...Views from mid-Atlantic
13 March 2004

I remember this process, of straightening black people's kinky hair by using lye and other ingredients, was called "conking" years ago. Malcolm X, for example, had his hair conked with half a can of Red Devil lye poured over two sliced white potatoes and a couple of raw eggs. That process, and others, made a lot of money for black entrepreneurs back then. Nowadays, the more appearance means, the less it signifies. So meet Hump the Grinder, who is sometimes called "the Don King of black hair entertainment", and Big Bad D, who never cuts his hair because he sees it as a embodying his manly power. Bad D wears his hair in what Judith Thurman of the New Yorker describes as "A thick fascicle of dreadlocks sheathed in wax thread...slung rakishly over his right shoulder and spliced to an equally long but spindlier cable of beard. (The logistics of dressing and safely performing other activities of a strenuous or intimate nature with head and chin umbilically attached are, he admits, sometimes challenging.)"

Brits have a reputation for eccentricity as it is, but when you mix nostalgic organ concerts, elderly fans and young female staff...well, very, very odd things happen.

It has been ten years since Louis de Bernieres published Captain Corelli's Mandolin, a book that sold 2.5 million copies in the UK alone. It set off what the Independent calls a Homeric horde of followers panting for more. This summer, they're going to get their wish.

Birds without Wings will be published by Harvill Secker in July. Its publisher Geoff Mulligan says it will be "a glorious novel, epic and profoundly humane". Boyd Tonkin writes that the new book has the potential "to cause a diplomatic as well as a literary flap. Although it seduced its British admirers, Corelli proved hugely controversial in Greece for its damning portrayal of the Greek resistance and its somewhat rose-tinted view of the Italian invasion forces. The new book strays into, if anything, even more sensitive territory. It explores the break-up of the Ottoman Empire at the close of the First World War and the brutally enforced 'exchange of populations'. Ancient, tolerant communities shattered as ethnic cleansing expelled millions of Greeks from Turkish lands - and vice versa."

Interesting piece in the Guardian on how to properly illuminate works of art. "These issues are of interest to anyone who looks at works of art," says staffer James Fenton, "since it is impossible to depend on museums to display their possessions properly. Sculpture buffs acknowledge this fact when they take pocket torches (Maglites do well, but the trade has traditionally preferred dentists' torches) to examine small bronzes. Museums are not always pleased to see their treasures being examined by torchlight, but they regularly fail to make their bronzes properly visible.

"The commonest reason for such a failure (apart from ignorance and lack of funds) is conservation. Objects made of bronze or stone are mixed up with textiles or ivories or miniatures and other items that require a low illumination. There is absolutely no reason for keeping bronzes in low light. If the low light is there for the sake of the tapestries, then a good museum should recognise that bronzes and tapestries have to be kept apart - if they are to be seen."

12 March 2004

Here's a guy who says his goal in life is to figure out what the underlying structure of space and time is, and actually means it. Brian Greene is a physicist who says "I do believe in time. I just think our intuition about it is wrong." How could you resist?

Alan Greenspan, the US Federal Reserve Board Chairman, has told a House of Representatives committee that proposed measures to stem the flight of jobs overseas could threaten US prosperity. "These alleged cures could make matters worse rather than better," he said. "They would do little to create jobs and, if foreigners were to retaliate, we would surely lose jobs."

The Washington Times agrees. They've run a matched pair of editorials this morning, one on the economics of outsourcing and the other on the politics of outsourcing.

For the Times, the unpopularity of outsourcing is pure politics: "All over Washington, fearful and intellectually dishonest senators and congressmen are calling for laws banning the dreaded practice of American companies and government agencies seeking the cheapest price for goods and services, wherever they may be in the world...The coward in chief among the cowardly candidates is, of course, Sen. John Kerry, who for 209 of his 211 months in the Senate has understood the value of and fought for free trade. Mr. Kerry is a smart man, but he doesn't let that get in the way of proposing destructive policies if he can get some votes out of it."

Bernard Lewis, the scholar and author of many books about Islam and the Middle East, has given an interview to the Jerusalem Post that, albeit quite short, will fascinate those interested in assessing progress in the war against terrorism. It's hard picking one grape out of the bunch he serves up, but this one's as good as any:

Q. How has America's war on terror affected the terrorists?

A. The war, which has set the entire Middle East in motion, threatens terrorism, and so it contributes to the terrorists' activating their defenses. You see, Iraq today could become a democracy in the middle of the Middle East. In the papers we may only read about terrorist attacks, but in reality Iraq is bustling with all kinds of movement - new newspapers, new local forms of self-government, young people signing up to be in the police or the army. Things are incomparably better than they were under Saddam. And we can proceed with caution, without rushing to carry out elections that would require local electoral lists, laws and structures that still need to be defined.

Maybe it's just me, but I read into this Israeli analysis of the terror attacks in Madrid two very sad things. First, the writer has an ability to analyse a bombing attack without help that no non-professional should have, but that I suspect many Israelis have been in the way of acquiring recently. Second, he conveys a kind of bewilderment, almost as if he mistrusted his own judgement, that the world should find such attacks in Spain and elsewhere so horrifying, yet treat similar attacks in Israel with far less concern, as if, as he says, there exists some kind of distinction between "good terror" and "bad terror".

The British system of Queen's Honours and Awards is "the whoopee cushion of political discourse," a select committee considering reforms has been told, according to the Guardian. "Gallantly though the professor (distinguished, giving evidence) struggled to express sober opinions, the drollness of what he called this Tower of Bauble got the better of him and he delivered a comedic performance that, had he not been sitting down, could only be described as stand-up. 'How can they look at themselves?' he asked of the one-time '60s revolutionaries who have flocked to become New Labour peers. 'From Trotsky to tosserdom in one generation.'"

Ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide is intending to fly from the Central African Republic next week to Jamaica, where he is to be reunited with his two children, and where he apparently intends to stay for a period of from eight to ten weeks. Jamaica's Prime Minister says he's not seeking political asylum, but wants to stay in Jamaica while he is looking for a permanent residence "outside of the Caribbean region". I think if PJ Patterson believes that, he needs his head read. Aristide wants to be close to Haiti while he tries to engineer a return. If he fails, as he almost certainly will, he is going to be a problem no one wants to be in charge of. Meantime, his presence in Jamaica is going to worsen already-tense relations between it and its Caricom partners on the one hand and the US on the other. Aristide in Jamaica is going to be one of those troublesome and destructive symbols, like the the security wall in Israel, that brings no one any good.

A couple of musical stories caught my eye this morning. The first, published in AlJazeera, tells of the death of a much-loved Lebanese composer, Zaki Nassif. It is said he was the founder of his country's folk music, and helped spread traditional Arabic music around the world. A music instructor at the Lebanese American University said of him: "If you close your eyes and hear a Zaki Nassif tune, you can see the grapevines in the village, and feel the cool mountain evening."

The second, a happier story, describes the growth of musical links between the US and Mali. Malian singer and guitarist Habib Koite says "The soul of the old (American) blues is the same soul as the Bambara people," speaking of one of the largest ethnic groups in Mali. All kinds of American musicians, including Robert Plant and Taj Mahal, have begun to explore the connections.

The man who got the ball rolling in this new musical connection is Ry Cooder, who recorded Talking Timbuktu in 1994 with Ali Farka Toure, a Malian farmer. Cooder is also the man who went to Cuba and made the extraordinarily successful album called Buena Vista Social Club with Ruben Gonzalez and Compay Segundo.

Cooder is a guitarist who started his career as a session man for artists as disparate as Taj Mahal and Captain Beefheart (he plays on the recently reissued 1967 album Safe As Milk), for Randy Newman (on his classic 12 Songs, among others), and the Rolling Stones (on Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Beggars Banquet).

In the '80s, he got involved in soundtrack work, often composing for director Wim Wenders, though he also found time to help re-energize his singer friend John Hiatt. His scoring of the Wenders film Paris, Texas is almost as well known as Ennio Morricone's themes for the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns, like A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

He's obviously having a huge influence on the contemporary music scene.

11 March 2004

Scientists have been trying to solve the mystery of why Uranus should have two north and two south poles ever since they discovered them in a flyby in 1986. A new theory being published today in the British journal Nature suggests the structures of both Uranus and Neptune are radically different from what had been assumed.

In a pair of editorial page pieces today, the Washington Times is worrying about developments in Iran. First, the paper suggests that the recent takeover by hardliners has had the effect of cutting Iranians off from news about the world and their own country. "In a public-opinion poll sponsored in late 2002 by members of parliament, 75 percent of Iranians supported dialogue with the US," the Times says, "and almost half approved of U.S. policy toward their country. The authorities responded by jailing the pollsters. The Iranian regime's tools of silence speak volumes about the nature of its rule. "

Then the Times considers what steps the United States should now take to reduce the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear breakout. "The United States does not have the luxury of waiting," the newspaper warns. "Iran has become increasingly defiant in recent weeks, demanding that the IAEA end sanctions. Washington and its allies need to confront the danger before it is too late."

Cadillacs are king of the road, all right, but also, as this Los Angeles Times story suggests, bling of the road.

American historian Robert Davis, in a new book, has concluded that between 1 and 1.25 million Europeans were abducted and enslaved by African pirates in raids from Sicily up to Britain that took place between 1530 and 1780. That may be fewer than the number of Africans taken in slavery, but it does shed new light on an old story. Do whites have their own claim for reparations, perhaps? The book, by the way, is called Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, and is published in the US by Palgrave Macmillan.

If Rusi Taleyarkhan's Purdue University team of scientists have got their science right, the implications of their discovery that nuclear fusion can be triggered by blasting a beaker of acetone with soundwaves are huge. Attempts to harness the power of nuclear fusion, a potential source of limitless clean energy, have so far required vast, multibillion dollar test reactors. In comparison, Taleyarkhan's fledgling reactor could be built with loose change, and is no bigger than a couple of coffee cups.

Too good to be true? That is exactly what worried many of scientists. "It's difficult for me to say I believe it because it's so implausible," says Larry Crum, a physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle. "It really is just incredibly implausible."

All five of the British citizens released from Guantanamo Bay have now been set free by UK authorities, suggesting they have found insufficient evidence of their involvement in terrorist activities to charge them with offences. US authorities have some explaining to do, I'd say, if they expect public opinion to continue to support their detention policies.

Head-spinning new broadband speeds are being predicted by the president of Bell Canada's systems and technology group. Eugene Roman is predicting 16 megabits a second any moment now, and 22 mbps next year. The system, he says, is already being tested.

This is the text of the speech in which he made his startling claim.

Neutrinos, atomic particles that have virtually no mass and carry no electrical charge, rarely interact with other matter. That makes them useful in astronomy, in the sense that when they are generated by cosmic events, such as high-energy bursts of cosmic rays, they are rarely deflected or accelerated in their travels by banging into other things. Only a few of them have been detected on earth over the last 30 years, scientists say, but they appear to be capable of being tracked to truly distant sources. Scientists now plan to use the continent of Antarctica as a kind of neutrino observatory, by using an array of instruments the size of a small school bus, suspended from a high altitude balloon, to detect neutrinos hitting the ice below. They expect to be able to detect only a few of these little crashes, but the detection of a small number in 1987 was significant enough to stimulate a decade's worth of supernova study.

After months of argument and speculation in the press and among bloggers, the New York Times has appointed a new Book Review editor. He seems very well qualified. Sam Tanenhaus is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of a well-regarded biography of Whittaker Chambers, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

The relatively new editor of the Times, Bill Keller, touched off the speculation when he talked of making "dramatic changes" in the influential book review after former editor Chip McGrath left to take another job. As part of those changes, he said, the Times would shift its editorial focus more towards non-fiction. "The most compelling ideas tend to be in the non-fiction world," Keller said. "Because we are a newspaper, we should be more skewed toward non-fiction." Traditionalists were more than a little nervous about what he proposed.

The Book Babes at Poynter Online covered Keller's plans back in January.

10 March 2004

A Baghdad journalist, Hiwa Osman, analyses the significance of opposition to Iraq's new interim constitution. "Statements of reservation by members of the Council and religious leaders outside the council that criticised the interim constitution before the signatures dried on the document could usher in dangerous intended or unintended consequences," Osman says in the Washington Times this morning. "At present, Iraqis of all stripes, by and large, respect the religious figures of the Shia community. But continued interference with the political process in a way that might appear to be imposing the will of one group on all others, might push non-Shia Iraqis to start openly criticising these religous figures.

"Democracy is not about the domination of the majority over all others. It is all about guaranteeing the rights and the status of the minorities. A federal system in Iraq would provide for the rights of minorities. Then, and only then, will Iraq stand a chance of moving towards a united, peaceful and stable country."

Gangs rule the streets of the West Bank's largest city, a once-thriving business hub, shooting rivals, strong-arming merchants and carrying out beatings and kidnappings. The mayor resigned to protest the Palestinian Authority's inability to bring order to the streets. Officials and analysts say the lawlessness is a sign that the grasp of the PA and its president, Yasser Arafat, is faltering.

The BBC is in the news again, this time for firing an Afro-Caribbean radio talk show host for being too intellectual. He says the corporation's being patronising to its listeners - "The view is that to get black listeners, you have to 'go ghetto'." The BBC says he failed to attract listeners.

Equatorial Guinea says it arrested a 15-man group it suspects of being an advance party for the 64 being held as suspected mercenaries in Zimbabwe. The plane's operator says the men were security guards on contract to mining companies in Congo. If they were mercenaries, they have to be the most inept gang on record, getting themselves nicked by telling some flimsy fib to Zimbabwean customs officials.

The Guardian has published thumbnail sketches of the five terrorist suspects who've just been returned to Britain from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Funny, they all seem to be innocent of any crime.

Museums in Britain are banding together to lobby the government for funding. It is the first time national, regional and independent museums have come together, and also the first attempt to pin down the scale of underfunding across the whole, normally fragmented sector.

Museums aren't the only ones having trouble with funding. Britain's ambassador in Kuwait says he's going to have to shut down for three weeks because of his "hopelessly inadequate" budget.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon says proposed cuts in defence spending plans would jeopardise "current and future" operations, by which he means the British operation in Iraq, among other things.

Meanwhile, across the channel, 2,000 French scientists have quit to protest the French government's rejection of their demands for more money.

Don't suppose it's got anything to do with the cost of running outdated welfare states, do you?

09 March 2004

Thomas Curwen of the Los Angeles Times does a fine job in this feature on the arcane sport of falconry:

"Wings flick against the wind, pausing, kiting, hovering, steadily staircasing higher, widening this gyre and watching everything within it - blades of grass, patterns across the water, errant sparrows, cottontails, solitary field mice - but waiting for a cue from man and dog.

"They trek slowly across the field. A familiar flutter stirs beside the man, streaking fast and everything stops. Wings jet back, and the world, instantaneously rising, blurs, except for the speckles on the back of the pigeon's nape. Feet and talons extend. Thump...

"'She's like a bottle of fine wine,' he says. 'A nice piece of Spanish peregrine. No junky hybrid. This is the purest stuff.'"

Well, it's official. The UK is now in the middle of a constitutional crisis. The House of Lords blocked Government plans to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor and create a British supreme court, despite a warning that this would almost certainly mean that Tony Blair would get rid of the 92 remaining hereditary peers later this year. The Government had argued that the Bill protected the independence of the judiciary and set clear boundaries between politicians and judges. But independent and opposition peers described the legislation as ill thought-out and a "constitutional outrage" that could make the judges subservient to the Government.

The Telegraph takes the side of the Lords. In an editorial, the paper says this is Tony Blair "at his most Jacobin...Tony Blair's objection to the existing arrangements is not that they are unjust, but that, as he memorably told the House of Commons, they involve men wearing full-bottomed wigs and women's tights...He is not especially interested in what the alternatives are, or whether they would be any better than the current set-up. What counts, for him, is the accumulation of power and posing as a 'moderniser' by sweeping away fusty medieval titles.

"One is reminded," the paper said, "of the old chestnut about the Whitehall mandarin who tells his Secretary of State: 'This may work very well in practice, minister, but it doesn't work in theory.''"

Guardian columnist Simon Hoggart finds some solace in the fact that constitutional crisis in the UK doesn't mean there are riots and tanks are suddenly parked on British lawns, it simply means elderly men making long speeches and silly jokes.

Who exactly is the Queen of the Night? A Mesopotamian prostitute? A sex goddess? The terracotta relief is thought to have been made by a craftsman in Babylon, Ur or Nineveh, the cradle of civilisation in what is now Iraq, and is one of only two antiquities identified from the reign of the Babylonian King Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC). As you'll see from the picture in the Telegraph's story, she certainly doesn't wear a veil.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his defence establishment are at odds over his disengagement plan in Gaza and Judea and Samaria. The dispute stems, evidently, from a belief among the general staff, including the chief of staff and key generals, that Israel should be striving for an agreement with the Palestinians requiring them to take responsibility in various areas, instead of undertaking a unilateral disengagement. They think the Palestinians will regard a unilateral move as their victory, so they will go on wanting to fight. It is, they say, "a strategic failure in the making."

In their drive to force countries around the world to stop competing with them "unfairly" in the business of taxes, the European Union is having the most difficulty, not with the offshore financial centres they like to demonise as tax havens, but with European Union countries, like Switzerland.

It is a subject I banged on at length about in my weekly article in The Royal Gazette yesterday. What European Union countries and the countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development want is not so much the elimination of unfair tax competition, it is the elimination of any competition at all.

In my article, I argue that the ageing welfare states which throng the OECD's ranks have taken on mind-boggling obligations in their attempts to put into effect their vision of a state that provides for its citizens from the cradle to the grave. You don't need to be an economist to know that that is a flawed vision. Quite apart from the damage which must be done to the competitiveness of a state burdened in such way, the rise of globalisation in the last couple of decades has put a lot of writing up on the wall about the future of the classic welfare state. It probably isn't going to be completely dismantled by globalisation, but it is going to have to make some pretty drastic adjustments to survive.

Knowing how drastic these adjustments are going to have to be, welfare state nations are trying to do it the easy way first, by means of a little bullying.

A small group of American psychologists is challenging commonly-held theories in psychiatric practice as invalid. The New York Times (registration required) says this morning that the psychologists, from Emory, Harvard, the University of Texas and other institutions, have challenged the validity of widely used diagnostic tools like the Rorschach inkblot test. They have questioned the existence of repressed memories of child sexual abuse and of multiple personality disorder. They have attacked the wide use of labels like codependency and sexual addiction.

The challengers have also criticized a number of fashionable therapies, including "critical incident" psychological debriefing for trauma victims, eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing, or E.M.D.R., and other techniques. Their criticisms reflect a widening divide in the field between researchers, who rely on controlled trials and other statistical methods of determining whether a therapeutic technique works, and practitioners, who are often guided by clinical experience and intuition rather than scientific evidence.

08 March 2004

The Economist is reporting this morning that a new study suggests that the much-hyped Digital Divide between rich and poor nations is more bad dream than reality, and to the extent that it is real, it is rapidly becoming less real.

DEBKAfile says the Israeli central intelligence service, Mossad, has undergone a very large and significant metamorphosis in the last few months. They're getting out of the spying business and getting more into the business of special operations. "According to sources familiar with his mind-set," the organisation says, "(Prime Minister) Sharon's overriding motivation in approving the Mossad's overhaul was his acute sense of peril emanating most of all from the nuclear threat. This sense can be summed up in a word: We may find it interesting and even useful to discover who really pulls the wires in some country or other. But what use will this intelligence be if Israel is under nuclear attack?"

It also fits the change in attitude of the Americans and the British towards armed conflict. Both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have articulated their belief that the nature of of the war on terrorism dictates a strategic need for preventive, as well as reactive, strikes. And down at the sharp end, the role of special forces has become much more important than ever before as tactics are devised and revised to give effect to that new strategy.

A famous bet among three cosmologists, one of them Stephen Hawking, about whether or not the interior of a black hole is changed by what's sucked into it, is about to be solved. Hawking bet that "information" that disappears into a black hole is destroyed. Sounds as if he was wrong.

The Director General of the British Institute of Economic Affairs says the greatest threat to the United States is not international terrorism, but the country's "wrong-headed politicians". John Blundell argues that "large firms have long expected to trade overseas. This is their strength and a major virtue. Now it is being treated as a sub-species of treachery.

"If you are the chief executive of a company and your accountants tell you that you would make far more money by relocating to the Bahamas, or Bermuda, or the Isle of Man, should you ignore them? Your role is to make more money for your shareholders. It is not to be 'socially responsible' or to 'back the government'...

"All protectionism is a malignancy. This new form of protectionism has an added pernicious quality. The markets will always seek out lower costs. If the...government tries to influence company decisions - or punish companies for the decisions they take - the great computer of the exchange rate will grind in the new data and corporate 'outsourcing' will become even more profitable."

Since we're on the subject of wrong-headed politicians, the Washington Times's chief political correspondent is quoting JP Morgan this morning, who said "Anyone who bets against the American economy will lose." John Kerry, he says, has been aggressively attacking Mr. Bush for three years of job losses. His campaign rhetoric will look stale and out of touch if the U.S. economy continues expanding at 4 percent or better and the unemployment rate nosedives.

"Betting the economy is not going to get stronger this year," he says, "is a risky wager, and, in my opinion, could only be made by someone who has little faith in the resilience of American free enterprise." Or, it has to be said, someone who's simply a bonehead.

I posted yesterday about Bjorn Lomborg's new plan to form a group to analyse the risks posed by a variety of environmental problems, to help governments and non-governmental organisations establish priorities for tackling them. It sounds completely logical, but critics of doing such things say quantifying the value of human lives in dollar terms is unacceptably cold. Two Harvard officials involved with risk analysis suggest in the Los Angeles Times this morning that their work maximises public health and safety.

Trees seem to be disappearing from American cityscapes. According to American Forests, the nation's oldest citizen conservation organization and self-proclaimed "voice of the trees," the nation's urban areas as defined by the Census Bureau have lost 21% of their tree cover in the last decade. Viewed over longer time spans, the news is even worse. For instance, Washington, a city renowned for its blossoming cherry trees, has sacrificed 60% of its heavy tree canopy in the last generation. That's appallingly stupid. There is an abundance of evidence that decent tree cover provides huge energy savings by lowering the temperature, prevents flooding, encourages birds and other wildlife and provides a kind of chicken soup for the city-bound soul.

Pirates had their second-deadliest year in the shipping lanes last year. Brian Orrell, general secretary of the British shipping officers' union, says security in the shipping industry had become a blindspot for the Government which international terrorists could exploit.

"In the post-September 11 world," he said, "it is completely unacceptable that no real action is being taken against attacks that have the potential to cause massive loss of life and huge environmental damage. There is an emerging strain of terrorist piracy which desperately needs to be addressed. These people have replaced their cutlasses with Kalashnikovs."

The British Government is heading for a showdown over constitutional reform today. It has warned members of the House of Lords that if they block plans to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor and create a Supreme Court, their powers will be curbed and the measures will be pushed through the House of Commons regardless of their opposition. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, says the Government's fed up with its right to govern being second-guessed by the courts, whose judicial review of Government decisions has got out of hand in the last 20 years. "What we are trying to cut out is the repetitive constant rights of appeal using the judicial review process. It is not incidentally built into our constitution. It is, in its present form, actually about 20 years old. It has been built up by the judiciary over those 20 years beyond anything anybody ever envisaged."

07 March 2004

The Washington Post doubts that gambling is the right way for Maryland to try to revitalise its finances. "The advocates' shifting rationales for legalizing video slot machines," the newspaper says, "point to the absence of any really persuasive argument. Their desire to stick the gambling parlors in somebody else's neighborhood - usually somebody poor and without political influence - reflects their true understanding of the seamy effects of slots. And the flow to influential politicians of gambling money, from both in-state and out-of-state interests, presages a pollution of Maryland's political culture that would be almost impossible to reverse."

Bermuda is also beginning to talk about whether gambling might help us revitalise our ailing tourist industry, so what the Post says has a special resonance here. I don't understand why those who argue against gambling don't make more of the argument that it is enormously expensive to communities in terms of the indirect health costs that are associated with it. Churches all base their opposition to gambling, at least in part, on the destructive effect it can have on the families of addicted gamblers, and science confirms that they know whereof they speak.

Problem gambling and pathological gambling are well-defined psychiatric conditions. Pathological gambling is accepted as a psychiatric disorder which, in Canada and the United States, is on the increase. Certainly the popularity of gambling is increasing at a staggering rate. In the US, the only states now in which some form of gambling is not legal are Hawaii and Utah. The number of Americans who gambled in some manner increased from 61% in the '60s to 80% in 1991.

In Canada, the amount of money people spent in gambling increased, over the ten years between 1992 and 2001, by 321%. Gambling is growing faster than any other industry in that country. Mental health experts there say that one in four people in that country who play video lottery terminals become problem gamblers. When these terminals were first introduced to two western provinces, there was a marked increase in bankruptcies, divorces and suicides. Canadian figures show that 27% of moderate gamblers and 64% of problem gamblers would be unable to quit even if they wanted to. And gambling is well known as a condition that co-exists with other problems, such as alcoholism and depression.

The costs to US society of treating the fallout from problem and pathological gambling is apprently $5 billion a year.

War and strife do often have one positive outcome - a surge in technological achievement. As a result of the war on terror, enough money to sink a ship is being funnelled into one of the most ambitious scientific research and development programmes in recent history. The difficulty is, the Los Angeles Times reminds us, how easily such programmes can turn into troughs where the greedy can easily feed.

The debate over genetically-modified food in Britain has as many ups and downs as a cork on the ocean in a storm. The frustrating thing is that those in opposition have built their case, not on facts, but on suspicion.

The Telegraph, amused by the contradictions of the opposition's arguments, speculates about the effects their hysterical approach will have: "The winner from the climate of fear created by the anti-GM lobby will not be the environment; it will be sections of the food industry which seek to exploit it. Although Chardon LL T25 is going to be grown as animal feed rather than for direct human consumption, it may find its way into humans through cows' milk. The result will be dairy companies selling alternative "GM-free milk" to worried consumers at hugely marked-up prices. The fear spread by the anti-GM lobby has a cost: and it is one which will be paid by the consumer as much as by the agri-chemical industry."

The Telegraph is reporting this morning that the son of Osama bin Laden's right-hand man has given up some crucial information about the location of al-Qaeda's leaders. Ayman al-Zawahiri's son, Khalid, was seized along with 20 other suspected foreign militants in a raid by Pakistan's security forces in the remote South Waziristan area 10 days ago, apparently, although the authorities in Islamabad are unwillingly to confirm that.

Information gleaned from him by interrogators from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and the CIA has helped direct Pakistani and American forces in their drive to capture bin Laden and other senior al-Qaeda figures, being conducted in the mountainous areas on both sides of the border. Thousands of troops - Pakistani, American and British - are converging on that area, hoping to deliver a knockout blow against al-Qaeda in the spring.

This article, published last month by Media Monitors Network, explains why that's not going to be as easy as it sounds. Thanks are due to Patrick for sending me a copy.


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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