vehicles they could not register the car in her name because she died two years ago. She said: 'They wouldn't accept my word that I was still alive. They said they based their information on official data by the Belgian central administration'." Government after all, knows best.

Finally, one for the
legal aficionados: "The Dutch Catholic Church has gone to court to force insurer Aegon to reimburse a damages pay-out to a girl who was sexually abused by a priest. The Bishop of Rotterdam claims the abuse was an industrial accident and was covered by the Church's liability insurance." Better than an Act of God, I guess.

In sports news, the
Cold War is finally over in swimming, as the last world record held by East Germany is finally consigned to history: "Natalie Coughlin, Carly Piper, Dana Vollmer and Kaitlin Sandeno of the US bettered the longest-standing world record in women's swimming, in the 4x200 metres freestyle relay to 7:53.42 minutes. The former mark of 7:55.47 was set by East Germans Manuela Stellmach, Astrid Strauss, Anke Moehring and Heike Friedrich on the day 17 years ago, on August 18, 1987, at the European championships in Strasbourg."

Elsewhere, a
great victory for Finland:
"A Finnish man and a Belarussian woman won a competition for sitting in a blisteringly hot sauna on Sunday, with both nations keeping the world titles in the bizarre endurance test.

"Leo Pusa, 56, a three times former champion took back the title won by a fellow Finn last year, spending almost 12 minutes in the 110 degrees Celsius (230 degrees Fahrenheit) heat."
First prize: brain.

Russia today,
Olympics tomorrow? "If you've ever seen a rubber woman, you know it must take a lot of imagination to, er, handle her the way you're supposed to. Some Russian men and women apparently have even more imagination to spare - 126 of them used inflatable sex dolls as flotation devices to raft down rapids in the vicinity of St. Petersburg. The second Bubble Baba Challenge (in Russian, baba stands for 'woman,' only unlike the other word for woman, zhenschina, conveys not a shred of respect) was held on the Vuoksa river that runs in northwestern Russia a year after the first contest." Now all the embarrassed lonely men going into sex shops can pretend they're swimming enthusiasts.

And lastly, in animal news, Russia's president Putin is the
new poster boy for kindness to animals, after he'd nursed back to health a seagull with a broken wing he had found lying on the grounds of his villa. "Quite how the bird made it into grounds of the high-security presidential dacha is a mystery. But it got lucky: the president decided to look after it." Lucky for the seagull it wasn't from Chechnia.

And in France, authorities have closed down the
Paris zoo "after employees went on strike to denounce its dangerously rundown state... Parts of it were closed to the public last month because of falling debris from the artificial rock caverns and mounds that surround an even bigger, 65-metre (210-foot) high fake mountain." I say, if they can't run a zoo, how can they run the world?

But enough of this madness for one day - see you all next time.


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