...Views from mid-Atlantic
14 August 2004

Thomas Sowell is a first-class American columnist whose work I have quoted many times. The American Enterprise is carrying a fascinating interview with him this month. This little taste should give you an idea of the flavour: Asked whether economic disparities don't often lead to claims of "exploitation" and solutions built on controlling people's lives, he answered this way:

"There's something Eric Hoffer said: 'Intellectuals cannot operate at room temperature.' There always has to be a crisis - some terrible reason why their superior wisdom and virtue must be imposed on the unthinking masses. It doesn't matter what the crisis is. A hundred years ago it was eugenics. At the time of the first Earth Day a generation ago, the big scare was global cooling, a big ice age. They go from one to the other. It meets their psychological needs and gives them a reason for exercising their power. Many intellectuals' preoccupation with the poor is very much the same thing. The thing that gives it all away is that after they say, 'We must have this program because the poor can't afford medicine, or can't afford housing,' they will splutter if you say, 'OK, let's have a means test so it really goes to the poor.' If they were really concerned primarily about the poor, they would agree to it. But they are bitterly opposed to that, because the poor are a lever to reach other, political, goals.

"Walter Williams figured out some years ago that the amount of money needed to move the poor out of poverty would be trivial compared to the amount of money that's spent on these damn programs that are supposed to help the poor but usually don't. But the poor are being used as human shields in the political battle. You put the poor up in front of you as you march across the battlefield and enemy troops won't fire, so you can expand your power, and raise taxes, and so forth."

Think this critic might not have liked the film?: "Take a wretched premise. Imagine the worst picture that could be made from it. Then imagine something even worse. That's Alien vs. Predator. Don't think of it as a movie. Think of it under the more general category of something unfortunate on film. And don't think of this as a review, but as testimony from someone who greeted the closing credits like a cell door swinging open.

"After a portentous introduction, Alien vs. Predator is nothing but guys in heavily armored Predator suits fighting off a succession of white-fanged Alien serpents, in scene after gooey, slimy scene. It's hard even to conceive of this as entertainment. It's more like a form of torture we've collectively become inured to. Go back in time, grab some guy out of the medieval era and give him a choice between the rack and Alien vs. Predator. He'd have to think it over."

The Sunday Telegraph says Zimbabwean Information Minister Jonathan Moyo has seized a celebrated African wildlife sanctuary, Sikumi Tree Lodge, which once hosted Britain's Queen Elizabeth II on an eco-tourism visit, and turned it over to big-game safari hunting. Their correspondent Peta Thornycroft, based in Harare, said "A letter from Zimbabwe's agriculture department shows that Mr. Moyo received the preserve when President Robert Mugabe seized white-owned farms nationwide and turned them over to black supporters of his government."

"Two companies involved in the multibillion-dollar U.N. oil-for-food program for Iraq said Friday they are cooperating with U.S. and U.N. investigations into alleged corruption, hoping to clear their names," according to the Associated Press. The two are Swiss-based Cotecna Inspection S.A., which the United Nations hired in 1998 to authenticate that goods entering Iraq corresponded to a list of those approved for import, and the Dutch company Saybolt International B.V., which monitored oil exports from Iraq. Cotecna is particularly interesting because it is the company that employed Kojo Annan, the son of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In April, the firm said Kojo Annan worked on activities in Nigeria and Ghana and had nothing to do with Iraq; his father also denied any inside advantages.

There's nothing like a play, is there? This is a synopsis of Le Soulier de Satin, by Paul Claudel, which is being performed in Edinburgh this year. "The King of Spain chooses Rodrigue to lead the conquest of the New World. Prouheze, meanwhile, is caught in an arranged marriage with Don Pelage, whom she respects but does not love. Once he discovers her feelings for Rodrigue, Pelage insists his wife join an expedition to north Africa to quell an Islamic rebellion. Before she departs, she offers her satin slipper - hence the title - to the Virgin Mary with a plea that 'if I should rush headlong into sin, I should do so with halting foot.'"

Reminds me a little of a Parisian description of Carmen that was quoted by John Julius Norwich in one of his Christmas Crackers a few years ago - "Carmen is a cigar-makeress from a tabago factory who loves with Don Jose of the mounting guard. Carmen takes a flower from her corsets and lances it to Don Jose (Duet: 'Talk me of my mother'). There is a noise inside the tabago factory and the revolting cigar-makeresses bursts into the stage. Carmen is arrested and Don Jose is ordered to mounting guard her but Carmen subduces him and he lets her escape..."

We...well, some of us...have learned nothing in 600 years. The ancient warning "if you keep wearing shoes like that you'll ruin your feet" was as true then as it is today. Shocking evidence of mutilation caused by the late medieval fashion for extremely pointy long-toed shoes is lying on an archaeologist's desk in Portsmouth. The distortion of the bones is so extreme that he first thought he was looking at the ravages of disease.

13 August 2004

"There is indeed mystery in the air tonight - and hints of horror. Sure, this is now a Peruvian restaurant, Pena Pachamama, and it's still light outside the cheerful cafe curtains. But this is a gathering of San Francisco's darker denizens, and their love of the sinister is spreading. As the show begins, clouds gather darkly and the wind-whipped fog starts to snake down Powell Street.

"Pianist-singer-composer Jill Tracy, oft-called 'the femme fatale for the thinking man,' begins the night by crooning one of her trademark dark ditties behind a portable piano on the tiny stage. 'I'll keep my hand on your trigger finger/I'll hold you close while they dust for prints ...' She is dressed to kill in long black gloves, a black sequined flapper hat -- one spit-curl escaping just so -- and a gothic black bustier. Men in the audience seem ready to die, gladly."

It's San Francisco. Aren't you glad it's there?

The New York Times says Kofi Annan and the Security Council were told three years ago that the UN Oil-for-Food programme was being abused. Toward the end of 2000, the paper says "when Saddam Hussein's skimming from the oil-for-food program for Iraq kicked into high gear, reports spread quickly to the program's supervisors at the United Nations. Oil industry experts told Security Council members and Secretary General Kofi Annan's staff that Iraq was demanding under-the-table payoffs from its oil buyers.

"The British mission distributed a background paper to Council members outlining what it called 'the systematic abuse of the program' and described how Iraq was shaking down its oil customers and suppliers of goods for kickbacks. When the report landed in the United Nations' Iraq sanctions committee, the clearinghouse for all contracts with Iraq, it caused only a few ripples of consternation. There was no action, diplomats said, not even a formal meeting on the allegations."

Eliot Cohen is Robert E. Osgood professor and director of the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. He says it very nicely, but can't conceal that he's appalled that Britain is cutting its armed forces. "American officials," he says, "will shy away from chivvying Tony Blair, their best friend in Europe, about his government's reversion to an age-old pattern of cutting the armed forces budgets as the storm clouds gather. No matter: They should point out the price paid for such fecklessness in the past. And they might suggest that as the flames of insurgency burn in Iraq, while Taliban guerrillas and warlords fight a new Afghan government, as al Qaeda terrorists plot mayhem in our cities and theirs, when mass murder erupts in Africa and governments teeter in the Middle East, this is not the time to thin the red line to the breaking point."

Former PA security minister Mohammed Dahlan on Thursday revealed that at least two of the Fatah militias, the Jenin Martyrs Brigades and the Abu Rish Brigades, were financed and armed by the PA leadership. In addition to their responsibility for the chaos in the Gaza Strip, the two groups have also been involved in attacks on the IDF and settlers. Dahlan told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat was aware of the fact that these groups were receiving money and weapons from the PA. This is awkward for the PA because the European Union will cut off aid to the organisation is it can be shown that some of it is used to finance terrorism. Judging by past performance, it would have to be shown pretty damn hard, I think, but the possibility of a cut-off is there.

The divide between Iraq and Iran is growing wider by the minute as Iraq realises the extent to which Iran is involved in the insurrection in the country.

France and Germany seem to have made a bit of a tactical error by trying to push the new European Commissioner, Jose Manuel Barroso, too hard in an attempt to get him to appoint their choices to the Commission's top posts. Had he complied, he'd have undermined himself from the start, so he's appointed his own men, and done it a week ahead of schedule.

The Telegraph approves. It thinks that "His abilities and the generally reformist views of the new EU members could yet restore the reputation of a deeply discredited body."

The Guardian publishes an interview with a 19-year old American singer/songwriter called Nellie McKay this morning. If half of what's said is true, we're going to be hearing a lot about her from now on. "...She's the 19-year-old author of a wilfully eccentric, impossible to categorise debut album. Hailed as a prodigy in the US, critics have frothed over her ability to switch from elegant jazz to rap to complex satirical songs worthy of Sondheim...'She's a proper artist,' says Geoff Emerick, best known for his work as an engineer with the Beatles, who produced the album. 'Judy Garland. Whatever. You don't know what is going on in her mind. That's what makes her an artist.'

I listened to the samples up on Amazon. Great voice...but she's 19.

A Canadian official, Ontario's premier, has warned that the US and Canada could face another blackout like the one that occurred last summer, because the US hasn't been able to plug the regulatory holes that allowed the shutdown. In the wake of the blackout, President Bush promised tough legislation to ensure local U.S. power companies live up to the standards set by the industry to ensure safety and reliability. But the legislation was "caught up by special interests in Congress," as the Globe and Mail put it.

Glimmerglass boasts an adventuresome repertory, an intimate, state-of-the-art opera house, top-notch performances and the intensive involvement of talented singers such as baritone James Maddalena. Some say it's the American answer to Glyndebourne - the renowned opera festival in Sussex, England.

Maddalena's playing a part in the modern gothic opera The Mines of Sulphur. The plot concerns a group of thieves who murder the sordid lord of a crumbling castle, then play host to a mysterious band of actors who perform a play that mirrors their own dark deeds. The singer says he modeled his character on homeless people he observed during a stay in Pittsburgh.

After 15 years and 800 authors, Booknotes, the weekly book interview show on C-SPAN hosted by Brian Lamb, is coming to an end. The Wall Street Journal says Lamb "is one of the few author interviewers who pride themselves on reading every word of the work they intend to discuss. Such discipline is rare. 'He doesn't play golf, fish, or have hobbies--he prepares for Booknotes,' a C-SPAN spokesman said...Lamb estimates that he has spent 1.8 years of his life reading books for the series, and 'it's time to use all those hours in other ways.'"

12 August 2004

The US Customs and Border Police officer who caused an international incident by assaulting a Chinese tourist in a July 21 incident at the Canadian border in Niagara Falls, has been indicted by a grand jury. Robert Rhodes, 43, is to be charged with criminally violating the civil rights of 37-year old Zhao Yan by causing her bodily harm.

Wilson John, a senior fellow with the Observer Research Foundation working on Pakistan and terrorism, painstakingly details the involvement of the Pakistani military's firm control over the country's nuclear programme in this Washinton Times article. He makes the point that so far, neither the US nor the Pakistani government seems to have investigated the involvement of Pakistan's military in the proliferation activities of nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

People who live in Bermuda get really angry about how casually the rest of the world is apt to associate us with the excesses associated with tax havens. This is a story in the Australian, a newspaper which really ought to know better, in which the writer, Krista Hughes, is reporting on Australian calls to Switzerland to drop its secretive banking laws. Ms Hughes writes that "Switzerland has been lumped in with tax havens like Bermuda because of its strict privacy laws, which prohibit banks identifying clients and make funds almost impossible to trace," without bothering to source the claim. It was probably made by Australia's Treasurer, Peter Costello, who is the only person named as a source in her story. She quotes him as saying Australia's going to raise the issue with the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Monetary Fund, the G20 and the Commonwealth.

In fact, Bermuda is not on the lists of tax havens kept by any of those organisations, it having been accepted by them right from the start of all the fuss about tax havens, that it runs the cleanest kind of ship as an offshore financial jurisdiction. Switzerland, on the other hand, has been on the OECD's list (I'm not sure about the others) all along. So Peter Costello, if he was the one who made the comparison, or Ms Hughes if she did it off her own bat, should go play with some crocodiles.

What is it about California that it breeds so many really fine mystery stories? This one is about a young couple who vanished in 1929, leaving behind two young sons. A succession of sleuths tried hard to find them over the years, but not until one of them dusted off an old three-ring binder a few months ago did anyone even come close.

Rising temperatures in Britain have had an interesting effect - a boom in growing herbs. This Independent feature suggests that from the Channel to the North Sea, growers are hopping on the bandwagon, and one of their most popular crops is coriander, used extensively in Indian cooking. "The result is one of the most incongruous new sights in rural Yorkshire - pickers poring over fields thick with a plant whose leaves are destined for the tables of local Indian restaurants...Scotland, hardly a sun-kissed paradise carved out for herb cultivation, is enjoying similar commercial successes. Scotherb, based in the Carse of Gowrie, has upped production of coriander by 20 per cent this year and is currently producing 1,000 kilos a year on 14 acres of land. Asian families arrive in droves from Glasgow to pick their own. They want the herb fresh-grown but not necessarily to supermarket specifications."

Poor Ezra Pound. He gets it in the neck because, like so many of his contemporaries, he admired fascism and spoke of Jews with contempt. But slowly, people are beginning to realise that it isn't as simple as that. It cannot be correct to judge a man according to standards that didn't exist when he did. So it's nice to note that through the efforts of English Heritage, a plaque was unveiled yesterday in his honour on a building in Kensington Church Walk in London, where he lived from 1909 to 1914.

The instructions to each writer were simple, as the Globe and Mail tells it: "Write about a man (Bruce) and a woman (Olivia), who are a poet and a fiction-writer, travelling through your community on a cross-country Canadian road trip. The idea is that each writer provides a regional voice to the plot. Aside from those rules, there were no restrictions. Along the way, some writers called the festival's artistic director Sean Wilson and asked him, 'Can we kill the characters?' 'Absolutely,' he told them. 'Freedom of speech is fundamental to what we do.' But neither character dies at the novel's end.

"But like almost any collective effort, the transient plot stalls and is derailed along the way, until even the female protagonist ruminates on her unpredictable journey near the end of the book, in Steven Galloway's chapter set in Vancouver: 'I'm confused, Olivia thought. And who wouldn't be. You meet a guy, misplace an attraction for whales, get slapped, think you're pregnant, find out you're not, then change your mind and decide you in fact are, which is confirmed by an omniscient blind Indian, and all the while you can't help but feel you're acting strangely.'"

This sounds absolutely fascinating. The Ister is a film made by a pair of Australians armed with little more than a digital camera and a sense of inquiry. It is is loosely based on a wartime lecture delivered by ex-Nazi Martin Heidegger on one of Germany's most celebrated poets, Friedrich Holderlin, whose poem, The Ister (an old Roman name for the Danube river) is another source of inspiration for the documentary. But as it meanders along the Danube from the Black Sea to the source of the river in Germany's Black Forest, more than 2000 km upstream, the film offers a much broader series of connections and meditations from contemporary philosophers, as well as a Serbian engineer and a German botanist.

The idea, says the Australian, arose from a PhD thesis that one of the film-makers, Daniel Ross, had written about Heidegger. Like his co-director, David Barison, Ross was interested in making a film that might become part of a philosophical discourse rather than a mere commentary about a particular person's ideas.

11 August 2004

Claudia Rossett has published another of her excellent articles about the United Nations Oil-for-Food scandal. In the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal this morning, she argues that "A hallmark of the United Nations Oil-for-Food relief program in Iraq was secrecy, which served Saddam Hussein all too well. Since Oil-for-Food ended last November, its records have been handled with...yet more secrecy. And while I must confess to a certain relief that these remain largely locked up, thus excusing the press from any immediate responsibility to slog knee-deep through piles of old sanctions-busting 'Dear Uday' documents, this secrecy does not serve the interests of the world public, nor is it a gift to anyone who would like to see the UN function as an honest institution...

"The UN should have disclosed its records from the start. The keepers of these documents would be wise to release them today, or at least allow public access to the databases both extant and now being assembled. The secrets packed away with those Oil-for-Food papers are the spawn of a sick and predatory system. There can be few endeavors more cynical and ugly than skimming funds meant for sick and hungry people, and few rationales more alarming than the idea that everyone was doing it--especially if 'everyone' includes officials still in positions of public trust. The best cure is daylight. Or, to borrow one of Mr. Volcker's best lines: Let the chips fall."

Just when you thought Iran couldn't possibly behave any worse than it has already over its nuclear programme, a new outrage is thrown in your face. Still, one has to say that the mealy-mouthed tactics of appeasement with which these moth-eaten diplomats from Britain, France and Germany sought to contain the problem were just begging for a boot up the backside, weren't they?

Janet Daley of the Telegraph is arguing this morning that Tony Blair's closest acolytes have only now caught on to something the rest of the world has known for yonks. The PM's friend, she says, "have discovered what some of us have been trying to tell them all along. 'Social democracy and capitalism', they say, 'cannot be triangulated - more of one means less of the other.' Well, stone me, they've got it. And only seven or so years after the rest of us.

"Now, sadly, they have discovered that what really motivated the Project was the purely vengeful wish to 'marginalise' the Conservatives. By plagiarising its language and even adopting many of its policies, Mr Blair was setting out quite methodically - and with a professionalism unprecedented in British politics - to make the Conservative Party unelectable."

"Each day this week," says the Guardian, "we will publish a specially commissioned song or poem from a leading festival talent. Today it is the turn of Tina C, who is launching her bid to be president of the US in the 2008 elections at this year's festival." This is a little taste of today's fare:

I love Edinboro', home to a million shows
But mainly mine!
Town of so many bridges
Yet so few rivers
Everyone's got diseased livers,
And the sun don't shine.

So it seems the Guardian's pronouncement is more of a threat than a promise.

The Guardian is mistaken when it says, in this story, that a debate over the whereabouts of Culumbus's bones has been settled. All that has been shown is that the bones in Seville's Santa Maria Cathedral are not his. Whether the bones found in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic are his or not is another mystery yet to be solved.

Polly Toynbee, of all people, is excoriating the BBC for pumping up not-very-significant stories and causing media feeding frenzies. They might start as small items, she says, but they really get going when the BBC buy in. "...A newspaper starts a scare, the government or chief medical officer is goaded into responding, the paper gets a publicity-hungry MP to ask questions and, hey presto, it's a 'public debate'. Isn't it exactly at such times that the value of the BBC is tested? But often it is swept along, letting ignorant Mail-obsessed blokey presenters fan the flames, instead of leaving it to the specialists to knock lies and scares on the head."

She's confining herself to the BBC's reporting on matters of health - her own politics would make it awkward for her to do stray into the area of whether the same sort of behaviour might carry over into their reporting on the Gulf War, or the occupation of Iraq, or Israel and the Palestinians, or about the US generally. But I think the inference is there, no matter how delicately she walks the tightrope.

The report she quotes, by the way, is available through this site, but only if you're prepared to pay for it. They're not even going to release an executive summary to the public until August 16.

A lost (until now) Virgina Woolf Good Housekeeping essay has been found and is reprinted this morning in the Guardian. It's...ummm...interesting.

Governments do do strange things, sometimes - but this has to take first prize in the race to find the government in the world which most acts like a caricature of a bad-tempered, foot-stamping dancing master: The government of Spain has warned that it will veto a proposed trade agreement between Canada and the European Union unless the Ontario government allows a Spanish company to raise tolls on the province's Highway 407.

The recipe goes back almost 200 years, to the nuns who baked pastries at the Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon. During the 1820 revolution, many religious orders were forced to disband. Money talked during those hard times, and the recipe was sold to a confectioner. Today, that same recipe is perhaps the most closely guarded secret in Portuguese cuisine, allegedly known to only a precious few at the coffeehouse, Pasteis de Belem. Actually, one can buy the custard tarts everywhere in Portugal - throughout the world, for that matter - in any Portuguese bakery or restaurant, where they are officially known as pasteis de nata. A life spent without trying them, I'd say, is a wasted life.

10 August 2004

John Kerry's I Spent Christmas in Cambodia story may not be the truth. He's a pretty weak presidential candidate in the first place, but if it can be proven that he embellished this story for political effect, it would kill off any chance he has of winning in November.

US and Israeli officials have begun talking about the possibility of a strike against Iran's nuclear infrastructure, according to the Washington Times. "On July 21, Israel's intelligence agencies submitted a joint report to the Cabinet that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by 2007. And Iran has made clear its main enemies are the Zionist state and its US ally. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, calling Iran the greatest danger to Israel's existence, has said, 'Israel will not allow Iran to be equipped with a nuclear weapon.'" I linked to a DEBKAfile report yesterday that detailed steps Iran has taken to protect itself against such a strike.

In the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria laments Europe's inability to get to grips with the threat, saying "Europe must be willing to play an active, assertive role. It must stop viewing itself merely as a critic of U.S. policy and instead see itself as a partner, jointly acting to reduce the dangers of nuclear proliferation."

Paul Volcker says his UN Oil-for-Food scandal enquiry will need a year to complete. My guess is that he is being overly optimistic.

It's no surprise, and it probably won't have a lot of influence on the situation, but it is worth noting, as Haaretz puts it, that "A Palestinian Legislative Council investigation into the reasons for the chaos in the Palestinian Authority found that the main reason for the anarchy is that the PA and its leader, Yasser Arafat, have failed to make a clear political decision to end it. The report calls for an end to Qassam rocket fire into Israel and attacks inside Israel, the resignation of the Ahmed Qureia government and general elections."

The French are apparently having a summer of self doubt, torturing themselves over France's loss of position as a global power, weakening role within Europe, failure to integrate its immigrant population, exhausted public services and stumbling private industry. Philosophy professor Chantal Delsol asks: "How is it that such a brilliant nation has become such a mediocre power, so out of breath, so indebted, so closed in its own prejudices ... To be French today is to mourn for what we no longer are." It's being only a little cynical to suggest that what she fails to grasp is that what they no longer are, they haven't been since Napoleon. The more recent brand of French glory is an illusion created by the rhetoric of leaders who wished to be Napoleons, but failed.

The Brits are on about the weather again this morning - what they describe as very high overnight temperatures occurred in East Anglia (70 degrees) and London (68 degrees), causing one unnamed weatherman to say "I'm quite staggered by some of the figures." Being a bit staggered myself, I have nothing to add to that, except to note that, in theory at least, help is on the way. I say in theory because I know how long it takes them to welcome new ideas, having fairly bitter personal experience of their failure, well into the second half of the 20th Century, to grasp that pipes stuck on the outside of their houses tend to freeze in the winter.

The Guardian this morning calls Bernard Levin, who died yesterday at the age of 75, a latterday Voltaire. That seems to me slightly over the top, but gallant in a most appropriate way. He did have a most extraordinarily quick and acerbic wit, one that terrified most of the public figures of his day. The Guardian's John Ezard recalls his disdain for the labour leader, Sir Michael Foot. "In 1983," Ezard recalled, "he wrote in the Times of Michael Foot's brief spell as Labour leader: 'The sight of Mr Foot hanging himself higher and higher and higher with every shifting, gaseous, unfinished verbless unintelligible sentence which he emitted like ectoplasm...was so distressing that I switched off two-thirds of the way through: I felt like a member of Greenpeace watching a month old seal pup beating its own brains out."

The Telegraph does its usual superb job with a formal obituary.

09 August 2004

MEMRI has posted articles from a couple of Egyptian newspapers, having to do with the Darfur problem. Both seem to think that American lust for oil is at the bottom of the whole business. The details of the plot, according to Al-Ahram Al-Arabi Weekly, are these:

"The goals of the American oil companies are two-fold: First, removing the South-East Asian oil cartels from Sudan, since the Sudanese oil production will reach half a million barrels per day at the beginning of next year. This, following the signing last week of an agreement between the Sudanese Office of Energy and Mines and Petrodar, the company which heads another oil cartel that includes 15 companies, most of them Chinese, Malaysian and European.

"Second, the American oil companies plan, after stability in Iraq is obtained, to extend the oil pipeline from the Arabian Gulf through the Saudi port of Yanbu' to the port city of 'Arous in Sudan, and [from there] through Darfur to Chad where it [will link to] the existing pipeline that begins in Daba oil fields in Chad and goes to the Atlantic Ocean, therefore securing an oil flow for American needs.

"The needs of the American industrial sector are not limited to [securing] a safe passage for the oil through Africa, but aims also at limiting the French presence in Africa. This, following America's success in removing France from the area of Al-Buheirat Al-'Uzma [the Great Lakes], it is now hoping to eliminate the French presence in Chad and Sudan, since France did not act as politically expected of her in the Darfur problem..."

Over here, people play the race card. Over there, it's the Israel card. Despite it, the Arab League behaved as expected.

Koko the gorilla, who has learned to communicate with humans by sign language, told her handlers she had a tooth ache. They arranged for her to have it taken out. As an anesthesiologist prepared to put her under, Koko asked to meet the team of specialists who were dealing with her. "They crowded around her," according to the San Francisco Chronicle, "and Koko, who plays favorites, asked one woman wearing red to come closer. The woman handed her a business card, which Koko promptly ate. Otherwise, Koko was calm."

The operation was a success.

Thirteen Democratic members of the House of Representatives, who said civil rights violations took place in Florida and elsewhere in the 2000 election, wrote to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in July, asking him to send observers to the presidential election in November. Mr Annan has obliged, as he must. A team of international observers, then, will be sent to the US to ensure no election fraud occurs this time.

This is really not my business, I know, but let me get this off my chest. If I were an American, I would make it my business never again to vote for the Democratic party after that.

Condoleeza Rice says Washington's campaign of drawing attention to Iran's nuclear ambition has paid off. She told CNN's Late Edition that "I think we've finally now got the world community to a place, and the International Atomic Energy Agency to a place, that it is worried and suspicious of the Iranian activities," she said. "Iran is facing for the first time real resistance to trying to take these steps."

On the ground, a high-stakes game of brinksmanship is taking shape. Iran is afraid Israel, which knocked out Iraq's nuclear capability with a quick airstrike some years ago, will be tempted to try the same thing again. Iran's defense minister, DEBKAfile believes, is convinced that Israel is developing a new type of depth bomb able to penetrate buried sites or wipe out electronics with electro-magnetic energy bursts. As a result of these fears, some of Iran's new Shehab-3 missiles, which have the range to strike anywhere in Israel, have been deployed secretly in the central part of the country - both as a shield for the nuclear plants against air, ground or naval attack and as a retaliatory option against attackers.

DEBKAfile says Iran's radical spiritual ruler, Ali Khamenei, convened a high-powered secret conference on August 1 to underline a policy of nuclear brinkmanship in the face of the US-led international outcry against its nuclear weapons program. The decision to tough it out was endorsed by the assembled leadership group of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

When a volcanic eruption in 1995 forced people from Monserrat to leave their island home, most went to Britain or to other islands in the Caribbean. Some 300 of them went to the US, where they were granted temporary protected status, in view of their situation. Now, the Department of Homeland Security is ordering them to get out of the country by February. I think that's rather meanspirited. Bogus refugees and border jumpers are accepted by the US at a staggering rate - 300 genuine refugees would make so little difference it surely isn't worth the ill will this will generate.

Duncan Steel, who bills himself as an Oz space researcher, thinks ET, if he exists, would be not at all like his depiction in the eponymous movie. An argument can be made, apparently, that extraterrestrial technological (radio-communicating, space-faring) lifeforms might look like us. Swiz.

Somewhere - I didn't make a note of it - a writer in a European paper this morning asked, rhetorically of course, how many liberals it took to change a lightbulb. The answer he gave was none. Liberals won't change a lightbulb for fear of offending alternate sources of light. Somehow, I see a parallel with this story, from the Guardian, in which the Brits almost disappear up their own woolen trousers trying to figure out what to do about their offices, which are getting hotter in the summers. Can't use airconditioning, apparently, because it's not green...can't open the window because it's too hot outside...they don't seem to have thought of fans. So they're thinking of a whole raft of things, including rebuilding their offices, introducing afternoon siestas or...simplest of all...moving further north. So will the poor dears die first of overheat or worry? Are they the same thing in Britain? How long do you think it'll take them to start blaming the Americans? Oh, the suspense!

08 August 2004

The Jordanian terror meister, Abu Musab Zarqawi, turns out to be a killer salesman, you might say. According to DEBKAfile, he's the narrator of a CD-Rom used to persuade the faithful to blow themselves up in support of his ambitions in Iraq. DEBKAfile says part of his spiel goes like this: "Before setting out on a raid, the bomber performs religious rituals known as 'ceremonies of yearning for the brown-eyed ones', which are a kind of pre-nuptial rites to prepare the 'martyr' for his union with the promised 72 virgins waiting for him in Paradise at the end of his mission. Male choirs raise their voices in songs of praise for the martyrs and their coming marriage." What's to say? Gag me with a spoon.

Foreign ministers of the Arab League's 22 states are meeting today in Cairo, to discuss the crisis over Darfur, in Sudan. The meeting is expected to ask for more time to be allowed for the Sudanese government to rein in the Janjaweed. The Sudanese are hoping for solidarity from the group, but the Arab world, fractious at the best of times, would have difficulty, just at the moment, agreeing on what day it was.

Besides, Sudan's defense of its actions is looking shakier and shakier. A report written by Pakistani lawyer Asma Jahangir for the U.N. Sub-Commission on Human Right, released on Friday, said the Sudanese government's responsibility for large numbers of killings in the Darfur region was "beyond doubt" and that it was largely to blame for the humanitarian disaster there. Jahangir said she had found "that it is beyond doubt that the government of the Sudan is responsible for extrajudicial and summary executions of large numbers of people over the last several months in the Darfur region."

The report can be found here, either as an Adobe Acrobat or a Word file.

The Oil-fod-Food story, which had gone a bit pear-shaped in the last week, got a boost this morning from a bizarre development in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, where Kurdish authorities are seizing millions of dollars worth of trucks, computers and communications equipment from the United Nations. They say any equipment that was purchased with Iraqi oil revenue under Saddam Hussein's government belongs to the Iraqi people. The United Nations, they said, had initially agreed to transfer the equipment to the local authorities in Irbil, only to reverse position and demand it be returned. So they seized it. This is expected to delay UN plans to establish a permanent office in northern Iraq to manage its political and humanitarian operations there, according to senior UN officials.

This is interesting - a hot new piece of must-have technology for movers and shakers, still a bit secret, is the bomb jammer. Such devices, according to this breathless story in the Washington Post, "cost from hundreds to millions of dollars, and newer models are small enough to fit into a briefcase or backpack (I imagine that must be hundreds of thousands to millions). Pakistani intelligence said one helped thwart a December assassination attempt against President Pervez Musharraf. Others are being supplied to some U.S. military convoys in Iraq. In January, the Army's chief of staff acknowledged the use of jammers to the House Armed Services Committee, but he would not discuss the bomb defense technology in detail for security reasons.

"Elsewhere, U.S. border agents are employing gamma rays to scan a moving vehicle in 10 seconds. The Mobile Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System was used at the recent summit of the world's eight largest industrialized nations in Sea Island, Ga. Agencies are pressing ahead with 'geo-fencing,' a method that can combine satellite, cellular or other wireless signals to track vehicles entering restricted areas. Authorities also are looking to develop vehicle-disabling devices, embedding roadways with cables or other pop-up devices to stop or slow an approaching vehicle."

I'll never get over how Buck Rogers has moved, during my lifetime, from the comics to page one. In the Telegraph this morning, they're talking about how to put people into a state of hibernation for the longer space journey.

And in the Los Angeles Times, a writer whose tongue is only a little bit in his, or her, cheek is talking about how to store antimatter. "Since matter and antimatter annihilate each other on contact, how can antimatter be stored in an ordinary container such as a fuel tank for an ultralight aircraft or starship," he wants to know. I think he should forget storage and think ray gun. They're overdue.

I don't know who Douglas Davis of the Jerusalem Post is, but he has a fine touch with a smear! "Muhammad Dahlan uttered the words that the rais (it's a term common in the Middle East, meaning chief) - and his international donors - hoped they would never have to hear: All of the $5 billion in foreign aid that was destined to fund the Palestinian Authority has "gone down the drain - and we don't know where."

"Well, the Post might be able to help with at least some of the answers: It would be absurd to suggest that the mellifluous Suha, sharing a tres chic bunker with nine-year-old Zahwa in the smart 16th arrondisement of Paris, could possibly have digested all those billions on her own, however acute her Gucci habit and however well-developed her digestive system." It...um, gets worse.

What a crock this guy's story is! Dr David Starkey, fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and star TV historian, says Britain's university system is in terminal decline. He says standards are being driven downwards in the struggle for funds and claims that universities risk destroying their international reputation by awarding degrees to substandard foreign students in return for lucrative fees. My guess is that he's a socialist who believes the state should fund education from start to finish, and doesn't like the British Government's attempts to make universities pay for themselves. That dirty capitalism stuff, and those nasty substandard foreign students, are ruining everything.

Remember Brigadier General Jack D Ripper? "I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids." See any difference?


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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