...Views from mid-Atlantic
11 September 2004

I thought that scientists in the United States, at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, to be specific, had only just discovered how to grow blue roses early this year. As I remember the story, they were conducting research into treatments for cancer and Alzheimer's disease, and accidentally discovered that when the liver breaks down a certain enzyme, it turns it blue. (These days, apparently, it's simple just to transplant the gene.) Well, I guess Beijing must have snapped up the formula or whatever it is, in line with their new image as a mover and shaker on the world economic scene, because People's Daily has published pictures of dozens of unmistakably blue roses at the Kunming International Flower Festival.

A religious court in Najaf was once a symbol of the power wielded by badboy Sheik al-Sadr and his followers. Now that they've been pushed out, unsettling stories about torture and murder are beginning to surface. The young sheik apparently had a habit of killing Iraqis who opposed his insurrection, and mutilating their bodies. On Friday, about 1,000 protesters marched through Najaf's old quarter to demand that the Iraqi government investigate the court and punish those in charge of it. They also demanded that Sheik al-Sadr leave Najaf.

It's a sort of rags to riches story, but relatively speaking. At the end of the Second World War, the royal family of Liechtenstein, the last of the German-language monarchies, found themselves in severely reduced circumstances. Such matters are, of course, relative, and in this case the expression 'severely reduced' means they lost extensive territories behind the Iron Curtain, and that they were about to experience a serious cash-flow problem...But they had certain aces yet to play. One was that (unlike so many other families) they still owned a country, albeit a very small one. This was the former County of Vaduz, purchased in 1712 at a price of 290,000 florins, now known as Liechtenstein. The princes of Liechtenstein had never lived there until 1938, when they moved their home from Vienna, thereby expressing their neutrality in the coming conflict, as they had in the First World War.

10 September 2004

In the third and final excerpt from his new book, Treachery, Bill Gertz, defense and national security reporter for The Washington Times, writes of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency being asleep at the wheel. "Saddam's Iraq is just one of many rogue regimes that the United Nations has failed to keep in check. Again and again, dangerous states have built up their militaries and weapons programs right under the world body's nose, despite sanctions and anti-proliferation agreements," he says. "Three times, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency missed the covert nuclear-arms programs of rogue regimes, allowing those states to build deadly weapons capability under the guise of generating nuclear power."

Here's an interesting detail from the investigation into the near-simultaneous crash of two Russian aircraft a few days ago. The woman who holds the passport found on the dead body of one of the suspect 'black widow' bombers is alive and well, selling toys in the Rostov region, wherever that is.

The French may get a lot of goats, but one thing nobody else in the world can do as well as they can is to be gallant. "France is honoured by your committed citizenship and the beauty of your soul. You are a true woman of the world with an elegant spirit that leads you on difficult paths in search of peace and justice." Meltdown stuff.

Mohammed Atta the elder, full name Mohammed al-Amir Atta, retired lawyer, says charges that his son was the lead September 11 hijacker are untrue. The attacks were a Jewish conspiracy carried out by the Israeli intelligence service, not a plot by Islamic extremists including his son, the elder Atta told the Associated Press. And anyway, he says, the United States deserved it because of its anti-Arab policies. A lot of questions come to mind. One is what this Jewish conspiracy was intended to achieve. Making certain Arabs look silly, do you figure?

Scientists have figured out (actually, it was an accident) where the brain's centre of dreaming is, and the Guardian is already claiming the Freudian riddle's solved.

It's the next big thing, says MIT's Technology Review - a cellphone with a 1.5 gig hard drive. Samsung's SPH-V5400 model phone, which will debut in Korea next week, comes equipped with a postage-stamp-sized hard drive, a one-megapixel digital camera, a high-resolution, 5.6-centimeter liquid crystal display, a software-based MP3 player, e-book software, and Korean-English dictionary software. It will sell for the equivalent of $800.

So what's the big deal? The technology industry works on the theory that if you build it, they'll buy it. Build faster processors, and the applications taking advantage of the speed will arrive. Build more storage and the industry will find ways to fill it.

09 September 2004

We've all got something to worry and complain about, no matter where in the world we come from. In China this morning, it's the high cost of mooncakes, which are a tradition at this time of year. Some of these pastries, are apparently fetching up to 1,500 yuan (US$180) each. Ahhh, capitalism. I've got a really good recipe I'll sell for a grand to the first person to email me.

This article about the war on terror is written by Sylvain Charat, a Frenchman who writes a lot for the American market. He is the Director of Policy Studies in the French think tank Eurolibnetwork and chief of staff for Alain Madelin, former secretary of finance for French President Jacques Chirac. It's a sort of sweet and sour mixture of ideas. I agree with him when he says: "Being wrecked by terrorism, the international law set up by the United Nations has come to an end. The 21st-century warfare has outdated this set of rules created at the end of World War II and used during the Cold War, a time when states used to fight against states."

But then I'm a little turned off when he talks about a solution which involves "prosperity guaranteed by breaking down the barriers. It is the economic side of the struggle. Let's be clear about this: The perfect ground to recruit terrorists is poverty." That's a very European idea, which needs to fight against a tough tide of facts for survival. It has been shown over and over again that poverty is not a necessary ingredient for the terrorism recipe. Suicide bombers have been shown to be mostly educated and reasonably well off. And what does it mean, "prosperity guaranteed by breaking down the barriers"? I suspect that's just a bunch of words he's throwing at the problem. And when he says "democracy guaranteed by respecting a country's political traditions. As we know, free trade is not only a matter of economics, it is also a matter of ideas", that also sounds like a rather shopworn cliche.

In the second Washington Times excerpt from his new book, Treachery, Bill Gertz gives a very detailed account of the process which resulted in Arab world bad-boy Moammar Gadhafi renouncing his nuclear weapon programme.

Has that Jeopardy whiz finally lost? The Globe and Mail is reporting this morning that a report posted on TV Week's website says Ken Jennings lost, after 75 straight wins and about $2.5 million in cash and prizes. The magazine said the show would be aired later this year.

Both the Bush Administration and former President Jimmy Carter were quick to bless the results of last month's Venezuelan recall vote, but it now looks like they were had. The Wall Street Journal is quoting a statistical analysis by a pair of economists suggests that the random-sample 'audit' results that the Americans trusted weren't random at all.

08 September 2004

There's something profound involved in the process of naming - it is an exercise that can strip things of the magic that makes them frightening and reduce them to their real banality. So what are we to make of the fear of naming?

Daniel Pipes notes that the media used at least twenty euphemisms to avoid calling those who slaughtered schoolchildren in Beslan terrorists. "Politically-correct news organizations undermine their credibility with such subterfuges," he says. "How can one trust what one reads, hears, or sees when the self-evident fact of terrorism is being semi-denied?

"Worse, the multiple euphemisms for terrorist obstruct a clear understanding of the violent threats confronting the civilized world. It is bad enough that only one of five articles discussing the Beslan atrocity mentions its Islamist origins; worse is the miasma of words that insulates the public from the evil of terrorism."

Bill Gertz, defense and national security reporter for The Washington Times, has written a new book, Treachery, in which he dishes the dirt on how supposed friends of the US helped its enemies obtain the world's most dangerous weapons. In this, the first of three excerpts being published this week by the Washington Times, he explains the real reason France was so opposed to the invasion of Iraq - a $4 billion arms and infrastructure debt it was afraid it could not collect in the event Saddam Hussein was chucked out.

Saddam and M Chirac are old friends. M Chirac started the golden age of French-Iraqi relations by visiting Baghdad, and other Arab countries, in 1975. He signed contracts worth billions of dollars with various Arab states, including one that launched Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme by giving Iraq its first nuclear centre, Osirak. The Israelis had the good sense to bomb Osirak out of existence in 1981, the moment their intelligence confirmed the Iraqis were working to build a nuclear bomb there. It was a prospect that did not seem to have bothered M Chirac much at all. At the time, he became known as 'Jacques Osirak' because of his involvement. There has been a substantial personal friendship between the two leaders. M Chirac's tactics at the UN last year, obviously designed to prevent or at least delay for as long as possible Saddam Hussein's overthrow, sparked Uday Hussein to give him the title 'Great Combatant' in his newspaper, Babel.

Conservative black intellectual John McWhorter says American blacks have moved too far away from Africa for the African in African-American to signify a connection that has much meaning. "Since the late 1980s, I have gone along with using 'African American' for the same reason that we throw rice at a bride - because everybody else was doing it. But no more. From now on, in my writings on race I will be returning to the word I grew up with, which reminds me of my true self and my ancestors who worked here to help make my life possible: Black."

You could say that it's a little late in the summer in most of America to be talking about the cooling, calming effect of limoncello, but that would be so beside the point.

Fritz Bolkestein, a European commissioner and a former leader of the Dutch liberals, has predicted that the European Union will "implode" if 70 million Turkish Muslims are allowed to join. In a speech at Leiden University, he compared the EU to the late Austrian-Hungarian empire, which took so many different peoples on board in such a haphazard fashion that it eventually became ungovernable. His speech was described as "carefully crafted", and is said to have caused consternation in Brussels, where the commission is putting the finishing touches to a report due early next month that is expected to back Turkish membership. I suspect this is one of the first shots in what will prove to be a campaign against Turkey as a member of the EU. France has already made it clear that it disapproves.

Here's a guy who has turned a lifelong obsession with Star Wars into a one-man Fringe Festival hit that recreates George Lucas's six-hour film trilogy in 60 minutes flat. On a bare stage - using nothing but elbow pads and the force of his imagination - he mimics every character, plays out key battle scenes and even hums the score. Charles Ross's uncanny knack for impersonation, the precision of his vocal effects and the sheer exuberance of his taxing physical comedy, says the Globe and Mail, has catapulted the show into a Fringe-circuit sensation that has consistently received five-star reviews at sold-out performances across North America.

Mark Steyn notes that Britain's Observer sent a left-leaning reporter to America to interview nine left-leaning novelists about George Bush. "That's the first mistake right there: shipping a guy 3,000 miles to take the pulse of the nation by interviewing a bunch of guys who already agree with him. One of the reasons why the Bush-despisers will be waking up stunned on the morning of November 3 is because they spend way too much time talking to each other and sustaining each other's delusions."

This is how European states compete - you raise your taxes to match ours or we'll punish you! French finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy has said that countries rich enough to charge a low corporate tax rate should not be eligible for EU regional funding. That's absurd, of course, and it has infuriated the new EU member states, which believe that it is perfectly reasonable to lower corporate taxes to attract inward investment. It may, in some cases, be the only decent shot they have at being able to catch up to the style of their wealthier counterparts. European countries' recent aggressive bullying of those countries that don't do it their way is a sign they know how tough it will be for them when they finally face up to reforming their economies.

07 September 2004

Arab media this morning are condemning the bloody end to the Russian hostage crisis and have called the killing of children a "carnage". Arab commentators are concerned about the damage the terrorists have done to the reputation of Muslims and Arabs.

They have reason to worry. The Wall Street Journal is pretty typical in its reaction to the Beslan tragedy this morning, saying "There is something dysfunctional within the soul of modern Islam and its supporters that deems such depravity acceptable. Perhaps after Beslan more of the world, and especially much more of the Islamic world, will begin acknowledging this as the deadly poison it is."

Meantime, the Moscow Times fills in some of the missing detail of the events of last week in this story. What triggered the violence, they claim, was a bomb that had been taped to a basketball hoop. It apparently came loose and detonated on the head of a young girl sleeping below. Russian troops and terrorists tried to stop the shooting soon after it started, but enraged, armed Russian civilians would not cease fire. Civilians also lynched two of the terrorists, catching one as he tried to escape and pulling another out of a police car. The latest figures given in the story indicate that one of the terrorists managed to escape. The Russian Internet newspaper, Kommersant, says as many as three might have escaped.

Newsday reminds us that hurricanes, despite the damage they do to the man-made environment, have a serious purpose in renewing the natural environment. Story contains a clear-eyed little quote, "Humans don't like change. Nature doesn't mind, it just balances itself out."

A new book has a serious go at the reputation of Noam Chomsky, who the left still holds in high regard, despite abundant evidence that he makes Michael Moore look like an amateur in the distortion business. The essays assembled by Peter Collier and David Horowitz - two of America's most renowned ex-leftists - give Mr. Chomsky's reputation a ruthless and long-overdue debunking. This collection, says the Washington Times, "makes essential reading, not just because it demolishes the great man's conspiracy theories, but because it demonstrates his chronic inability to honor the truth. As Mr. Horowitz and Ronald Radosh observe in their analysis of his reflections on September 11, his work relies on 'slippery allusions, inverted logic, rambling eviscerations of facts from their context and malicious distortions of the historical record.'"

Has National Geographic lost its marbles? Patrick J. Michaels, senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute, asks the question because the highly-respected magazine has started running some strange and highly dubious stories about the environment recently. The uncharitable among us will think he's asking the question because his book, Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media, is due to be published on September 27. On the other hand, he makes a pretty good case in this Washington Times commentary.

The Israeli Defence Force is re-writing its operational plans to take account of recent developments in missile technology, perhaps especially those made recently in Iran, which has been boasting of its ability to deliver a missile, now, anywhere in Israel. Haaretz says: "The essence of the revolution is expressed in the decision to put the emphasis on the element of firepower and less on maneuverability on the ground. The intention is firepower from precision weaponry and not massed firepower, like that of ordinary artillery. Hence, the capture of territory, which had always been a supreme consideration, will decline in importance. Maneuverability will exist at a different level, more in the air and on the sea and less by armor divisions that clash on the ground with enemy divisions. If in the Yom Kippur War and the Lebanon War, as well as before then, the emphasis was on divisions that rolled toward enemy capitals, the current thinking says the threat will come from fire that is aimed from long distances." What that rather clumsily phrased paragraph means, I think, is that Israel is also going to rely less on tanks, infantry and artillery, and more on air strikes, both by warplanes and missiles.

There are these two unsolved mathematical problems, the Riemann hypothesis and the Poincare conjecture. Both are said by "experts" to be close to solution. If the Riemann one is solved, all codes currently thought to be unbreakable will somehow become breakable, which leaves e-commerce on the Internet in a bit of a fix. If the Poincare thing is solved, we'll know something profound about the nature of spacetime. Somewhere, I hope, a man is entering a telephone booth. Meantime, I'm going to have an apple.

British bird watchers are "all a-twitter" says the Globe and Mail this morning, without a trace of embarrassment, over the sighting in the Hebrides of a North American purple martin, a bird probably never seen before in Europe. Hordes of them are heading north for a look. It's thought the bird might have been blown across the Atlantic by wind patterns created by hurricanes.

Freeing slaves is the unusual task given to seven small mobile units in Brazil. According to the Brazilian government, as many as 40,000 slaves, poor, uneducated, and unskilled, are currently laboring under brutal conditions. Many are lured to the rain forest by ranchers, with the false promise of princely wages, to clear the trees. Once there, they have neither the money nor the means to leave. The anti-slavery units freed 4,932 slaves in President Lula da Silva's first year in office, the most in any one-year period and twice the number freed during the previous 12 months.

06 September 2004

Bermuda's Premier, Alex Scott, apparently called his opposite number down in the Bahamas last week to pledge support as hurricane Frances bore down on those Islands. Nothing wrong with that, except he didn't bother to tell his fellow Bermudians he'd done it. He's probably trying to keep his head well beneath the parapet at the moment, because Bermudians are fed up with him. There are two principal reasons.

The first is that a police investigation into corruption at a local housing agency suggested that elected officials in the Government, perhaps including members of the Cabinet, had behaved unethically in the affair. Scott has refused, however, to do anything about these allegations.

And the second is that the Government has found it necessary to fire the contractor on a very large (for Bermuda) school project. Scott hired the contractor when he was Minister of Works, disregarding the advice of his technical officers that the firm lacked the experience to carry the project off. He ignored, or denied, or downplayed persistent reports that the project was being mishandled, saying they were simply political gossip. His is a pro-labour Government. Now he's been forced to admit the gossip was correct all along, and that even if you don't factor in the lawsuit that's being threatened, it's going to cost the country tens of millions of dollars to put right.

The upshot is that half the country wants him fired for incompetence, the other half wants him fired for betraying his labour roots by putting scores of construction people out of work. Maybe what that telephone call was really about was a plan to go into exile in the Bahamas.

Prompted by a quest for safer, healthier diets and a cleaner environment, more American consumers are buying the bountiful harvests of organic farmers. Last year, US spending on organic foods reached close to $10.4 billion, making this the fastest-growing segment of the American food industry. Amid scares over mad cow disease, mercury in fish and produce tainted with harmful bacteria, new customers are joining existing ones in embracing organic foods as a sanctuary from harm and a surer route to long life and good health. But as organic products - and their claims to superiority - have grown more common, scientists, policy analysts and some consumers have begun to ask for proof. Where's the evidence, they ask, for the widespread belief that organic foods are safer and more nutritious than those raised by conventional farming methods.

The restoration of Christ Church Spitalfields in London has gone on for a quarter of a century, 10 years longer than the church, a supreme expression of English baroque designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), took to build. Jonathan Glancey approves: "Anyone for whom English baroque is one of the greatest of all architectural achievements will agree that the revival of this Hawksmoor church is nothing less than thrilling.

"The restoration cost 10 million pounds, which is good value: this is the stuff of solid oak and Portland stone that should see the church through the next 250 years, with little need for major repairs - short of an act of God. There were times, though, when the project dragged so slowly that its completion had seemed no nearer than that of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona."

More evidence that the British Government doesn't understand that guns and airplanes aren't the foundation of first-class armed forces, people are. Leaked minutes of an internal forces meeting published by the Guardian this morning show that the Ministry of Defence is so short of cash it is axing investment in playground equipment for the children of service personnel. It is also scrapping orders for power showers in barracks. Meanwhile, billions of pounds are being ploughed into long-delayed and questionable projects like the Eurofighter.

The depravity of the terrorist slaughter of children at Beslan in Russia last week has put lefties who believe terrorism is a product of Western arrogance in a bit of a bind. It's one thing to believe a Palestinian suicide bomber is involved in a romantic, and justified, search for justice when he blows up a bus full of Israelis, but there just isn't any excuse for shooting terrified 6-year olds in the back as they try to run to safety. This Chechen gang has exposed terrorism for what it is - the pitiless and utterly inexcusable murder of helpless and innocent people.

The Dutch government, which holds the European Union presidency, provoked indignation and anger when, opening their mouths before their brains were in gear, they asked the Russian authorities to explain "how this tragedy could have happened". It's the standard European reaction to terror, to suggest that governments attacked by terrorists are somehow themselves responsible for the terrorists' actions. They imply that only Europe's commitment to internationalism is capable of dealing with such problems. Their slowness to wake to the understanding that terrorists don't share their views is typified by their question of the Russians on Friday - they didn't understand that at the school at Beslan, the rest of the world had suddenly been able to see through the veil Europe has helped construct around terrorism, and had seen clearly the ugliness at its core. Explain how this tragedy could have happened? What a stupid question!

Max Hastings of the Guardian, normally so confident in his condemnation of the Israeli victims of terror, is as confused as the Dutch. "Terrorism is getting nastier," he says, haplessly, no doubt feeling the wall at his back. He reminds us that terrorists do what they do in order to invite retaliation so that more terrorists are bred, but seems to feel retaliation is justified in this case, as long as it is properly focused on the guilty. Then, just in case we think he might be going soft, he has a little scratch at the eyes of the usual suspects:

"George Bush persistently abuses the word "war" to describe the task facing his own nation since 9/11, which also perpetuates a delusion that it can be addressed by firepower. Bush also seems willing to regard all terrorists, whether Palestinian or Chechen or al-Qaida, as faces of a common phenomenon. He indulges both Ariel Sharon and Putin in any means they see fit, to suppress those who use terrorist methods, without heed to the need for diverse political responses, as well as sensitive military tactics."

And then his point: "Once the world's surge of compassion for the victims has faded a little, the challenge for any responsible government is to assess terrorism, whether that of Chechnya or Palestine or al-Qaida, without sentiment. The only questions that should matter are whether the grievances represented by a given movement receive a political as well as a military response (viz the Good Friday agreement), or whether governments persist with exclusively military policies (viz Sharon, some people in Washington whose names momentarily escape me, and Putin)." I guess that's his standard line - if we behave decently, so will they. One wonders why he bothers to write a column, if he has so little to say.

The Moscow Times says that ten of the 32 terrorists who seized the school were foreigners. "We're talking about an entire international organization here," an official told them. 'Among the bandits there are Chechens, Ingush, Kazakhs, Arabs and Slavs."

05 September 2004

There were always going to be growing pains in the world's only secular Muslim state, but Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have hit on the mother of all growing pains in his attempts to outlaw adultery in the country. The idea has not only outraged much of the Turkish society, but Europeans, many of whom don't see Turkey as a part of Europe anyway, are being quick to point out how un-European and damaging to Turkey's image the idea is. The European Commission is due to publish a progress report in October on Turkey's reforms that will form the basis of a decision in December by the 25 EU member states on whether to open long-delayed entry talks.

If you've read the book, or seen the film, you'll have a soft spot for the Blackfoot River, so beautifully celebrated in A River Runs Through It. And you'll be horrified to hear that Montanan mining interests have manoeuvred successfully to put Initiative 147 on the State's legislative table, to be voted on on November 2. This initiative would allow a Colorado mining company to build a gold mine on the headwaters of the river that would use a process known as cyanide heap-leach gold extraction. It is a process that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality says has already sullied the state with water pollution problems that will continue forever. Environmentalists are fighting the proposition, but money has an obscene power to corrupt in matters like this.

Italian diplomats, quoted by the Sunday Telegraph, are claiming that the infamous Niger yellow-cake claim was a French intelligence scam, intended to trap Britain and the US into making claims about Iraq that were unsupportable, and so undermine their case for going to war. France has furiously denied it, but the Italians say the French were driven by "a cold desire to protect their privileged, dominant trading relationship with Saddam, which in the case of war would have been at risk."

Haaretz editorialises on what it says is a French/US cooperative venture to shake Lebanon loose from the clutches of Syria. "The Syrian occupation of Lebanon, which commenced in 1976, has long become a lamentable fact of life in the region. The Beirut government is an extension of the regime in Damascus and carries out its orders. Hezbollah rules south Lebanon and deploys thousands of Katyusha and other rockets against Israel, while the Lebanese government avoids implementing its sovereignty there. Iranian Revolutionary Guards spread out across Lebanon provide Hezbollah with ideological and military backing." Interesting.

The B movies on show at this year's Venice festival are a mixture of erotic comedies, westerns and war movies, providing viewers with a continuous flow of "police chases, zombie cannibals, beautiful girls permanently in showers, rampant sideburns and shirt collars no designer today would dare to revive." In Cannibal Holocaust, the Guardian says, four American journalists end up on the menu of an Amazonian tribe. The Coup d'Etat gives life to very real fears in 1972 of a political takeover. Others, such as The Orgasm are...um...less violent.


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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