...Views from mid-Atlantic
08 May 2004

The chemistry underlying life on Earth is present in abundance throughout the universe, says astrophysicist Emma Bakes. She's betting that life is widespread across the universe.

"Mr. Sharon also knows politics abhors a vacuum and that if he doesn't have a strategy for ending the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet another set of clever American, European or United Nations diplomats are sure to come up with bright ideas based on extracting Israeli concessions in exchange for empty Palestinian pledges." This is a nice little piece of analysis of the situation in Israel, written by Clifford D May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent who is now president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

The New York Times, like other newspapers around the world, was not impressed by Donald Rumsfeld's performance on Friday. "His daylong testimony in the House and Senate," a Times editorial said, "has confirmed that Mr. Rumsfeld fatally bungled the Abu Ghraib prison scandal...Mr. Rumsfeld, the military brass and some of the lawmakers badly missed the point by talking endlessly about a few bad apples in one military unit. The despicable acts shown in those famous photos - and in videos that are being held back by the military but may still produce another round of global humiliation - were uniquely outrageous and inexcusable criminal acts. But behind them lies a detention system that treats all prisoners as terrorists regardless of their supposed offenses, and makes brutal interrogations all too common."

That does seem to be the case. And although Mr Rumsfeld himself has undoubtedly been a fine secretary of defence, and may have had nothing at all to do with the creation of such a system, it did happen in his organisation, on his watch. The abuse at Abu Ghraib has become an enormously powerful symbol of arrogant misuse of power. It can only be cancelled out by an enormously powerful symbol of atonement, and I'm afraid that the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld is that symbol.

Anthony Cordesman made his fine reputation as a military analyst in the first Gulf War, when his understated, intelligent and incisive television commentary stood out in a crowded field. He's now a defence and intelligence expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and he thinks the administration's got it all wrong in Iraq specifically and the Middle East in general. Some of his suggestions make good sense - especially those relating to increasing the role Iraqis are playing in the process of rebuilding Iraq. Perhaps his most far-reaching recommendation is that the US should "Abandon the Greater Middle East Initiative in its present form. Stop talking about regionwide democracy and liberty before there are responsible political parties and other reforms necessary to make democracy work." There we part company, I think. The US might not have done everything perfectly in the last couple of years, might even have blundered badly once or twice. But the Greater Middle East Initiative has been successful in breaking patterns of behaviour and opinion that created the conditions that led to 9/11. In the long run, the world is going to be a better and safer place for it.

Like Daisy BB rifles, Schwinn bicycles were a fixture of growing up in America in the cold war. Sting-Rays came in the 1960s, with long seats and longhorn handlebars. They were a great hit, especially on the West Coast. Andrew Wyeth painted a great picture of an almost unbelievably sallow, swaggering youth in a leather jacket riding one of these things in a dull, featureless landscape, with a foxtail flying from a little whip antenna mounted somewhere in the stern, I seem to recall. I don't remember whether there was a playing card thwattering against the spokes of the tyre, but it was probably there. Nothing I've ever seen so perfectly expresses the dead-end, unselfconscious mindlessness of...what, dumb kids? Something like that. They weighed 40 pounds or so, so the Sting-Ray was the two-wheeled equivalent of those enormous, finned cars that used to lurch around at the time. Schwinn's now reviving the idea with an even heavier Sting-Ray. It's a low-ride cruiser, the company says, and Roy Rivenburg of the Los Angeles Times took one out for a test ride on the Times special track, "a maze of office cubicles and fleeing co-workers in the newsroom."

It wasn't until late in 1924 that the painter Edward Hopper's fortunes changed. He tried to place his watercolours with the Kraushaar Art Galleries and was refused. Farther down the street, about to pass the new Rehn Gallery, he stepped in. Before Frank Rehn had a chance to look at Hopper's work, a customer seized on a painting and bought it. For the first time, Hopper was represented by a dealer and Rehn began to sell his pictures like the proverbial hot cakes. Critics lauded him, he was invited to show at major exhibits and important museums sat up like hungry dogs around a picnic.

"Just as Graham Greene created a distinctive mood of place that critics called 'Greeneland'" says the Guardian, Hopper painted the feeling familiar to most humans - the triste embedded in existence, in our intimate knowledge of the solitude of the self. Although the 20th century was the heyday of Jung, Freud and psychoanalysis, if ever Hopper felt his psyche was distorted, he did not want it corrected, for art came from who the artist was in every way. He did not wish to tamper with his subconscious nor his personal vision of the world."

07 May 2004

This is the end of something important...but I can't quite figure out what it is. Taxi drivers, maybe?

This is a turning point, according to the Washington Times, for much of the Western Hemisphere, which has long overlooked many of Castro's abuses. "For Mexican President Vicente Fox in particular, a decision to dramatically limit relations was a watershed event given the long alliance between the countries. The Bush administration also announced yesterday it will be ratcheting up the pressure on Cuba. Mr. Castro has prompted much of his isolation by lashing out at the countries on the UN Human Rights Commission that supported a resolution critical of Cuba's record. The United States, Honduras, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala were among the countries that supported the resolution last month." I'd say he prompted his isolation by sending a few score of his people to jail for disagreeing with him.

The Cubans, of course, see the whole business rather differently. It's Fox's fault, they say, for being arrogant.

The Bush administration has blundered badly in its handling of the Iraqi torture of prisoners scandal. Learning about it in January and then not doing anything about it for four months was, of course, its biggest mistake. But over the last couple of days, the situation has been made very much worse by two tactical errors, apparently committed by President Bush himself. First, he did not take the advice given him by his staff to apologise during his Arab TV interviews. Second, and probably in order to contain the reaction to his failure to apologise, he announced that he had given Defence Secretary Rumsfeld a bollocking, and allowed his staff to brief against him. Now, realising that his actions have almost guaranteed Rumsfeld will have to go, he seems to have reversed himself and claims he wants him to stay.

President Bush made himself look arrogant for not apologising, and arrogance is probably the most negative and destructive quality a leader can have. An arrogant leader is one who people want to fail for no better a reason than to see him toppled from his lofty perch. It seems to be a quality members of the administration, members of the American security community and members of the American military, have had to struggle against, if I can put it that way, during the war on terror. It is a quality that will defeat them if they don't get a grip.

Human Rights Watch has published a new report on the situation in Darfur Province in Sudan, and has accused the Sudanese military of working with Arab militias to burn villages, towns and mosques and to massacre the local population. The report says "The government of Sudan is responsible for 'ethnic cleansing' and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The Sudanese government and the Arab 'Janjaweed' militias it arms and supports...have killed thousands of [ethnic] Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa - often in cold blood." The text of the report is here.

Boris Johnson is the editor of the British magazine, The Spectator, and also, now, the Tory shadow minister of the arts. He issued a manifesto of sorts yesterday. At the top of it was a promise that, if the Tories got in, he'd make Bill Gates include an English English spellcheck in Word. Not far behind was a replica of the Parthenon marbles for the Greeks, who he presumably thinks wouldn't know any better. I'm not sure that humour is a great vote-getter, but it certainly makes a wonderful change from the usual drivel that comes out of the mouths of people trying to win by not losing.

Speaking of Greeks and humour, the Guardian recalls that the Olympic Games came to an end in Ancient Greece 1,600 years ago, and suggests, in a piece this morning, that it'll be another 1,600 years before the place is ready for this summer's Games. Cruel...but fair, apparently.

Included in an exhibition that has opened at the British Library in London is a 1,200-year old shopping list that two monks took with them on a trip to the ancient oasis town of Dunhuang on the Silk Road to buy supplies for their monastery. Included on the list was a selection of local words and tips on their pronunciation. Sounds like a must if you're over there this summer.

Britain is right at the start of what is being called the "wind rush". In the next few years, utility companies and others in Britain are going to invest 10 billion pounds in British wind projects, attracting government subsidies to the value of roughly one billion pounds. The 1,034 turbines already running produce about 700mW of electricity - about as much as one conventional power station - but over the next seven years more than 7,000mW of generating power will be installed on 73 new farms. It will be the greatest and fastest expansion of renewable energy attempted anywhere in the world - a suitable response, says the government, to global warming.

Wind farming is heavily backed by Greenpeace and other green groups, but there are aspects of wind farming that are distinctly unfriendly from an environmental point of view, and the greens are taking something of a beating because of them. "Wind power is sheer lunacy," argues the conservationist David Bellamy, who opposes all British wind developments on the grounds that they can kill birds and destroy countryside. "They can only work for 30% of the time," he says. "If I wanted to build in an area of outstanding natural beauty I wouldn't be allowed. Yet these turbines are 22 storeys high and put on hills where everyone can see them. They need 1,000 tonnes of concrete and a road infrastructure. It beggars belief that some environmental groups say they are 'green'."

Any sensible person who lives near the sea knows that the damage being caused to it, more or less unchecked, by overfishing and mindless pollution is one of the most appalling scandals of our time. Stories like this one, detailing action taken by the Canadian Coast Guard to arrest and take action against illegal fishing for protected species, are like a breath of fresh air. Well done, Canada.

It's a shame the New York Times (you'll need to register) hasn't given a fuller picture, in this story, of the life of the US's brilliant and under-appreciated composer, Charles Ives, who died 50 years ago this year. The New York Philharmonic begins a celebratory three-week festival of his work on Tuesday, so I'm sure there will be more to come. Meantime, this list of favourite recordings compiled by the classical music critics of the newspaper is useful stuff.

06 May 2004

What was going on before the Big Bang? This is cosmology's cutting-edge question at the moment, but a few years ago, it was unthinkable even to ask it. Now, astronomers can observe that the universe is expanding. The consequence of an expanding universe is that if time is run backwards, it squeezes itself down to having no size at all at the time of the Big Bang. So...where did it all come from? Two theories have been postulated about pre-bang existence. First, the bang wasn't the origin of the universe, but simply a violent transition from acceleration to deceleration. Second, our universe is one of many D-branes (part of string theory...just accept their existence and don't worry about trying to picture them) floating within a higher-dimensional space. These branes exert attractive forces on one another and occasionally collide. The big bang might have been the impact of another brane into ours. Taxing experience, I'm sure.

DEBKAfile has produced rather a depressing report on the effect of the Iraq war on the fortunes of al Qaeda and on the stability of some countries in the Middle East. I've warned before that DEBKA uses raw, unproven material, so that the accuracy of some of its reports leaves a little to be desired. However, among their suggestions is that the recent terrorist attack in Damascus had, as its aim, the capture of the Canadian embassy there. The terrorists had been given instructions to hold the occupants hostage against the release of all Iraqi prisoners in Iraqi jails, including Saddam Hussein. If their demands were not met, they were to kill the hostages and blow up the building.

The use of remotely-piloted, unmanned aircraft in warfare seems to have been taken to another level with a vehicle that, on the weekend, released a GPS-guided, 250-pound smart bomb from 35,000 feet, at a speed of 440 mph. The J-UCAS X-45A hit its target. It really is extraordinary how quickly this revolutionary technology has been developed.

Scientists doing research in the Sargasso Sea, 50 miles to the southeast of us in Bermuda, report having discovered that plangton can act to mitigate the effects of global warming. It is a complex process, but if it can be controlled in some way, it has positive potential for those trying to cool the place down. Scientists are careful to note, however, that while plangton may be able to ease the trend toward a warmer world, they cannot reverse it.

What on earth is going on in the American Government? First, President Bush goes on Arab television and hasn't the grace to apologise for the disgraceful behaviour of his troops towards Iraqi prisoners of war. Then the President publicly upbraids Defense Secretary Rumsfeld for not telling him the whole truth about the affair, despite it having being in the public domain since January, a very odd allegation indeed, and one that I'd say is probably going to result in Rumsfeld's resignation, whether it's true or not. And while all this is going on, Colin Powell seems to have authorised his friends to tell GQ, a magazine for the pretentiously dressed, that he doesn't like what he's doing, doesn't like the people he's doing it with, and the whole business of being Secretary of State has fatigued him greatly. Is this how the leaders of the most powerful nation in the world behave?

This Washington Times editorial makes a game attempt at scolding those who are making political capital out of the scandal of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. It's an attempt that is bound to fail, though, since capitalising on scandal is the meat and potatoes of politicians everywhere. The piece is more successful, though, in pointing out the hypocrisy of Arab nations which are expressing indignation. They "routinely looked the other way," the Times points out, "when Saddam Hussein murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis over several decades and said nothing, and stand piously mute as Arab terrorists routinely kill Israelis, including schoolchildren."

The legendary Jamaican record producer, Sir Coxsone Dodd, died this week at the age of 72. At his Kingston recording studio, Studio One, he was responsible for launching Bob Marley's career, and played a part in the career of just about every other major figure in Jamaican music in the last half a century or so. He is said to have been the model for Hilton, the record producer in the classic Jamaican film, The Harder They Come. In Jamaica just before his death, the street where his studio was located was renamed Studio One Boulevard. Yesterday, Jamaica's Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, said Sir Coxsone would forever hold a special place in the cultural history of the country.

As a story, David McKie's Guardian piece about a book written by an Indian Army officer turned opium addict, is thoroughly interesting - who could resist sentences like "The banana is great, but the skin is greater? George Orwell's in it as well. But as a book review, which it seems to want to be, it is a more or less complete failure.

Does the media so cloud fact by its lack of commitment to truth that people are left with "systematically incorrect perspective on the world around them"? That's what Number 10 Downing Street's director of strategy and policy, Geoff Mulgan, is arguing as he leaves that job. Pointing out that the media was unique among professions for the relative weakness of its self-regulation, he said for many newspapers "it simply does not matter whether what they print is true." His experience is with the British media, and in that context he is right. But in a wider context, the number of newspapers of which that charge is true is tiny, far too small to systematically affect people's perspective. The difference between the British tabloid media and media in the rest of the world is that the Brits think their business is providing entertainment. The others think theirs is providing information.

Lord Taverne, the chairman of the British group Sense About Science, takes aim this morning at the organic food industry, which he says is founded largely on nonsense and dangerously inefficient. "Even if most claims: made for organic farming could be substantiated, its main disadvantage is its inefficiency. Organic food costs more because average yields are 20-50% lower than those from conventional farms. Its inefficiency is highly relevant to the hungry and the poor.

"While there may be food surpluses in some areas, we need to treble food production in the next 50 years to feed 3 billion extra people and meet higher living standards at the same time. We face an increasing shortage of water and of good agricultural land. In many places the only way inefficient organic farmers can feed an expanding population is by cutting down more tropical forest. Every form of technology that increases efficiency in farming will therefore be needed to contribute to the production of more food."

The Police Museum, the Picpus Cemetery, the Museum of Veterinary Science, the Museum of Fakes...they're some of the less well-known attractions of the City of Paris, according to the Guardian's travel section this morning. My favourite, though, is the Edith Piaf Museum, where the first thing you see is a life-size cutout of the singer, then an enormous teddy-bear, a gift from her last husband. The museum is kept by an old friend of the Sparrow's - Bernard Marchois met her when he was 16 and went to every one of her performances until she died in 1963. "You'd get gooseflesh just to see her on stage," he said. If you visit, he'll play any of her songs you ask for while you're there.

05 May 2004

"When people look at the kind of regime that was operated by Saddam Hussein and say, 'Well, that's how they are, that's their way of doing things,' it is simply not true. I mean, that kind of dictatorship has no roots in either the Arab or the Islamic past. It, unfortunately, is the consequence of Westernization or modernization in the Middle East." That's Bernard Lewis in a new interview published a few days ago in the Atlantic. He's the dean of Middle Eastern scholars in the West...an invaluable translator of Middle Eastern culture.

How does he feel about the possibility of success in Iraq? "I'm cautiously optimistic about what's happening in Iraq. What bothers me is what's happening here in the United States."

It looks to me as if this story from the Washington Times means that President Musharraf has stopped insisting coalition troops must not enter Pakistani territory in their search for terrorists. The General in Musharraf must have realised that the debacle in the tribal areas over the last few weeks wasn't a one-off screw-up, but an indication that divided loyalties make his troops an ineffective force in counter-terrorism operations, certainly in that part of the country at this time.

This is a little compendium of current Presidential election campaign jokes taken from the San Francisco Chronicle. I liked this one: "John Kerry fell off his bicycle over the weekend. He went for a Sunday afternoon ride and fell off in front of the news media. Luckily his hair broke the fall."

Nineteen of the 23 officers who served with John Kerry in Vietnam, together with every one of his commanding officers, have signed a letter saying he's not fit to be commander-in-chief. His hair won't cushion that kind of blow.

The authors of the roadmap to peace in the Middle East, the Quartet - the UN, the EU, Russia and the United States - have endorsed Ariel Sharon's plan to unilaterially withdraw from the Gaza Strip, calling it "a rare moment of opportunity in the search for peace in the Middle East." They've urged Mr Sharon to push his original plan through, noting that while the Likud party may have rejected it, opinion polls in Israel suggest the wider population is strongly for it.

The Washington Times looks at Sharon's chances of being able to do that. "There is no realistic chance," the Times says, "that Israeli settlements will be able to remain in Gaza if Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace agreement. The resources that Israel spends to protect the outlying Gaza and West Bank settlements Mr. Sharon has proposed to evacuate could be better spent on winning the war against the terrorist organizations operating out of Gaza and the West Bank."

The UN Commission on Human Rights has elected Sudan to be a member of the organisation, despite accusations that it is involved at this very moment in genocidal acts in Darfur. The US delegation walked out, saying "the United States will not participate in this absurdity." Sudan's line, and presumably that of others in the Commission, was apparently to suggest that the US was shedding "crocodile tears" because of what it called "atrocities" committed by US soldiers in Iraq. If they hadn't used that, I suppose it would have been atrocities in the US prison system against black Americans, or some other convenient chestnut. Really, one wonders how anyone can seriously defend the United Nations system that produces this kind of result...an absurdity, just as US delegate Sichan Siv called it.

An Internet worm called Sasser is evidently causing problems for Internet users around the world. The good news is that home users seem to have learned the basic lesson of protection better than corporate users - keep your software up to date and viruses will be things you merely read about. I have a gut feeling that some of the trouble caused by this particular worm, which is widespread, but not terribly dangerous, may have been caused by two things. First, panicked IT people in the business world who, to protect themselves, simply turn their systems off while they figure out what to do. Second, the media, who seem able react to computer problems only by giving them the Doomsday treatment.

Vmyths.com is a website that tries to inject a dose of reality into the issues that surround virus attacks - they say they fight "computer security hysteria with a comprehensive A-Z list of popular virus hoaxes". I'm not sure they don't sometimes themselves err on the side of being hysterical about hysteria, if you know what I mean, but it's a useful site to visit when there's an attack on.

The man at the centre of the UN Oil-for-Food scandal, Benon Sevan, has written to at least two Oil-for-Food contractors telling them to keep their mouths shut, according to the Wall Street Journal (you'll need to register) this morning. Actually, the letters weren't signed by Mr Sevan, they were signed on his behalf by two different members of Kofi Annan's Secretariat.

This kind of thing looks worse for the UN than it might be in reality. The difficulty is that there are two investigations of the scandal going on. One was appointed by Mr Annan. It is headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and it is expected to give the definitive, official report on what was going on. The other is a committee of the US Congress, self-appointed, unofficial as far as the UN is concerned, but far sassier and better media-connected than Mr Volcker could ever dream of being. Kofi Annan would need the judgement of Solomon and a magic wand to satisfy both investigations completely.

He defends the Sevan letters by saying they are "standard procedure...an institutional response...to protect our name and our documentation, we put in every contract with a supplier that documentation relating to UN business can only be releasted to the United Nations, unless otherwise authorised."

04 May 2004

Peru has joined Mexico in pulling its ambassador out of Cuba. Like Mexico, it had voted to condemn Cuba for human rights violations at the UN's Human Rights Commission a short time ago. Fidel Castro accused it of being, like Mexico, a US toady. The official Cuban newspaper, Granma, always quick to put anti-American news up on its website, hasn't covered this diplomatic slapping of its president's face at all, yet.

Opponents of globalisation, says author Jagdish Bhagwati (he's a professor of economics at Columbia University), are overly young, overly idealistic, overly socialistic or all of the above. He dismisses the majority of them as anarchists, ignoramuses and denizens of an NGO world that, while capable of doing considerable good, usually gets it all mucked up. And that only gets us to Chapter Two of his book, In Defense of Globalization. Good man. Lee Bollinger's reforms must be working.

The assistant director of the Project on Global Economic Liberty at the Cato Institute is taking a long, hard look at the economics of membership in the European Union, which wants to be all things to all people, in the style of the classic welfare state. Marian L Tupy says trouble's a-brewin'. "The conflict at the heart of EU enlargement...could not be starker. On the one hand, many current EU members are determined to pursue a policy of job protection and high taxation, necessitated by burgeoning welfare costs. On the other hand, the new EU members, whose citizens continue living in poverty, need to generate rapid economic growth and catch up with the West. As businesses throughout the enlarged EU choose where to invest, the conflict between the West and the East will be exacerbated. It is not at all clear the EU is strong enough to withstand the recriminations and animosities the enlargement will cause in the future."

The man who leads the Coalition Provisional Authority office in Najaf says he owes his life to troops from El Salvador who repelled a well-executed insurgent attack on his three-car convoy in March. "The El Sals," he says, "are punching way above their weight. They're probably the bravest and most professional troops I've every worked with."

Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes is a silly little prick, and needs to be locked up somewhere to collect his thoughts.

Reporters never let people like Presidents and Queens out of their sight when they go out in public. When they're visiting places where there isn't room for the entire press corps, "pool reports" are organised, a process by which one reporter is allowed to follow along, on the condition he make an account of what happens available to the rest of the press. It can be a pretty dull business. To the tedium of pooling, the Chicago Tribune's Bob Kemper was what...well, almost what Groucho was to Fredonia. Consider his report on President Bush's St. Patrick's evening visit to the British Embassy to see a play called "The Spider's Web," featuring the president's sister-in-law, Margaret Bush.

"Was the play good? Who knows?" Kemper wrote. "Was Margaret the spider? Who knows? Does the play have any chance of opening at the Italian Embassy any time soon? Who knows? You see, though [Bush] was reportedly at the British Embassy, your pool was at Cactus Cantina, a Mexican restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue."

What's more, Kemper recounted, to make sure the journalists did not acquire weapons while at Cactus Cantina, "everyone had to go to the Little Reporter's Room together with an armed guard."

France seems able to expel imams who preach terrorism and law breaking without great difficulty. Spain's at work on something similar. Both those countries seem to understand how important it is to make sure that religious freedom is not used as a cover to allow Islamic fundamentalists to preach the violent overthrow of their governments.

But Britain doesn't seem to get it. Abu Hamza could keep preaching hatred there, apparently, for another ten years while he uses up his legal options in the fight against the British Government's decision to deport him. This is madness. There must be some way to fast-track this kind of case so as to protect the right to due process, but also to protect Britain's right to self-defence.

Rumours of bribery and corruption have swirled around the British arms firm, BAE Systems, for years. A police raid last week on a warehouse in Hertfordshire seems now to have produced documents that will lead to charges being laid against at least one BAE official. The scale of the alleged wrong-doing is enormous, said to involve more than 60 million pounds in payments to prominent Saudi Arabians alone.

Are the Israelis trying to kill off Christianity in the Holy Land? A Roman Catholic official doesn't pull punches: "The church is slowly but surely being strangled." So great is the concern, says the Christian Science Monitor, that Vatican diplomats have spoken out bluntly and Americans have sought US help. Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently sent a letter to President Bush calling this 'the most difficult situation in living memory for the Church in the Holy Land.'

Israeli officials have said it's a bureaucratic issue, because new visa guidelines are needed for security purposes. But no new regulations have been forthcoming, despite high-level meetings over a period of several months.

03 May 2004

John Kerry's 35 years of experience in national security, foreign affairs and military affairs don't qualify him to be president, the Washington Times argues this morning. His performance during those 35 years was so bad, the newspaper says, they disqualify him from holding such an office.

I'm posting this Los Angeles Times oped by a professor of history at the University of California at Irvine, not so much because I find the disagreement over the qualifications of the US archivist particularly interesting, but because it also contains information about Michael Bellesiles that I have not come across before. Bellesiles is an historian who was accused of fraud in writing a book about the history of the gun culture in the United States. The book suggested that it is a recent phenomenon, and that relatively few Americans owned firearms before the civil war. That made sense to me, and I was disappointed when the charges of fraud seemed to suggest his conclusion was in error.

According to this writer, Jon Wiener, Bellesiles's conclusion was badly documented, but might still be correct. I hope someone else picks the research up where Bellesiles left off, because it might help Americans acquire a better perspective on their, to me, poorly-judged love affair with firearms.

Author Irvine Welsh is the first person to report from Darfur in Western Sudan since reports of Government-sponsored genocide began to swirl around some weeks ago. He writes in the Telegraph that some of those reports may have been a little exaggerated. "While I saw what could be described as the end result of ethnic cleansing, thankfully there is no evidence at present to suggest any systematic campaign of genocide. However, the more macabre speculations will not cease until the whole region is opened up to the world's media. Meanwhile, it is crucial that the international community act quickly to avoid the massive breaches of human rights that are taking place from precipitating a fully-fledged humanitarian disaster on an unthinkable scale."

Today, four hundred years ago, Wm Shakespeare had his 40th birthday. That may surprise those of us who think his birthday was on April 23, but Gary Taylor provides quite a reasonable explanation for that in this Guardian feature. Gray thinks Wm in his 40s was in the middle of a serious mid-life crisis.

"'How could a man delineate a Hamlet, a Coriolanus, a Macbeth,'" Gray quotes Thomas Carlyle as having asked in 1840, "'if his own heroic heart had never suffered?' Shakespeare certainly suffered, but there's nothing heroic - or rare - in an older man's anxiety or bitterness about his younger rivals. You can see someone like Shakespeare every day on TV: a man who, having been a spectacularly successful fresh face in the 1990s, began to consider his dominance a God-given right; an increasingly grey, increasingly conservative man whose ego grows as his popularity shrinks.

"Why did Shakespeare retire to Stratford? Maybe because he was no longer wanted in London. Maybe, like most ageing actors, he spent the last years of his life waiting for the call that never came."

This is a good reminder of what the West is up against in its struggle against terrorism - three young girls in eastern Afghanistan are in critical condition in hospital after being poisoned, apparently by militants as punishment for attending school.

The Zulu leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, is bucking the trend in South Africa by speaking publicly about the death of his son from the effects of Aids. His candour is in start contrast to the reluctance of President Thabo Mbeki to acknowledge the powerful effect of the disease on his country, or to facilitate the treatment of sufferers. In fairness, it is a reluctance shared by many on the African continent, where there is little tolerance for homosexuals.

Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has launched yet another blunt verbal attack on the regime of that country's president Islam Karimov. "The worst Soviet features," he told a gathering of journalists in Tashkent, "such as secret police, censorship, torture in prisons are still in place here...Uzbek people live in desperation, they have no hope for improvements." Two years ago, when he made some similar remarks, he was recalled and carpeted by the Foreign Office. At the time, his superiors said he'd been cleared of all the internal charges brought against him, and was being sent back to his post in Uzbekistan on condition he lay off the inflammatory remarks. You could believe that, if you like, or you could believe he's doing what the Foreign Office wants him to do. Don't be surprised if they remove him from the Uzbek post this time, then quietly give him a promotion.

Mexico's vote against Cuba at the UN's Human Rights Commission in Geneva a few days ago has caused a distinct chilling of relations between the two countries. Mexico announced yesterday that it was recalling its ambassador and expelling the Cuban ambassador in response to Cuba's "unacceptable meddling" in its affairs. Something on that order has been on the cards, really, since Cuba released in 2002 a clandestinely-made tape recording of Mexican president Vicente Fox trying to persuade Fidel Castro to do the diplomatic thing and leave a summit meeting before George Bush arrived.

The more that's discovered about that disastrous Pakistani military operation in the tribal regions in March, the less there is to like. Having been forced to let the militants they surrounded go because they lacked either the will or the skill to do the job properly, the Pakistani armed forces gave any foreign fighters in the region until April 30 to lay down their arms and register with the Government, in some kind of strange hope that that would let everybody ride off into the sunset to the swelling strains of triumphant violins. Ahmed Rashid, the author of The Taliban has a better grip on reality: "This has been a farce from the start," he told the Christian Science Monitor.

American forces across the border are expressing polite concern in public, but are probably hopping mad in reality. Their great spring offensive, the American hammer in Afghanistan crushing terrorists against the Pakistani anvil on their side of the border turns out to be more like a hammer-and-Jello type of operation. Farce, indeed.

It's not quite globalisation as John Kerry defines the word, but the rest of the world is catching up with the US in the world of scientific research and discovery. The Democrats seem to be trying to portray the phenomenon as America losing because of George's Bush's bad policies: "We stand at a pivotal moment," the New York Times (you'll need to register) quotes Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, as having recently said at a policy forum in Washington at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nation's top general science group. "For all our past successes, there are disturbing signs that America's dominant position in the scientific world is being shaken." The Times said Mr. Daschle accused the Bush administration of weakening the nation's science base by failing to provide enough money for cutting-edge research.

I'm not sure that's the right way to look at it. Globalisation is about creating circumstances in which the rest of the world can win a little bit, too. It really isn't smart to complain about that.

02 May 2004

Andy McNab, the SAS man who suffered savage torture when he was captured by Iraqi troops in the first Gulf War, says coalition troops will have to pay for the photographs of torture of Iraqi prisoners of war which have been seen around the world during the last few days. McNab, who was the British Army's most highly decorated serving soldier when he finally left the SAS in February, 1993, says "The pictures shown on television in the US and published in the newspapers here demonstrate a lamentable failure of discipline and leadership within at least one unit of the US Army. If the latest allegations against the British soldiers also prove to be true, they will indicate that there are parts of the British Army which suffer from the same failing.

"Every commander knows this sort of thing can happen if he does not keep his troops under very tight control. That individual soldiers have been allowed to behave in so disgraceful a fashion in Iraq shows that some officers have lost control of their own troops. There must be swift, and very severe, punishment for that failure. And it should not just be the lowly ranks pictured participating in the torture who are punished. There must be more than a mild reprimand for the senior officers who are supposed to ensure that nothing of this kind ever takes place."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is thought to have wanted to block publication of an expose of sleaze and corruption during peacekeeping missions in the 1990s, the Telegraph reports this morning. As it is, two of the three authors who still work for the organisation may lose their jobs because of it. Officials in the upper echelons of the UN are alarmed by the promised revelations of wild sex parties, petty corruption, and drug use - diversions that helped the peacekeepers to cope with alternating states of terror and boredom.

A new report by academics at Oxford University condemns green groups for exaggerating the threat of climate change in an attempt to raise more money. The report, entitled Crying Wolf on Climate Change and Extinction, says environmental charities had "overstated the evidence to meet fundraising targets," and warns that doing so creates confusion and cynicism among the public. One scientist said "Our argument is that we don't think the ends do justify the means because if you are hyping something to that extent, you are going to have the equivalent of 'compassion fatigue' in the charity sector.

"Biodiversity is declining worldwide, but if you keep telling people that we're on the verge of a global disaster, and then the process takes longer than people think it's going to take, we are going to be in trouble and the non-governmental organisations are going to be in trouble in terms of their funding."

Many of those former diplomats who signed a letter condemning Tony Blair's Middle East policies turn out to be in the pay of pro-Arab organisations, the Telegraph discloses this morning. A Labour MP is quoted as having said that if Members of the British Parliament had done such a thing without disclosing their interest, the standards and privileges committee of the House "would have had their guts for garters." There's quite a lot of rather red-faced harrumphing, but not a lot of denial, going on among the diplomats.

Over on the right hand side of this page, you'll see a link to a piece I wrote a few weeks ago about the possibility that Helen of Troy might, after all, have been an historical figure. Britain's Independent has been mulling it over in the meantime, I guess, and has now come out on my side. So has the Archaeological Institute of America. A bow? Shucks, t'weren't nothin'.

A new scheme to encourage British football fans to read has top players naming their favourite books. Many of their selections are not, as the cynics might suppose, to be found on the top shelf of the local newsagents, but in the literature section of their area's library. Their choices aren't exactly the deepest stuff in print, but hey, did you ever see Einstein kicking a ball around? I wonder what sort of result we'd get if we tried this in Bermuda. Having thought about that for a split second or two, maybe this is the sort of thing that shouldn't be tried at home.

Ariel Sharon's Likud Party is voting today on whether to support his plan to withdraw from the Gaza strip. Turnout early in the day was light - by noon, some observers were reporting that only 10% of the party had voted. My gut feeling is that despite the fears of the last few days, the Israeli president will get the support he needs. But this Haaretz analysis suggests that whichever way the party referendum turns out, Sharon will be a winner. UPDATE - exit polls are suggesting late this afternoon that Sharon's plan is going to be soundly defeated.

Prince Charles's hysterical and capricious attacks on architecture in Britain 20 years ago certainly had an effect. But was it a positive effect, or a negative one? The Observer thinks he was a bit like a bull running wild in a china shop. He might have known what he didn't like, but couldn't really define what he did like. His early interventions were not entirely successful. "Undaunted, the prince ran riot over the UK architectural scene for the rest of the decade. In one extraordinarily tasteless speech, he said: 'You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe; when it knocked down our buildings - it didn't replace them with anything more offensive than rubble.'" Not charming, and more than a bit of a charley.


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