|...Views from mid-Atlantic|
04 September 2004
I've never heard of Chris Floyd, but he seems to be the Michael Moore of the print world. This story is taken from the Moscow Times: "There are only two questions still up in the air concerning the election. First, will this unprecedented corruption of America's already notoriously corrupt electoral process be enough to counter the public's growing revulsion at the little pretzel-gagging tyrant perched so precariously on his appointed throne? (Bush's approval rating is now an abysmal 39 percent, the Economist reports.) And second, will the Bushists ultimately resort to open violence to maintain their lock on power - and their immunity from prosecution for an ungodly number of war crimes and other assorted felonies?" Says he's a journalist.
Esalen, once the California home of every personal pilgrimage guide and guru from here to Tibet and back, is entering middle age and a rather sad obscurity. Once, it was the hottest thing in hip: Timothy Leary preached a gospel of enlightenment through psychedelic drugs and physicist Fritz Capra explored the mysticism of science. Frederick Perls helped launch Gestalt therapy and Will Schutz made confrontational encounter groups famous. Abraham Maslow developed a hopeful view of human psychology by studying high-performers rather than the neurotics favored by Freudian analysts. Ida Rolf made 'rolfing' a household word in self-help circles with her deep-tissue bodywork. Opening the American mind to Eastern mysticism, onetime Episcopal priest Alan Watts blended East and West in a synthesis of Zen Buddhism and Western psychology. Murphy promoted the mind-body movement in sports, while institute president George Leonard published radical visions of educational reform.
But now, it's "Esalen? Oh, yeah, isn't that the place where..."
Up to 30,000 irreplaceable books were destroyed in a fire on Thursday night at one of Germany's most historic libraries, in the eastern city of Weimar. Another 40,000 books were damaged by smoke and the water used by the firefighters, and are being frozen in an effort to preserve them so they can be sent to Leipzig for restoration. Among the literary treasures lost at the Anna Amalia Library were thousands of works from the 16th to 18th centuries belonging to the collection of the first Weimar librarian, Daniel Schurzfleisch, and the sheet music archive of the library's patron, Anna Amalia (1739-1807), the duchess of Saxony-Weimar. The cause of the blaze, said to have started in the building's attic, was unclear.
Some 50,000 books, including a 1534 bible owned by the German leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, were rescued when library employees, firefighters and citizens of Weimar formed a human chain after the fire broke out to carry the books to safety. The library, opened in 1691, holds around one million books, including the world's largest collection of Faust by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who is considered Germany's greatest writer and who lived in Weimar for a major part of his life.
03 September 2004
Marcela Sanchez writes with outrage in the Washington Post about the entry into the US of a trio of men released from a Panamanian jail last week, under the headline Moral Misstep. She calls them terrorists, which they certainly are, and implies that the US shouldn't have let them in. There's no question that they're bad hats, but I think the real moral misstep in her story is that she fails to mention that all three of them are American citizens, and could not have been denied entry into the US. For a journalist, that's serious book cookery.
The UN Security Council has narrowly approved a resolution aimed at pressuring Lebanon to reject a second term for its pro-Syrian president and calling for an immediate withdrawal of all its foreign forces - an indirect reference to the Syrian troops in the country. The resolution was adopted just hours before Lebanon's Parliament was scheduled to vote to amend the country's constitution so that President Emile Lahoud, a close friend of Damascus, might keep his job. The UN vote was not expected to have any major effect on members of the Lebanese Parliament.
Elmore Leonard, once called 'the Dickens of Detroit', is a man who has been writing stylish pulp fiction since before Quentin Tarantino was even born, let alone had the idea to make a film called Get Shorty. Sholto Byrnes (great name) of the Guardian talked to Leonard just after he'd decided who was going to shoot whom in a scene in his new book. As Byrnes says, that's "a pretty crucial point in his stories, peopled as they are by sleazeball hustlers, halfwitted hitmen, lowlifes out to make a buck any-old-how, cops ground down by the daily grime, and most of them familiar with, if not always packing, a Beretta or a Glock."
The BBC is reporting that a bear tried to escape from the Berlin zoo, yesterday, on a bicycle. Sadly...
Scientists have found a way to grow new hair follicles on hairless mice. Watch for the animal rights movement to quietly fade from view for a while.
02 September 2004
SETI seems to have picked up a radio signal from somewhere between the constellations Pisces and Aires that might be more than the usual random noise, according to the Telegraph.
The Scientist has a more thorough story. Be warned that it loaded very slowly when I looked this morning.
The American-born female giant panda, Hua Mei, has given birth to twin panda cubs, the China Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Centre announced on Thursday in Chengdu.The cubs weighed 157 grams (that's about 5.5 ounces) and 130 grams at birth. The People's Daily story doesn't make it clear, but implies that one's a girl, the other a boy. Hua Mei, who is five, was the first panda to be born outside China. Both she and her babies are said to be doing fine.
Things are definitely not developing in France the way the terrorists who kidnapped two French journalists had hoped. French Muslims seem to be uniting behind the French government. They feel a sense of outrage that the kidnappers have tried to dictate their behaviour from across the world, assuming their allegiance would be to fellow-Muslims, rather than to France.
"'Nobody coming from the desert or the bush in Iraq can tell us what to do in France,'" the San Francisco Chronicle quotes Abdallah Thomas Milcent, 45, as having told them. Milcent is a doctor who is the representative in Strasbourg in eastern France for the French Council for the Muslim Faith, an umbrella organization of Islamic groups. 'This demand comes from crazy people who do not obey any logic,' he said by telephone."
The Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council has announced that all open sessions will be suspended between September 7 and October 7 to protest against Arafat's refusal to sign a dozen laws passed by the council and calling for major financial and security reforms in the PA. "Arafat is not serious about reforms," one legislator told The Jerusalem Post. "He doesn't want to share powers with anyone or get rid of the corrupt officials around him. Who needs a parliament under such circumstances?"
Palestinians are losing heart. It's been four years since this uprising began. Over 4,000 people have lost their lives. It seems to have got them nowhere. Their economy has been ruined by lack of access to work in Israel, as well as Israel Defense Forces attacks and other factors. The Palestinians have watched as their protests, international legal campaigns, and United Nations moves against the West Bank fence have all failed.
Haaretz says "the nature of the conflict, its glacial immutability, the lack of clear delineation into victims and villains, as well as the high-profile expansion of Islamist terrorism into the hearts of Manhattan and Moscow and dramatic developments in Iraq - all of these may have played a part in the perceived drop in resonance of the Palestinian cause."
And on Sunday, even their best crooner, Ammar Hassan, the Palestinian contestant in the Lebanese al-Mustaqbal television's "Superstar 2" vocalist competition, lost to a Libyan. The song contest's outcome has been cited by Palestinians as evidence of the mounting apathy of those they counted on most.
This story in the Guardian is ostensibly about a huge, unique and marvellous collection of Roman sculpture that has been hidden away in a basement for the last forty years, and is now about to be restored to public view. What it's really about is what terrible Phillistines walk among us, and how poorly money and education guard against the disease.
This is a fascinating excerpt from Richard Dawkins' new book, The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life, which is being published in Britain today, and in the US late in October with a very slightly different name (substituting Evolution for Life). Dawkins is one of the great reasoners of our time, a zoologist whose first book, The Selfish Gene, was a best-seller in the Seventies.
"If..." he writes, "evolution could be rerun again and again - maybe on an imaginary sample of earthlike planets - how similar would the results be? Like any zoologist, I can search my mental database of life on this planet and come up with an estimated answer to questions of the form: 'How many times has X evolved independently?' 'The' eye has evolved more than 40 times, to nine different 'designs'. Echolocation - the trick of emitting sound pulses and navigating by accurate timing of the echoes - has evolved at least four times: in bats, toothed whales, oilbirds and cave swiftlets. Not as many times as the eye's tally of 40-60, but still often enough to make us suspect that, if the conditions are right, sonar will evolve...
"Bombardier beetles of the genus Brachinus are unique in...mixing chemicals to make an explosion. The ingredients are made and held in separate (obviously!) glands. When danger threatens, they are squirted into a chamber near the rear end of the beetle, where they explode, forcing noxious (caustic and boiling-hot) liquid out through a directed nozzle at the enemy. The case is well known to creationists, who love it. They think it is self-evidently impossible to evolve by gradual degrees because the intermediate stages would all explode. What they don't understand is that the explosive reaction requires a catalyst: gradually increase the dose of catalyst, and you gradually escalate the explosion, from nothing to lethal."
It's still early days, but the NYT is right - New York's Finest have been doing a really first-class job keeping order during the Republican National Convention. They've been doing it, apparently, by making preventive strikes where the risk is great.
01 September 2004
The US General Accountability Office has confirmed what has been blindingly obvious to businessmen for more than half a century - if your company headquarters is in a low-tax jurisdiction, you have an advantage over your competitors. The GAO might have put it another way, though - if you're not prepared to be globally competitive with taxes these days, you'll start losing your tax base.
The travel guide, Frommer's, has just published an update of its section about Bermuda, and predicts we're going to legalise gambling here within five years.
"The smart money is that Bermuda will have casinos within five years," Frommer's says. "The self-governing British colony may legalize casinos, although there is opposition to it. There is gambling in Bermuda right now, but it's conducted illegally. A decision is expected either late in 2004 or in 2005 by Bermudian Parliament to legalize gambling. Hamilton Mayor Lawson E. Mapp envisions a new waterfront with a terminal building, convention center, hotel, and 'possibly' a casino."
I know there are some business people in Bermuda who are talking the idea up - Mapp seems to be one of them - but it isn't going to happen. I have $10 I'd be prepared to put where my mouth is, if Frommer's has the courage of its conviction.
Nepal is a Hindu state, the only official one in the world. Muslims account for only a small percentage of the population, and that looks as if it may shrink a bit in the wake of the ugly slaughter of 12 Nepalese captives by radical Muslims in Iraq. Thousands of protesters last night attacked the Jama Mosque, the only one in the capital, and set fire to it.
Irshad Manji is the liberal host of TV Ontario's Big Ideas and the author of The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith. She thinks that the Palestinians are to some extent the authors of their own misfortune. "Over the last six decades, several offers for an independent state of Palestine have been floated by the British, the Israelis, the Americans and the UN - Palestinian leaders have rejected every proposal. Worse, they have never consulted the Palestinian people before saying no. Which brings me to the bigger problem of Palestinian culture — a popular culture of incitement that doesn't exist in Israel."
Janet Daley of the Telegraph is tut-tut-tutting like a crotchety elder member of the tribe this morning. "In my day, protesters were mostly bearded, lithe and sensitive. Now they are bearded, fat and smug. Back then, demonstrators had firehoses directed at them, not fawning television interviewers. Did you see those jolly marchers in New York, staging their anti-Bush carnival of absolutely safe, no-risk, self-congratulatory dissent?"
It was Michael Moore, who isn't a million miles from being fat, bearded and smug, who set her off. "When we marched against the Vietnam War, and the young men among us publicly burnt their draft cards, we could expect real punishment and victimisation, not lionisation by the Cannes Film Festival. The draft-defying men were committing a federal crime and risking imprisonment. Some of them had to live in exile in Canada for years - a truly awesome punishment - as the price of their youthful conscience."
Chile's alerce tree looks like California's giant sequoias, and grows to the same sort of size. The durable reddish wood is prized by builders and furniture-makers. In 1975, the global community banned trade in alerce wood. One year later Chile's government declared the alerce a national monument and prohibited the cutting of any live alerce tree. It has never been in greater danger than it is in now.
John Kerry supporters in America have apparently been told by the Leader of the British House of Commons that Downing Street is hoping the Democratic candidate wins the US presidential election in November. Peter Hain, who sits in Tony Blair's Cabinet, has been in the US on a near-private visit. He met Labour supporters in New York, as well as members of the Kerry team. It's politics as usual, I guess.
Slaves are cheap these days. Their price is the lowest it's been in about 4,000 years, according to the Christian Science Monitor. "And right now the world has a glut of human slaves - 27 million by conservative estimates and more than at any time in human history."
31 August 2004
DEBKAFile says leaked Canadian intelligence information is suggesting that the American Airlines jetliner that crashed in Queens, in New York, a couple of months after 9/11, was taken down by an Al Qaeda suicide bomber.
An Al Qaeda prisoner, the organisation says, told the Canadians under interrogation that a Montreal man called 'Farouk the Tunisian', who trained in Afghanistan alongside the 9/11 hijackers, was responsible, using a small shoe bomb similar to the one used by convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid.
China's economy is going like gangbusters. Its society is becoming more open and, somehow, warmer (within the confines of that authoritarian grip of theirs). The people are able to make better lives for themselves. They seem, cautiously, to be enjoying themselves. They won 32 medals at the Olympics. The country is going to host the next Olympics. They sound almost deliriously proud of themselves.
This might be the first time such a story has appeared in the Earth's press, but I have a feeling it's a story that is going to be repeated again and again, for generations to come, until, one day...
Israel's security fence is controversial, but there's no question that it works. It works so well, in fact, that the European Union is building similar fences in a number of locations to keep illegal immigrants out. So are Saudi Arabia, India, Turkey, Thailand, Botswana and Uzbekistan. The EU has even enlisted several leading Israeli contractors to aid in the construction of its barriers.
Most of the countries mentioned voted in favour of last month's UN resolution condemning Israel's West Bank barrier. Think that might be hypocritical? A little?
Jean Prouve was a 20th Century French architect and designer whose furniture and other creations have become highly prized. Just after the Second World War, he started also using aluminium to build sheds and houses designed for the heat of Africa. One of them, La Maison Tropicale, became the home of a French commercial envoy.
The Guardian tells the story of an American collector, Bob Rubin, who found La Maison after a long search, acquired it, took it apart, piece by piece, and took it back to France. Prouve's design, the paper says, "would have been easy to mass-produce, but only three buildings were ever made. The state-sponsored project was foiled partly by the reluctance of conservative expatriate officials to swap traditional French colonial-style buildings for Prouve's stark design, partly by the expense of the prefab experiment, and ultimately by the dwindling power of France's empire...
"Rubin, who has left banking to study architectural history and theory at Columbia University in New York, intends to exhibit it around the world before transporting it to New York. Not that he has any plans to live in it himself. 'I wouldn't mind spending a night in it, but I've got three children - I don't think it would work,' he says. 'I restored it as a document, not as a house.'"
Germany, long a holdout against the practice of using referenda to solve political problems, may be caving. The immediate threat may be to the European constitution, but long-term, it may dull the taste European legislators have for telling their constituents what they ought to think.
Bermuda's got one or two organisations like this, set up when the government tried to solve problems by throwing money at them. They are supposed to be at the sharp end of the fight against things like drug abuse or, in this case, the fight against inefficient train service in Britain. But in fact, their business is spending government money on a gaudy smokescreen of activities designed to "bring the community together", or "raise awareness in schools", or whatever. Their effectiveness in solving the problem generally hovers around the zilch mark. Shutting them down is tough, because they employ people who are genuinely trying their best.
China's legislature has passed a law allowing electronic signatures to be used on the Internet, opening up a huge market for firms in the business of providing such signatures. Bermuda is home to one of the leaders in this kind of business, and I expect the staff are all on-line now, looking for sources for Chinese dictionaries. China's law, and others like it around the world give contracts signed on the Internet the same legal authority as paper ones, a vital building block in the process of globalisation.
30 August 2004
We focus so much on the achievements of the two Mars landers that it's easy to forget how much has been achieved by Odyssey, in orbit around the planet. The spacecraft has discovered vast supplies of frozen water, ran a safety check for future astronauts, and mapped surface textures and minerals all over Mars, among other feats. Odyssey has been examining Mars in detail since February, 2002, more than a full Mars year of about 23 Earth months. NASA has approved an extended mission through September 2006.
Malcolm Margolin is a little worried that, aging hippie that he is, he's not going to be able to pull off publishing 25 books next year. But at Heyday Books in California, "The whole thing seems too sweet, too lovely, too fragile and a little bit important not to keep it going." Got a way with words, hasn't he?
The world's changing again, right under our noses. This time, we need to get used to the idea of paying bills on line. It's telephone, power companies and airlines now, but tomorrow...
Ask Bermuda a question, you could get literally get any one of nine million different answers. It's a scheme devised by Euro RSCG 4D, the Bermuda tourism department's direct marketing agency, in cooperation with APT Digital Marketing Solutions in New Jersey, to handle variable printing on demand. APT's technology enables a full-colour, 26-page, saddle-stitched brochure to be customized into nine million permutations, depending on the declared interests of the enquiring potential visitor. Smart idea...full marks to someone.
An Israeli scientist has invented a personal airconditioner for use, he says, by motorcyclists. Physics professor Glen Guttman, founder of a company called Entrosys, says his minituarized device relies on electronic technology in which various factors convert electric current into hot or cold air flow. Guttman has patented the innovation, in addition to registering a patent for using the invention as a solution for motorcyclists. But I wonder why he doesn't go beyond motorcyclists. What about computers, for a start?
Two pieces this morning that bear on architectural treasures...sort of. In the first, the Guardian reports that two amateur French Egyptologists, using architectural analysis and ground-penetrating radar, claim they have discovered a previously unknown corridor inside the Great Pyramid. They believe it leads directly to Khufu's burial chamber, a room which - if it exists - is unlikely ever to have been violated, and probably still contains the king's remains. The pair are expressing great frustration at the reluctance of the Supreme Council of Antiquities to authorise further investigations, for which they have offered him no explanation. No one from the council was prepared to comment. But the pyramids are a sensitive issue in Egypt, and similar requests have been refused in the past.
In the second, the monastery, Mont-Saint-Michel, is about to be saved from the sands that are threatening to bury the place. Its environment has been changed rather a lot over the years. In 1879, a causeway was built to the island, sparing pilgrims and day trippers both the effort of trudging across the sands, and the danger of the fast and powerful local tides. Some 90 years later a dam was built across the Couesnon, one of three rivers that drain into the bay, to stop those tides wreaking havoc on the lush pastures upstream. The net result of these man-made changes has been a staggering accumulation of sand: much of the million cubic metres dragged into the bay each year is no longer being flushed out again by the river or by the retreating tide, which the causeway prevents from scouring round the full base of the mount.
The plan is to build a weir to allow the river to be redirected past the island, channels to direct the river flow to the places most urgently needing flushing, and a bridge to get tourists across.
The first large reggae festival planned in Britain for 17 years has been cancelled after gay activists threatened to disrupt the event in protest at the presence of two homophobic dancehall stars in the line-up. This is a case of the innocent majority, both reggae artists and reggae fans, suffering for the self-indulgent preening of a couple of little assholes. Let's see how tough they are under this kind of pressure.
The meeting of the Iraqi National Congress this month didn't get a lot of media coverage, but it was nonetheless a highly significant event, says Oz blogger Arthur Chrenkoff in his twice-monthly roundup of good news from Iraq. "In scenes reminiscent of the deliberations of America's Founding Fathers, 1,300 delegates representing the widest possible cross-section of Iraq's political, ethnic and religious groups have met in Baghdad 'to form a people's council that will advise the interim government.' A blogger, Ali of Iraq the Model, sayd "For the first time we saw free discussions with the absence of fear. No one man talking and the rest just listening and nodding their heads in approval. Many members were so eager to talk and show their opinions, interrupting each other many times and of course this is all natural as a result of being forced to silence for such a long time."
And Chrenkoff, among many other signs that Iraq's infrastructure is strengthening every day, notes that there have been some positive words from the European Commission President-designate, Jose Manuel Barroso, who said: "Some people in Europe may think that it is good that things are going badly for the US. I really think that is an irrational and a bad policy." Barroso also called on his fellow Europeans to "leave behind our disagreements on Iraq" and "give a positive, strong contribution to the Iraqi problem."
29 August 2004
Remember that Associated Press report a few days ago, saying the wealthiest 20 percent of households in 1973 accounted for 44 percent of total US income, their share having jumped to 50 percent in 2002? Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute says AP reporter Leigh Strope was trying to do a little political missionary work. "By using the word 'jumped', the AP story clearly implies the income share of the top 20 percent 'jumped to 50 percent in 2002'. In fact, the share fell to 49.7 percent in 2002 from 50.1 percent in 2001." Reynolds says "To describe a falling number as a 'jump' seems remarkably shameless, even in an election year."
Mark Steyn figures John Kerry has screwed it up so badly that "the most likely outcome this November is an increased Republican majority in the House, a couple of extra Senate seats, and a second term for Bush." He's right on the money.
A new species of "furry" shark, which hops like a frog rather than swims, has been discovered in a German aquarium. According to the dozens of marine biologists who have flocked to inspect Cuddles, her fins are smaller but more muscular than those found on similar-sized sharks. She claps them together in order to hop across the bottom of her tank - "She leaps over the seabed like a frog rather than swimming gracefully like most sharks," says the aquarium's curator. Could this be August, by any chance?
What happened to Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb? The New York Times seems to be catching on, later than most, that it was an unsustainable assertion, one of the great environmentalist exaggerations of the 20th Century. Perhaps Howell Raines wouldn't accept it while he was there, and those he left behind are trying to mop up a bit in his wake.
Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
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 Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
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
Yukio Mishima's Death
Contact the Pondblogger
About Last Night
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Arts and Letters Daily
Aworks :: "new" american classical music
Cup of Chicha
Day by Day by Chris Muir
Little Green Footballs
Michael J Totten
Reflections in d minor
Roger L Simon
Talking Points Memo
The Volokh Conspiracy
A Bermuda Blog
A Limey in Bermuda
Politics.bm: A Mostly Bermuda Weblog
The Bermuda Sun
The Mid-Ocean News
The Royal Gazette
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