|...Views from mid-Atlantic|
04 December 2004
Conservative columnist William Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard, says he thinks some kind of corner has been turned in the Middle East. "The sounds one hears emanating from the Arab Middle East are the sounds, faint but unmistakable, of the ice cracking. Though long suppressed and successfully repressed, demands for liberal reform and claims of the right to self-government seem to be on the verge of breaking through in that difficult region."
This report from AlJazeera, in which a Saudi Arabian justice ministry adviser says women will be allowed to vote in forthcoming municipal elections, seems to back him up a bit. "Trends coming from the West which are beneficial and do not contradict our laws and religion should not be banned," the adviser said.
London Times columnist Charles Bremner is saying that Muslim fundamentalists are so violent and so off the wall that "from Norway to Sicily, governments, politicians and the media are laying aside their doctrines of diversity and insisting that 'Islamism', as the French call the fundamentalist form that pervades the housing estates, is incompatible with Europe's liberal values...Reluctantly," he says, "some intellectuals have lately concluded that the model for Europe should be the US. On Tuesday a writer for Liberation, the French left-wing daily, noted that immigrants in the US threw themselves into 'the American dream' and prospered. 'There is no French, Dutch or other European dream,' she noted. 'You emigrate here to escape poverty and nothing more.'"
It's as if Sleeping Beauty were awaking, certainly, but only months after being kissed...and goodness knows what else went on while she continued to sleep!
"Giotto is not an ancestor, a predecessor, an influence. He is the thing itself. His paintings are utterly overwhelming in their honest authority and humble graceful dignity. He is the master of masters - the father of modern art. If you see Leonardo's The Last Supper and Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling already anticipated in his heroic subtle images, you also see Picasso. No one has ever painted better than Giotto, and only a handful have equalled him." Jonathan Jones pays an eloquent tribute in the Guardian.
The Golden Bull Awards for 2004 have been announced! The Plain English Campaign has picked MP Boris Johnson (already in quite a lot of trouble for having lied about an affair he had with columnist Petronella Wyatt) for its greatest honour, the annual Foot in Mouth award. In answer to one question, Johnson said, tongue-in-cheek, it must be admitted: "I could not fail to disagree with you less."
On a related subject, Matthew Parris of the London Times ought to be given some kind of an award for the excellent piece he wrote on the tendency of politicians to exaggerate. "I am getting tired," he said, "of theatricality in British politics, tired of exaggeration, tired of false antithesis. One autumn statement is unlikely to mean life or death for our country. A modest difference between income and expenditure is a deficit, not a 'black hole', and our public finances are not about to be sucked into some cosmic vortex. I do wish the Opposition would lay off.
"And I wish the Government would lay off too. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not 'rescued' our economy. His rules are not 'golden'. He has not 'locked in' the national prosperity, fiscal prudence or anything else. Britain is not poised on the brink of a new 'patriotic consensus'.
"Britain is not on the brink of anything. I see no brinks. The landscape is gently rolling."
Expert hurricane forecaster William Gray of Colorado State University is predicting another above-average Atlantic hurricane season next year. He said on Friday that there are likely to be 11 named storms, with six reaching hurricane status. Of the six, three should develop into major hurricanes with sustained winds of 185 kilometres an hour or greater. The bad news for Bermuda, though, is that the "unusual conditions that made for so many strong storms and so many storms crossing Florida" - by which is meant, presumably, the Bermuda/Azores high that sat all summer to the south of Bermuda, bouncing storms off to the west - are not expected next year.
03 December 2004
Simon Jenkins has a fine opinion piece in the London Times today, flaying Kim Howells, the Higher Education Minister and universities in Britain for being cowardly and stupid. Jenkins says Howell stunned radio listeners by saying, during a broadcase that "universities were 'completely independent bodies'. He is clearly new to his job. Mr Howells should be told that he awards Exeter its research grants. He counts academic references to measure its productivity. He tells Exeter how much it may charge in fees. He indicates the social background required of Exeter's students.
"Mr Howells makes Lenin seem a wimp. Higher education in Britain is wildly centralised. Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, wants universities to discriminate in favour of the poor and the dumb. Yet he will not let them discriminate against the rich by charging them higher fees, since he is afraid that scholarships and means tests might humiliate the poor. He is all screwed up.
"Every year ministers humiliate universities with another regulator, target or burst of jeering. Vice-chancellors meekly turn the other cheek, terrified of losing cash. They are sliding towards the state dependence of their continental counterparts. Nor do the rich institutions give any lead. For years I have heard the grandees of Oxford, Cambridge and London threaten a dash for freedom. But they never do it. They are brave for a day, a gutless bunch. Small wonder ministers treat them with contempt."
It has all the authority of a dead-on bullseye.
The Telegraph seems to be signalling in an editorial today that it will appeal the perverse and mistaken ruling that it libelled George Galloway when it published Iraqi documents alleging he was in the pay of Saddam Hussein. The editorial says: "In the Reynolds case, which had given journalists in this country a sense of security that has now been challenged by yesterday's judgment, Lord Nicholls wrote of the press's responsibility to act both as bloodhound and watchdog. Courts should be slow to conclude that publication was not in the public interest, he said, especially in the field of political debate, adding: 'Any lingering doubts should be resolved in favour of publication.' We earnestly hope that the British press will soon feel secure in the knowledge that this key principle applies."
The Albert Reynolds case to which the Telegraph refers was a case against the Times a couple of years ago. The House of Lords ruled that although there was no general common law protection for defamatory statements in newspapers merely because they concerned political issues or other issues of public interest, qualified privilege was available to them if, in all the circumstances of the particular publication, there was a social duty to publish the material to the public at large. It is a nonsense to try to argue that the public isn't entitled to know of this kind of grave allegation against a politician, if the allegation can be taken seriously.
The French just don't get democracy, do they? The Jerusalem Post is quoting French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin as having promised to revoke the licence of a television channel run by the Lebanese Shi'ite terrorist group, Hizbullah, because it accused Israel of exporting AIDS to the Middle East. No doubt he's bending over backwards to try to be fair to Israel because of France's embarrassment over recent demonstrations of anti-Semitism there. But France knew what kind of lunatic views Hizbullah held before it granted the licence in the first place. It is lying in a bed of its own making.
That said, if the French would make up their mind to support the reform measures that have been recommended for the United Nations, they would have a much better excuse to shut the station down - Hizbullah being, to put it politely, a group that supports terrorism.
Simon Hattenstone, sent to interview Al Pacino, admits in the Guardian that the prospect scares him. But Pacino's a polite man, who tries hard to be a rewarding interview subject. The result isn't perfect, but it's a pretty decent, interesting product, nonetheless.
"Does he like guns? 'I'm not crazy about the guns. I got to tell ya, that's not my thing.' Has he ever owned one?
"'Never! I've never cared for guns. In fact, when I did Scent of a Woman I had to learn how to assemble one.'
"Is he as hard in real life as he is in movies? He looks at me as if I'm bonkers. 'I couldn't possibly be. I couldn't possibly be.'
"You know, he says, he never planned any of this. Having told me what isn't him (guns and violence), he tells me what is him: theatre, Shakespeare and comedy. 'Did you know I started out as a stand-up comic?' He looks embarrassed. 'People don't believe me when I tell them.' He performed in revues in New York's Greenwich Village, doing physical comedy, and that's what he really loved. 'That's how I saw myself, in comedy, and I didn't know I would do this with my life. I didn't know what the hell I was going to do.' If you look back to say, Dog Day Afternoon, he says, you can see the physical comedian in him. 'That's where humour lives for me. In the body. The Steve Martin kind of stuff or Jim Carrey, that's what I like. I've always felt that's what I would like to do.'"
Ukranian opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko details the massive voting fraud that propelled his country into the strange state of constitutional limbo it is currently grappling with in today's Wall Street Journal. "During the first election round on Oct. 31," he writes, "regional governors colluded with police and other state officials to stuff ballot boxes, falsify vote counts and intimidate election commissions. Ukraine's central and territorial election commissions turned a blind eye and overlooked our well-documented official complaints. In the end, despite massive falsifications by my opponent, the central election commission was forced to concede that I won the first round of voting.
"During the Nov. 21 runoff vote, polling stations in the eastern regions remained open two hours after they were supposed to close officially. Some reported voter turnout exceeding 100%, while in other regions up to 35% of the ballots cast were from people's homes. Election observers were prevented from monitoring voting and counting procedures at thousands of polling stations, as permitted by Ukrainian law. Thousands of poll watchers from democratic parties together with average citizens witnessed traveling thugs with police escorts harassing election commissioners, destroying polling stations, stuffing ballots, abusing absentee voter certificates and switching commission protocols, to name just a few of the 11,000 violations officially filed by us in the courts. We are now patiently awaiting the Supreme Court's review of these complaints in the hope that justice will prevail.
"The last straw in the government's election fraud efforts came Monday morning, Nov. 22, when the central election commission's voting results showed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych winner of the election, despite two independent exit polls showing otherwise."
A survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni has documented the troubling extent to which liberal university professors discriminate against students who hold conservative views. The Wall Street Journal reports that nearly half the students surveyed "said that their professors 'frequently comment on politics in class even though it has nothing to do with the course' or use the classroom to present their personal political views. In answers to other questions, the majority acknowledged that liberal views predominate. Most troubling, however, were the responses to the survey item 'On my campus, there are courses in which students feel they have to agree with the professor's political or social views in order to get a good grade' - 29% agreed."
02 December 2004
The Washington Times is urging the Bush administration to use the report of the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which is being released today, as an opportunity to re-engage with the international community. Many of the changes the report recommends, the newspaper says, are changes the US has long urged. It is, for example, in "America's best interest to come up with a Security Council that can make decisions when most urgently needed and with the capacity and will to enforce its decisions. As America's continuing saga in Iraq shows, the alternative to such collective action can be disastrous. But for the Security Council to be authoritative, it must also be legitimate. Whatever reform is undertaken (or, indeed, is not) on this sensitive and central body is likely to last for at least a decade. So it should anticipate the emerging international order rather than locking in entrenched biases."
The Bush administration may be preparing to do as the Times suggests.
Among the many recommendations the report makes, none to me is more significant than that which urges the UN to outlaw terrorism. The UN has struggled for years to define terrorism, but has been frustrated by the efforts of Islamic nations, which have insisted that terrorism in support of "national liberation" movements - notably those in Palestine and Kashmir - should not be labelled terrorists no matter what they do. The report defines terrorism as it should be defined - any action that targets civilians and non-combatants that is designed to intimidate a country's population, or to influence its government.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Spain may have had a hand in getting Fidel Castro to release five dissidents in the past week, including one of Cuba's best-known dissidents, Raul Rivero, a journalist and poet. They were all jailed in the round-up of dissidents Castro ordered in March of last year.
And Spain's efforts appear to be continuing to pay off. The Washington Post is reporting that more of the prisoners may well be freed. As many as 18 jailed dissidents have been transferred from provincial penitentiaries to the main prison hospital in Havana, raising hopes that they will soon be freed, including activist physician Oscar Elias Biscet and veteran dissident Hector Palacios. The five who have already been freed were also examined at the Combinado del Este prison hospital before their release.
Marcel Duchamp's sense of humour seems to have sent a whole passel of art people who must lack one roaring off up what is really an artistic dead end, according to the Guardian. Actually, that's not quite correct - art critic Charlotte Higgins supplied the facts, the opinion's mine.
Canada's getting tough with Denmark, which it says has resumed a shrimp fishery just outside Canada's 200-mile limit, despite having long ago caught its legal quota. According to the Globe and Mail, Canada has closed its ports to the Danes, who feel they deserve a bigger share of the shrimp catch. The complicated formula which regulates who can catch what in international waters near Canada is designed by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which long relied on its absolute neutrality for its ability to get where more political groups couldn't, seems to have turned its back on that idea. The Wall Street Journal says that "Readers who doubt the ICRC's moral drift might want to consult the recent report from the panel on the Abu Ghraib controversy headed by former Defense Secretary Jim Schlesinger. It contains an excellent section on the ICRC's recent attempts to pass off as settled international law a radical document that is in fact aimed at assisting terrorists and so-called 'national liberation' movements (the report is available at the link given). That Red Cross document, known as Protocol 1, has always been rejected by the US and other major governments, and the ICRC's attempt to pretend otherwise with its media spin is also a serious abuse of trust.
"No longer careful, scrupulous and neutral, the ICRC has become just another politicized pressure group like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger is reportedly planning to visit Washington soon to press the US government on Guantanamo and other issues. We hope he is told that he is leading his organization toward the loss of its $100 million-plus annual subsidy from US taxpayers, as well as its special status come future revisions of the Geneva Conventions."
01 December 2004
A highly-regarded European economist, the first female president of the Mont Pelerin Society, Professor Victoria Curzon-Price, called for the elimination of corporate income tax in a speech in Vienna a few days ago. You'd have thought that there, in the centre of socialist Europe, this idea would have gone over like a lead balloon. Not a bit of it, says the Washington Times, "almost everyone in an audience of economists, various government finance officials and public policy experts appeared to agree with her."
Many economists believe that corporate income tax causes more problems than it solves, and many countries, seeking higher economic growth and employment, have sharply cut theirs. Ireland cut its corporate tax rate from 43 percent to only 12 1/2 percent, attracting investment from around the world and, in turn, becoming not only one of the fastest-growing but one of the wealthiest economies in Europe.
The new market economies of Eastern Europe, the Times says, have also been cutting their corporate tax rates in a quest for growth and rapid job creation. Slovakia, Lithuania and Poland have a 19 percent corporate rate; Hungary 16 percent; Slovenia and Latvia 15 percent; and Bulgaria just announced it will move to a 15 percent rate next year. Montenegro, not to be outdone, announced it will go to a 9 percent rate. Estonia has become the champion by going to a zero rate on reinvested profits.
29 November 2004
The Washington Times does a little summing up of what US troops found as they fought recently to clear Fallujah of terrorists.
"...The terrorists who have controlled Fallujah for much of this year made it into a terrorist base from which to maim and murder Iraqis and coalition forces who came to liberate them. They had no compunctions about turning mosques and private homes into military targets by using them in their murderous plots. That needs to be kept in mind as fighting intensifies and coalition forces step up their hunt for Zarqawi's terrorists inside other densely populated cities."
Does the ruling by the International Court of Justice, that the security barrier being constructed by Israel to shield its citizens from terrorist assault is against international law, threaten the future of international law? Andrew McCarthy, a former chief assistant US attorney who led the terrorism prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in connection with the first World Trade Center bombing, thinks it will. In the magazine Commentary, he writes: "A country's right to defend itself against external attack is so irreducible a component of sovereignty as to have been assumed from time immemorial. Recent events, however, have cast serious doubt on the continued viability of this assumption - and, with it, the concepts of sovereignty and self determination as we have long understood them."
In a speech given last week at the Lauterpacht Research Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge, Hans Blix talked about the effect reform of the United Nations might have on that organisation. The Guardian reports that he didn't get much farther than repeating his well-known criticisms of the US. "The results of a review of the functioning of the UN, conducted by a panel appointed by the secretary general Kofi Annan, will soon be on the table. That there is a need to discuss an array of questions is not in doubt - but the fact that the most powerful member of the organisation shows disdain for it is not exactly conducive to a positive intergovernmental debate...
"The fraud (the Oil-for-Food fraud), although widely suspected and estimated at about a billion dollars a year in the media, was not easy for the programme administration to track down and prove. The council and its members saw it with open eyes just as they saw the billions that flowed to Saddam from oil exports to neighbouring states. The programme functioned as a reasonably effective break against the import of weapons and dual-use items, which was its major objective. Today it serves as a campaign platform against the UN. So long as the current climate remains, it is doubtful if any meaningful discussion about UN reform can be pursued."
Blogging at Pondblog over the next couple of days is going to be light, as my house is being tented and gassed to rid it of termites. I'll be back on Wednesday or Thursday.
28 November 2004
Meet Iraqi accountant Ehsan Karim, who just might have been assassinated by a foreign government anxious not to be found out by him, and Mr Cash, the tall man with the briefcase full of cash. The Sunday Times puts a human face on the UN Oil-for-Food scandal.
Meantime, the National Review is calling for the resignation of UN secretary general Kofi Annan. "The mild-mannered Annan may not himself be corrupt. But he has presided over no less than the largest corruption scandal in the history of the world, Oil for Food. Never has the UN been more disrespectable or useless. Moreover, Annan's response to the scandal has been inadequate to the point of disgrace. That he still holds his post is testament to the culture of impunity that pervades the organization."
The New York Times is looking ahead to Thursday of this week, when a report on the modernisation of the United Nations, written by a panel of 16 international figures commissioned by Secretary General Kofi Annan publishes its recommendations. It's an attempt to reorganise the UN to put it in a better position to face such 21st-century challenges as terror, failed states, nuclear proliferation, poverty, environmental decay and mass violence and genocide.
Annan sees it as an important document - he told the General Assembly: "We have reached a fork in the road. This may be a moment no less decisive than 1945 itself, when the UN was founded."
Parts of the document surfaced last week in Uganda. The Los Angeles Times reported that among other things, the report proposes two alternative formulae for the make-up of the Security Council. The current 15-member body, which makes key security decisions for the world, was formed just after World War II. Its five permanent, veto-wielding members represent the power brokers of that time: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. The other 10 members serve two-year terms. A new configuration for the council, the panel hopes, would make the decision-making process more representative of the power centers over the next 50 years.
Both proposals would expand the number of seats to 24 - six each for Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas - with criteria for new membership based on how much the states contribute financially, militarily and diplomatically to the U.N. and its programs.
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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