|...Views from mid-Atlantic|
06 December 2003
"Stepping into the dark, silent, conifer woodland that borders Dale Dike reservoir, it is difficult to imagine that here, 140 years ago, began an event which resulted in hundreds of deaths." It takes the Guardian's Pete Bowler only four paragraphs to tell this story, but he does it beautifully.
The art of the encore is the focus of this interesting Guardian piece. "I think encores should be either very brilliant, very funny, or very sad," says cellist Steven Isserlis. "I do a very beautiful Dvorak Romantic Piece Op 74 No 5; I tell audiences that I am going to ruin their evening by playing them the saddest piece in the world."
No one can speak or write about buildings in England without first finding out what Nikolaus Pevsner, a German Jew who fled Germany as the Nazis came to power, has to say about them.
Sir Rodric Braithwaite, a former chairman of Whitehall's joint intelligence committee, the JIC, has told the Royal Institute for International Affairs that Britain's intelligence chiefs allowed their objectivity to be undermined in order to help Tony Blair make a case for war with Iraq. It's a damning assault, directed principally towards the current chairman of the JIC, John Scarlett.
"In a reference to Mr Scarlett - a candidate to succeed Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, next year - and Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, he said two witnesses to the Hutton inquiry, into the death of the weapons expert Dr David Kelly, said it was not their fault if the press misinterpreted them.
"'That is absurd,' said Sir Rodric. 'One writes in order to be understood by one's audience. The JIC and Downing Street have only themselves to blame if the public failed to grasp what they were trying to say.'"
Can anyone sing Rossini like Cecilia Bartoli? Well, actually, says the Financial Times, Bartoli's value-added factor has never been her voice, which is small and breathy.
"Some would say control-freakery has become the key to the Bartoli brand, protected through her own Zurich-based management company. Not for her the hip-swinging world of Carmen, or the crossover appeal of a flamenco album, although both would have delighted her record company. Having established the freedom to call her own tune, Bartoli prefers to spend her time researching and promoting arcane repertoire.
"First came the recherche vocal music of Vivaldi; then Gluck, and now Salieri, the late 18th-century Viennese court composer known chiefly (but erroneously) as the murderer of Mozart in Amadeus, the Hollywood blockbuster. With any other singer this would be a recipe for disaster.
"But Bartoli has sold hundreds of thousands of CDs on her terms, and The Salieri Album looks like continuing the trend. She is the Kate Winslet of classical music, proving to the world she can use her fame to do interesting and offbeat things in an un-Hollywood-esque way."
I get the sense that the Christian Science Monitor's columnist doesn't like it much, but he does acknowledge that the US is quietly heading towards an almost flat tax. He sees that as a lost opportunity to penalise the rich for being rich. Those with clearer heads will see it as a simpler and cheaper way of collecting tax revenue.
Benjamin Schwartz says in the Atlantic Monthly that Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe were the great pioneers of New Journalism - that although the style, approach, and structure of Talese's pieces was radical, his superlatively smooth writing had none of Wolfe's attention-grabbing swagger, and perfectly suited his role as invisible observer.
Talese doesn't agree. "What the (expletive) did I do that was new? It isn't rigid, old-fashioned formulaic journalism, but it's not New Journalism. It is the use of the writer's tools, meaning storytelling, the great tradition of storytelling, through the visual sense, bringing the reader into the room with you, or to the realm with you. It is using dialogue; it is exploring the notion of being someone else and wondering what it is like to be this person."
05 December 2003
A contentious political move to grant an international governing body such as the United Nation's International Telecommunication Union control over Internet governance issues - from distributing Web site domains to the public to fighting spam - has all but obscured the purpose of a UN conference on Information Technology next week. It's a battle that couldn't be more fundamental to the future if it tried. The Internet was born and has thrived in the absence of regulation. How could the most bureaucratic and, arguably, the least effective organisation on earth do it any good?
President Bush announced this week that the editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, Robert Bartley, was going to be given the US's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As the WSJ's competition, the Washington Times is nice enough to allow, it couldn't be going to a nicer, or more effective journalist.
FAO Schwartz filing for bankruptcy? The end of the world is nigh.
It's almost as if becoming a member of the ruling classes in some parts of Africa bestows on people not just a get-out-of-jail-free card, but a holder-can-ignore-all rules-card. Nigeria makes no bones about its intention to ignore the Interpol warrant for Charles Taylor's arrest.
The country has also announced the start of a probe into allegations that some of its officials were paid "colossal" bribes by a French company that wanted to win a $214 million national identity card contract. No prize for guessing how successful it's going to be.
That the British criminal justice system (and, by extension, systems like Bermuda's which are based on the British system) is tilted unfairly in favour of the accused is almost universally accepted. But tinkering with what is, after all, the foundation of a democratic state, is a tricky business.
Britain's Labour Government has been trying to deal with the problem since its first term in office, but its initiatives seem always to have been rushed, and poorly thought-out. This week, Lord Falconer, the Constitution Secretary, promised "further steps to rebalance the system even more towards victims and witnesses."
Joshua Rozenburg, the legal editor of the Telegraph, thinks the steps he's proposing to take are going to create "a criminal justice system that is balanced against the law-abiding citizen and a judiciary that is too politicised to protect us from the Government."
The BBC has promised to expose some of the myths surrounding Britain's evacuation of Dunkirk. If they do as good a job as they did exposing the myths of the Cambridge spies - Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt - we may be in for a treat.
Shimon Peres, the former prime minister of Israel, says in this article in the Jerusalem Post that Israel has made two big mistakes in its history - failing to politically finesse the Six Day War's military victory, and expanding into the territories.
"The huge fortune we invested in the territories, which today Sharon and Olmert understand undermine Israel's existence as a state with a Jewish majority, would have been invested in the Negev, in Galilee, in education, in creating jobs, in cultivating relations with our neighbors and in protecting our country's landscapes. Those who claim Oslo is a crime caused the biggest sin in Israel's history. Our staying in the territories did not give us security (because terrorism replaced conventional war) or peace (because without giving back the territories there will be no peace) nor a modern Israeli society (that has to exist in an open, global economy)."
British businesses, according to the Financial Times, can expect a big increase in the administrative burden of tax law under changes set to be unveiled by the Treasury next week. The new rules have been forced on Britain by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Seems to call for some good, old unfair competition.
04 December 2003
Want to start your day on a truly lovely note? This story could only have been written in Paris.
All is forgiven...for the day, anyway.
There can't be anyone alive who can read who doesn't know about the phenomenon of the error that, like that bunny, just keeps on going.
The Commonwealth sometimes seems a grouping of nations held together by nothing much more substantial than rubber bands and paper clips. This Independent story deftly summarises its fragility:
"At this meeting however a dangerous rift is opening up between the "Old white Commonwealth" of New Zealand, Canada, Britain and Australia and the African nations. The lines are not clearly drawn as yet but one wrong word from either side could lead to a split which would divide it between poor African countries and rich, mainly white ones.
"Zimbabwe lies at the heart of the most difficult issues. The Commonwealth delegated Nigeria, Australia and South Africa to decide what to do in the lead up to last year's election but their decision was tied solely to the report of the Commonwealth Election Monitors' report...
"One adviser to President Obasanjo said: 'Mugabe may have a bad human rights record but we feel Britain is using this as an excuse.
"'We Africans think the real reason is that they want to punish Mugabe for taking the land from the whites.'"
This is an important story for anyone following British politics at the moment, but the headline alone justifies a read of it.
The media are carrying a lot of stories about the Bad Sex Award this morning, but this one seems to me to tell the story best, and offer up by far the best quote:
"She picks up a Bugatti's momentum. You want her more at a Volkswagen's steady trot. Squeeze the maximum mileage out of your gallon of gas. But she's eating up the road with all cylinders blazing. You lift her out. You want to try different kinds of fusion."
Internet surfers, according to the Times of India, prefer Saddam Hussein to Britney Spears.
Professor Noam Chomsky has been the darling of the liberal left for years, despite ample evidence that he has difficulty making sound moral judgements. Lately, he's had to dance a bit to stay ahead of himself. In this interview in the Independent, for example, he was asked whether anti-Semitism was on the increase.
"In the West," he said, "fortunately, it scarcely exists now, though it did in the past. There is, of course, what the Anti-Defamation League calls "the real anti-Semitism", more dangerous than the old-fashioned kind: criticism of policies of the state of Israel and US support for them, opposition to a vast US military budget, etc. In contrast, anti-Arab racism is rampant. The manifestations are shocking, in elite intellectual circles as well, but arouse little concern because they are considered legitimate: the most extreme form of racism."
I guess that means the UN's knee-jerk support of any anti-Israel point of view, an example of which is given here, is really based on a desire to redress anti-Arab racism. Gosh, that explains everything.
Bashar Assad of Syria is a relative newcomer to the political process, and seems to have inherited a certain capacity for the unexpected from his father. Early this week, he suggested that the United States should renew its encouragement of a political dialogue between his country and Israel. Taken against the background of his previous hostility towards any dialogue with what he considers the "illegitimate" country of Israel, his intentions are about as clear as mud. The Jerusalem Post takes a shot at what might be on his mind.
Behind the usual curtain of dissimilation, the usual suspects are apparently behaving in the usual way, for the usual reasons.
A confidential United Nations report has accused Rwanda, Uganda and elements within the new transitional government in Congo of continuing to arm militias in the country to keep control of the rich diamond and gold fields.
According to the Guardian, "The document, part of a longer report on the exploitation of the Democratic Republic of Congo's mineral resources published in October, was sent privately to the security council because of its 'highly sensitive' information.
"If the allegations are true they will sorely test the 10,000-strong UN military mission trying to bring order to the country. Last week, in his latest assessment of the mission's task, Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, spoke of a 'vicious circle of lawlessness' and 'massive violations' of human rights continuing unabated.
"The report is also likely to embarrass the British government, the biggest bilateral aid donor to both Uganda and Rwanda. The former international development minister, Clare Short, was a defender of Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, despite criticism that UK aid was fuelling Rwanda's intervention in Congo."
This is the time of year the cold virus likes most. Newswise carries five simple, common-sense tips for spoiling its fun.
03 December 2003
If there is any doubt in your mind that this whole Valerie Plame business is a crock, read this.
First, Russia decides to reject it. Then Canada starts to waver.
And now, we learn that its greatest champions in Europe can't hack it.
This is the modern, cheaper equivalent of declaring war on a neighbour to take your population's eye off your internal difficulties.
Colin Powell is undoubtedly trying to send a message from the US Government to the Israeli Government that the world is losing patience with them because of their President's increasingly unreasonable attitude.
No amount of spin can conceal the fact that this wall is symbolic of Mr Sharon's intransigence.
It's called, apparently, phishing. Every Internet user should be aware of how easy it is for a crook to pretend to be Ebay, or Amazon or whoever, and phish credit card information out of someone whose guard isn't up.
It is Satan who gives people the power to be magicians, apparently. In Jamaica, a pastor of the Covenant Community Church, whatever that may be, has told a visiting magician that "The Christian Bible clearly warns against involvement in all forms of occultic activity, including magic (regardless of how we redefine it). If magic and the occult world are not really diabolic then it is obvious that the God who created the heavens and the earth has been misled and needs some guidance (possibly some revised theological education) on this matter. If demons and satanic power are not real, but merely illusionary, then someone should have told Jesus."
Good old European Union! They're now launching a probe into the possibility that EU funds were used to fund operations by Palestinian terrorists, 18 months after Israel presented them with volumes of the PA's own documents, captured by the IDF over several months, which contained evidence that the PA initiated and paid for terror attacks against Israel and funded the Tanzim, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and even Hamas operatives. The EU does recognise Al Aqsa and Hamas as terrorist organisations.
And in case they'd been in any doubt about it, the EU Court of Auditors declined last November to approve the EU's budget for the eighth year running, admitting it can only guarantee that 5 percent of taxpayers' money is being spent properly.
02 December 2003
Nothing is riper for modernisation than the shoe, as anybody who's had the experience of having his boots fall to bits miles from anywhere will tell you...at the top of his lungs and in words of very few syllables. Using leather and wood just doesn't cut it in this day and age. Nike is one company that understands that, and constantly experiments with new materials and new designs.
Newspapers around the world have had great difficulty figuring out how to deal with the contradictions between the publish-once-a-day world of the traditional newspaper, and the publish-whenever world of the internet. The Online Journalism Review has made those contradictions its beat, and in this article, talks about how newspapers deal with the integration of print and online staff.
Remember Mexico? Presidents Bush and Fox were best buddies before 9/11. Then Mexico made it clear that it opposed the war in Iraq. Now, there is little left of what was once called the US's "most important" relationship. This article in the Columbia Political Review looks at the soured relationship.
Bill Watterson is the genius who created the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Now he's disappeared...sort of.
For Christmas 1995, the papers that published Calvin and Hobbes received a rather cryptic letter from Watterson. "I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels," the letter read. "I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises." And that was it.
The strip ended on December 31, 1995, with Calvin saying, "It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy. Let's go exploring!" as the two sledded down a snow-covered hill.
What it was that set Stephen Bayley off on this diatribe about idiocy I don't know, but there's no question that he puts his point of view with admirable vigour.
A United Nations monitoring committee has complained that 108 countries have failed to file required reports in the war on terrorism. Frustrated committee members are considering asking for a stronger Security Council resolution to force compliance from member states.
If the forms the committee's support staff have devised and sent around are anything like the ones I've seen, these countries are probably still simply trying to figure out how to fill them in correctly. The UN's brand of bureaucracy is to common sense what AIDS is to human life.
The rate of teenage births in the United States has fallen by a staggering 31% over the last ten years. The New York Post covers some of the regional and racial differences the study, conducted by the Child Trends Research Center, revealed.
I'm not sure why Cuba's policy of advancing a particular version of history in their educational system should be such a surprise. That's what you have to do when your version of reality differs radically from everyone else's.
That report on anti-semitism suppressed by the European Union has been leaked to the Jerusalem Post.
In an accompanying article, the Post looks at the dangers inherent in politicising anti-Semitism, and quotes three key paragraphs:
"The dominating assumption of contemporary anti-Semitism is still that of a Jewish world conspiracy, i.e. the assumption that Jews are in control of what happens in the world, whether it be through financial or media power, whether it be the concealed political influence, mainly exerted on the US, but also on European countries," it stated.
"Following September 11, 2001, some hold that Islamist terrorism is a natural consequence of the unsolved Middle East conflict, for which Israel alone is held responsible. They ascribe to Jews a major influence over the USA's allegedly biased pro-Israel policies. This is where anti-American and anti-Semitic attitudes could converge and conspiracy theories over 'Jewish world domination' might flare up again.
"Israel's policies toward the Palestinians provide a reason to denounce Jews generally as perpetrators, thereby questioning their moral status as victims that they had assumed as a consequence of the Holocaust... In particular there is an attempt by the right wing to compare Israeli policies with crimes perpetrated against Jews throughout history in order to minimize or even deny the guilt and responsibility of their own nations."
01 December 2003
A project to map the Internet's universe has produced some stunning images. Two of them have been published by the New Scientist. I believe Bermuda may be that star-like burst of activity off on the far right in the middle. Ain't belief a liberating thing?
This remarkable statement of Donald Rumsfeld's: "We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know," has won him a thoroughly well-deserved award from Britain's Plain English Campaign.
The BBC says astronomers have found evidence that "earth-like planets" are orbiting the star Vega, only 25 light-years away. One suspects, though, that "earth-like" is simply a sign that the BBC is enthusiastic about the concept.
The Washington Times is taking the intelligence memorandum about a Saddam-Osama connection that was leaked last month to the Weekly Standard seriously. Interesting.
It seems to be a morning for reading about why the facts should never be allowed to stand in the way of a good story. Here's one, example, and here's another.
Lu Yan is changing the way the Chinese people think about beauty. In a country in which models are so omnipresent that they are considered a building blocks of one of the fastest-growing consumer societies in the world, that's saying something.
A panda goes into a bar, orders a sandwich, fires a gun and heads for the door. "What was all that about?" asks the shaken barman.
For the answer, you'll have to read all the way down to the bottom of this charming story. And no cheating, the read will do you good.
Given a dispute between a Scot and a German, the English will inevitably take the side of the Scot...but it's always a close-run race.
Sax Rohmer died too soon. This has all the earmarks of a case for Denis Nayland Smith, Dr. Petrie and the beautiful Karamaneh. Can there be any doubt that this mystery has been shaped by the hand of a certain master criminal?
Britain's leading peace pressure groups, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stop the War movement, have been hijacked by the far left, and could be destroyed as a result, according to a leading campaigner. Quite what the difference is between the brand of leftists the coalition used to be run by, and the group that's now taking them over, isn't that clear.
Later this month, the way the UK media and the telecommunications industry are policed will change, radically. This article in the Guardian summarises the changes.
There are growing signs that the UK has begun to take a tougher line with its heretofore internally self-governing overseas territories, as a result of initiatives by a number of organisations concerned about tax evasion and money laundering.
The OECD led the charge some years ago, but has had difficulty recently because two of its own members, Switzerland and Luxembourg, have blocked agreement on a common definition of tax fraud that could apply when exchanging bank information between countries. As a result, at a meeting in Ottawa in October, Antigua and Barbuda said they were "suspending their commitments" under the initiative.
Antigua and Barbuda are independent of Great Britain, but Cayman is not, which is why the UK can give Cayman an ultimatum about its opposition to the EU directive.
Under the constitutional arrangement Britain has with most of its overseas territories, it is responsible for defence and external affairs, but not for financial policy. That has been an arrangement that has given no difficulty for decades. But in a new, shrinking world of interlocking responsibilities, it may not always be good enough.
In a speech he made last month, Bermuda's governor said that Bermuda's relationship with the United Kingdom would become more complex because "London has new responsibilities that directly affect the Island's internal affairs". The PLP Government declared itself alarmed and concerned over the implications of his remarks.
Bermuda has complied...had pretty much complied in advance because of the top-end nature of its financial business...with all the OECD requirements and those of other organisations, so it is unlikely he was reflecting British concern over the way Bermuda conducts its business as an offshore financial centre. It seems more likely that Governors of all the overseas territories were delivering the same message more or less simultaneously, in the spirit of equality, perhaps. But the message plainly carried more meaning for the Caymans than it did for Bermuda.
The controversy surrounding the James ossuary, the stone bone box that carried the faked inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus", has shaken all kinds of strange fruit out of the antiquities tree. At a recent meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research, an official of the Israel Antiquities Authority said an investigation into the circumstances of the discovery of the ossuary had expanded to include a number of other archaeological artifacts collected over the past 15 years by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Focusing on four cases of artifacts he said were dubious, the official listed three common characteristics, quoted on USATODAY.com:
1. Publication or planned publication of the relic in Biblical Archaeology Review.
2. Authentication of the relic's age by Geological Survey of Israel scientists and the inscription by paleographer Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne University in Paris.
3. Comments by outside experts that it's too good to be true.
30 November 2003
European 'Green' pressure groups are thwarting efforts to ease famine in Africa because of their prejudice against genetically modified food. There is no question there is risk involved in biotechnology, so the debate is really about how much risk is justified when lives might be lost if the risk isn't taken.
The Greens-backed Precautionary Principle, established through a declaration made at the Earth summit in Rio, states that: "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation." Put simply, it means the facts are beside the point.
The threat to human progress posed by this principle, or perhaps more particularly by the attitude that gave rise to it, is enormous.
Slowly, the idea of returning art to the places from which it was taken in the first place is taking hold. Italy has decided to return this Ethiopian obelisk. Will the British Museum's Parthenon Marbles be far behind?
Somehow, I don't think this design for the new World Trade Center would have made it to the finals.
Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, is losing support at home. Criticism of his hard line is getting louder and louder.
Hardest of all for a non-Israeli to understand and sympathise with is that fence. Kofi Annan's criticism, that it cannot be seen as anything but a "deeply counterproductive act" at a time when when both parties should be making good-faith confidence-building gestures, cannot be ignored, no matter how much Mr Sharon's Government protests.
Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
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 Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
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
Yukio Mishima's Death
Contact the Pondblogger
About Last Night
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Arts and Letters Daily
Aworks :: "new" american classical music
Cup of Chicha
Day by Day by Chris Muir
Little Green Footballs
Michael J Totten
Reflections in d minor
Roger L Simon
Talking Points Memo
The Volokh Conspiracy
A Bermuda Blog
A Limey in Bermuda
Politics.bm: A Mostly Bermuda Weblog
The Bermuda Sun
The Mid-Ocean News
The Royal Gazette
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