...Views from mid-Atlantic
13 December 2003

Nicolai Ouroussoff writes excellently about architecture for the LA Times. This article begins a series about Baghdad - "Few cities in the world occupy as strong a hold over the collective imagination as Baghdad. Set at the crossroads between East and West, the city was one of the first great power centers of the Islamic world. Its name still conjures up a mix of images, from the rich intellectual heritage depicted in its ancient texts to the exotic fantasies scattered through the pages of the "Arabian Nights." Its emergence as a world capital marked the beginning of centuries of cultural dominance by the Middle East at a time when Europe was floundering through the Dark Ages."

Must read. You will probably need to register to do that.

This is a strange and roundabout way of apologising for publishing a story that wouldn't stand up if you leaned it against a barn door, but that's what the Guardian seems to be doing.

"The woodland floor is waiting to be beaked over: piles of still, lightweight leaves sheltering any number of bugs." This man may not write long pieces, but they contain multitudes, to use a Walt Whitman phrase.

Britain's Inland Revenue apparently plans to impose a harsh new tax regime on homeowners who have set up "home-loan schemes" to avoid inheritance tax on their houses. This little scheme was not set out in the Budget, but was spotted by accountants in a consultation paper on Friday.

Seeking leadership, Britain puts foreigners in top jobs is the headline on this Christian Science Monitor story. It mightn't be a bad idea to Americanise a few jobs round at the Inland Revenue.

What a country!

Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has made it clear that he blames Britain for the situation in Zimbabwe. "With everything", he said, "having failed to restore the land to its original owners in a peaceful manner, a forcible process of land redistribution perhaps became inevitable."

It's not a terribly easy line to sell, especially in the face of evidence that Mr Mugabe has begun to warm up on his fiddle.

12 December 2003

The State of Illinois has chosen a new poet laureate. Samples of his work are here.

The tourism industry, worldwide, is rebounding from its post 9/11 crisis. The World Tourism Organisation thinks the recovery will be sustained.

The BBC's poll to discover the "best-loved" book of all time comes to an end on Saturday. The LA Times questions what is achieved by asking the public to name a favourite. A democratic poll might be able to choose well from a field of two or three, but it has difficulty winnowing from an almost unlimited field, as you will see from the odd list of those books that have emerged as the top 21.

There is an abundance of public evidence that the British Government is cutting the funding of its armed forces to the point of paralysis. Most of Europe seems to have done the same.

John Keegan's as always insightful column this morning sums up the evidence.

Lord Hutton, who conducted the inquiry into the suicide of the government weapons expert David Kelly, is to step down as a law lord in the new year.

The Independent notes that "Lord Hutton's careful and thorough stewardship of the investigation into Dr Kelly's death has drawn praise from lawyers and politicians who regarded it as a template for all future judicial inquiries." My own assessment of the way he conducted the enquiry is here.

"Thabo Mbeki in particular," says the Guardian in this worthwhile analysis of the just-completed Commonwealth summit, "is identified with the idea that there has to be a global redistribution of power. It is not remotely a new idea, but nor is it one that has lost its force or relevance. African societies find themselves in the situation of being at the same time victims of western policies, both past and present, and of being forced to sit still for moral lectures on their political iniquities.

"The leading role Mbeki has played in launching both the New Partnership for Africa's Development and the African Union show him as a man who wants Africa to be a power in the world and to create institutions that will make its economic and political development self-sustaining and that will allow it to do itself whatever surveillance and monitoring of African states may be required. He is also a leader attached to the idea that the transition from liberation movement to dominant party in an African country does not necessarily have to be followed by a further transition to a true multi-party system that allows alternation in power. Zimbabwe embodies the need for that second transition, and its opposition leadership comes from the same social quarter - the trade unions - that could in future provide a counterweight to the ANC in South Africa."

It's official, he's immortal! Graciously, comme il faut, he told the press it was not his idea. "It was an idea that first came up 10 years ago," he said. "I was involved in political life at the time and did not take it up. But now I have a certain detachment and I accepted the offer."

Britain's army of regulators, inspectors, paymasters and policymakers is costing the taxpayer 12 billion pounds a year, The Financial Times claims. I think they'd find the really shocking figure to be the percentage of their time that is spent on maintaining themselves, as opposed to the time they spend doing the job of regulating, inspecting and so on. I haven't got a statistic, but from my own time in the civil service, I suspect it would be in the 75/25% range. It might be worse in an atmosphere of "control freakery".

I don't understand this at all. Why would banning a perfectly benign symbol of faith, whether it is a Muslim scarf, a Jewish yarmulke or a Christian cross, have any effect on the integration of immigrants into French society, beyond making them feel unwelcome?

This Canadian firm seems to be making the same mistake, albeit in a slightly different context.

This Telegraph editorial puts it well.

11 December 2003

UNICEF says the fact that 65 million girls receive no schooling is a serious global emergency that is preventing economic development. While countries that signed the UN Millennium Declaration pledged to achieve universal primary education by 2015, a target that already is slipping out of sight in some regions, the UNICEF report stressed the need for "gender parity".

It says that regions that have invested in girls' education, such as South-East Asia, experience faster rates of development.

"Countries that fail to raise the education level to the same as that of men increase the cost of their development efforts and pay for the failure with slower growth and reduced income." To say nothing of higher rates of disease and substantially higher birth rates.

The Zimbabwean parliament descended into farce and uproar yesterday, in the wake of the refusal of the Commonwealth to reinstate the rogue country's membership.

Many Caribbean nations will be unable to comply with tough new security standards for ports taking effect next year and could face severe restrictions in their $20 billion trade with the United States, security expertssay. That would be a disaster for the region.

The European Union seems bound and determined to undermine the US effort to wage war on terrorism. It announced today it had struck a deal with Syria on developing political and trade ties, extending Brussels' apparent policy of contructive engagement with countries the US government considers rogue states.

The world's press, says the Washington Times, has missed the significance of Donald Rumsfeld's meeting in Afghanistan with two warlords unwilling to give their wholehearted allegiance to the country's leaders. The paper argues that "This unprecedented summit with Abdul Rashid Dostum and Mohammad Ustad Atta has been almost overlooked by a press corps determined, as Newsweek did this week, to prematurely pronounce Afghanistan a failure.

"Ironically, Mr. Rumsfeld's mission to Mazar-e-Sharif represents the first real turning point in bringing the historically factionalized Afghans under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai's government."

According to the New York Post, the fight over the design of the Ground Zero Freedom Tower "has spiraled completely out of control, with accusations of a 'Watergate break-in' and bitter feuding between the two architects."

This article takes a bit of a time to get around to declaring its point, which is that Dr Raymond Damadian should be scolded for making such an ill-mannered and unseemly fuss about not having been given the Nobel prize for medicine. But in the end, it stitches him up pretty appropriately. I'm just not so sure the writer is correct to claim that Britain has a corner on a dislike for poor sportsmanship...it's pretty much a universal ethic until the urge to litigate kicks in.

A 35-year old Colonel in the British Army's Legal Service seems to be making making a big difference in Iraq. He's having to deal with Iraqi policemen who are entirely unfamiliar with the concept of investigating crime. They're more used to arresting suspects and "encouraging" them to confess.

Ever wonder why different degrees of wetness have different effects on your hair? All right, maybe you haven't, but it's a safe bet there's someone out there who has. Here's the answer. Memorise it in case you're asked.

As the Kyoto protocol's death looms ever more clearly on the horizon, support grows for plan B - contraction and convergence. It is said to meet most of the criticisms made by the Bush administration of the Kyoto plan.

"But perhaps the greatest attraction of C&C," says the New Scientist, "is the complete break it would make from the horse-trading, short-term fixing and endless complications that have plagued efforts to bring the Kyoto protocol into effect. "

Taking advantage of the current climate of dislike for Israel, the PLO delegation to the United Nations is trying to suggest the country shouldn't even be allowed membership. It's an old argument resurrected.

Interesting article on the fate of modern composers who fail to lift their heads sufficiently above the parapet during their lifetime to be recognised in death. I'm ashamed of how unfamiliar I am with some of their names.

The people of the Isle of Arran, in Scotland, are hoping to be allowed to create a small no-fishing zone to try to reverse the damage that is being done by fishermen to the fish population of the 490,000 square miles of fishing grounds around the UK. It seems almost unbelievable, but fishermen in the area are objecting:

"Patrick Stewart of the Clyde Fishermen's Association says he is going to today's meeting with an open mind, but expects to oppose the plans. He rejects arguments that the Clyde has been overfished. He says the industry has not declined, just changed, and cannot see the benefit to science or the industry from the Arran project. 'If I said your garden should not be planted with roses because I want to see what happens when your garden is not planted with roses what benefit does that have to the countryside of Scotland?' he said. 'The answer is nothing at all. These are matters for the state because they have such wide repercussions. I would oppose this proposal but not the concept.'"

French fishermen, too, oppose any interference with their freedom to destroy one of the world's most important resources.

Sensibly, the diocese of Chichester has refused to give permission to the vicar and church wardens of Holy Trinity Church in Bosham to excavate two graves under the nave, one which might have belonged to a daughter of King Canute and the other which might have belonged to Harold, the last Saxon king of England. There was nothing much more complicated than curiosity, it seemed, driving the proposal.

This is beyond question the most intriguing document I have seen for a long time. It provides the answers to Seldom Asked Questions about Japan and, almost unbelievably, a new version appears monthly. It will take weeks to mine just this one properly. Even finding an illustrative example was a problem because there is so much information about so many different things. In the end, I fixed on the answer to a question I didn't know enough to ask:

"Q. Why is it in anime and mangas when a boy acts like a pervert they are pictured with blood gushing from their nose? Is this derived from a legend of some sort?"

"A. In anime, a nosebleed means that a male character is sexually aroused. It's kind of funny if you think about it - he is so aroused that blood not only fills up his sex organs, it starts coming out his nose too."

And incidentally, I found it via one of the most interesting bloggers on the net, Cup of Chicha, to whom, from this day forward, I shall provide a link on this page.

It was announced just a few days ago that Robert Bartley, the Wall Street Journal's editor emeritus, had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the US's highest civilian honour. Yesterday, it was announced that he had died of cancer. The Wall Street Journal praised his work, as did the Financial Times. Thanks, by the way, to Tim, for the heads-up.

This, by the way, was Bartley's last column.

10 December 2003

The BBC is doing more pre-Hutton Inquiry report work to make sure that the poor procedures that will undoubtedly attract comment are altered on its terms. This time it is the Corporation's complaints procedure - or perhaps more accurately, the lack of an effective one - that is being worked on.

Italy has published a new version of the draft EU constitution, in preparation for the EU leaders summit later this week, at which it is hoped agreement on its wording will be reached. It's going to be a tough agreement to reach. Here's one reason why that should be the case.

Japan has failed in its final attempt to repair damaged electronic circuitry on its Nozomi Martian probe. Nozomi has been aloft for five years, but was crippled first by a fuel consumption problem, then by solar flares. It is now to be used for other space observation.

Commenting on the current congressional debate on internet sales taxes, the director of the Strategic e-Government Initiative at Southeastern Louisiana University says "It's time to end this ridiculous nonsense and heed the call of Commerce Secretary Don Evans, who said, 'The Internet is an innovative force that opens vast potential economic and social benefits of e-commerce, and government should not stifle e-commerce through multiple or discriminatory taxes.'" Sounds about right.

Janet Daley, who is an American writer working in Great Britain, takes a crack at the tendency of the British institutions to discourage upward economic mobility. "If Mr Brown," she says, "wants the deprived and socially excluded to share his ambition for them and his vision of an enterprising society, then he really ought to stop punishing self-reliance."

I find it interesting that the main apologist for Robert Mugabe's monstrous behaviour in Zimbabwe should be the very man who tried to restrict the supply of anti-retroviral drugs to HIV sufferers in his own country, on the basis of his quixotic theory that there was no link between HIV and AIDS.

Science has made such astonishing advances, the novelist PD James says, that whodunit writers may be hard-pressed to carry on their trade. But perhaps the real point of this story is that DNA testing is going to become affordable for small places like Bermuda, where it is now, apparently, too expensive to be used in any but the most important cases.

Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, says that unless Europeans tackle the anti-Semitism that has taken root in their countries, "there is reason to expect a general Jewish exodus from Europe, perhaps along the lines of the general Jewish exodus from Muslim countries a half century ago."

This is what you might call a spectacular farewell to a dead father. It certainly costs less than one of those services that claim to be able to send the deceased's ashes into space, but that really do little more than scatter them from a great height.

Ingmar Bergman says that Saraband is going to be his last film. All of Sweden watched when it was aired on television last week.

Sir Stephen Tumim was a flamboyant, intelligent man who came to Bermuda in the 1990s and, in the process of preparing and writing a far-reaching report on our criminal justice system, won many admirers. His death on holiday in the Galapagos Islands has a particular echo for us just at the moment, because our criminal justice system, despite the adoption of many of his recommendations for improvement, seems to be limping as never before.

Bermuda's Premier is in London at the moment engaged in a tug of war with the British Government over, among other things, appointments to significant posts in the judiciary and the directorate of public prosecutions. The Bermuda Government feels these posts should be given to Bermudians, even though they might not be the best candidates to be found, but there is a strong body of feeling on the Island that holds that recent failures of criminal justice here can be traced to a lack of strong leadership and competence at a variety of levels in the system.

Their theory has been given a boost this week as a result of the sentencing of a former Cabinet Minister's son to three years' probation for trying to smuggle half a pound of cannabis into the island strapped around his waist. Critics say the sentence, especially given the young man's lack of remorse, was far too light.

In theory, there is no censorship in Egypt. But in practice, Al Azhar, the world's oldest university, has a kind of veto on books. It makes life tough for a government that wants to have a Muslim image at home, but a democratic one abroad.

09 December 2003

The world's population, according to a UN forecast issued on Monday, is going to grow much more slowly over the next 300 years. This Washington Post analysis seems sober and factual - nowhere near as exciting as the BBC's take. No prize for guessing which one's the more accurate.

I don't understand why this man, whose survival as a militant depends on his ability to hide, would allow himself to be interviewed. What he says is fascinating, to be sure, but what is the point for him?

"I don't like Osama bin Laden," he says, "and don't want to fight jihad against America. The Iraqi people just want the Americans to leave our country." Why do I get the feeling this is like a quarter lying glued to the sidewalk?

Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi says the Arab League is "in the middle of giving up the ghost." Libya withdrew from the League last year to protest its lack of initiatives with Iraq and Palestine. Qadhafi says "Arabs will never be strong even if they unite...They will remain content every night to watch bloody newsreels from Palestine and Iraq."

This is more or less what happens when people learn on their own. So of course it works!

Fewer than half the population living in the European Union support the organisation, according to the Telegraph. Who can be surprised, when the architect of the EU constitution which is giving leaders such a problem at the moment is this monstrously egocentric man?

Gerhard Richter is, I think, one of the best and most original artists alive and working today. Although Atlas, the hoard of photographs he uses for inspiration, has been shown around the world, it has not, until now, been seen in Britain.

Many of the photographs, according to the Guardian, "were taken by Richter himself, while others are re-photographed images whose origins slip away the more they have been reproduced. Arrays of standard processed snapshots - ordinary, inartistic photographic information that could have come from anywhere - have found their way into this vast cache, including close-up details of the artist's own brushwork and pictures of his children and grandchildren. The anonymous and universal vie with the personal and sentimental. Most images that have found a place here never migrate beyond it. Stalled images, then: some suspended in groups and others lain out singly, all behind glass in identically sized frames, then ordered and presented in juxtapositions that, the artist has remarked, are sometimes 'weird and seemingly cynical'."

This death in Havana is noted with sadness, and no small sense of gratitude to Ry Cooder, whose work in Cuba intoduced the the Buena Vista Social Club to the world a few short years ago.

Legal mistakes have resulted in the release from jail in Britain of Nicholas Hoogstraten, a controversial multi-millionaire who made his money in property development. Some years ago, he made a name for himself as a backer Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

In April of 2000, the Guardian reported that Hoogstraten was building a Renaissance-style palace with a mausoleum in Zimbabwe to preserve his remains. He confirmed to the Guardian that he had funded Mr Mugabe and his party since the early 1960s when he acquired land in the country. He now owns nine farms covering 1m acres and a huge cattle company but, he says, only one of his nominee managers is white.

"In an interview with the Guardian," the paper said "Mr Hoogstraten is in no doubt where Zimbabwe's current problems stem from. Using his characteristically forceful language, he said: 'This has all been stirred up by white disenfranchised trash who still think it's Rhodesia. I have some good white friends in Zimbabwe but those Rhodies, as we call them, are disgusting people. They want to ruin the country. They treat the blacks worse than blacks are treated in America. I've had no problem with indigenising my properties.'"

It would be interesting to find out if Hoogstraten's million acres have been "liberated" by his Zimbabwean friends or not.

This is a sobering and dismaying assessment of the agreement on soft lumber that the US and Canada are just about to sign. Its author, Doug McArthur, is a professor of public policy at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and a former deputy minister to the premier of British Columbia. He was involved in negotiating the 1996 Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement.

China is proposing to use a "green GDP index" to give force to ideas on sustainable growth announced at a meeting of the country's leaders in October. It's not a new idea, this balancing of economic growth with cost to the environment, but it is a powerful one, and one I suspect is going to become very much a part of the world's future. China's recent economic growth has been at a terrible cost to its own environment, so it is perhaps fitting that green GDP should be used there first.

Despite the much-publicised unrest in Iraq, there are signs that things are returning to a kind of normal not seen for two decades or more.

08 December 2003

The United States, backed by the European Union, Japan and Canada, has turned back a bid by developing nations to place the Internet under the control of the United Nations or its member governments.

Newsweek says it is bad news for President Bush that Osama bin Laden is diverting funds from the Taliban in Afghanistan to Iraq. If it's bad news that he's cutting the Taliban's allowance from $3 million to $1.5 because he's short of money as a result of the crackdown on "jihadi charitable foundations, bank accounts of terror-related organizations and money transfers", then I'd like to know how Newsweek defines good news.

The 12 Days of Kitschmas catalogue includes a high-technology tomb that glows in the dark. Or how about a Jesus Tree Topper that lights up when plugged in, and has nail marks on both hands?

During a memorial lecture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the British Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, has broken with the tradition that British officials do not criticise their government on foreign soil, to attack the Blair government for making profound and far-reaching change on what seems not much better thought out than a whim. He called for a written Constitution to protect the judiciary and people from "the attacks of politicians".

"What was most important about the announcement, he said, speaking about Tony Blair's recently announced reform of the office of Lord Chancellor, "was not that it was not preceded by consultation with the judiciary or anyone else. It was the fact that it was apparent that the Government was of the opinion that it could treat the office of Lord Chancellor as though it were nothing more than a Government reshuffle."

After 200 years of argument, the French have solved a dispute. This speak rather eloquently, perhaps, about their support for solving international disputes through calm and reasoned discussion in forums like the United Nations.

In a move that was no surprise to anyone, Zimbabwe has cancelled its membership in the Commonwealth. Many of the group thought they might have been able to exert more influence on Robert Mugabe if the Commonwealth had prevailed upon him to stay...which seems about as reasonable as stroking a crocodile in the hope that gratitude will keep it from biting.

What did we expect, asks the Telegraph's Kevin Meyers. The Commonwealth, he says, is not bound by common values, "but by expediency, bad history and an agreed set of political fictions. Accordingly, the Queen is head of the Commonwealth because, well, she just is: that Britain ran an empire which conquered and governed all those places is - goes the lie - a pure coincidence. In Britain itself, the empire has become a sort of Arthurian myth, something that might or might not have happened, and anyway it was all long ago and is irrelevant today."

07 December 2003

Globalisation is undoubtedly inevitable, and it will undoubtedly benefit mankind. But for some countries which did not see the change coming, like those in the Caribbean, it means a frightening jump into the unknown.

Belize's prime minister, Said Musa, has spelled out just how frightening that jump is in a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs. He argues that "greed, egoism and consumerism" were subsuming the highest values developed by mankind.

Talk about burying the story's lead! This Iraqi colonel confirms that some Iraqi troops carried chemical or biological weapons during the Iraq war, and the British press focus on his having been the source for their beloved dodgy dossier's claim that they could have been used on 45 minutes notice. Actually, he says, they could have been fired within 30 minutes.


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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