...Views from mid-Atlantic
21 August 2004

A leading British philosopher, Ted Honderich, who has been compared to Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre and praised by Noam Chomsky, says Palestinian "terrorism" is a moral response to Israeli ethnic cleansing. Aljazeera says that Honderich, a professor of philosophy at University College London, plans to take the same message to the Edinburgh International Book Fair on Thursday, where tickets to hear his speech have already sold out.

It's a great paragraph that begins China's People's Daily paean to Deng Xiaoping: "On the occasion of commemorating the 100th birthday of Comrade Deng Xiaoping, several generations of staff members of People's Daily, as they contemplate the present and recall the past, and cherish the memory of the great man, realize more deeply that Comrade Deng Xiaoping is a great Marxist, the chief architect of China's reform and opening-up program. We recall with deep feeling the cordial solicitude and guidance Comrade Deng Xiaoping gave us in the course of the development of People's Daily, we learn from experience the rich and profound ideological connotations of Deng's important instructions concerning the work of journalism, come to understand his rigorous working style and his lofty spirit and sentiment, in doing so, everyone of us has a surge of infinite thinking, doubly feels inspired and encouraged and summons up their tremendous impetus."

Isn't that good? And they were nice enough to write it despite the fact that his contribution to journalism consisted of censoring the People's Daily!

An upmarket prefab house? Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it? But the Los Angeles Times says it's an idea whose time has finally come...after 300 years.

Dresden was bombed almost flat by the Allies during the last months of the Second World War. The Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, the city's prominent landmark, was not hit, but because the bombing structurally undermined it, it collapsed without warning two days later. For the next 50 years, it lay in rubble on the city's historic marketplace, a symbol of the devastation of war.

Now, according to the Los Angeles Times, "it has risen again, rebuilt of bits and pieces salvaged from the ruins, in an 11-year, $175-million project funded largely by international donations. From America came almost $3 million, raised by Gunter Blobel, a 1999 Nobel laureate for medicine who donated nearly $1 million in prize money to the project. As an 8 1/2-year-old war refugee, he passed through Dresden when it was intact. 'For a child,' he said of the Dresden of that day, 'it was like a fantasy.'"

Animal rights extremists have developed what the Independent describes as "a sinister new tactic, targeting an entire village that is home to a family of farmers who breed guinea pigs for medical research.

"In what is regarded by the Home Office as the most extreme campaign of intimidation known, activists have attacked and threatened the farmers' neighbours, their golf club and staff at the newsagents. They have also threatened to burn down the pub where family members drink."

This charming story in Britain's Independent is about Sue, the world's first, scientifically-certified white elephant found in the wild, and about the ethos of white elephants. Sue lives with a social grouping of 17 pachyderms in Sri Lanka, and was spotted last month, a month during which the rare phenomenon of two full moons occurred. This is hot stuff in Eastern parts, because Buddhists believe that a holy white elephant with six tusks appeared in a dream to present a lotus, a symbol of purity and knowledge, to Queen Mahamaya, as she conceived Prince Siddhartha, who later was recognised as the Lord Buddha.

The Independent says "Traditional Thai texts specify that a royal white elephant should have the following attributes: (1) Pearl-coloured eyes, with the corneas tinged white, yellow or pink; (2) Smooth roof of the mouth, coloured white or pink, and without ridges; (3) Pale toenails, naturally white or pink; (4) Blond body hairs, translucent in sunlight. Two or more bristles growing out of one follicle is particularly auspicious; (5) Skin-tone white, pink, pale dun, or pallid grey; (6) Long tail, with bristles close to the ground; (7) Genitals either white or pink; (8) The creature should emit 'a beautiful snore'." Whatever that is.

Lizzie Siddal changed the face of Victorian fashion. Her tall, boyish figure, with no breasts and no hips, was not at all the standard of beauty of the day. And, crucially, her "coppery golden" hair (as her brother-in-law William Rossetti described it) was hugely influential. Her friend Georgie, wife of the artist Edward Burne-Jones, recalled "the mass of her beautiful deep-red hair as she took off her bonnet...Her complexion looked as if a rose tint lay beneath the white skin...Her eyes were of a kind of golden brown - agate-colour is the only word I can think to describe them - and wonderfully luminous: in all Gabriel's drawings of her this is to be seen. The eyelids were deep, but without any languor or drowsiness, and had the peculiarity of seeming scarcely to veil the light in her eyes when she was looking down." Isn't it nice to be reminded that there are such things as bonnets?

20 August 2004

Want to go to live and work in China? They've decided to open the country up a bit and have introduced their own version of the American Green Card system. Officials there say this is a significant move by the Chinese government to "adapt to economic globalization, push forward reform and opening-up and the modernization of socialism still further, and normalize the regulation of examination and approval of permanent residence of aliens in China."

A few days ago, a local radio station picked up the announcement that this anti-corporate inversion bill was going to be introduced into the California Assembly, and scared Bermuda half to death with predictions that it would soon become law. But behind the election-year hype there is, even in California, apparently, an understanding that inversions are a response to a US tax system that is unfair to companies that do business outside the US, and in dire need of reform. So the bill was rejected by the state Assembly yesterday. The measure, proposed by Assemblywoman Judy Chu, fell six votes short of approval on a 48-26 roll call. It needed at least a two-thirds majority of 54 votes to move to the Senate.

The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq apparently turned over huge sums of money to Iraqi ministries to run the country, before there were written rules or guidelines for ensuring adequate controls were in place. Now $8.8 billion of it cannot be accounted for.

For nearly 20 years, three Texas researchers have set out to uncover details of history, art and literature using new scientific techniques. Using phases of the moon, patterns of stars and other celestial phenomena, the researchers are at the fore of a developing field called forensic astronomy.

The Los Angeles Times says that last year, for example, they used their techniques "to find the spot near Oslo where Munch painted his disquieting masterpiece, The Scream, in the late 1800s. More significant for art historians, they also think they solved an enduring mystery about the piece: why the sky in the background was blood-red. After an exhaustive search that included reading Munch's preserved notes and sifting through dusty records at the Oslo City Museum, they wrote an article this year contending that the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa turned the sky red."

Files released by Britain's National Archives yesterday detail some of the glitches that have been encountered during great royal occasions of the past century. Stolen lavatory paper at the coronation of Elizabeth II, water leaking through the roof almost directly on to the coffin of George VI and queue-jumping MPs are but a few of the headaches faced by the men behind the scenes. The volumes released come from HM Office of Works and its successor, the Ministry of Works, which during their lifetimes were charged with the planning and execution of coronations and funerals.

Andrew Goudie, professor of geography at Oxford University, has told the International Geographical Congress in Glasgow that the process of Toyotarisation - a coinage reflecting the near-ubiquitous desert use of Toyota Land Cruisers - is destroying a thin crust of lichen and stones that has protected vast areas of the Sahara from the wind for centuries. Four-wheel drive use, along with overgrazing and deforestation, were the major causes of the world's growing dust storm problem, the scale of which was much bigger than previously realised.

Iran demonstrates once again that it may be the most dangerous nation on earth.

As southwestern and central Florida begin tallying billions of dollars in property damage from Hurricane Charley, advocates for stiffer building regulations are trying to strike while the iron is hot. They want to force Florida to conduct a re-evaluation just two years after it enacted regulations that were plainly inadequate. The consequences of setting the bar too low are now on vivid display in coastal towns like Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte, where high winds left countless twisted heaps of wood and metal.

Daniel Henninger, the deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page notes that in the parade of nations at the beginning of the Olympics, many countries had something in common. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Afghanistan, Grenada, Kuwait, Iraq, South Korea, the former captive nations of Romania, Bulgaria, the Czechs, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania and the other former Soviet republics, are all nations the US has liberated since the end of World War II.

"How many nations," he asks, "have free France and free Germany liberated since 1945?" Fair question.

19 August 2004

A Defense Department investigation has determined that Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, the Pentagon's senior military intelligence official, violated three internal regulations while delivering controversial speeches that linked the war on terrorism to what he depicted as an enduring battle against Satan, according to a copy of the probe obtained yesterday by The Washington Post. Unfortunately for General Boykin, he made his remarks at about the same time as the retiring Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, made some disparaging remarks about Jews. There was an outcry in the US about the PM's remarks, but little comment about Boykin's. I wrote an article about the contradiction for Bermuda's daily paper, suggesting an example should be made of General Boykin, so as to demonstrate to the world that the US was capable of being evenhanded in such matters.

Li Peng, the former Chinese prime minister who was dubbed the "Butcher of Beijing" for his role in the Tiananmen Square crackdown, is trying to clear his name with a new essay that shifts some of the blame on to his political master. He says now that Deng Xiaoping done it! Li Peng is already the most unpopular person in China. Where he thinks he's going to get by trying to put the blame on the most popular person in China, I don't know. Lynched, maybe.

Scientists using satellites have mapped huge craters under the Antarctic ice sheet, caused by an asteroid between three and seven miles across. It is thought to have broken up in the atmosphere into five large pieces that caused craters over an area measuring 1,300 by 2,400 miles. Professor Frans van der Hoeven, of Delft University in the Netherlands says: "The extraordinary thing about this meteor strike is that it appeared to do so little damage. Unlike the dinosaur strike there is no telltale layer of dust that demonstrates the history of the event. It may have damaged things and wiped out species but there is no sign of it."

The Guardian says that at exactly the time the asteroid hit earth, the Earth's magnetic field reversed. Prof Van der Hoeven believes that was caused by the impact.

Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan has much of a chance of winning an Olympic medal, but it's something of a miracle that they're there at all.

The Christian Science Monitor says that a number of countries helped. "The Afghan Olympic competitors trained for several weeks with Iranian coaches in Tehran. Canada hosted two Iraqi swimmers, another competitor did tae kwon do training in South Korea, and the US Boxing Federation took an Iraqi boxer under its wing. At the same time, the International Olympic Committee has spent money from its Solidarity Fund, channeling some TV revenues to athletes in countries where they need help. The Iraqi soccer squad and an Iraqi weight lifter qualified for the Games on their own merits. The runners and swimmers for both countries are there under a program that allows every nation to send one man and one woman to represent it in athletics and swimming.

"The other athletes from these countries are in Athens on special - and rare - IOC invitations. 'We don't want to allow just any athlete to take part,' says IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies. 'But the whole philosophy behind the Olympic movement is its universality.'"

I guess this is an idea whose time has come. As the Christian Science Monitor tells the story, "The difference between a regular brick and a smart brick is a compartment on one side of the smart brick. Inside, researchers have stuffed advanced wireless electronics - sensors, signal processors, a wireless communication link, and a battery, all packaged in one compact unit." Any problems with the building, the brick is supposed to call home. That's gotta be some battery! Either that, or they don't expect the building to last long.

18 August 2004

John Woo is a prolific director of Hong Kong action movies, best known in these parts for The Killer and Hard-Boiled, which are acknowledged as the masterpieces of the genre. Chow Yun-fat, Asia's king of cool, is the star he likes to work with. According to People's Daily, the two of them are going to make a movie in mainland China - The War of the Red Cliff, expected to be the most expensive film ever made in China. The story is part of a hugely successful 15th Century Chinese novel, the 120-chapter Romance of the Three Kingdoms, by Luo Guanzhong.

The Cuban Government newspaper, Granma, carries a story this morning detailing the severe damage done there by Hurricane Charley before it hit Florida. The Cuban economy is in such rough shape at the moment, they can ill afford to have to deal with this kind of problem.

The Washington Times is setting straight this morning the error I think they made yesterday by publishing an incompetent analysis of the proposal to redeploy US Forces as a result of the death of old threats and the birth of new in recent years. "Not only does the administration's policy, spearheaded by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld early in 2001," the Times writes this morning, "make good military sense, it highlights the shifting strategic concerns of the United States in the 21st century."

For the first time in my life, I think, I'm tempted to call something that John Keegan less than excellent. He is attacking the British Government for their tragically and pathetically mistaken cull of the British Armed Forces, but somehow, his normally razor-sharp points seem a little blunt this time. It's still pretty darned good stuff, though: "The Armed Forces are the most admired institution in Britain. How strange, therefore, that the Armed Forces should have so few friends among our masters. The Prime Minister declares his admiration for our Service people, as well he might, considering how often he turns to them for help in furthering his foreign policy - in the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East - and to rescue him from domestic difficulty, as over the foot-and-mouth epidemic and the fire fighters' strike. When, however, they need his protection as they do in the present cost-cutting climate, he is nowhere to be found."

It's a bit of an arcane debate, one must admit, but it's about to be resolved nonetheless. It concerns whether the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in situ, using parchment prepared from mules found at the site at Qumran, or whether they were written elsewhere and taken to the caves. Archaeologists are going to DNA test the bones found at the site, and compare the results to similar tests of the scrolls. If a match is found, of course, it means that the people who lived in Qumran themselves prepared the scrolls.

I'm not sure what to make of this - it's Polly Toynbee, of all people, making a terrible fuss about her right to criticise Muslims without being called a racist. She's right of course, it's just that I'm as surprised she should be the one to say it as I might be if Oriana Fallaci were to criticise the lack of air conditioning at Guantanamo Bay.

The sex life of Italy's most respected 20th-century novelist, Italo Calvino (he wrote, among other things, The Baron in the Trees, a marvellous story about a 19th-century nobleman who one day decides to climb into the trees and who never sets foot on the ground again), was heading for the courts yesterday after his widow instructed lawyers in Rome to seek an injunction banning the publication of further extracts from his passionate correspondence with a married lover. The row centres on a series of letters written by Calvino in the 1950s to the actress Elsa de' Giorgi. Extracts serialised this month in the newspaper Corriere della Sera testify to a torrid love affair between the writer and the star of, among other films, Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom. It sounds as if the two of them had rather a lot of fun...I can't think what could be wrong with that.

At long last, everything you always wanted to know about how the British view what they call mousetrap. How 'bout this: "Sir Francis Colchester-Wemyss (British author. Pronounced weems. Also wrote about croquet. Pronounced croaky) observed, not at all grudgingly, that, "It is to France that anyone at all discriminating looks for small cheeses, of which there are multitudes, many of them excellent, which are never heard of outside their own locality." However, Sir Francis is dismissive of the cheeses of the Balkans, of Sweden and of Norway, which "can be had if anyone except their nationals can be found to eat them. A common Norwegian cheese smells like an overripe Camembert that has been steeped for a week in a horrible drain: which is possibly why it is plentifully besprinkled with caraway seeds."

He didn't care for Gorgonzola either, "a strong, roughly flavoured cheese which, when at all overripe, smells like a cesspit ... those who like it are very fortunate, as there is scarcely a village whose grocer does not market this dreadful substance."

But he was not prejudiced against Roquefort, " ... a strongish cheese, but not indelicately so, unless it has gone too far. It is a misfortune that the little creatures (he's talking about maggots) that it produces are as large as they are, and as active - a specially good mover will double up his back and flick himself a couple of feet across a mahogany table, which shows him up: on a white tablecloth he is scarcely visible."

Here we go again! Forget global warming...the world's having a little cooling snap. The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that "According to an analysis by scientists at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, July was the coldest worldwide since 1992. That year's cool spell was precipitated by the eruption of the Philippine volcano Pinatubo, which spewed 20 to 30 million tonnes of sunlight-deflecting dust into the atmosphere. But scientists don't know why the Earth's thermostat has dropped this year.

"In the Northern Hemisphere, July's temperatures were below the 20-year average by .14 degrees Celsius and in the Southern Hemisphere by .29 degrees. Both the tropics and Antarctica showed marked coolness. The July weather tracks a drop in average worldwide temperature that has been going on since March, said John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science at the Alabama university."

Do you think there'll be time, before the trend changes again, for the usual cast of characters to blame George Bush for it?

This story in the New York Times yesterday, suggesting that charter schools are underperforming, went against my impression that they are generally performing well. I thought it wouldn't be long before someone disagreed. Sure enough, an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning says the American Federation of Teachers, which was the source of the NYT story, was cooking the books.

The authors of the Journal's report are William G Howell, Paul E Peterson and Martin R West, researchers in the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard. Peterson is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. "It is not unusual," they say, "for interest groups to issue misleading reports that further their political agenda. And for this reason, newspapers generally ignore them, treat them with great skepticism, or make sure they vet the study with independent observers.

"Not so in the case of the recently released study of charter schools issued by the American Federation of Teachers, which, after receiving top billing in the right-hand corner of the front page of yesterday's New York Times, was picked up by news media across the country. According to the Times, the AFT had unearthed an apparent coverup by the Department of Education, which had buried key findings in "mountains of data . . . released without public announcement."

The trio conclude that "the AFT's report tells us hardly anything about the relative effectiveness of charter schools. But one thing is sure: Charter schools do not appear to be bastions of privilege. What remains unclear is how much they can do for the underprivileged. Sadly, the AFT report tells us nothing about that."

17 August 2004

This assessment of the American administration's announcement about a rationalisation of the deployment of its troops around the world has to be the most amateurish and muddle-headed on offer. The questions to be answered are simple - What's the threat? Are we correctly deployed to meet it? If there are 120,000 troops stationed in Europe to meet a Cold War threat that no longer exists, then they are available for re-deployment so as to best address the real threat. All the aimless meandering around that William Hawkins, senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council, does in this commentary demonstrates that he really shouldn't have been asked to write it.

While accurate figures of the economic cost of Hurricane Charley's passage through Florida will not be available for some time, Insurance Journal says it's becoming clear that, although the storm was a major catastrophe for the insurance industry, it will have less of an economic impact on the world's insurers and reinsurers than originally feared.

Johann Hari is a talented young English writer (named 2003's Young Journalist of the Year by the Press Gazette) who is a columnist for the Independent. In this piece he talks to Antonio Negri, the Marxist revolutionary who is thought to be the brains of Italy's blood-stained, but ultimately impotent, Red Brigades. Negri also wrote a book that anti-globalists much admire. Sample sentence: "The analysis of real subsumption, when this is understood as investing not only the economic or only the cultural dimension of society but rather the social bios itself, and when it is attentive to the modalities of disciplinarity and/or control, disrupts the linear and totalitarian figure of capitalist development." That may explain the inability of the anti-globalists to explain themselves in any coherent way. What on earth is that bios thing, for a start?

Burke's Peerage is predicting that John Kerry's going to win in November, because in past US presidential elections the candidate with the bluest blood has always won. I'm trying to keep from getting too involved in what I think is a decision that ought to be made by Americans on their own. However, I did note that Burke's said that one of the people to whom Kerry is related is Tsar Ivan, the Terrible.

I thought it was too good to be true when I noted earlier this month that Virgin Records had issued a statement from the Jamaican singer Beenie Man, which offered his "sincerest apologies to those who might have been offended, threatened or hurt by my songs." He's one of those homophobic idiots who sings about killing lesbians and homosexuals. The following day the head of his management company in Jamaica said that the statement was "not an apology" and that the singer reserved his right to criticise "the homosexual lifestyle". British authorities have confirmed that they may well prosecute him. Guess that must have been the reason he wanted to seem to apologise in the first place.

Racial prejudice and rivalry is at the bottom of the political troubles that have been occurring in Fiji over the last few years, and that led to the violent overthrow of an Indo-Fijian-led government. The Guardian calls it ethnic rivalry, I guess because it has difficulty with the concept of racism in a context that doesn't involve whites, but that's a perfectly silly notion. Fijian blacks, who look down on Fijian Indians, don't seem to think they're doing anything wrong, and keep muttering about the law not taking cultural differences into account. As reporter David Fickling says, they seem to think "there is no problem with rigging politics to exclude half of Fiji's population from government, as long as it is done discreetly enough that the rest of the world does not notice."

Jamaica's always been a violent place, but last week, they were going for the gold. A record 47 people were killed between August 9 and August 15, pushing this year's homicide total to 835, police said. The figure for the year is right on track to surpass the previous record of 1,138 killings in 2001.

Ibrahim Suleiman of Sudan's got the best 'I told you so' story in the world these days. He was one of Sudan's most eminent men. He was chief of staff of the army and held a number of cabinet posts, including a long stint as defence minister. Until May, 2003, he was the presidentially appointed governor of the state of North Darfur. But then, Mr. Suleiman recalls, he bluntly told the government of President Omar Hassan Bashir that its plan to arm militias and send them against rebels rising in the west of Sudan could bring only chaos and disaster. The next day he was unceremoniously stripped of his job. The government went ahead with its plan. The quick result? Chaos and disaster.

Berbers - the name given to the Imazighen people because they were viewed as "barbarians" who at first did not accept Islam - have inhabited North Africa since 7,000 BC. Their ranks have included St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and they have managed to preserve their languages despite French, Roman, and Arab conquests.

Tamazight speakers constitute 40 percent of Morocco's population, 20 percent of Algeria's, and 1 percent of Tunisia's. This year, Morocco's Ministry of Education and the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture have introduced the 9,000-year old language into some 300 primary schools throughout Morocco for the first time.

16 August 2004

Periodically, Saddam Hussein would send the guards on the border between Iraq and Syria away, and replace them for short periods of time with members of his trusted Iraq Intelligence Service. While they were on duty, truckloads of materal were moved into and out of Iraq. Investigators believe some of the cargo was stuff to be sold on the black market. But a strong suspicion also exists that banned weapons and fugitives also were able to leave Iraq in that way.

There's no need for a groundbreaking new discovery in the fight against rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Two Princeton scientists claim that we already have the tools to slow the increase - 15 of them. The pair argues that applied globally, the approaches they identify could cap atmospheric CO2 concentrations at roughly 500 parts per million. This would be significantly lower than what is projected for 2100 if no action is taken. And the means they have developed for analyzing the gap between business-as-usual emissions and the stable rate they seek - and the plausibility of using existing approaches to reach them - could help policymakers choose among options.

Brigid Hughes is the new editor of the Paris Review, the big little literary magazine founded by writers Peter Matthiessen and Harold Humes in 1953, and edited by writer and New York man-about-town George Plimpton from then until his death late last year. Hughes started as an intern in 1994, her first job out of college, and became managing editor of the Review in 2000. The Christian Science Monitor says "Hughes seems concerned less with losing readers than with capturing new readers for her magazine, with its circulation of 10,000. 'I don't think that we would ever have subscribers in the numbers of a Vanity Fair,' she says. 'But I do think there's an untapped group of people.'

"One way Hughes hopes to attract a new audience is through what she calls the DNA of literature project. To be launched in September, and supported by a grant from the NEA, it will make available on The Paris Review's website past author interviews with introductions by contemporary writers - such as Jonathan Lethem on Graham Greene."

Arthur Chrenkoff reviews another two weeks-worth of good news from Iraq in the Wall Street Journal this morning. "Baghdad's favorite radio station, Radio Dijla, continues to be a huge hit with the audience: 'At the studio microphone - as he is for a remarkable seven hours a day, discussing everything with his listeners from politics to pop music, sewage to suicide bombing, corruption to conjugal disharmony - Baghdad's top jock, Majid Salim...How has life changed [since Saddam's overthrow]? Well, [Salim] says with a smile, for one thing you couldn't mention, let alone play the music of, Iraq's most popular singer, Kazem al-Saher, after he failed to turn up to a birthday party of Uday Hussein. More seriously, he says: 'You couldn't mention the word Kuwait. Or Iran.' He adds: 'Now I have the freedom of giving my opinion as a presenter and to encourage the listeners to give theirs.'"

15 August 2004

This is an excerpt from the Arcata, California, police log: "Aug. 24, 2000, 1:19 a.m.: The delicate fluorescent ambiance of a 24-hour doughnut shop was either shattered or enhanced, depending on your perspective, by a public he-she frisson. The feuding fuss-budgets took their leave."

Kevin L. Hoover, editor and publisher of the Arcata Eye, has written a book about his efforts to make the Arcata police account of their work a little more...fragrant, shall we say...than the normal. Here's another sample:

One had a hat, one a hood
And both were way up to no good
Four cars fell to ravage
Now were they just savage
Or lonely and misunderstood?"

Prince Bandar, the Saudis' man in Washington, is denying there is a "secret deal" between Saudi Arabia and the Bush administration that is intended to boost President Bush's reelection prospects. Writing in the Washington Post this morning, he says "Saudi Arabia has, without regard to politics, consistently sought to ensure stable oil prices for the United States and the world as a simple matter of good business, abiding friendship and national self-interest. I can attest to this because I was personally involved in the negotiations with each administration." A terrible pun has sprung to mind, but I'm going to resist it.

Hurricane Charley's last-minute intensification took forecasters by surprise. They're getting better at it, but still have a way to go. In Bermuda, we watched the progress of the storm with special interest, having ourselves taken a direct hit from Fabian last year. And I think if you asked any Bermudian what he thought of the damage Charley caused, he'd (or she'd) say the US is crazy to allow people to build those incredibly flimsy houses. If you're in an area prone to being hit by hurricanes, you have to insist on houses that can take winds of that kind of strength. Otherwise, you're going to have to pay for them to be rebuilt every time there's a blow.

A second comment. I read this in the middle of an AP story on Saturday: "At a nursing center in Port Charlotte, Charley broke windows and ripped off portions of the roof, but none of the more than 100 residents or staff was injured, administrator Joyce Cuffe said. 'The doors were being sucked open,' Cuffe said. 'A lot of us were holding the doors, trying to keep them shut, using ropes, anything we could to hold the doors shut. There was such a vacuum, our ears and head were hurting.'"

That was no vacuum - it was the pressure of air blown into a building that has no way of easily escaping. In Bermuda, we open windows on the lee side of a house to let that air out. If you don't, the pressure will blow the roof off. During Fabian, I had windows and a door open. I closed the door once, but felt the pressure build up very quickly, so I opened it and left it open for the duration, despite the rain. I had no damage at all, although the house shook in places where it had forgotten there were places.

Bloated Eurocrats riding the gravy train? It's the kind of story red-blooded hacks just love.

The business of having them arrested for writing them up may be going a little too far, though.

Britain's Independent carried two worthwhile nuggets of news on the music front this morning. First, get ready for a little more Clash. The lost Vanilla Tapes have been found and are soon to be released. Actually, it's probably more accurate to say that a copy of the lost tapes have been found.

And Elvis Costello is having the time of his life. Newly married to Diana Krall, he did three nights at Lincoln Center last month that were a sort of 50th birthday celebration. The Independent's Craig McLean writes that "Costello's week of pan-genre, cross-cultural roaming ended with what was mostly an a capella version of the closing track from 1991's Mighty Like A Rose. He had thought the song's 'circus music' feel would be fitting for the finale. He also thought it would be funny to have the orchestra join him at the line 'I'm the lucky goon who composes tune from birds arranged the high-wire'.

"As 70 musicians weighed in, and Nieve (pianist Steve) pounded away, the sound was chaotic and flying out of control. Costello loved it. He beamed and bowed as he received a standing ovation and a bunch of flowers. He applauded his conductor, and his lead violinist, and the whooping crowd. He exited stage left, came back for more cheers, then trotted off again, his leather coat wafting behind him."


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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