...Views from mid-Atlantic
12 February 2005

Our Tourism officials are convinced that paying designer Peter Som to include Bermuda shorts in his new collection was a great marketing coup for Bermuda. Sure was...got us right up there in the spotlight with Kohler's new toilet, Splenda artificial sweetener, a dog called Lucyanne and Dr. Ruth!

I think we'd have got a lot more publicity, though, for a lot less money, if the Tourism Minister (in his Bermuda shorts, of course) had simply taken a leak on one of Christo's Central Park Gates in the middle of the opening ceremony.

It was written by Kofi Annan, it's about Iraq and it was published in the Washington Post, so read it. "The success of the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq has created an exciting moment of opportunity. It matters greatly that Iraq's transition is a success. I am determined to make certain that the United Nations will play its full part in helping the Iraqi people achieve that end. But it also matters that the international community, which has been angrily divided over Iraq, now recognizes that we all share a common agenda: to move Iraq from the starting point - its successfully completed elections - to a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future."

Sweet, even if a day late and a dollar short.

Here's an accusation, published by the Independent, that the Prince Charles and Camilla engagement had caused hysteria at the BBC. The BBC? Why on earth single them out? The entire British nation has been firmly in the grip of a very, very strange brand of madness ever since the news was announced. I don't mean to be discourteous, but really! This has to have been the longest and the very dullest shaggy dog story in history. And the punchline, let's face it, has about as much oomph as the announcement of the winners of the egg-and-spoon race at Balmoral Grammar School's open day.

Nonetheless, the Telegraph thinks the whole thing's been shamefully underdone!

The Guardian's Jonathan Watts notes the passing of two parts of Beijing's bad old days - the Silk Market, one of the world's hotbeds of brand piracy, and South Bar Street in Sanlitun, the city's most popular collection of watering holes. Both have been demolished as inimical with New Beijing's style. In one bar, it's said, last call for drinks was announced for the first time since the place opened, an hour before the building was demolished.

Eason Jordan has resigned from his post at CNN in the face of blog-driven criticism of his remarks at Davos, probably just in front of a substantial spread of that criticism to main-stream media. The bias of some journalists towards bloggers is evident in this New York Times coverage, which mentions them only once. The story ends by quoting Bret Stephens as having said that while Jordan had made 'a defamatory innuendo' about US troops, he 'deserves some credit for retracting the substance of his remark, and some forgiveness for trying to weasel his way out of a bad situation of his own making.'" The Times doesn't bother to mention that Stephens also noted that "Whether CNN wants its news division led by a man who can't be trusted to sit on a panel and field softball questions is another matter."

11 February 2005

DEBKAfile believes the effect of the renewed terrorist offensive in the Middle East is more serious than is being admitted. "This two-stroke offensive created four new facts outside the purlieu of the Sharm talks," it says.

"1. That the order of events was to be dictated by the Palestinian terror groups - not Abu Mazen.

"2. Whereas in Yasser Arafat's day Palestinian diplomacy and hostilities were fully synchronized, now the men of violence held the upper hand and they would determine the course of diplomacy.

"3. Abu Mazen, Sharon, Mubarak and King Abdullah had better forget about a truce or even the 'de facto ceasefire' widely reported in the media. This was war and the operational commanders would decide when the Palestinians would shoot and when they were told to hold their fire.

"4. The Middle East Club of Four - the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Palestinian Authority and Israel - established Tuesday, February 8, at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh would not be permitted to engage one another in dialogue without bringing in the Palestinian terrorist organizations. Their exclusion would spawn outbreaks of violence.

"DEBKAfile's analysts note that, in the space of a few hours, the Palestinian terrorists turned the clock back to 1995, 1996 and 1997, when the Oslo Peace Accords and the subsequent 'peace talks' went forward amid the blasts of Israeli buses blown up by Palestinian terrorists in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv."

A bill is being introduced in the Senate which is aimed at forcing the Bush administration to come clean on what it will and will not allow with regard to trade with Cuba. The San Francisco Chronicle says: "Farm-state senators, including several senior Republicans, said...the Bush administration was erecting bureaucratic roadblocks to agriculture exports to Cuba and they said they plan to take legislative steps to protect the growing market. 'Don't put up the artificial barriers, don't create the chilling effect. Clean up your act and abide by the law,' was the message of Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, co-sponsor of legislation aimed at clarifying the rules of a 2000 statute making food and agriculture exports an exception to the trade embargo with Cuba."

A UK intelligence report says leaders of Sinn Fein sanctioned the IRA's 26 million-pound bank robbery. The Telegraph suggests the organisation might have needed the cash to pay for Sinn Fein's political campaigning, new weapons and giving pensions to retired IRA members and widows. I guess we've just become too used to seeing Sinn Fein as a political group, not the terrorist front it really is.

The Washington Times thought Bret Stephens's Wall Street Journal article about the Eason Jordan affair was important, as I did. But although the Times noted that Stephens seemed to think people were making more of it than they should, it failed to mention that he also thought CNN should consider firing him. The Times editorial ends on this note: "To be clear, this is about the defamation of American troops. To question their integrity without evidence is intolerable because it puts them in greater danger. For their sake, CNN has an obligation to set the record straight."

Set the record straight? Jordan's not a low level employee. According to CNN's website, he's "executive vice president and chief news executive of CNN. He chairs the CNN Editorial Board, is a member of the CNN Executive Committee and provides strategic advice to CNN's senior management team. Jordan's global portfolio includes managing CNN's editorial relationships with international affiliates, governments and major newspapers. He oversees CNN's World Report Conference and the CNN International Professional Program." With him, CNN's obligation is not merely to set the record straight, but to make sure it does not employ a man with such poor judgement in a position of such responsibility.

Radio show host and blogger Hugh Hewitt says the Jordan case is highlighting a difference between those meda that keep track of blogs and those, like CNN, which do not. In a Weekly Standard article, he says that CNBC's Larry Kudlow, who has himself begun to do a little blogging, "is light years ahead of his colleagues in cable land, and his program is smart and lively as a result. The difference in quality is beginning to show, and before long it will be obvious who is working at staying informed, and who isn't."

For Hamilton College students and faculty members, the undercurrent of the Ward Churchill debate, says the New York Times, is anxiety about how the outside world regards the university, which has recently also been involved in a football recruiting scandal and several alcohol-related deaths among students. Maybe so. But for the rest of the world, the debate has much wider implications - what is a man like Ward Churchill doing as a teacher at an institution of higher learning? He claims to be an American Indian, but isn't, according to American Indians. He may have made up a story about a smallpox outbreak being deliberately spread in the 1800s by the US Army. His academic background is under investigation. Hyperbole, bombast and outrageous claims are his stock-in-trade. The Times quotes the senior vice chairman of the college's Republican students as having said : "'It's probably in their best interest to get rid of guys like that, but why hide what this place really is: a bunch of lunatic leftists'."

The Churchill debate, some say, is a free speech issue. It isn't. It is an upwelling of public feeling that lunatics, no matter whether they come from the left or the right, ought not to be given a home in academia. People like Ward Churchill should not be teaching, period.

10 February 2005

Why are the Chinese people so modest about wealth? According to People's Daily, it's all Confucius's fault. "The disinclination to show wealth has been ingrained in the Chinese culture since ancient times. People today are becoming even more private about their income. Psychologists believe this attitude derives from China's thousands of years of cultural tradition, evidenced in proverbs like 'a prominent bird gets shot' and 'a blossoming tree will be eventually destroyed'. They summarize the essence of Chinese social experience, and reflect certain characteristics of Chinese society to some degree. Exerting a profound influence on Chinese culture for thousands of years, Confucius' doctrine of the Golden Mean promotes a humble, calm way of life. Thus formed the Chinese people's unique psychological quality of disliking self-publicity."

Donald Lambro, the chief political correspondent of the Washington Times, quotes Britain's Independent as having said it's the success of the Iraqi elections that is fuelling Europe's new mood about the US. "Iraqis go to vote...and the U.S. and Europe suddenly cannot get enough of each other's company," the newspaper said. Lambro notes, with a touch of cynicism, that "Had the Iraqis stayed home in large numbers, instead of turning out in droves to vote, defying the terrorists' threats to 'bathe the streets in blood,' Europe's whiners and bellyachers would no doubt be saying, 'We told you so.'"

That's probably true, but new research suggests there was less danger than we might have thought of the Iraqis staying at home. Pew Global Attitudes Project surveys are suggesting that nearly all of the 17 Muslim populations in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa covered by the polls have a deep-seated liking for the idea of democracy..

"Relatively few Muslims," according to this Pew Research Center analysis, "said that 'democracy is a Western way of doing things that would not work here.' Instead, most of the Muslim publics surveyed felt that democracy can work in their country. In addition, they clearly favor democratic government over 'a leader with a strong hand'. In two Muslim countries - Lebanon and Turkey - the number preferring democracy over a strong leader is about the same as in the U.S. (63% U.S., 63% Lebanon, and 57% Turkey). Muslim publics attach considerable importance to specific democratic principles, especially the freedom to criticize the government. Honest multi-party elections, a fair-handed judiciary and a press free to report without government censorship also are valued, especially in Turkey and Lebanon. There is less enthusiasm for these ideals in Pakistan, Indonesia and Jordan though, even in these countries, majorities view honest elections and freedom of the press as at least somewhat important. Yet throughout the Muslim world, with few exceptions, most people feel that their nations are lacking in these freedoms."

The Guardian's critic, Neil Bartlett, pays just about the highest compliment I've ever read to dance's Pina Bausch. Despite admitting he has not the foggiest idea what her shows are all about, "It's quite something to feel that a living artist matters this much, and to feel as excited at 47 about a forthcoming night out as you did when you were 20. I can hardly wait to go back to Sadler's Wells."

The Christian Science Monitor reports this morning that humble roof moss has a spectacularly unusual response to being in the gravity-less environment of space. "In most plants, gravity guides the growth of roots and stems, because many of their cells respond to gravity. With roof moss, just a single cell at the ends of chains of cells senses gravity and responds. The result is that, in the dark underground, the moss grows straight up, away from the center of Earth. When it emerges above ground, light then orients its growth to form familiar mossy structures. It's different in space. Weightless moss first grows outward like spokes in a wheel. Then these arc to form spiral patterns."

I liked the researcher's explanation, which is that the spiral came first - "(he) speculates that it may be a kind of primitive growth pattern 'that later became masked when moss evolved the ability to respond to gravity.'"

Bret Stephens, a member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, was at the Davos panel discussion when Eason Jordan made allegations about journalists being targeted by the US military. In an opinion piece this morning, he seems to think there's a little too much fuss being created over the incident. Jordan simply went too far in his remarks and, stung by Rep Barney Frank's reaction, backpedalled quickly. Nonetheless, Stephens' verdict is that CNN needs to ask itself whether it can afford to keep a man on its staff who can't keep to the straight and narrow in a simple panel discussion.

"Whether with malice aforethought or not, Mr. Jordan made a defamatory innuendo. Defamatory innuendo - rather than outright allegation - is the vehicle of mainstream media bias. Had Mr. Jordan's innuendo gone unchallenged, it would have served as further proof to the Davos elite of the depths of American perfidy. Mr. Jordan deserves some credit for retracting the substance of his remark, and some forgiveness for trying to weasel his way out of a bad situation of his own making. Whether CNN wants its news division led by a man who can't be trusted to sit on a panel and field softball questions is another matter."

A colleague asked yesterday if there had been any developments in the search for the many millions of dollars the gangster Arafat had stashed away in secret bank accounts. I went on a little hunt last night and discovered that the Financial Times had published a two-part investigative report on that subject early this week. One has to pay to see it, so I won't link to it, but as a result of its publication, a little information has been teased out of normally silent sources. In this Swissinfo report, a top Swiss private bank has denied acting improperly in its handling of a multimillion dollar account opened for former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. A spokesman for Geneva-based Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch (LODH) said allegations that funds from the account were transferred without proper oversight were "completely unfounded". LODH head of corporate communications Jerome Koechlin confirmed that the Financial Times was right when it said an investment account worth at least $200 million was opened on behalf of Arafat's Palestinian Authority in 1997.

However, he told swissinfo that the then Lombard Odier - which merged with a rival in 2002 - had acted at all times in conformity with international standards and legislation, including due diligence procedures. An official statement issued by the bank says recent allegations by an Israeli 'mediator', Uzrad Lew, that Lombard Odier transferred $65 million to unknown destinations in 2001 are totally false. It confirms that the amount in question was transferred to a London bank account, but says the money was used to fund an investment in a subsidiary of Egyptian telecoms company Orascom.

The FT followed up by reporting that that investment was irregular and very risky, but it seems to have paid off. "Yassir Arafat and his senior financial adviser risked about a quarter of the Palestinian Authority's assets by investing more than $200m in a single company...Official assets are usually invested conservatively and, in internal Palestinian discussions, the investments in Orascom Telecom Holdings, the Cairo-based telecoms company, in 2001 and 2002 were criticised as a gamble. But the decision has proved highly lucrative for the Palestinians, making up for a period of low investment returns."

09 February 2005

DEBKAfile points out that "the most significant feature of the four-way summit that took place on Tuesday, February 8, at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, was that it was the first time in Israel's 57 years of life that one of its leaders was asked to join three Arab rulers at any forum without outside mediators or an international aegis.

"The key to this unique event was embodied in President George W. Bush's directive Thursday night, February 3, to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, not to show up at the Middle East summit. The European Union followed her lead, as did Arab leaders who planned to attend like the King of Morocco, the emir of Qatar and the Tunisian president. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, the newly-elected Palestinian Authority chairman, Mahmoud Abbas - Abu Mazen, Jordan's King Abdullah and their beaming host, President Hosni Mubarak, were thus thrown together alone and confronted with the task of forging a form of accord. With careful choreographing and expectations of little more than initial ice-breaking in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they succeeded quite well."

The Art Newspaper is trying to help the Cortauld Institute in London recover a Japanese print once owned by Van Gogh that was stolen in 1981. Without the association with Van Gogh, the print is really rather ordinary. The gallery realises that it was probably sold for a few francs to a street market, or something of the sort. Quite why it would think that an appeal might bring the thing to the surface now, after nearly a quarter of a century, is not clear in the Art Newspaper's coverage. It's a safe bet that there is some reason, though.

"Van Gogh painted the self-portrait in the Yellow House, his home in Arles, in mid-January 1889, three weeks after he sliced off the lower part of his ear following a row with his friend, the artist Paul Gauguin. He used Geishas in a landscape, modifying the image by bringing the crouching woman with the cranes closer to the standing woman with the fan, and setting them beneath Mount Fuji. In 1957 Vincent's own copies of Geishas in a landscape and another Japanese print, Scene from a Genji Parody, emerged in Paris. They had belonged to Paul Gachet Jr, the son of Dr Gachet, who had treated Vincent at the end of his life at Auvers-sur-Oise. The prints were presumably sent to Dr Gachet by Theo in gratitude. Paul Gachet Jr sold the prints to a Parisian dealer, and they were then bought by art historian Douglas Cooper, who donated them to the Courtauld. It seems that they were never exhibited, and their disappearance in 1981 passed unnoticed in the outside world.

"That year the Courtauld suffered a series of unreported thefts. The loss of Geishas in a landscape and a large watercolour by Edward Dayes, Somerset House from the Thames, was noticed on 2 November 1981. The works had been in an unlocked wooden case in a storeroom on the second floor of the gallery, then in Woburn Square. The Dayes turned up at Sotheby's in February 1987, and was returned to the Courtauld. A Palmer watercolour of Trefriew Mill had also been stolen and its loss noted on 1 July 1982; it was recovered in September that year. The theft seems to have been an internal job involving a security guard, but no prosecution followed and the thefts went unpublicised. Today museums announce thefts promptly, report them to bodies such as the Art Loss Register, and publicise them widely but attitudes at the time were quite different."

Condoleezza Rice seems to have begun her State Department regime with an almost triumphant tour of Europe and the Middle East. The all-good-news trip owed a lot to lucky timing, but there's no question that she has star quality...perhaps more of it than her predecessor had. I listened to her speech to a French audience at Science Po last night, and was just blown away. It was a thoroughly well-crafted speech which, in the hands of a really skilled speechifier, would have sounded perhaps a little too well-crafted and insincere. But her slightly gawky delivery gave it a quality of from-my-mind-to-yours genuine-ness that gave off sparks with every line.

This is the text of it. These lines, delivered in the same matter-of-fact tone as the rest of it, had great power: "Reformers and peacemakers will prevail in the Middle East for the same reason the West won the Cold War: Because liberty is ultimately stronger than repression and freedom is stronger than tyranny.

"Today's radical Islamists are swimming against the tide of the human spirit. They grab the headlines with their ruthless brutality, and they can be brutal. But they are dwelling on the outer fringes of a great world religion; and they are radicals of a special sort. They are in revolt against the future. The face of terrorism in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, called democracy 'an evil principle.' To our enemies, Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite are also evil principles. They want to dominate others, not to liberate them. They demand conformity, not equality. They still regard difference as a license to kill.

"But they are wrong. Human freedom will march ahead, and we must help smooth its way. We can do that by helping societies to find their own way to fulfill the promise of freedom."

I'm not sure what this mania for turning a sitting president into a clone of a past president is all about...it seems ultimately pointless to me. However, author and historian Niall Ferguson enters into the game with a well-put-together article comparing Dubya with Woodrow Wilson. It's in the Wall Street Journal this morning.

"Mr. Bush is the world's first idealist-realist. Part of him understands very well that the success of American policy in the Middle East depends on tenacity and the credibility that comes with it. But another part of him is excited to the point of unrealism by his own grand visions of a democratic revolution throughout the Middle East. American presidents have a professional obligation to indulge in highfalutin rhetoric, and President Bush's speechwriters have served him well this winter. 'The road of providence is uneven and unpredictable, yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom.' That's not a bad punch line. The echoes of FDR and JFK in the inaugural address last month were also skillfully crafted. Yet there is another president - whom I have yet to hear the president quote directly - who nevertheless hovers like a shadow over the Bush second term. That president is Woodrow Wilson.

"'Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens, and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace.' Mr. Bush's words. But Wilson's concept."

08 February 2005

Ward Churchill's description of 9/11 victims as "little Eichmanns" wasn't, apparently, his only foray into ultra-strange territory. An assistant professor of sociology at Lamar University has posted a paper - part of what he says is a work in progress - that suggests Churchill made up a story about the US Army spreading an outbreak of smallpox in 1837 by handing out contaminated blankets to members of the Mandan Indian tribe. Thomas Brown says in his paper that "Churchill's tale of genocide by means of biological warfare is shocking. It is also entirely fraudulent. The only truth in Churchill's version of the pandemic is the fact that a smallpox outbreak did occur in 1837, and that it was probably carried into the region on board the steamboat St. Peter. Every other detail of Churchill's story must have come from his imagination, because his own sources contradict him on nearly every point...

"This is a work in progress that I am making available due to the current interest in Ward Churchill's writings. I show that Churchill has committed research fraud, and very possibly committed perjury as well. This article analyzes Churchill's fabrication of a genocide. Churchill invented a story about the US Army deliberately creating a smallpox epidemic among the Mandan people in 1837 by distributing infected blankets. While there was a smallpox epidemic on the Plains in 1837, it was entirely accidental, the Army wasn't involved, and nearly every element of Churchill's story is a total invention. My goal here was to show how and why Churchill engaged in such blatant fraud, and why no one has challenged him on it until now.

Churchill has issued a press release defending himself, incidentally, and a copy of the article about 9/11 that is at the root of the controversy. You can read them here. Sample: "Finally, I have never characterized all the September 11 victims as 'Nazis'. What I said was that the 'technocrats of empire' working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of 'little Eichmanns'. Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the Allies."

San Francisco is in the middle of a celebration of the life and work of one of the greatest American writers of all time - Dashiell Hammett. The Chronicle has published a series of articles this week about him. This one tells the story of his life: "He was born Samuel Dashiell Hammett on his father's family farm in Maryland in 1894. His father was an alcoholic womanizer who worked as a watchman, a salesman and at other short-lived occupations. At 14, Hammett dropped out of Baltimore's Polytechnic high to help support the family (both sides of which traced their American lineage back to the 1700s). He worked as a messenger for the B&O Railroad, where he developed a taste for gambling, booze and hookers. Then he got a job as a clerk with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. With his brains and quiet competence, Hammett was promoted and trained in the stealthy trade of the private eye by James Wright, a squat little man on whom he based the Continental Op, the dogged detective of his early stories.

"Around 1917, Hammett was sent to Montana, where he infiltrated the ranks of striking copper miners. He and other Pinkertons were apparently offered $5, 000, a bloody fortune at the time, to help kill Frank Little, the Wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World) leader organizing the miners. Little was lynched from a Butte train trestle without Hammett's help. It was then, 'perhaps at the moment he was asked to murder Frank Little, or perhaps at the moment that he learned that Little had been killed, possibly by other Pinkerton men, Hammett saw that the actions of the guards and the guarded, of the detective and the man he's stalking, are reflexes of the same sensibility, on the fringe where murderers and thieves live,'' wrote San Francisco novelist Diane Johnson in her rich 1983 Hammett biography.

"'He saw that he himself was on the fringe or might be, in his present line of work, and was expected to be, according to a kind of oath of fealty that he and other Pinkerton men took,' Johnson continued. 'He also learned something of the lives of poor miners, whose wretched strikes the Pinkerton people were hired to prevent, and about the lies of mine owners. Those things were to sit in the back of his mind.'"

France and Germany now seem to be taking an interest in a democratic Iraq, and have begun to promise help. I'm not sure that it is as much because of the diplomatic skills of Condoleezza Rice as the Wall Street Journal seems to think it is, but I agree that she is helping the process along. The Journal says "Ms. Rice won applause in every European country she visited. 'We have a lot of experience with the building of functional institutions for countries,' said Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. 'This is a kind of assistance that we would like to make available to the Iraqi government.' He added: 'I very much am of the opinion, and we both, I think, know that the international community of states is now called upon to come in and help, and Germany certainly will do so.'"

I think the French and the Germans are simply reacting to the direction of the wind that recent events, including President Bush's re-election, has created. Now, it's blowing against the backs of the Americans and into their faces. Despite all their rhetoric about the anchor-fast principles that guide them, they'll be quick to find a reason to change their positions if it changes direction again.

And what was it people say about John Kerry's French-ness? The Boston Herald says that the man who "as a presidential candidate railed against companies shifting their addresses overseas to avoid taxes, has hired as a top tax counsel a woman who lobbied against cracking down on such businesses on behalf of a Bermuda-based firm. Kerry recently hired Kathleen M. Kerrigan as his new Social Security and Finance Committee counsel. She is a partner in the Washington office of the law firm Baker & Hostetler, where she is listed as a lobbyist on corporate and international tax issues for consulting giant Accenture, which incorporated in Bermuda in 2001."

Norman Geras, in my opinion, may be the best bloggers on the net. He is professor emeritus in politics at the University of Manchester. His books include The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy after the Holocaust and Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind. He is also one of those rare beings - a leftist who supports the war in Iraq. In a really first-class article in Dissent Magazine, he analyses why the left has been unable to deal with the new realities of a post-9/11 world.

"With a section of the Western left, the response (to the attack on the Twin Towers) was as if everything remained just as it had always been. Leave aside the callousness in much of the left's response toward the human dimension of the tragedy; but in explaining the crime of 9/11 the same thin categories that had been deployed in one conflict after another during a decade and more were instantly pressed into service. Imperialism and blowback-that was pretty much all one needed to understand what had befallen the citizens of Manhattan, the passengers on the planes, and the workers at the Pentagon, and there were accordingly people content to describe the attack as a comeuppance. The crime that so brutally illuminated the contours of the international political landscape thus revealed at the same time a frozen structure of concepts and assumptions. With the aid of it, many on the left shielded themselves from realities they didn't want to see or to assign their proper weight."

Since the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism cranks out many of the media's leaders, and awards the Pulitzer Prizes, the Columbia Journalism Review has gained a reputation for showing the way the elite media looks at itself. But CJR, which has a consistently liberal tilt, seems recently to have worken up to find itself out of step with the rest of the world. Things came to a head with an article called Blog-Gate, which was written by Corey Pein, a CJR assistant editor, which essentially said that CBS had got a bum rap over the forged papers which ended with Dan Rather's retirement and the firing of two other employees who had been involved in the story. Pein showed a lot of hostility towards blogs in his story, and demonstrated that CJR hadn't much clue where they fit in to the scheme of things. Bloggers pushed back...hard. Now, says Laura Vanderkam, author and contributing editor to the Reader's Digest, in the Washington Examiner, CJR has had to eat a little humble pie. But Vanderkam warns that "...unless folks at the nation's premier media monitor reconsider their constant tugging to the left, mere humility won't restore the mainstream media to its former place in readers' lives."

Power Line is one of the blogs that pursued CBS over the forged National Guard papers case some weeks ago. This week, it's having a go at Bill Moyers, who seems to have become less concerned about truth and reality since he retired. "On January 30, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published as an op-ed the text of a speech by liberal commentator Bill Moyers," says Power Line. "Moyers delivered the speech upon the occasion of his receiving an environmental award from a group at Harvard Medical School. Like pretty much everything Moyers writes, the article was an attack on the Bush administration. Specifically, he alleged that the Bush administration's policies, as they relate to the environment, are 'based on theology' and therefore 'delusional'. Moyers' theme was that the Bush administration, and Republicans in general, don't care about the environment because they are crackpot Christians who believe that the world is about to come to an end."

In the process, Moyer falsely maligned former Environment Secretary James Watt, Power Line says, and provides an abundance of evidence to show his allegations were wrong.

07 February 2005

The Washington Times has published an op-ed by Robert L. Paquette, Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History at Hamilton College in New York, warning about spin being put on the Ward Churchill story by Nancy Rabinowitz, the woman who invited him to speak at the College. Churchill, if you haven't been following the story, is an ugly little poseur who called those who were killed in the Twin Towers on September 11 "little Eichmanns" who deserved to be killed. When the story of his appearance at Hamilton got some publicity, the College disinvited him. Paquette says "No doubt, Miss Rabinowitz and allies will bespouting charges about how a vast right-wing conspiracy silenced poor Mr. Churchill. Since conservatives on the Hamilton faculty number less than the fingers of one hand, please put that base canard to rest. By the way, none of the four faculty memberswho signed the published letter that exposed Ward Churchill's rantings would consider themselves conservative."

City Journal has published a fairly reasonable summary of the story, written by Katherine Ernst.

I think the furore about Churchill is being fuelled by two things - the obvious one is lowered tolerance in the academic community for lunatic points of view. But the other one is the way blogs and the media work together to pull the sort of allegations people like Churchill make into the public eye, where they die of exposure. Sometimes the media needs a push from blogs, sometimes they self-start as they did with Churchill.

Certainly it was blogs which have now, I think, more or less sealed the fate of Eason Jordan, the CNN news manager who alleged at the World Economic Forum at Davos that the American military was targeting journalists to be killed in Iraq. Jordan was telling a largely anti-American audience what it wanted to hear. But the allegation is not sustainable, Jordan tried to dissemble when he was challenged and now, as you might judge from this coverage by blogger Captain's Quarters, as an example, (you may have to scroll down a bit), the controversy has more or less reached a critical momentum, and Eason Jordan is soon to be unemployed!

It seems to me that this Afghan archaeologist announced his search last year as well for another sleeping Buddha, buried in the area where the barbarians in the Taliban blew one up some years ago, but what the heck, it's a good story. Essentially, the Chinese monk Xuanzang, who did a lot of travelling back in the 7th Century, wrote in his diary that beneath the cliffs of the Bamian Valley was an ancient monastery, whose walls enclosed a gigantic reclining Buddha. So, according to the Washington Post, Zemaryalai Tarzi is on the hunt.

"'If indeed Xuanzang's tales are true,' Tarzi says, he is digging for 'the largest reclining statue ever made in the artistic world.' Because the pilgrim was remarkably accurate in describing the gigantic size and location of the two standing Buddhas, Tarzi says there is good reason to believe his account of the reclining Buddha, as well. To some, the search is a quixotic one. If the ancient Chinese pilgrim is to be believed, the sleeping Buddha is almost as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall. How could such a monumental structure disappear underground, some ask, and how could it be salvageable if it still exists?" Well, you have to have faith.

Xuanzang and his journeys are in the news in China as well, this morning. There, according to People's Daily, twenty-six episodes of a 52-segment cartoon starring Eight-Commandment Pig, one of the main characters from the Chinese classic A Pilgrimage to the West, have been completed and will be shown nationwide starting Wednesday. Pilgrimage is a mythological novel, relating the fantastic adventures of Xuanzang as he travels to India in search of Buddhist scriptures with his three disciples, the irreverent but resourceful Monkey King, Eight-Commandment Pig and Friar Sand. Did Xuanzang mention these little guys in his travel writings? Sorry, my knowledge reaches its limits just before the answer to that question. Maybe Tarzi knows.

They seem to have been a little slow in moving, but the Cuban government is finally taking steps to try to cash in on the success the Buena Vista Social Club had with Cuban music a few years ago. Cuba's Egrem record label was once active only on the island. But now, it's being launched in the UK as well, according to the Guardian. "The aim, according to Minerva Rodriguez Delgado, director of the international commercial division of Egrem, is to show that there is far more to Cuban music than the Buena Vista Social Club: 'That's not Cuban music,' she says, 'just a part of it.'

"More importantly, Delgado wants to do this in a way that puts Cubans in control. Since the 1959 revolution, Cuban musicians have been cut off from the outside world, allowed to release music in Cuba only through one of the state-owned companies like Egrem. They wouldn't be heard by foreign markets unless the recordings had been licensed to foreign companies, or made for a label such as Nick Gold's London-based World Circuit, which released the Buena Vista album. Even now, that album has had no official release through the Cuban state-owned companies, and has only been available in Cuba on the pirate market. Clearly, Cuba missed out on promoting its own bands. 'In the past,' says Delgado, 'people have taken advantage of the quality of our music. We want to do the same.'"

Albums by Chucho Valdes, Pupy y los Que Son Son, Habana Sax, Juan Formelly y los Van Van, Benny More and others are released by Egrem in Britain today.

Britain's ban on media reporting of terrorist cases is causing problems with its Muslim community, according to Sir Ian Blair, the new Metropolitan police commissioner. He's challenging it, saying "At the moment the Muslim community believe that the total silence means that all of their sons are locked up in prisons forever without charge and I don't think that is right." He hoped that by lifting the reporting ban on such trials it would help reassure the Muslim community that individuals were being dealt with under the due process of the law, according to the Guardian. I can't think what purpose the ban had in the first place.

There may well be a million stories in the naked cities of Afghanistan. But there's hardly anyone there to report them, according to blogger Arthur Chrenkoff in the Wall Street Journal. In his twice-monthly summary of good news from Afghanistan, Chrenkoff quotes Kim Hart of the American Journalism Review. "Once a journalism hot spot, Afghanistan was all but left behind when the media's spotlight turned to the conflict in Iraq. In June/July 2003, AJR reported that only a handful of reporters remained in the struggling country on a full-time basis, while other news organizations floated correspondents in and out when time and resources permitted. A year and a half later, Afghanistan has become even more of an afterthought. Only two news organizations - Newsweek and the Washington Post - have full-time reporters stationed in Kabul, the capital. Other major newspapers, such as the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, rely on stringers in Afghanistan and correspondents based in New Delhi, India, to cover the region, a stark contrast to the hundreds of reporters pouring into Iraq since the war began. The New York Times uses a stringer, albeit a full-time one. Television networks have nearly disappeared."

06 February 2005

The most popular poet in the United States? According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it's the 13th Century Muslim, Rumi.

"Born in the early 13th century in what is now Afghanistan, Rumi was a Muslim religious leader whose name in Arabic means 'greatness of faith.' Thanks to the faith of Rumi's U.S. fans, his books have sold more than 500,000 copies in the past 10 years. Rumi calendars, Rumi CDs, Rumi posters, Rumi T-shirts, even Rumi coffee mugs have also found a market in the United States. Madonna, Demi Moore, Goldie Hawn, Martin Sheen, Debra Winger and Rosa Parks are among the big names who have publicly proclaimed Rumi's greatness as a poet."

The Chronicle must have worked pretty hard to find two examples of Rumi's work quite as uninspiring as the ones they used in their piece. Try this one, which is called What Was Told, That.

What was said to the rose that made it open was said
to me here in my chest.

What was told the cypress that made it strong
and straight, what was

whispered the jasmine so it is what it is, whatever made
sugarcane sweet, whatever

was said to the inhabitants of the town of Chigil in
Turkestan that makes them

so handsome, whatever lets the pomegranate flower blush
like a human face, that is

being said to me now. I blush. Whatever put eloquence in
language, that's happening here.

The great warehouse doors open; I fill with gratitude,
chewing a piece of sugarcane,

in love with the one to whom every that belongs!

The Bermuda Government is apparently so desparate to do something about our depressed tourism that it has taken to a bizarre form of...well, I hesitate to say bribery, so lets say investment...to get results. According to the Observer's Gaby Wood, who writes their New York diary, "The designer Peter Som's show has been underwritten by the Bermuda Tourist Board, on condition that he include Bermuda shorts in his autumn collection."

Here's a little something about him from USA Weekend Magazine a couple of years back. Shows a model in a pair of very un-Bermuda-like shorts, but that was before he had been exposed to the length of our green, of course.

The Washington Post reports that the "Arab Street" was gob-smacked by the Iraq election last week. "The turnout in last Sunday's Iraqi elections surprised even the most optimistic observers in the Middle East. Reading Arab newspapers during the weeks before the vote, one could hardly escape the expectation that the adventure of holding elections in Iraq was certain to be a fiasco. The bulk of Arab intellectuals and journalists foresaw a minimal turnout and possibly devastating results, such as an outbreak of civil war between the Shiite and Sunni populations and the emergence of an Iranian-controlled Islamic republic of Iraq."

MEMRI agrees. "The sizeable Iraqi voter turnout despite the threats caught much of the Arab press and the press of the neighboring countries by surprise - for some, unpleasant surprise - and their reports and editorials reflect their astonishment...One of the most enthusiastic endorsements of the elections came from the London-based daily Al-Hayat, that wrote in its editorial: 'The scene of elections, ballot boxes, voters, the competition between parties and lists [of candidates], the election campaign and counter-campaign, and the guarantee of the women's share in the [National Assembly] seats transmit joy to the heart.'

"After praising the voter's courage, the daily went on to say: 'What we have seen in occupied Iraq is more advanced than what we know in the independent and liberated Arab countries. The respectable average participation in the voting has, despite everything, rendered those who resist the new circumstances less legitimate - and ultimately closer to terrorism than to resistance." To say nothing of scaring the pants off regimes which have been trying hard to ignore the power of democracy ever since its applicability to their little corner of the world was suggested.

Gordon Brown's abrupt determination to pour money on the continent of Africa's problems casts him as a kind of British Don Quixote, and the rest of us as embarrassed on-lookers shuffling from one foot to another. Yes, all of that's true, Mr Brown. Yes, Mr Brown, what you're doing is praiseworthy, but...

The but is a pretty big one - What makes you think, Mr Brown, that the money you'll spend won't disappear into the maw of corruption as it has done in the past? What makes you think, Mr Brown, that Africa has in any way sorted itself out sufficiently to make this attempt of yours anything but another comically futile attempt to salve the consciences of those who don't have to live there?

The Washington Times puts it bluntly: "According to an AU report released in August, Africa loses about $148 billion a year (or 25 percent of its gross domestic product) to fraud. Even UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted Africa's lack of progress on meeting its Millennium Development Goals, a set of targets that leaders agreed to in 2000 for reducing poverty, combating diseases and providing education. Africa 'continues to suffer from the tragic consequences of deadly conflict and poor governance,' Mr. Annan said at the summit. G7 members must be careful today to work toward empowering Africans to help themselves, rather than sink the continent deeper into debt and dependency."


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

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2003 Index


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