...Views from mid-Atlantic
10 January 2004

The second-largest extinction in the Earth's history, the killing of two-thirds of all species, may have been caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun after gamma rays destroyed the Earth's ozone layer, according to this AP story. Astronomers suggest that a supernova exploded within 10,000 light years of the Earth, destroying the chemistry of the atmosphere and allowing the sun's ultraviolet rays to cook fragile, unprotected life forms.

It's the second time recently that I've seen the effect of the sun on the earth's climate discussed. An article published on the Tech Central Station website last year detailed the results of a Geological Society of America study on the effect of the sun on global warming: "How great is the magnification of solar brightening caused by solar winds' effects on cosmic rays and clouds? Veizer (one of the study's authors) thinks it is enough to explain away all of the warming since the end of the Little Ice Age, without any contribution by carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases."

Edouard Vuillard's painting focuses on fragments of remembered experience, as did Marcel Proust's writing. It may not be a surprise, then, to learn that Vuillard was a photographer, influenced by the singular ability of the camera to record moments of utterly un-selfconscious intimacy, and of the singular ability of photographs to evoke memory. Some of his photographs are on display, for only the second time ever, at a new exhibition of his work at the Royal Academy in London, from 31 January to 18 April.

The United States is pulling its armour out of Germany next year, because the end of the Cold War has removed the need for it there. Britain still has tanks and a force of 23,000 troops in Germany. It's not only the awkwardness of removing something that has become a relied-upon fixture of German life that makes these adjustments come about so slowly, for the Brits it is also a problem finding alternate space nearby in which to train and exercise tank units, which obviously require very large bits of real estate.

This fascinating article in the Guardian suggests that extravagant ceremonies to honour the dead of the Luo tribe of western Kenya are increasingly ruining the livesof those left behind.

09 January 2004

DEBKAfile has posted an interesting little piece of speculation on Libya's motive for seeking talks with Israel. Senior sources in Jerusalem have apparently told DEBKA that "Libya's only reason for any approach to Israel is its wish to improve relations with the US. Nothing of consequence is, in fact, going on. If Libya wants to make a move towards Israel, say these sources, it should do so through the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations."

SpaceDaily suggests there is a bright side to the loss of the British spacecraft, Beagle. "The Beagle 2 project," they say, "is more than just the hardware that was deposited on the surface. Beagle 2 has been a mission that has been underway for years, and has generated interesting results throughout its course."

The Washington Times headlines this piece Nearby conflicts worry Tunisia. The story doesn't live up to its billing, though. It portrays not a country worried by recent events in the Middle East, but a country that seems to have thought it all out well beforehand, acted as a catalyst for what it saw as the right way to go, and is now ready to capitalise on the situation. What's Tunisia got to worry about?

Boy, this is what you call a day late and a dollar short. But a nice thought, nonetheless

This is the day's most important news, by far. Blistering barnacles! Marlinspike Hall's 75 tomorrow.

It is interesting to see the difference between Haaretz's interpretation of Colin Powell's statement about the Middle East yesterday, and the Washington Post's.

The catalyst for Powell's remarks seems to have been Ariel Sharon's threat to impose a boundary for the Palestinian state if the Palestinians don't allow the peacemaking process to move forward. The Palestinian Prime Minister suggested he might retaliate by dropping support for a two-state solution to the problem and opting for one, in which Jews and Arabs would be mixed together.

The Washington Post thought that Powell's remarks were noteworthy "because, generally, the State Department's statements on the Arab-Israeli conflict are much more evenhanded, making sure an equal dose of concern is expressed about the actions of each side. In the past, for instance, the administration warned Israel not to take unilateral actions that might prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state. But such concerns were not expressed by Powell yesterday."

A one-state solution will be Israel's worst nightmare, I'm sure, because it would mean the death of the idea of a truly Israeli state. Really, what Colin Powell was doing, I think, was telling the Palestinians that the Americans, too, want them to engage with the peacemaking process, and that the one-state option isn't going to get onto the table.

A religious person has written a book suggesting that the Grand Canyon was created a few thousand years ago by the flood reported in Genesis. "For years, as a Colorado river guide," he says, "I told people how the Grand Canyon was formed over the evolutionary timescale of millions of years. Then I met the Lord. Now I have a different view of the canyon, which according to a biblical timescale can't possibly be more than a few thousand years old." Scientists are reported to be upset and complaining to the American Park Service.

Where were they, I want to know, when that other fruitcake was writing all that silly nonsense about the Bermuda Triangle?

This is a lovely story - lovelorn opera singer plans to stride up hill and down dale for a month, singing lieder. But apart from that, it doesn't seem to make the slightest bit of sense. Perhaps I'm falling into the trap of demanding too much meaning from life.

The Brits seems to be getting themselves into a terrible froth in advance of the release of Lord Hutton's report on the death of David Kelly. But on one of the main issues - whether the naming of David Kelly as the BBC's source was as inevitable as the British Government claim it was - they've got themselves up a bit of a blind alley. The focus of their interest now is in whether it was the Ministry of Defence or Downing Street that authorised the naming of Kelly. That ignores the much more likely explanation that being named was so utterly the consequence of the leak, then Kelly's admission that he was the leaker, that neither one of them had to formally authorise what happened. There just isn't a lot of wiggle room when you start playing this kind of high-stakes publicity game. David Kelly was obviously a very nice man, and I feel as sorry for him as anyone else does, but the truth is that he himself set the juggernaut in motion, should have thought a little harder about where it might take him and, in the end, must bear much more blame for the outcome than most people seem to want to admit.

One wonders why on earth it takes a lost aircraft to stir the British aviation minister into releasing this previously confidential list of banned airlines. This kind of information should be as available to consumers as a map of bus routes.

08 January 2004

My understanding of the universe has had a pretty good shaking-up this week. First, there was evidence that more coffee might actually be good for me, coming right at the end of ten years-worth of effort to get it down to one a day. Now I discover that black holes aren't holes at all, but bubbles. All right, maybe the story is a little old, but I've only just noticed it. I can't keep up with everything, you know.

So what's next? Is nothing sacred any longer? Will Britney Spears marry at last?

Evidence is mounting that Grigori "Grisha" Perelman, a Russian researcher, has solved one of mathematics' oldest and most abstruse problems, the Poincare Conjecture, which explains the geometry of three-dimensional space. It could make a million dollars-worth of difference to his life.

This updates a story I covered some weeks ago, the accusation that the Ford Foundation was, through its financial grants, supporting terrorism and anti-Semitism. The Foundation has now appointed a former Clinton administration official with strong ties to the American Jewish community to help promote its new policy of forbidding grant recipients to support terrorism or bigotry. The story's from the Jewish news service, JTA, whose investigation of Ford prompted the accusations in the first place.

Walid Phares is a professor of Middle East studies and a Middle East and terrorism analyst for MSNBC. His Washington Times analysis of France's roiled relationship with its Arab population is a little too agitated to follow easily, but it is obvious that he feels the relationship is in trouble - "Mr. Chirac projected a political trade. He would oppose the United States on Iraq, shield Saddam's regime until the last day, stand firmly by the Palestinian Authority against Israel and continue to endorse Syria's control of Lebanon. In return, he expected an "Arab understanding" of France's domestic needs regarding secularism. He failed."

This is a very different type of story, with a very different mood. It is Theodore Dalrymple's account of the frustration with life in Britain which has driven him to buy a house in France. But it does contain a troubling description of the way France deals with what he calls its underclass - of which much of its Arab population is a part:

"Whether by accident or design," he says, "France has opted for the South African solution to the problem: geographical isolation. It confines its underclass in satellite cities around major conurbations that can be sealed off by a single tank and by halting a few trains. If push ever came to shove, and there was a social explosion, I have little doubt that the Declaration of the Rights of Man would have little influence on the French official response. As the South Africans used to say before they discovered morality, 'They will only foul their own nest.' And certainly such an explosion is not impossible: I recently visited the housing estates that ring Paris, and the alienation and hatred I found there exceeded by far anything I have ever encountered in this country. It was extremely frightening."

I wonder how long it will be before this frightening assessment of the dangers of global warming will be rolled back by critics of the research.

Efforts to solve the mystery of the missing Christmas Eve Air France passenger are being characterised as no more important than tying up a loose end. There seems to be far too much effort being expended on the search to make that ring true, though.

The war in Iraq hadn't been under way for long before stories began to emerge of shortages of equipment among British troops. There were complaints that at least one soldier had died because there weren't sufficient bullet-proof vests to go around. Now comes a story that an intelligence operation to assassinate Chemical Ali was thwarted by the breakdown, on the very first day of the war, of key satellite phone links. British troops were left for hours at a time, apparently, without secure communication with the Prime Minister's office in case political decisions were needed quickly.

Defence sources are saying that the problems were caused by the Government's refusal to allow British forces to order urgently-needed equipment until British participation had been confirmed. Odd that the British produce, arguably, the best troops in the world, but at the same time some pretty dreadful managers of troops.

Tanariwen are billed as guitar legends of the Sahara, desert bluesmen. They are Taureg, or Tamishek, from Mali, and they're causing a stir in the music world in France. Rock singer Robert Plant described their music at last year's Festival of the Desert in Essakane, northwest of Timbuktu, as like "dropping a bucket into a deep well."

The wandering, smoky lines of their music, according to this Guardian story, "summon up a nomadic sense of a land without boundaries. The figures of the guitarists are immobile, and so inscrutable are their veiled faces that almost the onlystage movement is their hands flickering across the fretboards. It's an ambience that highlights the extraordinary dreamlike quality of the music."

The concerts called the Festival in the Desert, apparently, are a relatively new phenomenon. The first is was held in north-eastern Mali in 2001; the second took place the following year near the Algerian border, but was marred by a sandstorm. The festival finally came of age with the extraordinary series of concerts held in Essakane last January.

There were some French musicians involved (so was Robert Plant), but it was the Malian bands who produced the best music. Ali Farka Toure, who was last year's headliner, is the best-known exponent of desert blues.

This is a useful article in the Guardian on improving your Google searching techniques. Some of these tips are hardly secrets, but others were new to me.

Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, has thought better of his angry cancellation of a conference on anti-Semitism in Europe.

07 January 2004

This exchange of US Marines for US Army in Iraq may well have a considerable effect for good. The Marines may be a tough crowd in a fight, but they are also extremely competitive. If they think the Army was being too heavy-handed, as many people believe, you can bet your life they'll do it better.

The Washington Post publishes a long, detailed report this morning on the search for "nonconventional" weapons in Iraq. I guess this sums up the newspaper's conclusions reasonably well:

"A review of available evidence, including some not known to coalition investigators and some they have not made public, portrays a nonconventional arms establishment that was far less capable than U.S. analysts judged before the war. Leading figures in Iraqi science and industry, supported by observations on the ground, described factories and institutes that were thoroughly beaten down by 12 years of conflict, arms embargo and strangling economic sanctions. The remnants of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile infrastructures were riven by internal strife, bled by schemes for personal gain and handicapped by deceit up and down lines of command. The broad picture emerging from the investigation to date suggests that, whatever its desire, Iraq did not possess the wherewithal to build a forbidden armory on anything like the scale it had before the 1991 Persian Gulf War."

I still don't hear fat ladies singing, somehow...

The Los Angeles Times calls the discovery of this cache of weapons and chemicals in Texas "chilling". Coming from a country with the strictest kind of gun controls, what is really chilling to me is the easy access Americans have to firearms. It's like a massive, self-inflicted wound on the body of the American state. I know the Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but that guarantee was written in a different time, for circumstances that no longer exist.

The war in Iraq really seems to have thrown most Middle East relationships, like cards, up into the air. This one's still fluttering back down to earth. This one's headed for a bumpy landing.

The Guardian asked a handful of young British playwrights what was wrong with drama in the UK, and how they proposed to fix it. The result was a fascinating mixture.

There was some tired bureaucratic gabble - "An in-depth process that includes accountability will provide progress."

There was some amusing bubbleheadedness - "What does British theatre need? It's obvious: cheaper tickets. Theatre is a good socialistic thing all round, so regardless of the economics (because I'm a writer, I don't have to care about that stuff), tickets should be as dirt cheap as possible. Ideally. Which they won't be. Bugger."

And there was some simple common sense, expressed with flair - "We have to stop pretending that 'new writers' equals 'new writing'. Most young playwrights produce desperately old writing: poor, tired language, barely fit to describe what we already know, let alone take us somewhere new...Enough mumbling smackheads, for pity's sake; this generation needs its Warp."

Good read.

It can't be a surprise that Romano Prodi would be annoyed by criticism that the European Commission acted out of prejudice in publishing a public opinion survey that characterised Israel as a threat to world peace, yet trying to suppress a report that said Muslims and pro-Palestinians were responsible for a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe. What is a surprise, though, is his childish reaction to the criticism. Where's all that sophisticated European skill at diplomacy?

Whether to allow armed marshals to guard aircraft seems to be turning into a difficult issue in Europe. The British Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, is trying to draw up rules for the use of sky marshals in an attempt to defuse what the Guardian describes as "a gathering tide of opposition".

The argument against their use seems to be a mixture of concern over command and control, and concern over the use of firearms in pressurised cabins. The first is an obviously legitimate issue. The second - well, the use of bombs in pressurised cabins ought to be a worry, as well. I do seem to recall reading not so long ago that marshals used specially-developed low-velocity ammunition to guard against the risk of accidental penetration of the hull of an aircraft. Anybody know anything about that?

This is a smart step in the right direction. The Middle East Non-Violence and Democracy group has produced a radio soap opera , Home is Our Home, that promotes, in Palestinian communities, non-violent resolutions to conflict.

The Christian Science Monitor says similar programs in Africa have helped ease ethnic tensions. I'd be interested in hearing more about where that might have been, my impression being that ethnic tensions don't get a whole lot of easing on that continent. However, I do remember computer guru and author James Martin telling an audience in Bermuda recently that in Mexico, a television soap opera about contraception played a big part in the reduction of Mexico's birth rate by 34% in ten years. Similar shows are being used in a variety of countries around the world.

A journalist in Syria has criticised Syrian president Bashar al Assad for doctoring the translation into Arabic of an interview he gave to the New York Times in December. It sounds as if Mr Assad was doing a little spinning for an American audience that he knew wouldn't work on a Syrian audience. The journalist, Subhi Hadidi, claimed that the bits that were missing included questions and answers on Syria's domestic situation, Iraq, Hizbullah, normalisation of relations with Israel and US-Syrian security cooperation.

06 January 2004

Zambia has deported a British journalist who wrote a satirical newspaper column featuring a sloppily-dressed elephant and, running the country's Treasury, "long-fingered baboons and monkeys," dancing around in circles, waggling their bottoms.

I can't help wondering how Zambia would deal with Michael Moore.

The Syrian President has been talking about his role in the changing political geography of the Middle East to Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph. He won't confirm that he has such things, but rules out a Libyan-style scrapping of nuclear and biological weapons, unless Israel agrees to abandon its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

He reiterates his support for suicide bombers, blaming Israel's policies for their continued use.

The Telegraph thinks that kind of attitude will just take Syria into greater isolation.

An edited extract of Osama bin Laden's latest broadcast is published in the Guardian this morning. Funny, once one gets over the shock of his broadcasting any message at all, he really doesn't have a lot to say that doesn't sound like a rather boring parody of itself.

The Guardian's art critic, Jonathan Jones, says a new exhibition of Roy Lichtenstein's work currently at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark makes him question whether he really deserves to be thought of as highly as he is.

"Lichtenstein at his worst," he writes, "makes you doubt Lichtenstein at his best. You wonder if he added anything at all to the American iconography of Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper or John Frederick Peto; if he would ever have flourished had he not struck critics and museums as a tasteful, talented version of Warhol. So much for taste and talent. " The exhibition closes in Denmark on Sunday, then moves to the Hayward Gallery in London, opening on February 26.

Could it be that the UN's trying to get serious about its job in Afghanistan? They're apparently looking at the possibility of making Major General John McColl, now the commander of Britain's Joint Services Command and Staff College, their special representative in the country. Gen McColl worked for the UN as commander of international forces in Vitez, central Bosnia, in 1994, and won the respect of Afghans and western governments when Britain was in charge of the peacekeeping force in Kabul during the first six months after the defeat of the Taliban.

It is not known how many other people have been interviewed by the UN for the job, but Gen McColl is said to have the backing of the British government, which means the US will also have given its approval.

The headline on this story in Canada's Globe and Mail is Huge star, black hole dance in space. To me, that pretty much removes the option not to read it.

Gavyn Davis, chairman of the BBC's board of governors, has spent some time talking to the Financial Times about life after the Hutton Report is published later this month. You need to be a subscriber to access the interview, but the FT has kindly provided a summary. The FT says Davis has ruled out further major reforms to the composition of the board of governors or to its regulatory role - which of course is not the same as ruling out further major reforms to the BBC and its role.

Meantime, Lord Hutton says he needs more time to complete his report, so it won't be released on Monday as advertised. How long the delay will be doesn't seem yet to be clear.

Henry Kipjack of Chicago has spent his life making miniature rooms. He's said to be the best there is. "His father was a true master. So is he," Deborah Simon, daughter of Mel Simon, owner of the Indiana Pacers, told the Chicago Tribune. "His miniatures are exquisite, the best in the business today--and I've seen a lot." She owns six of them. Kipjack now charges between $25,000 to $200,000 for each piece he makes, so she's not shy about putting her money where her mouth is.

The 80 American field hospital workers who went to Iran to help care for survivors of the earthquake in Bam tried to be sensitive to the Iranian culture, but they had a job to do. That seems to have been fine with the Iranians who, when the time came, didn't want them to leave. "Children waved goodbye. The U.S. team's safety manager handed bread and marmalade to an Iranian child. And parliament members personally thanked the Boston trauma doctor" who headed the US team, Dr Susan Briggs. She told them she'd be back.

Christoper Albritton is a blogger, a former reporter for AP and the New York Daily News, who made a little bit of blogging history last year by asking his readers to donate money so that he could go to Iraq to blog from there. To everyone's surprise, he raised nearly $15,000. After some weeks in Iraq during the war, he went back to New York to begin writing a book. He's now trying to raise money to go back to Iraq in March. His blog site, Back-to-Iraq.com, is here.

05 January 2004

Thabo Mbeki's rather odd recent trip (he was the only international leader to accept the invitation) to Haiti's independence celebrations is not playing well back home in South Africa. Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon accused Mbeki of "propping up another international outcast", and described Haiti's Jean-Bertrand Aristide as "the Mugabe of the Caribbean".

A second story, this one in South Africa's Sunday Times suggests Mbeki was involved in some kind of attempt at mediation between Aristide and the Haitian opposition, which doesn't ring true to me...in the middle of independence celebrations? Mbeki had to get out of Haiti in a hurry when some of his entourage came under fire by gunmen.

This is not a terribly well thought-out article in the Washington Post. It claims to chronicle "a fierce debate over when and how elite military units should be deployed for maximum effectiveness," but really doesn't produce any convincing evidence that this "fierce debate" is more than the usual low-level, background clatter of inter-unit rivalry.

NASA is busy trying to turn its PR fortunes around by capitalising on the success of the weekend's landing on Mars. NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe is urging Americans in an article in the Los Angeles Times this morning not to shackle space research by being timid in the wake of the space shuttle accident.

Laurence Bergreen, the author of a book on Magellan's circumnavigation, agrees with him, making parallels between the casualties of 16th Century exploration of the earth, and 20th Century exploration of the solar system.

The Los Angeles Times calls William M Arkin a military affairs analyst. In this piece, he writes about efforts to develop nonlethal weapons, which is fair enough. Plans on the drawing board for this type of gadget are fascinating. But then he shows that whatever skills he has in military analysis are lacking in his political analysis.

"...With all of the high-level support and the new mission demands, nonlethal weapons have two fatal flaws that will ultimately stand in the way of their being widely fielded. First, the Bush administration has adopted a markedly lethal approach to the war on terror. Second, even where a nonlethal weapon might be useful in Iraq or elsewhere, its use could backfire in the broader battle to win over hearts and minds."

On the first point, I'm tempted to report him to Andrew Sullivan, who may want to fit him up with one of his awards for being pathetic. On the second, I think he deserves the Viagra award for making one of the most flaccid points in the history of political argument.

Barbara Amiel of the Telegraph, who can write a mean little piece when she sets her mind to it, is having a go at eco-warriors this morning.

"From the beginning," she says, "the environmentalist movement attracted the sort of people who preferred a Marxist or in any event a dirigiste system. They are instinctive commissars, which made the UN their natural ally. They want to tell you how to organise your rubbish, what to consume and which aesthetic responses are correct. They see nothing wrong in the belief that your lifestyle choices should correspond with theirs."

If, as I did, you need help with dirigiste, it means "Directed by a central authority; as, a dirigiste economy; with respect to economics, opposed to freeĀ­mark.t

Migrationwatch UK is a pressure group that formed last year, chaired by Sir Andrew Green, a 62 year-old retired British diplomat. Like many Britons, he questions the need for mass immigration into Britain, and seems to have turned himself into an effective pea under the British Government's mattress. This time, he accuses the Government of what the BBC would once have called "sexing up" the facts.

Salaam Fayad is a well-respected former official of the International Monetary Fund who was educated in Lebanon and Texas. For the last 18 months, he's had the unenviable job of trying to reform the chaotic finances of the Palestinian Authority. It's a job that seems a little frustrating. US and EU officials have warned that they will stop financial aid to the PA unless he succeeds in his efforts to reform the organisation. Sounds like a winner whichever way it turns out.

Prince Charles was the most searched-for item on Google in the UK. Winnie the Pooh came third.

And you just stop with that horrid and uncharitable thought that's forming in your head. It would be completely unjustified.

This is going to be a busy year for the production of films in Britain. Last year there were 43 international productions shot there, this year there may be more. The Guardian lists some of those on the schedule, and explains what it is that attracts Hollywood to Britain. Those of us who live in much-maligned offshore financial centres wonder why it doesn't count as unfair tax competition.

"While biotechnology can be a force for good, it raises important religious, moral, and philosophical issues when it offers the possibilities of something 'better than well', concludes a report issued in October by the President's Council on Bioethics in Washington. '[W]ith our very humanity in the balance, it would be foolish to avert our gaze and trust to fortune.'"

The Christian Science Monitor is one of several newspapers currently commenting on the issues surrounding biotechnology. Leon Kass, president of the Council, thinks this is a healthy thing:

"The benefits of biomedical progress are obvious, clear, and powerful. The hazards are much less well appreciated.... not like nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, where there is not a lot good you can say for them. The problem in this area is something like the Midas problem: Is what we asked for what we wanted? That kind of double-edged character to some of these technologies [means we need] simply to get people to think about this."

04 January 2004

NASA's Spirit rover is now on Mars, sending images back to earth. This link gives access to those images, and has a link to a live feed. Wasn't broadcasting any pictures from Mars when I looked at it, but you never know your luck.

The sad fact of the matter is that the possibility that Haiti might actually get some money from its absurd demand for reparations from France is the only thing that keeps Jean-Bertrand Aristide in power. The moment Haitians realise it's nothing more substantial than a sting, they'll turn on him.

Aljazeera is repeating a Robert Fisk story published in the Independent this morning that British soldiers kicked an Iraqi prisoner to death during the Iraq war. Bloggers describe the process of correcting a thoroughly false story as "fisking" in honour of Mr Fisk, who has written a great many stories that have, shall we say, an unusual interpretation of the truth. So don't take this one as fact unless you get it from a better source.

And if one can believe this story in the Independent, Andrew Gilligan of the BBC seems to have graduated from getting his stories wrong to blackmailing his employer. There's no holding this ambitious young man back, apparently.

I don't know what it is about some stories - you never ever seem quite to get the whole picture in focus. But this report in the Observer does clear one thing up - British Airways is refusing to have armed marshals aboard any of its flights. Since marshals are only being put aboard flights in respect of which there is thought to be some danger, the grounding of BA flights has more to do with the airline's new policy than it does to American pressure not to fly. I'd like to hear someone define the difference between intelligence that will ground a flight, and intelligence that will prompt coverage by armed marshals.

Meantime, I think the Observer may be going slightly overboard in interpreting what's happened with some transAtlantic flights as the dawn of a new relationship between the state and its citizens. On the other hand, if it turns out to be true, they certainly can claim to have been the first to mention it. Perhaps that was the point.

One of the things the New York Times was strongly criticised for, during the reign of the infamous Howell Raines, was a habit of allowing their writers to take quotes out of context. There are dozens of examples. Perhaps the best-known involved columnist Maureen Dowd, who attributed to George Bush a whacky statement that al Qaeda was no longer a problem to the US, when what he actually said was that some members of al Qaeda, who had been taken into custody, were no longer a problem to the US.

In an effort to deal with this problem, and others, the paper's new editor, Bill Keller, recently appointed an ombudsman, Daniel Okrent, to deal with readers' complaints. They call him the public editor, a title whose meaning is perhaps a little elusive, but does convey that he has editor's rank. Today, and you'll need to register to read it, Okrent has at last got to grips with the problem of taking quotes out of context. He dresses his piece up with a whole lot of hokey nonsense - it's nearly 1600 words where 200 would have done - and conveniently declines to cite examples of quote abuse that occurred before he got the job. But one must acknowledge that Okrent's story has, finally and unequivocally, put the Times' staff on notice that quote manipulation isn't on.


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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