|...Views from mid-Atlantic|
27 December 2003
Last year, the Washington Times asked for public help in deciding who to name as the past year's three best heroes, and three worst villains. The Nobles and Knaves contest, now in its second year, allows you to pick your three favourites from scores of names.
The British Commission for Racial Equality is going to abandon its role of litigating discrimination cases to concentrate on fostering better relations among the races in Britain. The CRE's new direction is the brainchild of Trevor Phillips, television executive and former chairman of the London Assembly, who took the organisation over earlier this year.
I'd guess Bermuda is many years ahead of Britain in the race relations area - and my guess will be that Mr Phillips won't be able to make this stick. His organisation is looked to as leading the British national debate on race. Encouraging better behaviour is one side of an approach that had to be double-edged. Making nothing but nice just doesn't cut it where race relations are concerned, because it gives people who tend to be racist the idea that respecting racial equality is an option, like good manners. It also deprives people who tend to get the wrong end of the racial stick of the very necessary satisfaction of fighting and winning.
Chestnut trees on a skyline, immortalised by Cezanne in his painting Le Coteau de Medan, are to be removed to make way for new houses in a scheme that has started a bad-tempered debate in France. One of the founders of the Yves Saint-Laurent fashion empire has promised to use his fortune to oust the right wing mayor of Medan if permission is given to change the skyline. I'm not sure I'd side with him at all. Does being painted by a famous artist mean you must lose control of your property? How famous does the artist have to be? It gets murky really quickly down that road.
24 December 2003
Skydiver Cheryl Stearns is intending to jump out of a balloon on the edge of space to test equipment that may help astronauts bail out of a stricken shuttle. From 130,000 feet, freefalling to an altitude at which she can open her parachute will take 5 1/2 minutes.
A substantial slice of eight centuries of European history, as seen through documents from one of the continent's wealthiest metropolitan centers from the Middle Ages onwardseems to have been nicked from the Italian State Archives in Milan.
The international team that recently removed 37 pounds of enriched uranium from a shuttered nuclear reactor in Bulgaria has been at this business for some time. Last year in August, they spirited 90 lbs of enriched uranium out of the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences near Belgrade.
Atomic energy watchdogs have been worried for years about the lack of care with which material like this is stored around the world. There are 300 civilian research facilities, like Vinca, which possess highly enriched uranium. Many of them are secured perfectly well. Many of them do not possess enough of the material to be interesting to would-be-thieves. But there are many, like Vinca, that are poorly secured and have enough uranium to make at least one bomb.
In 1994, the United States airlifted nearly 1,200 pounds of HEU out of Kazakhstan, but it took nearly a year of inter-agency debate before Operation Sapphire, as it was called, was pulled together. In the meantime, the Kazakhstan site was vulnerable to attack. Russia did not cooperate at all, although it did nothing to thwart the mission. These days, though, Russia is playing a lead role.
It's the Pondblog must-read-before-Christmas kit. First, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, Scrooge's guide to seasonal giving. Bet you'll wish you'd read it last week.
And, just in case you wanted to refer to it for some reason, and can't remember where you put it, the words to Clement Moore's poem, courtesy of the New York Post.
23 December 2003
AlJazeera covers US columnist Norman Solomon's PU-Litzer prizes for the "stinkiest media performances of the year."
This is the way the last year, 2003, looked to the Cuban newspaper, Granma. Here's a sample:
"There were huge mobilizations against the war on Iraq throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Many voices were raised in condemnation of the decision by certain governments in the region to participate by recruiting their youth for that murderous war launched on the Arab nation by the United States and the United Kingdom. The Mexican and Chilean ambassadors to the United Nations acted with exemplary dignity by refusing to support that fascist adventure. On the other hand, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico have all lost some of their sons in Iraq."
Who will be chosen to replace Pope John Paul II when he dies? Roger A. McCaffrey, president of McCaffrey Publishing and Roman Catholic Books has a crack at handicapping the field in the the Washington Times. The main points of his analysis are in this paragraph:
"So who might Pope John Paul II's powerful center-left cardinals like Cardinal Re have in mind for the papacy next? A recent trip to Rome convinced me that this bloc does want another Italian — and these are master chess players. Their strategy is simple: persuade colleagues that they don't need a Third World pope to keep the Church 'evolving' in the current direction. Italians have the same liberal vision, and with such a large base can implement policy easier than any African or Latino. Another voting bloc, second in size to the Italians, that will play almost as crucial a role in the next conclave are the Americans. Dizzy with financial difficulties and bad press from homosexual priest scandals, the American vote is unpredictable. But all else being equal, the American cardinals, like any group of senior citizens in a jam, are likely to opt for the safest course, which would be a predictable Italian."
A US Federal judge has felt it necessary to apologise to the scientist, Wen Ho Lee, who was accused some years ago of passing nuclear secrets to China. "I sincerely apologise to you," he said, "for the unfair manner in which you were held in custody by the executive branch." The executive branch also did a lot of leaking to the media in an attempt to smear Lee, who is suing to find out who it was who had such an interest in doing him in. The journalists involved will try to protect their sources, but as Robert Scheer suggests in the Los Angeles Times, "Free-press advocates should be more interested in exposing how the government manipulated the media to malign a loyal citizen than in defending the right of reporters to protect anonymous sources."
Uh oh. It hasn't been a good year for the French at all. Now, a Ukranian orthopedic surgeon says the legend of Joan of Arc ain't kosher...in a manner of speaking, of course. Napoleon would have known how to deal with this sort of thing...but Villepin? We'll see.
"One of Botticelli's stellar influences was a wise diplomat who kept the peace between Italy's city states and whose reign was remembered as a civilised golden age. But perhaps it is the man who claimed to speak directly with God, and whose violent zealous language won him adoring, unquestioning followers, who is more relevant today," says the Guardian's art critic, Jonathan Jones. He had been been visiting the Paris exhibition, Botticelli: From Lorenzo the Magnificent to Savonarola, which is being held at the Musee du Luxembourg until February 22.
I doubt British authorities will want to make a lot of headway in this search for the mole who is leaking information about the British system of honours and awards. The population of Britain seems sometimes to be divided into those who have won awards and a much larger group of people who want to pull down and destroy anything that smacks of privilege. They behave like an extremely slow-moving mob of blood-thirsty peasants during the French Revolution, on the hunt for someone to guillotine.
The threat by Ariel Sharon to impose a solution on the Middle East conflict if the Palestinians don't get their act together seems to have thrown the Palestinian Authority, already smarting over secret unilateral talks between the US and Hamas, into another crisis.
Until countries in Africa put more effort into prosecuting people who steal from them, and those who help the thieves squirrel their ill-gotten gains away, they will continue to live a Dark Ages-like existence. At the moment, it seems that just about every one of their leaders, present or past, has a page in his appointments diary with two entries on it - Attend Swearing-in Ceremony and Loot Treasury.
The Christian Science Monitor does a good job of analysing the reasons for the visit to Israel this week of the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Maher. They quote Al Ahram columnist Salameh Ahmed Salameh and Hala Mustafa, an analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Politicial and Strategic Studies in Cairo in a story that includes this:
"Maher is trying to restrain Sharon. Sharon's plan will end all prospects of implementing the road map and a two state solution. It will create realities on the ground that are difficult afterwards to change.
"'The road map is about to be dead, or perhaps it has been dead for a long time,' Salameh says, adding that the recent failure in Cairo of Palestinian cease-fire talks, since relaunched, also played a role in the road map's demise. He does not expect a genuine warming of ties with Israel.
"But Mustafa disagrees. She predicts Maher will return to Tel Aviv. With the defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime, 'we are seeing a kind of defeat of the old extremist ideologies and of pan-Arab ideas that dominated Arab political thought for a long time,' she says. 'Maher's visit shows Egypt is willing to deal with any party in Israel, including Ariel Sharon.'"
At the other end of the spectrum, the BBC is unable to give much more than a glib surface reading of the visit in the context of the attack on Mr Maher at the al-Aqsa mosque. Their story contains this paragraph: "But the BBC's Jill McGivering, in Jerusalem, says the incident is likely to prove embarrassing for the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, as well as Egypt."
Yesterday, when I first read the story, that sentence was rather different. It did not mention the Palestinian authorities, or Egypt. It simply said that Israel was likely to find the incident embarrassing.
In truth, there is absolutely no reason Israel should be anything other than concerned for Mr Maher's health. The sentence simply demonstrates the lengths to which the BBC is prepared to go to make Israel the villain of every tale that emerges from the Middle East.
If this story is correct, it is a relief that Mr Thabo Mbeki seems now to be feeling a certain embarrassment about the behaviour of his friend Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
The deterioration of the situation in Zimbabwe seems not to be slowing at all, as this Independent story, and this one from the Washington Times illustrate.
22 December 2003
This article is about Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva's relationship with Fidel Castro of Cuba - a relationship many have sharply criticised. As US Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of the three Cuban-American representatives in the House, argues, "It is hypocritical that our Latin American allies have democracies, free and independent elections, freedom of the press . . . yet some of the leaders of these nations court Castro as if he were Robin Hood instead of the deadbeat, cruel dictator that he is."
She could just as easily be talking about the relationship the new government of Bermuda is trying to build with Cuba. It owes something to the fact that members of our Cabinet were children of the '60s, when Fidel really was the Robin Hood of the region, with Che Guevara as his Little John; it owes something to the fact that Bermuda wants to associate itself with countries in the Caribbean, which have had a close relationship with Cuba for years; it owes something to the convenient, but ethically-mistaken attitude that suggests that the ethics of a dictator are an internal matter for his countrymen to worry about. Like Lula, Bermuda's politicians will learn the hard way.
Was there a Mediaeval global warming? Better get your story straight, it's a hot political topic you don't want to be on the wrong side of.
Can there be any truth to the story that it was actually the Kurds who captured Saddam, drugged him and left him where they knew the Americans would find him? Why do I think we're going to be reading books about this for the next decade?
Ariel Cohen is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. In this Washington Times commentary, he tries to make sense of the Byzantine tangle that has led Prime Minister Sharon to propose taking unilateral action if the Palestinians don't get their collective finger out. He thinks the Israeli political landscape is shifting.
"In fact, both Labor and Likud may be on verge of a major realignment: Labor security champions, such as the former Prime Minister Barak, Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sne, and Matan Vilnai, a retired general, may eventually join the Likud doves like Mr. Olmert. And the far-left cohort of Labor led by the former Knesset Chairman Avrum Burg and failed prime ministerial candidate Amram Mitzna may abandon Labor for a leftist Yahad bloc featuring such peaceniks as Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid. Mr. Netanyahu, if he loses the race to succeed Mr. Sharon, may realign with the more hard-line National Union."
Beer drinkers will no doubt be following the science of the anti-bubble closely. In this story, the phenomenon seems to have given the Brits an excuse to confirm "what British real ale drinkers have claimed for a long time: that Belgian beer actually is a lot like dishwater."
That's actually a load of old codswallop - the Belgians brew the best beer in the world. It's their politics that's like dishwater.
Britain's Cabinet Office has altered an official report, apparently because it did not want to endorse the view that the Hutton Enquiry has encouraged open government. The battle lines on transparency in Government in Britain are the same as they are everywhere, I imagine. Politicians want more openness, because that's a saleable political line. Civil servants want to maintain the status quo so that they don't have to become politicians. So far, the civil servants are winning.
The forces of political correctness have had a letch for changing the British system of honours and awards for years, although so far they have not had a great deal of effect. They suggest the system is elitist...which is about as astute as accusing water of being wet. Stories have appeared all over the British media this morning naming people who have, in the past, refused a reward for one reason or another. No doubt whoever is doing the leaking has a cause to advance. The writer Claire Tomalin, who declined to confirm that she refused a CBE for services to literature two years ago, had a fairly laid-back view:
"I have great respect for the Queen personally, but I don't believe in the monarchy. I'm not a servant of the crown or the empire," she said. "I'm a writer and the greatest honour I can possibly have is that people should read my books. William Shakespeare, Samuel Pepys - they don't need to be Lord or Sir.
"But there's something built into human nature which likes rewards and prizes. I wouldn't like to be too killjoy."
The US State Department is about to launch a $20 million programme to keep former Iraqi weapons scientists from selling their skills to terrorists. "Key Iraqi scientists have already gone to Syria, Sudan, and other countries...Last month, it was reported that Dr. Modher Sadeq-Saba al-Tamini, who headed Saddam Hussein's long-range missile program, had fled to Iran."
If they're worried to the tune of $20 million about scientists in Iraq, how worried are they going to be about scientists from Libya, which seems to have been running the largest nuclear programme in the Middle East?
21 December 2003
Did Khalid Sheikh Mohammed really kill Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl? Bernard-Henri Levy, who wrote the book Who Killed Daniel Pearl? doesn't think so. He thinks that notion is just a US smoke screen designed to cover up Pakistan's mistakes.
Thoroughly interesting article in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning about the Through-the-Looking-Glass world of budget deficits and the circumstances under which on this side of the Looking Glass, they're a good thing, and on that side, they're a bad thing...sometimes and under some circumstances, of course.
"There are two points that cause confusion. The first is that deficits may be beneficial in the short run, when the economy is in a recession and resources are underemployed, but may be harmful in the long run. If a tax cut or an expenditure cut stimulates the economy, then the benefit of the resulting increase in income may far outweigh the costs of the resulting deficit.
"In the long run, however, money the government borrows to finance the deficit may squeeze out private investment, by leading to higher interest rates; or it may (as is the case today in the United States) force the country to borrow more abroad. As the country has to pay more and more to foreign creditors, the income of those in the country falls, lowering standards of living from what they would be otherwise.
"The second point of confusion is that the consequences of a deficit, either in the short run or the long, depend on how it arises. If the deficit comes about as a result of expenditures on high-return public investments, such as in science or technology, airports or roads, then the benefits may again vastly exceed the costs by spurring growth."
Isn't it disturbing the way the difference of opinion about the purpose of Iran's nuclear programme is developing more or less the way the difference of opinion about what to do with Iraq developed before the war? In Israel , Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz (who was born in Iran) is talking about a strike to destroy Iran's nuclear capability.
In Washington, concern is being expressed about the role of Pakistan in helping the Iranians develop nuclear weapons. Yet the UN and Europe...the usual cast of characters...seems more or less to buy the idea that Iran's nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.
Africa, says Rian Malan, isn't dying of AIDS at all. It's all a con.
"'Please don't get me wrong,' he wrote. 'I believe Aids is a real problem. Governments and sober medical professionals should be heeded when they express deep concerns about it. But there are breeds of Aids activist and Aids journalist who sound hysterical to me. On Aids Day they came forth like loonies drawn by a full moon.'
"The implications are huge. What if Africa does not have 30m people with HIV? If South Africa is not losing more than 600 people a day? Would billions of dollars be better spent fighting malaria, diabetes, measles and a host of other diseases? Is Malan right?"
The European Commission is having a go at airlines that charge more for tickets depending on where you are when you want to buy one. The Commission says you might pay up to 200 Euros more for a domestic flight if you book it outside the airline's home country. International flights are up to 300 per cent more expensive.
What can classical philosophers teach us about Christmas? Light up a classical, philosophical cigar and decide whether to desire only what is natural and necessary, natural and unnecessary, or convert to the other side and have yourself a ball with the unnatural and unnecessary. It is Christmas, after all.
Joseph Cornell - he of the curiously beautiful little boxes - was a shy, complicated man who had a sideline in film. Ed Halter recalls in the Village Voice this week that he was a found-footage artist and chronic junk-shop film-print collecter.
"Cornell's best-known film is his first, Rose Hobart (1936). Editing down a raggedy scrap-heap print of the 1931 jungle melodrama East of Borneo into 19 time-jumbled minutes, Cornell concentrates on the ethereal expressions of actress Hobart and set-piece moments that gain new surrealist power: crocodile-herding by natives, an eclipse, a volcano revealed behind a theatrical curtain, monkeys gamboling.
"When the movie premiered at one of Cornell's 'film soirees' at the Julien Levy Gallery, attendee Salvador Dali flew into a rage and had to be restrained by his wife, Gala. Later, Dali said he'd already thought of inventing the found-footage film, but Cornell beat him to the punch."
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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