...Views from mid-Atlantic
19 June 2004

One of Jamaica's best-known exports to the rest of the world is drug smugglers, who clog jails just about anywhere drugs are used - here in Bermuda, in the United States, in Great Britain and in many other places, no doubt. Many of them have a special reputation for ruthlessness, like Stephen Livingstone, who plotted his next deal at the funeral of one of his couriers, killed when a drug package burst in his stomach. Livingstone, who was jailed for 16 years in Britain yesterday, moved there four years ago and established himself as the biggest drug dealer in the Midlands, conspiring with major players in the US and Caribbean. His specialty was targeting jobless addicts, paying for them to go to the Caribbean and act as mules, swallowing dozens of wraps of cocaine before flying back to the UK, where the drugs were cooked up to make crack cocaine, increasing its street value from 60,000 to 100,000 pounds a kilo.

The difficulty is that once Jamaican nationals like Livingstone finish their prison terms, they must be shipped back to Jamaica, where they add to that country's already considerable existing problems with crime. In order to save money and lessen security problems, these criminals are often released early in order to allow them to be flown back to Jamaica en masse. A plane-load of them came through Bermuda the other night. And according to the Jamaica Observer, they were only a part of the several hundred expected to be flown from the UK, and possibly also from the US, over the next few weeks. This Observer editorial says Jamaica feels overwhelmed by the returnees, and ascribes to the US and Britain "a bloody-mindedness for not, from our perspective, understanding Jamaica's peculiar problems of law enforcement and dumping these people on us."

Nevertheless, the editorial says, Jamaica recognises it has a legal and moral right to take back its own citizens and to face up to its own difficulties with crime, especially violent crime. "There has also to be effective law enforcement, which may require substantial, and difficult, institutional change. But those who implement those changes and take the tough decisions and are in a position to create the consensus on what is to be done, have to be morally capable of leading the process. The change cannot be built on a foundation that is fundamentally corrupt, which is essentially the point that was being made recently by the national security minister, Dr Peter Phillips."

Want to know who the Chinese blame for Iran's failure to cooperate with the IAEA over its nuclear programme? The United States, of course. "One of the main reasons that the Iranian nuclear issue remains unsolved," says the People's Daily, "is that the United States has been pressuring the IAEA to force Tehran to give up it nuclear program through diplomatic means, said analysts. Washington accused Iran of using the nuclear program as a smoke screen for developing nuclear weapons, and urged the IAEA to prove that Iran has violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, so as to pave the way for UN sanctions on the Gulf state...After one year of inspection, the IAEA find no clue to prove that Iran has been developing nuclear weapons."

On the other hand, China is apparently preparing to take up playing cricket, so things can't be all that bad.

Hosing down a riotous crowd with a stream of electricity, shot like water from a hose? Man, that sounds like fun.

Evolution, according to Creationists, "is the dumbest and most dangerous idea in the history of humanity." One of them says "We think dinosaurs were part of the normal Creation and were just big lizards. Noah took some of them on the Ark, probably babies, when the floods came." The reason there are no more left, your average Creationist apparently reckons, is that people killed them because they thought they were dragons. A bunch of these people have taken to amateur archaeology up in South Dakota, armed with screwdrivers, hammers and shaving brushes, in an attempt to prove the bulk of the big lizards perished in the Big Flood around 2300 BC, not millions of years ago.

The British composer Peter Maxwell Davies has written in every genre - orchestral, chamber, opera, music theatre, oratorio, ballet - and in many styles. How can the composer of Worldes Blis also have written the kitschy Mavis in Las Vegas? His Farewell to Stromness, a piano interlude in a revue written to oppose planned uranium mining in the Orkneys, was the fastest-rising piece in Classic FM's Hall of Fame this year - an odd fate for a '60s enfant terrible. Sir Peter was made the Master of the Queen's Music this year. Three of his works will also be played at a Prom to celebrate his 70th birthday on September 8.

18 June 2004

In the wake of a William Safire column about the UN oil-for-food scandal, Kofi Annan's doing a little bobbing and weaving. Safire's column is here. If you think the Secretary General answered the points he made adequately, better ring for an ambulance.

Vaclav Havel, once President of the Czech Republic, says it's about time the world did something about North Korea. In the Washington Post, he writes: "The testimony of thousands of North Korean refugees who have survived the miserable journey through Communist China to free South Korea tells of the criminal nature of the North Korean dictatorship. Accounts of repression are supported and verified by modern satellite images, and they clearly illustrate that North Korea has a functioning system of concentration camps. The kwan-li-so, or 'political penal labor colony,' holds as many as 200,000 prisoners who are barely surviving day to day, or are dying in the same conditions as the millions of prisoners in the Soviet gulag system did."

Hurricanes were not sent, apparently, just to get the goats of those of us who live in or near Hurricane Alley. They trigger, apparently, a spectacular bloom of marine plants. This burst of phytoplankton is caused as the hurricanes stir up deeper layers of the ocean, bringing much-needed nutrients to the surface where the microscopic plants live. Phytoplankton are important because they can soak up huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air immediately over the sea surface and deposit this carbon deep within the ocean where it can stay for thousands of years. But will we get respect for playing this key role in solving the global warming crisis? Hah!

Yasser Arafat sat down with Haaretz a few days ago to talk about the Middle East. They've published the results of their interview this morning. "Arafat is ready to sign an agreement," Haaretz says, "that would give Palestinians 97 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza - with the rest in a land swap, and the right of return of not all, but at least some refugees. In a free-ranging interview with Haaretz, conducted in the carefully preserved ruins of the Muqata, the PA Chairman also spoke of the historical family bonds between the two peoples." Uh-huh. It's worth reading whether you believe him or not.

If you run an arts organisation, it's no longer a question of just getting the show on the road. The Guardian's art critic, Charlotte Higgins says that nowadays, you have to be architecture whizz, project manager, marketing guru, fundraising schmoozer and champion form-filler." It's the same all over the shop, I'd say. Somebody made form-filling trumps when the rest of us weren't looking.

The Guardian this morning has published short pen-portraits of some of the British football hooligans who were deported from Portugal for violence in the Algarve overnight on Tuesday/Wednesday, after Britain's defeat by France They are not the brainless thugs one might expect.

Still, says the Telegraph, when it comes to social interaction, the Young British Male is a Neanderthal. "The YBM is spectacularly badly equipped for the gentle enjoyment of an evening out: spooked by the hushed atmosphere of restaurants and the idea of sitting down and taking time over meals, terrified of the opposite sex, he is only comfortable drinking heavily, standing up, in the massed company of other YBMs. Incapable of civilised talk, the YBM takes refuge in abusive chants and displays of mock aggression to his fellows which, if given the chance, mutate into real aggression."

Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun won the world's richest literary prize for a single work of fiction on Thursday for his novel This Blinding Absence of Light. Canadian author Rohinton Mistry was among 10 finalists for the 2004 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his latest novel, Family Matters. This Blinding Absence of Light was a critically acclaimed best seller when it was published in France, where Ben Jelloun lives.

The Wall Street Journal (you'll need to register) says the latest staff reports from the 9/11 Commission are "far more interesting than media coverage has so far suggested," a way of putting it which suggests the US may not be so behindhand with understatement as was previously thought.
For example, it says, those who take the trouble to read them will "discover new details about the links between al Qaeda and Iran. The conventional wisdom has been that these Shiite and Sunni cultures couldn't meet, but the report says they did so 'to cooperate against a common enemy' - the infidel US." You can read the staff reports for yourself, unfiltered, at this website.

The Washington Times is a little less laid back than the Journal about the skewed coverage. It charges this morning that the staff reports are "being exploited by administration critics in an effort to falsely depict the Bush administration as fabricating one critical component of the case for driving Saddam Hussein from power."

DEBKAfile suggests that the intelligence community, too, is upset, though with the staff reports themselves. They say the Commission has allowed itself to be the vehicle for "a cynical attempt to link Sharon, Israel and the Jews to the September 11 atrocities. Sharon is suddenly being blamed not only for the Palestinian uprising - which was planned years before he visited Temple Mount - but is also being dragged into focus in relation to al Qaeda's attacks on America."

They make, according to DEBKAfile, an interesting allegation. The Commission's information came from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is now in US custody after being captured in Karachi. "Many senior counter-terror officials, some of whom have had access to Shaikh Mohammed and other top captured al Qaeda operatives, have long come to the conclusion that he and others let themselves be seized for the sake of advancing a wider al Qaeda disinformation plot. Their mission is to plant red herrings in the path of US intelligence and lead its investigators away from the organization's real operations, especially during reorganizations of the group's command structure and terror networks.

"This is how it is managed. The designated sacrifice is discovered after tip-offs lead pursuers to his hideout. Under questioning, he spills the tales he has been briefed to reveal - usually about past operations - and withholds anything of real value about al Qaeda's current activities. His interrogation is meant to divert US intelligence from noticing preparations for the terrorist organization's next moves. Being thrown to the Americans for such missions is just as much an honor as dying in combat or a suicide terrorist attack.

"Khalid Shaikh Mohammed should have been expected, say the experts, to throw sand in American eyes. Instead, he found a way to link Sharon to the 9/11 attacks and get the link accepted in an official report - just as his masters in their broadcast tapes matter-of-factly tie Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kashmir, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Spain into a single package. This tie-in fits the gospel drummed into every al Qaeda member, from the chiefs to the lowliest courier, that the two enemies of Islam are the Crusaders and the Jews."

17 June 2004

The American House of Representatives has backed away from a measure barring the Department of Homeland Security from proceeding with a multibillion-dollar contract won by an Illinois partnership whose parent is the Bermuda-based firm, Accenture Limited. This is a later Chicago Tribune (you'll need to register) story that corrects errors in widely-published earlier versions.

The UN is failing to uphold the principles set forth in its Charter, according to Brett D. Schaefer, Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation. He delivered these remarks at a conference sponsored by the US Department of State entitled UN Reform: Forging a Common Understanding. Consider, he said, the following points:

"As for preventing war, there have been nearly 300 wars since 1945 and over 22 million deaths resulting from these wars. The UN has authorised military action to counter aggression just twice: North Korea's invasion of South Korea and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

"The most urgent threat to international peace and security today is terrorism. Yet the UN cannot even agree upon a definition for terrorism - in large part because it counts terror-sponsoring states among its membership.

"The UN counts the world's leading human rights violators and repressive governments among its membership. Worse, those members are disproportionately represented among the 53 countries elected to the UN Commission on Human Rights - with Libya serving as chairman last year. I doubt the billions suffering from human rights abuses are comforted by UN efforts in this regard.

"Equal rights for men and women are not observed among many UN members, particularly among Muslim nations.

"As for advancing social progress, individual freedom, and the rule of law and improving living standards, Freedom House reports that a majority of UN members are not politically free and The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal revealed similar results among the UN members in terms of economic freedom."

Teams of scientists in the United States and Austria have for the first time made properties called quantum states jump from one atom to another without using any physical link. How far behind can teleporters be?

Justice Clarence Thomas of the US Supreme Court turns out to be a man who thinks outside the box. His latest challenge to conventional wisdom came this week in the Pledge of Allegiance case, when he argued that the Constitution protected a state's right to recognize an official church, contrary to conventional wisdom. This isn't the first time he's tried to turn standard thinking on its head when it comes to understanding key parts of the U.S. Constitution. He has done that by focusing on the words and history of the document as it was written in 1787.

The left-wing poet Pablo Neruda and the country of his birth, Chile, had a rocky relationship for most of his life. He wanted, for example, to be buried on Isla Negra, an island off the country's coast. Instead, when he died of cancer two weeks after the coup against his friend Salvador Allende in 1973, he was hastily buried in Santiago, in a ceremony which was surrounded by General Augusto Pinochet's troops. Things are changing, though, and Chile has decided to honour his burial wishes. "There used to be a tendency to decaffeinate Neruda, to take away his political edge and just leave the poet who wrote about nature and love," says Jose Miguel Varas, a friend of Neruda's. "Now we have gotten beyond that. We have come to appreciate the entirety of his character. Like any human being, he had his contradictions."

On July 12, according to the Los Angeles Times, "Chile will commemorate the centennial of Neruda's birth. Cities and towns up and down the length of Chile are caught up in Neruda fever, each rushing to hold commemorative acts. In Isla Negra, children will parade, passing ships will sound their horns, and poetry will fall from the sky."

Restless leg syndrome affects two million Britons alone, yet sufferers believe there is no cure and don't bother complaining to a doctor about it, according to a new survey. It is a cruel and very common cause of sleep disruption about which little, apparently, is known.

The British bustard - a Christmas dinner treat for centuries - was hunted to extinction in the 19th Century. But with a little help from Russia, they're being re-introduced. The chicks will undergo 'predator awareness training', including the use of a tame fox and exposure to humans, before being released into the wild. Birds that fail to exhibit fear will be squirted with water pistols or blasts of compressed air.

There is much handwringing in Israel over the fact that Ariel Sharon was not only just innocent enough to escape bribery charges, but that he was completely innocent, and probably should never have been targeted by the authorities in the first place. In the Jerusalem Post, Larry Derfner apologises for having been led up the garden path: "Everybody expected Attorney General Meni Mazuz to announce that he didn't have enough evidence to prove Ariel Sharon guilty of bribery. Instead, Mazuz revealed that he has tons of evidence showing that there never was any bribery in the first place.

"Here I want to apologize for having written that Sharon was a crook and that he should be indicted. I was wrong, I contributed to the damage, and the only excuse I have is that I believed what I read in the newspapers - for years on end - about this case. In all that time, in all the millions of words written and broadcast about the affair, nobody to my knowledge ever hinted at the crucial revelation presented by Mazuz - that Gilad Sharon worked his butt off for the money he got from David Appel."

DEBKAfile suggests there is consternation in Israel's political and legal community especially, because of the harsh and highly unusual criticism Attorney-General Manny Mazuz leveled against the way the case was handled by former state prosecutor-turned-high court justice Edna Arbel. In particular, he blasted her insistence on an indictment although the case was too weak on evidence to hope for a conviction. There have been calls for her removal from the bench, and at least one call for her to be prosecuted on a criminal charge of conspiring to incriminate a prime minister.

16 June 2004

There is quite a lot of news out and about this morning concerning the UN's Oil-for-Food scandal. In this New York Post piece, it is suggested that the diplomat in charge of rooting out corruption in the world body is himself facing allegiations about unethical conduct. Dileep Nair, the undersecretary general in charge of the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight, has apparently been accused of demanding kickbacks and sexual favors in return for promotions inside his office. Nair, a native of Singapore, also has been accused of attempting to thwart the probe into the Iraq oil-for-food scandal, although his role in that probe remains unclear.

The Globe and Mail is reporting that Canada's former top spy has joined Paul Volcker's probe of the Oil-for-Food program in Iraq.

ZWNEWS in Zimbabwe has reprinted a London Sunday Times (I don't link directly to them because they charge foreigners for reading their stories, which seems wrong to me) story that says Kojo Annan, the son of the secretary-general, is to be investigated over his alleged role in a company that negotiated to sell millions of barrels of Iraqi oil under the discredited UN oil-for-food scheme.

And Claudia Rosett of the Wall Street Journal continues her fine coverage of this story with a stunning revalation. "Kofi Annan has announced that he is 'entirely disgusted' with the way the U.N. investigates itself. 'It's a way of deflecting criticism, not solving problems,' said Mr. Annan, adding that 'The U.N. Secretariat has become a secret society, swathed in privilege and shielded by immunities.'" She's just kidding. But she has come around to thinking that "in the matter of reforming the UN, the only thing worse than having the U.N. ignore a problem is to have the UN investigate it."

"What we're seeing is a full court press of intimidation by the government of Iran and its delegation here,' the US ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Kenneth Brill told reporters there this morning. He was commenting on Iran's reaction to the International Atomic Energy Agency's draft resolution deploring Iran's bluster over its atomic energy programme. "People who are trying to produce electricity for lightbulbs don't engage in this kind of behavior," he said, according to Reuters.

The Washington Times says that when it comes to displaying a calculated contempt for the United States, Europe and the IAEA over nuclear weapons development, the mullahcrats in Tehran are in a class with the Pyongyang Stalinists.

It's Ulysses day - James Joyce's extraordinary book was written about events that took place 100 years ago, on June 16, 1904. All over the web, there are articles discussing the importance of the book, the genius of its author, and the type of offence you commit by failing to read it. Edna O'Brien, herself the author of 19 books, including a biography of Joyce, wrote something for the Guardian that is excerpted in the Los Angeles Times this morning. "What matters about Joyce," she says, "and what mattered to Joyce were the words, and that mysterious transaction by which a universe is created, his universe, real and mythic, ravishing and unshakeable and, like the galaxies, showing no sign of diminishment." That about covers it, I think.

Sarah Sands, writing this morning in the Telegraph, reflects on what Brits can learn from Yanks, which makes a nice change from all those preachy little stories in the British press about what low Yanks can learn from the superior ethics of the Brits. She concludes that "In a way, England is an old family firm that just needs shaking up."

Cardinal Fang notwithstanding, the Inquisition wasn't nearly as bad as it was cracked up to be. According to Professor Agostino Borromeo, an historian of Catholicism at the Sapienza University in Rome and curator of a 783-page volume released yesterday, only 1% of the 125,000 people tried by church tribunals as suspected heretics in Spain were executed. Experts told journalists at the Vatican yesterday that many of the thousands of executions conventionally attributed to the church were in fact carried out by non-church tribunals. Some good may come of this little revision. If the executions and the torture can be set aside, the monstrosity of seizing and trying people for having beliefs contrary to those of the Church, or for reading books about or teaching non-Catholic beliefs stands in a more pronounced relief, and serves as a kind of contemporary ethical signpost, no?

Julian Cope is an expert on stone circles, like Stonehenge. There are, he says, tens of thousands of them. "The sacred landscape is everywhere," he says. "Britain's ancientness shocks me. It's all there, just below the surface." Beyond his expertise, though, he's one of those eccentrics that Britain makes so well.

John Vidal of the Guardian reports that Cope "was the lead singer of post-punk indie band, The Teardrop Explodes, who shone brilliantly for a couple of amphetamine-fuelled years in the early 1980s. He became a cult solo rocker, and author of two critically-acclaimed volumes of autobiography. He may, too, be the only bona fide antiquarian researcher to have performed on Top of the Pops while on acid, and to have posed naked (for an album cover) beneath the shell of a giant turtle.

"More recently, he gave two talks at the British Museum about the norse divinity Odin - an occasion noted for his appearance in five-inch platform shoes and the fact that his hairspray forced the evacuation of the building after setting off fire alarms."

The port of Nanjing in China was home to Zheng He, a Muslim admiral in the early 1400s, who crossed the oceans on seven long voyages of adventure. He inspired the Sinbad-the-Sailor stories, repeatedly joureying to ports in the Persian Gulf, where he made a big impression as an adventurous and exotic leader. His fleet might have contained as many as 317 ships and over 27,000 men. One writer, retired British naval officer Gavin Menzies, has speculated that in 1421 Zheng reached America before Columbus.

Bacardi Ltd. normally doesn't release its annual report to the public. But it is considering a public offering, so I guess it has to prepare the public by giving them knowledge of the company's figures. One way or another, copies of its annual report for the last year have ended up in the hands of a couple of newspapers this morning. The Miami Herald is one of them, and reports the Bermuda-based company suffered a 20 percent drop in net earnings last year due to declining sales of Bacardi Breezers and other ready-to-drink beverages plus a series of onetime charges.

Bacardi's bottom-line results for the fiscal year ending March 31 would have been worse if it had not been for the financial benefit the company received from the strong value of the euro against the dollar and the sale of two noncore brands.

15 June 2004

In Britain, says Euro-sceptic Mark Steyn, the 'lunatic fringe' of political parties - the UKIP, the BNP, the Greens, Respect and others - won 40% of the vote in the European Parliament election over the weekend. "The so-called looniest of the lunatics, UKIP and BNP, pulled 32.6 per cent," he points out. "Between them, Labour and the Lib Dems got 33.9 per cent. What, other than the blinkers of the media-political Westminster village, makes 32.6 per cent the fringe and 33.9 per cent the mainstream?

"Indeed, the real problem in Britain would seem to be a lunatic mainstream, set on a course of profound change for which there is no popular mandate whatsoever. In that sense, what happened last week was not a Little Englander spasm but, alas, quintessentially European."

Why, oh why doesn't anyone like us, the European Union is asking itself this morning. Ben Bot, the Dutch foreign minister, called the unprecedentedly low 45% turnout over four days of voting a "disaster" and demanded urgent action to "sell" Europe better. It's hard, though, to spin a bunch of grey bureaucrats with talent for little except writing ridiculously long-winded documents full of ridiculously petty rules and, who could forget, spending ridiculously large sums of money on themselves.

The 10,000-pound British Aventis Prizes for Science book award was awarded last night to Bill Bryson, an American travel writer with almost no background in science. His book, A Short History of Nearly Everything has also been shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize, Britain's most valuable non-fiction prize, which will be awarded at a ceremony tonight. Bryson, who has no background whatever in science, is in pretty high-powered company. Previous Aventis winners include Prof Stephen Hawking, Sir Roger Penrose, the black hole theorist, and Prof Steve Jones, the Telegraph science page columnist.

Britain's antique trade is in the middle of a very rocky patch, indeed - the victim of a new clientele with a taste for shiny things.

The man known as the King of the Alps has died in Switzerland, aged 103. He was a mountaineering guide, who made his last ascent of the Matterhorn at the age of 90, and didn't retire until he was 95. He had climbed the Matterhorn alone 370 times during his life, and couldn't understand why his family vetoed his plans to climb Mt Kilimanjaro at the age of 92.

This piece in The Scientist adds a great deal of detail to a story I linked to the other day, concerning bogus scientific research that purported to prove the power of prayer. The research was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, which has now removed the study from its website and isn't answering calls from the media. Two of the three scientists involved were members of the staff of Columbia University in New York at the time. The dean of the faculty of Medicine at Columbia says the university is conducting an incestigation. If the committee finds that portions of the study were fabricated, the dean says, he will decide on an appropriate penalty for the researchers involved, which could range from a full retraction of the article to requesting resignation - a step he characterises as "drastic"...

MEMRI - the Middle East Media Research Institute - has published excerpts from an interview with the commander of the Al Qaeda unit responsible for the attacks at Khobar in Saudi Arabia at the end of May. The interview was published in the Al-Qa'ida-linked journal Sawt Al-Jihad. It doesn't make pleasant reading: "We found a Swedish infidel. Brother Nimr cut off his head, and put it at the gate [of the building] so that it would be seen by all those entering and exiting. We continued in the search for the infidels, and we slit the throats of those we found among them. At the same time, we heard the sound of the patrols and the gathering [of the security personnel] outside. These cowards did not dare to enter. About 45 minutes or an hour had passed since the beginning of the operation.

"We began to comb the site looking for infidels. We found Philipino Christians. We cut their throats and dedicated them to our brothers the Mujahideen in the Philippines. [Likewise], we found Hindu engineers and we cut their throats too, Allah be praised. That same day, we purged Muhammad's land of many Christians and polytheists. Afterwards, we turned to the hotel. We entered and found a restaurant, where we ate breakfast and rested a while. Then we went up to the next floor, found several Hindu dogs, and cut their throats."

According to this character, the group shot their way through the Saudi troops who surrounded them.

14 June 2004

William Safire says Paul Volcker, the man heading up the official UN probe into the Oil-for-Food scandal, is having trouble putting together an investigative team. The names he first thought of declined to sit on his group. The columnist says "A U.N. official tells me the Volcker committee's first choices were turned off not just by lack of subpoena or oath-requiring powers - which Volcker considers 'not fatal' - but by an inadequate budget to dig into the largest financial rip-off in history. As a result, after nearly three months, a foot-dragging bureaucracy has successfully frustrated the independent committee dependent on it.

"Some people have indicated eagerness to show us what they have," Safire says he was told, "but we haven't had the staff, the office space, the administrative structure. I haven't even had a press person."

Radical environmental groups like ELF cause a lot of very photogenic destruction, like burning SUVs, but in the end, that kind of notoriety is bound to work against them. "Their goal is to try to maintain this Robin Hood mystique about them. They're not Robin Hood. They are very destructive, and it's just a matter of time before someone dies as a result of their acts," one American lawmaker says, leaving out the part where they all rot in jail as well.

The kind of strategy adopted by global warming activists is perfectly legal...even in some ways commendable...and much more dangerous. The sort of pressure they are bringing to bear is not the usual one of forcing corporate managements to cave in under the threat of bad publicity. Instead, the activists become shareholders of publicly owned companies, attempting to steer corporate policy under the guise of being corporate owners. It is the same sort of tactic they have taken to using internationally, in groups like the World Trade Organisation. Having won a seat at the table as observers, they use that position to urge their own agenda on the delegates. They may well have been responsible for derailing last year's Cancun agenda, for example.

At first glance, Bob Quine was an unlikely punk. A nephew of the philosopher W V Quine, he was a tax lawyer until his mid-thirties, by which time he was already nearly bald. Even at the height of his success, he took to the stage in a well-ironed shirt and black sports jacket, his only concession to attitude being the wearing of sunglasses. But when he died in New York a few days ago, aged 61, he was acknowledged to be one of the most original and formidably talented guitarists in rock music.

The Saudis, says William Dalrymple, created the very monster that is now trying to devour them. They now dominate as much as 95% of Arabic language media; 80% of mosques in the US are controlled by Wahhabi imams. "While limiting radical Islam at home, the Saudis have promoted it abroad, principally by funding hardcore Wahhabi and Salafi schools in the Muslim world, most concertedly in Afghanistan, Kurdistan and Pakistan. In Pakistan, a recent interior ministry report revealed that there are now 6,607 madrasas, up from 245 at the time of independence in 1947. The great majority are built with Saudi funds and it was in these madrasas that the Taliban were trained...

"A direct result of this Saudi influence is that many Muslims have been taught a story of Islamic tradition from which Sufism is rigorously excluded, which justifies violence and which breeds a strong antipathy towards non-Muslims."

"The new interim government in Iraq," says Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, "will have to consider how it defines Iraq's identity. And it will be surprising if it does not turn, as every other government in the Middle East has turned, to historical precedents to define the wished-for future. There is nowhere better to survey those precedents than the British Museum.

"What is most striking is the astonishing continuity of creative energy. The great achievements of Sumeria, Babylon and Assyria follow each other over thousands of years and encompass the whole country, from south to north, crossing the modern religious divides. Like the Islamic and Ottoman works that follow, they show how quickly this region surmounts destruction and reasserts its cultural traditions."

A few years ago, the New York Times carried a full-page advertisement (can't remember on whose behalf it was placed) which asked the question "If extra-terrestrials are smart enough to travel around in space, how come they keep kidnapping the dumbest people on earth?", or words to that effect. Good question. On the whole we must be getting smarter, though, because as the Guardian reports today, we just aren't seeing little green men as we used to. A member of Skeptics, a London association that analyses the paranormal, sees it this way: "Yes, there may have been a drop off in ghosts and monsters, but there's been a huge upsurge in conspiracy theories; people are more paranoid and wary than ever." I'm thinking Michael Moore, here...and I'm thinking kidnapping by extra-terrestrials would have been a very satisfactory event, indeed.

As predicted, the anti-EU UK Independence Party had a big day in European Parliament Elections yesterday, at the expense of the Conservative Party and Labour, both of which lost support. Labour was not, as some thought they might be, pushed into third place. The Liberal Democrats did gain support, but not enough to get them that far ahead. The Conservatives still topped the poll in Britain, but Michael Howard will almost certainly have to harden his party's fence-sitting stance on Europe in order to make up the loss in support this election represents.

One of the individuals defeated yesterday was George Galloway, Saddam Hussein's friend, whose anti-war party Respect did not manage to gain a seat. True to form, Galloway went down snarling.

Astronomy theorists have been saying for decades that it should happen, but not until yesterday, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, were scientists able to report direct proof that when a giant star explodes, super-dense black holes or neutron stars form.

Combining data from a variety of radio telescopes, Canadian and American astronomers have found the bright burst of radio signals previously associated with black holes and neutron stars coming from the middle of Supernova 1986 J. The supernova is the remains of a star 30 million light years away, which was an estimated 20 to 25 times the size of our sun.

Recently-discovered journals written by two former slaves have sparked great interest in the academic world, because they help answer the question of whether Lincoln emancipated slaves, or whether they were already emancipating themselves as the Civil War raged. The handwritten autobiography of John Washington, who was in charge of a hotel tavern, and of another narrative written by a former Alabama slave named Wallace Turnage, are described in the New York as "altogether remarkable." Yale historian Dr. David W Blight plans to publish the newly discovered narratives together, along with his research into the lives of their unsung authors.

13 June 2004

Al Qaeda has built a thriving support network among Italians and is busily collecting funds from left-wing militants to buy arms that are being used to kill Americans and other allied troops in Iraq, the Washington Times says this morning, quoting news reports and a high-level intelligence official.

It doesn't take a great leap to make a connection between that report and this one, written by blogger Michael J. Totten for Tech Central Station.

"Over the past two and a half years," he writes, "Berkeley, California has added radical Middle Eastern politics to its chic campus culture. The result isn't pretty. A city that prides itself on tolerance and diversity is fast-becoming an epicenter of hate. A recent article called The Berkeley Intifada in the East Bay Express is an eye-opener for those who think Berkeley is still what it was. Violently anti-Semitic vandalism and graffiti is making a comeback. 'It's the Jews, stupid,' was scratched into a 9/11 memorial." Such a charming lot they are, in that part of the left.

An independent investigation of the United Nations' controversial Iraq oil-for-food program is to releasing an interim report this summer that is expected to focus on UN staff involvement in the program. The full report of the investigation, led by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, will take much longer, perhaps as long as a year, according to this story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (you'll need to have registered to read it).

Volcker has said the committee does not intend to publicly discuss its findings as the probe progresses. He is particularly concerned about securing access to documents related to contracts and payments, noting that he did not want to "promote an eight-ring circus."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government for approving the Gaza disengagement plan, and has offered the UN's help in making the plan work. He said the Israeli decision was brave and likely to push the region forward. Javier Solana, foreign affairs head of the European Union, made a similar call.

But while there has been some success on this front in the Middle East, there was little at the G-8 Summit, where opposition to calls for reform seemed to water down an anticipated statement on the region. "President Bush had invited to Sea Island a number of Arab leaders," the Washington Times said, "including Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the kingdom's de facto ruler. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are among countries with the greatest need for reform. Both stayed away, fearing they would be forced to accept change they would later regret. Mr. Mubarak and Prince Abdullah have now formed, what Arab television al-Jazeera calls "an Arab front against President Bush's initiative for reform." Ironically, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the closest U.S. allies in the region.

The name Plum Warner probably means nothing to North Americans, but in Britain and the West Indies, he is a legendary cricketer and writer about cricket. He died 50 years ago, and played his last match nearly a century ago, but his granddaughter, the well-known author Marina Warner, brings him back to life in this Guardian article, published to mark the publication of a centenary edition of Plum Warner's classic book, How We Recovered the Ashes.

She writes: "Plum was an exotic, too. He had come from far away, from the Caribbean, where he was born to an English family that had been there since the early days of colonial settlement. In the French islands of the archipelago and in the former Spanish territories, such families are creoles, and see themselves as part of a local, complex, multifarious culture. By contrast, this is a designation the British never adopted in their empire; home remained England, in their imaginations they saw themselves as belonging nowhere else. Nevertheless, for all his perfect English-gentleman mien, Plum was born in Trinidad with a Spanish mother called Rosa Cadiz, educated in Barbados first, and later at Rugby and Oxford."

The New York Times ombudsman, Daniel Okrent, tackles anonymous sources in an article published today (you'll need to have registered to read it). It is, for newspapers big and small, one of the most difficult ethical problems, and is faced day in and day out. Okrent doesn't get very far with it, but raising the issue publicly in the way he does always has a good effect on public understanding of what a problem it is, and helps journalists remember that anonymity should be allowed in news stories as sparingly as possible. Okrent says he's going to be writing more on the subject.


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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Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
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Kesher Talk
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