...Views from mid-Atlantic
15 November 2003

British MP George Galloway's libel suit against the Daily Telegraph has dampened down comment on his relationship with Saddam Hussein's Iraqi Government, but that doesn't mean it has been forgotten, or that there haven't been consequences arising from it.

Amotz Asa-El waxes a little flowery on the subject, but nonetheless comes up with some interesting ideas on the reasons Saudi society seems on the wane.

For example: "...when people are not raised to value self-development nor led to actively seek enlightenment, they indeed avoid them. The result is a catastrophic rate of illiteracy (40 percent according to the Encyclopedia Britannica) and a widespread lack of basic tools with which to accomplish social mobility and personal fulfillment."

It might have taken scientist Craig Venter 14 days to synthesise the genome of a small virus, but I'll bet that was 13 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 second longer than it took this lot to decide they didn't like it. There's a little fragment of verse that seems apt: "There up jumped a brisk little somebody, critic and whippersnapper, in a rage to set things right."

You gotta love Posy Simmonds.

"John casually took half a second out from corralling, cajoling and charming 13 of the most unruly egos in the business (and trying to take a few pictures along the way) to dodge a poorly-thrown fig. Still, the game was afoot, the dander up, and within a few minutes, not unfuelled by wine, the disciples were involved in a wonderfully unseemly food-fight. Nuts and oranges and rough hunks of olive bread flew, and then magically, at one point, an entire brie floated over the heads of the multitude, spending one thousandth of a second halo-ing the head of Gordon Ramsay. At that precise point, the shutter clicked"...and caught what I'd say is a candidate for the picture of the year.

The Guardian's Charlotte Higgins seems to think classical music is racist because black people don't care for it. It's a flawed point of view. Black people are under no more of an obligation to like classical music than classical music is under to make itself likeable to blacks. Same goes for white people and, say, rap music. Racial equality means absence of segregation, it doesn't mean making individuality disappear by forcing the world through some kind of cultural blender.

Inventive Moroccan smugglers operating between Algeria and Morocco came up with a blend of low and high tech that really was worth braying about...until Algerian customs caught on.

14 November 2003

This is not a terribly comforting assessment of the situation in Israel, neither is it the first time that senior Israeli officials have spoken against the policies of the Sharon Government. Ex-Shin Bet security service head Yaakov Perry was quoted on Israel Radio last week as having said that the only way forward was for Israel to take unilateral steps, such as withdrawing from the Gaza Strip. Doing so, he said, could help draw the Palestinians to peace talks, minimize terror and help Israel improve economically. It would also raise Israel's status in the eyes of the world, he said. Three other former heads of Shin Bet made similar remarks.

Law on the frontier between reality and make-believe? This is a fascinating piece from Wired News.

Not exactly a class act, is it? He might have served in Vietnam, but the experience doesn't seem to have taught him a lot about how to manage men.

It must be a sign of some kind - the French have started to laugh at Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

Bret Stephens, editor of and columnist for the Jerusalem Post has produced an excellent little history of corruption in the Palestinian Authority, drawing on the findings of the International Monetary Fund's recent study, and other sources.

Documents recently released in the UK show that MI5 kept closer tabs on a bunch of literary types during the Second World War than seems comfortable at this remote distance.

What strikes me, though, is the sophistication of MI5's judgements, like describing someone as "a milch cow", or saying: "Like his close associates Stephen Spender and WH Auden, Day Lewis is an intellectual communist, but of the three he is definitely the most convinced and practical party man, the others, as you know, being communists of a highly idealistic and literary brand." Better sort of assessment than might have been had from Senator McCarthy or J Edgar Hoover, isn't it?

"A new UN report, obtained by the Financial Times, reveals that despite 'considerable progress' in combating terrorist financing, al-Qaeda related businesses and charities continue to operate across the globe." The FT's story quotes the report as having said that the international system designed to choke off the flow of money to al-Qaeda was being undermined by lack of cooperation, and that the arms embargo against al-Qaeda was "totally ineffective".

On the other hand, Canada seems to be doing its bit.

Patrick O'Brian's novels about life in the British Navy during the time of the Napoleonic wars have a pretty good claim to being the best historical novels ever written. But the difficulties Hollywood has turning good written work into good filmed work are well known. The New York Times seems to think the Australian director Peter Weir has done a good job with Master and Commander, which opens today. As a dyed-in-the-wool O'Brian fan, I would be just delighted if their critic, A O Scott, were right.

But snippets like this one make me suspect his knowledge of the subject is a little thin: "This stupendously entertaining movie...celebrates an idea of England that might have seemed a bit corny even in 1805, when the action takes place." Corny? If you held a contest, you couldn't come up with a sillier remark.

Makes me think that this commentary, by James Mennie of the Montreal Gazette, might be a more accurate take.

13 November 2003

John Keegan is in a class by himself where it comes to analysing military tactics and strategy. This story was headlined Like it or not, America is becoming an imperial power in the Telegraph this morning, and I thought for a second I was about to go off John Keegan. But the headline was pulled from the last paragraph, and there, the sentence doesn't have quite the resonance it has in the headline. Keegan's column is also used in the NY Sun today. There, it is headlined Iraq according to Rumsfeld, which is less exciting, but more accurate.

"The stunning results of a 10-year fight to restore the last house designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh were unveiled yesterday" according to this Telegraph piece, in Northampton, England. As the Telegraph says, this house is as much a testament to the courage of the owner as it is to the skill of the architect.

Love this article. Bad signs: How film pros spot clunkers gets my vote for the best story of the week.

The bad reputation that GM foods have acquired is a tragedy. At a conference in London earlier this year, 40 members of the international scientific community were asked to list what significant discoveries and achievements would have been limited or prevented, if science at the time had been affected by the kind of caution that has been forced upon science today by people frightened of its implications.

The list was very long, too long to reproduce. But a few of the items they listed, chosen almost at random, were these:

1. The aeroplane, antibiotics, aspirin, blood transfusions, CAT scans, the discovery of DNA, electric light bulbs, fire, the internal combustion engine, the internet, the jet engine, knives and vaccines for measles, polio, smallpox, rabies and other diseases.

2. Nuclear power, oil, open-heart surgery, organ transplants, pasteurisation, penicillin, the Periodic table, Quantum mechanics, radar, railways, space exploration, steam power, the telephone, the wheel and X-rays.

There's more in the article linked from the right-hand side of this page, entitled Letting the Tao do the Work.

This is an interesting idea. Wonder if it will work. They could have found a better word than "oracy", though.

Looks as if the Guardian has just woken up to the reality of cable television. But Matt Wells, the media correspondent seems to want to fall in with the BBC and blame "middle class producers and commissioners" for using faulty research to foist bad programming off on consumers. The research was faulty, says the BBC guy, because these producers and commissioners "use less-educated and less-sophisticated 'real people'" to base their programming on.

Middle class? This is that Brit thing, again. Dumb would have been more direct, assuming that the research was faulty. I'd need convincing that it was. What was it Pogo said? We have met the enemy and he is us. Real people really are less educated and less sophisticated than we sometimes think we are.

Here's a little piece of evidence.

Brian Azzarello really does write crisp dialogue. 100 Bullets is fine stuff. I'm not sure I'd compare him to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as this story does. But if he can breathe new life into Superman, no one will need to.

The tabloid New York Times Book Review, says the Boston Globe, is old fashioned.

"There is little doubt," writes Globe columnist Alex Beam, "that the tabloid section is long overdue for a change. It has retained a certain canonical influence in the literary community; for a writer, getting a Times review is like getting a college degree. If you don't have one, you have some explaining to do. But as each year passes, it increasingly resembles Jane's Defence Weekly; the latest Martin Amis novel, like the latest Northrop fighter plane, is reviewed not because it is good but because it is there."

I don't follow this logic at all. Just because something is old and familiar doesn't mean it isn't good. And making something new and slick does nothing more than make it look new and slick. Who wants slick in a book review?

12 November 2003

Aljazeera's made a pretty significant mistake this morning. They claim the Iraq war killed up to 55,000 civilians. The report they're quoting said no such thing. It suggested that might be the total number of war dead, including soldiers on both sides. It's difficult to understand how an organisation wanting to be seen as a major news agency could be careless enough to make such a mistake.

Here's something I don't understand at all. What connection is there between making people carry ID cards and trying to fight crime?

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Galleries, is challenging the British impulse to prevent old masters being bought and exported from Britain, saying the money would be better spent on buying contemporary art. He makes a good point. Could it be that wanting to keep works of art at huge expense has something to do with a reluctance to let go of the grandeur of Britain's imperial past?

UPDATE: Sir Nicholas now says that wasn't what he said. Or perhaps it wasn't what he meant. But the Guardian manages to turn what could have been rather a dull correction into what is a useful and entertaining story in its own right.

I see nothing wrong with giving a naughty child a smack around the ear. It's a time-tested method of getting children to behave, and I don't for a minute buy the theory that children are damaged psychologically by that kind of correction, as long as it isn't taken too far. But in England, that brand of forcefulness can get you jailed. What I find disconcerting is the way this kind of case seems to draw out of the complainants a tendency to think any exaggeration is justified if a child is involved.

Didn't someone say recently that democracy and Islam are incapable of mixing? That's not the impression this Christian Science Monitor story gives. I was kind of impressed by these two paragraphs:

"'How could we hope to ensure the progress and prosperity of a society,' asked King Mohammed VI last month, 'while its women, who constitute half therein, see their rights pushed aside, and suffer injustice, violence, and marginalization in disregard of the right to dignity and equity that our sacred religion confers upon them?'

"A similar stirring of women's and human right's movements is evident in other Arab countries. The president of Egypt passed a law in 2000 to allow women to file for divorce. Reforms in Bahrain gave women the right to vote and run for election in 2001. And in Djibouti, women entered the National Assembly for the first time in 2002."

I can't think that the New York Times is being accurate in its melodramatic depiction of a Supreme Court in white trunks and a White House in black trunks squaring off over the legality of the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In its story, the NYT claims that "In its decision to accept the Guantanamo Bay prisoners' appeals despite the Bush administration's objections, the Supreme Court brushed past the 'judges keep out' fence the administration had tried to erect around its open-ended detention policy," and adds "No matter how the court eventually rules, that action alone may well come to define a singular moment in the relationship between the White House and the Supreme Court, two inherently powerful institutions that for the last several years have been in alpha mode, each intent on exercising its power to the maximum extent possible."

The US is at war, and in wartime, as Chief Justice William Rehnquist has pointed out, judges are always reluctant to rule against the government on an issue involving national security. In his book, All the Laws but One: Civil Liberties in Wartime, Mr Rehnquist quotes a Latin maxim with a long, long pedigree - inter arma silent leges, which means "in time of war, the law is silent".

Chief Justice Rehnquist ended his analysis with this observation: "It is neither desirable nor is it remotely likely that civil liberty will occupy as favoured a position in wartime as it does in peacetime. But it is both desirable and likely that more careful attention will be paid by the courts to the basis of the government's claims. The laws will thus not be silent in times of war, but they will speak with a somewhat different voice."

One had the impression from its story that the Times was rather looking forward to a George Bush humbled by a Supreme Court drubbing. I'd be very surprised if that is where this case is going to go.

11 November 2003

Today is Remembrance Day here and in Europe, Veterans' Day in the United States. It's a good time to reflect on the most excellent Mark Steyn's piece in the Telegraph today on the differences between European and American attitudes on war and preparedness for war. Key paragraph might be this one:

"In our time, mass slaughter occurs only in places where the West refuses to act - in the Sudan or North Korea - or acts only under the contemptible and corrupting rules of UN "peacekeeping", as at Srebrenica. In Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere, technological advantage changes the moral calculus: it makes war the least worst option, the moral choice. At the 11th hour of the 11th day, we should remember those who died in the Great War, but recognise that it could never be "the war to end all wars" and never should."

If you like background, you'll find Aljazeera's feature on the birth of the Iraqi Baath party a useful piece to keep around.

Can it be? The BBC appoints someone to steer them away from anti-Israeli bias in their coverage of the Middle East? Looks as if Britain's Hutton Enquiry (whose web site is here, if you don't know about it) has had an effect even before the report has been written.

The International Monetary Fund has issued a report that, among other things, details Yasser Arafat's absolute control of something like 8% of the Palestinian Authority's budget. This story is Haaretz's take on that. The full report is here as a .pdf.

The very last part of the Conclusion suggests that "...at the end of the day, if the road to reform that has been mapped out is followed, the future Palestinian state that will emerge will have a much more liberal structure than the more autocratic regimes that prevail elsewhere in the Middle East, with greater limitations on the state and a more vibrant role for the private sector, and with an economy that is well integrated into the world economy and in harmony with its neighbor, Israel."

The trouble with spy stories is that you can never tell the difference between a thoroughly embarrassing bungle and a thoroughly excellent cover story. Know what I mean?

Two little signs that Iraq isn't quite the kind of paradise on earth for extremist American capitalists that some would have us believe. First, this story in the Financial Times this morning says "US authorities in Iraq have put on hold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of mobile telephone contracts, while they investigate allegations that the bidding process was hijacked by associates of the new Iraqi governing council." Makes it sound almost as if the Americans are behaving responsibly, doesn't it?

Then, down towards the end of this story, Tony Blair is quoted in the Telegraph as having said that "These supposedly evil Americans have voted $19 billion of their own money in aid. Not a penny piece of Iraq's oil money has gone anywhere but into an account under the supervision of the IMF and the UN." That was a bit of a rebuke, perhaps, to those on the "Arab and Muslim street", as well as to those in significant areas of Western opinion, who saw the United States and Britain as an "army of occupation", out to suppress the Muslim population of Iraq and steal its oil.

10 November 2003

The Chicago Sun-Times was the only paper in the US that Google could find running this story early this morning. Why on earth would that be the case?

See? Bermuda's not just a pretty offshore financial centre. Nosirree. We've got big hearts down here.

And so, apparently, do the folks over in China.

"An attempt by developing countries to put management of the internet under United Nations auspices is likely to be shelved at next month's world information summit in Geneva - but the issue is now firmly on the international agenda, summit sources say." I don't think it gets any dumber than this.

This is a useful story. Word can behave like a sparrow on speed when you're trying to highlight just one line more than a screenful. If you write a lot, and especially if you write to deadlines, the experience of trying to calm the little beast can be infuriating. James Coates of the Chicago Tribune says we should be using the keyboard, not the mouse.

Jack Thomas of the Boston Globe says, with some panache, that "with apologies to the Emily Post Institute, and sorry to be crude, dude, but the interlude is postlude. It's over."

I'm not sure I agree completely, but I sure gave his argument my full attention.

The timing for these attempts to gain exemption for the pesticide methyl bromide couldn't be worse. And saying this substance is vital for American farmers as they try to compete with farm production in countries where fields are tended by low-paid laborers isn't exactly going to be compelling, I suspect.

The US Administration certainly seems to have been playing Turkey like someone trying to play a piano with a fiddler's bow. This story in the New York Times this morning isn't encouraging.

It quotes Richard C. Holbrooke, who was ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, as having said: "This whole episode has angered and embarrassed Turkey," he added. "Three years ago, 60 percent of Turks said America was its best friend. Now that number is down to the teens. This is a fiasco."

09 November 2003

"When it comes to archbishops, they don't get much more liberal than Rowan Williams. The Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans, has called himself a 'hairy lefty', advocated socialism and spoken critically of the U.S.-led military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. While he is in many ways an orthodox theologian, he has questioned the literal truth of parts of the Bible, fought ardently for the right of women to become priests and knowingly ordained at least one openly gay man. He has even praised 'The Simpsons' television show for championing 'sense, humility and virtue'."

I recall Tom Stoppard very recently talking about an archibshop he'd put in one of his plays. He was, he said, "a pretty standard example of life catching up with satire."

Well, this is a bit of a turn-up, isn't it? Perhaps it was a time-travelling schoolboy.

It's going to be a busy evening on British television tonight. John Simpson is going to be on BBC1 at 9, with an investigation of the friendly fire incident he found himself in the middle of during the Iraq war. He is going to suggest that it was caused by a nervous American special forces spotter, whose instructions to the F-14s that he called in were far too vague.

A little earlier, on BBC2, an investigation into the circumstances of the Palestinian Authority sending $50,000 a month to members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades will be airing. See the next post.

The BBC did, indeed, report this story about the Palestinian Authority paying of members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade on Saturday. That gave them time today to update the story with a denial, just in time to blunt the effect of the television programme.

The BBC seems to be jamming an awful lot into one evening, doesn't it?

This has to be the perfect Sunday-morning-lying-around-reading-the-paper story.

Whatever it is in the British character that produces soccer hooligans and a press that can't stay away from the jugular...any jugular...seems to be breaking out all over. Doesn't it?

Harold Bloom thinks of Shakespeare as "my mortal god", and Falstaff as the embodiment of all that is human in human nature. Kevin Kline, who is playing Falstaff at Lincoln Center as of 20 November, thinks Bloom's over the top. The writer Ron Rosenbaum has an interesting piece about the way it's going to work in this production in the New York Times today.


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

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