...Views from mid-Atlantic
22 January 2005

Pondblog's new comics correspondent, the up-and-coming artist Colin Kerr of New York, thinks it's high time the White House gave one of those Presidential Medals of Freedom to Stan Lee, the creator of Spiderman, for his contributions to a uniquely American art form.

He wrote me to say "I think that Lee, along with the various artists he worked with - Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others - really changed comics and other entertainment media (movies, for example). They changed our perception of a hero and the way comic art looked. They made "gaudy" visual innovations - the heroic stance, the abstract element in comic art, psychedelic graphic design, bold use of color. These guys made comics far more sophisticated as both a visual and literary art form. Like the musical, comics are a medium that is neither fish nor fowl, so to speak. They aren't books, they're not paintings and the writing and the art are completely dependent on each other. They're a really good reflection of America (and I mean that in a good way, of course), the art form of the melting pot, like Jazz, Blues, Country Music and the Musical - a little of this, a little of that - shaken, not stirred, and certainly not shaken gently."

The BBC included a short-form biography of Lee, whose real name is Stan Lieberman, when they covered his victorious recent court bid to get a piece of the Spiderman movie action. It's worth reading. And it's worth reflecting on the extent to which Stan Lee and others are responsible for waking the imaginations of young Americans in the way writers like Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne did for my generation.

I've started, then abandoned a couple of attempts to work out what I think of Prince Harry and his party appearance in a Nazi costume. Was it a trivial incident? Did it have the deeply symbolic meaning that so many were reading into it? I don't want you to think I've been lying awake worrying about it...but not being able to make up my mind about something that should be so simple does have the quality of an unscratchable itch. It's the place the Royal Family has in the mind of even a very distant Brit like me that skews one's ability to think about it. There is a deeply-emplaced layer of respect that makes one feel one isn't allowed to think about it.

Enter that admirable and utterly clear-eyed woman, Julie Burchill. She is, I declare, the cheekiest bitch left unhung, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. She says, in her Times piece, that "we should be thanking our lucky stars that Harry wore only a toy Nazi uniform, not a real one. And that he wore it in public, for open japes, because then the chances are that he won't be wearing it in private, for secret thrills.

"For the sad, surreal fact is that during the Second World War his grandfather had four sisters who were all married to Germans, at least one of them a rabid Nazi. Before the war, his great-grandfather considered Churchill a 'warmonger' for standing up to the Nazis, and wanted to write a cosy, conciliatory letter to that nice Mr Hitler, 'from one soldier to another'. His great-uncle, the kinky abdicator, was a fan of Adolf. And his father, Prince Charles, wrote That Letter about that clever young black lady, her utterly reasonable ambitions, and her refusal to know her place - picking cotton on the Highgrove estate, no doubt. With family like this, who needs bigots?

"So to return to my starting point, may I say again that I adore the Jews, and I think them the cleverest race on earth; but their one blind spot is that in believing that they will ever be accepted by the English ruling class - or any ruling class - they make seven sorts of fool of themselves. Specifically, rich Jews only embarrass themselves and their supporters when they suck up to the royals. If one simple little swastika armband means that the Jewish money misdirected at royal trusts in a silly and doomed effort to be accepted by society will now go straight to noble, straightforward causes such as the RSPCA, Help The Aged, Barnardo's and Oxfam, then Prince Harry really will have performed a great humanitarian act - for the first, and no doubt the last, time in his vacuous, wasteful life."

Yes! Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes! That is precisely what I think! Read the rest of it if you read nothing else today, for it is a Piece of Work.

Sarah Sands has written an acute little column for the Telegraph in which she pointed out that while it may seem crass that Tsunami T-shirts are on sale in Phuket even as the rubble and the bodies of the dead are still being cleared away, that is nonetheless exactly the right thing in the circumstances. She calls it "the glorious, vulgar resilience of capitalism". Interesting that she should equate capitalism with something quite so deeply embedded in human nature, but that's another story, as they say. I was particularly interested because she quotes a couple of bits of a very fine poem by WH Auden, called Musee des Beaux Arts. That's a good excuse for me to suggest the whole thing is worth reading:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

I've read some criticism of David Brooks's column about President's Bush's inaugural speech, claiming in effect that he clicked off into some soft-focus, idealistic daydream about it. Read it and judge for yourself. I felt I understood what he was getting at - key paragraphs seemed to me to be these two: "The people who detest America take a look at this odd conjunction and assume the materialistic America is the real America; the ideals are a sham. The real America, they insist, is the money-grubbing, resource-wasting, TV-drenched, unreflective bimbo of the earth. The high-toned language, the anti-Americans say, is just a cover for the quest for oil, or the desire for riches, dominion and war.

"But of course they've got it exactly backward. It's the ideals that are real."

They exist together, of course, but the real trick for "the people who detest America" is in understanding that the one doesn't necessarily lead to the other.

21 January 2005

Robert Hare, a Canadian psychologist, the world's leading authority on psychopathic personalities, apparently, has developed a test for psychopaths. According to the Star, it is technically known as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised or (PCL-R), or the Hare, for short. It uses a 40-point scale to score its subjects, grading them in 20 categories that include glibness/superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, callous/lack of empathy and lack of remorse or guilt. Administered by a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist, each category or trait is assigned a score of zero, (item doesn't apply) one (applies in some respects) or two (in all respects) with the sum yielding total scores ranging from 0 to 40. A result of 30 or more usually indicates a person with a psychopathic personality disorder." There is a copy of the test at the Star's site, if anyone wants to try marking friends, enemies or heads of government.

Simon Jenkins of the Times notes that we're celebrating two anniversaries this month. "One is of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity (1905), a great work of Western civilisation. The other is Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605), also a great work of Western civilisation. The first is greeted with BBC specials, colour supplements, postage stamps and a United Nations Year of Physics. The other, at least outside Spain, is being ignored. Which merits the bigger salute?

He makes the very good point that if Einstein had not existed, "physics would sooner or later have invented him....If Cervantes had not existed, he could not have been invented. There would be a hole in the tapestry of Europe."

Brits don't seem to understand envy as sin, do they? They can't abide the thought of anyone having more, or a better time, or an easier life than they have, and have no compunction about indulging themselves in a little wallow in how unfair the whole business is at the drop of a hat. They turn it into a kind of holy class war, in which any kind of intellectual (sometimes physical) violence is justified by the crime of wealth, or privilege. They made themselves a spectacle for the world to marvel at over fox hunting, and now a Guardian columnist called John O'Farrell has got his knickers in such a twist over people with second homes that he may have coined 2005's most fatuous little statement of outrage: "The number of people with second homes has shot up as the gap between rich and poor has widened. Very few of London's homeless have a little cardboard box in Gloucestershire where they go at weekends."

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, who was herself a speechwriter in the Reagan and Bush Sr administrations, thinks there was too much God and too much idealism in George W's second inauguration speech. "The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not."

A transcript of the 21-minute speech is here. As long as we're having these little quibbles, why on earth does the White House think there should be a hyphen between sworn and in?

Conservative students are beginning to challenge the liberal chokehold on academia, suggests City Journal's Brian C. Anderson.

"...Conservative organizations...are budding at schools everywhere - even at Berkeley, crucible of the sixties' student Left. And right-of-center speakers invited by these clubs are drawing large and approving crowds. 'At many schools, those speeches have become the biggest events of the semester,' Time reports. One such talk at Duke by conservative author and former Comedy Central host Ben Stein, notes Time, attracted 'a bigger crowd than the one that had come to hear Maya Angelou two months earlier.'

"The bustle reflects a general rightward shift in college students' views. Back in 1995, reports UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, 66 percent of freshmen wanted the wealthy to pay higher taxes. Today, only 50 percent do. Some 17 percent of students now value taking part in environmental programs, half of 1992's percentage. Support for abortion stood at two-thirds of students in the early nineties; now it's just over half. A late-2003 Harvard Institute of Politics study found that college students had moved to the right of the overall population, with 31 percent identifying themselves as Republicans, 27 percent as Democrats, and the rest independent or unaffiliated. 'College campuses aren't a hotbed of liberalism any more,' institute director Dan Glickman comments. 'It's a different world.'"

20 January 2005

DEBKAfile seems to think that Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld is on his way out. "The timing of his resignation - certainly not before Iraq's January 30 election - depends on a choice of successor, for which the White House has been holding discreet contacts for weeks. That choice in turn depends on the president defining his end-game for Iraq and laying it out in clear policy guidelines." I'm not sure I understand, if this is true, what the point was of keeping him on through the November election.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's confirmation of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie has all the ugly resonance of a threat issued by a gang of ragged, illiterate children from their headquarters in a gutter somewhere. You'd have thought it would also put the British Government, which recently made friends with the Iranians again, at least in part on a promise that the fatwa was a dead issue, in a bit of a tricky position. Not a bit of it. The Foreign Office has thought of a very good little line to get them past the problem. The Times quotes senior British officials as making it plain last night that the Iranian Government, which had disassociated itself from the fatwa in 1998, had not changed its position. "They pointed out that because the fatwa was issued in February 1989 by Iran's revolutionary founder and Khamenei's predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, who had since died, it would always remain in existence. The Foreign Office said: 'The key thing from our point of view is that the Iranian Government formally withdrew their support for the fatwa on Salman Rushdie in 1998 which is when Britain and Iran formally upgraded their relationship to the level of ambassador.' A senior official said: 'The original fatwa was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini shortly before he died. It can only be rescinded by the man who issued it or a higher authority so in practice it will hold indefinitely.'" Got that?

I get a little cynical about exercises like this one, which is billed as an attempt to figure out whether Britain was better off or worse because of the Norman invasion and the death of poor old King Harold. Since there was a Norman invasion, about which absolutely bugger-all can be done now, the only real point of such a question is its use as a framework to allow teachers to judge their students' grasp of the main points of the incident. Hardly fare for readers of the Guardian. My own theory, now that I can probably be confident none of my history teachers is left alive, is that the Norman invasion was a Very Good Thing, because it gave us Marriott Edgar's verses about the Battle of Hastings, recited famously by British comedian Stanley Holloway. There are far too many of them to give them all, but these are the first two:

I'll tell of the Battle of 'Astings
As 'appened in days long gone by
When Duke William became King of England
And 'Arold got shot in the eye.

It were this way - one day in October
The Duke, who were always a toff,
'Avin no battles on at the moment
'Ad given the lads the day off...

The spate of forgeries of artefacts of Biblical age in Israel, says the Guardian, underlines the intense political significance that antiquities attain in Israel, where discoveries of ancient sites or relics can be claimed by particular groups as proof of their historic claim to a particular piece of land. Early Zionism was enthusiastic in promoting Bible-era relics - they cemented the Jewish connection to the land, and were seen to give credence to the new state of Israel."

This story, and others published this morning on the US objection to the reappointment of the United Nations refugee chief, Peter Hansen, suggests that there was only one occasion on which the Israelis suggested, falsely, as it turned out, that his ambulances were being used to transport Palestinian gunmen from place to place. That's not correct. There were many such incidents, at least one of them photographed. It was perfectly plain that Hansen favoured the Palestinians and did all he could to help them and hinder the Israelis.

Despite my having searched its site this morning, it isn't obvious why the Guardian should have published this little summary of the life and talents of Dorothy L Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey mystery stories. But mystery fans will welcome it nonetheless, I suspect. "Part of the Golden Age of mystery writers working between the wars, Sayers is often credited as the most intelligent of them all. Certainly her plots are ingenious and intricate, and she relishes technical detail and literary quotation, although QD Leavis once cuttingly remarked 'She displays knowingness about literature without any sensitiveness to it or any feeling for quality'...Sayers was a keen motorbike rider, and has earned quiet respect in certain circles for the faultless descriptions of these machines in her books."

19 January 2005

A Washington Post columnist known for her elegantly-crafted essays on American society, and for her fearless profiles of the political elite, Marjorie Williams, has died of cancer at the tragically young age of 47. In an obituary which includes links to some of her work, the Post recalls that "A portrait by Ms. Williams was seen as a ritual signifying that a person had reached the center of the political universe. First came the charm, then the withering scalp-to-toenails examination under her all-seeing eye. Her conclusions were published for millions to read in keen and crystal prose. Many more people liked Ms. Williams than could easily explain her, for she defied easy categories. Her prose was razor-sharp, her personality gentle. Her mind was relentless, her manner good-natured. Her standards were exacting, her impulse forgiving. She was by nature the center of most rooms she entered, yet preferred to draw out others, to listen.

"'This was a woman,' her friend and Post colleague Ruth Marcus said, 'who could be intimidated by her nanny, then turn around and skewer the secretary of state.' 'Marjorie was one of the finest Washington reporters I know,' Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter said. 'She combined the political and the social aspects of the place in a way that was seamless, and she often did it without being granted access to her subjects.'"

"This week, almost 2,000 years after Nero's rule, Rome city officials unveiled a new find from the palace that offers a tantalizing hint of the treasures buried beneath the hill. It is a large mosaic, more than 9 by 6 feet, showing naked men harvesting grapes and making wine, a typical illustration for a Roman palace of the time. Three of the men are stomping on grapes in a vat. One plays a double flute. They all seem to be having fun," according to the Washington Post. "When the infamous emperor Nero fell from power in A.D. 68, weakened by military revolts, his successors decided no personal trace of his reign should remain. They covered with debris the giant and sumptuous Domus Aurea - the Golden House - that he built on a hill in central Rome. They replaced an adjacent artificial lake with the Colosseum. The entombment of the palace was meant to make everyone forget Nero. Instead, it conserved, as if in amber, his residential compound as few ancient sites in Rome have been preserved."

I think I may pretend that I never read this damned story.

Military writer John Keegan's been quiet for a long time, over at the Telegraph. But he's back this morning, with a column reiterating that he believes the invasion of Iraq was correct, and expressing hope that the elections there will be successful. "Successful elections and the establishment of a government bring a mandate that shakes the claims of even the most committed Islamists to enjoy the right to oppose its authority. Such a government, properly supported by Western troops and money increasingly to be supplied by Iraq's growing oil revenues, would hearten Iraq's home-grown security forces, at present under attack from Islamist terrorists. It would also dishearten the pragmatic opponents of democracy, of whom there are many, who, while assuming Islamic clothing, really fear that democracy will expose them for what they are: unreformed supporters of the old regime, in which a Sunni minority exercised power over the Shia majority."

Research in England has shown that teaching grammar to children doesn't help them write more fluently or accurately, according to the Guardian. "Professor Richard Andrews, who coordinated the research, said the findings did not mean that teaching formal grammar was 'not interesting or useful in its own right'. But he added: 'In a pressured curriculum, where the development of literacy is a high priority, there will be better ways of teaching writing and our findings suggest that the teaching of sentence combining may be one of the more effective approaches.'" So what is it that can be done to educate (I almost prefer eliminate) people like the columnist I found last year, who wants us to stop using adverbs? Chip Scanlan, of Poynter Online, which is a website meant to help people be better journalists, wrote: "For years, I've known without a doubt what to do if I found an adverb in my copy: exterminate the sucker. Before I hit the send button, I'd call up my word-processing software's 'Find' command, load the chamber with the '-ly' suffix that is the form's signal feature, and head out on a search-and-destroy mission."

What one academic called an "intellectual tsunami" continues to rage around Harvard president Larry Summers' remark that biological differences may explain why women don't do as well as men in mathematics and science. The New York Times summarises the breaking of the wave. A mystery quite as tantalising as this one is why academics get so viciously loquacious about this kind of issue, but tongue-tied and evasive when it comes to life and death issues like terrorism.

18 January 2005

The Telegraph has published a very fine, must-read guide to the fine art of killing wasps. Some, evidently, choose to shoot them. The Telegraph says "The tradition for shooting insects goes back hundreds of years. Queen Christina of Sweden had a pathological hatred of fleas in the 17th century and is said to have kept a small cannon in her bedroom to fire shots at the insects. Paul Hargreaves, of West Grinstead, West Sussex, suggested a modern day variant - using a Berloque Pistole loaded with a 78 rpm gramophone needle. 'This unique miniature pistol makes short work of wasps at distances of up to six feet,' he said...

"Among the gun enthusiasts, there is division over whether shooting a trapped wasp is sporting. While some recommend a target laced with jam, Alan Witherby, of Milford on Sea, Hants, argued that conserve is against the rules of natural justice. 'Surely every self-respecting sportsman knows one does not shoot a sitting wasp. In Hampshire we shoot the driven wasp, high and fast flying. In a good summer I have been known to bag as many as one...'

"For those with sufficient grit, nothing beats the thrill of extreme wasp fighting - a battle without weapons to the death. 'Shooting wasps is for wimps,' said Peter Sweetman of Madehurst, West Sussex. 'I've been safely killing the little blighters with my bare hands for more than 40 years. A quick nip between forefinger and thumbnail and off with their heads. Watch their back end though - it can turn rather too quickly for some people.'"

It's only January, but I'd say this will be hard to beat in the story of the year stakes.

The idea behind this Los Angeles Times oped is that every war has its own vocabulary, and the writer, Michael Keane, is trying to be first with the language of the Iraq War. He's the author of the Dictionary of Modern Strategy and Tactics, which is going to be published by the Naval Institute Press. It's not a very well-centred story, though. Reading it is like eating a half-baked bagel - there just isn't enough flavour to compensate for the lack of texture. I'm posting something about it, though, for the sake of an excellent quote Keane uses from French playwright Jean Anouilh, who he says once warned that "Propaganda is a soft weapon: Hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way."

If Palestinian public opinion had anything to do with it, Hamas, Hizbollah and the rest of the the Middle East terrorist groups would be out of business. Haaretz reports that some 54 percent of Palestinians "support a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 lines, with border corrections and no massive return of refugees." The poll confirms a change in Palestinian public opinion since the death of Yasser Arafat, the newspaper says. "Those findings in a comprehensive public opinion poll among 1,319 respondents conducted at the end of December contrasts with a similar poll done in December 2003, which showed only 39 percent of the Palestinians supported an agreement with Israel. And a parallel poll, conducted in Israel among a representative sample of Jewish and Arab voters, showed that 64 percent are now in favor of a permanent peace agreement compared to only 47 percent who supported such a deal in a similar poll last year."

A Hungarian who mastered English only after his family emigrated to Britain when he was eight, has beaten nine other authors to take the coveted TS Eliot award for poetry with a collection which has "echoes of regret for his lost homeland", according to the Guardian. George Szirtes latest book, Reel, earned praise from the TS Eliot prize judges as a "a brilliantly virtuosic collection of deeply felt poems concerned with the personal impact of the dislocations and betrayals of history."

History, filmmakers tell the Globe and Mail, is being turned into a commodity like underwear or gasoline. "Securing copyright clearances is...a constant, often insurmountable hurdle for documentary filmmakers and even for writers wanting to reproduce, say, copyrighted pictures or song lyrics in their work...It's particularly difficult for any documentary-makers relying on old news footage, snippets of Hollywood movies or popular music - the very essence of contemporary culture - to tell their stories. Each minute of copyrighted film can cost thousands of dollars. Each still photo, which might appear in a documentary for mere seconds, can run into the hundreds of dollars. And costs have been rising steeply, as film archives, stock photo houses and music publishers realize they are sitting on a treasure trove."

The Wall Street Journal doubts a military court would have sent Specialist Charles Graner to prison for so long "had he produced any evidence at all that his actions (as a prison guard at Abu Ghraib) had had something to do with interrogation practices approved by his superiors. Particularly telling was the fact that he didn't seem to have enough confidence in his own story to take the stand and face cross examination."

The Journal notes that more senior officers are still being investigated, but points out that "so far the military trials have done nothing to prove what writer Heather Mac Donald recently described on this page as the 'torture narrative.' That is, they have not supported the widely promulgated theory that Bush Administration legal discussions about the range of permissible interrogation techniques for al Qaeda detainees outside the Iraqi theater of operations somehow led to Abu Ghraib. And yet none of this evidence seems to stop the effort, in the media and Congress, to use Abu Ghraib to hamstring American interrogators in the war on terror. Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, went so far as to try to write language into last year's intelligence bill demanding that the CIA report to Congress on what interrogation methods it's using. The White House quietly sought to have this removed - which it reluctantly was - only to be tarred once again last week in some news reports with promoting 'torture' for having done so."

17 January 2005

Marrying nanotechnology with biotechnology, scientists at the University of California in Los Angeles have created tiny robots, powered by living muscle, that can move themselves without any external source of power. The devices were formed by growing rat cells on microscopic silicon chips, the researchers report in the journal Nature Materials. The BBC reports that little robots like this are capable of being used in a host of microscopic devices - "even to drive miniature electrical generators to power computer chips." There's been no reaction yet from Prince Charles, who we'd guess is busy with larger problems at the moment, but if there is, we'll be sure to pass it on. Meantime, thanks, Colin, for the tip.

Terrorism, like fascism and communism before it, is doomed to fall before a tidal wave of demand for self-rule, says columnist Barry Casselman of the Washington Times. "...Totalitarianism is ultimately a loser in the world we now live in, with its stunning advances of transportation and communications. That is why the United States was attacked, why Europe is now under siege and why democratic capitalism has been targeted everywhere in the world. Violence is intimidating, and the terrorists know that, but the human species seems more determined to survive than to fall back to feudalism and perish.

"Anti-Americanism, which is now fashionable in Europe, is really only words. When small terrorist groups combine this with violence, it can be deadly and temporarily intimidating, but the natural wave toward worldwide self-governing is much more powerful than terror and propaganda. The tsunami from the sea lasted only minutes, producing terrible destruction. The tidal wave of democratic capitalism has an indefinite duration, and it creates a whole and incalculably new world."

Israel's Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, told the Jerusalem Post over the weekend that he thought the anti-Israel tide in the United Nations was turning. This in the wake of the UN's decision last week to hold a special session of the General Assembly on January 24 to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. He said Israel had promised to keep the event apolitical.

"Still, he said, he believes that "the fact that 30 nations sponsored it and that 138 nations supported it speaks of the place that Israel holds within the world of nations." Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Russia were among the sponsoring nations. "It marks the first time an Israeli-sponsored initiative succeeded in the UN, said Shalom. "It is the last opportunity to do this while survivors are still alive," he said.

"Ronny Leshno Yaar, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for UN and international organizations, said he believes "it is a way for nations to say to Israel that despite our differences there are things that we can work on together; we are not automatically against you. I see this as a very important message."

I don't want to be cynical, but do you suppose the UN's acquiescence might have something to do with this?

Corin Redgrave's experience with prostate cancer helped him to have a better understanding of Shakespeare's King Lear than might have been possible otherwise. The drug Casodex is used to correct an imbalance of testosterone before patients are treated with radiation. Many patients are distressed and alarmed, because they feel testosterone inhibition shifts the balance of their nature towards its feminine side. So, Redgrave writes in the Guardian, with Lear: "Lear has a great fear of the feminine side of his nature. At every critical juncture in the conflict with his daughters, his anxiety and dread are that he will betray his masculinity by crying, and when that happens he is devastated.

Lear: I'll tell thee - (to Goneril) life and death! I am ashamed
That thou hast power to shake my manhood thus,
That these hot tears which break from me perforce
Should make thee worth them. Blasts and fogs upon thee!
Th' untented woundings of a father's curse
Pierce every sense about thee! - Old fond eyes,
Beweep this cause again, I'll pluck ye out
And cast you with the waters that you loose
To temper clay.

"Notice also how this speech, with its violent imagery of blinding, in this case self-inflicted, anticipates the blinding of Gloucester, who is horribly punished for taking pity on Lear - pity and mercy being feminine qualities.

"Lear is terrified of the mother, ie the woman, within him.

Oh, how this mother swells up toward my heart!
Hysterica passio, down thou climbing sorrow!

"Scholarly notes explain that according to ideas of anatomy at this time, hysterica passio begins in the womb (hysteria in Greek), and climbs, via the heart, to the patient's throat, suffocating him. Yes, but Lear's invocation also describes perfectly how I was hit in the chest by Casodex, and the psychological trauma of being overcome by the woman inside."

Having had prostate cancer, and the Casodex treatment, I can say that this psychological trauma does not occur with everyone. I felt no diminution of male-ness, although I was certainly more emotional than I had been before, and, of course, was subject to those pesky hot flashes women experience in menopause. Pesky...not terrifying.

Blogger Arthur Chrenkoff serves up his 19th fortnightly column on the good news from Iraq, giving details on a very large number of good-news projects as Iraq approaches within two weeks of its first free election since January 17, 1953, when 125,000 people voted for King Faisal 2, a young pro-western monarch who was killed in a coup in 1958. In the Wall Street Journal, he reminds readers of what his aim has been - "to bring to readers' attention all that 'gets overlooked if not ignored' in Iraq: the advancements of the political and civil society; the rebirth of freedom, economic growth and reconstruction progress; the generosity of foreigners and the positive role coalition troops play in rebuilding the country; and the usually unremarked-upon security successes. Contrary to some critics, the intention has never been to whitewash the situation in Iraq or to downplay the negative. The violence, bloodshed, disappointments and frustrations are all there for everyone to see and read about in the 'mainstream' media on a daily basis. Pointing out positive developments is not to deny the bad news, merely to provide a more complete picture. As voters faced with the defining foreign policy issue of the new millennium, we owe it to ourselves to be fully informed about the state of affairs in Iraq - and that means rebuilt hospitals as well as car bombs."

16 January 2005

The Washington Times is reporting this morning that a California college political science professor failed a 17-year-old Kuwaiti student for praising the United States in a final-exam essay last month, and told him to get psychological treatment because of the pro-American views expressed in his essay.

There are two reasons I'm posting this story from London's Sunday Times. First, it was written by Times columnist Phillip Knightley, who wrote a book called The First Casualty, a history of war journalism, which I much admire. Second, it ends with this remarkable paragraph: "Sergei Kondrashov, a retired KGB chief of counter-intelligence, told me at a conference in Germany that if the KGB was forced to choose between a Russian mole in the US administration and a subscription to The New York Times, he would take The New York Times any day." Many will feel this confirms suspicions of long standing.

Haaretz says this morning that "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon...accused the Palestinian Authority under newly-elected Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of not making any efforts to combat Palestinian militant activity and said the Israel Defense Forces had free rein to fight terrorism emanating from the Gaza Strip." Israeli security sources told the Washington Post Friday that Israel has information that the head of the Palestinian preventive security force, Rashid Abu Shbak, responsible for the Palestinian side of the Karni crossing, assisted the three men who attacked the crossing Thursday.

The Israeli Defence Force believes that, at the very least, the Palestinians turned a blind eye to the entrance of the terrorists to the facility. The military has estimated that more than 100 people must have prepared and participated in the complex attack. It was begun by a truck, loaded with 150 kilos of explosives, blowing a hole through the wall of the checkpoint facility. Three terrorists then burst in shooting and hurling grenades, leaving six airport-border authority personnel dead and five injured five minutes before they ended their shift. Israeli security guards shot back at the raiders, killing all three, whereupon heavy Palestinian mortar and automatic fire opened up on the damaged facility to hinder the evacuation of casualties. The checkpoint is now a pile of rubble.

In six days since Mahmoud Abbas was elected, nine Israelis have been killed by Palestinian terrorists in and around Gaza Strip, 30 missiles and mortar shells have struck Gush Katif and six the Western Negev. There have been a total of 35 shooting attacks, and 13 bombs exploded.

Meantime, it has been confirmed that the number of Palestinian election officials who have resigned over alleged irregularities during the presidential vote has increased from two to 46.

Here's the start of something! Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi told Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Court on Saturday, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, that she won't obey a summons to appear, even if it means her arrest - an open challenge to a powerful body that has convicted many pro-reform intellectuals.


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
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The Nature of Intelligence
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