...Views from mid-Atlantic
27 November 2004

One side in Israel sees it as a holy war against corruption. The other, says Forward(you'll need to register), as "tyranny of the police and the state prosecutor's office." But it came to a head last weekend, when the top corruption fighter of the Israeli police force was sacked by his civilian boss.

The firing of Moshe Mizrahi, chief of the national police investigations unit, followed a months-long controversy over his alleged mishandling of a five-year-old wiretap transcript. But the timing of his dismissal, on the eve of a crucial Likud central committee meeting, led to widespread speculation that the firing was not procedural but political. Mizrahi is an object of intense hatred among rank-and-file Likud Party activists, who suspect him of waging ideologically motivated witch-hunts against a host of senior party leaders, including Prime Minister Sharon.

Studs Terkel's been writing for half a century, and running against the grain for a lot longer. I'm not sure that he would quibble with the notion of history as the interaction of great men, but he's not so interested in them - what he wants to know is "What's it like to be that goofy little soldier, scared stiff, with his bayonet aimed at Christ?"

The Guardian has done two lengthy interviews. This one, by Martin Kettle, is written against the background of Terkel's ill health: "Until recently, he was being fed intravenously because the fall damaged his ability to swallow. But he is up and about more, dressed as ever in the red check shirts and red socks that have long been his political style statement, angry as hell about the result of the presidential election - 'We're at a moment of unashamenedness. I call it the evil of banality' - and ready for action and conversation once more."

Oliver Burkeman talked to him in March, 2002, when he was 90, and losing his hearing, but still almost as vital as ever.

"He was born in the Bronx, the son of eastern European immigrants who moved to Chicago and opened a rooming house for immigrant workers - 'that atmosphere of transience and intelligence and oafishness and everything' that gave him his political education. (He calls himself 'a man of the left'.) He studied law, but hated it, and was working as a radio DJ when Chicago started to gain a reputation as a hotbed for the new medium, TV. 'So I played gangsters in soap operas,' he says. 'They all had three gangsters in them, the bright gangster, the middle gangster and the dumb gangster. I was always the dumb gangster.' He got his own series, Studs' Place - an improvised sitcom in which Terkel played himself as a restaurant owner. He started to get involved in politics. 'I signed a lot of petitions,' he says.

"He might still be an actor today if it hadn't been for McCarthy. A man comes from New York. He says, 'These petitions, your name is on all of them: anti-poll tax, anti-lynching, friendship with the Soviet Union.... don't you know the communists were behind them?' And he said, 'Look, you can get out of this pretty easy. All you got to do is say the communists duped you. You were dumb. You didn't mean it.' I said, 'But I did mean it!'"

I warned some days ago that lard was in short supply in Britain, threatening Christmas mince pies, among other things. A little bird tells me you can get it in limited quantities on Ebay. You can Buy it Now for 2.50 pounds, apparently.

I wonder if...You don't suppose that...Naaah, not the Guardian!

New York Times columnist David Brooks says he hates to be the bearer of good news, "because only pessimists are regarded as intellectually serious, but we're in the 11th month of the most prosperous year in human history. Last week, the World Bank released a report showing that global growth "accelerated sharply" this year to a rate of about 4 percent. Best of all, the poorer nations are leading the way.

Some rich countries, like the U.S. and Japan, are doing well, but the developing world is leading this economic surge. Developing countries are seeing their economies expand by 6.1 percent this year - an unprecedented rate - and, even if you take China, India and Russia out of the equation, developing world growth is still around 5 percent. As even the cautious folks at the World Bank note, all developing regions are growing faster this decade than they did in the 1980's and 90's." The World Bank reports that this is meaning a "spectacular" decline in poverty in East and South Asia.

26 November 2004

"Reality TV and mass entertainment excesses have converted semi-serious programming into nonsense. The more nonsensical the better. Rather than act, the actors have to be themselves. Find someone whose brain has been fried by drugs (Ozzy Osborne), put a camera and mike in his face and let him rant...There is scarcely an idiocy that doesn't get public attention. Paris Hilton puts her marginal IQ on display for public delectation. Anna Nicole Smith displays her physical endowments and mental deficiency for television audiences who expect her to express incoherent commentary." Herbert London is the president of the Hudson Institute, John B. Olin Professor of Humanities at New York University, and publisher of American Outlook. In this Washington Times oped, he's lamenting the dumbing down of American television. "Radical egalitarianism," he says, has "fostered the view every opinion is valid. Even suggesting some opinions are stupid is to invite a charge of being elitist, a searing condemnation. Opinions are not dumb; they are simply different. In fact, the word 'dumb' has entered a condition of desuetude."

If this man thinks American television is bad, he ought to come down here and listen to talk shows on Bermuda radio. Then he'd understand desuetude.

D OUOSVAVV M. Are those mysterious letters an exciting clue to the location of the Holy Grail, as This is London suggests, or does this sound a little more reasonable?

What kind of juvenile and dim-witted idiot is this? "Distinguished diplomats were reduced to eating handfuls of cold rice yesterday when the American ambassador in Rome threw a Thanksgiving reception designed to remind the corps diplomatique of the scale of world hunger," the Telegraph reports. "Guests of Tony Hall, the US ambassador to the United Nations food agencies in Rome, were confronted with the reality of living off cups of rice. When they arrived for his party, they were asked to draw raffle tickets, placing them in three categories of wealth. The richest were served with the customary gourmet meal. Others were handed portions of rice and beans. But there were strained smiles among those who drew the 'poorest' tickets. They found themselves shut out of Mr Hall's residence in the elite suburb of Caracalla and left in the darkness to pace the garden."

Not instructive, not funny. Just a horse's ass at work.

Peter Culshaw, who writes about music for the Daily Telegraph thinks he's found the next great singer. "One of the great joys in being a music writer is unexpectedly coming across an astonishing talent. In April, I wandered in to the Jazz Cafe in north London and saw the Mexican-Canadian singer Lhasa de Sela deliver the most compelling performance I've seen all year. She and her band presented songs from her new album, The Living Road, mixing blues, French chanson, Mexican music and off-kilter percussion. Slight and elfin-like, and singing in French, English and Spanish, she seemed to have an enormous inner strength, and by the end of the evening had the entire audience under her spell."

I've never heard this young woman, so this may be an unfair comment, but it is worth remembering that discoveries of this type happen every five minutes, sometimes with sad results. We're all terribly impressed by a pretty voice for a little while, but in the end, a lack of depth and experience begins to take its toll, and a singer catapulted into a fame he or she was ill prepared for slips back into what must be a particularly galling half-obscurity.

It seems to have been treated by most of the world's press as a local story, rather than one of international interest. If you happen to have been in New York or in Israel over the last few weeks, you'll know about the allegations of anti-Semitic bias that have been levelled at some Columbia University professors. If you haven't...well, it may come as a surprise to you that an embarrassed Columbia University president Lee Bollinger has had to promise to take what Haaretz describes as "specific steps" in response to allegations that professors and lecturers at the Ivy League university made vitriolic and malicious comments against Israel in classes.

"Bollinger made the pledge," the newspaper said, "in a Wednesday phone call to Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman. Bollinger didn't detail the character of the steps, but emphasized 'the matter will be handled immediately.' New York's Columbia University was recently embarrassed by reports that Middle Eastern professors are exploiting their academic standing to express extreme political views on Israel, using slanderous and defamatory statements."

This Victorian school entrance exam for British 11-year olds is a shock to the 21st-Century system, for sure. But I think perhaps the Guardian has failed to point out that our approach to knowledge has changed since then. We realise how pointless it is to fill our heads with memorised facts. In a rapidly-changing world, it is much more important to know how and from where to find facts than it is to memorise them.

That's my excuse, anyway.

I've run reviews before of Norman Sherry's three-volume, 28-years-in-the-making biography of Grahame Greene from the Guardian in Britain and the New York Times. The former was transparently vicious, the latter welcoming and respectful. This third look at the book, from the The New York Review of Books, seems to me to have the ring of acuity about it. Reviewer David Lodge seems interested in doing nothing more than look at Sherry's work, and at the life of Graham Greene, dispassionately, on their merits.

25 November 2004

The United Nations continues to cover itself in a strange kind of glory. The General Assembly, according to this Reuters article, has killed resolutions denouncing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and Sudan after African nations argued the measures were politically motivated by Europeans and the United States. I found this via the most excellent normblog, Norman Geras's blog.

David Lines, who is a partner in the Bermuda law firm, Appleby Spurling & Hunter, has published a lucid, nicely-reasoned article in Legal Week, explaining how uncomfortable Bermuda felt to be demonised during the American Presidential campaign for luring "Benedict Arnold" corporations to set up their headquarters here.

"Traditionally, Bermuda's successful marketplace has allowed the island to deflect the label of 'tax haven'. In point of fact, Bermuda needs its depth of financial resources in order to satisfy its portion of the estimated $22bn...losses arising from this summer's spate of hurricanes (Frances, Jeanne, Charlie and Ivan).

"No doubt Bermuda's insurers will feel the effect of this year's storm season. For example, Bermuda-based Partner Re announced the first three hurricanes alone would cost it $87m-$97m...and influence its third-quarter results. Others have reported similar or larger projected claims. But at the time of writing, there is no indication that any Bermuda-based insurer is unable to meet claims as they fall due, or is in financial trouble as a result.

"Not that Bermuda's successful marketplace merely materialised. The simple (and undeniably unexciting) explanation is that it was launched from solid regulatory foundations. These include sound insurance regulation, regulatory flexibility, an outstanding reputation, a recognised legal system and market acceptability.

"A system of shared regulation best characterises the control of the island's insurance industry. Bermuda regulators work closely with insurance industry professionals to maintain standards, address common issues and problems, react to changing market conditions and otherwise promote Bermuda."

Here's a tiny sign of progress in Saudi Arabia - they've hired their first female pilot. She's going to be one of the staff of the private fleet of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. There is nothing in this story about what her uniform might look like. Jodphurs, goggles and a low-slung pistol, I hope,

There's going to be trouble over this admission, then retraction, by Javier Solana, the European foreign policy head, that he met secretly with Hamas, a group condemned by the EU itself as a terrorist organisation. AlJazeera quoted Solana has having said "that he secretly met with Hamas some month ago, adding that the meeting came at a time where there seemed to be a chance to push for progress. However, he refused to reveal who he met or where the talks took place. He also said that it was a secret meeting that was only known by those who had to know."

Solana's office later denied everything.

One of the two Mars rovers, Opportunity, has reached the furthest point east in its travels inside Endurance Crater. Rover drivers have determined that there is no safe path beyond the current position, according to SpaceDaily. As a result, "...Opportunity is now in the midst of an intensive remote-sensing campaign, capturing a panorama of Burns Cliff plus super-resolution images and miniature thermal emission spectrometer observations of selected targets. When this campaign concludes, the rover will back away and head for a way out of Endurance Crater. Opportunity remains healthy and in an extremely advantageous solar array attitude."

Months ago, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asked 16 prominent world figures to study ways the United Nations might be reformed. Portions of their soon-to-be-published report have surfaced in the Los Angeles Times this morning. It will say, the newspaper says, that "preemptive military strikes for self-defense are legitimate, but that any final decision on such action rests with the Security Council.

"The report...also upholds the international community's duty to intervene in any state where the government is unable or unwilling to protect its people, and offers two proposals for expanding the Security Council."

Bloggers, in particular, have been commenting on how the French seem to have been given a free pass for their heavy-handed actions in Ivory Coast over the course of the last two or three weeks. Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post thinks the US has quite deliberately avoided trying to stir the pot. "The Bush team's decision to ignore the temptation to stick a finger in Chirac's eye in revenge for the past should be recognized and publicly acknowledged in Europe - most of all in Paris. It was a cost-free gesture from Washington that is nonetheless the right way to achieve better French-American cooperation to deal with a changing world."

The Washington Post, in the wake of two further resignations by senior CIA officers yesterday, is trying to put the struggle into some kind of context: "...The fallout over Michael Scheuer's comments - he began using his name just before leaving the CIA this month - provided the latest example of how some in the White House and their allies, on one side, and the CIA, on the other, have come to believe that each is out to take down the other.

"By the time a new CIA director, Porter J. Goss, took over on Sept. 24, 'both sides were primed to be offended,' said a former senior CIA official who admires Goss. Now, Goss's every gesture is being magnified through the lens of suspicion and apprehension as he undertakes the kind of bureaucratic change that would be difficult under any conditions."

The English edition of Daily Telegraph reporter Henry Buckley's highly-respected book about the Spanish Civil War was all but lost in a Luftwaffe strike on Britain at the beginning of the Second World War. Now, 60 years later, the Telegraph reports that a new Spanish edition of The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic has been published.

Rupert Murdoch received the first BC Forbes Award at a ceremony held last week. Named after the founder of Forbes magazine, the honour was created to honour extraordinary contributions made to America by an immigrant. In his acceptance speech, he talked about the debt the country owes to immigrants. The Wall Street Journal is carrying an excerpt this morning: "These days, it's not always easy to talk about the benefits of immigration. Especially since 9/11, many Americans worry about borders and security. These are legitimate concerns. But surely a nation as great as America has the wit and resources to distinguish between those who come here to destroy the American Dream - and the many millions more who come to live it."

24 November 2004

John Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has assailed the UN General Assembly, saying its decision to avoid voting on a resolution denouncing human rights violations in Sudan called into question the purpose of the Assembly. "'One wonders about the utility of the General Assembly on days like this,' he said Tuesday. 'One wonders if there can't be a clear and direct statement on matters of basic principle, why have this building? What is it all about?'"

American International Group Inc. Chief Executive Maurice "Hank" Greenberg is being investigated for possibly manipulating the stock price of the world's largest insurance company ahead of an acquisition, according to the Wall Street Journal. CNN says the investigation, in the early stages, began sometime during the last few months, but may not lead to criminal charges.

Earlier, AIG announced that it had made a settlement offer to the Securities and Exchange Commission and had reached an agreement in principle with the Justice Department. The company offered no details on the terms of the settlements, but observers are being widely quoted as having said it involves acceptance of an independent monitor and payment of $80 million. The New York Times says the imposition of a monitor is unusual, and "represents a remarkable concession by a company that until recently had a reputation for standing up to regulators."

John McLaughlin, the deputy director of the CIA, is defending the agency from charges that it has been plotting against the president in an oped in the Washington Post. "...It is alleged that the CIA was leaking material before the election to damage the president. There were leaks to be sure, but the truth is that no one, other than those who leaked and those who reported, knows where they were actually coming from.

"What I do know beyond a doubt is that the CIA was not institutionally plotting against the president, as some allege. The accusation is absurd. CIA officers are career professionals who work for the president. They see this as a solemn duty, regardless of which party holds the White House. Has everyone ruled out the possibility that the intelligence community during this period was simply doing its job - calling things as it saw them - and that people with a wide array of motives found it advantageous to put out this material when the CIA's views seemed at odds with the administration's?

"Unlike the CIA's critics, I point no fingers. I only regret that we are in a period when intelligence is being used as a weapon - but more against ourselves than our enemies. We should all agree that this must stop."

Not the most convincing of performances, frankly.

The columnist Julie Burchill left the Guardian nearly a year ago, and now works for the London Times. She's a pretty extraordinary person...never a boring minute and all that. In this long piece, she explains why she's so in love with Israel. "...Israel is a country the size of Wales, which within the first 25 years of its re-establishment (remember, the Jews were in the countries of the Middle East some seven centuries before the Muslims even existed) - from the Declaration of Independence in 1948 to the Yom Kippur War of 1973 - single-handedly fought off murderous attacks from such neighbouring dictatorships as Egypt, Jordan and Syria...

"This was a country founded on socialist principles, by idealists and intellectuals, which could shape-shift at the merest whiff of cordite into a lean, mean, fighting machine that did not allow soldiers to salute their 'superiors' yet was deadly effective. It was the only Jewish country in the world, yet surrounded as it was by hate-filled theocracies who had wanted Hitler to kill the lot of them, it held secularism to be the most precious cornerstone of its democracy; only in Israel do you find that the most religious Jews, the Haredim, are the most opposed to the existence of the Jewish state - the most extreme of these, the Neturei Karta, even supported the PLO's charter calling for its destruction. Ultra-religious Jews are not generally drafted into the Israeli Army, and those who are end up in the 'Rabbinical Corps', checking that the kitchens are kosher.

"Secular Israel regards them with its characteristic, ceaseless tolerance; but for their part, the men in their side-curls and suits walk alongside young Israeli hotties wearing less on the street than other girls wear on the beach with never a sneer or slur, let alone a stoning. Surrounded on all sides by countries where religion and politics are one, to the point that democracy is considered ungodly, and where the chosen religion spends so much time acting as a tireless curtain-twitching Mrs Grundy, determined above all to curtail the freedom of women, that it has no time to tackle the subjugation and impoverishment of its faithful by their filthy rich rulers, Israel's cool, clear-eyed take on matters of faith and secularism is a lesson to all of us. Imagine - a country in which the MOST religious are the LEAST nationalistic!"

As always, she's a pleasure to read!

I'm not sure whether Cassandra Jardine has invented a new, impressionist school of journalism, or whether she was having a bad day when she wrote this piece about Robert Lane Fox, the British academic who advised Oliver Stone in the making of his new film, Alexander the Great. You have to look hard for the who, what, why, where and when brand of facts, which are interspersed in this piece like silver threepenny bits in a Christmas pudding.

Fox wrote a biography of Alexander when he was in his 20s, we know, because she says so in the seventh paragraph. We know Lane Fox's love for Alexander "'burst' upon him at the end of a studious childhood. Brought up in the country house world of the English shires, he was a formidable young scholar who wept when he was introduced, aged 13, to the wonders of Homer. From Eton, he took a scholarship to Oxford and there he found himself swept away," because she says so in the 12th paragraph. He seems to do a lot of crying, because either the sight of Los Angeles or a ride in a long black limousine (it's not clear which) set him off again in the third paragraph. We never learn what he's a professor of, and we never really learn what he thinks of Oliver Stone's portrayal of Alexander as a pretty bisexual. But we do learn that wild horses couldn't have kept him from riding as an extra in the cavalry charges, which was an endearing and perhaps rather British-eccentric thing to do.

I'm tempted to wonder whether Ms Jardine had anything to do with writing the script of this film, which despite Mr Fox's talk of an Oscar, seems to be going over like a lead balloon with critics in the US.

Hard on the heels of being able to ask whether the Black Dahlia case had been solved, I am able today to ask whether they might finally have figured out who Jack the Ripper was, if the Independent's got it right, that is.

Tom Waits seems to have gone down a treat in his concert in London. But the Guardian's reviewer. Alexis Petridis says "on the evidence of tonight's gig, there is genuinely no one like him," which is a little like saying rain is wet.

23 November 2004

Dan Rather announced today that he's stepping down as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News in March, 24 years after his first broadcast in that position, and a few weeks after he admitted the National Guard documents that were the basis of a CBS story about President Bush were forged.

I'm not really sure whether to cheer or snort at the news that at long last, a UN body has decided to acknowledge that anti-Semitism is a form of religious intolerance. The Commission on Human Rights included that thought in its annual resolution condemning all forms of religious intolerance and xenophobia. Haaretz recalls that attempts made in the past by Israel and Jewish groups in the US to include explicit references to anti-Semitism had been foiled by the Arab and Islamic states. This year, too, the Arab states were active behind the scenes, trying to prevent the mention of anti-Semitism in the draft. But Holland (holding the current presidency of the European Union) and Germany made it clear to Arab diplomats last week that Europe was determined to include the reference to anti-Semitism.

This is another take on the strange case of the CIA man who published a book about ties between Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and Iraq, but then denied that in his CIA role he had ever found evidence of such connections. I think I can understand how and why someone in the intelligence world would do that, although the extent of mental compartmentalisation required to sustain such parallel realities would be quite extraordinary. Thomas Jocelyn of the Weekly Standard sees it in a different way: "Scheuer's response implies that during his entire tenure as the head of the CIA's 'bin Laden unit' he never seriously investigated the possibility that Saddam's Iraq was aiding bin Laden's al Qaeda in its endeavors.

"In other words, he never tested the hypothesis of 'state support' for al Qaeda's terrorist activities. This startling admission reveals the type of pathological 'group-think' that needs to be purged from the CIA. In the early '90s the CIA adopted a specific 'stateless' paradigm for understanding terrorism. Directly contrary to the prevailing wisdom of the 1980s, terrorist acts were no longer suspected of being 'state-backed' affairs. Instead, the mantra of 'loosely affiliated' terrorist networks took root and pariah states such as Iraq - despite being on the State Department's list of 'state sponsors of terrorism' every year - were increasingly viewed as bit players in the terrorist arena."

Amy Stewart's article in the excellent Wilson Quarterly is almost as long as its subject, Charles Darwin's book about earth worms, The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, With Observations on Their Habits. But it's no less fascinating and worthwhile - "When the worms reached for fallen leaves and twigs around their burrows, they selected the best material available. They evaluated, they experimented, they made decisions. Let me say that again: They made decisions - actual decisions - after trying several alternatives and choosing the one that seemed best for the situation. This is perhaps the most surprising revelation in Darwin's book. Although earthworms had undoubtedly been making such decisions for centuries, they found a new and unlikely advocate in Charles Darwin, who had the time, the resources, and the scientific methodology to prove that what earthworms did was more than mere chance."

Has the Black Dahlia mystery been solved? The Los Angeles Times has published a long story about former LAPD Detective Steve Hodel's theory that his father was the killer. Hodel's book, Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder writer Paul Teetor says, "paints a chilling, detailed, week-by-week, year-by-year portrait of his father as an intellectual giant driven to serial killing by his arrested emotional development, his hatred of women and his obsessions with money, power and sex. George Hodel was born in 1907 in LA's Clara Barton Hospital, quickly developed into a musical prodigy with a 186 IQ, and entered Caltech in Pasadena at age 15. As a freshman, he fathered a child with a faculty member's wife, triggering his expulsion.

"In rapid succession he became a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Record, a cabdriver, a magazine publisher, a radio announcer, a medical student, a doctor and the head venereal disease control officer for Los Angeles County. During the 1920s and '30s he started drinking and using hashish, opium and possibly stronger drugs. Along with a running buddy, photographer Man Ray, George Hodel adopted the surrealist philosophy that there is no difference between the dream and waking states. In many photos taken of the surrealists, they pose with their eyes closed to signify their reverence for the dream state - just as Short has her eyes closed in the disputed photos. George Hodel also considered himself a dadaist, someone who rejects accepted conventions.

"In the early 1940s, Steve Hodel says, his father began a series of late-night abductions during which he murdered several women, some of them strangers, some of them women he knew romantically. He speculates that drugs and alcohol brought out the misogynistic traits that his father kept under control during the day. According to the D.A.'s files, Short was one of George Hodel's many girlfriends and was identified by at least one witness, Lillian Lenorak, a former girlfriend of Hodel, as having been at the Franklin House several times."

A couple more items of bad news for the beleaguered UN. First, when Kofi Annan sent investigators in the spring to look into rumors that U.N. officials and peacekeepers were sexually abusing girls in this war-riven nation, he got a bit of a shock. Not only were there more than 150 cases of alleged rape and exploitation - one involving a senior official in charge of security - there also were pictures and videos of some incidents. And one of the investigators sent to look into the case was caught soliciting a prostitute.

Second, Anti-UN sentiment is spreading in the New York state Legislature, with at least one Democrat, Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, joining the opposition to expanding and renovating the world organization's headquarters on the East Side of Manhattan. Mr. Hikind, the deputy majority whip, told The New York Sun yesterday that he would fight any legislation that helps the United Nations, which he called a 'cesspool' of racism, anti-Semitism, and opposition to Israel. He predicted other members of the Assembly majority would take the same position.

FAO Schwartz is reopening in time for Christmas, which will delight children from six to 62 3/4...and perhaps even older. It had fallen on hard times for all the usual reasons. Its new owners, D. E. Shaw Laminar Portfolios, have reduced the number of shops that carry the name from 14 to only two, one in New York and one in Las Vegas, and have stopped trying to compete with places like Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us. So there will be no more aisles crammed with the mass-market toys that had spoiled the magic of the place recently. The opening's at 10 am on Thanksgiving day.

22 November 2004

In the wrong hands, the billions of dollars Yasser Arafat salted away in secret bank accounts could "undercut any effort to moderate the Palestinian position, isolate the rejectionists, or begin to restore the Palestinian economy." The Washington Times attributes that quote, originally made in an oped in the Boston Globe, to Edward S. Walker Jr., president of the Middle East Institute, a former assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs and former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt.

The Times publishes comment from Claude Salhani, the international editor for United Press International, who says the dramatic fight between Arafat's widow and the PA is obscuring the seriousness of the race to grab the cash.

One angry UN staffer told a news agency on Friday that "Kofi Annan is surrounded by corruption, a gang of criminals responsible for some of the worst things that happened to mankind in the 20th century." The Washington Times confirms what I said on Saturday about the current crisis at UN HQ in New York, adding a little more detail.

The London Times's William Rees-Mogg paints in some fascinating background to the current weakness of the dollar. It has been caused, he said, by the continuing rise in the external deficit of the United States, now nearly 6 per cent of the US gross domestic product. But, since 1971, the dollar has anyway been in an unusual and vulnerable position.

"It is a dominant, but inconvertible, currency." he says. "Such a currency is always at a disadvantage. All the other currencies face the full discipline of the market. If their governments run big budget deficits, the price of the currency will fall. Their exporters must be successful; their imports cannot be excessive. There is still some market discipline on the dominant currency, but that discipline has weakened and needs to be reinforced with self-discipline. The process by which suppliers sell to the dominant country - and then immediately re-lend the proceeds - buffers the impact of normal competition. The politicians of the dominant country can behave with relative irresponsibility, and they usually do. For this reason, a dominant currency tends to become cumulatively less competitive. A dominant currency is likely to become a weak currency as there will be too much of it - the position of the dollar today."

The South African-based Solidarity Peace Trust says that 3.4 million Zimbabweans, between 25 and 30 per cent of the entire population, representing 60 to 70 per cent of its productive adults, have left the country. The Telegraph says most of them have crossed the borders into neighbouring countries. Some 1.5 million skilled and able-bodied workers have gone to South Africa to look for work that will enable them to support families left behind in Zimbabwe.

Michael Scheuer, until recently a senior CIA analyst and the head of its bin Laden unit, told Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball last week that his research on bin Laden had uncovered no link between al Qaeda and Iraq. That's a problem for him, because according to the Weekly Standard, Scheuer wrote a book in 2002, Through Our Enemies Eyes, in which he claimed that Iraq and al Qaeda worked together regularly.

All those Greek and Roman statues we're so used to seeing in black and white, mostly white, were originally in colour, apparently. Now that technology is capable of telling us just what colours the ancients used, we're capable of restoring them to their original states. That's the raison d'etre of The Colours of White exhibition at the Vatican Museum, running until the end of January, according to John Hooper of the Guardian .

"It has long been known that classical statues were painted. Indeed, their creators sometimes chose different kinds of stone for different parts of their statues according to the way they reacted to paint and wax, using types that could be highly polished for the fleshy parts and coarser varieties that would absorb paint for the drapery. Some art history books have included coloured photographs to give an idea of how the statues of the Greeks and Romans would have looked to contemporaries. But I Colori del Bianco (The Colours of White) is the first show to confront us with three-dimensional copies created with the help of meticulous scientific investigation."

Setting the Iraqi election for 30 January isn't, as Oz blogger Arthur Chrenkoff says in his twice-monthly roundup of good news from Iraq, the only encouraging sign of progress. "There is also progress on closer economic cooperation with Iraq's northern neighbor, before the first Gulf War one of Iraq's main trading partners." Chrenkoff quotes the Anatolia news agency as having reported that "Iraq has agreed to give Turkish companies a share in its oil projects and has approved the opening of Turkish banks in the country...Turkish Foreign Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen told Anatolia news agency that the two sides had agreed to start negotiations on joint oil production in oil fields in the region of Gharraf in southern Iraq. Turkey is aiming to increase its exports to Iraq to $2.3 billion in 2005 from a projected $1.8 billion this year, and increase the overall volume of trade between the two countries to $4 billion."

And in banking news, he says, two Turkish public banks, Ziraat and Vakif, will be opening branches in Iraq. The Korean Bank, meanwhile, has opened its first branch in Irbil, in the Kurdish north, where the South Korean army contingent is currently stationed. In communication news, a recent study by Madar Research has estimated that Iraq will register the highest growth rate in the information-technology sector in the whole of the Middle East - 43% per year.

21 November 2004

Author David Wise thinks Porter Goss's memorandum to the staff at the CIA, urging them to support the administration, was "astounding" - his oped in the Los Angeles Times was headlined "It's sad that an administration in desperate need of unsullied intelligence would rather agents shut up and salute." I can't help but feel that trying to sell an article to the Los Angeles Times must be the only reason an otherwise intelligent, apparently informed observer could be quite that stupid. No one can possibly think that a government's civil service should be free to disagree with its political masters - it's an argument that would be unsustainable in the face of a child's scrutiny. As any civil servant, anywhere in the world, knows, if you criticise your boss publicly, you'd better be prepared to lose your job. The system couldn't work otherwise.

And I'm afraid the argument that Porter Goss and/or members of his staff were so cruel to the CIA that the spies were justified in criticising them publicly doesn't hold water, either. Politicians can be real pricks, sometimes. It was ever thus. Any civil servant who can't get over that needs to be in another business.

The San Francisco Chronicle's reviewer calls The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place, by Ian Baker, "among the most complex, compelling and satisfying adventure books I have ever read. It's a search for Shangri-la, a physical search and a mental one: "One of the book's many delights...is to follow Baker's inner journey as he tries to balance his Buddhist aspirations with an admittedly materialistic desire to find the key into Yangsang.

"At one point, Baker seeks that key - an actual, literal key - on the lichen-covered face of a sacred cliff: 'The mist, the rain, the vegetal growth, the microorganisms veiled from sight, all entered through the pulsations and cuts in my scratched and torn hands,' Baker writes at one point, 'and where I could not go I could only yield and be entered...All Pemako seemed to coalesce into the square foot of rock directly before me, and all its hidden depths were concealed only by my limited awareness and the mechanisms of mind itself.'

"He faces similar frustrations in the gorge itself. Tibetans, Baker reminds us, view waterfalls as an interface between the physical and ethereal universes - the worlds of body and spirit. And 'some doors cannot be opened, ' he allows, 'until they open in us first.'"

When he said (below, on 17 November) that George W Bush was a bold President, I'm sure David Gergen didn't quite have this kind of boldness in mind. Nice to know it's there, though.

The British Government...or one of its senior officials, anyway...has admitted that the silly fight over fox hunting had nothing to do with saving the lives of foxes, and everything to do with doing down the gentry. Peter Bradley, the parliamentary private secretary to Alun Michael, the rural affairs minister, reveals that the real reason that Labour MPs feel so strongly about the ban is because it is aimed at killing 'the old order' and is the first time in history that a Labour government has taken on 'the gentry'. In the Telegraph, Bradley is quoted as having said "We ought at last to own up to it: the struggle over the Bill was not just about animal welfare and personal freedom: it was class war."

The historian Victor Davis Hansen's always excellent value, as he shows in his latest National Review Online piece, in which I seem to detect more sparks being struck than usual...a note of something like exasperation?

"If someone wonders about the enormous task at hand in democratizing the Middle East, he could do no worse than ponder the last days of Yasser Arafat: the tawdry fight over his stolen millions; the charade of the First Lady of Palestine barking from a Paris salon; the unwillingness to disclose what really killed the 'Tiger' of Ramallah; the gauche snub of obsequious Europeans hovering in the skies over Cairo, preening to pay homage to the late prince of peace; and, of course, the usual street theater of machine guns spraying the air and thousands of males crushing each other to touch the bier of the man who robbed them blind. Try bringing a constitution and open and fair elections to a mess like that...

"We are living in historic times, as all the landmarks of the past half-century are in the midst of passing away. The old left-wing critique is in shambles - as the United States is proving to be the most radical engine for world democratic change and liberalization of the age. A reactionary Old Europe, in concert with the ossified American leftist elite, unleashed everything within its ample cultural arsenal: novels, plays, and op-ed columns calling for the assassination of President Bush; propaganda documentaries reminiscent of the oeuvre of Pravda or Leni Riefenstahl; and transparent bias passed off as front-page news and lead-ins on the evening network news.

"Germany and France threw away their historic special relationships with America, while billions in Eastern Europe, India, Russia, China, and Japan either approved of our efforts or at least kept silent. Who would have believed 60 years ago that the great critics of democracy in the Middle East would now be American novelists and European utopians, while Indians, Poles, and Japanese were supporting those who just wanted the chance to vote? Who would have thought that a young Marine from the suburbs of Topeka battling the Dark Ages in Fallujah - the real humanist - was doing more to aid the planet than all the billions of the UN?"


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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