THE ECONOMY IS BOOMING, at least according to the Blair Freelance Index. Lots of paying work at the moment, which explains the reduced amount of bloggage and appalling delays in responding to e-mail. The usual apologies are offered, etc.


ROBERT MUGABE has discovered dozens of Zimbabwean farms that are still producing edible substances for his starving citizenry. Naturally, appropriate steps have been taken:

About 45 new commercial farms have been given notice to cease operating in the past 10 days despite assurances by the government that the designation stage of its fast-track land reform programme was complete, the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) said this week.

CFU president Colin Cloete said of the 45 farms served with eviction notices under Section 8 of the Land Acquisition Act, only up to four were properties that had previously been listed for compulsory acquisition and the rest were new additions.

Section 8 notices give farmers whose land is being taken over for resettlement 90 days to cease production and vacate their properties.

Goodbye, food.

TO WHICH POLL did John le Carre refer when he wrote that "one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre"?

Reader George suggests that it may be a poll conducted by the recently formed Retropoll. He writes:

The actual question asked was: "Is there evidence Saddam Hussein worked with al Qaeda?" The results: Yes (44.8%) No (22.8%) Don't know (32.4%)

Leaving aside the fact that 44.8% is not "one in two", believing that there is evidence that Saddam Hussein worked with al Qaeda is not at all the same thing as believing that he was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre.

The poll sampled only 150 people, too few to be of use as an indicator of the views of the American public. Though to be fair, the poll is not meant to be representative; it attempts to see how the information that people have about a particular event relates to the opinions they express.

As George points out, The Guardian's Seumas Milne is a study in that particular phenomenon. Seumas writes that "half the population believes Saddam Hussein was responsible for the September 11 attacks, according to some polls." So name the polls, Sooee-mass.

Blogger Tom Maguire went on a wild Google hunt for the elusive Poll With No Name, and found (among many other things, several referenced here) a Knight Ridder poll that found that half of 1,204 Americans surveyed mistakenly believed an Iraqi was among the 9-11 hijackers, and this Pew Research poll from October that also might have led to le Carre's apparent misstatement. The New York Times (link forwarded by reader Mitchell Porter) reported that the Pew poll found "most Americans believe that President Saddam Hussein of Iraq had a hand in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."

"An Iraqi among" and "had a hand in" is still well short of "was responsible for". Here's how the Pew question was worded:

Based on what you've heard or read: Do you believe that Saddam Hussein helped the terrorists in the September 11th attacks, or don't you think he was involved?

Again, it didn't ask if Americans believed Saddam Hussein was responsible. I stand to be corrected here, and will instantly retract any and all insinuations if anyone can find a poll which matches that described by le Carre – who faces another inquisitor in reader Cheng Tseng, over le Carre's assertion that Halliburton is an "oil company":

Halliburton is a not an oil company, now or when it was under Dick Cheney. It is not a natural gas company. It is not even an energy company. It is an oil service company that provides on-location logistical support to other companies engaged in doing getting oil and gas and (gasp!) even the US military on overseas duty.

On second thought, perhaps that was what le Carre was getting at ... Cheney is supporting the war against the entire world because his company would benefit from providing support to American forces everywhere! Then all those contracts would result in his shares of Halliburton rising and his greedy hands would get more ... Oh, you mean he sold all his shares of Halliburton when he became vice president? Sorry.

Ron Wright, of Ohio, is another who appears to have le Carre pinned:

Le Carre wrote in his "essay" or whatever that Condie Rice was a senior executive with Chevron from 1991 to 2000. That doesn't sound right … I bet she was a member of the Board of Directors for Chevron. There's a big difference between the two, notably that the latter are not employees and have the role of providing oversight to a corporation's business affairs.

If le Carre did make an error with Condie, it only shows shoddy research and, by extension, shoddy thinking on the issue.

Seems that Mr. Wright is right. And John le Carre is full of le crap.

UPDATE. James Lileks le carves le Carre.


IN 1991, NBC Gulf War reporter Arthur Kent became known as the Scud Stud. In 2003, James Hewitt may become known as the Baghdad Cad.

WHEN CELEBRITIES launch multi-million dollar lawsuits after being called gay, why don't gay activists sue them for taking offence?

EVERY BRITISH ENTERTAINER over the age of 50 is currently under arrest for downloading child porn.

SOME RESPONSES to today's column in The Australian.


A serial traffic offender was yesterday banned for almost 1000 years in a case described as "ridiculous" by the magistrate.

WHAT IS SIMON CREAN'S POSITION ON A WAR WITH IRAQ? Nobody seems to know. The Melbourne Age thinks he is opposed:

Opposition Leader Simon Crean has hardened his party's stance against Australian involvement in a war against Iraq, saying Labor would not back military action unless it had the support of the United Nations.

But The Australian thinks he is for:

Simon Crean yesterday left the way open for Labor to support a US-led strike against Iraq even if such an attack was not sanctioned by the UN.

Confusing, no? Adding to the general puzzlement, Crean himself seems not to be paying close attention to developments within the UN:

Mr Crean said Australia should be supporting United Nations' weapons inspectors rather than deploying troops in preparation for a United States-led unilateral action against Iraq.

"To be deploying troops in advance of the UN decision is a totally inappropriate call in the current circumstances," he said. "I think it sends a bad signal."

But according to the New York Times, Kofi Annan believes that the deployment of troops sent an excellent signal:

Mr. Annan said the United States-led military buildup in the Persian Gulf has helped the effort to disarm Iraq by pressuring Baghdad to cooperate with the inspections.

'There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the pressure has been effective, that it has worked," he said. "Without that pressure I don't think the inspectors would be back in Iraq today."

Memo to Crean: Find a message. Then stay on it.

PHILLIP ADAMS is lucky to have readers as vigilant and resourceful as the Bunyip. He'd be even luckier if he allowed the Bunyip to check his copy before it was published.

IN NATURE, Michael Moore is terrifying.

Yet in Bowling for Columbine posters, he's almost recognisably human. Heavy, sure – but a dude (well, kind of).

Have kindly photoshop elves helped Mr. So Honest It Hurts trim himself digitally, as they did with Kate Thinslet?

THE LATEST column in The Australian mentions Sheryl Crow (here, by the way, is the t-shirt she'll wear at next year's American Music Awards), Natasha Stott Despoja, the Taliban, Germaine Greer, Kay S. Hymowitz, Condoleezza Rice, and Shell Shocking – whose surname is now officially "Shocking" because that's the way I've written it.


JOHN LE CARRE, author of books that are only readable at altitude, has some novel insights:

As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press.

Thank God for the small, brave voice of the East Coast press! He's right about the town squares, though; the town square in Los Angeles was all but silent the last time I was there, save for a gentle splashing as local peasant women drew their daily water supply from LA's communal well.

Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain such tricky matters as how it came to be elected in the first place; Enron; its shameless favouring of the already-too-rich; its reckless disregard for the world's poor, the ecology and a raft of unilaterally abrogated international treaties.

What's to explain, Mr. Renault Le Car? And could you please supply a definition of "too rich"?

How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history. But they swung it. A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre.

Haven't seen that poll. Sounds dubious, but let's reserve judgment. Are any readers able to help?

Those who are not with Mr Bush are against him. Worse, they are with the enemy. Which is odd, because I'm dead against Bush, but I would love to see Saddam's downfall — just not on Bush's terms and not by his methods.

If the guy ends up dead, what's the damn difference? Le Carre is simply opposed to Bush because he leads a cadre of sinister oil men. Look – he has proof:

George W. Bush, 1978-84: senior executive, Arbusto Energy/Bush Exploration, an oil company; 1986-90: senior executive of the Harken oil company. Dick Cheney, 1995-2000: chief executive of the Halliburton oil company. Condoleezza Rice, 1991-2000: senior executive with the Chevron oil company, which named an oil tanker after her. And so on.

Why, I bet a search of their vehicles would even turn up actual physical evidence of oil! It'll never happen. Ordinary citizens, however, are regularly persecuted in Bush's brutal Amerikka:

Last Friday a friend of mine in California drove to his local supermarket with a sticker on his car saying: "Peace is also Patriotic". It was gone by the time he'd finished shopping.

Where did it go? It's a mystery! Write a book about it, John.

EIGHTY PER CENT of people responding to this Time Europe online poll think that the US is a greater threat to world peace than Iraq or North Korea. This may in part be due to the shortage of live Kurds able to vote, and the inadequate Internet access in the graves of Korean dissidents.


A Danish newspaper has launched a vitriolic attack upon the Australian woman who will one day be Denmark's Queen, calling her a hairy-legged, didgeridoo-playing bimbo.

The filthy B-grade yellow English-language rag Copenhagen Post said Sydney native Mary Donaldson, betrothed to Danish Crown Prince Frederick, whom she met during the 2000 Olympics, had hired an actor to help spruce her up for courtly encounters.

Via Nick O'Malley and Alexa Moses of the Sydney Morning Herald's Spike column, where genuinely entertaining writing is sometimes found. Keep this up and they'll probably be fired.

UPDATE. Reader Tim S. writes:

The "hairy-legged" tag is a bit rich coming from this mob. A quick trip to any backpacker accommodation in Australia will yield a harvest of unwashed Danish skanks complete with be-dreaded armpits. Urrrrrgh.

Without wanting to escalate matters into a Dano-Austish blood feud, Tim is 100% correct about these water-shy Danish skanks who should be expelled immediately pending a full apology from their home "country" and the fiery destruction of all clog factories.

JAMES MORROW in today's Australian, on Australian business practices:

When government gets into the business of bailing out companies – which, in a sense, makes them an insurer to whom all citizens pay premiums to cover the actions of a few – they also create another problem, one which the insurance industry has recognised since the first door-to-door term life salesman made his first house call.

The problem is called "moral hazard", and it means that if someone knows he will be protected from the consequences of his actions, no matter how foolhardy, he will be inclined to take greater and greater risks.

LIVE BY THE CHICKEN, die by the chicken.


MORE EVIDENCE that, as The Sydney Morning Herald revealed in November, Australians are living in a Cold War state of apprehension, shying away from travel and avoiding crowds.

JOHN HOWARD IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT OF THE USA! Scroll down here to see photographic evidence from the BBC – Howard's US power grab involves changing his name to Howard Dean, apparently.

UPDATE. The BBC has fixed the pic. Nothing to see here. Please move along.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Precisely what kind of loser will the latest Australian al Qaeda suspect, Melbourne cab driver Jack Thomas, turn out to be? The three main possibilities:

Violent deadbeat

Friendless mook

Selfless idealist

Updates will follow as loser evidence is discovered.

IT'S ALIVE! Her reanimation complete, Margo Kingston has returned to the Sydney Morning Herald. This year she's decided to cast herself as a Respected Village Elder:

I'm nearly 44, an age when the individual can personally attest to changing trends in our values and way of life.

Attest, o wise one!

For me, I hope last year was the last when anger, frustration and despair ruled my professional psychology.

Someone's been plundering the Self Help section down at Barnes & Noble.

When you don't like what's happening around you, you can burn out with impotent rage or you can retreat to a space you feel you can control.

Why not take up a hobby? I recommend model trains.

I'm looking for a third way this year - inner calm through articulation of my core values and living those values on a daily basis. I'll try to be more measured in my observations, and will refuse to lose hope.

Where can I get my "Living the Core Values!" bumper sticker?

That includes switching the emphasis on Webdiary from finding fault and railing against the horror around us to looking for the key disagreements on issues, searching for some consensus, and looking for solutions, as well as discussing the role of the individual in the state we're in.

"The horror, the horror!" But how best to deal with it? Wise Old Margo knows:

On the recommendation of an artist friend, I've started reading the work Cicero produced amid the breakup of the Roman republic and its replacement by dictatorship. Go back to the classics, she advised, and learn how to stay calm as the world burns.

Don't lose hope, Margo. In happier news, the always-cheery Bunyip has also returned, and he's already living his core values: ie, pointing out two sins of omission committed by Margo's employer, the hopeless Fairfax press.

SIX MORE people have been arrested in Britain in connection with the recent ricin case. Any further arrests and they'll have to start renaming those quaint British pubs. Care for a quick pint down at The Choke and Stagger, guv? 'Ow about a game of darts in The Prolapsed and Bleeding Orifice? See you later at The Ruptured Lung, then!

IF ONLY those ancient Mayans had listened to the global warming scaremongers and stopped driving SUVs …

THE LATEST Australian media gush for Saint Michael, this time from James Norman in The Age:

Since Michael Moore emerged on Australian television with his series The Awful Truth in 2000, he has edged his way towards becoming a household name.

And here is that household.

He is making such an impact that during a recent stay in London, where he performed a one-man show at the Camden Roundhouse, Moore received a death threat from a far-right group.

Hey, I've received threats from the far-left. I'm making such an impact!

Why hasn't the left managed to find voices capable of raising issues, and generating the profile that Moore has achieved in such a short space of time?

To generate Moore's profile, you'd have to throw the Atkins Diet into triple-reverse and supersize everything, including condiments.

He is the shambling, wide-eyed, compassionate person in all of us.

There isn't room!

The irony is that Moore is not a little guy on the street. He is a multi-millionaire, with what amounts to a massive research unit and media empire working in his shadow.

Is James Norman the best fat-joke straight man ever or what? The entire US military could work in Moore's shadow. Given the right lighting, you could fit most of the airforce into the thigh region.

The issues Moore has raised - including guns, government corruption, and the loss of community values in the face of corporate might - are vital. In opening up those dialogues, no matter how populist his methods, Moore has opened the gates for other social commentators to enter.

I bet Norman never stood up for Pauline Hanson when she used "populist methods" to "open up dialogues" on immigration, Aboriginal welfare, and multiculturalism. Meanwhile Ben Fritz – whose Spinsanity piece on Michael Moore I mistakenly described in The Australian as being publishing in Salon, to which Ben is no longer a regular contributor – again highlights Moore's distortions, this time in the OC Register.


CONSERVATIVES ARE EVIL people who stone dogs to death, according to this AFP report in the Sydney Morning Herald:

A dog called Big Joe that had been trained by a young man to carry love letters to his sweetheart was stoned to death by the girl's brother in an apparent bid to protect her honour in conservative Jordan, a report said today.

"Conservative" is the word AFP uses when Muslims do bad things.

THE US GOVERNMENT tried (and failed) to establish an Office of Strategic Influence. Matt Welch proposes a smarter alternative: the Department of Telling the Truth.

FRANK J. suggests several names for new model rifles and handguns, including:

The Problem Solver – All purpose assault rifle with scope and grenade launcher attachment.

The Negotiator – Compact sub-machine gun with integral silencer.

The Ombudsman – Expensive, shiny .357 magnum revolver.

These are all excellent names, but play into the hands of the anti-gun lobby by sounding so aggressive and masculine. New guns should be given non-threatening, family-friendly titles, such as:

The Donahue – small-bore scattergun able to shoot down ratings, networks, credibility.

The Mary-Kate and Ashley – pink-stocked double-barrel shotgun.

The Couric – snub-nosed pistol. No silencer available.


PAUL BICKFORD has twice lost cricket bets to me this summer, resulting in him writing humiliating fan mail to Phillip Adams and Margo Kingston (Margo's reply included a spelling error, so we know it's genuine).

But tonight Sri Lanka defeated England. I backed England.

The wager? A sincere and non-sarcastic fan letter to John Pilger, to be published on the loser's site. Man, this is going to hurt …

THE DESIRE of protesters to remove their clothing is inverse to anyone's desire in seeing those protesters naked.

DIABLO II, the computer game of the damned, claims another victim. Talk about interactive.

IRAN HAS gone nuts following the publication of a 1937 US newspaper cartoon. Apparently the cartoon (click 'n' scroll) includes an image considered scandalously similar to a certain scowly old Ayatollah of beloved memory:

"We announce our disgust and hatred toward this abominable move ... our nation is united to expel all infiltrators and stooges," said a statement issued following a protest march Sunday in Qom, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Tehran and the center for Islamic study in Iran.

Some of the nearly 5,000 marchers wore blood-soaked shrouds and carried black flags as a traditional sign of mourning. They also denounced political reformers as traitors.

The newspaper was ordered closed indefinitely Saturday. Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi said three employees involved in publishing the cartoon have been arrested.

Meanwhile Australian cartoon police are still interviewing suspects over the publication Friday of this Bruce Petty squiggle.

HAS ANYONE involved in the anti-SUV campaign thought about the likely reaction of terrorists to having their funding reduced? We're always being told that poverty creates terrorism; so where's the logic in using less oil, therefore denying terrorists cash? It will only make them poorer. Thus, the cycle of violence continues.

– The rest of today's column in The Australian is here.

CONSIDER THE Lomborg rebuttal rebutted.


AS IF Sweden didn't have enough meatballs. Martin Lindeskog reports that Michael Moore is now swarming Swedish media.

VERONA, ITALY, is a hive of lively right-wing types. Read Tim Parks's excellent tale of his year among Verona’s ferocious football fans; this area isn't big on tolerance, even of other Italians. So the dateline on this AP copy comes as no surprise …

VERONA, Italy (AP) — Members of an far-right group burst into a television studio and attacked a controversial Muslim activist while he was on the air. The altercation was his second televised fight in a week.

About 25 members of the extreme-right group Forza Nuova stormed into the studio of the local TeleNuovo channel in Verona, about 75 miles east of Milan, on Friday night, where Adel Smith of the Italian Muslim Union was appearing on a talk show.

They began throwing eggs at him, then attacked him and his assistant, beating Smith and giving his assistant a broken cheekbone and a black eye. Police arrested six of them.

Smith had earlier questioned Israel's right to exist and claimed that criticism of Osama bin Laden was "invented" by the CIA.

TONY ABBOTT is complaining about "the system" ripping off middle-income Australian families. Hey, Tony: your party has been in charge of the damn system since 1996!

Ordinary Australian families are the nation's new poor, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday.

Conceding Opposition concerns about middle-income families, Mr Abbott said families paid more tax as their incomes increased, compared with single people.

"Middle-income families with children are Australia's new poor," he told an Adelaide conference.

"The way the system works, families of four earning $30,000-a-year are only $8959-a-year better off than families with no earned income at all."

Mr Abbott said a single income family of three was 23 per cent worse off than they were in 1960.

So fix things already. Seven years not enough time for you people?

JAMES MORROW and Ken Parish have both returned to blogging, so go check out what they've been up to. Plus: welcome to Scott Abel, a media professor at Estonia's Concordia International University, and his Baltic Blog.

FOLLOWING CLAIMS that Michael Moore behaved obnoxiously towards lowly-paid British theatre staff and moaned about his own miserable $750-per night fee, Moore's online forum has been shut down.

The same thing happened last year after Moore wrote that a Stupid White Men book-signing gig in San Diego had been brutally suppressed by the cops, an account that was disputed by various witnesses. Let the people speak, Mikey!