...Views from mid-Atlantic
15 May 2004

A current review of Harvard's undergraduate curriculum, says the university's magazine, has become "the widest imaginable inquiry into teaching and learning at the College." It has four goals. First, internationalization, and the preparation of "citizens of the world". Second, improved scientific education, including student research experiences. Third, the creation of small "communities of learning" between students and faculty members. Fourth, greater undergraduate access to the professional schools, whose professors are increasingly trained in arts and sciences disciplines.

New search engine technology may soon allow you to compile a list - say the top 50 greatest blues guitarists by record sales - with a single mouse click, not by having to visit many web pages to gather the data you need.

KnowItAll, a search engine under development at the University of Washington, Seattle, says the New Scientist, trawls the web for data and then collates it in the form of a list. The approach is unique, says its developer, Oren Etzioni, because it generates information that probably does not exist on any single web page.

Correctly English in Hundred Days was written for "the Chinese young man who wishes to served for the foreign firm. It divided nearly 190 pages. It contains full of ordinary speak and write language." But if you can't find a copy of that one, try Drummer Dick's Discharge, The Romance of the Beaver, Flashes From The Welsh Pulpit, Play With Your Own Marbles, The Big Problem With Small Organs, Fine-Weather Dick, or Scouts in Bondage. They're all real books, and the market for collecting them is taking off. Their appeal, says the Telegraph, is their arcane subject matter, a delicious proleptic irony, or, for want of a better expression, sheer bonkers-ness.

Inspired, apparently, by Philip Larkin's Aubade, Kingsley Amis wrote a poem about how little he enjoyed old age - The self drowses in the self, Beyond hope of a visitor - but kept it in a bottom drawer. Amis's biographer found and has now published it.

This is as disgraceful and pathetic as a child trying to turn his back on his parents because of their humble origins. Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian's film critic is ashamed of the part the Carry On films play in the history of British film. Of course they're terrible films. But they're quite brilliantly silly, and they have a proud place in a long line of cinematic silliness. I watched the first one, Carry on Sergeant as a child back in the '50s. I watched Carry on Up the Khyber at Christmas last year. One of Santa's greatest hits.

Herbert Muschamp, the New York Times architecture critic, says the new Rem Koolhas library in Seattle is the most exciting new building he has reviewed in 30 years of writing about architecture. "I could go on piling up superlatives like cars in a multiple collision, but take my word: there's going to be a whole lot of rubbernecking going on."

A lot of the credit, he says, belongs to Deborah L Jacobs, Seattle's librarian. "There's never been a great building without a strong client in the history of the world, and Ms. Jacobs is now up there with popes and princes as an instigator of fabulous cities," Muschamp says. "Her achievement is all the more remarkable in light of Seattle's nasty encounters with architecture in recent years. The Seattle Art Museum, designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, is a rancid piece of work. Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project looks like something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over and died. With a record like that, it is understandable that the proposal for the library aroused fierce local opposition."

14 May 2004

In the future as NextFest sees it, the world will have flying cars, coats that make people transparent, digital cameras that translate foreign signs and robots that can attend classes for sick children. The prototypes for these and about a hundred other inventions will be on display this weekend at the first-ever NextFest, a high-tech exposition being held in San Francisco.

Organized by Wired magazine, which is based in San Francisco, the three-day NextFest is designed to give the general public a close-up, hands-on view of innovations that may someday become as commonplace as cell phones and the Web are today.

Those Unidentified Flying Objects filmed by the Mexican Air Force might have been caused by a known, but little-understood atmospheric phenomenon, according to Julio Herrera, a nuclear science researcher at the National Autonomous University in Mexico.

John Carroll, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, delivered the Ruhl Lecture at the University of Oregon a few days ago, something sparsely reported in the media at the time. Now the text of his speech, which dealt with newspaper ethics, has been published by his newspaper. My esteemed break dancing and hip hop correspondent (yes, there is such a person, and I do esteem him) asked that I post about it. So even though Mr Carroll and I might not quite be of a mind on the specifics of his speech, we are in general agreement and I am happy to link to his lecture.

"All across America," he suggests, "there are offices that resemble newsrooms, and in those offices there are people who resemble journalists, but they are not engaged in journalism. It is not journalism because it does not regard the reader - or, in the case of broadcasting, the listener, or the viewer - as a master to be served.

"To the contrary, it regards its audience with a cold cynicism. In this realm of pseudo-journalism, the audience is something to be manipulated. And when the audience is misled, no one in the pseudo-newsroom ever offers a peep of protest."

LaVon Mercer played for the Israeli basketball team, Hapoel Tel Aviv. During the course of his 14-year stay in the country, he acquired Israeli citizenship, switched to Maccabi Tel Aviv, served in the Israeli Defence Force, and played for the Israeli national team. He retired from professional sports 10 years ago and has since returned to his native Atlanta, but spends his life there promoting Israel among his fellow black Americans. His commitment to Israel is steadfast, and he says that whatever mistrust exists between the African American and Jewish communities in Atlanta is a result of ignorance, rather than anti-Semitism.

Alan Bennett's may not be the most recognisable name in the United States. He's perhaps a little subtle to translate well. He's an actor, a humourist, a writer, perhaps one of Britain best playwrights. With Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller, he co-wrote and starred in the 1960 satirical review Beyond the Fringe, which was, for people of that age and of that place, a seminal event in Britain's emergence from postwar blues into the red-hot Sixties. He is one of the most gifted and sharpest-eyed observers of British society, to the extent that he is sometimes described as one of Britain's national treasures. The Guardian profiles him today.

Researchers have unravelled one of the mysteries of the two-year-old mind: why toddlers persist in trying on dolls' shoes and trying to drive tiny cars. It's simple. They haven't mastered scale. A team from Northwestern University, the University of Virginia and the University of Illinois publishes its theory in a report in Science today.

The study seems to confirm a theory of how the brain works: that two of its areas deal with visual information. One recognises and pigeon-holes objects (There's a chair!). The other decides the information is usable (I could sit down!). People recovering from severe stroke often have problems coordinating the two processes. Now it seems that very young children have to learn to do the same thing.

It's not quite poet laureate, but maybe the next best thing. Graduates of Oxford University go to the polls tomorrow to elect a professor of poetry.

If it were up to the undergraduates, the Guardian says, "there is an indecorously strong chance they would opt for one of the outsiders, Ian McMillan, who has been described as the Shirley Bassey of performance poetry. McMillan has been writer in residence for, among many others, Barnsley football club and Humberside police. He is cherished for a verse satire on a previous poet laureate, entitled Ted Hughes is Elvis Presley:

At my poetry readings I sneer and rock my hips.
I stride the moors in a satin jump suit,
Bloated as the full moon

But it's not up to the undergraduates, thank heavens!

Li Cunxin, Mao's Last Dancer, as he calls himself, is the author of a biography that is No 1 on the Australian bestseller list. He was one of those chosen in 1979 to be part of the first official exchange of artists between the US and China since 1949. In 1981, he defected to the US, and now, having retired from dancing, works as a stockbroker in Melbourne, Australia.

13 May 2004

First there was global warming, then there was the threat of ocean conveyer-caused global cooling. Now meet a proud new entrant in the scaring-the-pants-off-you stakes, global dimming. "There could be a big gorilla sitting on the dining table, and we didn't know about it," said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at UC San Diego. "There are many, many issues that it raises." Oh, the horror!

I think this is really rather a cheap story Lawrence Weschler has written for the Los Angeles Times. The same sort of snarky comments he makes about George Bush could be made about almost any public figure, because using this kind of haute bullshit is how the game is played.

Nonetheless, I'll read anything Weschler writes, because he is so very good at it. He's a staff writer for the New Yorker, and has written nine books, most of which I have read and admired. I thought his best was Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, which was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Honourable mention, in my books, must also go to Shapinsky's Karma, Bogg's Bills, and Other True-Life Tales which won the George Polk Award for Cultural Reporting, and Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, a profile of the artist Robert Irwin. His latest, Vermeer in Bosnia is due out soon.

The Los Angeles Times has joined the ranks of those who feel Donald Rumsfeld should resign as Defence Secretary in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. I felt that way myself a few days ago, because I felt only a resignation at that level would be a sufficiently strong symbol of US regret for what happened. But the problem's landscape, if I can call it that, has been altered completely by the beheading of young Nicholas Berg by al Qaeda's man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. No doubt he thought what he was doing was strengthening the resolve of anti-American fighters in Iraq and around the world. But what he has done, instead, is to take a great deal of the sting out of Abu Ghraib in minds around the world. It is still an unpleasant and difficult problem that has yet to be worked through, but it is no longer a problem sufficiently powerful to cause resignation at the level of the Secretary of Defence.

You get a sense of that in editorials like this one in the Telegraph this morning, which urges a stiffening of resolve to sort Iraq out.

You get a sense of it in coverage of media reluctance in the Arab world to play up the beheading story.

And I suspect that as time goes on, more and more individuals and organisations like Hesbollah will be prepared to interpret it that way.

Jackson Pollock's painting Number 12, 1949 set a record at Christie's in New York this week when it sold for $11.6 million, the highest price a Pollock has ever fetched. The sale of contemporary art on Tuesday night was the first to break the $100 million mark, with some prices equalling those sometimes paid for the impressionists.

Coincidentally, a new exhibition of De Koonings has opened in New York at the Gagosian gallery. Robert Hughes went for the Guardian, and thinks prices are so high, there will never be a full-scale De Kooning retrospective: "The strong possibility is that there will never be a full-scale of really satisfactory quality. Few can afford to move the stuff, insurance costs being what they are, and nobody wants to risk damaging it.

"It's hard so see how this situation could have improved since the 1984 show. Most of the important early De Koonings, including all the five Women, were missing from it. And the current offering...shows further poignant signs of this drying-up of material."

The Conservative Party has blocked one of its Members of the European Parliament from running for office again in an expenses-fiddling scandal. The European Parliament thinks he might have over-claimed something like 30,000 euros in travel expenses. Such theft is said to be rife in the European Union, but the organisation seems to lack the will to put a stop to it.

French officials have confirmed that boules hooligans have put a stop to one of the leading tournaments in the annual boules calendar, the three-day Comedie de la Petanque, which attracts 4,000 players and had been held, traditionally, each July. But according to the Independent, "Asked what type of intimidation boules players were having to endure, one official said: 'It's all in the look and the stare. If your opponent comes up to you and says, 'I'm going to win this game', it may sound innocuous but it's not. We're all playing to win and someone who says that to you, with a particular look in his eye, is being threatening.'"

Well, I guess it's no wonder they didn't want to send troops to Iraq.

Among the words and phrases that are the very latest to join the list of the politically incorrect, at least for judges in Britain, are asylum seeker, businessman, girl, the disabled and mental handicap. Petty and wanker seem not to have made the cut. Praise be.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, no little stronger since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, has challenged the basis of US sanctions on his country, saying it's all lies about his nuclear weapons programme, and that there is no evidence of foreign fighters crossing from Syria to Iraq.

Europe seems to agree. They've signed a new trade agreement with Syria. A spokesman for the senior commissioner, Chris Patten, said: "It is clear we share the same objectives as the US [on] human rights, terrorism, democracy and WMD. But ... we do not share the same tactical approach."

The agreement is one of a series the EU has signed with other Arab countries and Israel dating from 1995. Syria has already benefited from some 295 million pounds-worth of loans from the EU.

12 May 2004

LAWeekly is running a fascinating story about a high-ranking, drug-smuggling Saudi official and how investigations of him by the DEA in the US and the French Quai des Orfevres were compromised. Two tons of cocaine were involved, and the Saudi seems to have got away scot free.

This isn't a terribly well-written story, but it appears to suggest that the director of the European Union's anti-fraud office is being accused of having illegally ordered a search of a journalist's office a few weeks ago. The journalist, the Brussels correspondent of the German magazine Stern, had written a number of stories about fraud in the EU which had embarrassed the organisation. A number of computers, phones and boxes of material were seized in the raid.

The supervisory committee of the EU anti-fraud office is said to be "downright unsatisfied" with the information it has received in the case so far, and will question the director before meeting to discuss the case in June.

Leading players from the global media industry are now flocking to India. A flurry of media deals lately involving foreigners and India could soon wake up to a host of global titles there, like the Financial Times, Business Week, Eve, Top Gear, Par Golf, and the Wall Street Journal.

An expert in personnel management, Donald Devine, takes a fascinating crack at analyzing the reasons for the failures in organisation at Abu Ghraib prison this morning in the Washington Times. "...A little bureaucratic rule," he says, "based upon progressive utopianism and political correctness, collided with a foreign culture based upon male honor. The resulting pictures will fill al Qaeda's ranks with terrorists for generations to come." It was smart of the Times to think of that.

To me, if William Burroughs weren't dead, he'd be the most important author alive, if you know what I mean. Marianne Faithfull (yes, Marianne Faithfull. Get over it) has been talking about him, and about his last work, The Black Rider, to the Guardian.

"The Black Rider" she says, "is very close to the Elizabethan plays, particularly to Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. It is also surrealistic in many ways. William and the artist Brion Gysin adopted the cut-up techniques of the surrealists and made them work brilliantly. I cannot stress enough how much Brion, William, Andre Breton and Louis Aragon are connected. Gysin's work helped me to really understand surrealism. And it was my friendship with Brion that really cemented my later relationship with William. Brion was a great friend - one of the few people who came to find me when I was living on the street. Burroughs knew about that, and he loved and respected him. Indeed, that might have been why I was invited to the Kansas poetry festival...

I first read Burroughs when I was very young, and didn't understand it all. What I did understand - and continued to recognise in all his books, and through his life - was his incredible lyrical quality. His work is almost like poetry. That lyrical beauty really steps up to the parapet in The Black Rider. The rhymes are spell-like: 'That's the way the rocket crashes, that's the way the whip lashes, that's the way the potato mashes.' I can see he had a hand in the songs for the stage production, especially the songs for Peg Leg. They're full of Burroughsian stuff. Which they would be, because his interest lies in Wilhelm and Peg Leg more than anything."

A CD version of Black Rider, staged in Germany by Robert Wilson, with Tom Waits doing the singing and Burroughs himself doing a bit in one of the songs, was issued about ten years ago. Incredible concatenation of talents, there.

An earth sculpture in front of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh has won the 100,000 pound Gulbenkian museums prize, the richest single prize in the arts.

"It made me want to be five again," Peter Jenkinson, one of the judges, said. "I just wanted to roll down the banks. It is a joyful, wonderful thing ... it has transformed what was a very dull municipal space."

A stone monument on an estate in Britain has, among other things, the letters O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V. carved on it. Underneath them, a D. and an M. are carved. What those initials mean has been a mystery for 250 years. But maybe not for much longer. Some of the famed WW II code-crackers of Bletchley Park, famous for cracking the codes generated by the German Enigma machine, are coming out of retirement to sort this one out. There are a lot of theories around. "Chief among these," says the Guardian, "is the belief that the connections of the estate's creators, the Anson family, with the grand masters of the closed society of Knights Templar, and the supernatural myths surrounding the estate - where lay lines meet, rivers cross and UFO spotters regularly gather - are evidence that the carving holds the secret to the Holy Grail."

Mexican Air Force pilots are said to have filmed 11 UFOs with infrared equipment, and have supplied a film of what they saw to the media.

The videotape shows the bright objects, some sharp points of light and others like large headlights, moving rapidly in what appears to be a late-evening sky. The UFOs, filmed on March 5, appeared to be flying at an altitude of about 3,500 metres and allegedly surrounded the air force jet as it conducted routine anti-drug trafficking vigilance in Campeche. Only three of the objects showed up on the plane's radar.

When Mimi Sheraton was first appointed to be the restaurant critic at the New York Times, her mother didn't altogether approve. "She thought I ought to mind my own business," Ms Sheraton says.

"Unfortunately," says the Times (you'll need to register) "what journalists do is mind everybody else's business - then tell. In her 14th book and new memoir, Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life (William Morrow), Ms. Sheraton does just that, detailing the New York of her childhood and early adulthood as the daughter of Joseph Solomon, a produce wholesaler, who, predictably enough, hated vegetables; her first marriage to William Sheraton (ne Schlifman); her early careers as a home furnishings writer and editor, and research consultant to Restaurant Associates when it opened the Four Seasons; and after leaving The Times in 1983, her work for Time, Vanity Fair and Conde Nast Traveler, among others."

11 May 2004

Scientists have discovered that in order to improve fruits and vegetables, they don't have to do too much genetic monkeying-around. It's all about bringing out the best in them.

"Over the past decade," this Wired story claims, "scientists have discovered that our crops are chock-full of dormant characteristics. Rather than inserting, say, a bacteria gene to ward off pests, it's often possible to simply turn on a plant's innate ability. The result? Smart breeding holds the promise of remaking agriculture through methods that are largely uncontroversial and unpatentable. Think about the crossbreeding and hybridization that farmers have been doing for hundreds of years, relying on instinct, trial and error, and luck to bring us things like tangelos, giant pumpkins, and burpless cucumbers. Now replace those fuzzy factors with precise information about the role each gene plays in a plant's makeup. Today, scientists can tease out desired traits on the fly - something that used to take a decade or more to accomplish."

That may satisfy some people suffering from Frankenfood fixation, but if they think proud British eco-warriors are going to be put off by the facts, they have another think coming...

The American public, which reacted to the possible abandonment of the Hubble telescope as if it were an elderly, but much-favoured dog in danger of being put down, can relax a little bit. It looks as if Hubble's had a reprieve. NASA, or perhaps an international consortium of some kind, is going to deploy a robotic space mission sometime in the next few years to service or repair the telescope.

The Madonna of the Townships lived a pretty full-bore life. Sadly, and perhaps predictably, it didn't last for very long. But it must have counted for something if South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, could say of her that "She made our souls rise in bliss wherever her voice reached."

I'm not sure that Judith Mackrell's Guardian piece can be the "definitive glossary of hip-hop dance" it's cracked up to be, since it contains only 24 defined terms, but I'm glad I read it for all that. I kind of liked "Locking", which is defined as "A playful staccato style developed by Don Campbell on the west coast and originally called the Campbell Lock. Dancers move rapidly through a series of split second poses that are often taken from everyday life - such as tilting a hat or looking at a watch."

Mexico is said to be turning to the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, known for his friendship with Fidel Castro, for help in solving the diplomatic contretemps between the two countries.

The BBC has completed its internal enquiry into the Iraq dossier story that led to the suicide of Dr David Kelly, and has decided to take no further action. BBC staff made a tremendous song and dance, during the course of the enquiry, about it being a kangaroo court. Michael Grade, the new chairman, is understood to have made it clear he wanted the inquiry brought to a close before he takes office next Monday. The enquiry pinned the blame for the whole mess on Andrew Gilligan, who has already left the BBC. Surprise, surprise.

That Portuguese trawler the Canadian Coast Guard arrested for violating international fishing regulations last week probably isn't going to be prosecuted. The Portuguese government and the European Union have ordered the vessel Brites to return to an unspecified port in Portugal to undergo an inspection. The European Union made a statement yesterday in which it said that one of its fisheries inspectors would be on board the Brites as it makes its way home and that the decision to send the boat home shows its commitment to conservation.

Under NAFO regulations, apparently, Canada cannot force a boat from another country to enter a Canadian port. That's a rule that is simply an outrageous Get Out of Jail Free card for European vessels to avoid prosecution for overfishing of scarce cod and flatfish stocks. If NAFO doesn't start getting serious about protecting the world's fishing stocks, there'll be nothing left in a few years.

This may out-perform cowboys and indians as a pastime for every red-blooded kid - The New York Times this morning (registration required) calls it The Fast Art of the Controlled Slide. This is how it goes:

"In a cloud of tire smoke, Mr. Jenkins's driver, Samuel Hubinette, launches the 550-horsepower Viper straight toward the Andretti Hairpin, a notorious switchback at this famous raceway. But charging into this 180-degree turn at 90 miles per hour, Mr. Hubinette, a 32-year old Swede, does not hit the brakes. Instead, before a crowd of 5,000 cheering fans, he slings the Viper into a magnificent, terrifying slide. As tires scream and smoke pours into the open window, Mr. Hubinette, a former ice racer, soon reaches a short straightaway. But he doesn't go straight. In fact, for the entire 2.2 miles of the track, he makes dizzying sideways slides across the pavement, then rolls toward the pit area with a whoop. 'That was a 75 to 80 percent run,' he says. 'Now I'm fired up.'"

10 May 2004

All About Romance bills itself as a web site that is "The romance readers home for romance novels, romance novel reviews, romance authors, and more." The site ran a contest to try to find the worst cover of a romance novel in 2003, with spectacular results.

Of the winner, Flavor of the Month, one judge said "My choice...brings me absolutely no joy and no small degree of the willies. I don't want to know what's on his face. I don't want to know what it is, I don't want to know how it got there, I don't want to know what it tastes like, and I don't want to know why he's enjoying this so much. It's as if someone mistook him for the underside of a middle school desk. All copies of this cover should be destroyed, and those of us who have seen it should undertake to repress it as quickly and thoroughly as possible."

Victor David Hanson, military historian, author, teacher of classics at California State University in Fresno, stands with Bernard Lewis as an enormously influential interpreter of current events in the Middle East. In a new article published in City Journal, he argues that the West should have learned by now not to appease tyrants. "...Military deterrence and the willingness to use force against evil in its infancy usually end up, in the terrible arithmetic of war, saving more lives than they cost. All this can be a hard lesson to relearn each generation, especially now that we contend with the sirens of the mall, Oprah, and latte.

"Our affluence and leisure are as antithetical to the use of force as rural life and relative poverty once were catalysts for muscular action. The age-old lure of appeasement - perhaps they will cease with this latest concession, perhaps we provoked our enemies, perhaps demonstrations of our future good intentions will win their approval - was never more evident than in the recent Spanish elections, when an affluent European electorate, reeling from the horrific terrorist attack of 3/11, swept from power the pro-US center-right government on the grounds that the mass murders were more the fault of the United States for dragging Spain into the effort to remove fascists and implant democracy in Iraq than of the primordial al-Qaidist culprits, who long ago promised the Western and Christian Iberians ruin for the Crusades and the Reconquista."

Hansen says the first evidence of the current Islamic fascism occurred in November, 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini's forces kidnapped Americans in Iran. Then-President Carter failed to grasp what was going on, failed to condemn it, and failed to go to war against it, as he should have done.

"That lapse, worth meditating upon in this 25th anniversary year of Khomeinism, then set the precedent that such aggression against the United States was better adjudicated as a matter of law than settled by war. Criminals were to be understood, not punished; and we, not our enemies, were at fault for our past behavior. Whether Carter’s impotence sprang from his deep-seated moral distrust of using American power unilaterally or from real remorse over past American actions in the cold war or even from his innate pessimism about the military capability of the United States mattered little to the hostage takers in Teheran, who for some 444 days humiliated the United States through a variety of public demands for changes in US foreign policy, the return of the exiled Shah, and reparations."

Google's not the only Internet IPO on the stock market horizon...at least nine other Web sites are in line for their own Wall Street premieres in what the San Francisco Chronicle says could be described as a dot-com boomlet. Others soon to come onto the market include the gay portal PlanetOut in San Francisco, the Emeryville bookseller Alibris, and jewelry retailer Blue Nile in Seattle, which have all filed papers to sell shares. Do they have a brighter future than their failed predecessors, Pets.com, EToys and Webvan?

Analysts are saying that most of the current crop are stronger. The majority of the firms are turning profits, they pointed out, unlike all those Web sites that went public in the late 1990s and hemorrhaged money.

The United Nations has become a dysfunctional institution, the Washington Times claims in an editorial this morning. "One example that deserves more attention than it has received to date," the newspaper says, "is that of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. On Tuesday, the United States walked out to protest a decision by the United Nations Economic and Social Council to give Sudan, one of the world's worst human-rights violators, a third term on the UNHCHR.

"Last month, the commission backed a resolution submitted by European countries calling for a death-penalty moratorium — an implicit slap at the United States. Members passed five resolutions condemning Israel and took several hours out of their busy schedule to mourn the assassination of Hamas terrorist boss Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. But when it came to the Iranian government's brutal treatment of its own citizens, the UNHCHR stood mute. At this year's session, which concluded in Geneva late last month, the organization declined to rebuke the Iranian government for violating human rights, despite a large body of evidence that it has engaged in summary executions, torture, and arbitrary arrests and detention."

Israeli archaeologists have found a 790,000-year old campfire in northern Israel, near the Lebanese border. It is the earliestevidence yet found of controlled fire on the Eurasian land mass -- three clusters of cracked and blackened flint chips and bits of charcoal deposited 790,000 years ago at a campsite on what is today the banks of the Jordan River.

The site lies at the geographical crossroads between Africa and Eurasia, a logical stopping place for fire-bearing human ancestors on their way out of Africa and into colder northern climates. Although many researchers believe that fire was first tamed in Africa, the new research is the most powerful evidence yet found of fire being harnessed before the advent of modern humans.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has defended Ariel Sharon's decision to remove settlements from the Gaza Strip. He told the Israeli Bar Association yesterday that settling the Gaza Strip was an historic mistake, and there would be no more Jewish settlers in the Strip in five years time with or without a peace agreement. The same process, he said, would occur with other illegal settlements.

Two cities in Europe, Paris and Barcelona, are in the process of reinventing large parts of themselves. In Barcelona, the new Forum building is the centrepiece of Forum Barcelona, an event described as a kind of four-month-long Expo with ambitious geopolitical themes, or, as it bills itself, a vast "meeting point for citizens of the world". The Guardian says that the Forum building is "a cinematic tour de force designed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. In Britain, they are best known for their transformation of London's Bankside Power Station into Tate Modern and the Laban dance centre on Deptford Creek in the south-east of the capital. Their Forum is the latest 'must-see' design in this city of daring monuments.

"The building is also the fulcrum of an entirely new quarter of Barcelona on the coast north-east of Barceloneta and Port Olympic, the first remodelled, the second created, to coincide with the 1992 Olympics. When Forum Barcelona 2004 closes at the end of September, the city will inherit impressive new parks, yet another cleaned-up port and beach, concert and congress halls, public walkways, a new railway station dedicated to high-speed trains, clusters of new apartment blocks, an "e-city" (the impossibly named Poble Nou 22@) of shiny office buildings dedicated to dotcoms and other forms of electronic enterprise, and yet another boost to its international prestige."

And in Paris, officials are beginning the process of getting rid of what has been described by the Guardian as "the biggest architectural error ever perpetrated on one the world's most beautiful cities, Le Forum des Halles.

"A sprawling concrete-and-glass monstrosity, the neon-lit underground shopping centre stands, outmoded and crumbling, on the site occupied for centuries by the central Paris food markets, France's equivalent of Covent Garden.

"Its construction in the 1970s led to long-running protests as the area known as the belly of Paris became a building site for nearly a decade. It is now run down, vandalised and thoroughly unappealing, and the municipality wants to turn it into a spectacular attraction as popular with visitors as the Eiffel tower, the Pompidou Centre or the Louvre Pyramids."

Having pretty much shut down the public school system in Zimbabwe as a hotbed of racism last week, the lunatic Mugabe has now thrown a UN crop survey team out of the country. The agriculture minister said the UN team was in the country without his approval, although the Guardian claims to have seen a letter dated March 30 from Mr Made's ministry inviting UN World Food Programme officials to estimate the country's food aid needs.

The cancellation is believed to have been ordered because President Robert Mugabe's government did not want the UN team to gather figures showing that harvests would fall far short of the country's food requirements. The order effectively blocks UN and EU preparations to provide food aid expected to be needed for more than five million people later in the year.

The director of the British Board of Film Classification says the British are almost alone in Europe in being sensitive to bad language. He has decided to conduct a review of the Board's policy on swearing after filmmakers complained there was little point banning 15-year olds from seeing films simply because they contain language they are only too familiar with.

Remember PCBs? Now meet BDEs, which are probably capable of doing about the same kind of damage. Canadian scientists have found abnormally high concentrations of this family of chemicals in the eggs of herring gulls in Canada. They don't know how that is happening or why, but are sounding an alarm because: "The structure of brominated compounds closely resembles that of PCBs, prompting scientists to suspect that the two have similar biological effects. 'There is no reason to believe that these things will be any different than the PCBs,' said Ross Norstrom, an adjunct chemistry professor at Carleton University in Ottawa who has worked on the research project. 'They look the same. They've got the same kinds of chemicals in them, and so far most of the research seems to be saying they behave the same.'"

A recent decision by the World Trade Organisation, that multibillion-dollar subsidies by the US to domestic cotton producers violated international trade rules, may have far-reaching effects, the Christian Science Monitor believes.

It will pressure industrial nations to trim their farm subsidies, encourage the US to move forward in the Doha Round of world trade negotiations and may well force the reopening of the US 2002 Farm Bill.

09 May 2004

True to the form we've come to expect of him, Michael Moore wasn't telling the truth when he said the Disney organisation had told him on Tuesday that they weren't going to distribute his new film, Fahrenheit 911, and that their decision had been a politically motivated act of censorship. In fact, Disney's deal with him was for financing, not distribution, they told him a year ago they wouldn't distribute it, and the source of the NY Times story that broke the allegation Disney was doing the dirty on him was Moore's own agent. Sleazeball.

Benon Sevan, the man who ran the UN's Oil-for-Food programme, and whose name was on a list of 270 individuals around the world who received part of the 5.5 billion pounds Saddam skimmed from the scheme, says people are picking on him. "I had one day off last year for my daughter's graduation. I escaped death by a minute in Baghdad in the bombing of the UN building. When I went on holiday, they said I had disappeared, but I had planned it for two years."

In Britain, they're having pre-summer vapours about the heat. An expert says thousands of Brits "may be forced to wear charcoal masks and stay indoors this summer to avoid deadly fogs of ozone that will pollute the country during heatwaves." Last August's heat, scientists have warned, caused plants and trees to release a chemical called isoprene that caused these fogs. One wonders why those deadly clouds of ozone haven't been reported in much of the rest of the world, where such temperatures occur every summer...

A trial due to begin in Rome in a few days may shed new light on one of Britain's most extraordinary unsolved crimes - that involving Robert Calvi, the Vatican financier and chairman of the failed Banco Ambrosiano, who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge more than 20 years ago. A coroner's jury said it was a suicide, but the Guardian claims it has found new evidence that he was murdered. He was "lured on to a River Thames boat by the Mafia. He was then garrotted from behind with a rope and concrete bricks were stuffed in his underpants and trouser pockets along with $15,000 in cash. A noose was made with the rope, placed round his neck and his body was hung on scaffolding by the bridge to appear as if he had committed suicide."

His killers, the Guardian says, wanted to stop him revealing secrets that would have "rocked the Italian political establishment and implicated the Vatican hierarchy." Life imitates Ian Fleming.

Canadian fisheries officers who boarded seven Portuguese trawlers fishing just outside Canadian territorial waters last week have pulled up an illegal net from the sea bottom that the fishermen jettisoned when they were stopped. The crew of the trawler claimed the net had been torn away, but when it was recovered from a depth of 1,000 metres, the cables appeared to have been cut. Something like 65% of the catch in the vessel's hold was under moratorium, an indication of the size of the problem represented by people who are prepared to fish no matter what kind of damage they're doing to fish stocks.

Spencer Reece, the assistant manager of a Brooks Brothers shop in Palm Beach spent half a life time trying to make his name as a poet. "After 23 years of rejection and struggle, of submissions to The New Yorker and largely unacknowledged entries to assorted literary competitions," says the New York Times (registration required) this morning, "Mr. Reece published his first volume of poetry last month...From nothing to something quite extraordinary in the poetry world, Mr. Reece now spends his vacation days giving readings. His first was at no less esteemed a venue than the Library of Congress (he wore a Brooks Brothers suit, of course), which recently awarded Mr. Reece a $10,000 fellowship."

The New York Times has published a little more this morning on the life of Sir Coxsone Dodd, the Jamaican record producer who died last week. His daughter, Carol, is going to keep Coxsone Music City, his record store in Brooklyn, open to serve the West Indian community in New York. "'This is the Studio One legacy,' she said. 'Discontinuing, for me, would be dishonoring what Mr. Dodd has built over his lifetime.'"


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


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