...Views from mid-Atlantic
22 May 2004

Has Customs ever confiscated something you were carrying aboard a flight, on the grounds that it was dangerous? This is the kind of place in which it all ends up. I can't imagine why they don't simply put it all in a box, give it to the cabin crew to secure on the plane and let people reclaim their stuff at the other end. What's difficult about that?

British culture secretary Tessa Jowell's seminal speech about the role of culture in people's lives is a great deal better than David Edgar's critique of it in the Guardian this weekend. (There's a link to the .pdf text early in the copy. My suggestion is that you read the speech first, then come back and read his piece.) She is shifting the focus of the Government's patronage, away from the early Labout attempt, supported by postmodern cultural theorists, to encourage a popular/provocative alliance that would collapse the traditional high/popular art divide and expand culture to embrace not just the electronic arts but fashion, advertising, design and sport.

Edgar, with his protestations that her view leaves out art's "provocative role", obviously disagrees with her. "Through much of the past 50 years," he says, "art has been properly concerned not to cement national identity but to question it. In that, it continued the great modernist project of 'making strange', of disrupting rather than confirming how we see the world and our place in it." It's a bit of a pathetic and off-the-point argument, when you set it against this fine speech from a woman whose views make outstandingly good sense.

"In trying honestly to account for humble, everyday experiences such as looking at a bottle, a pipe and a newspaper on a table, or at a friend or lover sitting in an armchair," Jonathan Jones of the Guardian says, "the cubists discover complexities so exhausting that modern art has largely turned away from them ever since. We just don't expect art to make us work as hard as this. It is one thing to like or dislike an avant garde work, to 'see something' or 'see nothing'. It's quite another to be told the world is profoundly different from the way we assume it to be."

It's the fifth anniversary, this month, of the death in Malta of Oliver Reed, star of such films as Women in Love, The Three Musketeers, Oliver! and Castaway, who died aged 61 after a drinking session in The Pub in Valetta's Archbishop Street. Admirers of the actor, who always had the words "hellraising" attached to his name, now arrive from all over the world to pay their respects by sitting where Ollie sat on his last night on earth.

21 May 2004

Some pretty disturbing new research is being published this week in the American Sociological Review, relating to rates of incarceration among young black American males. Being jailed in federal or state prisons has become so common today that more young black men in the United States have done time than have served in the military or earned a college degree, the study says.

The paper estimates that 20 percent of all black men born from 1965 through 1969 had served time in prison by the time they reached their early 30s. By comparison, less than 3 percent of white males born in the same time period had been in prison. Equally startling, the risks of prison incarceration rose steeply as levels of education fell. Among blacks, 30.2 percent of those who didn't attend college had gone to prison by 1999 and 58.9 percent of black high school dropouts born from 1965 through 1969 had served time in state or federal prison by their early 30s.

There's a new theory about how our universe was born, apparently supported by stunning astronomical images and hard chemical analysis. Newswise says that "For years most astronomers have imagined that the Sun and Solar System formed in relative isolation, buried in a quiet, dark corner of a less-than-imposing interstellar cloud. The new theory challenges this conventional wisdom, arguing instead that the Sun formed in a violent nebular environment - a byproduct of the chaos wrought by intense ultraviolet radiation and powerful explosions that accompany the short but spectacular lives of massive, luminous stars."

So we began, at least, with a bang and not a whimper.

They've been talking and scheming about it for 30 years. Now it looks as if a bridge between Italy and Sicily is going to become a reality. The European Parliament has decided that the bridge does, after all, qualify for financial aid. The plan now is to pick a contractor some time late this year, begin construction at the end of 2005, complete the bridge in 2011 and let the first cars and trucks start rolling in 2012.

"This will be the greatest achievement of modern technology for all time," gushes Domenico Giorgianni, an executive with the Strait of Messina Association. "It will be like the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco! It will be like the Eiffel Tower!"

Andrew Cockburn, co-author of Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, thinks Ahmed Chalabi is a dangerous man. "His dream has always been to be a sectarian Shia leader. Not in the religious sense, but as a political leader," he quotes one Iraqi colleage of Chalabi's as having said. Cockburn says no one should take the controversial ex-member of the Iraqi Governing Council and his ambitions lightly. "This is the man who for years waged a determined struggle to draw the US into war with Iraq - even as he was abandoned and derided by his original sponsors at the CIA - and he ultimately succeeded...Leading fellow sectarians in opposition to the US and UN plans would be a vital step in realizing this dangerous dream."

I can understand why the US would not want to have anything to do with Chalabi - he looks more like a weasel than most weasels do. But why now? And what does his sudden fall from grace have to do with the Oil-for-Food scandal? Forbes.com (you may need to register) seems to feel a key factor in the break was the feud between Chalabi and the rest of the Governing Council, and Paul Bremer, Iraq's U.S. civilian administrator, over how to investigate the scandal. Forbes says there's a key difference between the contract Bremer made with Ernst & Young to begin a separate investigation and the one KPMG was asked to undertake on behalf of the Governing Council. That difference, Forbes says, is that the KPMG contract includes recovery of the assets, while Ernst & Young's contract calls only for recommendations on how the money is to be recovered.

Down at the very bottom of this otherwise uninteresting Washington Times editorial is another theory on the cause of Bremer's Oil-for-Food anxiety - he is motivated by concern that public attention to the scandal will undermine support for transferring responsibility for Iraq to the United Nations on June 30. Doesn't ring particularly true to me - Bremer would know perfectly well that what he is doing is bound to focus more, not less attention on the scandal.

There's a dead rat in here somewhere...

Napster has begun a new life as a legitimate, on-line music store. The Guardian sees that as the end of what the Brits might call "the High Street record shop". I see it as the end of having to futz with that Kafkian tamper-proof CD packaging. Whoever invented that should have been put in charge of interrogation at Abu Ghraib. He (or she)'d have cracked every Iraqi in there in less than an hour.

Canadians are among the biggest consumers of coffee in the world — guzzling down 4.5 cups daily on average. They're also among the most obsessive worriers in the world. The only reason that combination doesn't fill Canadian hospitals with ulcer-sufferers is they're probably all too jittery to think too hard about it.

Independent film maker Jim Jarmusch - one of the most talented directors alive - has just released a new feature, Coffee and Cigarettes on DVD. Tom Waits is in it, as is Roberto Benigni (they're both Jarmusch mates, and starred in Down by Law). Johanna Schneller of the Globe and Mail recalls him talking with a Toronto audience after its screening at the International Film Festival there.

She says this new film is like Down by Law, Mystery Train, Night on Earth and others - it grew from a series of shorts and is similarly "loosey-goosey. Nothing much happens. The pleasure lies in eavesdropping on the jittery chat." Jarmusch said he wrote scripts for each segment to suit "the actors I'd tricked into doing it...Some of the finished product stayed close to the script. Some diverged. I like it when they stray."

As Jarmusch said, if you don't see this film, it will be like Don Cornelius said on Soul Train, "You got a hole in your soul."

20 May 2004

Venezuela's former Ambassador to the United Nations, now a visiting scholar at Columbia University, says Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez have forged an alliance that is about as dangerous as they get. The Caribbean, he says, "has become a Bermuda Triangle of security where an unholy alliance of Cuba, Venezuela and that part of Colombia controlled by terrorists and financed by oil and drugs, represents a major threat to international peace and security...Should not the United States and democratic Latin American countries be concerned with the emergence of the Castro-Chavez alliance? The wily, time-tested Cuban political strategist and his pupil are armed today with the huge resources of Venezuelan oil. This new 'special relationship', which replaces the old Soviet-Cuba one, has been forged when there is an enormous potential for unrest in Latin America. Indeed, Chavez has opened wide Venezuela's doors to every type of subversion coming from Cuba or terrorist-controlled areas of Colombia."

Bermuda's really proud of this guy, Shaun Goater, who left Bermuda some years ago to play professional football in Britain for some years, now. There isn't a spoiled or mean bone in his body...he's the pure embodiment of what a good sportsman should be. Manchester City seems to agree.

What enquiring minds most want to know is what this has got to do with this. Get on it, people, there are Pulitzers begging to be won.

American public schools are apparently teaching children that their American history essays must contain a precise number of paragraphs, and other such little lunacies. With a fine sense of outrage, Crispin Sartwell, a political science teacher at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, condemns them roundly.

"Today's educational establishment," he says in the Los Angeles Times, "is making actual illiteracy look good, like an act of humanity and rebellion. Writing, which ought to nurture and give shape to thought, is instead being used to pound it into a powder and then reconstitute it into gruel.

"The thoroughly modern grade-A public-school prose style is not creative or interesting enough even to be wrong. The people who create and enforce the templates are, not to put too fine a point on it, people without understanding or imagination, lobotomized weasels for whom any effort of thought exceeds their strength. I recently read one of the many boilerplate descriptions of how students should write their essays. 'The penultimate sentence," it said, "should restate your basic thesis of the essay.'

"Well, who says? And why?"

What is the British obsession with secret societies all about? They made a terrible fuss about the Freemasons a couple of years ago on the basis of about as many facts as you can fit on the point of a pin. The Freemasons (in the interest of full disclosure, I should say I am not a member) are about as dangerous as the Lions Club, for Heaven's sake. This story about George Bush and John Kerry both being members of Yale's Skull and Bones club was first published a few months back, but failed to light any fires. Now the Guardian seems to be trying again. Skull and Bones is little more than a pack of adolescent pranksters, albeit a little better dressed than most adolescent pranksters. I'd be surprised if the Guardian managed to prove anything except how adolescent the Guardian can be sometimes.

It's unusual to hear from someone who wants to speak against conventional wisdom on what's going on in the Sudan, as does Abd Elghani Awad El Karim, Charge d'Affaires of the Republic of the Sudan in Ottawa, in Canada's Globe and Mail today. There is "a deepening concern in the Sudan," he says, "regarding the use of unhelpful, inflammatory language and the inappropriate and unfair analogy of Darfur to the Rwanda genocide...It is disturbing that a letter addressed to the Prime Minister of Canada fails to mention the horrifying criminal acts of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army and the rebel Equality and Justice Movement, two violent armed groups that have instigated violence in Darfur since 2003."

In Washington, the Washington Times reports that Sudan has been taken off one of Washington's two terrorist watch lists, in recognition of "the significant cooperation the Sudanese have provided against Osama bin Laden's terror network. According to information provided solely to The Washington Times by Sudan's Washington embassy, Khartoum has arrested nearly 600 members of al Qaeda. It also has conducted seven joint operations with the CIA against al Qaeda and affiliated groups in the horn of Africa."

My, my...is this perhaps the start of some sort of campaign?

Elvin Jones, one of the most influential musicians of modern jazz, has died in New Jersey after a long illness. He played with dozens of superb musicians, but is best remembered for his part in John Coltrane's quartet.

A collection of the globe-trotting photographer Rene Burri's best pictures, from Vietnam, Brazil, Cuba, Africa and dozens of other countries, has just been published in the United States by Phaidon Press. Many of the pictures are on display through June 5, along with one of his battered Leicas, at the gallery at Hermes, at Madison Avenue and 62nd Street. A show of the photographs in Paris earlier this year, says the New York Times (you'll need to register) was unexpectedly mobbed, drawing more than 40,000 visitors.

Author George Walden reviews From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East, a new book published this month by scholar Bernard Lewis, in the Telegraph today. He concludes by asking this question: "If a man of Lewis's distinction does not flinch from the phrase 'a clash of civilisations' to describe what we face in the Middle East, unless we are politicians - who have respectable reasons for pretending otherwise - why should we?"

Paul Ehrlich makes false predictions and they are widely believed. The gloomier he is and the faultier he proves to be as a prophet, the more honored he becomes, even in his own country. Ronald Bailey, the science correspondent for Reason magazine recalls (you may need to register to read it) that "in 1971, Mr. Ehrlich told Look magazine: 'When you reach a point where you realize further efforts will be futile, you may as well look after yourself and your friends and enjoy what little time you have left. That point for me is 1972.' What is Greek for 'this is ridiculous'?"

19 May 2004

Jamie Gorelick, the 9/11 Commission member who helped build the 'wall' between intelligence agents and criminal investigators that many feel has hobbled the US fight against terrorist, is "hopelessly conflicted and may even have obstructed the commission from gathering critical facts regarding government policies contributing to September 11." This according to David Bossie, president of Citizens United and former chief investigator for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight. In the Washington Times this morning, Bossie says "Any commission report or recommendations will be totally flawed if the commission does not study the blueprints and construction of the wall, which documents show, took place in 1995 and reveal the fingerprints of Commissioner Jamie Gorelick."

For decades scientists assumed that gravity was gradually slowing the universe's expansion after the Big Bang that formed the universe 13.7 billion years ago in an explosion of unimaginable dimensions. Then, in 1998, researchers showed that about six billion years ago a mysterious 'repulsive force' trumped gravity, re-accelerating the universe. This force has come to be known as dark energy, and subsequent research has indicated that it comprises 75 percent of the cosmos.

Astronomers yesterday announced they've found new evidence that dark energy is causing the universe to expand ever more rapidly, perhaps eventually leading to cosmological 'loneliness', in which galaxies grow so far apart that the heavens will appear empty.

The Big Unit - Randy Johnson, that pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks who looks as long, as taut and as coiled as a real diamondback - threw a perfect game last night, retiring 27 Atlanta Braves hitters one after the other. At 40, he is the oldest pitcher to do such a thing, and he's in pretty rare company, only 17 perfect games have ever been thrown.

I'm glad, though not surprised in the slightest, that someone else thinks the Gilded Rooster of Fibdom is a sleazy little phony. The Telegraph editorialises on the subject this morning. "His target audience of 20-year-old slackers will not hear a word against him, but many American commentators - including Left-wing ones - are embarrassed by the crudity of his rhetoric, the unreliability of his 'facts' and the gulf between his claim to represent blue-collar America and his personal lifestyle." The paper looks forward to seeing the tables turned later this year, when a young film-maker called Mike Wilson will unveil a documentary entitled Michael Moore Hates America, in which the self-proclaimed 'slob in a baseball cap' will find his techniques turned on himself.

In France, they call him the Love Pixie. Even at the age of 80, women queue up outside theatre doors waiting for him to emerge. Emily Bearn of the Telegraph says that Charles Aznavour's boulevardier days may be over, "but he still appears as vital as a cheetah. At times he seems so resonant with energy that I marvel he can endure our 58 minutes sitting still. He still performs regularly, and is about to give one of a series of 24 concerts held to mark his 80th birthday next Saturday (he looks nearer 60). It is only 90 minutes before the curtain rises on an audience of 3,800, which Aznavour, accompanied by a 20-piece orchestra, will entertain for two hours.

"It is a prospect that does not appear to unnerve him: 'I shave, I change my suit, and then I am ready,' he says. 'One of the good things about getting old is that the critics run out of things to criticise. What can they say any more? All my concerts are sold out. I have become a sacred cow.'"

The eastern wall of Jerusalem's Temple Mount is in danger of immediate collapse. If it did, it could bring down other sections of the ancient compound, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Shuka Dorfman said on Tuesday.

The rare public warning, made at a meeting of the Knesset's Interior Committee, came one month after a team of senior Egyptian and Jordanian engineers began to carry out tests to determine the stability of the eastern wall.

Simon Mann was in charge of that group of mercenaries accused of planning to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea by kidnapping or killing the president. He's one of that breed of gentlemen adventurers the British do so well. Once, they led Britain to dominance over much of the globe. Now...well, it's like reading a letter that's been lost in the mail for 50 years.

And while we're on that subject...

The Portuguese government has refused to allow Canadian fisheries inspectors to board that fishing trawler that DFO officials accuse of sinking a mesh net filled with endangered cod and flatfish off the Grand Banks two weeks ago. The Portuguese vessel Brites arrived in her home port of Aveiro on Tuesday and was boarded by investigators from the European Union. But the Portuguese government denied a request from the Canadian government that three DFO inspectors be allowed to participate in the probe of the ship.

Two of the UN's internal audits of the Oil-for-Food programme have been leaked to journalist Tim Wood of Mineweb, a South Africa-based publication that concentrates on mining news. Claudia Rosett of the Wall Street Journal covers one of these documents this morning.

"The report explains," she says, "that 'the Contract had been amended prior to its commencement, which was inappropriate' and recounts that within four days of Cotecna signing its initial lowball contract for $4.87 million, both Oil-for-Food and the UN Procurement Division had authorized 'additional costs' totaling $356,000 worth of equipment.

"The U.N. auditors say this 'contravened the provisions of the Contract', and that Cotecna (not the UN, which was using the Iraqi people's money) should have paid the extra costs. Within a year of the start of Cotecna's services, its contract was further amended to add charges above those initially agreed to, including a hike in the 'per man day fee' to $600 from an initial $499. This higher fee 'was exactly equal to the offer of the second lowest bidder,' say the auditors, adding that the Procurement Division and Oil-for-Food 'should have gone for a fresh bid.'"

Rosett's piece contains a link to stories published by Mineweb.com.

18 May 2004

Dolphins shed their soft, flaky skin every couple of hours. Scientists think that may be the secret of their speed and manoeuverability, and if they're right, could help them design faster, more energy-efficient boats, ocean liners, and submarines.

Here's another look at Wired magazine's NextFest tech expo in San Francisco, taken from the Chronicle this morning. Asimo was there, and danced for the audience.

The International Criminal Court seems to be living up to the predictions of those who, like the United States, thought it would become the political plaything of every nut with an ax to grind from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. A senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation's Davis Institute for International Studies, Jack Spencer, says in this morning's Washington Times that "Essentially, those who don't like the war or U.S. foreign policy goals have a great new forum to accuse the United States and its allies of torturing and killing people as a matter of policy."

American author Edward Abbey was a sometimes park ranger and itinerant fire lookout - a Huck Finn and Henry Thoreau wrapped into one for the era in which America's conservation movement sharpened its teeth. In 21 books, both fiction and nonfiction collections of evocative, ruminative, rollicking personal essays, his cause was wild nature. The wild West. Also, the wildness in each of us that defines our freedom and sustains our humility. His foes were industrialization, dominion, technology, sprawl and greed.

Abbey died 15 years ago, but the clan of Abbey, as his family and friends call themselves, gathers every year to remember Cactus Ed, as he was called. "To know him in person or to know him in his ruminative books is to understand that Abbey's lasting appeal lay as much with his flaws and contradictions as with his bombast and certainties - a man who could devour a bloody steak while lampooning a cattleman, smiling all the while.

In this way, according to the Los Angeles Times, he brought humanism to conservation, and that, along with his lurid, rangy prose, gave pleasure and stirred passions for countless thousands of readers who came to regard Abbey as their personal guide to the outdoors - a lanky, lusty, droll, irrepressible pal with a spade beard who gave off great galvanic sparks of exuberance wherever he traveled. "Us nature mystics got to stick together," Abbey would mumble.

"He really lived a handcrafted life," said one of the clan.

The French Government has admitted what has been obvious to the rest of the world since the Socialists started it in 1997 - the 35-hour work week was bound to have a disastrous effect on the French economy. Smaller businesses in particular have clamoured for help, and last August's heat wave underlined the flaws in the system, people dying of heat-stroke as hospitals struggled to cope with severe staff shortages. The Telegraph says former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's measure was "a typical piece of dirigiste interference in something best left to employers and employees."

It is interesting to note the differences between the way British anti-GM food newspapers like the Independent covered the announcement that the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation had endorsed genetically modified crops, and the way the American newspapers like the Washington Post covered it.

The Independent's lead, for example, was "Genetically modified crops were given a cautious endorsement as a means of solving world hunger by the UN's food agency yesterday, in a move that will prolong the controversy over GM technology."

The Post's was "Genetic engineering and other forms of agricultural biotechnology are benefiting poor farmers in a handful of countries and hold clear promise to alleviate global hunger and help millions of people achieve better lives, according to a new UN report."

The FAO report is here if you want to make up your own mind.

Israeli newspapers and the New York Times are saying this morning that Jordan's King Hussein has provided a rare glimpse into the frustration of non-Palestinian Arabs with Yasser Arafat, by suggesting publicly that he should take "a long look in the mirror" and decide whether to step aside in the interest of his people. The King told reporters on the sidelines of final day of the World Economic Forum in Jordan that Palestinian leaders "need to get their act together" so others could help them. He said there were "three or four elements of leadership that are competing with each other" and that their lack of coordination was costing them.

Could it be that countless devotees ranging from Charles de Gaulle to Ronald Reagan had it right when they planned ahead by keeping a watchful eye on the alignment of the stars? Percy Seymour, former Plymouth University astronomy lecturer, and member of the Royal Astronomical Society argues in a new book, The Scientific Proof of Astrology (not to be confused with his earlier tome of 1997, Scientific Basis of Astrology), that while he does not believe in horoscopes, the movement of the sun, moon and various planets undoubtedly hold an influence over us.

Horlicks, say most of his peers. His theory is "right up there with stuff like crop circles being made by extra-terrestrials," says one of them, Robert Massey, the astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

The disease of British journalism is that within increasingly elastic limits, a journalist is entitled to say pretty much what he or she likes, whether or not it is precisely true, without being subject to any outside sanctions or, perhaps particularly, professional penalties for doing so, says Guardian writer Martin Kettle. Society does get a chance to change things, he says, and "We are at such a moment here in Britain. Or we could be if we tried harder to discuss how our press could be better than it is, and how we might improve it without shackling it.

"What do we really mean by freedom of the press? That anyone can say anything about anyone, however untrue? Or that a society needs trustworthy and reliable information in order to make its decisions? Surely we deserve something better than what we've got. This is a minefield, of course, but it's also a task absolutely worth undertaking. For a start, the government should set up a royal commission on the press. The crisis of democracy is a crisis in journalism, warned Walter Lippmann in the 1920s. Today it is the other way round."

Meantime, despite knowing that the pictures of British mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners were fake, and that the newpaper had been sold a bill of goods by conmen bent on theft, the Mirror's staff is refusing to tell Military Police who they are.

17 May 2004

Newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic are running stories this morning suggesting that US administrator Paul Bremer in Iraq is playing games with the investigation of the UN Oil-for-Food scandal. Iraq's governing council was first off the mark with an investigation, and hired accounting firm KPMG to spearhead it. The New York Times this morning says that Bremer has hired Ernst and Young to do the same thing, and won't release money to pay KPMG.

The Daily Telegraph suggests personal animosity between Bremer and Ahmed Chalabi, one of the nine...sorry, eight rotating presidents of the council is at the bottom of the tug of war. Bremer was said to be unhappy about the leaking of the document that named the 270 people who received payoffs from Iraq.

That Gilded Rooster of the art of fibbing, Michael Moore, is at it again, this time in Cannes. He says "someone connected to the White House" and a "top Republican" put pressure on film companies not to release his new film, the one that suggests a connection between the Bush family and the bin Ladens. Disney, the only film company where pressure might have had any effect, strongly denies there was any.

US Presidential candidate John Kerry is going back on what he said about Benedict Arnold CEOs relocating jobs and companies abroad, the Washington Times says this morning. Or is he? With him, it's often hard to to tell.

Discoveries in the new science of nanotechnology (take a bow up there, Feynmann, you clever bastard, you) are rapidly outrunning the ability of scientists to creatively name what they have discovered. Even insurers have begun to press for some kind of taxonomic order to be imposed on nanotechnology.

"A report released last week by Swiss Re," the Washington Post says this morning, "noted that the daunting task of calculating the potential liabilities of new nanoproducts is made all the more difficult by the lack of a standardized terminology.

"Now scientists are tackling the difficult process of creating one. The effort is young; experts are just now organizing a series of conferences to hammer out a system."

Telegraph columnist Stephen Robinson says there is a danger that British anti-war-in-Iraq sentiment will morph into pro-Europe, single currency sentiment and everything will go to hell in a handbasket.

"For Iraq and for Britain," he says, "it would be a disaster if the Prime Minister were to be forced out of office this summer, and I say this as one who has looked forward to Mr Blair's demise ever since the 'people's princess' peroration of 1997.

"If Mr Blair goes in today's fevered atmosphere, the Labour Party will revert to its reflexive anti-Americanism, and so will much of the electorate. Look at those 'allies of Gordon Brown' marvelling in yesterday's Sunday Times at Mr Cook's 'measured and constructive criticisms over the war'. "Two decades of petty political animosity between the two men have apparently been forgotten, and 'friends of the Chancellor' say Mr Cook can expect a central role in a Brown administration.

"With a Brown government distancing itself from a mission in Iraq that the Conservatives supported, it is easy to see how the campaign for the single currency referendum would be framed in the next parliament. Siding with Washington has proved a disaster, the argument will go, so siding with Europe is the obvious answer."

In the booming art market, Michelangelo represents some kind of Holy Grail. Bits of his work help sell everything from toothpaste to teenage ninja turtles. You might imagine that as the years go by, the chances of finding a long-lost Michelangelo would shrink. Not a bit of it, as the price tag on the world's greatest artists keeps soaring, so, miraculously, more hidden Michelangelo gems keep being discovered. The rate at which Michelangelo finds are turning up - including documents, drawings, and even a candlestick - has gone from one every two years a century ago to two a year on average from 1996 onwards. In the past year, three finds have been attributed to Michelangelo, most recently a small wooden statue of Christ, which went on display at the Horne museum in Florence earlier this month.

The seizure of white-owned farms and their transfer to black ownership, says Zimbabwe's agriculture minister, has been so successful that a huge crop of maize has just been harvested, and Zimbabwe will not need the UN's UN's World Food Programme or other relief agencies. That's the official line. Unofficially, despite decent rain, a shortage of seeds and fertiliser during the planting season has produced a poor to moderate harvest which will run out in months.

There's an election coming up, and human rights groups think President Robert Mugabe is preparing to use hunger as a political weapon. "If independent assessments are correct, the risk is that food will be used for political ends and food supplies will go first and only to supporters of the ruling party," said Amnesty International.

Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal is 95, and said last year he was retiring. But he seems to have changed his mind. He has decided that there remains a little "window of opportunity" - three to five years - in which aging WWII murderers can be caught and dealth with. Wiesenthal's organisation is currently conducting 500 investigations, but its head, Efraim Zuroff, says there are still thousands of war criminals alive in Europe. As most veterans of the war are now in their eighties, the campaign, which is being run in the Baltics, Romania, Poland and Austria, is probably the last chance for successful prosecutions. Those particular countries were chosen, Zuroff says, because they are countries in which Jews were murdered, and where there are still witnesses.

16 May 2004

Little literary magazines seem to be enjoying a bit of a revival on the West Coast. the Chronicle's book critic, David Kipen, says "they're starting to swarm." And he describes one of them, the LA Review, as "the sound of a young region's voice breaking." Think he might be publishing something in one of those little magazines?

Journalist Claudia Rosett is becoming known for her excellent coverage of the UN Oil-for-Food scandal. She writes a column, The Real World, on issues of tyranny and human rights, especially as these relate to the War on Terror, for The Wall Street Journal's www.Opinionjournal.com and The Wall Street Journal Europe. She also contributes to publications like The New York Times, Commentary, The American Spectator and The Weekly Standard. This very thorough round-up of where the story stands appears in Commentary.

She concludes that "The UN, in the name of its own lofty principles, and to its rich emolument, actively helped sustain and protect a tyrant whose brutality and repression were the cause of Iraqi deprivation in the first place. What can this mean? The answer may be simply that, along with its secrecy, its massed cadres of bureaucrats beholden to the favor of the man at the top, its almost complete lack of accountability, external oversight, or the most elementary checks and balances, the UN suffers from an endemic affinity with anti-Western despots, and will turn a blind eye to the devil himself in order to keep them in power."

I suspected the New York Times would do more than publish last week's selection of critics' favourite recordings of the composer Charles Ives during this 50th anniversary week of his death.

This well-done look at his work links him to Cesar Franck. "That is surely why," writes Richard Taruskin, "Ives's special favorite composer was Franck, whose Symphony in D minor was as haunted by Beethoven's Ninth (and his late quartets) as Ives's Concord Sonata was by Beethoven's Fifth. Love of Franck followed in part from Ives's background as an organist: he kept a reproduction of Jeanne Rongier's famous portrait of Franck seated at the organ tacked to the door of his music studio."

A bitter feud involving Loel Guinness, the Anglo-Irish multi-millionaire who owns the Calypso, and Cousteau's widow, Francine, is threatening to send Jacques Cousteau's Calypso to the bottom of the sea for good. A French association has warned that the ship is in imminent danger of sinking and is urging President Jacques Chirac to declare it part of the country's cultural and historical heritage so that it can be saved.

"This is a mythical, magical ship and we have to act quickly to stop it disappearing," said Alain Foret of the French Federation for Underwater Studies and Sports. "It is an unbelievable and terrible situation. Can you imagine anyone letting a Picasso or Modigliani painting rot because nobody can agree on it being restored?"


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
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