...Views from mid-Atlantic
26 June 2004

Tests on the painting called the Mandylion, revered as a miraculous imprinted image of Christ, have revealed it to have been made in the 13th century. There are several early versions of the image, but the one in Genoa is the first to have been subjected to a thorough scientific examination.

From a writer's standpoint, this is a very odd piece done for the Washington Post by the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, and the European commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten. It was written to be published on the day of President Bush's meeting with European leaders. It is in two parts - the first a confident recitation of European complaints about American behaviour over Iraq, then a very abrupt bridge into a second part, which is a distinctly unconfident skitter over what needs to be done in the future, ending with the obligatory piece of sugary crap that always ends statements like this - "We hope, then, that the meeting we will have with President Bush today...will be an opportunity to demonstrate that, whatever differences we may have had, for the future we are united in a common resolve to work together, side by side as true partners to see the emergence of a pluralist, democratic Iraq, at peace with itself and its neighbors, playing a full role in the international community." I say it it is an odd statement because I'm surprised that the staffs of these two men would allow something quite so transparently unpolished to get into print, especially in one of the world's leading newspapers.

Both of these men are soon leaving their offices, Romano Prodi at the end of his term, Chris Patten, who wanted to succeed him, because he became a political casuality of the Chirac-Blair arguments over the European Constitution. Patten often seems to use reason and intelligence to paper over an emotionally tempestuous nature, and I wonder if his reaction to being ruled out of the running to lead Europe might have had something to do with this statement's odd-ness. This statement was almost certainly an occasion when his emotion got the better of him.

International investigators are examining whether Syria acquired nuclear technology and expertise through the black market network operated by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Los Angeles Times quotes US officials and Western diplomats as having confirmed. "Intelligence reports indicate that Khan and some associates visited Syria in the late 1990s and later held clandestine meetings with Syrian nuclear officials in Iran, the diplomats said. Concerns were heightened after an experimental US electronic eavesdropping device recently picked up signals indicating that Syria was operating centrifuges, which enrich uranium for possible use in nuclear weapons."

Orson Welles once called Jimmy Cagney "a displacer of air". The script of the 1940 film, White Heat, for example, called for massive grief in his character. "If you gave that scene to some of today's tough actors, Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall," the Guardian suggests, "they might give you a hint of physical collapse, there might be a tear.

"Cagney went crazy. Years later, there were extras in that scene who professed themselves terrified at what the actor did. He crushes his tin cup. He lets loose a terrible roar or scream. And he becomes consumed with violence. Asked where it came from, Cagney mentioned the memory of his own father in alcoholic fits, and something else seen in a mental hospital. But there was also the imagination that trusted nothing so much as the release of energy."

25 June 2004

China's People's Daily says a new railroad is to be built that will link Qinghai in China and Tibet. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the newspaper says, "is a project unequaled in terms of engineering cost, project duration, and transportation capacity so far. There are unparalleled difficulties to address regarding terrain and environmental protection for the constructors. Out of the 1,142 kilometers of railway, 960 kilometers are more than 4,000 meters above sea level and 550 kilometers are in areas of frozen earth. How to build a roadbed on the frozen earth of the plateau becomes the essential problem for the project."

I remember reading Lobsang Rampa's book, The Third Eye, when I was in school many years ago, in which he claimed the only wheels that had ever been allowed in then-mysterious, pre-Chinese invasion Tibet were prayer wheels. Remember this guy? He claimed to have had a procedure done on his forehead by Tibetan Buddhist monks to allow him to see people's natures with that "third eye" of the book's title. What a profound disappointment it was to discover he'd made it all up, and that Tuesday Lobsang Rampa was really Cyril Henry Hoskins, born in Devon, England, the imaginative son of a plumber named Joseph Henry Hoskins. Still, I guess that was good preparation for knowing how to deal with all the other books in that vein that have been published - the rubbish about the Bermuda triangle, for instance, the spaceship airports in Peru and, looks like, the entire oeuvre of Carlos Castaneda.

Visionary Arthur C Clarke writes about "terraforming" - altering planets in order to make them safe for human habitation - and about how the newly-discovered reality of Mars differs from the ideas he had as a young science fiction writer.

In a Washington speech this week, International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammad elBaradei is reported to have been unusually blunt in describing the danger that terrorists could obtain nuclear weapons.

"We are actually having a race against time which I don't think that we can afford," he stated. "The danger is so imminent, not only with regard to countries acquiring nuclear weapons, but also terrorists getting their hands on some of these nuclear materials - uranium or plutonium."

Two stories, both from Fox News, taking the UN Oil-for-Food scandal story a little further. In the first, Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer has been accused by US Rep. Christopher Shays of hindering, rather than helping, the investigation.

In the second, Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve Chairman who is investigating the scandal for the United Nations, says it is obvious there were serious problems with the programme. However, he is optimistic he and his panel will get to the bottom of the oil-for-food program's problems. "I am confident, if we are permitted to proceed in an orderly way, that we can get the best explanation of the Oil-for-Food program, as administered by UN, that it is possible to get," he said.

President Robert Mugabe's forecast of a bumper harvest this year in Zimbabwe was contradicted by his own government yesterday, when an official report said 2.3 million people needed immediate international food aid.

The seizure of white-owned farms has combined with drought to cripple agriculture in Zimbabwe. But Mr Mugabe's official message is that his land grab has markedly increased production and made Zimbabwe self-sufficient. Last month, he refused help from the United Nations World Food Programme, saying: "Why foist this food upon us? We don't want to be choked."

US Government and internet officials announced late on Thursday that a mysterious, large-scale Internet attack had begun, aimed at thousands of popular websites. The attackers are trying to implant hacker software on target computers that allows others to use their computers to surreptitiously route Internet spam e-mails. Anti-virus companies have already worked out how to immunize computers against this attack, so dealing with this latest threat is easy - update your software now.

Dealing in the land of the double-cross - what the Pakistani Army has to do in order to chase down fugitive terrorists in the Pashtun tribal lands.

24 June 2004

Is this how Michael Moore writes his scripts? Enquiring minds want to know.

The New York Times has been accused by a Washington Times writer, Joel Mowbray, of having breached journalistic ethics in the way it dealt with a follow-up to the suggestion Ahmed Chalabi had leaked secrets to the Iranians. The Times reported that the FBI had started polygraph examinations on a "small number" of civilian employees at the Pentagon, a thinly-veiled reference to people working for Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz or in the policy shop headed by Undersecretary Douglas Feith. The allegation Mowbray makes is that the Times reporter manoeuvred deliberately to ensure the Pentagon was unable to tell its side of the story, which was that no one had been polygraphed, and no such tests are planned.

The September 11 Commission has been accused of having a political agenda in the way it has dealt with its enquiry. But, asks columnist Paul Greenberg, "Which has become more politicized, the major media or the September 11 Commission? The answer was clear last week: The New York Times, NPR, the BBC, the television troika (Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather), the 'news' columns of the Wall Street Journal...in short, all the usual suspects in the media."

Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George Bush, Sr., suggests the key to the stand-off over Iran's nuclear programme may be the way the Administration deals with Brazil's application to join the nuclear club. "Acquiescing in the Brazilian enrichment program," he writes in the Washington Post, "would have the effect of dividing nuclear power aspirants into good guys and bad. Such an approach would provide a powerful weapon to Iran as it seeks to rally international support for its 'peaceful' nuclear program and split us from the Europeans and the Russians. Our goal instead should be to delegitimize the spread of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities to any country, because these capabilities are the linchpin of any program to develop nuclear weapons."

Harvard's relatively new president, the controversial Lawrence H Summers, is engaged in a tough, behind-the-scenes shape-up of the prestigious university. He's got a lot of support, but the ways of organisations like Harvard can get pretty deeply entrenched. "It's far too early to tell whether he will succeed," Robert B. Reich, a former Harvard professor and Clinton labor secretary, told the Washington Post. "Changing Harvard is like pushing a boulder up a raging river. It's hard work, and all the currents are against you."

A report by Ron Neill, former head of BBC News, has recommended a series of wide-ranging editorial checks to clean up its news reporting. The BBC's governors said the Neil report "will become required reading for all current and future BBC journalists." The report identifies the five core principles of BBC journalism as truth and accuracy, serving the public interest, impartiality, independence and accountability. Plans for a college of journalism - intended to train existing staff as well as recruits - would be drawn up over the next year. Under guidelines responding to Lord Hutton's criticisms, journalists must identify their sources where possible, keep rigorous notes of conversations with contacts, and ensure potentially serious or defamatory allegations are put to the parties concerned in good time before they are broadcast.

Poor old Benjamin Netanyahu can't seem to catch a break. Former US president Bill Clinton blew him half out of Israeli political waters by revealing, in his new book, that in US-brokered talks with the Syrians, the then-Israeli prime minister agreed to withdraw from the entire Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines, i.e., to the water line of the Sea of Galilee. Netanyahu, who wants the job again the moment Ariel Sharon leaves, denied it. Now the former chief of Israel's Military Intelligence, the man who headed negotiations with Syria, has confirmed the Clinton version of the story.

The early Christian church apparently had a talent for recycling second-hand pagan feasts. The best-known case is Christmas, where the celebration of Christ's birth was harmonised with that of the Roman festival of the Unconquered Sun. By adopting these special days for their own consumption, Christians could make it part of their sales pitch to reassure waverers that converting to Christianity didn't mean giving up all those lovely feast days. The traditional celebrations in English homes - roistering, making the welkin ring, bringing flesh and wine and pine logs hither, and so on - are direct descendants of Roman practice.

Want to go mountain climbing in an EU country? Make sure you pack your giant airbag. This is the kind of anal bureaucracy that makes the European commission look like some kind of bad Kafkian joke. Here's another example, this time a rule that forces complex tendering requirements on attempts to provide low-cost housing in Britain. The chairman of the National Housing Federation says: "The only possible outcome of this decision is that time and money which could have been used to provide better homes and services for residents will instead be spent filling out forms for Brussels."

The former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, criticises Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe in the New York Times this morning. "Zimbabwe's leaders know that the international community will cooperate with them only if they meet certain conditions," he says in an op-ed piece. "That is why they are trying to give the impression of democracy and thus escape international isolation, and why they distort the standard democratic mechanisms in order to create a semblance of citizens' participation. At the same time, they create legal instruments that violate human rights. Democratic institutions are partly controlled by the leadership, partly circumvented by it.

"A report published this year by the International Crisis Group, an international nonprofit group that works to resolve conflict, showed that many opposition members of Parliament in Zimbabwe have been subject to murder attempts, torture, assault and arrest. In parliamentary elections, President Robert Mugabe nominates 20 percent of members, who then become parliamentarians without a democratic mandate. Elections are regularly accompanied by organized violence and intimidation. The independent judiciary, one of the pillars of democracy, has been severely compromised, with the benches packed with Mr. Mugabe's supporters."

23 June 2004

Harriet Jacobs' narrative about slavery in the middle of the 19th Century, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, was so well-written that people didn't believe she could have been the author. "Jacobs wrote what nobody dared to write," said literary scholar Jean Fagan Yellin, 73, who toiled for six years to uncover the identity of Jacobs as the true author of the book in the late 1980s. Yellin has recently published a biography of Jacobs, titled Harriet Jacobs, A Life, and is working on publishing Jacobs' papers. A PBS series, Slavery and the Making of America, now in production, will also feature Jacobs' story.

Arnaud de Borchgrave speculates on the possibility that Osama bin Laden might one day run for office in Saudi Arabia. He says a Saudi businessman told him that would be the reaping of what that country has been sowing for years. How about the possibility that he might seize power in Iraq and use that as a base for his Middle East ambitions? Isn't that the direction in which all this is drifting at the moment?

It looks as if Bermuda's bid to host the biennial Commonwealth Law Society Conference has been rejected. Kenya won out, India was second and we were third. It surely couldn't have been that the delegates couldn't afford our room rates...

In news on the Oil-for-Food scandal, the International Advisory and Monitoring Board says the US-led occupation is managing billions of dollars of Iraqi oil money in a sloppy way, and "moving at a glacial pace to guard against corruption." The organisation charges, for example, that the Coalition Provisional Authority has yet to award contracts for equipment to meter Iraq's oil production, leaving a door open to smuggling, and has also has delayed completing audits of the State Oil Marketing Organization, the state-owned firm that markets Iraqi oil.

The LA Times says the top U.S. transportation official in Iraq has been forced out after conducting closed-door negotiations to create a national airline with a firm suspected of helping Saddam Hussein's regime skirt United Nations Oil-for-Food sanctions.

And William Safire, writing today in the New York Times, says the Oil-for-Food programme was the biggest cash cow in the history of the world, and sheds new light on how some were milking it.

The World Health Organisation, alarmed by the growth of traditional medicine, and the lack of regulation in the field, has issued new guidelines to promote their proper use. The link is to the WHO release, which also contains links to the report itself and to a shorter excerpt. "Up to 80% of developing country populations rely on traditional medicine for their primary health care, due to cultural tradition or lack of alternatives. In wealthy countries, many people seek out various types of natural remedies on the assumption that natural means safe.

"However, as the use of traditional or alternative medicines increases, so do reports of adverse reactions. In China, a country where traditional therapies and products are widely used in parallel with conventional medicine, there were 9,854 known reported cases of adverse drug reactions in 2002 alone, up from 4,000 between 1990 and 1999."

The Telegraph's Defence Correspondent, John Keegan, sparked by the Iranian capture of eight British servicemen and three boats, says that country is motivated by its ambition to dominate the Middle East. "Iran also seeks to become a nuclear power," he says. "Though it denies its ambition, that is understandable, given its propinquity to Pakistan, India and Israel. Its ambition is also understandable in political and social terms. Iran, with nearly 60 million people, is one of the largest societies in the Middle East.

"Historically, it has been a dominant regional power and today it is one of the region's most advanced. An optimistic Western assessment is that its young people reject its religious government and would welcome liberation from the ayatollahs. A more realistic judgment is that, while Iranian youth seeks liberation, it does so within an Islamic context."

Britain's Independent Newspaper says one thing the EU has got right is its directive to ban age discrimination in the workplace, which must be implemented by October 2006 to comply with wider European employment law. "The truth is," the paper says, "that if Britain is to continue to prosper economically into the middle and latter parts of the 21st century, then the statutory age of retirement either has to be raised or abolished altogether, whatever the concerns of business leaders and trade union officials." Actually, the truth is that if Britain is to continue to prosper, it has to figure a way of ditching most of the measures that make it a welfare state.

Christopher Hitchens takes Michael Moore very neatly to task in his review of Fahrenheit 9/11 - showing that it is "a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of 'dissenting' bravery." Guess it's no wonder the BBC didn't want Hitchens doing Alistair Cooke's Letter from America.

The BBC's new director general, Mark Thompson, warned of the most "rapid and radical change" in the corporation's history when he took up his post yesterday. In a speech intended to galvanise the 28,000 staff members for a period of unprecedented upheaval, Mr Thompson said the broadcaster had not been tough enough on itself, appeared defensive and arrogant to outsiders, and would have to embrace change willingly, or it would be forced to do so. One of the first big moves comes today when Mr Thompson publishes the corporation's response to the Hutton report. An independent review conducted by the former BBC executive Ron Neil, to be implemented in full, will lay down tighter guidelines for live reports, sources and note-taking. The Guardian understands every journalist is to be offered retraining.

22 June 2004

A bill currently well on its way to becoming law in the United States is going to temporarily lower the corporate tax rate on repatriated profits to 5.25%. The U.S. Senate passed the Jumpstart Our Business Strength Act early in May, I suspect as part of a reform of the way US tax law unfairly impacts companies that do business overseas (thanks, Stephen, for the tip.) Currently, U.S. companies are required to pay taxes at a 35% rate on foreign earnings when these earnings are taken back into the US. This creates a massive incentive to keep funds offshore rather than invest surplus earnings at home. Many other countries exclude foreign dividends from domestic taxation under so-called "territorial" tax systems, which encourages domestic investment of surplus foreign earnings. Senators are expecting big things. Gordon H Smith, the Republican Senator for Oregon, who inserted the provision in the Act, says: "With this relief, U.S. businesses will invest almost $400 billion in our economy. It will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and get our economy moving again. It is exactly what we need to get people back to work." A link to a summary of the bill (which contains a link to the whole thing) is here.

I imagine US companies headquartered offshore will be very glad of this little window of opportunity, but are unlikely to be influenced to move out of financial centres like Bermuda for the sake of a temporary measure. Am I wrong, business people?

United States support for Israel does not persuasively correlate with Islamic terrorism, according to the Washington Times. "Neither does poverty or an absence of education. Osama bin Laden himself is wealthy and sophisticated. Four key Western-educated September 11 conspirators were privileged. The National Commission elaborates: 'The four were Mohamed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah and Ramzi Binalshibh. Atta, Shehhi and Jarrah would become pilots for the 9/11 attacks, while Binalshibh would act as a key coordinator for the plot.'"

Denis P Coleman, Jr, was the sometimes tetchy (maybe we now know why) US Consul General in Bermuda until recently. Now, according to the New York Times, he's become one of a new wave of Americans having their knees replaced. He had his left knee done 11 years ago and his right knee replaced in New York in March 2003. "The recovery period was shorter and less intense," for the second operation, he said, partly because he did not wait until he was on his last leg, so to speak. Now he's back to golf and thinking of skiing.

The Pentagon has asked the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad to cancel three contracts for Iraqi cell phone networks, worth about $500 million annually, citing fraud and the companies' links to an Iraqi-born Briton with ties to Saddam Hussein. According to the Washington Times, "the companies are suspected of rigging the bids for the cell phone contracts in favor of Nadhmi Auchi, who owns part of Orascom and a controlling interest in the bank BNP Paribas, which 'is the French bank selected by Saddam Hussein to run the Oil for Food program.'"

Mark Steyn, persuasive as always, argues that the Guardian (and Tony Blair) are wrong to say that British voters might have voted differently if they had known more about the European Union and its constitution. "When it comes to national identity, one is entitled to a measure of ignorance. If you're a Peruvian and you're happy being a Peruvian, you're unlikely to be impressed by the Guardian arguing that that's just because you haven't read all the sub-clauses of the Bolivian constitution. Identity is primal, not a matter of footnotes." He's got a point there, and a lot of others worth taking the time to read.

The BBC has apparently decided against replacing Alistair Cooke's Letter from America, because they say he was so good no one can touch him. I disagree, in the sense that liking Shakespeare doesn't seem to have stopped people going to see plays by other writers. Christopher Hitchens (or whoever) might have been different from Alistair Cooke, but that doesn't mean he couldn't have been good at it.

My hip-hop correspondent will be on my case in a flash if I don't link to this. It's the first-ever National Hip-Hop Political Convention, which concluded last weekend. According to the Christian Science Monitor, it sounded themes of voter awareness and responsibility, encouraging as many people as possible in a widening hip-hop fan base to get involved. "There is tremendous clout within the hip-hop community," Bakari Kitwana told the CSM. He is an activist in the rap music world and author of The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture. "People need to realize and exploit this power that exists," he says.

"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda," the president said, is "because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." Robert L Pollock, senior editorial page writer at the Wall Street Journal, explains how the wrong impression has got into people's heads.

21 June 2004

Northrop Grumman has successfully demonstrated a shipboard mission control system that will allow unmanned combat aerial vehicles to participate safely and autonomously in conventional manned, aircraft-carrier flight operations, according to SpaceDaily. This test of the onboard computer system that controls the UAV involved fairly straightforward taking off, manoeuvring and landing commands, but can unmanned dogfights be far behind? By the way, does anyone know why the tail fins of these unmanned aircraft always seem to be configured to point downwards?

UPDATE: Richard, who is the blogger at Way South, a South African blog I linked to this week, has provided the answer in the comment attached to this post - which is, broadly speaking, that this configuration helps these aircraft manoeuvre at lower speeds. Richard and I were kind of introduced to one another by Rethabile, the blogger at On Lesotho. So this is life in the blogosphere - I ask a question in Bermuda and it's answered by a guy in South Africa who knows about me because a Lesothan (?) who lives in Paris introduced us. Something.

National Public Radio, whose news coverage has often been characterised as following a liberal agenda, is expanding its news-gathering operation. The station plans a $15 million expansion over the next three years, adding 45 reporters and producers, beefing up local and global coverage, chasing down breaking news and augmenting the staffs of magazine shows such as All Things Considered. The expansion will make only a small dent in the $225 million bequest that NPR received last October from Joan B. Kroc, widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc. Will the liberal agenda get longer? That charge is just a myth, NPR says, noting that Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a liberal media-watchdog group, recently accused NPR of actually showcasing too many conservatives.

A third American oil company has been subpoenaed in the UN Oil-for-Food scandal. Valero has joined Exxon Mobil and ChevronTexaco as the latest to be required to provide information by the US Attorney's Office in the southern district of New York. The three firms were the three biggest buyers of Iraqi oil during the years of the oil-for-food programme, and all have said they will cooperate fully. The programme is the subject of separate investigations by the UN, the US Congress and the Iraqi government following allegations of corruption.

Islands in the Pacific whose governments give financial aid to their own low-cost airlines are being warned that they'll need to radically trim the number of their 20-plus airlines. The Australian treasurer has warned that "There aren't that many airlines around the world that are making a profit. If the governments keep propping up unprofitable airlines it means there are missed resources for other alternatives such as sanitation, health and housing." It also means they're starving the big airlines, which like to subsidise domestic losses wiith profit made on long-haul international routes.

How do you count visitors to a website? Just sign up to a webcounter and read the reports? Think again. The Christian Science Monitor explains just how difficult it is.

Bucking a trend, Sandia National Laboratories are looking for ways to use sugar, not hydrogen, to power the coming wave of fuel cell cars. The problem with hydrogen is that it isn't just found in the air or lying around, the head of the research team says. "You have do something quite energy-intensive (story's in the New York Times, so you'll have to register) to break apart some molecule in order to get hydrogen. That's the Catch-22." So is glucose easier to convert to energy? No, actually, glucose molecules are not easily persuaded to give up their energy. One approach that Sandia researchers are taking is to genetically engineer enzymes that mimic those in the human body, which can convert glucose to energy efficiently.

20 June 2004

My favourite New York Times columnist, the sardonic Joyce Wadler of Boldface Names is mentioned in dispatches in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning, by way of the New York Observer. "To hear Wadler tell it," they say, "her way of writing is a subversive act: a sort of meta-whack at this dismal state of affairs. She likes to refer to herself as a comedy writer trapped in a reporter's body. 'I don't think of this as a gossip column; I think of it as an entertainment column...We're more of a send-up of a gossip column. It's about spoofing the whole business.'" Whatever it is, it's guinea-a-minute stuff.

The Washington Post thinks the US is being stiffed again by France and Germany over Iraq. "France and Germany demanded a significant UN role, and they've gotten it. They demanded a rapid turnover of sovereignty to the Iraqis, and they got that, too. With the two countries having gotten their way in the negotiations on the resolution, the time has come for them to pitch in and join in the effort to build a peaceful, stable, democratic future for Iraq. After all, French, German and other European officials have insisted all along that the success or failure of Iraq is as much a vital interest for them as for the United States. They've also insisted, understandably, that if the United States wanted their help, it would have to give them a say over policy in Iraq.

"Unfortunately, now that the Bush administration has finally acquiesced to their requests, it appears that France and Germany are refusing to fulfill their end of the bargain. Leaders of both countries have declared they will not send troops to assist in Iraq under any circumstances. Still more troubling was French President Jacques Chirac's declaration at the Group of Eight summit last week that he opposed any NATO role in Iraq, even though the resolution France supported explicitly calls on 'Member States and international and regional organizations to contribute assistance to the multinational force, including military forces.' The positions staked out by the French and German governments are an abdication of international responsibility."

Argentinian president Cesar Chavez presides over a judicial system from which most judges can be fired at will. The country's National Assembly has also just passed a law that will allow Chavez and his allies to pack the supreme court with sympathetic justices who could end up deciding any challenges to the recall election, analysts say. "This is a political assault on the judicial system," said Pedro Nikken, a constitutional lawyer in Caracas. "It's making the judiciary a branch of the executive. They are going to use this to attack the dissidents and guarantee the impunity of any abuses of human rights or acts of corruption by the government." Chavez is an admirer of Fidel Castro, so no one should be surprised if he uses the same sort of tactics Fidel has been using to stay in power for the last few years.

The Los Angeles Times says this morning that members of the National Commission on Terror Attacks Upon the United States are saying, so far privately, that by failing to crack down on Osama Bin Laden early, "Pakistan and Saudi Arabia significantly undermined efforts to combat terrorism worldwide, giving the Saudi exile the haven he needed to train tens of thousands of soldiers. They believe that the governments' funding of his Taliban protectors enabled Bin Laden to withstand international pressure and expand his operation into a global network that could carry out the Sept. 11 attacks." Those who think the whole Iraq thing's been such a mistake that the US and its allies should just get out and mind their own business, should take note.

Britain's newspapers are rushing, this morning, to define what the signing of the EU's new constitution means to the country. In an editorial, the Telegraph says: "...the BBC and some other elements of the media have unquestioningly accepted the Blair narrative of a battle to protect our vital national interests. Finding himself near Waterloo, on the anniversary of the battle, the Prime Minister has posed as a Wellington de nos jours, defending our independence and that of other European nations against a French assault.

"This version of events is impossible to reconcile with what has actually been signed. It is all very well blocking one or two undesirable proposals; but how many of the things he has accepted can Mr Blair positively have wanted? The Prime Minister keeps calling for an informed debate, but the last thing he wants is for people actually to read the constitution; that is why he likes to fall back on windy generalities about 'making Europe work'."

Most outrageously behaved rock band? The Who, according to a survey published in the Independent this morning: "They beat off strong competition from Ozzy Osbourne and Jimi Hendrix thanks to a record that includes on-stage punch-ups, prodigious drug-taking and, it is often claimed, driving a Rolls-Royce into a society swimming pool."

Signs of intelligent life in Canada, at long last! Documents obtained by the Canadian Press show that a Conservative government would abolish a law requiring Canada's national airline to operate in both official languages and have its headquarters in Montreal, among other things. The decision to drop the bilingual requirement would be part of a vast series of measures the Conservatives would put forward to help Air Canada out of its financial crisis and modify air travel regulations in Canada.


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

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