...Views from mid-Atlantic
05 February 2005

Blogger Norman Geras puts a spotlight on yet another aimless and outrageous European scratching at American eyes. This one's from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

Now here's an idea as big as the great outdoors! It's from the LA Times.

The point of this Guardian feature is to highlight the Thames as "the great London referent: metaphor and fact. Without the khaki, sediment-heavy river, our city would have no soul." Good idea...I'd have read it just for that. But pay attention to the writing. Iain Sinclair is every bit as talented a painter as some of those whose work he describes: "'I adore London,' Monet said, 'but what I love more than anything is the fog.' Industrial pollution, sea coal fires, river fret: every element contributes to the London Particular. Light so thick you can taste it. Monet, a refugee from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, factored strategic tourism into vision: unscripted postcard views dissolving sky into river. A grand project of dematerialisation. Visiting public places, Hyde Park, Green Park, the Embankment, he transfigured the dull weight of an imperial capital into reefs of pink coral, candy floss islands. Instantaneous sense impressions, graphs of mood temperature, were laboured over in the studio and reluctantly ceded to his dealer. The Thames below Westminster, painted in 1870, presents the new Houses of Parliament as a smoky cliff, a series of jagged outcrops. Monet established the franchise: Thames as melting Polaroid. Noise muffled, veiled in chiffon. Non-leisured citizens are deleted to enhance the calligraphic spasms...

"Without the Thames, there would be no viable London aesthetic. What you depict will always overlap some previous account of the same view, a topographical record of the position from which the painting was made. The serial excursionism of Monet, with his privileged Savoy Hotel balcony, a room stacked with enough canvases to cover every freak of our infernal weather, interrogates contrary visions: upstream, downriver. Two bridges, two substantial chunks of civil engineering to be broken down into beads of shimmering light. London as a studio. Like Whistler, Monet took up Baudelaire's challenge: to depict 'the landscape of great cities'. The English Channel narrowed to a ditch, as poets and painters travelled in both directions. Sickert to Dieppe. Apollinaire to Lambeth. Stephane Mallarme translated Whistler's Ten O'Clock Lecture. Whistler and Monet made their treaty with the irritating genius of Turner; by studying his works, praising his energy, damning his failure to appreciate the subtle depths of shadow...

"Art plunder, sanctified by public display, confers virtue on its keepers. A notable show diverts attention from the grubby realpolitik of the river. Tactfully hung apartments are what we require, walls with radiant windows. We file through, nudged by prompt cards, in money-laid-out reverence. While outside, en plein air, the Embankment is deserted. Sharky cruisers, defaced by a rash of expectorated Damien Hirst Smarties, shuttle between the ex-power station (Tate Modern) and the former prison (Tate Britain). The true exhibition, I decided, would involve knocking down that wall, letting the river in. Go with the flow. With Turner, dying in his Chelsea house, being absorbed in the rush of light; calling on his god, the sun."

Bravo, Mr Sinclair!

Remember the complaints that Columbia University professors were intimidating pro-Israeli students? The university's president, Lee Bollinger, has appointed a committee to look into the charges. The New York Sun went along last week to a panel discussion on the Middle East organised by the University, and was horrified.

One of the professors accused of anti-Semitic behaviour was Joseph Mossad. The Sun says: "Joseph Massad took the floor, and the floodgates of hatred opened wide. Mr. Massad is one of the MEALAC professors accused of demanding of one Israeli student, 'How many Palestinians did you kill today?' At the forum, he used the phrase 'racist Israeli state' more than two dozen times. He used seemingly universalist language of anti-racism to drive a fascist argument. Mr. Massad is so extreme that he argued that Arafat was in effect an Israeli collaborator for even talking about compromise.

"Whatever can be said of this rant, its 'academic' content was hard to discern. But to judge by the applause he received, Mr. Massad was the star of the evening. Obviously, Mr. Massad, an acolyte of the dear departed George Habash, isn't worried about President Bollinger's panel, which includes three professors who have signed petitions demanding that all universities divest from Israel...

"Instead of providing an alternative to hatred and extremism from both sides, this panel was a hate-fest masquerading as academic discourse. And this was no aberration attributable only to one misguided student group. In addition to Qanun, a Columbia Law School student group, the panel was cosponsored by the university chaplain, the Student Senate, and two of Columbia's most prestigious academic affiliates: the Middle East Institute, headed by professor Khalidi, and the School of International and Public Affairs. SIPA's dean, Lisa Anderson, was appointed by Mr. Bollinger to the committee looking into the charges against professor Massad - whose dissertation adviser she was.

"Coming away from Monday night's hate panel and then looking at this tangled web of conflicts of interest within the university, we realized that the issue of misconduct in the classroom by one or two professors, important though it is, is dwarfed by a more fundamental question: How did a great institution of higher learning allow itself to be transformed into a platform for vicious political propaganda and hate speech directed against one country, Israel?"

04 February 2005

This seems a very modern Chinese love story. Chinese boy falls in love with Russian girl. His parents think she's unsuitable. He marries her anyway. They have tough times but work hard. They have success in business. Now, they are riding into the sunset with a daughter, a car, an apartment, investments and their very own granulated sugar factory in Yunnan. People's Daily thinks Heaven must have been moved by their unusual love and marriage.

CNN-News executive Eason Jordan drew attention to himself at the World Economic Forum in Davos a few days ago by accusing American troops in Iraq of deliberately killing journalists. Since that quite demonstrably isn't true, he's been pilloried in the press and by blogs for shameful behaviour. He denies that's what he meant, but his denial doesn't seem up to much - "To be clear, I do not believe the U.S. military is trying to kill journalists in Iraq. I said so during the forum panel discussion. But, nonetheless, the U.S. military has killed several journalists in Iraq in cases of mistaken identity. The reason the word 'targeted' came up at all is because I was responding to a comment by Congressman Franks, who said he believed the 63 journalists killed in Iraq were the victims of 'collateral damage'. Since three of my CNN colleagues and many other journalists have been killed on purpose in Iraq, I disputed the 'collateral damage' statement, saying, unfortunately, many journalists - not all - killed in Iraq were indeed targeted. When someone aims a gun at someone and pulls the trigger and then learns later the person fired at was actually a journalist, an apology is appropriate and is accepted, and I believe those apologies to be genuine. But such a killing is a tragic case of mistaken identity, not a case of 'collateral damage'. That is the distinction I was trying to make even if I did not make it clearly at the time. Further, I have worked closely with the U.S. military for months in an effort to achieve a mutual goal: keeping journalists in Iraq safe and alive.."

Get that? Me either. The Washington Times thinks he was simply playing to an international anti-American audience willing to grasp at anything damaging to America's reputation, and should be fired: "...How can CNN justify keeping on staff someone who maligns our troops with rumor and innuendo?"

A scathing editorial in the Telegraph this morning urges Prime Minister Tony Blair to face up to the fact that the IRA and Sinn Fein can't be trusted. Their criminal involvement in the Northern Bank robbery put them beyond the pale, the newspaper claims, and if they don't understand that now, they will when there is a general election in that country. "The IRA's instigation of the Northern Bank raid was worse than a crime," thunders the Telegraph, "it was a blunder."

If you think you might have heard that phrase before, you'd be right. A Frenchman called Boulay de la Meurthe is credited with its first use in 1804 when he heard the news of the execution of the Bourbon Duc d'Enghien. The Duc took part, with British backing, in an intrigue against Napoleon - one of those very French plots which take many, many thousands of words to describe.

Yemeni Judge Hamoud al-Hitar gambled with five Al Qaeda prisoners being held in a Sanaa prison. "If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Hitar told the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence." According to the Christian Science Monitor, he won the bet with those five, and 359 others. They have all been freed, Yemen is free of terrorist attacks and none of those who were part of the experiment has taken part in attacks outside the country. This is despite predictions two years ago that Yemen would become the terrorist capital of the world.

Here's a CD no jazz fan and no classical music fan would want to miss - Haunted Heart is the working title of a CD, to be released in May, of opera's Renee Fleming singing jazz. The album is going to be an eclectic mix of ballads - jazz standards and popular tunes - as well as three classical pieces. "It's intimate. I sing it an octave lower than I ever sing, as if I'm whispering in somebody's ear. It's going to be a surprise. A few people I've played it for had no idea it's me." Haunted Heart, by the way, is a great song written by Arthur Schwartz, the father of my favourite disk jockey, Jonathan Schwartz, who works for XM Satellite radio, and who does a four-hour stint broadcast over the internet on WNYC-FM every Saturday afternoon, right after the car guys. He's a little heavy on the Sinatra, but still manages to make that four hours the quintessentially New York celebration of voice.

03 February 2005

Iyad Allawi, the prime minister of the interim government of Iraq, has written rather a nice op-ed piece for the London Times, thanking the British people for their support. "Sunday's elections are only the beginning for the new democratic Iraq. There will be two more chances this year alone for Iraqis to play their part in deciding the direction of their country with national votes on the new constitution and then to elect a new assembly and government under its terms. I am convinced after the success of Sunday that participation rates for parties and voters will only increase.

"The challenge in front of us now is to make our politics as inclusive as possible through a constitution which respects the views and interests of all Iraq's communities and deserves, in turn, the support of all. Sunday was the launch pad for a new national unity and purpose for our country. Yesterday, I met the leaders of all Iraq's major political parties and groupings - those who participated and those who did not - to convey this message. We agreed together to launch together a new national dialogue."

The British High Commissioner to Kenya, Sir Edward Clay, raised a lot of eyebrows last July when he accused the Government of Kenya of being gluttons for curruption. According to the Guardian, he's back on the warpath, giving a speech in which he claimed that 'massive looting' of public funds was devastating the country's economy. Sir Edward claimed that foreign associates of the previous government of Daniel arap Moi were working with officials of the new government to steal public funds through crooked procurement ventures. 'We are not talking about minor corruption. We are talking about massive looting and/ or grand corruption which in total has a huge impact on Kenya's economy,' he said at Kenya's Journalist of the Year awards.

02 February 2005

Football (I mean soccer) fans will be interested in this long article about the life of Garrincha, the soccer star Brazilians think was their greatest. It was carried last month by Brazzil Magazine, and I should acknowledge that I found both magazine and article through Canadian blogger Colby Cosh's website.

Like many countries, Bermuda is hard pressed to produce a suffiency of skilled people to man parts of its infrastructure, and recruits overseas to make up the shortfall. Often, the country in which it is recruiting suffers from a shortfall itself, as in the case of Jamaica, where, according to the Jamaica Observer, officials are expressing concern about "the latest recruitment of Jamaican nurses by the Bermuda Hospitals Board, saying the current drive could worsen an already severe shortage. 'We are concerned that it is the specialist and experienced nurses who are leaving,' Nurses Association of Jamaica president Valda Lawrence-Campbell told the Observer on Monday."

Opposition to Syria's role in Lebanon has widened recently, and now, according to AlJazeera, it includes Muslim leaders such as Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt, once a key ally of Damascus. As a result of the pressure, Syria has sent an official to open dialogue with Lebanese politicians, even those opposed to its military presence in the country, signaling a complete change of its approach.

Claudia Rosett sums up the state of the official investigation of the UN Oil-for-Food scandal on the eve of the publication of Paul Volcker's first interim report on his investigation. In the New York Sun, she says the report should answer a number of questions, including "...the question of why Mr. Annan to this day has refused to open the United Nations' books. In a speech delivered Tuesday, an American assistant treasury secretary, Juan Zarate, (who has been leading one of the hunts for Saddam's secret assets), referred to the 'sham contracts, kickbacks, falsified export documentation, and money laundering designed to deceive U.N. inspectors and deliver, among other things, missile components, surveillance equipment, and tank barrels to the former Iraqi regime.' Mr. Zarate added, 'This abuse of the international financial system and of the OFF [oil-for-food] program allowed the arming and enrichment of the Hussein regime. It may also now be part of the financial backing that now fuels the Iraqi insurgency and terrorism inside Iraq.'"

The Washington Times argues that Volcker should have disclosed his ties both to a UN advocacy group and his involvement in a Canadian power company tied to two French businesses reportedly linked to the oil-for-food scandal. These things will undermine the credibility of his report, the newspaper says.

The Heritage Foundation agrees. In a longish comment, the think tank points out that "The Independent Inquiry Committee into the Oil-for-Food scandal has been hailed by its supporters as a huge step forward for the United Nations in terms of increasing accountability and transparency. It has been held up as an example of a new spirit of openness supposedly sweeping through the world body and as a powerful symbol of Kofi Annan's stated objective to restore the reputation of the U.N. In reality however, the Volcker Committee suffers from a huge credibility problem of its own. It is hard to see how a team of investigators hand-picked by the UN Secretary-General, whose own son is a subject of investigation, could be considered truly independent. There is also a major question mark over its Chairman's neutrality. After Mr. Volcker's several years as a director of the United Nations Association and Business Council for the United Nations, it is difficult to see how he could cast a critical, objective eye over the UN's leadership.

A community of some 3,500 mixed deaf and hearing people in the Negev desert have created, over 70 years, the Al-Sayyid Beduin Sign Language, free of any outside influences. It is now providing researchers new insights into the way human language develops. The Jerusalem Post says sentences in ABSL follow a Subject-Object-Verb order, e.g., "woman apple give," rather than the Subject-Verb-Object order found in English - or, more significantly, in other languages in the region.

"'ABSL is transmitted within families across generations, and children learn it without explicit instruction. It is the best analogue we have for studying how any new language is born and grows,' said Carol Padden, a professor of communication at the University of California at San Diego. 'The grammatical structure of the Beduin sign language shows no influence from either the dialect of Arabic spoken by hearing members of the community or the predominant sign language in the surrounding area, Israeli Sign Language,' said Padden. 'Because ABSL developed independently, it may reflect fundamental properties of language in general and provide insight into basic questions about the way in which human language develops from the very beginning.' Remarkably, the fixed word order of ABSL emerged within a generation after the inception of the language. 'Our findings support the idea that word order is one of the first features of a language, and that it appears very early,' Padden said.

"The research also supports the notion that languages can and do evolve quickly.'When we first came to al-Sayyid, I expected to see a lot of gesture and miming, but I was impressed immediately by how sophisticated the language was. This is not an ad hoc, spur-of-the-moment communication. It is a complex language capable of relating information beyond the here and now,' she continued."

Israel is parlaying its stature as the world leader in fighting terrorism into a hook to attract tourists who fancy themselves as IDF Joe fighting figures. The Israel Challenge Experience's (ICE) army fantasy camp, to open in May, lets tourists spend a week getting "anti-terror training" from the IDF experts. It's pricey...$3,600, plus air fare...but being able to say "I trained with the IDF in Israel, you know" is apparently worth it for lots of people, according to the Jerusalem Post.

In 1994, the US Congress dealt with a ban by some American universities on military recruiters' visits by passing the Solomon Amendment, named for the late New York Republican, Gerald Solomon. That law requires schools that receive federal funds to provide equal access to military recruiters. According to the Wall Street Journal, the House is scheduled to vote today on a resolution brought by Alabama Republican Mike Rogers that would restate the House's support for the Solomon Amendment. Something similar passed the House and Senate by overwhelming margins last year and was incorporated into the Defense Authorization bill.

"The impetus for Mr. Rogers's move is a November ruling by the federal appeals court in Philadelphia in favor of a group of law schools and legal scholars that had contested the Solomon law. The 2-1 opinion found that the Solomon Amendment violates the schools' First Amendment rights to free speech and association. Next stop is the Supreme Court, which is expected to take the appeal that the Justice Department plans to bring...

"If, as is likely, the Supreme Court overturns the appeals court decision, that will be the end of it. Almost all universities, public and private, take millions of dollars in federal money that would be next to impossible to give up. That's especially true of the elite schools, both public and private. Still, it would be nice to think that the nation's universities would welcome the military for reasons other than the mercenary. Patriotism, perhaps?"

01 February 2005

Two takes on where Iraq should go from here. The first was written for the Washington Times by John R Thomson, who has lived and worked in the Middle East for more than three decades. It is quite a complicated analysis, and ends on a note that sounds ever so slightly as if it were written for someone to declaim from a stage: "History's tide is turning against dictators and terrorists, in favor of free-market democracy. Despots and crackpots from Bashar Assad in Damascus to Hugo Chavez in Caracas take note." (Pause, then...curtain!)

I think I like this one better, though. It may seem slightly oddly written in this People's Daily translation from the Chinese, but it is simple, practical and straightforward, as all good analyses of complicated situations should strive to be.

The Volcker report - at least an interim version of it - is due to be published at the end of this week, and you can expect an increasing flow of information on the UN scandal to be published between now and then as the people and organisations involved manoeuvre for position. In this story, published by the Financial Times, Benon Sevan, the United Nations official in charge of the oil-for-food programme in Iraq, is alleged to have intervened in person to steer lucrative contracts to an oil trader. At least that's what Iraqi officials are said to have told the UN's independent inquiry.

The FT also mentions that Sevan has apparently attempted to explain having control of more money than his UN salary might suggest was reasonable by saying that "he received tens of thousands of dollars in cash annually from an aunt in Cyprus. Inquiries by the FT and Il Sole suggest Mr Sevan's only close relative in Cyprus was Berjouhi Zeytountsian, an aunt who raised him after his parents' death. Ms Zeytountsian - described by a friend as a 'low-ranking civil servant who lived on her pension and had no extra money' - died in June. On March 23, she fell into a lift shaft, hit her head and did not regain consciousness. Police declared her death an accident."

In this related editorial, the Washington Times argues that Mr Volcker himself has some explaining to do. " Mr. Volcker needs to come forward to clarify his side of the story in detail, in order to answer the questions being raised by the public and by members of Congress about his relationships with potential targets of the investigation. Until Mr. Volcker offers details, the debate will overshadow his own efforts to get a full accounting of the Oil for Food scandal...

"On Friday, Mr. Hunt (Fox News Channel correspondent Jonathan) reported that Mr. Volcker is a close friend and paid adviser to billionaire Paul Desmarais Sr., who owns the Power Corp. of Canada. Power Corp. shares control of a holding company that is the largest single shareholder of the multinational energy firm Total, which received $1.75 billion worth of oil from Iraq. Total was in discussions with Saddam Hussein to develop oil fields in Iraq if sanctions were lifted (which would have made them worth billions of dollars more). Mr. Demarais' son is currently a director of Total."

I've posted before on John C Yoo's articles in the Los Angeles Times, explaining the background to the controversial torture memorandum to George Bush that is being used to attack his new Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. Yoo, now a law professor at UC Berkeley and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was one of the authors of the memorandum when he worked at the Justice Department. The other author was Yoo's colleague, Robert J. Delahunty, who is now a law professor at St. Thomas University Law School in Minnesota. The two men have joined forces to write an article in the LA Times this morning, again claiming that the controversy is obscuring a very real dilemma that must be solved by the legal community - how to adapt to the decline of nation-states as the primary enemy in war.

"The Geneva Convention is not obsolete," the two men say, "nor, despite his critics, did Gonzales say it was. It protects innocent civilians by restricting the use of violence to combatants, and in turn give soldiers protections for obeying the rules of war. Although enemy combatants may have killed soldiers or destroyed property, they are not treated as accused criminals. Instead, nations may detain POWs until the end of hostilities to prevent them from returning to combat. The Geneva Convention provisions make sense when war involves nation-states - if, say, hostilities broke out between India and Pakistan, or China and Taiwan. But to pretend that the Geneva Convention applies to Al Qaeda, a non-state actor that targets civilians and disregards other laws of war, denies the reality of dramatic changes in the international system. Shortly after World War II, nations ratified the Geneva Convention in order to mitigate the cruelty and horror of wars between the large mechanized armies that had laid waste to Europe.

"Now, the main challenges to peace do not arise from the threat of conflict between large national armies, but from terrorist organizations and rogue nations. "Terrorists thrive on killing civilians and flouting conventional rules of war. Leaders like Hussein and the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar ignore the fates of their captured soldiers. They have nothing riding on the humane treatment of American prisoners. A treaty like the Geneva Convention makes perfect sense when it binds genuine nations that can reciprocate humane treatment of prisoners. Its existence and its benefits even argue for the kind of nation-building that uses US troops and other kinds of pressures in places like Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq; more nation-states make all of us safer. But the Geneva Convention makes little sense when applied to a terrorist group or a pseudo-state. If we must fight these kinds of enemies, we must create a new set of rules."

Interesting that as this article was published this morning, other US media were reporting that the process of legally deciding how best to deal with terrorists in custody was being carried forward by U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green, who ruled that the approximately 550 men held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay are entitled to the advice of lawyers and to confront the evidence against them in those proceedings. She found that the Defense Department had denied them their "most basic fundamental rights" during reviews conducted at Guantanamo Bay, in the name of protecting the United States from terrorism. The Washington Post covered that little part of the back-and-forth.

In the Independent, Ian Burrell is reporting on the extraordinary controversy that sprung up a few days ago over whether Bob Marley's remains were to be left in Jamaica, or moved to Ethiopia. It was his widow, Rita Marley, who touched the whole thing off, and Burrell thinks Tony Sewell, the Jamaican author of Garvey's Children: the Legacy of Marcus Garvey, has a pretty good handle on what she was up to. Sewell says: "What's interesting about this is Rita's position. This goes back to the whole situation around the will and how the Marley property was divided up. She has been marginalised in the story and part of this is that she wants to reinvent herself within the Marley context."

Burrell recalls that "Rita Marley has already caused outrage in Jamaica by claiming that her husband raped her. Speaking from the Caribbean island, Michael Edwards, features writer on The Jamaica Observer, says: 'There's a fair amount of lingering malcontent against Rita stemming from the previous controversy over her book, in which she initially claimed he had forcible sex with her, and later rescinded. That started some bad feeling among the general public who still hold Bob Marley in a very, very high regard.' That book - Rita's autobiography, No Woman No Cry - was published in May last year..."

Is it time for classical music's second coming? The Guardian's columnist Martin Kettle reports on "marvellously stimulating" conclusions reached by the South African scholar, Peter Van der Merwe, in a new book, Roots of the Classical: the Popular Origins of Western Music. "Turandot, left unfinished on the composer's death in 1924," Kettle says, "is also the grand finale of Italian opera. For around three centuries, operas poured from the pens of Italian composers and found lasting places in the repertoire. After Turandot, there has not been one in 80 years of which that could be said. Maybe that is an extreme example. But answer this question: what is the most recently composed piece of classical music to have achieved a genuinely established place in the repertoire? I mean a piece that you can count on hearing in most major cities most years, and a performance of which is likely to bring in a large general audience. Shostakovich's first cello concerto, written in 1959, perhaps? Even that is stretching a point. A more truthful answer might be Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, composed 56 years ago in 1948..."

"Classical music survived, after a fashion. But it has less to say about today. It endures overwhelmingly on the strength of its back catalogue and performance tradition, not of any new creativity. Having failed to persuade the public to embrace modern music, it has sustained itself only by rediscovering the music of earlier epochs and - though this is arguable - by learning the lessons of the modernist deviation. This has left the traditional carriers of the classical tradition in steady, though not yet terminal, decline. Orchestras and opera companies battle on in the face of increasing evidence of public indifference and of diminishing investment. Solo performers remain of a high standard, but sound less and less like the bearers of a living tradition...

"So is it goodbye to all that? Not necessarily. The modernist tide has gone out, though parts of western Europe are still mopping up. Even here, though, it is no longer anathema for composers to embrace popularity. The influence of American composers, for whom popularity is not a dirty word, and of composers from national traditions that survived the modernist onslaught (the Argentinian school, for instance) is perhaps a way forward. Van der Merwe, for one, believes that it is. Classical music's second coming, if it is to have one, could hardly be better timed. The popular music that once filled the place it vacated seems in turn to have largely burned itself out. Here, too, creativity is at its lowest ebb since the early 50s. The space awaiting good new music of any kind is immense."

Back in October of last year, the rumour was that Marsh & McLennan might have to pay $500 million to settle its price-rigging beef with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer said then that he thought the final figure might be considerably more than that. Yesterday, Marsh agreed to pay well over the rumoured figure - $850 million. That money is expected to be used to compensate about 100,000 corporations and smaller businesses whose commercial insurance the company arranged from 2001 to 2004. In the New York Times, Marsh's CEO apologized for what he called the 'shameful' and 'unlawful' behavior of 'a few people' at the company.

31 January 2005

Think 'tiny medicine,' and you probably think 'Fantastic Voyage,' the 1966 movie (and Isaac Asimov book) about a minuscule medical crew submarining through a patient's circulatory system. In fact, some nanomedicine experts foresee a day when invisibly small robots will cruise through the body looking for signs of disease - albeit without the added attraction of a neoprene-clad Raquel Welch.

The Washington Post updates us on where science has got to with the promise of nanotechnology: "'Nanobots' remain imaginary for now, but a number of other futuristic nanodevices are already proving their potential in animal and human experiments. More than 60 drugs and drug delivery systems based on nanotechnology, and more than 90 medical devices or diagnostic tests, are already being tested..."

John McAbery's is a life lived, says the LA Times, in harmony with the rhythms of his surroundings. "There is no electricity on this stretch of the Lost Coast in Humboldt County. No telephone ring to rap on the door of his concentration. In fall, flies rise off the kelp mounds in vast numbers. In winter, waves lash the cabin's edge, wrapping McAbery's world in a wash of sea foam. Every day, he sculpts. This is how they move through the seasons, the man and California's most pristine coastal landscape, in a balance as delicate as the wood McAbery manipulates. One false move, and he can splinter a piece he has slaved over for weeks, relegating it - with only the rarest frustration - to the pile that feeds his stocky woodstove.

"McAbery's ritual begins at dawn on a recent fall day with cup upon cup of strong black coffee. Then comes a walk to the squat Punta Gorda lighthouse for firewood. On a recent day, a raccoon's tracks mark the surf-soaked sand. As the sun pushes over the ridge, the earth steams. A seal pokes its head through the waves. Then it's time to work. Inside his cabin, McAbery reaches for the worn cardboard container that serves as his only toolbox. In it are a simple Japanese keyhole saw and a host of carpenter's rasps that resemble cheese graters and that peel at the wood with a steady 'chht, chht'. There is also a gouge. For hard-to-reach places, improvising helps. To smooth the ridges inside the bulb of a vexing conch shell sculpture, McAbery recently resorted to an old whale bone."

Pleasant story.

In another little sign of progress in that part of the world, the Israelis and the Palestinians have agreed to form a joint media monitoring centre to try to stop the exaggerations and lies that are being published by both sides, according to the Jerusalem Post. Pity they can't expand their activities to the rest of the world.

Making a complaint that is beginning to become commonplace, the head of Britain's largest employer group, says he thinks the World Economic Forum at Davos was taken over this year by NGOs who want business to apologise for itself.

According to the Guardian, "As the annual five-day event came to an end in Switzerland, Sir Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, said he was 'worried and frustrated' by the lack of celebration of risk takers and wealth creators. 'Too many of the sessions have been an excuse to beat up on business, to say that business must do better,' he said. 'The pendulum is swinging too far in favour of the NGOs. The World Economic Forum is caving in to them. Davos has been hijacked by those who want business to apologise for itself.' Business, Sir Digby said, was the only route to cleaner water, better healthcare, better education and better roads. 'Have I heard that in Davos? Have I hell. We have heard how we are greedy and how we pollute, and how we have got to help Africa. But a celebration of business? No.'"

Many feel that the Cancun meeting of the World Trade Organisation failed a couple of years ago because of the pressure NGOs put on the 'real' delegates. There were some 2,000 delegates at Cancun from the 146 nations that are members of the WTO. There were 3,000 others there from NGOs. Their purpose is to sit as observers in conferences like this to urge their own agenda on the people who must abide by the rules that are set. Specifically, in the case of the WTO, they want the organisation to allow trade to be restricted on the basis of political, rather than scientific judgements. Many of them are so-called Green environmental groups, which want environmental officials to have broad rights to protect the environment. There is nothing to prevent such a thing being provided for in a specific international agreement, but the Green groups don't want that. They want to create a situation in which powerful countries, such as their friends in the EU, should be able to force other, weaker countries, to change their domestic environmental policies under threat of trade coercion. The point of the WTO is to stop big countries playing politics with free trade. But the NGOs don't like that idea. The big countries are easy to lobby. Something like 140 smaller ones are much more difficult to lobby, and anyway, the developing countries and the NGOs are far from being in bed together. Developing countries understand that the best and fastest route to a better environment is through economic prosperity. The NGOs don't want to wait until developing countries have time to prosper, so they want cripplingly expensive rules and regulations imposed on the developing countries straight away, whether they like it or not.

The most significant thing about the very successful election in Iraq yesterday must be the rebuke to terrorists implied in the turn-out and the resolve of those who voted. It was a flat, unequivocal rejection of their methods and their ideology, and one hopes it is reasonable to extrapolate from the eloquence of the Iraqi voters that the majority of Arabs feel the same way about radical Islam. Estimates of the turn-out have been reduced overnight from that extraordinary 72% that was being bandied around late yesterday morning, but there can be no question that it was sufficient to give legitimacy to the results, whatever they may be. Oz blogger Arthur Chrenkoff, whose faith in the Iraqi process, if that's the right word, has been a shining example to other bloggers, has included a very thorough round-up of voting news in his twice-monthly summary in the Wall Street Journal of the good news from Iraq.

Interestingly, the Arab media, according to the New York Times this morning, focused not on the violence that accompanied the election (I don't mean to make light of the deaths of 35 people, but it was a bit of a damp squib, wasn't it?) but on the importance of the voting itself, and what that might mean for other countries in the region.

One of the things the success of the election did was to underline just what horse's asses a lot of horse's asses are. The Telegraph editorialised this morning that "such were the passions aroused by the Iraq war that many Western observers now find themselves hoping, disgracefully, that that country's first free poll will fail. Left-wing commentators, in Britain as in much of Europe, have focused disproportionately on the difficulties that any state must undergo during a transition process. To many of them, every terrorist bomb, every murdered election official, every sign of heightened military alertness - even the loss of a British aircraft - makes a nonsense of Iraq's democratic aspirations."

If you'd like to read a couple of examples of the views of those left-wing commentators, those horse's asses who were disgracefully hoping the country's election would fail, you don't need to stray too far from the pages of the Guardian. Rageh Omaar, who made his name around the time of the invasion as one of the BBC's most successful whiners, explains why we, and the Iraqis, have no right to feel any optimism whatsoever.

And a man called Salim Lone (he was director of communications for Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN special representative in Iraq, who, the Guardian points out in a nicely-judged touch, was killed in August 2003) writes that "The election was illegitimate, and cannot resolve the rampant insecurity resulting from the occupation. The only way to stop the destruction of Iraq is to end the occupation and enfranchise the Sunnis, who are leading the resistance because they see the US as systematically excluding them from the role they deserve to play in Iraq.

"Indeed, this so-called election, with its national rather than provincial voting rolls, was designed to reduce Sunni representation and to anoint US-supported groups who will allow this occupation to continue. A high turnout does not change the fact that this is an illegitimate, occupier's election."

30 January 2005

The big story today, of course, is the election in Iraq. Despite the terrorist threat, reports suggest the turnout is much higher than expected...72 percent was the figure Reuters quoted election commission officials as having used. I have a feeling this day is going to be a triumph for those who had faith in the power of the ballot.

Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland pretty much had the right attitude this morning when he wrote "To arrive at a day when many Iraqis prepare to brave bombs and bullets to vote for a constitutional assembly validates, at a personal level at least, decades of unreasonable hope, undiminished outrage and unrelenting confidence in the ability of humans to change for the better, whatever region or culture they inhabit."

News mavens should be advised that this is a story that points up the difference between the main-line media and blogs. You want breaking news, go to the media. If you want breaking comment, despite the inherent contradiction in those terms, go to the blogs. One Iraqi blog I have enjoyed reading in the runup to the election election, is called Friends of Democracy. In the Other Media - Iraq section, there are links to other bloggers in Iraq, some of whom are better than others.

The man Bermuda's governing Progressive Labour Party call "our very own MP at Westminster", Ian Davidson, has been who outed as one of the biggest spenders in the British House of Commons. After he criticised Prince Andrew for lavish spending on travel, it was revealed that Davidson's own Commons expenses last year totalled $272,867.87 (at today's rate of exchange), making him the 15th-biggest spender out of 658 MPs. All his expenses bills were met by the taxpayer.

According to the Telegraph, "the Register of Members' Interests also shows that Mr Davidson is a frequent overseas traveller on parliamentary sports-related trips. Although these journeys are funded by the private sector or the politicians involved, they have resulted in Mr Davidson's spending considerable periods away from Westminster and his constituency. Among them was a "fact-finding mission" with the Commons and Lords Rugby Union Football Club to watch the British Lions in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Tokyo. The trip, in 2001, lasted 20 days and involved 'rest days' at the Great Barrier Reef and Lake Crackenback.

"In 2002 Mr Davidson went on another rugby trip, this time to New York and Los Angeles, for eight days. The MPs' team's kit was sponsored by Nike and 'financial support' was also received from Halewood International, Chase de Vere, Halcrow, GEM Construction, Volt Europe and GlaxoSmithKline. The same year Mr Davidson also flew to Japan, again with other MPs, to watch England in football's World Cup, although as a Scotsman he said he had supported Nigeria and Sweden in their group games against Sven-Goran Eriksson's side.

"September 2003 brought another rugby trip to Australia, this time to take part in the Third Parliamentary World Cup, which was billed as a curtain-raiser to the real rugby World Cup later the same year. Nike again provided the MPs' kit and, while the team contributed to the cost of flights and hotels, 'financial support' came in from Halewood International, the Australian Hotels Association, Canberra Tourism, Aus Trade, Acumen Alliance, AMP and Eurest Supply Services. In July 2003, Mr Davidson also managed to squeeze in an 11-day trip to Bermuda to observe elections there. His accommodation was paid for by the country's ruling Progressive Labour Party.

He has managed to ingratiate himself with the PLP by acting as a kind of parliamentary gofer in the UK for them, especially as they have sought to amend Bermuda's election voting procedures. At a PLP banquet held in honour of the visit of a group of seven British Parliamentary officials to Bermuda last year in September, Davidson was introduced as "our very own MP at Westminster" by PLP vice-chairman Roddy Burchall. When he rose to thank the assembled local labour party members for the dinner, he is said to have addressed them as "comrades and friends".

The Telegraph is carrying a sharp little piece this morning criticising Tony Blair for using global warming to get himself out from under criticism of his role in helping George Bush with Iraq. Under the headline The danger is hot air, not global warming, Writer Ross Clark says Tony Blair's mission on global warming, as enounced at the World Economic Forum at Davos, "would considerably enhance his reputation as a world leader, especially among those whom he offended by going to war in Iraq, were he to go down as the man who succeeded in persuading George W Bush to make a gesture on global warming.

"When, early in his first term, President Bush withdrew from the Kyoto protocol, it was condemned as the act of an isolationist. More recently, he is said to have softened on the issue. One more push from Blair, goes the theory, and the President might just be prepared to back the Climate Stewardship Act: a measure introduced by the former senator John McCain that would commit the US to stabilising its carbon emissions at 2000 levels, but which has failed to become law. If Tony Blair does succeed in extracting a gesture from the US, it might silence those who claim he is Bush's poodle, but it would do little to alter mankind's chances of survival."

A US Naval officer serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which has been a key vessel in the US effort to help tsunami victims in the Indian Ocean, has anonymously attacked UN workers, aid officials and journalists who were given accomodation and help by the Navy as a "travelling circus" and "a bunch of trifling do-gooders". The Telegraph says the officer made his attack on "a website popular with US military personnel". One of his complaints was that the Navy's Seahawk helicopters were required to spend much of their time ferrying relief workers around before bringing them back to their "guest bedrooms". Aid teams, he said, "threw themselves at the mercy" of the US Navy because there were no five-star hotels but declined to pay for meals.

The officer was similarly scathing of television crews. "We had to dedicate two helos [helicopters] and a C-2 cargo plane for Dan Rather and his entourage of door-holders and briefcase-carriers from CBS News," he claimed.

I suspect the website the Telegraph mentions, but doesn't name, is a blog. Although the main-stream press has not picked it up, many blogs have carried complaints over the last three or four weeks that the UN, particularly, has been inefficient in its approach to the relief effort, and that UN officials have lied and distorted facts in order to try to take credit for prompt actions carried out by US and Australian troops, especially. Many of the complaints quote a blog called The Diplomad, which describes itself as being run by US State Department foreign service officers, and which has been scathing about some of the comments made by UN Undersecretary General and Disaster Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland. On their site, scroll down to an entry headed "More UNhonesty', that was posted on January 27, to get an idea of what is being complained about.

A couple of interesting stories have been published in Britain this morning that touch on the UN's Oil-for-Food scandal. The Telegraph suggests that Paul Volcker, who Kofi Annan picked to direct an internal UN investigation, may himself now be criticised for failing to declare alleged conflicts of interest when he was appointed. The Telegraph says he was "a director of two powerful pro-UN pressure groups when Kofi Annan, the organisation's secretary-general, hand-picked him to lead the three-man commission last April."

And the Times claims that Kofi Annan's son, Kojo, "has told a close friend he became involved in negotiations to sell 2m barrels of Iraqi oil to a Moroccan company in 2001. He is understood to be co-operating with UN investigators probing the discredited oil for food programme....Several senior UN staff are alleged to have profited from the scheme, and the apparent connection between Kojo and the programme has become the subject of intense international scrutiny. Critics claim that Kofi faces a significant conflict of interest if Kojo sought to profit from the discredited scheme."


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

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