Sunday, September 30, 2007

Paris Hilton on Letterman


Not usually known for being particularly critical, Letterman takes a few swings at Paris Hilton:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NYC Part 1

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Mark Mardell

Mark Mardell on the Dutch Referendum discussion:

Another Dutch No?
Mark Mardell 21 Sep 07, 12:15 AM

People whistle through the Binnenhof’s cobbled square on their bikes, scarcely giving a glance to either the rather lovely understated architecture or the politicians bustling in and out of the many ministries.

This part of The Hague could be a quiet monument to democracy. Even a rather showy fountain in brown and gold doesn’t undermine the impression of a rather harmonious relationship between the rulers and the people who chose them.

The office of the Dutch Prime Minister in one courtyard, the entrance to the upper and lower houses of parliament in another, various ministries scattered around these two unpretentious courtyards, which have long been the seat of the government of the Netherlands.

But when cabinet ministers meet at Number 19 later today, will they give the people a say over the new European Reform Treaty?

My strong guess is No, but as you’ll see that won’t quite be the end of the story.

The Dutch government is a coalition. The dominant partners, the Christian Democrats, are - like all the governments in the European Union - in favour of the treaty and anxious to avoid a referendum. Gordon Brown too will be hoping they don’t hold one.

It was of course the Dutch who nailed the constitution. Days after the French voted "Non" their "Nee" made sure it was in effect dead. This saved Tony Blair from holding a referendum he never wanted. But a second Dutch referendum now would put wind in the sails of those who want one in Britain and pile the pressure on Mr Brown.

Curious allies

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, a Christian Democrat, said I would have to wait and see what the cabinet decided but he was sure there would be a unanimous decision.

"We listened to the Dutch public, they said No to the constitutional treaty, now we have a treaty which is completely different," he said. "It is not forecasting a European superstate, there is a clear division between what should be decided in member states and what should be decided in Europe."

The Dutch Christian Democrats have very curious allies in their argument. The Christian Union shot to prominence during the referendum campaign, noisily and successfully championing a No. So you would think their position would be obvious. But they don’t like referendums, and never have.

But it's not just that. One of their MPs, Esme Weigman, told me: "The new treaty is just a modification of the Treaty of Nice, it's another situation from when we had a constitutional treaty. The decisions during the summit in June were very good."

They now have three seats in the cabinet so I suggested that cynics might say the reason for their change of heart was obvious, that they were now part of the government and wanted to stay part of it.

She said, "Yes, people say the Christian Union has changed. But it's not the Christian Union that has changed but the cabinet that has changed on Europe. The most important thing is now Europe will go forward in co-operation but not go forward to a United States of Europe."

The problem for the Dutch government is their Labour Party partners. It's the party's policy to hold referendums. Even though it is for the treaty.

The Dutch parliament is a rather wonderful building, combing old and new with sweeping empty halls and strange giant mobiles hanging in the air. Comfy too: I wish we had had squishy leather sofas and flat-screen TVs during my days at Westminster. It makes the traditional journalistic job of hanging around to “doorstep” ministers a lot more comfortable.


The most interesting politician I spoke to was Labour's Luuk Blom. He said: "I’m in favour of a referendum It's part of our programme, referendums are a new way to decided things in a country, to link people more closely to politics. You have to take the people very seriously. The No was a very strong No... I’m in favour of a referendum, and the chances are 50/50."

But he likes the treaty and was obviously in some agonies about what the people might decide if they did get that vote, a view that I think is very common among the political class in the Netherlands, and indeed elsewhere.

"Is it possible to take a No this time? Holland would be in a very difficult position in Europe. We’d be on the bench in football terms. When the Dutch said No two years ago there was a possibility to start new negotiations. That’s not possible any more. This treaty is it. So if we said No, would we be in the European Union? Maybe that should be the question."

The parliament is open to a constant stream of visitors who come to listen to the debates and look at the building. But during the time I was there I never saw anyone approach the displays and the giant yellow flags that cover one wall and part of the floor, emblazoned with the question "Hoezo EU?" ("What’s the EU about?")

There were different views, of course, from those I spoke to, but none of the No-voters said they were happy with the new treaty. In fact none of them mentioned the treaty itself: their complaints were broader.

Professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam Jos de Beus surprised me, telling, me that he thought a referendum was likely. He added: "The mood is Eurosceptic, there is no sense of European identity. There is still a sense that the European space is a space of globalisation, of Islamisation, that Brussels is a superstate. The climate is still quite volatile, so the government is afraid of a second failure. It's still quite easy for the Eurosceptics to win a referendum."

This is exactly the fear of politicians that people, supposedly voting on a technical matter, will give the answer to a big political question, and an answer which most European politicians do not like - and regard in fact as untenable, unpractical, unworkable.



Pajiba is the best review site on the internet, and sometimes they have silly stuff, too.

To illustrate, this is their review of the glorious DOA: Dead or Alive:

Will Someone Please Bash Me to Death With a Truncheon?

DOA: Dead or Alive / Phillip Stephens

In my loftier moments I’ve often wondered if there are any truly redeeming merits to be found in writing about movies. Trying to gauge an art form is a tenuous business, especially when most of our intellectual traditions accept relativism to the degree that ours does. Often film reviews are mired in a subjectivity that bashes or defends their charge based on expectation, personal preference, or any myriad of reasons that can’t rightly fit into an objective mold, even if we assume one exists at all.

To further muddle things, what does one make of a film’s self-consciousness, of its actively choosing style or content that can’t help but draw derision from those who’d judge it against? Is it ridiculous to take a subject matter seriously when those responsible had no intention of extending the viewer the same courtesy?

My point in bringing all this up — DOA: Dead or Alive, a film based on a series of fighting games, is so bad it defies description. Truly, there’s not one line of dialogue that doesn’t grate in your head like bagpipes in a garbage disposal, not one cheap, gratuitous shot of nubile flesh that doesn’t make your eyes roll, not one plot incongruity that doesn’t make you question the existence of a benevolent deity.

The plot is so repellant that I’m not going to waste precious seconds of my life rehashing it. Suffice to say: three women, all of whom are ambulatory tits with no higher-brain function, compete in a fighting tournament and kung-fu kick the Christ out of each other while an evil Eric Roberts (of-fucking-course it’s Eric Roberts) plans to take over the world with sunglasses that can predict the future. Also, Jaime Pressly is top-billed. It’s so ridiculous it just might have worked …

The thing is, there are already hordes of apologists for Dead or Alive who are positively hailing the film for exactly the same reasons I would decry it, mostly those primordial twats who haunt the IMDb message boards: “This movie isn’t trying to win any awards, so why not have fun with it JAYKAYLOLBBQ?” It sounds reasonable, sure, but I personally have a hard time having “fun” with a film that causes me to hate the rest of humanity for tacitly endorsing said fun in such vapid, visceral terms. If you want bikinied bimbos, get some porn; if you want ludicrous kung-fu violence and its accompanying aesthetic, play the same video game this crap is based on; if you want to see Eric Roberts ever work again, please keep that knowledge to yourself and hide your shame from the rest of the world until you’re dead.

Self-conscious stupidity is still stupidity, people, and Dead or Alive is so stupid it would give ass-cancer to lab rats. It’s too big a risk to say that in the proper context this film could be enjoyed, because that context could range from sheer mental ineptitude to the imbibement of lethal quantities of alcohol. Is it fair to ask someone to effectively cripple their cerebrum in the off chance that they would maybe derive some pleasure from this ignominy? I fucking hope not.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

And this is something silly I found on their site:

Bush pronounces Mandela dead

Friday, September 14, 2007

Obsidian Wings


The single best blog about all things Iraq is Obsidian Wings. This is the entry of today:

Bush's Pointless Speech
by hilzoy

In a move that caught all of Washington by surprise, President Bush announced tonight that he will begin drawing down troops at almost exactly the rate that he must draw them down unless he is prepared to extend troop rotations or institute the draft. In another startling move, he described this drawdown not as forced on him by deployment schedules, but as a "return on success": the tremendous success of the surge. In so doing, once again, our President shows himself to be a true visionary: seeing things invisible to ordinary men and women. Where we see only a country in the process of falling apart, our more discerning President sees success. Where we see millions of people fleeing their homes, he sees 'civil society taking root'. And, somehow, he sees "a young democracy" where we see dead people.

And to top it all off, where we see a President determined to keep our troops in harm's way for as long as possible, hoping that the civil war unleashed by his folly will unfold on someone else's watch, he sees a chance, "for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together." Although why he thinks this is so novel escapes me: it has always been possible for both sides to come together if all those who disagree with George W. Bush simply abandon their positions, and this is not the first time he has suggested that we embrace this sort of bipartisanship.

The President also said this:

"In the life of all free nations, there come moments that decide the direction of a country and reveal the character of its people. We are now at such a moment."

Here, for once, I agree completely. We have had clear evidence that our policy in Iraq is unworkable for some time. We need to decide what to do about it. And we have, essentially, two choices. On the one hand, we can face up to this fact, as unpleasant as it might be, and figure out the most honorable way of extricating ourselves. On the other, we can continue to defer the moment when we have to realize that we have failed, and go on sacrificing good and decent men and women to our unwillingness to face the truth.

This will, as President Bush says, reveal our character as a people. I would much rather it reveal some capacity for maturity and decency than a willingness to ask people to die so that we can pretend we haven't lost.


And by the way: don't you love all those youth and growth metaphors? "A young democracy", for instance: if you have a young anything, just give it the food and care and love that it needs, and it will grow. "For lasting reconciliation to take root": if you have a plant, and you set it in good soil and water it conscientiously, its roots will grow. If Iraq were a child or a plant, then the surge -- whose entire aim is to provide the conditions in which reconciliation can flourish and democracy can grow to maturity -- would be exactly what was needed.

When I hear these metaphors, I think: it's as though Bush had planted a stone in fertile soil, and watered it, and said: any moment now, it will put down some roots and begin to grow! Eventually, it will become a boulder!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007



No, he's not mine.
And he isn't my sister's, either.
This is Stijn, and his mother is my cousin.

And this is my grandmother (and his great-grandmother):

More Pictures here.

Wallström Blog


What can I say? Hans-Gert Pöttering, the President of the European Parliament, spoke at the opening of the academic year here on Monday, and I was inspired. (And irked.) So I overcame my reluctance and wrote another rant for the Wallström Blog, even though the only people who ever read those comments are those that agree with me already, and a bunch of Eurosceptics from Britain who wouldn't be convinced no matter what I say.

More pictures from the opening are here.

martinned Says:

September 12th, 2007 at 10:15 am

Robin Says, September 11th, 2007 at 9:57 pm:

Ben Murphy,

Floods of bilge,nonsense,infantile, slurry, morons, shrill, wrong headed,unpleasant characters,xenophobic.

That’s rich! A nice case of the pot calling the kettle black. Mr. Murphy, as far as I can see, has stated his case [fairly and reasonably], after I’d already been worn out by incessant Eurosceptic drivel. It takes real stamina to keep repeating the same arguments over and over, knowing that most likely none of the Eurosceptic gentlemen you’re aiming them at will honestly listen to them even a little bit.

Yes, we have to go out and sell the EU to the population better. One advantage of a referendum is certainly that it forces us to do that. Which reminds me, a propos democratic deficit, this is an article by (intergovernmentalist pioneer) Andrew Moravcsik on the issue. I can recommend it. So if we can get over such myths as the no-demos thesis and the mythical democratic deficit (I don’t know about others, but over here it is virtually impossible to form a government without Christian-Democrats, i.e. virtually impossible to vote them out of government, just to give an example.) It would also be nice to drop any rubbish about EU bureaucracy (fewer civil servants than the city of Amsterdam, and that includes the translators, if I’m not mistaken). Corruption, finally, is also at least partially a myth, because the main reason why the Court of Auditors have not been able/willing to sign off on the budget for the last X years is that their standards are simply much more strict than those of any single Member State. (Again an example of the EU trying to be sweeky clean, cleaner than clean.) I just took a sample from Crapaud’s post, above.

Lord knows there is a lot wrong with the EU. In part because the Member States have never allowed it to be run in the way I’d like to see it run. (I.e. as a proper bicameral parliament with the Commission as an executive.) But Eurosceptics cannot on the one hand argue that there are so many things wrong with the EU while at the same time arguing for more veto-points and opt-outs. Because the writers of the Treaty, as well as the people on the ground today, have always been concious that they needs widespread support every step of the way, the legislation created is sketchy, rickety and often inconsistent. Yes, under EU law it is allowed to treat your own citizens more poorly than citizens of other Member States, but what country would want to do that??? Telling Member States what they can or cannot do in legislating their own citizens in such general terms would surely violate the principle of subsidiarity? The EU is the way it is for a reason, a reason explained by history, both the history of world wars I and II, when early integration efforts organised by Jean Monnet between France and the UK (world war I) and between the UK and the US (world war II) significantly helped the Allied cause, and Europe’s history since the war. Path depencency, people.

Of course, the British are welcome to s**d off, if they don’t want to be a part of our glorious experiment. Norway is doing fine as a part of the EEA, although that does of course mean they pay large sums of money into the budget without any say in how they are spent. I guess with all their oil money they don’t really have to care. In any event, whether this experiment will turn out as self-destructive as Yugoslavia is largely a matter of PR. Just like power-hungry politicians in Yugoslavia turned neighbours into enemies, this might happen at an EU level. Personally, I would think that example would be all the more reason to minimise nationalist rhetoric, given that quite obviously nationalism is spawn from hell, but that’s just me.

Part II:

martinned Says:

September 13th, 2007 at 3:19 am


To start with the bureaucracy point: I figured I’d start by establishing some facts that we might be able to agree on, i.e. that there’s not that many eurocrats to begin with. Having achieved at least that, I’m afraid I’m going to have to do an impolite thing, and debate the premise instead of the main argument. Yes, I do know how the EU works, and yes, I have seen legislation in action, as well as on paper, and I’m afraid the excess bureaucracy perception is just that: perception. I can certainly think of cases where EC legislation has led to more paperwork than strictly necessary, but mostly that’s just things that never cause any trouble for ordinary citizens. For example, I don’t even want to think about how many rapporting requirements were put into the final version of the services directive. However, those rapports have to be written by national civil servants, and they were put in place so that the law makers could dispense with any more drastic measures to assure compliance, or, alternatively, so that they could dispense with taking any measures at all. As far as I can tell, much of the alleged EU bureaucracy is of this type, and that hardly seems enough to warrant the displeasure of our friends accross the channel. An admitted exception is the Common Agricultural Policy, which is a monster and which should be abolished yesterday rather than tomorrow. (As usual, understandable political issues have gotten in the way so far, but the fight goes on!) Some examples would be nice.

In other news:
- If Britain wants to discriminate against its own citizens, (I don’t know that they do, but I’ll take the Brits’ word for it.) don’t you reckon that’s the kind of thing you ought to take up with your own national government? Just a thought.
- We still seem to be confused about the merits of unfettered democracy. In any country, democracy is limited by measures that are in place to prevent a tyrrany by the majority. However, such a general philosophical discussion was out of place on this blog the last time I went there, so I suggest we not try that again. I recommend The Federalist numbers 10 and 14. Fact of the matter is that to have referenda about everything is undoubtedly more democratic, the more the better, but that does not necessarily make it a good thing.
- Of course corruption happens in the EU, just like everywhere else. That’s why we have OLAF. I’d say the Santer commission resigning was a resounding success in the fight against corruption. For other examples, I’d say the most recent one is the mess the Walloon Socialist Party (PS) is in at the moment. They got crushed in the election in June as a result.
- Finally, I cannot do better than point to any good text on the history of the European Union, ideally Moravscik’s ‘From Messina to Maastricht’ (which caused a bit of an uproar when it was first published, on account of it being so cynical about the EU, but it is without question the best analysis of why the treaty changes turned out the way they did, with ample background materials to back it up). Generally, the Member States got exactly what they wanted. There is no magic in play, no Commission hypnotist forcing negotiators to agree to things they did not really want. Sometimes countries said no after negotiating (eg. Norway), sometimes additional opt-outs were included. Sometimes they cheat. (Sweden on the euro, several big Member States on the budget rules for the Eurozone) In the 1960s and 70s, when there was no support for further integration, the whole project stood still, and there is a good chance that that will happen again in the near future. (I’m not optimistic about the reform treaty’s chances of being ratified by all 27 Member States.) For my taste, I think mrs. Merkel has pushed too hard. This time last year, I did the math and estimated they would not be able to put something together until some time in 2009 or 2010. (After the elections, at the same time as the negotiations about the second half of the budget cycle, probably during the Swedish presidency.) Clearly I was wrong, in part because the French elected themselves a pretty pro-EU president, and in part because I was wrong about the big Member States’ theoretical inability to reach such results during their presidencies. (In the past, the best deals have usually been made by medium-sized Member States that are big enough to have enough diplomats, but not so big that the others are annoyed at being pushed around.) My point is, I don’t see how anyone can look at the history of the EU and see anything other than an endless string of one compromise after another.

P.S. I, too, “can accept that there is a valid, debatable, viewpoint which is not coincident with mine”, and it certainly wasn’t my intention to disparage anyone’s “intellectual capabilities” (except maybe Marcel’s). However, I am getting a little tired of this discussion, because it feels like I’m talking to a wall. Nothing I say seems to sink in even a little bit. (I’m fortunate we’ve at least established we agree on how few Eurocrats there actually are, even if we don’t agree on what that means.) I imagine quite a few of my honourable opponents must feel the same way, even if they seem to have more stamina than I do. Logically, what this means is that we must be arguing at the wrong level. If, in a discussion, A says something that is true, and, in reply, B says something that is also true, and so on and so forth, without them ever agreeing, theory dictates they should examine their premises. And if that doesn’t work, they should examine the premises of their premises, until, finally, they reach common ground. In practice, it doesn’t always work that way, but talking about such things as democracy vs. civil liberties and referenda vs. delegated democracy helps clear some things up. To the extent that my disagreements with some of the other commenters are caused by our different appreciation for referenda, generally, there is no need for frustration. On such points, we can simply agree to disagree, and leave it at that. It would be nice to resolve some more sub-issues or premises like that, but I’m not immediately sure where to look…

Part III:

martinned Says:

September 14th, 2007 at 1:18 pm

@Robin (last time I meant to write to a number of other commenters at the same time): We almost agree on how the bureaucratic system works: the EU legislator, first and foremost, determines the kind of rapports that are to be written, etc. Where the legislation requires blanks to be filled in, this is usually arranged through comitology (where the MS again have the most important vote). Authority to do things is usually given either to the Commission, or to national authorities, but rarely such that the Commission can boss MS around without a direct basis in treaty or secondary legislation. (Example, what you would see is that a directive compels MS to write a rapport every three years about their progress on something or other, and then the Commission’s civil servants would be tasked with making sure these rapports are actually written, as well as with reading them.)

In addition to this, there is of course the Commission’s own authority under the Treaty, which is mainly investigative in nature and which I don’t think anyone would want to abolish. (Investigating state aids and measures having equivalent effect.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, excess red tape is not an inherent consequence of the Community’s existence any more than it is a consequence at a national level of national government existing. Any state authority will always involve more red tape than a private corporation, because potentially more power is wielded with fewer guidelines as to how. Both at a national level and at the level of the Community, efforts are constantly under way to streamline the workings of the civil service, with varying levels of success. To the extent that one is unhappy about the efforts so far, the more constructive thing to do would be to suggest alternatives.

If your government blames the EU for discriminating against their own citizens, they might as well be blaming Santa Clause. I hardly see how that’s a problem for the Commission, or for the EU generally.

I’m not sure how good your German is, but earlier this month a study was published by the Swiss Commission against Discrimination: German version, French version, Italian version. They concluded that the Swiss system for deciding whether someone should be able to acquire Swiss citizenship, which requires a referendum in the person’s municipality of residence, is inherently discriminatory because it discriminates against muslims, non-Europeans generally and the handicapped. The recommendation is to use the same procedure as other countries, with a civil servant deciding. Referenda are democracy, but are they always a good idea?

I’m curious how EU member ship affected your business. Generally, one would expect that having access to the common market would give competitive business the opportunity to sell to more customers, would give uncompetitive businesses a problem, and would leave those trading in “untradeables” largely unaffected. However, I’m going to go ahead and guess that your problems weren’t quite that simple.

Would you like me to go over the general list again? Peace in our time, a strong voice of reason in international relations instead of many weak voices, economic prosperity due to a large common market, freedom and democracy guaranteed for all European citizens.

P.S. Cool story that I read about yesterday: In May 1940, while being busy doing the same thing he’d been doing in World War I, i.e. setting up an Anglo-French pool of resources, Jean Monnet went a few hundred steps further, and proposed merging the UK and France into a single country. Churchill’s cabinet accepted, but the French government resigned over this. (The French PM, Reynaud, wanted to sign on, but semi-fascist conservatives like Pétain were dead against.) Monnet’s French language wikipedia page explains it better than the English one.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Haka


Now that the Rugby World Cup has begun again, here's the New Zealand team's Haka:

And again:

This is what it is supposed to look like:

This is the Samoan Rugby team doing their national equivalent:

And finally, Tonga and New Zealand doing opposing hakas:

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bill Hicks


This is what I did this weekend: I watched Bill Hicks. (If you're wondering why these clips look so old, that's because Bill Hicks died back in 1994, age 32, of cancer, of all things.)