...Views from mid-Atlantic
05 June 2004

They've been chosen by chosen by a distinguished panel (funny how they always are, isn't it? Distinguished, I mean) chaired by the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. According to the Independent, they're Britain's next generation of top poets. Can anything be read into the fact that ten of them are male and ten female? A distinguished jury is still out on that.

The publication of the list was apparently timed to coincide with the launch of a website that promises to sell every book of poetry in the English language over the internet. A distinguished jury's still out on that, as well.

"Nostalgic and neophile at the same time, equally in love with Cole Porter and Kraftwerk, George Gershwin and the Velvet Underground, pioneering the concept of retro-futurism. They dressed the part, too (half Brideshead/Gatsby dandy, half Klingon chieftain)." I presume Simon Price of the Guardian is writing about Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music because their new three-CD boxed set, The Platinum Collection is being released in Britain tomorrow. I'm not quite sure how fox-hunting gets involved, but it does...it always does.

It's easy to think, from the way this story has been covered, that Hotmail has lost the email files of all, or many of its customers. But actually, there's only one customer involved. Still, if you store your email with one of these services, you run a risk. If it's lost, chances are you won't get it back, and you have no recourse.

If the world's news media had covered the Second World War in the same way they are covering the occupation of Iraq, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, "they would have been calling General Eisenhower back for Confressional hearings." Speaking to reporters in Singapore before ceremonies to mark the D-Day invasion of France, he said he was hard pressed to explain the disparity between the progress reports he was receiving from his commanders and troops and "the hardships, the ugliness" that appeared in press accounts about the Iraq war.

But weak-kneed nations that tried to make deals with terrorists were repeating the mistakes of the nations that tried to appease Hitler in the 1930's.

And columnist Charles Krauthammer echoed military writer John Keegan's reminder last week (posted here on 2 June) that occupations are always messy. Yes, Iraq is a mess, Krauthammer wrote. "Postwar settlements almost invariably are. Particularly in a country where the removal of a totalitarian dictator leaves a total political vacuum. Of course there are difficulties and dangers ahead, and no guarantee of success. But the transition to Iraqi rule is under way. The first critical step has just been taken."

04 June 2004

Cuba's official state newspaper, Granma, claims the video of Nicholas Berg getting his head cut off by terrorists in Iraq was staged by the CIA. They don't exactly seem to have any evidence of that...but I guess when you're running that kind of a regime, you get out of the habit of bothering with such inconveniences.

Can you imagine getting hit by something the size of Mount Everest, moving at 40 kilometres a second? Sure wouldn't hurt for long.

I imagine that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge saw this coming long before he agreed to award a $10 billion contract to Bermuda-based Accenture to develop a system to collect and share data on foreigners entering the United States, but Democrats have asked him to reconsider anyway. The fact that Accenture pays taxes on all the income generated by its US operations doesn't seem to bother them, neither does the fact that Accenture isn't, as inferred, a US company that moved its HQ out of the country for tax reasons. In fact, says poor Accenture, it was a a series of international partnerships operating through a Swiss entity before it was incorporated in Bermuda. But politicians, like some Cuban journalists, don't like the truth to get in the way of their stories, do they?

Well, here's a clue for those looking for a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. They used the same money-launderers. Investigative journalist Lucy Komisar follows the trail.

No history buff will want to miss this - the Jerusalem Post has published transcipts of the radio transmissions between pilots and ground station during the mistaken 1967 attack on the American spy ship, the USS Liberty. Staffer Arieh O'Sullivan says "The Jerusalem Post was allowed to listen to these tapes on an exclusive basis together with other Air Force historians. There are two tapes, one of the radio transmissions between the pilots and controllers, and the other is of telephone conversations between the chief air controller and regional air controllers. The audiotapes themselves were not released. The following transcript is a mix of the two tapes into one transcript, which explains the time overlaps." Great stuff...worth a read.

Woody Allen was interviewed by fickle fan Fiona Morrow for the Independent this week, and said he thought that about the only thing the young had going for them was their youth. "I never saw American Pie," he said, "I'm sure it's too stupid for words. When I was younger, my generation had no patience or interest in stupid films. "The films we used to get excited about were a new Truffaut film, or a Bergman, or an Antonioni, or De Sica. But kids now - even intelligent kids - they don't know Renoir, they don't know Kurosawa: they're illiterate...It's like being young itself is the only thing they have going for them."

He may have a point - according to a new World Health Organisation study of more than 150,000 young people in 35 countries, they drink too much, smoke too much, feel under massive work pressures and don't even really like each other. The report says Brit kids are among the unhealthiest and unhappiest in the world - the physical and mental health of children in the UK is more like that of poverty-stricken former communist nations, it said, than those of Britain's western European neighbours.

I'm sure it's all that internationalism they get fed. It's not a healthy diet for growing wee intellects.

Scientists who take seriously the warnings of another little ice age being triggered by the shutdown of the Ocean Conveyor currents are to drill into seabed cores off the coast of Norway to test the theory. Cores of seabed sediment will be taken 500 metres (1,640ft) down in an underwater mountain chain called the Lomonosov Ridge, 1,243 miles off Norway. The scientists aim to reconstruct how the Arctic has altered over the past 50 million years.

One of the first to sound the alarm over the slowing of the current was the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where a very cautious page on the scientific underpinning of the theory has been posted since that silly movie came out. I wrote about the phenomenon for Bermuda's daily newspaper about a year and a half ago.

Anne Simpson quoted Russian poet Osip Mandelstam as having said "poetry shakes us awake from the middle of a word" as she was given the $40,000 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize for her work, Loop. Established by entrepreneur Scott Griffin in 2000, the Griffin Poetry Prize is quickly becoming one of the world's most prestigious awards for the oft-neglected art form. This year saw a record-breaking number of entries, with 423 submissions from 15 countries, nearly 100 more books than the previous year.

There's a short bio of Simpson and a sample of her poetry on the Griffin Trust home page.

A group called the Atlantic Salmon Federation says scientific projections show that the number of large salmon returning to North American rivers this year is less than half the minimum needed for conservation.

"Since 1974, we have gone from more than 1.5 million salmon to fewer than 500,000 today," ASF president Bill Taylor said. "Our most pressing concern is the salmon populations from rivers in the Bay of Fundy, the Gulf of Maine and on Nova Scotia's Atlantic coast."

03 June 2004

At last...an invention that's really useful! A revolutionary new antenna technology makes it possible to build a Dick Tracy wrist watch radio with all the gadgets, including internet access! As a result of the work Rob Vincent's doing at the University of Rhode Island, it may soon be possible to cut down the size of antennae by a third to a ninth and it may soon be possible to double, at minimum, the range of walkie-talkies used by police, fire, and other municipal personnel. Naval ships, baby monitors, and portable antennas for military use are other applications. An antenna could be mounted on a chip in a cell phone and be applied to wireless local area networks. Another application deals with radio frequency identification, which is expected someday to replace the barcode system.

I wish NASA had sold shares in Spirit and Opportunity (and I had bought some, of course) because they're now into some heavy bonus time on Mars. Spirit has sighted possibly layered rock in hills just ahead, while Opportunity has extended its arm to pockmarked stones on a crater rim to gather clues of a watery past. What about it, NASA...selling shares in space missions? Remember, that's my idea. I thought of it first. Guess I'd swap it for a NASA badge, or a patch or something, though.

The lead author of an American cancer study, called the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975 to 2001, says progress is being made - death rates from all cancers combined dropped by 1.1 percent annually from 1993 to 2001. He claims the American cancer death rate peaked in 1991, and that from then to 2001, the overall death rate dropped by a total of between 9 and 10 percent. This Washington Times story doesn't deal with why that should have been, but other studies have pointed to improvements in public knowledge about prevention and early treatment as well as improvements in treatment as the main factors.

Some members of the now-dissolved Iraqi Governing Council are claiming that the coalition's administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, has been hindering efforts to investigate the UN Oil-for-Food scandal. Bremer denies it, but US lawmakers are listening to the Iraqis, and asking questions.

There's a new computer worm around - one that collects user logins for things like online banks (the ones which do not use one-time passwords). It also logs everything the user types to any web form - such as credit card numbers and passwords. Symantec has upgraded the level of danger the Korgo phishing worm poses. Of course it poses no danger at all to people who keep their software up to date - Microsoft published an update on April 13 that takes care of Korgo, among other things. If you haven't loaded it up, you're an idiot.

A British local authority, Camden Council, is getting tough with "flyposters" - people who illegally stick up advertising posters on street walls - on every square inch of available surface in some places. If Camden's plan to prosecute three record company executives works, dozens of councils around the country may well follow suit.

Camden estimates that the companies involved save nearly nine million pounds a year in advertising costs through flyposting in its area alone. And it costs Camden's taxpayers around 250,000 pounds a year to take them down.

Critic Robert Hughes says something's wrong - rotten, as he put it - when the super-rich pay $104m for what he calls an immature Rose Period Picasso. That sum, he reminds us, is close to the GNP of some Caribbean or African states. "Such gestures," he said, "do no honour to art: they debase it by making the desire for it pathological. As Picasso's biographer John Richardson said to a reporter on that night of embarrassment at Sotheby's, no painting is worth a hundred million dollars."

He suggests that Britain's Royal Academy should try to act as a counterweight to the "degrading market hysteria we have seen too much of in recent years." Stirring stuff from a man who always stirs with a nice vigour.

The organisers of the venerable Booker Prize for fiction have dealt with calls to open competition up to a wider pool of writers (risking putting British and Commonwealth writers in the shade) using Solomon's classic method - they cut the baby in two. In addition to the classic Booker prize, they're going to offer a new International literary prize for a body of work by any author whose material is available in English. The biannual prize will be worth £60,000 and can be awarded to a living author only.

Everybody seems confident that the Government of Saudi Arabia will mount a very competent defence against the terrorists who have been targeting that country. But it may go a little farther than that - Al Qaeda may have bitten off more than it can chew. The Christian Science Monitor suggests that the attacks inside Saudi Arabia have turned a broad swath of Saudi public opinion against Al Qaeda, creating the conditions for the kingdom to pursue an 'open war' against the group. Until the past year, the kingdom was afraid of inflaming popular sentiment with an all-out campaign, but Al Qaeda operations which have killed Saudis have given the government a freer hand.

Right on cue, the Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar, has published an article titled We Will Lose Our War Against Terror Unless... in the Saudi government daily, Al-Watan. In it, he calls for Jihad against Al Qaeda. "In my opinion, with all due modesty and respect," he writes, "our honorable clerics must call for the ruler to declare Jihad against these deviants, and give him [i.e. the ruler] complete support in this matter, and be determined about it, since whoever keeps silent [and refrains from speaking about] the truth is a mute Satan."

Prince Bandar says the Saudis shouldn't fool around with Al Qaeda. "War means war. It does not mean Boy Scout camp. It is a war that does not mean delicacy, but brutality. This is war that cannot be conducted based on calling those who deviate [from the religion] good people who were careless, but based on [calling them] terrorists and aggressors with whom there can be no compromise."

Radar has come a long way since it was first used in Britain in the 1930s to defend Britain's coastline. Now, armed forces around the world use it for everything from large-scale surveillance to identifying specific threatening objects and guiding strikes on them. Yet the most surprising accomplishment of this military-driven technology may be its steady move into civilian life. People now barely raise an eyebrow when radar calls a fault at tennis tournaments or delivers a more accurate weather forecast, and the best may be yet to come, scientists say.

A UN-backed war crimes court for Sierra Leone is set to begin work today, after more than two years of investigations aimed at bringing to justice the main perpetrators of atrocities committed during the rebel war in that country. The trials will be a test of whether the tribunal, a hybrid of international and local law, will serve as a model for future war crimes courts.

02 June 2004

For the first time ever, an airborne robotic sensor system developed by NASA has tracked a rocket during launch and communicated with its computer without human intervention. The test is considered a breakthrough in a launch technology that might one day lead to aircraft or orbiting satellites controlling space launches. That will trim the cost of launching rockets by reducing the need for cumbersome, ground-based facilities to track and monitor vehicles as they ascend toward space. God, I love these space stories! It's as if Buck Rogers is alive and well again.

Tech Central Station writer Carlos A Ball wonders aloud today why resource-rich Argentina is taking licks in the economic ring from Bermuda, whose resources amount to little more than a dozen beaches. In the real world, he answers himself, "the so-called 'wild capitalism' of Bermuda, with its high respect for property rights, is a lot less savage than the corrupt 'Bolivarian' revolution of President Hugo Chavez, which now embraces almost every evil Simon Bolivar dedicated his life to fight. Everyone who reads newspapers and watches the news on television has heard the names of Hugo Chavez, Lula and Nestor Kirchner, the socialist presidents of Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina. I doubt if you recognize the name Alex Scott, the head of the government of Bermuda, or of Pascal Couchepin, the president of Switzerland. As far as governments are concerned, small is very beautiful."

He's right...small is beautiful. So is smart.

That's a quality the Department of Homeland Security showed when it awarded a contract to build software to track foreigners in the United States to Bermuda-based Accenture, despite a lot of election-year political hand-wringing.

I find it hard to have a lot of sympathy for Benon Sevan, the former head of the UN's Iraq Oil-for-Food programme. Even if he personally behaved in an entirely blameless way (if, I said), he could not have failed to know that he was presiding over one of the sleaziest grab-fests in history. He has been consistent in his denials of wrong-doing until now, sort of. In an email over the weekend to his friends and supporters, he says the Security Council prevented him from effectively administering the programme. I guess that means he acknowledges it was ineffectively administered.

Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and a policy analyst for ABC News, whose excellent book The Future of Freedom was published last year, has noticed something about the administration's Iraq policy the rest of us haven't. Almost every serious mistake it has made has been corrected. That means, he says, that "the grownups have taken control. It might not solve the many problems in Iraq. But it does mark the return of sanity to America's Iraq policy."

Former New York Times editor Howell Raines has said, in an op-ed published in Britain's Guardian newspaper that John Kerry's a weak candidate who stands almost no chance on winning the Presidential election in November. "Kerry has to face the fact," Raines says, "that even though the incumbent looks like Goofy when he smirks, he's going to win unless Kerry comes up with something to say. To stay 'on message', you have to have one."

Were Carlos Castaneda's books about that Yaqui way of knowledge a fake? Course they were. But I'm glad it took us nearly 50 years to find out.

Thirty-four non-governmental organisations in the Arab world have signed a joint statement complaining that the Arab League meeting a few days ago was an exercise in self-serving duplicity. The Middle East Media Research Institute quotes them as having said, among other things, that the references in the League's final meeting statement to the need for accelerated democratic reform in the Middle East was intended to deceive the citizens of the countries involved.

"These past few months," writes John Keegan in the Telegraph, "I have begun to wonder if history is any use at all. Britain and the United States have got into a difficult situation in Iraq and the entire Western media are reacting as if an unprecedented disaster is about to overwhelm their armed forces and governments...It is a regrettable but not wholly to be unexpected outcome of a campaign to overthrow a dangerous Third World dictator.

"If those who show themselves so eager to denounce the American President and the British Prime Minister feel strongly enough on the issue, please will they explain their reasons for wishing that Saddam Hussein should still be in power in Baghdad."

Meantime, blogger Chrenkoff has done a great service for the English-speaking world by providing a translation of an interview by Polish television TVN24 with Marek Edelman, the last surviving military leader of the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. You'll need to scroll down to the piece headed "Every war with fascism is our business".

It is such a strong statement by such a strong man that there is no money graf, as people call it. But here's a representative sample - "If we will keep closing our eyes to evil, then that evil will defeat us tomorrow. Unfortunately there's more hatred in men than love. Those who murder understand only force and nothing else. And the only force that is able to stand against them is the American democracy."

Hillel Halkin, an Israeli author who is also a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and the New York Sun, thinks the West Bank disengagement plan will eventually become a reality - if not during Ariel Sharon's presidency, then after.

Writing in Commentary, he says "Sharon gambled on Likud and lost badly, and the choices now facing him are difficult. But whichever way he moves, and even if he himself does not survive politically, disengagement will not only remain on the Israeli agenda, it will shed the cloak of concealment that has so far prevented an intelligent public discussion of it and be debated on its real merits. Once the West Bank security fence is in place, these will cry out in all their obviousness for the plan's adoption. If Ariel Sharon is not the man to see it through, someone else surely will."

01 June 2004

When Israel bombed Iraq's French-designed nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, there was an almost unanimously outraged reaction from the world's press. But the dissenting opionion expressed then by the Wall Street Journal (you'll need to register) has gradually become the world's consensus. Under the headline "Mourning the Bomb", the Journal's lead editorial began: "An atom bomb for Iraq, we have learned in the past 24 hours, has become the latest great cause celebre of world opiniondom. Various governments, including our own, and a lot of pundits have been busily condemning Israel's raid on Iraq's nuclear reactor. Our own reaction is that it's nice to know that in Israel we have at least one nation left that still lives in the world of reality." The editorial added: "Of course Iraq was building a bomb," and "of course, given the Iraqi reputation for political nuttiness reaffirmed again in its starting a war with Iran, its atom bomb would also have been a danger to all its neighbors. We all ought to get together and send the Israelis a vote of thanks."

The UN-backed war crimes court for Sierra Leone has ruled that former Liberian president Charles Taylor should stand trial for his alleged role in the west African state's decade of rebel war. The decision by the three-judge appeals chamber of the court rejected defense arguments that Taylor was a sitting president when he was indicted and thus immune from prosecution.

"For us, it is a bold step in the fight against injustice not only in Sierra Leone and Liberia but also in the west African region," said human rights activist Aloyisus Toe, who spent nearly a year in jail after being accused by Taylor of being a rebel collaborator. "We think the best thing Mr. Taylor can do is appear before the court and clear his side." I don't think he's going to be holding his breath, though.

"In their relentless campaign against technological innovation, left-wing activists last week came up with a new approach. They're invoking a 24-year old law that would force a drug company to give up its patent on a key medicine and let generic competitors produce the drug." That's despite the company having spent $300 million on developing it.

"If the activists - led by James Love, an associate of Ralph Nader - are successful, they will severely retard the development of new drugs, not to mention other innovations. This is the kind of Luddite nonsense that kills people," say the authors of this Los Angeles Times piece, James K. Glassman, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the co-founder of TechCentralStation.com, and Nick Schulz, editor of Tech CentralStation.com.

Nice there's someone else in the world who understands that Europe's unctious calls for an end to "unfair tax competition" in the world are really an attempt to avoid having to reform their own economies. Richard W. Rahn, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute, writes in the Washington Times this morning that having pulled this trick on offshore financial centres - so-called tax havens - a few years ago, they're now trying to pull it on new members of the EU.

"The former communist countries have greatly reduced tax rates to make themselves internationally competitive," he says. "As a result, they have been growing much faster than most E.U. countries...that is, they have been catching up, which is precisely the goal. The French and Germans, rather than applauding this, are now trying to stop it...Of course, in the real world tax competition is highly desirable, because it forces governments to operate more efficiently and protects both the pocketbooks and the liberties of taxpayers. The argument against tax competition is identical to that made when the inefficient, pricey retail store demands the new discount store raise its prices 'to be fair'."

I ranted at length about this in an article published earlier this year in Bermuda's daily newspaper.

Pakistan's President, General Musharraf, calls in an op-ed published in today's Washington Post for a revitalisation of the Organization of Islamic Conferences in order to roll back Muslim militancy. "We need to infuse new life into it," he sayd, "it is now in a state of near impotence. The OIC must be restructured to meet the challenges of the 21st century, to fulfill the aspirations of the Muslim world and to take us toward emancipation.

"The devastating power of plastic explosives, combined with high-tech remote-controlled devices, as well as a proliferation of suicide bombers, has created a lethal force that is all but impossible to counter. The unfortunate reality is that both the perpetrators of these crimes and most of the people who suffer from them are Muslims. This has caused many non-Muslims to believe wrongly that Islam is a religion of intolerance, militancy and terrorism. It has led increasing numbers of people to link Islam to fundamentalism; fundamentalism to extremism, and extremism to terrorism...

"We need to understand that the root cause of extremism and militancy lies in political injustice, denial and deprivation. Political injustice to a nation or a people, when combined with stark poverty and illiteracy, makes for an explosive mix. It produces an acute sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. A nation suffering from these lethal ills is easily available for the propagation of militancy and the perpetration of extremist, terrorist acts. It is cannon fodder in a war of terrorism."

There's a lot going on in this piece - well worth a read.

The American left has never been able to forgive Allen Weinstein - author of the definitive biography of Alger Hiss, Perjury - for saying, correctly, that Hiss was guilty. Now that he's been nominated for the post of national archivist, they've mobilised against him. "The American people need a better custodian of their history," the Nation magazine editorialized. The Society of American Archivists and the Organization of American Historians are questioning Weinstein's credentials. American University historian Anna K. Nelson told the Washington Post, "This is pretty sneaky."

But according to Jacob Heilbrunn of the Los Angeles Times, it isn't at all. "Far from being an unsuitable candidate," he writes, "Weinstein is vastly more qualified for the job than the current archivist, former Kansas Gov. John Carlin. Weinstein brings a long record of first-rate scholarship and experience running Washington-based organizations, including the Center for Democracy, which helped push for election reform around the world.

"But that's not sufficient for his enemies on the left. Instead, Weinstein has become a target for scholars who despise Bush, and for those who continue to insist that Hiss was never a spy for the Soviet Union and want payback. To undermine Weinstein's credentials, his adversaries have confected a series of charges of sloppy scholarship."

Oh dear, what an admission to have to make! Drake had help when he defeated the Spanish Armada. Jerry Brotton, a lecturer at Royal Holloway College, London, told the Guardian Hay literary festival that a hitherto unnoticed letter from Elizabeth's security chief and spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, to her ambassador in Istanbul showed that it was Turkish naval manoeuvres rather than Drake's swashbuckling which delivered the fatal blow to the Spanish invasion plans. There's no word, though, on whether this will help or hurt Turkey's bid to join the EU.

From her No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana, Mma Precious Ramotswe solves her clients' problems, mostly conditions of dishonored or suspicious hearts, while adhering to courtesies of "old Botswana morality," where reason and conversation are best prefaced with a cup of redbush tea and fruitcake. Not being a pistol-packin' Mma doesn't diminish the acumen of Mma Ramotswe, though. She outwits crooked businessmen, outmaneuvers scandalous cads, and discreetly mollifies hurts and worries.
Her fans are legion. More than 4 million copies of the books about her have been published in English, and translation rights have been sold for 29 languages. So how is it that so authentic a Botswanan voice can be created by a softly-spoken Scotsman who teaches medical law at the University of Edinburgh and plays bassoon for the Really Terrible Orchestra?

31 May 2004

Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may have managed to postpone a decision on his 'withdrawal lite' Gaza plan on Sunday, but he is far from out of the woods. As Haaretz reports this morning, Justice Minister Yosef Lapid is due to meet Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today to try to negotiate a compromise. He may well succeed, because politically, this is an important moment for Netanyahu. As the Jerusalem Post says, he can't afford to be seen to be a leader in the war against disengagement. He doesn't want to be the man who brought down the Israeli Government, he wants to be the man who steps in at the last minute to save the train from coming off the tracks.

Heather MacDonald, who writes for the Manhattan Institute's excellent City Journal, has a knack for finding flawed thinking behind popular ideas. She thinks irrational privacy advocates are tying one arm behind the backs of those trying to fight terror. Writing in the Washington Post this morning, she says "A prestigious advisory panel has just recommended that the Defense Department get permission from a federal court any time it wants to use computer analysis on its own intelligence files. It would be acceptable, according to the panel, for a human agent to pore over millions of intelligence records looking for al Qaeda suspects who share phone numbers, say, and have traveled to terror haunts in South America. But program a computer to make that same search, declares the advisory committee, and judicial approval is needed, because computer analysis of intelligence databanks allegedly violates 'privacy'."

"This nonsensical rule is the latest development in the escalating triumph of privacy advocacy over common sense. Unfortunately, the privacy crusade is jeopardizing national security as well. The privacy advocates' greatest victory to date was in shutting down the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness program. That research was testing whether computers can spot terrorist activity by sifting through reams of electronic data."

When it comes from a skilled pen, alliteration can be quite a useful. But, overused, it's a pain in the neck. Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown University professor whose most recent book analyses language between adult family members, tells the Los Angeles Times this morning that speech works on two levels: meaning and sound.

"The poetics of the meaning level are the metaphors. The poetics of the sound level are the rhythms and the use of repetitions such as alliteration. Artful poetics on the sound level create 'a sense of connection' between the speaker and the listener. The connection you get when you move together in time. It's the reason why dancing or marching or singing together has this emotional payoff that makes everybody feel connected; that happens on a very small level when we talk to each other."

The Times says that one reason we are overloaded with alliteration is that our attention span is so short. An ad pitch must both describe a product and resonate within two seconds. So cheap slogans replace complete sentences.

An EU founder member, France "put its imprint on the construction of Europe during a golden age" in which it enjoyed political, administrative and linguistic influence, a new report says. But since then, it has gained a reputation as the arrogant bad boy of Europe.

The French, the report says, won't obey the rules, don't bother to go to meetings, don't get any work done when they do and, of course, don't like to admit they ever get things wrong. Still, President Jacques Chirac is prepared to admit, in light of the report, that the weight and influence of France at the heart of the EU is "not what it should be."

If the European Union were to accede to a Spanish request to recognise the Catalan, Galician and Basque dialects, it could effectively treble the problems the organisation is already having with translation services. The UK would want Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Cornish and Welsh recognised, and France would contribute Basque, Catalan, Breton, Corsican, Occitan, Norman, Gallo, Champenois and Picard. Appalled, no doubt, by the prospect, France is said to be leading the opposition to allowing regional languages.

Several years ago, British writers reacted with horror to news that the Booker prize was considering making US authors eligible to compete. The fear was that Americans would win every year. But American writer John Updike has told the Brits not to worry - Commonwealth writers have saved them from irrelevance.

For a few African-American women, HBO's series Sex and the City had a profound and wholly unexpected effect: it motivated them to write fiction.

"I loved that show, but when you watched, it was as if the only people in New York living fabulous lives were 30-something-year old white women, and that's a complete fallacy," said Lyah Beth LeFlore, a 34-year old television producer and co-author of Cosmopolitan Girls, a breezy novel about two African-American women in search of love, designer pumps and the perfect martini. "There are a lot of amazing black women living interesting, glamorous lives, and it was time our stories be told." It's the New York Times, so you'll have to register.

30 May 2004

The Australian has republished a Sunday Times story (not available to foreigners from the Times website unless they pay) that contains new information about Ahmed Chalabi and what led to the American and Iraqi raid on his home and office. It is suggested that some of his staff were involved in a scam involving counterfeit money being handed in for exchange to new Iraqi currency notes. The scam was led by Sabah Nouri, described as a "former driver and smuggler with no qualifications", who had been appointed to head an audit committee at the Iraqi finance ministry, which fell under Chalabi's council wing.

When the scam unravelled, says the Sunday Times, "15 arrest warrants were issued, the most prominent name on the list was Aras Habib, Chalabi's security chief, who is now in hiding. The charges included murder, kidnapping, fraud, forgery, extortion and stealing government property."

On the subject of Chalabi himself, the Times says his actions don't suggest the work of a traitor. Rather, they seem to reflect the scrambling of a veteran political operator to cling to whatever coat tail might lift him to power. "Chalabi's confrontation with Washington may even have strengthened his hand in Iraq. He is no longer the neo-con lapdog, parading his dodgy documents up and down Capitol Hill. Instead he is becoming a Shi'ite populist whose appeal will be enhanced by American accusations of treachery. He is beginning to turn into a strongman.

"The key to understanding Chalabi is that he does not work for either Tehran or Washington. He has always worked for himself."

The New York Times ombudsman, Daniel Okrent, takes on the paper's admission last week that it allowed itself to be misled (by Ahmed Chalabi, among others) in its coverage of the Iraq war. He concludes that "the failure was not individual, but institutional."

He thinks the correction written by Times editors did not adequately explain "the journalistic imperatives and practices that led The Times down this unfortunate path." He puts together an interesting list of them, and rebuts Howell Raines's denial that standard operating procedures were put aside before and during the war.

Raines made his denial in the Los Angeles Times. Its columnist Tim Rutten published a piece yesterday in which he said this failure of the Times is worse than those involving reporters Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley. "The reports published in the Times between October 2001 and April 2003 are far more disturbing," he wrote. "Not only do they involve false information circulated as the country struggled to make up its mind about the war, but they involve highly regarded reporters and editors of unquestioned accomplishment operating by the rules at the very heart of the journalistic establishment. Moreover, many of those most deeply enmeshed in this failure - particularly reporter Judith Miller and then-Washington bureau chief Jill Abramson, now one of the Times' two managing editors - remain deeply involved in covering national security issues."

Smelling blood, the sharks of journalism are now circling, like this one at the Guardian in Britain.

I think just about everybody - Guardian, Rutten, Okrent and the Times - is overplaying this issue. People exaggerate and lie to the press every day. Journalists aren't prescient, and a reporter who tries to decide which side is telling the truth and writes the story from that standpoint loses his standing as a journalist and becomes, instead, an advocate. The most basic underlying ethic of journalism is that both sides should be given a fair opportunity to tell their stories. The judging is left to the reader. If a reporter suspects a source is being untruthful, the source's usefulness is diminished, if it isn't ended completely. In the specific case of Chalabi, any suspicion a reporter might have about his truthfulness has to be weighed against the support given him by the American Government. To me, in the circumstances, the only apologising the Times needs to do is for not, at the time, chasing down Chalabi's unreliability.

Why can't NATO troops arrest Radovan Karodzic, the Bosnian Serb mass murderer? There are many obstacles, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, ranging from the ruggedness of the terrain to the fierce loyalty of many locals toward Karadzic. But perhaps the largest obstacle is that the United States and its allies have not dedicated real resources to chasing him down.

"Many of the NATO soldiers - 13,000 troops from 35 countries, down from 60,000 after the war - share no common language, and those few who can speak to soldiers from other countries aren't necessarily inclined to do so. American troops - now just 1, 500, all National Guardsmen, dentists from Ohio and laborers from New York - are not exactly Special Forces quality and tend to stay pretty close to base. Italian and French troops like to live it up and have perhaps gotten too cozy with some locals.

"The Brits are the most enthusiastic about actually doing something. And, given their experience among a hostile, armed population in Northern Ireland, they're the best prepared - and show it through deft use of intelligence and of lightning-fast raids. So far, they have apprehended most of the war criminals - half of the 24 arrests reported by the NATO force to date have been in their zone."

Ba'athist files keep yielding clues that the carnage of 9/11 might not have come as a complete surprise to Saddam Hussein, according to Deroy Murdock, a Scripps Howard columnist and seniot fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Writing in the Washington Times, he reports on research by author Edward Jay Epstein, who believes 9/11 organiser Mohamed Atta met Iraqi intelligence officer Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, in Prague March 1999 and April 21, 2001.

The Wilson Quarterly has just published a long, thoughtful essay by Jed Rubenfeld, the Robert R. Slaughter Professor of Law at Yale University and author of Freedom and Time: A Theory of Constitutional Self-Government on why the United States wants to keep its distance from organisations like the International Criminal Court.

A new report in Britain suggests that the population's hostility to Muslims is so strong that it could trigger riots. The Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, which is chaired by a key government adviser to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, warns that more and more Muslims feel excluded from society and simmering tensions, especially in northern English towns, are in danger of boiling over.

Members of the commission interviewed scores of British Muslims for their report, which will be published this week and will conclude that Britain is 'institutionally Islamophobic'.


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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