...Views from mid-Atlantic
01 May 2004

The search for new, cleaner ways to generate electricity has come up with a promising new contender - the artificial photsynthesis. You'll remember from school, perhaps, that photosynthesis is the process by which plants extract energy from sunlight to produce carbohydrates and ultimately proteins and fats from carbon dioxide and water, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere as a by-product.

"The evolution of photosynthesis in its current form," according to Britain's Prospect magazine, "made animal life possible by producing the oxygen we breathe and the carbon-based foods we eat. Photosynthesis does this on a massive scale, converting about 1,000bn metric tons of carbon dioxide into organic matter each year, yielding about 700bn metric tons of oxygen.

"The idea is to create artificial systems that exploit the basic chemistry of photosynthesis in order to produce hydrogen or other fuels both for engines and electricity. Hydrogen burns cleanly, yielding just water and energy. There is also the additional benefit that artificial photosynthesis could mop up any excess carbon dioxide left over from our present era of profligate fossil fuel consumption."

Mistakes, film maker Robert Altman believes, are the stuff of life. He asked his interviewer at the Guardian: "Isn't there some quote that goes: what people die of eventually is a creeping common sense, a realisation that the only thing they don't regret in their lives is their mistakes?" That common sense certainly isn't creeping around my neighbourhood, but I guess it might make sense in some lines of work. Altman certainly thinks it does in his: "I am a blunderer," he says. "I usually don't know what I am going into at the start. I go into the fog and trust something will be there."

30 April 2004

Finita la commedia! Italy's minister of education, universities and research has backed down in the face of a furious reaction to her decision not to allow the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools. She says it was all a big misunderstanding. Those who read her earlier statements will be forgiven for thinking her views on the subject weren't misunderstood, they evolved in response to the harsh reality of their environment.

A couple of legal straws in the wind this morning. First, an American court of appeals is going to hear argument that LL Bean's Internet presence allows it to be sued in California, even though it has no stores there. This has great implications in the still-developing world of e-commerce law.

And Twin Towers developer Larry A. Silverstein has lost a major legal battle in his fight with two dozen insurers over how much money will be available for rebuilding the sprawling World Trade Center site. Silverstein, who acquired a 99-year lease on the trade center six weeks before it was destroyed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, had hoped to double the $3.55 billion insurance proceeds by insisting in court that the two planes that hit the twin towers constituted separate events, entitling him to more than $7 billion in insurance payments.

The insurers argued that Mr. Silverstein and his brokers had concocted a story that they hoped would persuade the jury to give him a double payment, and insisted that he was entitled to no more than the policy's $3.55 billion limit. They denied his contention that the insurers were bound by a form of policy that makes it easier to claim, for insurance purposes, that there were two attacks.

Egypt isn't messing about with antiquities smugglers - the well-connected leader of a ring that shipped at least 300 pharaonic and other artefacts to Europe has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. Twenty-five others were given terms of from one to 20 years in jail. Nine of those accused were foreigners, from Switzerland, Germany, Kenya and Lebanon.

This man claims the Devil's scared of him. He's the Vatican's exorcist-for-hire, his business is booming and he always wins, he says. Whaddya think - George should give him a flak jacket and a ticket to I-raq?

A survey conducted for the Daily Telegraph has suggested that the odds are stacked against Tony Blair in the planned referendum on the European Union Constitution. Large majorities of voters, the newspaper says, "currently believe that the new constitution offers Britain and Europe few or no benefits and is likely to work comprehensively against this country's interests. They have every intention of voting against it. Even worse from Mr Blair's point of view, those who are opposed to the idea of a new constitution are considerably more likely than those in favour to say they have already made up their minds how they will cast their ballots."

The Telegraph is well-known to fear Britain drowning in the EU pool, and although it claims to be open-minded about all European issues including this one, it is sceptical "about the practical utility and desirability of a European constitution." This editorial spells out its reasons in some detail.

Israel has begun to flirt with a phenomenon that has grown rapidly in the United States and elsewhere - the think tank. The Jerusalem Post describes them as "a kind of intellectual salon...where the idea is to bring ideas for political, economic and social reform out to the public arena, and then to move them through the political process. The Post was focusing on meetings held to come up with ideas to decentralise the government to improve its efficiency.

This is a badly-needed step in the right direction. Europe's home affairs ministers have agreed to a long-awaited package of new rules on how to deal with refugees, creating the first pan-European common asylum policy.

The deal, clinched just two days before a deadline set by EU leaders five years ago, is designed to shore up minimum standards of treatment for refugees but also to stop people "asylum shopping" to exploit different legal systems.

The Postal Service in Britain is under attack after a Channel 4 programme last night which claimed to expose widespread fraud, theft and ineptitude in the organisation. The Guardian, in an editorial, goes for the throat of its management team, especially CEO Adam Crozier, whose "flimsy CV suggests he is not up to the task." The difficulty, it seems to me, is a little deeper than that - classic welfare states simply can't afford to pay for the womb-to-tomb support for their citizens they once tried to provide, and must reform their way of doing business.

It's called Homo sapiens, Lepidium sativum and Calliphora vomitoria - a Wise Man, some Cress and a Bluebottle - and its subject, Prince Philip, is sure he doesn't want it hanging on one of his walls. It was painted by the prize-winning British painter, Stuart Pearson Wright. It looks, frankly, like one of those amusing, if a little primitive, paintings on sale to tourists in Haiti for $100 or so.

The Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, is trying to get other world leaders to join him in a forum to tackle some of the more pressing problems they face. In a foreign policy speech yesterday, he told his American audience that he wanted the forum to discuss anything from the need to re-energize world trade talks to the fight against terrorism to the battle to improve access to cheap drugs in the poorest countries, and he's expected to push his idea when he meets today with President Bush at the White House. If that sounds to you as if he's trying to do an end run around the UN, you'd be right. His failing confidence in the organisation is shared by many world leaders, and has been lent sharp focus by the Oil-for-Food scandal.

29 April 2004

Reports by the UN's auditors on the Oil-for-Food programme were routinely shown only to its CEO, Undersecretary-General Benon Sevan, according to an official of the American General Accounting Office. The official told a House hearing that UN auditors had refused to release the audits to GAO investigators who had been asked to look into allegations of corruption. I'm not sure the official had any right to expect the UN to release the documents to him, actually, because the American government has no authority over the UN. One Representative, perhaps recognising that, says he's going to try creating a little pressure by introducing legislation that would tie the US contribution to the UN's budget, which accounts for 22 per cent of the organisation's funding, to cooperation in the probe. The fact is that if the independent panel appointed by Kofi Annan doesn't do a good job of getting at the truth, then the truth will likely remain hidden.

Michael Kinsley, Slate's founding editor and the quick-thinking co-host (with Pat Buchanan) of CNN's Crossfire, has been named the editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times. His predecessor in that job, Janet Clayton, will be a tough act to follow - she led the section to two Pulitzers during her tenure.

The poet Thom Gunn has died. Born and educated in England, he went to join the staff of the University of California at Berkeley in 1958. In 1999, according to this Telegraph obituary, he retired from teaching. He was by then Senior Lecturer at Berkeley, and had a distinguished record as an academic, producing editions of Fulke Greville in 1968 and in 1974. From 1958 to 1964, he covered poetry for the Yale Review. He was a generous and broad-minded critic, standing up for Ginsberg, and was scrupulous in his judgment. The Guardian adds to the picture.

Gunn won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for his poem The Man with Night Sweats, which was a reaction to the toll on his friends that the AIDS epidemic was having. Pretty powerful stuff...tough and tender at the same time.

The Independent is carrying a sort of reader's Q&A with the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, whose 11th novel, Oryx and Crake, was this week short-listed for the 2004 Orange prize for fiction. It's an interesting little grabbag of information about her. I particularly liked her answer to a question from a woman in Leeds: Would the world be a better place without literary critics?

"Actually, no, Atwood said. "Think of them as the town criers or the village gossips. 'Love the shoes, hated the hat, and did you get a load of that metaphor?' But at least they let people know that an event has taken place, so you can go and see for yourself. I write literary criticism myself, from time to time. But I'm not chained to a desk in the cellar, lashed by an editor who demands controversy, so I can write about books I like."

Truth has a certain ring to it, don't you agree?

In these days of extreme political correctness, it's unusual to come across a story that discusses national stereotypes as frankly as this one does. At the end, the lesson is what it always is with stereotypes - they're true and not true at the same time. Very Zen.

Ownership of the WordPerfect word-processing software has bounced around from company to company over the last few years. It was sold on for the upty-umpth time last August when it was acquired by a San Francisco-based firm. This time, its new owners say, they're going to try to do all the right things to compete properly with Microsoft's Word. Having used both of them extensively, I'm a solid supporter of WordPerfect, which is hands down the better product. Until Word caught up a little, WordPerfect was a much, much better product. Ask the American legal profession, which uses it extensively. What stands in the way of WordPerfect making greater inroads in the word processing market is simply the ubiquitousness of Word.

A couple of interesting alterations to the way we think about the past have been published this morning. The Christian Science Monitor reports that new discoveries in Guatemala are indicating that the Mayan empire did not fall because of a deterioration in the environment at the time, but as a result of a complex set of evonomic and political factors. It was like the fall of Rome, one scientist put it.

And as recently as in the time of George III, people were carving marks into house timbers to keep witches from getting in at the doors and windows.

I thought the impulse to ban the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools was a phenomenon confined to the American Bible-thumping classes. Apparently not - the Italian minister of education, universities and research is trying to do the same thing, and ruffling some very ruffly Italian feathers in the process. The Minister says she simply wants children to be taught about evolution when they're old enough to understand it. Her critics say she's talking through her hat. I'm with them.

28 April 2004

This is good news for Bermuda. One of the very first companies to be set up here under our 1999 Electronic Transactions legislation, QuoVadis, has been accepted by Microsoft into its Root Certificate Program. That means that its public root key will be distributed globally to all Windows users, allowing them to use QuoVadis digital certificates for encryption, electronic signatures and access control. The local news media have been a little half-hearted in their coverage - they perhaps don't realise that this is a little like Cinderella snagging the Prince. This is how the announcement was made on the QuoVadis website.

Anyone interested in the debate in Bermuda over independence would do well to pay a visit to the Limey's blog. His long post suggesting, among other things, that a referendum would be a better way to decide than an election has attracted a lot of comment from people on both sides of the fence. Some of it's hot and heavy stuff - I think if the protagonists were together in a room somewhere, there might well be need for some muscle to keep the hooks from getting physical! But points are being made, people are learning from one another, the Limey's doing a good job keeping them at it, and there is some good writing going on.

The Cubans have been at it again. A second set of trials of dissidents has been held, and ten Cubans, both men and women, were convicted and sentenced to jail on Monday. The members of this group have been in jail since they were arrested two years ago, on March 4, 2004, when they went to visit an independent journalist who was being treated in hospital after reportedly having been beated by police.

Here's a new twist on an old story - NASA says their studies show that condensation trails from the engine exhausts of jet aircraft may have provoked the warming trend in the climate seen between 1975 and 1994. "'This result shows the increased cirrus (cloud) coverage, attributable to air traffic, could account for nearly all of the warming observed over the United States for nearly 20 years starting in 1975,' said Patrick Minnis, a senior research scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Such 'contrails', which are believed to actually cause the increase in cirrus cloud according to the study's findings, would 'add to, and not replace, any greenhouse gas effect,' he said."

Like other American newspapers, the Washington Times thinks Rudy Giuliani should be the next US ambassador to the United Nations. "The multibillion-dollar oil-for-food rip-off could turn U.N. headquarters in New York upside down," the paper says. "According to ABC News, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's son held an important position in one of the companies involved in the program, and at least three other senior U.N. officials are implicated in efforts to scam money intended for Iraq's suffering population. This is just the kind of crime Mr. Giuliani is trained to unravel. His willingness to joust with U.N. bureaucrats is legendary. U.N. bureaucrats still complain about the mayor dispatching security to eject Yasser Arafat from a Lincoln Center event a decade ago."

Professors at Princeton University have voted by a two-to-one margin to slash the number of A-plus, A and A-minus grades they award to students by about 25 per cent, according to the Washington Post. They want an A to signify excellent or exceptional work, as once it did. That's fine, but it won't do much good if other universities don't get on the bandwagon. Will they? "Professors at several other Ivy League universities said Princeton's action is likely to reignite a nationwide debate on how to combat grade inflation. "It's definitely a step in the right direction," said Harvard government professor Harvey C. Mansfield, who would like to reduce the percentage of A's awarded by the nation's oldest university from about 50 per cent to about 20 per cent."

A new opinion poll suggests that leaders of the British business world have turned against the European Union and its economic policies. the Telegraph's Chief Political Correspondent says: "They suggest that in a period when Britain's economic growth has outstripped that of the sluggish euro-zone, business has become not just sceptical about much of what emanates from Brussels but actively hostile.

"Oliver Letwin, the shadow foreign secretary said: 'Most business people now recognise the enormous damage being done by EU regulations. Along with domestic regulatory interference they are responsible for halving the rate of productivity growth in this country and moving us from fourth place to 15th in the world economic league.'"

The trouble with reading newspapers on the net is that you sometimes find it difficult to figure out the context of the stories posted. I have no idea, for example, what prompted the Guardian to ring up a bunch of musicians and ask them what it is about Sonny Rollins that makes him so great. The story's well worth reading no matter what prompted it, though. I thought John Surman said it best: "I go to his concerts and I'm sitting there thinking, 'Go on, play me a cliche,' but you can wait for 20 minutes or so before you even hear one of his own favourite phrases, let alone a cliche. Around the time of The Bridge, he seemed to start wanting to say something with every note, and he still does. I think his playing on Three Little Words on the Sonny Rollins on Impulse album is about the most absolutely wonderfully fantastically amazingly devastating thing I've ever heard."

This Guardian story contains a list of the names of those 52 British diplomats who signed a letter demanding Tony Blair cease his support for George Bush's Middle East policies. It's a surprisingly lightweight group. The Foreign Office," explains the Guardian, "is not a monolithic body. There tend to be four career paths: the Atlanticists; Europeans; Asians; and the Arabists. The pinnacle for each is different: for the Atlanticists it is ambassador to Washington; for the Europeans, Paris; for Asians, Beijing; and for Arabists, Riyadh, though now perhaps, Baghdad. The letter is primarily an Arabist revolt. These diplomats, and many still serving, favoured the 'containment' of Saddam Hussein over war. Even those who served in Israel also tend to be sympathetic to the Palestinians and hostile to Mr Sharon."

In the Telegraph, Anton La Guardia, who wrote the book Holy Land, Unholy War: Israelis and Palestinians, quotes a "Foreign Office big hitter" as having said he declined to add his name to the list. "I told them I don't agree with their characterisation of what was happening in Iraq. They really don't understand what is going on," he said. According to La Guardia, "The more serious criticism of the diplomatic uprising is that the collective brains of 52 former ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials have failed to make any suggestions for how - in their own words - one should 'clear up the mess' in the Middle East.

"Challenged on this point, the authors argue that this is a question for 'the politicians' to decide. This is a lame excuse. Surely now that they have turned to political activism, these ambassadors should be able to put their 'long experience of the Middle East' to more constructive use. The real reason for their silence is that they cannot agree on what should be done next. Their answer is mere diplo-waffle..."

That the American military are busy learning new tactics as a result of the coalition campaign in Iraq has been evident from the start. But the Christian Science Monitor says this morning that a new group has been formed to try to learn lessons from casualty patterns. As a result of their work, the military has rush ordered thousands of Kevlar shoulder guards and blastproof sunglasses to help protect the soldiers on the ground.

The problem with Humvees, though, may be tougher to fix. Even when they're armoured, they have proved to be much too vulnerable to attack. Its rubber tyres can be set alight by a Molotov cocktail, and it's light enough to be turned over by a mob.

The gospel of New York-style policing - specialized units, statistics-driven deploymentand a startling degree of hands-on leadership - has been spreading throughout the United States, the New York Times (you'll need to register) says this morning.

"So have the people who personify those tactics," the Times says, "a diaspora of zealous former New York Police Department officers who have gone on to lead other departments. Some of the dozen or more in this wave of New York exports are well known, like John F. Timoney in Miami and William J. Bratton in Los Angeles. But further from the public eye, New Yorkers have been remolding departments one by one, from crime-plagued midsize cities like Baltimore down to Newton, Mass., a bedroom community near Boston whose police force numbers about one-half of 1 percent of New York's 37,000 officers.

"'It's culture shock," said Capt. Jeff Fluck, who has been an officer for 27 years in Raleigh, N.C., where a former New York deputy chief, Jane Perlov, now runs the Police Department. Captain Fluck's job has changed from one that could be left at the office to one in which the phone rings day and night. 'It is a paradigm shift like I've never experienced before,' he said, adding that the change was long overdue. 'It's the difference between responsibility and ownership.'"

Some of the UN Oil-for-Food programme money may well have bankrolled Al Qaeda, a Hudson Institute fellow says in the Wall Street Journal (you'll need to register) this morning. Claudia Rosett quotes financial investigators with the New York firm which is suing the financial sponsors of the 9/11 attack as having said that one authorized oil buyer was a remnant of the defunct global criminal bank, BCCI. Another was close to the Taliban while Osama bin Laden was on the rise in Afghanistan; a third was linked to a bank in the Bahamas involved in al Qaeda's financial network; a fourth had a close connection to one of Saddam's would-be nuclear-bomb makers.

27 April 2004

SciScoop is wondering why there's such a fuss about the science portrayed by the film The Day After Tomorrow. NASA has been making fun of the idea of global cooling caused by a slowdown in ocean currents, when the observations upon which the theory is based came from NASA in the first place. There's a link in the story to the press release Woods Hole put out last week. Thanks again, tipster Stephen.

Humanity may soon get an existential shock as the current list of a dozen extra-solar planets that we know exist swells to hundreds of earth-sized, earth-like planets, according to Dr Michio Kaku, the Henry Semat Professor in theoretical physics at the City University of New York. In an interview published in SpaceDaily this morning, Dr Kaku says "This may usher in a new era in our relationship with the universe: we will never see the night sky in the same way ever again, realizing that scientists may eventually compile an encyclopedia identifying the precise co-ordinates of perhaps hundreds of earth-like planets."

Some of these planets may harbour life, he says, some of them with civilizations more advanced than ours. If there are, no matter how many millions of years separate us from them, we can still say much about them from out knowledge of science. "They must still obey the iron laws of physics," Dr Kaku says, "which are now advanced enough to explain everything from sub-atomic particles to the large scale structure of the universe, through a staggering 43 orders of magnitude." Well worth a read.

A Washington Times opinion piece is taking the prestigious British nature magazine, Nature, to task this morning for publishing what it describes as "an alarming and completely misleading article predicting the melting of the entire Greenland ice cap in 1,000 years, thanks to pernicious human economic activity, i.e., global warming, using a regional climate projection." The article's author, Patrick J. Michaels, senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute, says it's not the first time it has happened. "Just as scientists 'admitted privately' the models don't work, so have prestigious environmental journalists told me privately they are concerned about Nature's handling of global warming stories, both in terms of increasingly shoddy reviews and timing clearly designed to influence policy. No one has forgotten that in 1996 Nature featured a paper, right before the most important U.N. conference leading to the Kyoto protocol, 'proving' models forecasting disastrous warming were right. The paper was subsequently found to have used data selectively to generate its dire result."

It was also Nature that published, a few weeks ago, a terrifying prediction that between 15% and 37% of all species of life on earth would be extinct by 2050, killed off by global warming. The prediction was written by a group of scientists with strong political connections, and their work was roundly condemned quickly as having ignored the ability of life forms to adapt to higher temperatures, and of having assumed that technologies will not arise to reduce emissions. I published an article about it at the time, entitled More Doomsday Nonsense, a link to which is provided at the top right hand side of this page.

A senior legal research fellow in the Heritage Foundation's Center for Legal Judicial Studies says Jamie Gorelick has been less than candid about the true nature of her role in building a wall between law enforcement and the intelligence community. There is still time, Paul Rosenzweig says, "for the September 11 commissioners to restore their credibility and make a strong, positive contribution to America's long-term strategy against terrorists. But to do so, they must take immediate steps to cure the image of partisanship that has begun to coalesce in people's minds. It must cease treating terrorism as political football.

"And to assure the American people that the commission will leave no stone unturned, Ms. Gorelick must resign and be called to testify publicly about her own conduct. That conduct is now at issue - and she must not be allowed to serve as a judge in her own case."

US Senator John McCain and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have joined forces to publish a hard-hitting opinion piece in the Washington Post this morning, condemning the government in Burma, and saying it is time the interntional community faced up to its moral responsibility to help the Burmese people "throw off the shackles of tyranny".

"The United States, Europe and Asian countries," the pair say, "must demand the unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and her fellow political prisoners, but make clear that the releases, while necessary, are insufficient. In addition, they should continue calls for a political settlement that reflects the results of the free and fair elections held in 1990. This settlement must include a central, determinative role for the National League for Democracy.

The Israeli Defence Force Chief of Staff says the harm done to the top echelon of the terrorist group Hamas by the assassination of two of its leaders has been significant. Lt Gen Moshe Ya'alon told Haaretz in an interview that "It will not bring about the disappearance of Hamas or its relinquishing its aims, but after [the death of] Rantisi, the organization has no natural leader in place.

"The senior people who remain are afraid to take on the role and certainly to declare this publicly. This poses a difficulty for them. Many cells are active today without central control, without a leadership that will define policy."

There is some confirmation of what he says in the Toronto Globe and Mail this morning, in an AP story that quoted unidentified Israeli military officials as saying that Mahmoud Zahar, a surgeon and prominent Hamas hard-liner has taken over the leadership of the organisation. Hamas denies it, but Gen Ya'alon told AP that the new leader had accepted the post reluctantly. "He doesn't want it, and he is apparently avoiding making decisions, and he is apparently avoiding terrorism," Gen Ya'alon said, adding that Israel would avoid attacking Zahar as long as the group remained quiet.

A study in Britain suggests that while 65% of primary school children rated their school experience as positive, only 27% rated their experience at secondary schools as positive. The report says that "Overall, secondary school children seem to become bored, stop learning and no longer enjoy the activities associated with the school."

Its author, Nic Marks, said: "Narrow targets, competitive league tables and increasing pressure in the classroom are robbing kids of the 'best days' of their lives. It's time to concentrate on our children's long-term well-being, and give them back the natural curiosity for learning that will equip them for real life."

In the United States, an educational consultant suggests in the Washington Post that, these days, there is no longer a great deal of difference between what's taught at primary and secondary schools. Ruth Mitchell says "This is the dirty secret in the wars over teacher quality: the low level of academic work at all levels in far too many schools. The consequences of low-level work are seen in poor test results: Students given only work that is below their grade level cannot pass standardized tests about material they have never seen."

Not everyone is thrilled with the environmentalism that Earth Day represents. A spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality told the Toronto Globe and Mail that "We must stop trying to protect our planet from every imaginable, exaggerated or imaginary risk. And we must stop trying to protect it on the backs, and the graves, of the nation's and world's most powerless and impoverished people."

But in Europe, green groups which rely more on their imagination than on science for their position on genetically-modified food are sounding dire warnings as a result of the European Commission's proposal simply to allow consumption, as opposed to cultivation, of corn genetically modified to be insect and herbicide resistant.

The US is so frustrated by the continuing EU ban on cultivation of these crops that they have filed suit at the World Trade Organisation, seeking over a billion pounds sterling in compensation. The Americans accuse the EU of having imposed its moratorium on genetically-modified products "without any scientific evidence, and in defiance of WTO free trade rules."

In another environmental development, the Independent says Britain is going to miss its targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. A report issued by the Labour Government's advisers says that last year Britain's CO2 emissions rose by 1.4 per cent while the proportion of electricity generated from green sources fell from 3 per cent to 2.9 per cent. Between 1990 and Labour coming to power in 1997, CO2 emissions fell by 7.3 per cent. Since then, they have fallen by just 0.2 per cent.

26 April 2004

Gravity Probe B, the NASA mission sent into space to test Einstein's theory that space and time are distorted by massive objects, is performing flawlessly, according to SpaceDaily. It is now in orbit 400 miles above the earth. Once tests of all its systems have been completed, it will lock its ultra-precise telescope onto its guide star, IM Pegasi (note the sub-editor's classic howler down near the end of this story), to begin 12 months of data collection.

The Washington Times weighs in this morning on the Oil-for-Food scandal by saying "it's clear that Washington never really had a chance of winning UN Security Council support for military action there because prominent people in France and Russia were being paid off by ex-dictator Saddam Hussein, who was stealing money from the Oil-for-Food program." The Times thinks Washington should conduct its own investigation, because "it would be a mistake to rely on the conclusions of any commission selected by Mr. Annan, whose son was a consultant to a Swiss company that received a contract for inspecting goods shipped to Iraq."

Masai warriors and Arizona cowboys? Now there's an unlikely band of brothers, you'd have thought. Not a bit of it. The Washington Times says they're as thick as thieves.

Barbara Amiel has been trying to read the draft EU constitution, and thinks it must have been written, either by those brotherly guys Orwell kept talking about, or the editorial committee of Ken Livingstone's office. "The first page of the preamble," she says, "calls for a Europe striving for 'peace, justice and solidarity'. Solidarity comes up quite a bit: it is the subject of Title IV which covers workers' rights, family and professional life, access to services of general economic interest, health care and consumer protection among other areas. The word 'solidarity' is, in itself, a neutral word. But, in this context, you know the cauldron in which it was cooked - it's quasi-Marxism, quasi-syndicalism, and it has been well-stewed."

Meantime, Former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock says Tony Blair may be planning to retire as Prime Minister after he's seen to the holding of a referendum on the European Constitution.

The first Zionist? If you're guessing Theodore Hertzl, you'd be wrong. It was none other than Napoleon, who, a century before Hertzl, apparently called on Jews in Africa and Asia to rally around his flag so that he could re-establish ancient Jerusalem.

Sun Ra claimed to be "the most influential musician of this and 30 million other galaxies." He claimed he was born on Saturn, and came to Earth to free mankind through, as the Guardian puts it, "a combination of cosmic music, empowerment philosophy and elaborate headgear." Having heard him in New York a couple of times, my impression was that he was a better bullshit artist than he was a musician, but that his particular line of bullshit was really world-class. Space is the Place, the ultra-low budget movie in which he went Marcus Garvey one better by suggesting black people should move to another planet, has now been released on DVD. Santa, who spends his summers up there at the North Pole on the lookout for decent stocking stuffers, will no doubt take note.

Green groups opposing the introduction of genetically modified food pressured the European Union in 1999 to block GMO approvals until there was a new EU law on labelling and traceability. Now new rules are in place, they're still oppsed. Seems likely the EU will approve the first such food regardless.

American grey squirrels are driving British red squirrels into extinction in Britain, and animal experts are planning to kill greys that get too close to 20 designated red squirrel areas. The reds aren't the only wildlife species in Britain under threat. In Scotland, cross-breeding with house cats is threatening the tiny population of Scottish wildcats that remains in the mountains in the north.

And development in Edinburgh is threatening the local badger population.

25 April 2004

Claude Hankes-Drielsma, the management consultant who is advising the Iraqi Governing Council on the Oil-for-Food scandal, says that tracking down what happened to an estimated total of $1 billion that the UN levied in fees for administering the programme will be necessary to an understanding of what happened. "What the UN did with these administration fees is a pointer to corruption on a scale never seen before," he said.

Mark Steyn reckons that the Oil-for-Food programme was "everything the Left said the war was: it was all about oil - for Benon Sevan, the UN, France, Russia and the others who had every incentive to maintain Saddam in power. Every Halliburton invoice to the Pentagon is audited to the last penny, but Saddam can use Kofi Annan's office as a front for a multi-billion dollar global kickback scheme..."

The Washington Times agrees with him, although in rather less colourful language.

A referendum on the European Union Constitution will result in it being rejected by 68% of the British voters, a new survey suggests. Chris Patten says that'll be the end of Britain as part of the EU. What I don't understand is why a democratic country should want to fight quite as hard as Britain sometimes does against the views of its people.

The Chairman of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, thinks that homophobia among some sections of the black community in Britain is hampering in the fight against Aids. He isn't quoted in this Guardian story as having said it is also hampering the fight against racism, but I think that must also be on his mind. The newspaper is giving a preview of a speech Phillips won't make until tomorrow, so perhaps it is not surprising that its story is a bit of a jumble.

The British people may, some of them, be slow to accept the idea of a multi-cultural, multi-racial community, but their language has no such qualms. The Queen's English has apparently given birth to a little Hinglish baby. It's a tik kid too, innit?

Richard Clarke, the controversial former administration counter-terrorism expert, has an op-ed piece in the New York Times today that is the perfect model of a reasonable, uncontroversial view of the war on terror. You almost wonder why he wrote the thing, but he reminds us down at the end. "Finally," he says, "we must try to achieve a level of public discourse on these issues that is simultaneously energetic and mutually respectful. I hoped, through my book and testimony, to make criticism of the conduct of the war on terrorism and the separate war in Iraq more active and legitimate. We need public debate if we are to succeed. We should not dismiss critics through character assassination, nor should we besmirch advocates of the Patriot Act as fascists." I think what he means to say is that he's written a book, and people should read it.

Coincidentally, I presume, the Times also has a piece that explains why so many books are being published about the war on terror. Here's a clue - it's the White House's fault.

Speaking of self-serving press coverage, Britain's George Galloway, the Member of Parliament who was kicked out of the Labour Party for his stance on the Iraq War, and who has been accused of being in the pay of Saddam Hussein, has spent quite a lot of time telling the Guardian about himself this week. There's an interview and an op-ed piece in the paper's Sunday edition. Surprise, surprise, he's got a book out as well.

There are two particularly revealing bits in the Guardian interview, I thought. The first has to do with the fighting in Iraq: "Galloway won't describe the blowing up of the bus full of schoolchildren on Wednesday as terrorism, preferring to see it as a grisly aspect of a revolutionary insurgency. 'Resistance movements in Europe against German occupation frequently carried out acts that went badly wrong,' he says, hinting at the comparison favoured by John Pilger, between the Bush/Blair coalition and the Third Reich. 'Innocent civilians were killed. That was vile. But we still kid ourselves that acts ordered by men in suits is war. And that the same acts ordered by men in sandals is terrorism. There is no distinction.'"

The second has to do with Cuba: "I wonder," says the Guardian's reporter, "whether Galloway feels entirely confident that, if he were a citizen of Cuba, he would be able to criticise Castro's leadership in the way that he criticises Blair's leadership, call him a 'blood-stained criminal' and so on.

"'If by that you mean is Cuba a parliamentary democracy, the answer is no. The reason for that is that Cuba has been under siege for 40 years. It's inevitable that a wartime psychosis exists in Cuba, and the responsibility for that lies entirely with the United States.'"

The New York Times' ombudsman, Daniel Okrent, is trying to tackle the impression people have that the New York Times is a "paper of record" in the United States. Non-journalists often use that expression of a newspaper which, instead of taking a particular political point of view, shoulders the responsibility of chronicling without bias all the views of, and the events that occur in, its community. To a journalist, that's a nice theory, but it translates, in practice, into a newspaper giving up its right to produce an interesting product, because much of what the various facets of the community want published is dull and self-serving. He waffles about it a bit, but his bottom line is, naturally, that the Times isn't going to let that happen.


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

Article Archive

2003 Index


About Pondblog
Contact the Pondblogger

About Last Night
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Arts Journal.com
Aworks :: "new" american classical music
Brad DeLong
Crooked Timber
Cup of Chicha
Day by Day by Chris Muir
Mickey Kaus
Kesher Talk
Little Green Footballs
Maud Newton
Michael J Totten
Oliver Kamm
Patio Pundit
Reflections in d minor
Roger L Simon
Talking Points Memo
The Forager
The Volokh Conspiracy

Bermuda Links

A Bermuda Blog
A Limey in Bermuda
Bermuda 4u
Bermy Adventures
Politics.bm: A Mostly Bermuda Weblog
The Bermuda Sun
The Mid-Ocean News
The Royal Gazette


10/26/2003 - 11/02/2003 11/02/2003 - 11/09/2003 11/09/2003 - 11/16/2003 11/16/2003 - 11/23/2003 11/23/2003 - 11/30/2003 11/30/2003 - 12/07/2003 12/07/2003 - 12/14/2003 12/14/2003 - 12/21/2003 12/21/2003 - 12/28/2003 12/28/2003 - 01/04/2004 01/04/2004 - 01/11/2004 01/11/2004 - 01/18/2004 01/18/2004 - 01/25/2004 01/25/2004 - 02/01/2004 02/01/2004 - 02/08/2004 02/08/2004 - 02/15/2004 02/15/2004 - 02/22/2004 02/22/2004 - 02/29/2004 02/29/2004 - 03/07/2004 03/07/2004 - 03/14/2004 03/14/2004 - 03/21/2004 03/21/2004 - 03/28/2004 03/28/2004 - 04/04/2004 04/04/2004 - 04/11/2004 04/11/2004 - 04/18/2004 04/18/2004 - 04/25/2004 04/25/2004 - 05/02/2004 05/02/2004 - 05/09/2004 05/09/2004 - 05/16/2004 05/16/2004 - 05/23/2004 05/23/2004 - 05/30/2004 05/30/2004 - 06/06/2004 06/06/2004 - 06/13/2004 06/13/2004 - 06/20/2004 06/20/2004 - 06/27/2004 06/27/2004 - 07/04/2004 07/04/2004 - 07/11/2004 07/11/2004 - 07/18/2004 07/18/2004 - 07/25/2004 07/25/2004 - 08/01/2004 08/01/2004 - 08/08/2004 08/08/2004 - 08/15/2004 08/15/2004 - 08/22/2004 08/22/2004 - 08/29/2004 08/29/2004 - 09/05/2004 09/05/2004 - 09/12/2004 09/12/2004 - 09/19/2004 09/19/2004 - 09/26/2004 09/26/2004 - 10/03/2004 10/03/2004 - 10/10/2004 10/10/2004 - 10/17/2004 10/17/2004 - 10/24/2004 10/24/2004 - 10/31/2004 10/31/2004 - 11/07/2004 11/07/2004 - 11/14/2004 11/14/2004 - 11/21/2004 11/21/2004 - 11/28/2004 11/28/2004 - 12/05/2004 12/05/2004 - 12/12/2004 12/12/2004 - 12/19/2004 12/19/2004 - 12/26/2004 12/26/2004 - 01/02/2005 01/02/2005 - 01/09/2005 01/09/2005 - 01/16/2005 01/16/2005 - 01/23/2005 01/23/2005 - 01/30/2005 01/30/2005 - 02/06/2005 02/06/2005 - 02/13/2005 02/13/2005 - 02/20/2005 02/20/2005 - 02/27/2005 02/27/2005 - 03/06/2005 03/06/2005 - 03/13/2005 03/13/2005 - 03/20/2005 03/20/2005 - 03/27/2005 03/27/2005 - 04/03/2005 04/03/2005 - 04/10/2005 04/10/2005 - 04/17/2005 04/17/2005 - 04/24/2005 04/24/2005 - 05/01/2005 05/01/2005 - 05/08/2005 05/08/2005 - 05/15/2005 05/15/2005 - 05/22/2005 05/22/2005 - 05/29/2005 05/29/2005 - 06/05/2005 06/05/2005 - 06/12/2005 06/12/2005 - 06/19/2005 06/19/2005 - 06/26/2005 06/26/2005 - 07/03/2005 07/03/2005 - 07/10/2005 07/10/2005 - 07/17/2005 07/17/2005 - 07/24/2005 07/24/2005 - 07/31/2005 07/31/2005 - 08/07/2005 08/07/2005 - 08/14/2005 08/14/2005 - 08/21/2005 08/21/2005 - 08/28/2005 08/28/2005 - 09/04/2005 09/04/2005 - 09/11/2005 09/11/2005 - 09/18/2005 09/18/2005 - 09/25/2005 09/25/2005 - 10/02/2005 10/02/2005 - 10/09/2005 10/09/2005 - 10/16/2005 10/16/2005 - 10/23/2005 10/23/2005 - 10/30/2005 10/30/2005 - 11/06/2005 11/06/2005 - 11/13/2005 11/13/2005 - 11/20/2005 11/20/2005 - 11/27/2005 11/27/2005 - 12/04/2005 12/04/2005 - 12/11/2005 12/11/2005 - 12/18/2005 12/18/2005 - 12/25/2005 12/25/2005 - 01/01/2006 01/01/2006 - 01/08/2006 01/08/2006 - 01/15/2006 01/15/2006 - 01/22/2006 01/22/2006 - 01/29/2006 01/29/2006 - 02/05/2006 02/05/2006 - 02/12/2006 02/12/2006 - 02/19/2006 02/19/2006 - 02/26/2006 02/26/2006 - 03/05/2006 03/05/2006 - 03/12/2006 03/12/2006 - 03/19/2006 03/19/2006 - 03/26/2006 03/26/2006 - 04/02/2006 04/02/2006 - 04/09/2006 04/09/2006 - 04/16/2006 04/16/2006 - 04/23/2006 04/23/2006 - 04/30/2006 04/30/2006 - 05/07/2006 05/07/2006 - 05/14/2006 05/21/2006 - 05/28/2006 05/28/2006 - 06/04/2006 06/04/2006 - 06/11/2006 06/11/2006 - 06/18/2006 06/18/2006 - 06/25/2006 06/25/2006 - 07/02/2006 07/02/2006 - 07/09/2006 07/09/2006 - 07/16/2006 07/16/2006 - 07/23/2006 07/23/2006 - 07/30/2006 07/30/2006 - 08/06/2006 08/06/2006 - 08/13/2006 08/13/2006 - 08/20/2006 08/20/2006 - 08/27/2006 08/27/2006 - 09/03/2006 09/17/2006 - 09/24/2006 09/24/2006 - 10/01/2006 10/01/2006 - 10/08/2006 10/08/2006 - 10/15/2006 10/15/2006 - 10/22/2006 10/22/2006 - 10/29/2006 10/29/2006 - 11/05/2006 11/05/2006 - 11/12/2006 11/12/2006 - 11/19/2006 11/19/2006 - 11/26/2006 11/26/2006 - 12/03/2006 12/03/2006 - 12/10/2006 12/10/2006 - 12/17/2006 12/17/2006 - 12/24/2006 12/24/2006 - 12/31/2006 12/31/2006 - 01/07/2007 01/07/2007 - 01/14/2007 01/14/2007 - 01/21/2007 01/21/2007 - 01/28/2007 01/28/2007 - 02/04/2007 02/04/2007 - 02/11/2007


design by maystar

Search WWW Pondblog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com

Join BermyBlogsPrevious siteList sitesRandom siteNext site

Site Feed
Technorati Profile