...Views from mid-Atlantic
01 November 2003

An interesting little footnote to what's known about Charles Dickens' life. I think this is mean to be a sidebar to this.

31 October 2003

The hardening United States attitude towards Cuba is causing a backwash in the Caribbean - a region about whose politics Americans know very little, despite its physical closeness. Cuba sits almost in the middle of the Caribbean...you can almost see the place from the north coast of Jamaica...and relations between it and the other countries of the region are close, getting closer. CARICOM, the Caribbean trade organisation, established diplomatic relations with the Castro government for the first time away back in 1972, when Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana signed an agreement. They were followed by Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Bahamas also has diplomatic relations with Cuba, although not with resident ambassadors.

The Cuba/Caribbean relationship is so strong that on 8 December every year, Cuba/CARICOM Day is celebrated all over the Caribbean. But since the economies of just about all of the Caribbean islands depend to a greater or lesser extent on American tourism, it can be an uncomfortable relationship.

In Bermuda, we're getting a crash course in that kind of discomfort, because our Progressive Labour Party Government, which won power in 1998 for the first time, and was returned to power in July of this year, has made Bermuda an associate member of CARICOM, and has entered into a cultural agreement with Cuba. These things have sparked a great deal of debate. Bermuda is not a part of the Caribbean, being nearly 1,000 miles north of the Caribbean sea. But we have the same kind of background as other countries in the region, and many black Bermudians have roots in the Caribbean. Support for CARICOM and Cuba is stronger among black Bermudians than white, who are more likely to have European roots.

But our debate, US Administration concern, and perhaps the discomfort being felt in the Caribbean, would have been a great deal more muted if it had not been for Fidel Castro's extraordinary crackdown on people he described as dissidents earlier this year. Why on earth did he pick that particular moment? This Hoover Digest article by William Ratliff takes an interesting crack at an explanation.

I have a strong feeling that this is not the last we are going to hear about this story, published in today's Canadian National Post.

Some of the men who took part in the filming of an as-yet unaired British reality TV programme, Find Me a Man weren't aware that the attractive brunette they were wooing for the cameras was a transsexual. According to this story in the Telegraph "Some of the men are believed to have been intimate with Miriam before discovering at the end of the show that she was a pre-operative transsexual." Hmmm. All our questions are likely to be answered in the fullness of time, because the contestants are taking the show's principals to court. What is it they say? The only bad publicity is no publicity at all?

We should all know by now not to get too excited by stories like this, but it would be nice...

Sr Berlusconi seems determined to redefine the phrase Renaissance Man. This CD is going to be like Jemima - if it's good, it's going to be very, very good, but if it's bad, it is going to be dreadful.

30 October 2003

There is a link in this utterly fascinating New Scientist story to a recording of the Big Bang. I hesitate to use the word "awesome" - it has been used so much it has lost its power to convey meaning. But I can't think of a better one.

Who knew the universe would turn out to be so damned noisy.

Just when it seemed the terrible death at the hands of the Iranian authorities of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemiwas going to fade away forever, this happens. Maybe something really is stirring in that country.

In the context of that thought, this looks like progress.

I'll bet this strange little story in the Times of India sticks in your head for the rest of the day, like one of those little snatches of music you can't get rid of. Is it a joke? Can it possibly be as misconceived as it seems?

Michael Howard seems to be the man the British Conservative Party wants to lead them now that Iain Duncan Smith has gone. This Telegraph editorial seems to summarise Tory thinking pretty well.

And this is something about him I'll bet few people realised.

What a bizarre idea! But will talking eyes work even after time makes them an old story? And aren't there a bunch of other places where they might be useful?

29 October 2003

Good piece in the New Criterion by Jeffrey Meyers on George Orwell's thoughts on writing. Meyers quotes Norman Mailer as having said about Orwell: “I don’t think there’s a man writing English today who can’t learn how to write a little better by reading his essays."

What a pleasant article about Merce Cunningham this is in the New Yorker. I found it via
Arts Journal.com, which I thought quoted exactly the right paragraph from it:

"You can find dancing that is more poignant, or easier to watch, than Cunningham's, but I don't think any choreographer in the world gives us a closer look at the truth. Beauty without reasons, and without anxiety over the lack of reasons: that may be what life was like before we started making it up. Sometimes, when I look at Cunningham's stage, I think I'm seeing the world on the seventh day, with everything new and just itself - before the snake, and the tears, and the explanations."

Read the article entitled "Boykin and Mahathir" on the right side of this page and you'll see why I think President Bush needs to take stronger measures with General Boykin than he seems so far to be thinking about. If the US wants to be respected in the world...

There is certainly no question in my mind that the United States did the right thing when it went into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein's regime. I just hope that the kind of ugly incident that this story describes doesn't make Americans lose their nerve. What seems obvious to me may not be so obvious to them, that the people who killed this man, and the people who are killing so many others, do so because they're afraid the Coalition might succeed. The closer the Coalition gets to success, the more incidents like this one there will be. That may not be terribly pleasant, but it is something Americans are just going to have to accept as part of the price of having the courage to act on their convictions. This story helps a little.

This Telegraph story about expatriates being kicked out of Kenya may make you think that another African leader has simply lost some of his marbles, but the story has a strong resonance in Bermuda, as in many countries that rely heavily on expatriate workers. Bermuda's problem is that it is tiny - 65,000 people on not much more than 20 square miles of land. When people live and work here for a while, it is natural that they would begin to think about staying for good. If you allow that to happen, you increase your population not by one person, but by that person together with spouse and the children. Here, that'll get you to bursting at the seams in no time, so immigration and immigration issues are always our hottest topic - with all of the nastiest isms lurking just beneath the surface. Kenya is a country that is physically a lot bigger than Bermuda, with many immigration problems we don't have, but we do have an understanding of the type of problem they face, and so read the story rather differently than others might.

Bermuda's biggest bank, the Bank of Bermuda, is being bought out by the HSBC group, once known as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, and now supposedly the second biggest bank in the world. CNN.com's story covers the facts. But there are mixed feelings about this deal here in Bermuda. All of our banks, until fairly recently, were locally owned. The Bank of Bermuda was the first local company to get permission to expand its ownership beyond the traditional 60% Bermudian, 40% non-Bermudian limit.

That rule is obviously not appropriate in these days of global economics, but still, Bermudians feel this takeover as a loss of financial independence...one with all the bittersweet feelings that any loss of virginity carries.

Mind you, the shareholders might still reject HSBC's offer, which amounts to $45 for a share that had a $41 asking price on Friday. There have been sweeter deals.

Computing at the speed of light? And it's an Israeli invention? This is an interesting cat that's being put among the pigeons.

Class politics is a sickness that is shrivelling the British soul. The connection between this kind of criticism and what soccer hooligans do must be obvious - Brits sometimes suffer from anger, self loathing and an instinct for destruction that is so powerful that it makes them lose their common sense. Evelyn Waugh, whatever he happened to be like personally, was an immense talent, a writer of funny, jolly stuff that was sometimes so accurate in its observation of the British character that it took your breath away. Turning him into some kind of cultural Bluebeard is a bit of a pathetic and footling exercise.

This is another example of the same sort of impulse at work. There are private schools and public schools in many countries. Whether to send your child to one or the other may be one of the most significant and far reaching decisions you'll ever make, but the process you use in making it isn't much different from the process you use in choosing a car - what's the best I can afford. Turning it into some kind of class battleground is to put yourself into a maze from which there is no escape. When that impulse spills over into the management of the British educational system, as it does, it cannot have anything but a destructive effect.

The saddest story on the web this morning has to be this one.

28 October 2003

This is a fascinating take on the anti-war movement, from the ever-excellent Michael J. Totten.

Sensible article in American Journalism Review on the over-the-top attempts by some newspapers to attract young readers.

Rachel Smolkin, its author, says they should "put the new tabloids in the trash where they belong and focus on improving our newspapers. Despite the success of cable news and the Internet, newspapers--with their varied stories, editorials, columns and letters to the editor--remain a staple of democracy, a forum that exposes us, however briefly, to ideas and viewpoints that we would mute on cable or ignore the links to online. If we concede that America's young people are sentient, then we must accept that there is a shrewder way to awaken their love for newspapers." Amen to that.

Lists of the best of anything have a peculiar effect on people. You can't resist reading the damn things, even though you know perfectly well you're going to be disappointed. But this guy gets it wrong. The BBC's Big Read is listing the 100 books people like best. What people like is what people like, and all you can do if you don't like it is get over it. Now, the Guardian's list is different. This purports to be a list of the 100 best. It isn't by a long shot. This, he should complain about.

Why is it that people never seem to stop being surprised when terrorists attack organisations like the Red Cross or the United Nations? That's what terrorists do - attack civilians who don't have the means to defend themselves. It's not that killing civilians advances them militarily, they're after the publicity and the shock value of the attack. They consider everyone fair game. That's why all terrorists, including the ones spawned by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, should be condemned and hunted down wherever they exist and whatever their cause.

If it's true, this might be a welcome sign that Zimbabwe's dark days are coming to an end.

There have been a number of outbreaks of overtly anti-semitic behaviour among academics in Britain. This one seems to have been dealt with expeditiously, but others have not.

The case of Mona Baker, who dismissed two Israeli professors from the board of journals she edits in pursuit of an academic boycott of Israeli universities, was put to an enquiry by the University of Manchester, which took months to figure out that it had no jurisdiction to deal with her case. And a proposed British academic boycott of Israel also jogged on for months before being stopped by a vote in the largest university lecturers' union in May.

Late in 2002, Tony Blair felt obliged to tell Britain's Chief Rabbi that he would "do anything necessary" to stop the academic boycott, saying he was "appalled" by this evidence of discrimination on British university campuses, according to his aides.

There seems to be something in the British character that loves delay - perhaps it is something they got a taste for in the days of Empire. It certainly can be a useful tactic in dampening down a hot controversy, but sometimes it can take on an ugly edge. The Conservative Party's long-running campaign against its leader, Iain Duncan Smith, is a case in point. Has a knife ever taken so long to penetrate a man's back? Max Hastings sums up the Conservative Party's problems pretty well in an article in the Guardian this morning.


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
The US Supreme Court's First Terrorism Decisions
Useful Yiddish
Yukio Mishima's Death

Article Archive

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