|...Views from mid-Atlantic|
08 January 2005
A thief who stole hundreds of works of art from museums across Europe, and his mother, who destroyed many of them in an attempt to prevent him being caught, have both been given short jail sentences. The Guardian says Stephane Breitweiser, who stole the objects more or less because he liked the look of them, will also have to pay damages to be assessed in May. He's said to be depressed. In truth, there could be no sentence that is adequate to the damage these people have done to human heritage. Perhaps in the future, the technology might exist to exile them for good to some obscure moon well outside our solar system.
05 January 2005
There have been reports in China, in the Middle East and in Turkey (which is in Europe, as we all know) over the last couple of days that terrorist Abu Mu'sab Al-Zarqawi has been arrested. This one is from alJazeera, and this one is from People's Daily, quoting the Emirate newspaper al-Bayane, which reported the news yesterday, quoting Kurdish sources. The news was also reported by Iraqi Kurdistan radio, which was the first to announce the arrest of Saddam Hussein.
I like the way John C Yoo thinks. He is a professor at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Back in June of last year, I posted something about an article he wrote for the Los Angeles Times in which he said the controversial memos (now being used to criticise Alberto Gonzales, President Bush's choice to be US Attorney General) analysing how the Geneva Convention, the 1994 Torture Convention and a federal law banning torture apply to captured Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, was not the effort to redefine torture and narrow prohibitions against it some say it is. It is no longer available at LAT unless you want to pay for it, but this morning, in the Times, he's seeing off Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's criticism of Justice Clarence Thomas as being unable to write properly as the politically-motivated nonsense it was.
"Rumors are flying in Washington," he writes, "about who will replace William H. Rehnquist as chief justice. On the campaign trail, President Bush mentioned Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his ideal judges. Apparently some politicians have leaked the idea that it is Thomas who will ultimately be selected, a move that would receive widespread approval among conservative Republicans.
"But the idea that Bush might appoint Thomas clearly worries Democrats. Last month, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared support for Scalia, whom he called 'one smart guy.' Reid then announced his opposition to Thomas with a personal attack: The justice, he said, was 'an embarrassment' whose 'opinions are poorly written.' Reid did not offer a single example of this. For all we know, Reid may never have read a Thomas opinion."
Switzerland's small Jewish community is in uproar over a government report which describes some Jewish youth as armed radicals and talks of the possibility of "violent extremism" by some Swiss Jews, according to this story in the Guardian. The country's main Jewish organisation is calling for the contentious passages to be cut from the report and is demanding an explanation for the allegations which it denounces as "false", "outrageous", and "perhaps made in bad will". The deputy head of the domestic intelligence service has had to apologise for its report and order the deletion of references to some Jewish students in Geneva as armed radicals. I'd suggest the most likely explanation is that the report has little to do with Jews, and a lot to do with a kind of boastful exaggeration that is common among people who are drawn to the kind of power that police and intelligence services represent. It's related to having to be first to stand for the hymn in church, or needing to suck up to powerful people. These are people who have some intelligence, but not enough to be able to put it into any kind of perspective. They're often called "assholes".
I could write a book.
The Guardian's Jonathan Jones is a good example of the "asshole" syndrome. He knows it's politically correct to dislike fascists. So when he's supposed to review art made during a time of fascists...well, he simply must denounce it, mustn't he? Fascists simply shouldn't be allowed, should they?
Here's another one. The Guardian's Decca Aitkenhead points out that Britain colonised Jamaica. Many Jamaicans are disgusting homophobes. Colonisation is wrong. Therefore it must be Britain's fault: "Every ingredient of Jamaica's homophobia implicates Britain, whose role has maintained the conditions conducive to homophobia, from slavery through to the debt that makes education unaffordable. For us to vilify Jamaicans for an attitude of which we were the architects is shameful. To do so in the name of liberal values is meaningless."
Will Eisner, who was a pioneer in comic books and the creator of The Spirit, a hero without superpowers, died on Monday in Florida, where he lived. The New York Times had an obituary which I glanced at, but thought I might find something better in the San Francisco Chronicle, as comics seem somehow better respected on that coast than this. To my surprise, the Chronicle was using the Times piece, written by a woman called Sarah Boxer. Now having read it, I'll remember that name and read her stuff when I see it. She is a cartoonist herself, with a B.A. in philosophy from Harvard. She's a staffer at the Times, writing about photography, psychoanalysis, art, animals, philosophy, and other things. She's the author of a graphic novel herself, In the Floyd Archives, and wrote the Times obituaries on Charles Schultz when he died, and on Bob Kane, the creator of Batman. Interesting lady. Present to us from the Spirit, I guess.
04 January 2005
I'm travelling today and won't have a chance to post much. I'll leave you, until tomorrow, with this little piece of good news, taken from the Telegraph .
03 January 2005
Here's a guy I agree with completely. Elliot W Eisner is a professor of education and art at Stanford University, is the author of The Arts and the Creation of Mind. In the Los Angeles Times, he laments the disappearance of art from current discussion about what children should be taught. "Recent efforts to assess and reform our schools - such as global education rankings released in December and the No Child Left Behind law - have focused attention on four so-called 'core' subjects; reading, writing, math and science. No effort has been made to address more fundamental questions regarding what we teach and why."
The arts, he says, are being left out, and that's a mistake. What that subject teaches children is how "to exercise that most exquisite of capacities, the ability to make judgments in the absence of rules. There is so much in school that emphasizes fealty to rules. The rules that the arts obey are located in our children's emotional interior; children come to feel a rightness of fit among the qualities with which they work. There is no rule book to provide recipes or algorithms to calculate conclusions. They must exercise judgment by looking inside themselves."
One year ago today, the Los Angeles Times recalls, "an alien craft screamed out of a pink, dusty sky and bounced down on the rocky floor of the giant Gusev Crater on Mars. Spirit, the first of NASA's two golf-cart-sized Mars exploration rovers, had landed.
"Despite our requisite public confidence, in private many of us in the planetary science community were crossing our fingers. A previous Mars lander had failed totally in 2000, and nobody really knew what had gone wrong. And the scrappy, innovative and ambitious (but terminally underfunded) British Beagle had disappeared without a trace while attempting to land on Christmas Day, 2003."
We needn't have worried, the rovers are still pumping out an extraordinary amount of information about Mars, long past their sell-by date.
Arthur Chrenkoff's summary of good news from Iraq, published twice monthly by the Wall Street Journal, highlights, among other things, the results of another encouraging public opinion survey in the country.
"The latest public opinion survey," he says, "paints a cautiously optimistic picture of Iraq. The poll of nearly 2,200 people across most of Iraq found a resilient citizenry modestly hopeful that the Jan. 30 elections will improve life. Iraqis said pocketbook issues such as unemployment and health care are more pressing than the bloody insurgency that claims Iraqi and U.S. lives virtually every day...The poll, conducted Nov. 24 to Dec. 5, found improvements over the last two months in Iraqis' feelings about the country's direction and, to a lesser degree, about the interim Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi...
"Nearly 54 percent said Iraq is generally headed in the right direction - compared with 42 percent in late September and early October - while 32 percent said it's headed in the wrong direction. More than 71 percent of those polled said they 'strongly intend' to vote, and 67 percent said they believe Iraq will be ready to hold elections by the end of January, compared with 24 percent who said the country won't be ready. Not surprisingly, pessimism about the direction of the country and the coming election is strongest in the Sunni areas. 'The poll [also] found nearly 50 percent of Iraqis said religion and government should be separate. Forty-two percent said religion 'has a special role to play' in government, and of that smaller group, slightly less than half said either that the religious hierarchy has authority over political affairs or that supreme religious leaders and political leaders are the same. But by a margin of 52 percent to 20 percent, Iraqis said they preferred a faith-based party to a secular party.'"
Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5 who suddenly has a book to sell, breaks into print in the Wall Street Journal this morning. "Intelligence work," she says, "is a little like the unraveling of a knotted skein of wool. You get hold of an end and you have to follow it through until you are near enough to the heart of the knot to see what it consists of. My impression is that though al Qaeda from its HQ wherever that may be gives general support and sponsorship to terrorism conducted in its name in the West, individual operations are planned and prepared much closer to where they are carried out. So we are more likely to get hold of the end of a planned terrorist attack if we have our ear to the ground in the right places and that means human sources of information in, not the caves of Afghanistan but the Islamic bookshop in downtown New York, the extremist mosque in North London or perhaps the college in Paris."
Next week, if it plays its cards right, the Journal could have the head of MI6 saying "So we are more likely to get hold of the end of a planned terrorist attack if we have our ear to the grounds in the right places and that means sources of information in the caves of Afghanistan, not mucking about wasting public money in Islamic bookshops in downtown New York, London and Paris."
The New York Times describes it as a secret meeting of 'veteran foreign policy experts' to help Kofi Annan through his current difficulties. Versions of its story, though appear in a number of newspapers, including one in the United Arab Emirates, and on the Voice of America, so it has the air not so much of a secret meeting of friends as of the basis for a public relations campaign to stop criticism of the UN from gaining a kind of downhill momentum.
The Times says "The mission, in the words of one participant, was clear: 'to save Kofi and rescue the UN.' At the gathering, Secretary General Kofi Annan listened quietly to three and a half hours of bluntly worded counsel from a group united in its personal regard for him and support for the United Nations. The group's concern was that lapses in his leadership during the past two years had eclipsed the accomplishments of his first four-year term in office and were threatening to undermine the two years remaining in his final term."
Anyone who has experience of the way wagons are circled when leaders get themselves in trouble will recognise these sentences: "The speakers also faulted the United Nations for the state of its public communications. "Throughout the building there is fairly low morale, which stems from the lackluster way in which the institution and the secretary general's office have responded to the oil-for-food charges...The attackers of the UN for too long have had a free ride in exaggerating the magnitude of the problem, sometimes deliberately distorting the facts, escalating their accusations and demands for his resignation, and frankly the response on the part of the UN has been inept."
So there you have it. It was the PR guy all along.
02 January 2005
I wouldn't have said it was the most fascinating stuff ever to come out of a prison cell, but DEBKAfile has published what is says is a kind of interview, apparently relayed by a lawyer, with Saddam Hussein. He says Syria's next in the US's gunsights. "I fear for Syria. I warned Bashar Assad that the Americans had not only targeted Iraq, but Syria too," Saddam's quoted as having said.
"DEBKAfile's military sources add: 'Saddam Hussein touched inadvertently on the most burning issue between the Bush administration and Iraq's interim prime minister Iyad Alawi. Ever since the December 21 suicide attack on the US forward base in Mosul, when 22 Americans were killed, Allawi has been urging Washington to launch attacks from Iraq on points in Syria - singling out military locations known to intelligence as bases used to assist and train terrorists preparatory to their infiltration of Iraq. The Iraqi prime minister believes that without military action against Syria, three key goals will remain out of reach:
"'1. A general election on January 30 orderly enough to be a success.
"'2. An effective deterrent to Tehran's meddling in Iraq.
"'3. Victory in the war against the guerrillas.'
"Sunday, January 2, US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage arrives in Damascus with a final warning from Washington. The Syrian ruler will be informed that the administration is closer than ever before to acceding to Allawi's demand."
Dr. Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, the jailed Iraqi microbiologist dubbed Mrs. Anthrax, has cancer and is dying in U.S. custody where she has been held for more than a year, says Aljazeera, quoting lawyer Badih Aref, who represents imprisoned former Iraqi deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts has given a man a $75,000 grant to design a lunar space elevator, one of 12 far-out projects aimed at translating science-fiction hype into practical science reality in the next 10 to 40 years. The Washington Post says that besides the space elevator, the 2004 awards included projects to alter plants genetically so they can prosper on Mars; to use sunlight to power a space-based laser that lunar explorers and passing spaceships can use as a power source; to make a superconducting magnetic field to shield astronauts from radiation; and to build a buoyancy-driven glider to fly in thick, "extreme" atmospheres such as those of Venus or Saturn's moon, Titan. But nothing, apparently, for ray gun research. Curious.
Former Mossad chief and Israeli national security adviser Ephraim Halevy has raised fears that Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt might have acquired some kind of nuclear capability via an illicit nuclear weaponry trafficking network operated by A.Q. Khan, one of the key scientists behind Pakistan's nuclear program," according to a story published in this morning's Jerusalem Post.
British police are all bent out of shape by a report that says that they're among the least effective in the world where crime is concerned. Norman Dennis and George Erdos, the authors of the study, are both psychologists at Newcastle University. They argue that current crime-fighting methods in Britain betray the published principles of the 19th-century founder of modern policing Sir Robert Peel, the first of which was 'the prevention of crime and disorder'. This, they say, has been replaced by an emphasis on the detection of crime. Dennis says that the police needed to return to genuine community policing with 'bobbies on the beat' and that recent crime prevention measures such as anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) were a sideshow. The report itself makes a very convincing case. You can read it here.
Despite the protests by the Home Office and policemen, this rings true to me. Our police system in Bermuda is based on the British system, and we are experiencing problems similar to those familiar in Britain - the perception of a rapidly-rising crime rate, and a rapidly-rising incidence of violence. The US State Department, in its advisory to travellers to Bermuda, says it believes Bermuda has a growing crime rate, and warns of such offences as purse snatchings, muggings, and thefts from hotel rooms. Nonetheless, the Police service keeps insisting its figures show that crime and violence is dropping. The way they do that is to use statistical snapshots over short periods of time. The moment you start looking at crime records over decades, the picture changes, and you realise that crime and violence have gone up quite dramatically.
This most recent report in Britain indicates the same thing to be true: "Over the longer term, the rise in crime is so spectacular as to be difficult to comprehend...
"For New Labour, statistics tend to start in 1997, when they gained power. A longer time perspective is rare, especially regarding crime. The claim that 'the risk of being a victim of crime remains historically low' relates specifically to a comparison of the British Crime Survey of 1981 with the figures for 2003 - as if the nation enjoyed a low crime rate in 1981. However, 'if 'history' extends further back than 1981, then it is relevant that the police recorded 2,964,000 crimes in 1981. This was about double the number they had recorded in 1971, 1,646,000. That figure of 1,646,000 was itself about double the figure recorded in 1961, 806,000'..."
As a little footnote - isn't it interesting how the Guardian tries to politically neuter the report in the public's mind by saying, in the second paragraph of its short story, that it has been published by a "right-wing think tank"?
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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