...Views from mid-Atlantic
29 January 2005

Monkeys, apparently, are willing to pay to get a look at pictures of attractive female monkey's bottoms, according to Live Science. Cute little piece of research, but it puts a whole heap of questions in your mouth, doesn't it?

Old Uncle Castro apparently can't stand the idea of having a drink in the same room as someone who disagrees with his politics. He has apparently complained about it to EU countries intending to hold Cuban national day parties (on July 26) at their embassies in Havana. One of the people he complained to was that wishy-washy little Spanish quisling, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who is going to put a proposal to EU foreign ministers tomorrow that none of them should invite dissidents to their receptions. Vaclev Havel, the former president of Czechoslovakia and a man familiar with the life of a dissident, has put a bit of a spoke in the Spanish wheel, however, by writing an open letter to newspapers in his own country, in France and in the United States, complaining that the Spanish proposal amounts to "diplomatic apartheid". Mr Havel wrote that diplomatic receptions were often the only occasions on which dissidents and communist officials met, apart from their "courthouse encounters". According to the Telegraph , the Czech government may now launch blocking action. Bit pathetic of the Cubans to start this kind of silly row, I'd say.

28 January 2005

The LA Times isn't amused by the actions of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. "Latin American leaders," the paper says in an editorial, "shouldn't put up with the Venezuelan president's nonsense. Chavez gets a lot of mileage out of his anti-American rhetoric and his nation's oil riches. But powerful mediators, like Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, need to make clear to him that harboring terrorists who attack neighboring countries is unacceptable."

Human rights and civil liberties advocate Thor Halvorssen, a First Amendment Scholar at the Commonwealth Foundation, claims in the Weekly Standard that the current fuss over Chavez giving safe haven to Colombian FARC guerrillas in Argentina is by no means the first time pressure has been put on Colombian/Argentinian relations by this bizarre man.

"In February 2001, months after the Chavez government denied supporting FARC, the capture of a Colombian terrorist revived the debate. Jose Maria Ballestas, a leader of Colombia's other left-wing terrorist organization, the National Liberation Army (ELN), was captured in Venezuela's capital by Interpol operatives working in conjunction with the Colombian police. Although Ballestas was wanted for a 1999 commercial airliner hijacking, he was immediately released from custody by order of the Chavez government. As the Colombian media cried foul, Chavez officials denied that Ballestas had ever been arrested and claimed that 'news' of his arrest was actually a story concocted by enemies of the Chavez government. When Colombian officials responded by releasing a video of the arrest, the Chavez government tried to claim that Ballestas was seeking asylum from political persecution in Colombia. As diplomatic tension reached a fever-pitch, Venezuela re-arrested Ballestas and grudgingly extradited him to Colombia."

It's Prince Charles's worst nightmare - a web of "slightly alive" objects which have an identity of their own, which communicate among themselves and exist to keep an eye on what humans are doing. John Gage, of Sun Microsystems, and other technology experts have been outlining a future enhanced by trillions of of this little spies - tiny computer chips - to those attending the World Economic Forum at Davos. According to the Times, life could get easier and cheaper because of them.

Lots of people asked, in a philosophical way, after the Asian tsunami, how God could have allowed so many people to die so horribly. This eloquent essay by concentration camp survivor Aharon Appelfeld, published in the Guardian today, may provide something of an answer: "This is not a story with a happy ending. A doctor who survived, from a religious background, who sailed to Israel with us in June 1946, told us: 'We didn't see God when we expected him, so we have no choice but to do what he was supposed to do: we will protect the weak, we will love, we will comfort. From now on, the responsibility is all ours.'"

Read this piece, if you read nothing else today. Of the crop of writing that the current celebration of the liberation of Auschwitz has produced, this is by far and away the best I have read...prose whose words are as precisely-chosen as those of a poem. Its author, who is a writer by profession, was born in Czernowitz, Rumania, and deported to a concentration camp at the age of eight. He escaped and spent three years hiding in the Ukraine before joining the Russian army. A post-war refugee, he made his way to Italy and emigrated to Israel in 1946. Now, he lives in Jerusalem.

As far as I can make out, the Guardian carried this story as an exclusive this morning, although others are beginning to pick it up. It claims that British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and the US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, agreed an Iraq exit strategy on Monday of this week, which was based on recommendations from retired US General Gary Luck. Gen Luck was sent to Iraq by the Pentagon last month to look at the failings of Iraq's security force. The US-British agreement is said to be based on doubling the number of local police trainees and setting up Iraqi units that would act as a halfway house between the police and the army.

It got no coverage in the world press at all, but the murderer of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh appeared in court in Amsterdam on Wednesday. A Dutch blogsite, DutchReport carried a report of the proceedings (I should acknowledge that I found this through California blogger Roger L Simon's excellent website). It's not the clearest report I've ever seen, and I'm not at all familiar with Dutch trial procedure, but I assume from references in the body of the copy that this was a kind of preliminary appearance, and that the prosecutor has asked for a three-month delay while the investigation is completed. There is some interesting information contained in the report, however, including what seems to be an outline of the defence case. If that outline can be believed, the killer is going to argue that Osama bin Laden declared war and that he, in some kind of uniform, apparently, was acting as a soldier when he killed van Gogh. That really will be a fascinating argument.

27 January 2005

Israel's Prime Minister has delivered a particularly hard-hitting speech to the Knesset about the annihilation of the Jews during World War II. The Allies knew, he said, that Jews were being murdered, and did nothing about it.

In his speech, he mentioned the Bermuda Conference, which was held here on April 19, 1943. Representatives of Britain and the United States gathered to discuss saving the Jews of Europe. In fact, Sharon told Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday "the participants did everything in their power to avoid dealing with the problem. All the suggestions for rescue operations, which the Jewish organizations presented, were rejected. They simply did not want to deal with it."

In fact, if you go back and look at the reporting on that event that was published in Bermuda's newspapers, you'll find that the word "Jew" was never mentioned. It was, as far as we were concerned, a conference on "refugees".

It's a heck of a lead paragraph: "Oh, bless you, Abu Musab Zarqawi - you lousy, misbegotten son of a skunk-oil bootlegger." But columnist William Murchison makes a good point in this Washington Times piece. As Iraq prepares for its first democratic election, he says, Abu defined precisely the monumental stakes, saying in al Qaeda's name: 'We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology.'

Suddenly, "the stakes are clear: on the one side, Iraq's long-oppressed people; on the other, the cutthroats and nut cases trying to bomb Iraq back to the Stone Age."

This has to be the most chilling piece of information I've read in a news story since AIDS was discovered. The Washington Post reports that "During their 225-mile-high excursion, the spacewalkers also inspected the station's vents and found a large patch of dark, oily residue and a white, honeycombed substance. It was not immediately known what the substances were."

Max Boot isn't mincing words in his most recent LA Times column. Seymour Hersch, the New Yorker's muck-raking critic of the American effort in Iraq "is the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the 'military- industrial complex.' Now it's the 'neoconservatives.' 'They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!' Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on October 8, 2004.

Boot writes that "Hersh doesn't make any bones about his bias. 'Bush scares the hell out of me,' he said. He told a group in Washington, 'I'm a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,' who are 'nuts' and 'ideologues.' In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft 'demented.' Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a 'secret unit' of the U.S. government 'has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.' And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary."

Here's someone else who isn't mincing words this morning. George Will weighs in on the Larry Summers gender differences discussion...and makes very good sense. In his Washington Post column, he writes: "Forgive Larry Summers. He did not know where he was.

"Addressing a conference on the supposedly insufficient numbers of women in tenured positions in university science departments, he suggested that perhaps part of the explanation might be innate - genetically based - gender differences in cognition. He thought he was speaking in a place that encourages uncircumscribed intellectual explorations. He was not. He was on a university campus.

"He was at Harvard, where he is president. Since then he has become a serial apologizer and accomplished groveler. Soon he may be in a Khmer Rouge-style reeducation camp somewhere in New England, relearning this: In today's academy, no social solecism is as unforgivable as the expression of a hypothesis that offends someone's 'progressive' sensibilities."

Stop being such a pack of unctious sissies, Christians are being told by American evangelist John Eldredge. The Times quotes him as having said, in his book Wild at Heart, that God likes sword-wielding warriors. I personally don't think God authorised Mr Eldredge to say something quite as extreme as that, but of one thing I am certain. He cannot stand people whose only accomplishment in life is being first to stand for the hymns in Church.

Peggy Noonan's negative take on President Bush's inauguration speech drew a lot of criticism. But having had time and the leisure to think about it, the former White House speechwriter says, in her latest Wall Street Journal column that if she had it to do again, she'd more more critical, not less. "I am hoping for a State of the Union address that is tough, clear, tethered, and in which the speaker takes his program seriously but himself rather more lightly. I am hoping the headline will be, 'Return to Planet Earth.'"

26 January 2005

Tian Liang, the popular Chinese Olympic diving champion, has been thrown off the Chinese national team for letting his attention wander. People's Daily says "Tian, 25, has always been the diving fans' sweetheart with his heart-throbbing smile and handsome looking. He bagged a gold medal on the men's platform in the Sydney Olympics and grabbed the doubles' title on the platform in Athens..." But he succumbed to the temptations of success, apparently. "Tian has been a pitchman for Amway and Bausch & Lomb since his victory in Sydney. He signed with the Hong Kong music giant Emperor Entertainment Group recently as the diving prince looked ready to dive headfirst into a singing or acting career."

A report by the UN's investigative arm, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), according to the Washington Times, has confirmed incidents in which peacekeepers in the Congo exchanged bread or milk and small amounts of cash, $3 to $5, for sex with 13- and 14-year-old girls. The report did not name the countries that had sent the peacekeepers suspected in the abuse, but the Reuters news agency named the countries as South Africa, Uruguay, Morocco, Tunisia and Nepal. The organisation is being criticised, however, for doing too little to stop such abuse.

"'The big concern is that the abuses are happening with impunity in between investigations,' a senior UN official said. Some fault UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and say his zero-tolerance policy stops short of setting up a tough investigative system that ensures full international accountability for the sexual offenders. The report quotes the head of the UN mission in Congo, William Lacy Swing, as saying, 'In certain instances, it is apparent that the feeling of impunity is such that not only have policies not been enforced, but the command structures have not always given investigators their full cooperation.'

"Some U.N. diplomats say the latest findings are just the tip of the iceberg. 'The problem of sexual abuses in the U.N. system is much wider than what is reported,' said a senior diplomat from Western Europe."

It's one thing for a news organisation to try its damndest to get a story, but breaking the law flagrantly and outrageously in order to do it turns the organisation from courageous crusader to suicidally stupid self-abuser. So it is, as the Guardian reports, with the BBC in Israel. Not only was its deputy Jerusalem Bureau chief stupid, but he was stupid over a story that barely registered on the interest scale.

It's a shame, but the public's opinion of the efficacy of the UK's Freedom of Information legislation is likely to be based on unsuccessful attempts to find out what advice the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, gave the British Cabinet on the legality of the US invastion of Iraq. The Guardian characterises the requests, quite wrongly, as a key test of the government's commitment to freedom of information. It isn't a test at all - the AG's advice to the Cabinet is, was and always will be, way beyond the scope of information envisaged by the legislators as being within the public domain. Tony Blair has evidently rejected more than 40 requests for the information from MPs, other individuals and media organisations, including the Guardian itself, of course. It is a fallacy to believe that because a country passes a freedom of information act, everything is fair game. Some information must remain secret, and no government could fail to reject a request to make public the legal advice it gets.

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was apparently based on the life of a real slave, a fugitive who found refuge in Canada, in a part of Ontario not very far from Detroit. Josiah Henson, according to the Christian Science Monitor, "was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church who, with his wife and four children, escaped from slavery in 1830, and spent six weeks on a journey to freedom in Canada." He created the Dawn Settlement, a refuge for free slaves. "In its heyday of the early 1850s, Dawn was home to 500 free black families. Henson also helped found the British American Institute, North America's first manual training school, which included a rope factory, brickyard, sawmill, grain mill, and a blacksmith shop. Since many free blacks only knew about harvesting tobacco and cotton, Henson yearned to teach them a variety of other farming methods and skills." The 'cabin' is still there, and can be visited, although it seems to have been moved from its original location.

Two takes on the importance of Sunday's elections in Iraq. Fouad Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins, characterises them, in the Wall Street Journal, as "part of the rehabilitation of this deeply wounded country...they are not a prelude to civil war, as some of our sages continually warn. They are the substitute for a civil war."

It's a good article, full of thoughts and phrases that resonate. "It is no small irony that the American project for opening up the politics of the Arab world is being launched from Iraq. At first glance this would seem to be the most forbidding of landscapes. Arabs of my generation who came into political awareness in the '50s were raised to an idea of Iraq as a turbulent and merciless place. But this is the hand that history has dealt us. Americans may be strangers in the Arab world, but a bitter frustration with the ways of the Arabs, born of 9/11, has pushed America deeper into Arab life. That frustration has given urgency to a new determination to reform the Arab condition, to strike at that cluster of unreason and anti-Americanism that has poisoned Arab culture. We haven't been particularly skilled at that, and perhaps no foreign sword could cut the Gordian knot of an old, stubborn culture. But there is nobility in what is being attempted. Under Anglo-American protection the Kurds, for decades the victims of official persecution, were able to build a decent, moderate political world in their ancestral north. Now the work of repair extends beyond the Kurds, and Iraq today represents the odd spectacle, a veritable reversal of intellectual galaxies, of a conservative American president proclaiming the gospel of liberty while liberals fall back on a surly belief that liberty can't travel, can't spread to Muslim lands.

"Leave aside American liberalism's hostility to this venture and consider the multitudes of America's critics in Arab and European intellectual circles. It is they today who propagate a view of peoples and nations fit - and unfit - for democracy. It is they who speak of Iraq's "innate" violence. For their part, the men and women in Iraq - who make their way to the ballot box, past the perpetrators of terror - will be witnesses to the appeal of liberty. In their condescension, people given to dismissing these elections say that Iraq is the wrong place for a "Jeffersonian democracy." (Forgive the emptiness of that remark, for America itself is more of a Hamiltonian creation, but that is another matter.) No Jeffersonianism is needed here. A kind of wisdom has been given ordinary Iraqis - an eagerness to be rid of the culture of statues and informers and terror. It takes no literacy in the writings of Mill and Locke to know the self-respect that comes with choosing one's rulers. Though it would not be precisely accurate to speak of the "restoration" of democracy in Iraq, older Iraqis have a memory of a more merciful history. Now Iraq has to be rehabilitated. These elections - flawed, taking place alongside a raging insurgency - are part of the rehabilitation of this deeply wounded country."

Janet Daley's take in the Telegraph Telegraph lacks the authority of Ajami's. She is an American living in Europe, and so perhaps lacks the confidence in her opinions that the knowledge she is speaking for many might give her. But she still navigates through the ethical landscape of Iraq with skill. "The terrorist organisations, the pedlars of theocratic death cults, and the ousted (or would-be) totalitarians who foment insurgency in Iraq and now swear themselves to be the enemies not just of America, or the coalition forces, but of democracy itself, know that this is a fight to the death. Once what Mr Bush would probably call the great tide of liberty has swept over their poisonous strongholds, there will be no going back, at least not to square one. Yes, indeed: freedom and democracy are dangerous things, as so many of the Left-wing commentators are saying with a cynicism that beggars belief. Do we really want to hold elections, they ask, in a country where the outcome might give power to the majority Shia and thereby aggravate the insanely dangerous Sunni terrorists? What?

"What? Can you imagine what these good liberals would have said if it had been America that was insisting on forestalling elections because the results could be dangerous or unpredictable? There goes America again, they would shriek, sustaining a puppet government that is under its control, rather than allowing a country to choose its own leaders."

25 January 2005

Henry Kissinger, chairman of Kissinger Associates, was US Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977. George Shultz, Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, was Secretary of State from 1982 to 1989. When the two of them get together to write an opinion piece for the Washington Post, it's a fair bet they've got something significant to say:

"The debate on Iraq is taking a new turn. The Iraqi elections scheduled for January 30, only recently viewed as a culmination, are described as inaugurating a civil war. The timing and the voting arrangements have become controversial. All this is a way of foreshadowing a demand for an exit strategy, by which many critics mean some sort of explicit time limit on the US effort.

"We reject this counsel. The implications of the term 'exit strategy' must be clearly understood; there can be no fudging of consequences. The essential prerequisite for an acceptable exit strategy is a sustainable outcome, not an arbitrary time limit. For the outcome in Iraq will shape the next decade of American foreign policy. A debacle would usher in a series of convulsions in the region as radicals and fundamentalists moved for dominance, with the wind seemingly at their backs. Wherever there are significant Muslim populations, radical elements would be emboldened. As the rest of the world related to this reality, its sense of direction would be impaired by the demonstration of American confusion in Iraq. A precipitate American withdrawal would be almost certain to cause a civil war that would dwarf Yugoslavia's, and it would be compounded as neighbors escalated their current involvement into full-scale intervention."

Here's some acute comment from a Times book reviewer: "Among Europeans it is a commonplace to assert that the Bush Administration is a crude beast, incapable of approaching any problem without either reaching for its Bible or its gun. But, in truth, it is the Europeans who respond to every situation in cliched fashion, while the American Government exercises both intellectual freshness and tactical flexibility. Europe's principal negotiators, Mr Straw, Joschka Fischer and Michel Barnier are Groundhog Ministers, repeating the same policy of appeasing oppressors which has got us nowhere in the past, either with Tehran or with other tyrannies."

Melvyn Bragg's voice, according to the Telegraph, is one of the most recognisable in British broadcasting. I didn't know that, neither did I know that he had been involved in a Radio 4 series, Routes of English, which tells the story of the development of the language. He's doing a special edition of that programme this evening, evidently, to commemorate another man's use of his voice, Winston Churchill. Bragg says "that if the war had never come, then Churchill would probably have been remembered as a minor, eccentric, colourful figure, more wrong than right. And his language would have been regarded merely as bombastic and over-dramatic, always searching out enemies, fears and terrors, many of which were never actually there."

The Telegraph's Benjamin Secher writes that in an interview with him, "Bragg rattles through some of the less than heroic things that Churchill said over the years: about Gandhi; about concentration camps; about Gallipoli. 'In some areas, he was out of control,' Bragg concedes, 'but for those five or six years of war, he was an incomparably good speaker.'" And he recalls that when asked, some years after the conflict, to comment on his pivotal role in the Second World War, the cigar-chomping British bulldog replied in typically beefy mode. "The nation had the lion's heart, I had the luck to give the roar."

What on earth do you suppose God meant, when he said "Over Edom will I cast out my shoe"? Doesn't sound good for Edom, does it? Actually, it's even more bizarre than that. In Psalms 60:8, He's quoted as having said "Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me." Hard to catch His drift, isn't it?

Fact is, I wouldn't have asked about it yesterday, but today, there is new evidence that the quote, taken from the Old Testament, may not be as inaccurate as some people make out. The Globe and Mail tells the story of poor old Canadian archeologist Russell Adams, who is interested in Bronze Age and Iron Age copper production. He has unearthed some information that points to the existence of the Bible's vilified Kingdom of Edom at precisely the time the Bible says it existed. That contradicts widespread academic belief that it did not come into being until 200 years later, and has sparked a vicious archaeological debate over the historical accuracy of the Old Testament - a conflict likened by one historian to "a pack of feral canines at each other's throats." They'd better look out. Now that we're surer than we were that God wears shoes, I'd suggest no one wants to be around when He starts getting piquey and flinging them around.

The UN's commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz was in many ways a breakthrough for a world badly polarised by Israel's role in the Middle East but, like the Globe and Mail's reporter, Doug Sanders, one can't help feeling that the world had to be dragged to it, kicking and screaming silently. Writer Elie Wiesel asked "Will the world ever learn?" He spoke to a hall that was half empty. Among Muslim countries, Jordan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan were visible, but most were absent. The Jordanian Foreign Minister was the only Arab leader to speak, and part of his speech was devoted to suggesting that the Nazi oppression of Jews is comparable to Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Even as Wiesel spoke, a dozen members of the far-right NPD party stormed out of the state legislature in the German city of Dresden. They were refusing to recognize a moment of silence that was being held to mark the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. And in Russia, 20 parliamentarians from right-wing and Communist parties were issuing a press release calling for "the prohibition in our country of all religious and ethnic Jewish organizations," on the grounds that Jews are unpatriotic and responsible for a number of social ills, including anti-Semitism. And, as Haaretz reports this morning, "The fundamentalist Pravoslavic paper, which defines itself as patriotic, ran a letter asking the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Ustinov, to open an investigation against all Jewish organizations throughout the country on suspicion of spreading incitement and provoking ethnic strife."

Can the genie be pushed back into the bottle?

24 January 2005

Last week, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon held that the US Constitution was not offended by the indefinite detentions of alien combatants captured abroad at Guantanamo Bay's U.S. Naval base. Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer and international consultant who often writes for the Washington Times, feels he made the correct decision, despite the Supreme Court's ringing statement in Ex parte Milligan (1866): "The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government." In the end, Fein says, trying to balance the needs of the Government in wartime and the rights of private citizens is an impossible task. He concludes that "The greatest good for the greatest number sometimes produces injustice. That unfairness, however, pivots not on avoidable malice, but on inescapable tragedy."

Maybe. Bloggers at the legal site, The Volokh Conspiracy, happened yesterday to point the way to the Cato Institute's useful Cato Supreme Court Review, in which legal scholars analyse cases heard by the US Supreme Court in its most recent term. This particular edition of the Review, which covers cases heard in 2003, includes an article by Timothy Lynch, entitled Power and Liberty in Wartime that I thought was particularly worth reading. Lynch suggests a formula by which the needs of the Government and the need to protect individual liberty might be balanced. He begins by noting that:

"The war against al-Qaeda is unlike any war that America has ever fought. Al-Qaeda terrorists are much more dangerous than a band of criminals. Simply to file a murder indictment against Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants for the mass murder of September 11, 2001, would have been woefully inadequate. This is a real war - and yet, this enemy cannot be pinpointed on a map because it is not a nation-state. Further, al-Qaeda operatives do not wear uniforms - they impersonate civilians and, worse, their objective is to commit war crimes by murdering as many Americans as they possibly can. Given the unusual character of this war, the rationale of some of the Supreme Court’s wartime precedents may be inapplicable. Other precedents were wrongheaded when they were initially decided."

It's well worth a read. It's 25 pages long, so you'll need to cut yourself a little slack to do it.

Former US Attorney General Ramsay Clark poured a great many high-minded words into an LA Times op-ed on the subject of why he joined Saddam Hussein's defense team. Here's a sample: "...Any court that considers criminal charges against Saddam Hussein must have the power and the mandate to consider charges against leaders and military personnel of the U.S., Britain and the other nations that participated in the aggression against Iraq, if equal justice under law is to have meaning.

"No power, or person, can be above the law. For there to be peace, the days of victor's justice must end.

"The defense of such a case is a challenge of great importance to truth, the rule of law and peace. A lawyer qualified for the task and able to undertake it, if chosen, should accept such service as his highest duty."

That's a load of silly old codswallop in many ways, one of which is that Clark wasn't chosen, as he suggests, but chased the ambulance all the way to the hospital to volunteer for service.

The freedom-loving authorities in Iran have arrested and jailed 20 bloggers and journalists recently, in a crackdown on a deadly plague of ill-disciplined thought. The LA Times talked to one of these dangerous dissidents, a shy, geeky little 25-year-old called Mazroui, who wears glasses. "Government prosecutors call Mazroui a violator of national security and an inciter of unrest. If you ask the nation's conservative mullahs, he's an acid eating away at the fabric of the Islamic revolution. He has done time in solitary confinement, and reportedly weathered death threats from judiciary officials."

"Five years ago in Harrogate a six-year-old boy, allowed to play in a cemetery, was crushed by a gravestone. A tragic accident, but an incredibly unusual one. There have been just six fatal accidents in graveyards in 12 years. To put that in perspective: six people are killed on Britain's roads every 14 hours. Yet, according to the Times "it triggered a quintessential flurry of Government nannying. First a committee of MPs pontificated. Then the Home Office set up a 'working party'. A new British Standard in tombstones is being rushed through. And burial authorities throughout Britain have been harried by inspectors into instigating this bizarre war on allegedly unsafe gravestones."

The result has been an outrage! "Over the past three years local authorities all over Britain have unceremoniously uprooted tens of thousands of gravestones. The anguish it has caused is enormous. In Stoke-on-Trent, after angry objections by local people, the council was castigated by the Local Authority Ombudsman for flattening 4,000 gravestones without warning the families concerned. But it has since 'condemned' thousands more, and a protest group is threatening a court battle. Many families simply don't have the money to restore the stones to their proper upright position."

Today, the UN marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, at Israel's urging. It is certainly an important anniversary, but more important is the symbolism of the world body's decision to mark the occasion. The UN, urged on by its many Arab members, once voted to equate Zionism with racism, and has established a poisonous reputation for its virulently anti-Israeli stance in the Middle East conflict, no matter what the facts. Arab nations have blocked any attempt in the past to allow the UN to acknowledge the Holocaust, and tried again to block today's events, but were thwarted by European support for the idea. In an extraordinary step, Annan called a special press conference over the weekend, together with General Assembly President Jean Ping from Gabon and Israel's UN ambassador, Dan Gillerman. The press conference was seen as a special effort on Annan's part to stress the importance of the General Assembly session and the reason for holding it, since, as Haaretz quoted him as having said, "the United Nations was founded as the world was learning the full horror of the camps."

The fruit of the attitude of many nations in the UN and elsewhere is anti-Semitism. Figures published over the weekend, according to the Jerusalem Post, showed that anti-Semitism in Great Britain skyrocketed last year, with almost twice as many anti-Jewish incidents taking place in 2004 as in 2003 and a near 50 percent spike in violent attacks. The UK well outpaced France in the number of anti-Semitic incidents (304 to 277), despite having a Jewish population less than one half the size.

An official of the organisation that released the figures, the Global Forum Against Anti-Semitism, pointed to the obvious: "You can't brainwash people for four years that Israel is an illegitimate country and that Israelis are like the Nazis and that Israelis are monsters and expect that nothing will happen to Jews."

On the heels of yesterday's suggestion that Venezuela had been harbouring Colombian guerrillas on the run comes another - that Mr Chavez is funding the Bolivian opposition party. The Guardian is quoting General James T Hill, the recently retired head of the US army's southern command, which oversees military operations in Latin America, as having said the Venezuelan leader was giving funds to Bolivia's opposition leader, Evo Morales, as Bolivia faces a series of strikes and blockades that threaten its stability. Gen Hill also alleged that Chavez had allowed Farc, the leftwing Colombian guerrilla group, to establish training camps in his country.

23 January 2005

An interesting little contretemps is brewing down in South America, involving the US and Venezuela and Colombia, which share a border. It involves the arrest of Rodrigo Granda, a member of one of Colombia's most powerful and murderous terrorist groups, known as the FARC. It is now agreed that he was apprehended in Caracas, whisked across the border and delivered to Colombian authorities in an operation not sanctioned by Venezuelan officials. Colombia initially said Mr. Granda was arrested on Colombian soil, but later acknowledged that it had paid Venezuelan authorities a reward for helping to bring him to Colombia. Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, is furious. He's claiming Colombia conspired with the US to violate Venezuela's sovereignty, which probably isn't far from the truth.

But as the Washington Times points out, it is probably also not far from the truth that Sr Granda was being harboured in Venezuela by the Venezuelan authorities. "Colombia has long had concerns about the FARC finding refuge in Venezuela. According to a report in the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, Colombia has already sent a list of seven guerrillas and their location to Venezuelan authorities. What is known is that Mr. Granda had a Venezuelan ID card, had participated in a high-profile political event the day he was apprehended, has voted in Venezuela and lived with his family in a house with a swimming pool in an exclusive neighborhood...Mr. Uribe has responded to Mr. Chavez's accusations by claiming he will deliver to his government the names and addresses of other guerrilla members living openly and comfortably in Venezuela.

"Mr. Chavez may well have ratcheted up his indignation as part of an attempt to mute out those incriminating details. Colombia claims, moreover, that it would not have resorted to such an underhanded approach to apprehending Mr. Granda had the Venezuelan government been a bit more obliging in extraditing him or taking some other type of action."

On the other side of the world, in Peking, People's Daily quotes the Interior and Justice Minister of Venezuela has having said it was possible that Colombian guerrilla encampments existed in his country "due to what he termed as the inefficiency of the Colombian government."

Michael Portillo, who's the Conservative MP for Kensington and Chelsea, I seem to recall, has written an interesting op-ed for the London Times. He makes the very good point that the British Army's own Iraqi prisoner-abuse cases may well be related to the Army's inability to deal with the Deepcut bullying scandal. Four soldiers died from firearm wounds at Deepcut barracks in Surrey during a seven-year period. A Surrey police report on Deepcut revealed 61 allegations of assault, 12 of indecent assault and eight of rape or gang rape. One training instructor, was jailed last year after admitting indecent assaults on four soldiers aged between 17 and 21. That is a remarkably bad record, but Geoff Hoon, the present Defence Secretary, has refused to set up a public enquiry, Portillo points out.

He also bangs on about racial bias in the army, though he comes to no particular conclusion where that is concerned. I thought he, of all Members of the British Parliament, might have had a little more to say on that subject. His Spanish ancestry was shoved up his nose in the most extraordinary way by the British press (who called his supporters Portillistas, as I remember it), when he made a bid to be the leader of the Conservative Party. His comments on how deeply-seated racism is, not just in the Army, but in British society generally, would have been fascinating.

It sounds as if we can expect more and more progress to be made in unravelling the Oil-for-Food scandal as a result of the guilty plea of Samir Vincent, the Iraqi-born American businessman who struck a plea-bargain deal with US authorities last week. The Telegraph suggests that "American prosecutors are investigating claims that a second senior United Nations official involved in the oil-for-food scheme may have been paid off by Saddam Hussein after an Iraqi-born American businessman struck a plea-bargain deal last week...the testimony of Samir Vincent, who pleaded guilty to acting as a covert agent for Baghdad, indicates that Saddam's manipulation of the scheme began at its inception in 1996. Attention has previously focused on how, from 1998, Iraq skimmed off proceeds from the programme and issued vouchers for oil sales to its foreign supporters. In his testimony, however, Vincent, 64, detailed links with the Iraqi regime dating back to 1992."

All kinds of buzz around that 'something's cooking in the Middle East' this weekend. Haaretz says: "Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has surprised Israel with his rapid move to stop rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza by deploying PA policemen in the area. He 'surpassed our expectations,' an official said."

As the piece points out, what Abbas has been able to do has underscored the conclusion that Yasser Arafat's focus was never in trying to rein in the armed intifada, but instead was in orchestrating and supporting its attacks against Israel. "Arafat enjoyed greater political power and legitimacy than Abbas, and the PA security forces were better organized early in the conflict than they are now. Yet Arafat never took even the minimal steps that Abbas has now taken."

Part of the Arafat legacy that Abbas is going to have great difficulty coping with is fleshed out in this fine piece in the Los Angeles Times: "Some branches of the (Palestinian security) service so loathe one another that straying into the wrong patch of territory without a full complement of armed escorts would be deadly. Particularly at odds are the preventive security and militant intelligence branches, which have attacked one another with grenades and gunfire.

"In many ways, the fragmented security forces are a legacy of Yasser Arafat. The veteran Palestinian leader, who died on November 11, was a master at playing one commander against another, keeping each one guessing as to whether he was in favor or on the outs. The late Palestinian Authority president played a tireless game of embracing and repudiating powerful figures such as the West Bank security chief, Jibril Rajoub, and Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who are still waiting to find their places in the new order under Abbas."


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
The US Supreme Court's First Terrorism Decisions
Useful Yiddish
Yukio Mishima's Death

Article Archive

2003 Index


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