AFGHANISTAN AT THE CROSSROADS November 30, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Modern History.
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Map via BBC News: Aghanistan Hotspots.
The BBC reports there are 32,500 Nato troops in Afghanistan. The US has 11,800 and the UK has 6,000. The other Nato participants have anything from about 1,000 to 3,000. Now following the Riga Nato summit it is believed that the troops will be able to be deployed more flexibly without the heavy lifting and casulties falling on, for example, the Canandians and Belegiums.
As in Iraq, and this seems somewhat of a strange mission for Nato, it warrants asking exactly what that mission might be, and whether it is achievable.
I found this extended article at TruthDig which is both a journalist eye-witness account with some historical background by Christian Parenti.
FALLING US DOLLAR November 29, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Modern History.
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The US Dollar is not soaring like an eagle, but falling like a stone, according to a report in The Guardian. It has depreciated in value for five consecutive days. The dollar has lost 11% against the Euro and 12% against the Pound.
So what is happening? According to the newspaper account:
In reality, though, the dollar has been falling steadily for four years. On a trade-weighted basis against a basket of other currencies, it has lost nearly 31% of its value as fears over its giant current account deficit drag on the currency.
A big deficit, caused by Americans consuming more goods from abroad than they export, theoretically pushes a currency down until imports become more expensive and exports cheaper, at which point the deficit is reduced. But the dollar has held up because big exporters to the US, such as China, have used their current account surpluses to reinvest in American assets, thus keeping demand for dollars high.
Indeed, the dollar surprised everyone in 2005 by regaining some of the losses of the previous three years and so is still not back to the lows it visited at the end of 2004, in spite of the recent falls.
A weaker dollar means a shopping bonanza for Britons. Airlines and travel firms have seen a surge in bookings as people rush to take advantage of cheap US goods that just got cheaper. The flipside, though, is for British companies such as Jaguar to get hit hard in the American market if prices in dollars rise.
Postscript: 03 November 2006
Robert Kuttner, via CommonDreams observes:
The dollar dilemma is the Republicans’ economic Iraq. It has no easy solution, and could be one more disaster on the watch of George W. Bush.
WATER WORLD November 29, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Natural Environment.
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The New Zealand Herald reports that the Ross Ice Shelf may break off as it has in the past:
The Ross Ice Shelf, a massive piece of ice the size of France, could break off without warning causing a dramatic rise in sea levels, warn New Zealand scientists working in Antarctica.
A New Zealand-led ice drilling team has recovered three million years of climate history from samples which gives clues as to what may happen in the future.
Initial analysis of sea-floor cores near Scott Base suggest the Ross Ice Shelf had collapsed in the past and had probably done so suddenly.
The team’s co-chief scientist, Tim Naish, told The Press newspaper the sediment record was important because it provided crucial evidence about how the Ross Ice Shelf would react to climate change, with potential to dramatically increase sea levels.
“If the past is any indication of the future, then the ice shelf will collapse,” he said.
“If the ice shelf goes, then what about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet? What we’ve learnt from the Antarctic Peninsula is when once buttressing ice sheets go, the glaciers feeding them move faster and that’s the thing that isn’t so cheery.”
Antarctica stores 90 per cent of the world’s water, with the West Antarctic Ice Sheet holding an estimated 30 million cubic kilometres.
In January, British Antarctic Survey researchers predicted that its collapse would make sea levels rise by at least 5m, with other estimates predicting a rise of up to 17m.
TO MEME? November 29, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Blogging in general.
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So what is a meme?
The best place to go, in cases such as these, is likely to be Wikipedia. We owe the word to evloutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, and it seems to be a cultural equivalent of a gene. For some reasons, including the survival of the fittest, the word is generally understood. Wikipedia suggests that a meme:
refers to a unit of cultural information transferable from one mind to another. Dawkins said, Examples of memes are tunes, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.
The defintion may not be too exact, but it seems we know it when we see it.
So you knew this anyway, right! Acephalous is running a modest experiment to evaluate the question of how fast a meme can propagate across the internets (there are actually two). You can help out!
Here’s what I need you to do: 1. Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.)
2. Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I’m one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.)
3. Ping Techorati.
Help him out! Give him a link.
AFGHANISTAN FAILURES? November 28, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Terrorism Issues.
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The original intention of the US with respect to its Afghanistan military incursion was to hunt down and kill Osama Bin Laden, and otherwise incapacitate Al Qaeda. The US has not claimed success in its mission, and it seems that George Walker Bush is blaming the civil war in Iraq on a certain terrorist organization.
NATO has an involvement, which appears to be to defeat the Pushtun resistance to foreign occupation in the South. Those NATO forces located in the North and the East are being accused of taking a free ride, and the French are of a mind to assist those NATO armies operating against the Pushtuns and other tribal resistance fighters.
How the minor players, such as the Australians and New Zealanders, fit into the context I am not sure.
The pictures of women voting in the Afghanistan elections was a sign of hope. Now it seems, despite the support of foreign military and civil aid for the government, we are told that the position of women, for example in education, has actually deteriorated.
Good intentions are not enough. Elections are not enough. There needs to be basis of understanding the society and its history, and a realism about what can be reasonably accomplished.
At what point do foreign forces withdraw?
UPDATED MEDICAL REPORT November 27, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Life Experience.
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On 14 November, I reported on my stay overnight in hospital after having a renal biopsy. The relationships that were expected did not turn out to be the case. The biopsy proved that I did not have myeloma (bone cancer), active MGUS (blood dysfunction) or amyloids (kidney disease), but that I have chronic glomerulonephritis.
On Friday night I noticed that my third finger, next to my little finger, on my left hand was swelling. I like to believe that I do not pound the keys. Then gradually all of my left hand became swollen and reddened to my wrist.
I did have a swollen thumb before, and I did not want to take antibiotics, since it was not obvious that I had been bitten, so I waited to today, when I had to see my doctor about my renal biopsy results before reporting my condition. She thought I might have a thrombosis, a blood clot in the the veins of my upper arm. Since she could not place me with any radiologists, I was referred to the Casualty Department at the hospital, where I spent from about 4pm until 9pm.
Spending this time does not concern me. I more or less expect that to be the case in casualty ward. I have to say that I was treated very thoroughly by one of the duty doctors, so I am very grateful for that care. Since there were no radiologists on duty, I am now expected to go back tomorrow to have the test to check the blood clot.
Given my circumstances, including the medications I am prescribed, it seems they take precautionary action if my potassium levels are in excess of 5.1 mmol/L. I was hoping to control these levels by paying careful attention to diet, but this has not worked out so far. Most of the stable foods, for example potatoes, have medium to high levels of potassium.
The wisdom of undergoing the renal biopsy has been confirmed. I am somewhat disappointed that at this point there appears to be no explanation as to why my spleen became enlarged, and had to be removed (again for precautionary reasons) by lapryscopic (keyhole) surgery.
Postscript: 29 November 2006
I was supposed to get the scan done on my left arm to check out whether there was a clot. However, I got a cramp in my left calve, so I had to wait for that to settle. So I did not go. The doctor in emergency did not think it likely, after giving my a thorough going over and identifying some issues, such as providing Rosonium to reduce my slightly raised potassium levels. Now my hand has resumed its normal shape, the swelling and redness has gone.
I have spoken by phone to my specialist today, and he is waiting on seeing the results from the examination of my kidney sample under electron microscope before committing to a diagnosis. These results take longer to determine (for whatever reasons). He, at least, has returned safely from his conference in San Diego.
AUSTRALIAN WHEAT BOARD SCANDAL November 27, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.
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The Cole Royal Commission into the scandal involving payment of $300 million of bribes to the then Iraq Government has at least by the Prime Minister’s account cleared the Australian Government of any complicity by commission or omission.
As I understand it, the Opposition is claiming that the Government did receive advice that something was going on, and chose to remain ignorant of it, and thus non-accountable by the expediently devise that this information did not come before any Minister, and was not put in writing.
This is the result that was expected.The question is how will this failure of accountabililty play in voter punter-land and official news commerteriate-land?
The fair and balanced ABC Online, who never question the great political genius, reports that Howard is calling on the Opposition to provide an apology. Perhaps those diligent and obedient little ABC reporters, might have questioned the great political genius, as to why the report was tabled in the House of Representatives after Question Time today.
Tim Dunlop and others are on the case.
GAZA CEASEFIRE November 26, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Israel-Palestine.
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I cannot find a reasonable explanation, although their must be one, why the Israelis have agreed to a ceasefire. The Qazzam rockets were always more of nuisance than a serious cause for concern. Why have the stopped slaughtering the Palestinians? The questions puzzles me.
They appear to be oblivious to world opinion. Militarily while causing significant and unnecessary death and destruction, they militarily and strategically lost the recent invasion of Lebanon. They got bashed up, as sometimes happens in war, and that time, for the first time, the IDF was not clearly superior to their adversaries.
I suppose it is true that Iraq is going badly for Bush America, it is also going badly for Israel and the governments in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. But why suppose the Israeli Government would behave intelligently now, when it has not been evident before?
I would suppose that the Democratic control of Congress would not be make a significant difference.
It is a puzzle.
Postscript: 28 November 2006
The BBC provides an analysis, suggesting the Lebanon adventure had backfired badly on the Israeli Government and that they are now in a tailspin, which, if true, is a cause for considerable concern. The Israelis in this instance cannot look, if they ever could under the Bush Administration, to the Americans for wisdom and moderation. It is alarmist to observe, and I hope it does not happen, there are two situations which could rapidly melt-down: Iraq and Israel-Palestine.
VICTORIAN ELECTIONS November 25, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.
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The pundits on ABC News Radio that the Brack’s ALP government has been returned with a loss of about seven seats.
The interest in this election is now what happens in the Legislative Council which has been reorganized into metropolitan and regional seats with a proportional representation list system similar to the Senate. So it represents quite a contrast with the situation in NSW. There are insignificant votes counted to draw any firm conclusions, other their is an expectation that the Nationals will do well in the regional seats and the Greens in the Metro ones.
It is of small interest to observe that the Nationals with a 5.33% vote have won about 8 seats while the Greens with 9.6% may have won one seat, such is the effect of geographic electorates. Now this is the reason that the German system of proportional representation, adopted in New Zealand is fairer. Nor would the ALP have won such as disportionate number of seats compared to the percentage of people who actually voted for them.
These summary figures, unlike the the district results, do not show the two party preferred vote, which according to Nicholas Guern showed the ALP with about 55%.
FRIDAY NIGHT DOG BLOG – SHARED EXPERIENCE November 24, 2006Posted by wmmbb in DOG BLOG -.
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The dogs and myself go out, and we have a shared experience, but not necessarily the same experience. They seem to enjoy the experience, as can be seen from the look caught at odd moments on Dexter’s face. I suppose it is exercise for them and me.
As usual we will seek to join the Carnival of the Dogs at Mickey’s Musings and board Friday Ark#114 at Modulator.
These photos should enlarge if you click on them. If you either wish to see them or enlarge the view, you might go to my other Duckpond.
A NATION WITHIN CANADA November 23, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Multiculturalism.
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The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was faced with a difficult problem in the House of Commons in Ottawa, as those in his office have faced before.
He had to recognize the aspriations of the Quebers, and at the same time maintain the integrity of Canada as a nation state. The BBC reports:
On Wednesday, Mr Harper backed the notion that the House of Commons should “recognise that Quebeckers constitute a nation within a united Canada”.
He said: “The real question is simple: do Quebeckers make up a nation of their own in a united Canada? The answer is yes.
“Do Quebeckers make up a nation independent from Canada? The answer is no and will always be no.”
The leader of the Bloc Quebecois party opposed the prime minister’s position.
“It isn’t up to the prime minister to decide what Quebeckers will choose as an option. It’s up to Quebeckers,” Gilles Duceppe said.
I wish the Prime Minister had said something like the following:
“While the aspirations of the Quebecers continue to challenge us as Canadians, we are a better country for Quebec, and for me it would be inconceivable for Canada, given the intertwined experience of French speakers and English speakers, to be the same country without Quebec.”
ANTI-AMERICANISM November 22, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Duckspeak.
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It is not the people, it is an accent.
You too have probably had the experience on getting on a train, keep in mind the journey takes over an hour, and find yourself hearing a conversation between two or more people. For some reason, I find myself unable to put up with the particular American accent with their drawn out syllables and liberal mixture of “like”. I find it irritating and have to move. I prefer plain Australian English with all its faults.
In each incident the people involved seemed to be very nice people.
BLAIR’S BLIND SPOTS November 20, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Terrorism Issues.
It will not be soon enough but British Prime Minister Blair is leaving office, finally, we understood, in July next year. This does not stop him making pronouncements in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan.
After announcing that British troops would stay in Afghanistan until the job is done, he also observed, according to this BBC report:
“We believe that Afghanistan, rather than being abused as a haven for terrorists and for the Taleban to oppress people, that Afghanistan and its people deserve the chance to increase their prosperity and to live in a proper democratic state.
“The roots of the Taleban, al-Qaeda, this type of global terrorism around the world, are deep and where they gained a foothold in a country like Afghanistan, it is going to take time to banish that for good,” he said.
Blair has become as blind as King Lear.
POSTSCRIPT: 23 November 2006.
Gary Sauer-Thompson is pertinent at Public Opinion, deconstructing the War on Terror, and linking to recent events in Lebanon. H e observes:
The flaw with Bush’s [ and Blair's] global war on terror (with its implication that terrorism is a specifically Islamic phenomenon) is not just its duality of tyrannies versus freedom, good versus evil, or advocating widening the war in Iraq to encompass Syria and Iran so as to bring democracy to the Middle East through regime change.
It is the tendency to group together under the same terrorist label movements which are very different in nature, having in common only their resort to violence in pursuit of political goals. The different violent non-state actors in Afghanistan and Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Somalia are all lumped together.
However, global Jihad of Al-Qaida is quite different from a nationalist, legitimate, defensive jihad, which seeks primarily to liberate its home territory from foreign occupation— eg., Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine and the Mahdi army in Iraq.
Meanwhile Juan Cole expects Britain to withdraw from Iraq following the transfer of power to Gordon Brown.
And to think some people, names withheld to protect the guilty, think bloggers are vain, if not narcisstic. Anita Quigley, is right to the extent that blogging is a personality thing, and some people are good at it, like some are good at selling or drawing. She does not get that blogging need not be mass media. It is networking, which can be powerful, and it is global. Blogging can be an expression of democratic civility, and that is worth having and worth defending. It adds to the democratic polity; it does not subtract form it.
KISSINGER OPTS FOR A DICTATOR AGAIN November 20, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Iraq Policy.
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The LA Times reports that:
Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, a frequent adviser to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, has concluded that the United States must choose between stability and democracy in Iraq — and that democracy, for now, is out of reach.
“I think that’s reality. I think that was true from the beginning,” Kissinger said in an interview last week.
“Iraq is not a nation in the historic sense,” he said, pointing to the ferocity of the conflicts among Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Arabs. “The evolution of democracy … usually has to go through a phase in which a nation [is] born. And by attempting to skip that process, our valid goals were distorted into what we are now seeing.”
Instead of holding elections and trying to build democratic institutions from the ground up, Kissinger said, the United States should focus on more limited goals: preventing the emergence of a “fundamentalist jihadist regime” in Baghdad and enlisting other countries to help stabilize Iraq.
So I think we can conclude that Kissinger believes that Iraq is a wreck, and by inference that the invasion was a mistake. Otherwise, we are left with the conclusion that the invasion was justified to change a dictator that did not do America’s bidding. True as that may be, the proposition is never stated so directly.
ADOPTION OF ENGLISH November 18, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Multiculturalism.
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The Sydney Morning Herald reports evidence compiled by the Bureau of Statistics of all religious groups Muslims more quickly adopted English than people of other religions. This result appears to contradict the contention that Muslims are “resistant to integration”, or so the newspaper report proposes.
The report says:
Catholics are the religious group identified on census forms as having the highest total number of non-English speakers, while Buddhists have the highest proportion of poor or non-speakers, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys for 1996 and 2001.
The number of people without English skills in ethnic and religious communities is low and has been falling for a decade. Muslim people reflect the average.
In 2001, 67.4 per cent of Muslims spoke English very well or well, 12.8 per cent could not speak it well, and 4.5 per cent could not speak the language at all. Just over half of Buddhists said they could speak English very well or well, and 7.1 per cent were without English.
Of ethnic groups, Aborigines had the highest proportion of people who do not speak English.
Clearly there are a number of variables, including the difficulty of learing English due to social and educational background, and incompatibility with the mother tongue, the generational spread of the communities, and social isolation.
My limited observation of a Greek family while in Concord Hospital was the parents had functional English, the children were bi-lingual, and the grand children had limited Greek.
It seems to me extremely difficult to learn another language, and acquiring language ability is only half of it, the person has to cope with different social assumptions. The native English speakers do not have to deal with any of these problems. The least able among them to deal with a equivalent set of difficulties tend to be the most critical.
Still if this evidence can blunt the political wedge it will prove worthwhile. Religious category, as distinct from national background or social class for example, in ordinary times would not be taken as sensible grouping of the attainment of English proficiency.
FRIDAY NIGHT DOG BLOG – TWO ARE LESS TROUBLE November 17, 2006Posted by wmmbb in DOG BLOG -.
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There are two visitors to dog blog this week:
Boston and Jaffa were looking for a new home this morning, and by late this afternoon they had found one. They were handed in to a vet in Canberra, but the vet nurses wanted to keep them alive if possible. At first things did not look too good, but Sharyn, the person who started activating the networks via email, was tenacious. She was even able to offer transport to Melbourne (about 500-600 miles) and to Sydney(300-400 miles)
One of her emails had the following:
PS (A lot of you know this already but some people don’t realise the following) If you know of anyone that is unsure of taking on a pair please advise them that most often two dogs can be less trouble than one. They keep each other company and therefore overcome problems of boredom and loneliness. They exercise in play and are often less destructive and less likely to create a noise problem. . . . You learn much more about dogs and their more natural behaviours when they have the company and society of their own ie they get the opportunity to relate to their own species, express an extended repertoire of behaviours and to be dogs rather than solely a member of our pack.
I am inclined to think that Sasha and Dexter would agree. We had a disrupted week. We had rain – as you can see. Also we had the coldest November morning on record. And I had to stay over in hospital for one night. Nonetheless, we went out today, and we came back safely, even though Dexter cut his tongue on the spurs of an echidna. (The echidna was unhurt and the dogs were reprimanded).
As always we will seek to step on board Friday Ark #113 and be among the others at the Carnival of the Dogs. Our thanks to Modulator and Mickey’s Musings. The enlargement thing is not working consistently for some reason. Some photos enlarge to full size and others do not.
CATEGORIES November 16, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Blogging in general.
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If only for my own interest, I intend to slowly work through my past posting allocating categories, which means that like postings can be shown together.
Obviously, I forget what I said, for example, two years ago. I can also see the contradictions and fix mistakes.
Word Press has this facility that Blogger does not so readily provide.
LEVELS OF LITERACY November 16, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Blogging in general.
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I know that you will sometimes be appalled by mistakes in grammatical construction, a reminder blogs, such as this one especially, have a peculiar private but public quality. The conclusion to be drawn is, I think, that bloggers are writers.
While I acknowledge there is no necessity that they are good or competent writers, they are in this sense similar to journalists. Journalist should be demonstrating to us how to do a better job. It is also true that some of my errors are due to carelessness, such as not checking spelling or that links are correct.
I should add that while writing is the means for blogging, it not the motivation. We might have written letters back home, if we were migrants to a new country in the nineteenth, or early twentieth century. The act of writing in that context as this would increase our skill, and in that context we would more likely to be female. I think of this blog as a statement of what I am interested in, and if that pass you by in any direction, it does not matter. So it is “vanity and vanity”, or whatever the preacher said.
Technologies shape writing, a observation that can be confirmed readily by considering telegraphy and mobile phone messaging. I think that blog writing has a closer affinity to letter writing, which in turn is influenced by the writing in newspapers. Letters to the editor are always selected by the Letters Editor. We bloggers are free of the editor, except when chance might have it, we have such a pedant for a reader.
It is a useful reminder, for those who might despise the implication of our purpose, that during our course of formal education we once were writers, even if our employment has no use for our mediocre development, or else wants to funnel it through narrow channels. You see, it is rebellion too, as much as vanity. It is the Who am I? What am I? thing.
Prologue aside, that brings me to this observation from Jacob Nielsen, described by the New York Times as “the guru of Webpage usability”:
“According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Adult Literacy Survey, 48% of the U.S. population has low literacy. (Literacy levels are roughly the same in other advanced countries, though slightly higher in Scandinavia.”
He explains that low literacy is not the same as illiteracy. Poor readers tend to “plow the text”, reading from word to word.
Damn we can’t even read, and we write blogs!
I notice that Gary Sauer-Thompson makes the point with declining circulation, newspapers have less need for journalists, and that means:
. . . producing product for news “consumers” rather than citizens.That means the turn to entertainment and to fake news, rumor, speculation and gossip. That, in turn, signifies the decay of the implicit role of journalism as a “calling” rather than just a job; one that has been defined as being the “guardian or watchdog of democracy” and as an “intermediary and an interpreter between society and knowledge.”
As the comments immediately observe, blogs fill a niche by remembering that we, as readers and writers, are citizens.
SO BLAIR IS GOING? November 16, 2006Posted by wmmbb in Iraq Policy.
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It seems to be his intention, but not for the immediate present. The Independent reports that Blair has announced that Brown will be his successor:
Tony Blair anointed Gordon Brown as his chosen successor in unveiling his final package of legislation before standing down as Prime Minister next year.
Mr Blair took everyone in the Commons, including the Chancellor, by surprise by making clear he saw Mr Brown as his inevitable successor during fiery exchanges on the Queen’s Speech with David Cameron.
A beaming Mr Brown patted Mr Blair on the back at the close of his speech as the impact of the Prime Minister’s words sunk in. “Everyone knew what it meant,” said one Brown ally. “It wasn’t choreographed. We weren’t expecting it.”
The end of “the long goodbye” is said to take place in July 2007. Meanwhile at The Guardian, Sidney Blumenthal believes that Blair had little influence with Bush. Therefore let us suppose Howard has even less.