THE WEBLOG OF RANTS AND RAVES

30/04/03 The Beer FAQ
Ever wondered what the difference is between ale and lager? Where the names stout and porter come from? Do you know why a 4% strength beer in America is really a 5% strength beer in Europe?
The answers to these questions and more are in the Beer FAQ.

26/04/03 The SARS Virus
Ireland is due to host the Special Olympics in June. There is considerable speculation in the media that it will either be cancelled, or else a ban will be imposed on athletes from countries 'at risk'. Some of the comments from the Minister for Health are very worrying however - "There are a lot of people who have worked long and hard for this" was one of his comments as to why he thinks the Special Olympics should go ahead. Surely this is an irrevelent consideration? How many lives does the Minister want to place at risk because of the work of other people? One? Two? Ten? A hundred? Is any medal worth that?
The decision about whether the Special Olympics goes ahead or not, and what athletes take part, should be judged solely by public health criteria.

25/04/03 The Man on the Street
"The man in the street, with less access to study, is still often better served by his common sense than the expert is by his expertise. Yet, the general atmosphere is pervaded by assumptions or preoccupations with little empirical basis. How can a citizen be called educated if he has been trained to misunderstand the world?"(Robert Conquest)
Reading "Nature via Nurture" & "The Blank Slate", I was struck by the violent swings in the view of the 'intelligentsia' when it comes to human nature. There seemed to be little middle-ground, the balance swinging from nature to nurture, with those on the opposing side not merely refuted but castigated. The respective authors, Matt Ridley and Steven Pinker, make the point that if you took a poll of ordinary people, they would have hardly changed their views over the course of the century.

23/04/03 Going Down Fighting
In an exhillarating game of football, Manchester United beat Real Madrid 4-3 at Old Trafford. Alas, it was not enough, because United went out 5-6 on aggregate to Real. Because of the away goals rule in European competition, they would have needed to win 6-3 on the night. I think it was Andy Gray who made the point that for all Real's stars - Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo etc one of the biggest differences between the teams over the two games was the performance of Ike Casillas for Real in goal against that of Fabian Barthez for United. Casillas pulled off several fantastic saves, whearas Barthez was arguably at fault for several of Real's goals.
I felt that whilst Alex Ferguson made the right choice in not playing David Beckham on the right wing (he seems to have nightmares against Roberto Carlos and Ashley Cole), he should have picked him in the middle, either in place of Veron or Butt.
It is a pity that the final is not Manchester United v Real Madrid. I think that only Real could have beaten United, but when United play Real they are playing a mirror-image of themselves who have better players.
As an aside, in the early 1990s, Real were tens of millions in debt, and were bailed out when the Madrid local government kindly bought their training ground from them. This is something to keep in mind when one looks at the cost of the team that Real have assembled.

21/04/03 Genes, Experience and What Makes Us Human
I've just finished reading Matt Ridley's latest science book, "Nature via Nurture". (Read selected quotes). In this book, Ridley argues that the traditional view of nature versus nurture is a false dichotomy, and that very often they are not in opposition, our nature (genes) develops through our nurture (environment), and enables us to learn from the culture around us. It is an enjoyable and persuasive read, and some of the ideas it touches upon are intriguing - the 'thrify phenotype' hypothesis to explain varying heart attack rates in particular.
It perhaps suffers by covering some of the same territory as Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate", though in that work Pinker was arguing against the idea that a shared human nature does not exist. Possibly this different attitude reflects that the nature versus nurture debate is more heated in North America than in Britain?
One of my favourite quotes from the book describes how our knowledge of human nature has developed:
"Human nature is indeed a combination of Darwin's universals, Galton's heredity, James's instincts, De Vries's genes, Pavlov's reflexes, Watson's associations, Kraeplin's history, Freud's formative experience, Boas's culture, Durkheim's division of labour, Piaget's development and Lorenz's imprinting.
They were right in the sense that the contributed an original idea with a germ of truth in it; they all placed a brick in the wall... They are wrong only when they try to pull somebody else's bricks out, or to claim that the wall is held up only by their bricks."
Amen to that.

18/04/03 The Three-Week War
"Somehow the military has married the familiarity and dynamism of crass popular culture to 19th-century notions of heroism, self-sacrifice, patriotism, and audacity. The result is that the energy of our soldiers arises from the ranks rather than is imposed from above. What, after all, is the world to make of Marines shooting their way into Baathist houses with Ray-Bans, or shaggy special forces who look like they are strolling in Greenwich Village with M-16s, or tankers with music blaring and logos like 'Bad Moon Rising?' The troops look sometimes like cynical American teenagers but they fight and die like Leathernecks on Okinawa.
By the same token, officers talk and act like a mixture of college professors and professional boxers. Ram-road straight they brave fire alongside their troops - seconds later to give brief interviews about the intricacies of tactics and the psychology of civilian onlookers."
Victor Davis Hanson analyses the conduct of the war, and concludes "it was more that we were good rather than they were bad."

16/04/03 Thought for the Day
"Donít mention the war. I did, but I think I got away with it." (Basil Fawlty)

14/04/03 The Last of the Mohicans
One of my favourite films is "The Last of the Mohicans", starring Daniel Day Lewis, based on James Fenimore Cooper's classic epic. I usually like historical films, and this film makes excellent use of its historical and cultural setting, North America during the Seven Years War (known as the French and Indian War in North America). I've always wondered about the Mohican tribe, did they really die out? This website on the Mohican (or more properly, Mahican) tribe explains that they survived the wars and numbering 1,500 strong, live on near Wisconsin.
I've just started reading a book on that war, called "Battle for Empire - The very first World War" by Tom Pocock. It's a war I know very little about, it seems to be largely forgotten in Europe. Last year, on a visit to Canada, I stood on the Plains of Abraham, in Quebec City, where the British under General Wolfe dealt the French a decisive blow and was slightly embarrassed not to know anything about the event. Hopefully this book will fill me in.

13/04/03 It's Back!
welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com is back! You have to check it out, you can even buy T-Shirts. Some of these quotes are brilliant:
"My feelings - as usual - we will slaughter them all"
"Our initial assessment is that they will all die."
"We have destroyed 2 tanks, fighter planes, 2 helicopters and their shovels - We have driven them back."
The man is a comic genius. A deluded and insane comic genius.

13/04/03 Sitting on the Fence
"We are not cross with anyone, we haven't fallen out with anybody."
Language.Ie have produced a wonderful image of the Irish flag to sum up the Irish government's position on the war in Iraq, with Bertie Ahern's words filling the white section of the flag. The green section has a stars and stripes design, with warplane images replacing the stars. I'm not sure if it counts as desecrating the flag when the flag in question is stored in a computer file...
(spotted in the Sunday Times)
ps I tried to find out when people started referring to F16s and so on as warplanes but google failed me - whatever happened to fighters and fighter-bombers?

12/04/03 Bizarre Entry
"Dear Secretary Rumsfeld: My friend told me you can't get pregnant if you have sex in a hot tub. Is that true?" - Diane Macdonald, Sioux City, Iowa
Secretary Rumsfeld: "There is an awful lot of misinformation out there. Diane, the reality is that you can get pregnant if you have sex in a hot tub. Are hot tubs fun? Yes. Do hot tubs make you want to have sex? You bet. But anybody who believes that you can't get pregnant is simply uninformed, misinformed, or poorly informed, and does not belong in a hot tub."
Esquire magazine offer sex tips from the US Defence Secretary.

12/04/03 We Love The Iraqi Information Minister
Due to overwhelming support for welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com. We will be bringing it back on a brand new web server that will be dedicated to the task of serving this comical view of history's funniest straight man. This should be up in 24 hours from now.
Note: from the webmaster
The site was so popular that 4000 visitors per second showed up from around the world and overwhelmed this shared server for over 8 hours until we turned it off in self defense. It basically put a 100 other businesses out of business for a day.  If we had known it was going to be this popular we would have put it on it's own server from the beginning.
(from: welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com)

10/04/03 A Hero For Any Country
Ian Malone, a Dubliner serving with the Irish Guards in Iraq was killed in action on Sunday as British forces attempted to capture Basra. Speaking as someone whose family have a history of serving with the British Army, I hope that Irish people can salute his deeds, and not make a knee-jerk judgment based on what uniform he wore.

09/04/03 They Think It's All Over
"Some people are wearing Manchester United shirts as they drive around celebrating their liberation."
(Overheard on Sky News as Baghdad falls) So who should America and Britain appoint to run Iraq when the war is finally over? Based on how popular Manchester United seem to be in Iraq, I nominate Alex Ferguson, with Roy Keane as his "enforcer".

09/04/03 Making Fun of Bush
"Washington, DC: During a White House meeting with visiting Spanish prime minister and fellow allied-forces leader Jose Maria Aznar, President Bush subconsciously sized up Spain for invasion Monday." (The Onion)
Most of the jokes directed at President Bush are just lazy stereotypes, but The Onion always seems to be able to take things to a higher plane. When jokes are funny enough, they are forgivable :)

08/04/03 War Changes Everything
Victor Davis Hanson using his deep historical knowledge to assess the impact of the war on America's relationship with its "friends".

08/04/03 The Editors Speak
"It is emphatically not fair minded to say that the Pentagon and the British government 'are being as economical with the truth as the regime they profess to have a moral authority over'. I can't believe you mean this. If you were an Iraqi editor and made such a criticism of your government, you would be dead. Doesn't that fact indicate a radical difference between our government and theirs?"
Charles Moore, editor of The Telegraph, in a marvellous exchange of emails with Piers Morgan, editor of the Daily Mirror.

07/04/03 The Rules of Attraction
"A great numb feeling washes over me as I let go of the past and look forward to the future. Pretend to be a vampire. I don't really need to pretend, because it's who I am, an emotional vampire. I've just come to expect it. Vampires are real. That I was born this way. That I feed off of other people's real emotions. Search for this night's prey. Who will it be?"
As a big Dawson's Creek fan, I simply had to see "The Rules of Attraction", in which James Van Der Beek (clean cut boy-next-door Dawson Leery) plays completely against type as a sleazy drug dealer. The film is based on a book by Bret Easton Ellis, author of "American Psycho", and Van Der Beek's character Sean is actually the brother of Patrick Bateman from that book. I found the film fascinating and stylish, its use of split-screen techniques in particular is very inventive, but I wouldn't say it was actually good - for that I would have needed to care about the characters. There was only one sympathetic character in the whole film, and hers was a minor role on-screen. I was simply indifferent to the fate of Sean, and the rest of the main characters. The film is beautiful to look at, and not just because the cast are all painfully good-looking: elfin Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel (formerly Mary in "Seventh Heaven"), Kate Bosworth (star of surfer flick "Blue Crush") and Ian Somerhalder (in "Young Americans" he only thought he was gay, in this film he gets to be gay).
You would not believe what Van Der Beek's character gets up to, and I won't spoil it, but none of it could be discussed with your mother. I'll close with a quote from the Sunday Times' move critic, "If this doesn't kill off his sweet, wholesome Dawson's Creek image, nothing will."

06/04/03 The Blogs of War #6
More information on arms sales to Iraq in the 1970s and 1980s, this time in graphical format.

05/04/03 Intermission for Football #2
Manchester United thump Liverpool 4-0 to go level on points at the top of the Premiership with Arsenal. This one is so tight it could come down to goal difference. On other fronts, British Royal Marines were hammered 7-3 by a local team in the Iraqi town of Umm Khayyal.

05/04/03 A Conflict of Visions
Finally got around to completing a quotes page for "A Conflict of Visions", a book by American philosopher Thomas Sowell. In this book, Sowell traces the real reason for the political firefight between right and left down through the ages.

05/04/03 Drinking 'Til You Drop
There has been a lot of attention paid in the Irish media of late to the growth of binge-drinking. The rise in late-night street violence, amongst other things, is blamed on increasing alcohol consumption. The theory goes that longer opening hours, and more disposable income, mean people are drinking more and more, casusing the problems. But doesn't this theory focus on the symptoms and not the real problem? What sort of people in modern Ireland producing, who need a nanny state to reduce opening hours so that they don't get blind drunk? Whatever happened to self-discipline, control and personal responsibility?
When someone gets drunk because pubs are open longer, it is not the government's fault, it is the fault of that one person, and no one else.

04/04/03 Signs of the Apocalypse
We've got war in Iraq, we've got this pretty scary SARS disease in Asia and Canada. What's next?

04/04/03 The Blogs of War #5
The Royal Irish Regiment of the British army is in operation around Basra. Tony Blair and George W. Bush are to hold a council of post-war peace near Belfast in Northern Ireland. One could forgive the Iraqis for imagining that Ireland is part of the military coalition against them.

03/04/03 The Blogs of War #4
There was a lot of fuss over the last few days in the papers blaming US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for committing too few troops to Iraq. One theory floating around is that Rumsfeld wanted to prove that the US was capable of defeating an enemy like Iraq with a smaller force. If that is the case, then threats to the likes of Syria and North Korea are a lot more potent. On the other hand, if the US has to commit most of its armed forces to defeat Iraq, it's unlikely to repeat the effort very often.

03/04/03 The Blogs of War #3
"In the key period between 1973-91 the US exported a mere $5 million of weapons to Iraq; more reprehensibly the UK sold $330 million-worth of arms. Of much greater interest are the arms export totals to Iraq of the four countries most against military action: Germany with $995 million, China $5,500 million, France $9,240 million, and the Russians a massive $31,800 million. So the claim that we armed Saddam has to be treated with a degree of care, particularly by those who would award the moral high ground in this debate to the leaders of nations such as Germany, France and Russia." A letter sent in the The Times of London quotes a 1998 report by A. H. Cordesman for the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

02/04/03 Intermission for Football #1
When did Albania get so good? How much do pub owners like Sky Sports? I was in Paddy Flaherty's for the game and it was packed. On reflection, 0-0 away to Albania is not such a bad result. Our group is now wide open, with four teams going for two slots. We really need to win our home games against Russia and Albania.

02/04/03 The Blogs of War #2
Sometimes a picture conveys a thousand words. These photographs (via RoverPundit) from two very different wars separated by 60 years show something characteristic in the American army.

02/04/03 The Blogs of War #1
British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon says that "Umm Qasr is a town similar to Southampton." Unnamed British squaddies respond with: "He's either never been to Southampton, or he's never been to Umm Qasr", and "There's no beer, no prostitutes, and people are shooting at us. It's more like Portsmouth."

01/04/03 The Real Reason for War
For some people, today is all year round. The US-led attack against Iraq is designed to prevent Saddam getting his hands on advanced alien technology. ( Story #1, Story #2 )

30/03/03 Standing Shoulder to Shoulder
In today's Sunday Times Andrew Sullivan has an article about how close Britain and America have become, in part because of the war in Iraq. Americans feel for British soldiers as if they are own, Britain tops the poll of countries that Americans most admire. Sullivan is British and lives in America, so I don't think I can add anything to his article. What I have noticed is the prevalence of British characters in American TV shows - for instance, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the moment there are two. Dawson's Creek has two in minor roles, Frasier has one (British actress in Jane Leeves is rumoured to be the highest paid actress on American TV), Star Trek Enterprise has one, as has Angel and ER.
Maybe I'm reading too much into all this, after all, they are both English speaking countries, and British stars are lured across the Atlantic by the bigger wages on offer.

29/03/03 TV Watch
An interesting new program which caught my eye in the listings is "Hollywood Science", a documentary series which puts blockbusters under the microscope to find the "most implausible movie moment". It goes out Wednesdays at 730 on BBC2. This unfortunately clashes with the new (and final) season of Dawson's Creek on Network 2, and the crucial European Championship qualifier between England and Turkey over on BBC1. I guess that's what video recorders were invented for.
Unlike most Irish people, I will be cheering for the England of David Beckham and Michael Owen. Sometime around 1993, England started losing too many matches, and I no longer got the 'kick' Irish people (and Scots) get from seeing England beaten. Watching the minnows of San Marino score after 7 seconds against England is still one of the funniest things I've seen in football though :)

28/03/03 What's Going On?
The best website I've found for keeping track of events (and alleged events) in Iraq is The Command Post. Updated faster than the likes of CNN or BBC, this site brings together news from a diverse collection of sources, including some that a CNN or BBC might be reluctant to use.
And what is going on? Are Iraqi paramilitaries really forcing regular soldiers to attack British forces at Basra? Why else would they launch a virtual suicide attack against Challenger tanks? Will the citizens of Basra rise against Saddam's regime? How deep is the loyalty of the people of Baghdad to Saddam? Is the behaviour that we seeing now similar to that of Germans and SS troops in the last days of Nazi Germany?

27/03/03 The Men Who Cried Wolf
"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." (Winston Churchill). I fully appreciate the wisdom of the above line - if a lie from the Coalition can save a soldier's life, then they should lie. They have taken the propaganda war up a level too far, however, and at this stage they are like the boy who cried wolf. Many people (myself included) are now so skeptical of their claims that when something major really does happen, they will take some convincing.
In the propaganda war, the biggest asset that the Coalition has is the evil nature of the regime they are overthrowing. When POWs are paraded on Iraqi TV, it is as much a propaganda victory for the Coalition as for the Iraqis. Were I Bush or Blair, I would not be fazed by such actions, my resolve would only be stiffened, and my certainty in the rightness of the mission confirmed.

23/03/03 Cry Havoc
What to say that has not already been said? American, British, Australian and, yes, Iraqi soldiers (many of whom are younger than myself) are fighting as I type this. We've moved beyond a point where words matter, the time for actions has arrived.
My sincerest thoughts are with the people in Iraq: that the Coalition troops make it back home to their families, that the Iraqi soldiers surrender as soon as they can to save themselves, and that as few Iraqi civilians are killed as are possible in a modern war. Let it be over quickly.

23/03/03 The Fog Of War
I'm back from my holiday to Gran Canaria, a little more tanned and a little burnt in a few spots. As I left, I wasn't sure if the US and UK would hold their nerve and actually go to war. Out of touch with the news, I was very surprised when I heard that the war was going ahead. The snatches of coverage I caught on Sky News were far superior to that on CNN. Don't CNN have a map of Iraq that they could throw up when they mention placenames? I was relieved when I found out on my return that the Irish government had made the right decision and allowed the US to keep using Shannon airport, although I was dispappointed with their half-hearted justification for it.
(ps Gran Canaria was nice, got great weather - too good for my fair Irish skin, and was thankfully staying in a quieter part of Playa del Ingles, and not in the sleazy Kasbah centre)

09/03/03 St Patrick's Day
Taking advantage of Ireland's national holiday, I shall be spending some time on an island in the sun, away from Dublin's wet weather, away from work (I don't even want to see a PC when I'm on holiday) and talk of war. This means that the blog will not be updated for at least 2 weeks, but in my absence I recommend the following sites:
AndrewSullivan.Com - One of the web's best and most popular blogs from The Times columnist
Mark Steyn - Biting comment from Canada's The National Post
Thomas Sowell - His insightful column can be found on Jewish World Review
Emily Jones - Giving War a Chance in her blog
Kingsley Jegan - Abandon all bandwidth, ye who enter here

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