...Views from mid-Atlantic
05 March 2005

Journalist Ralph Kinney Bennett things blogs are the best thing that has ever happened to journalism. Writing at Tech Central Station, he says: "What did I learn during more than 40 years in journalism? It's easy to be a journalist. It's hard to be a good journalist. t's precisely because good journalism is hard that I love bloggers.

"They are always ready to pounce. Whether you're CBS News or the Daily Bugle, they will not let you get by on the cheap. They teach you by their native wisdom. They teach you by their ignorance. They can be immensely unfair and incredibly stupid. They open up new vistas for you and force you to consider sometimes cockeyed perspectives that end up giving you more perspective... Pompous journalists are disdainful of blogs because they feel threatened by them. They are like members of the Raccoon Lodge and the bloggers just barreled into the ritual room and tore open the curtains and they all look slightly ridiculous in their epaulets and tin pot hats and braided swallowtail coats."

Most of the foreign terrorists fighting in Iraq come from Saudi Arabia, according to a new study. The Weekly Standard reports that the paper analyzes the origins of 154 Arab jihadists killed in Iraq in the last six months, whose names have been posted on Islamist websites. "The sample does not account for all jihadists in Iraq, but provides a useful and eye-opening profile of them. Saudi Arabia accounted for 94 jihadists, or 61 percent of the sample, followed by Syria with 16 (10 percent), Iraq itself with only 13 (8 percent), and Kuwait with 11 (7 percent.) The rest included small numbers from Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Algeria, Morocco (of which one was a resident in Spain), Yemen, Tunisia, the Palestinian territories (only 1), Dubai, and Sudan. The Sudanese was living in Saudi Arabia before he went to die in Iraq."

Victor David Hansen says the US and Europe never really saw eye to eye at all. In the National Review, he says "having a common enemy in the Soviet Union misled some of us into thinking that an identical Europe and American would always see eye to eye, when we never really had - despite our cultural and democratic affinities. And now we have come to the end of the Age of Exception, a sobriety brought on by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the stark aftermath of September 11, which scrapped off the thin veneer and revealed particle board, not oak, beneath.

"So if Europe sounds conflicted, that's because it is. One symptom of such a troubled patient is its blustering rhetoric - as if words can mask reality, as if idealistic vocabulary and shots at America can substitute for faith in Western values, sacrifice, and risk-taking. One reason that Europe understands so well the braggadocio and sense of inferiority of the impotent Muslim world is that it suffers precisely from some of these same maladies in its own problematic relationship with the United States. A Muslim in Europe who puts a picture of bin Laden on his wall is the equivalent of a European chanting that Bush is Hitler: The Arab does not really wish to destroy the opulent European network that he counts on, nor does the European in jeans with a cell phone truly wish the U.S. would stop protecting his lifestyle. Yet each feels terrible about his own hypocrisy and accompanying appetites for what he professedly hates, and so looks to express angst on the cheap."

04 March 2005

"Like almost every art form, traditional opera was banned during China's Cultural Revolution. To replace it, Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, came up with the Yang Ban Xi operas: all-singing, all-dancing musicals with an uplifting communist message. The titles, such as Red Detachment of Women, On the Docks, The White Haired Girl and Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, weren't exactly catchy. Nor were the lyrics. 'Today we who suffer will cast off our chains,' runs one anthem, while another well-known song offered: 'He forces people to pay rent and charges high interest rates.' These operas were created between 1966 and 1976, each one full of workers, soldiers and slaves who were burning with revolutionary zeal.

The Guardian says the eight best-known Yang Ban Xi were also made into films, lavish spectacles shot in widescreen and eye-popping colour in an attempt to outdo the MGM musicals in scale and production values. They are now the subject of new documentary, Yang Ban Xi: The Eight Model Works, by a young-Dutch-based, Hong Kong-born film-maker, Yan Ting Yuen.

Church of England Archbishops meeting in Northern Ireland said in a statement on Friday that their deliberations had been suffused "with a generosity of spirit, Christian charity and abundant goodwill. That's crap, one of them has told the Guardian. "...One of the leaders at the meeting has told the Guardian that it had instead taken place in an atmosphere of rancour and mutual hostility with Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, being treated with contempt by the conservative faction. The primate, who is not normally noted as a liberal, was speaking on condition of anonymity. He said: 'Some primates were personally offensive towards Rowan and gratuitously rude about him behind his back. They had no respect for him and said: 'He'll do what we tell him to.' If I wasn't a Christian, I would walk away from this right now. I believe a split in the church is inevitable.'"

That new, democratic breeze that seems to be blowing through the Middle East is smoothing the ruffled feathers of some normally anti-Bush commentators. Daniel Schorr is a case in point. In the Christian Science Monitor, NPR's senior news analyst confirms what he said on the air a couple of days ago - Bush may have had it right all along.

On the other hand, the prospect of things getting better seems to be giving others, perhaps rather less stable than Mr Schorr, very, very bad plumage days, indeed. Ken Livingstone, for example.

UPDATE: The Guardian is reporting that comments made by Ken Livingstone to a Jewish reporter recently have been referred to Scotland Yard, and have been recorded as a racial incident. Though initially categorised as a "non crime" event, Livingstone's little outburst will nevertheless form part of the statistics for racial incidents in London when they are collated at the end of the year. Scotland Yard's taking legal advice as to whether the matter can be taken farther than that.

03 March 2005

"On the side of a giant undersea mountain east of Bermuda, a group of oceanographers has found a unique ecosystem that may, conceivably, be a birthplace of life. In 2000, Deborah Kelley of the University of Washington, and a group of colleagues were monitoring an undersea camera when some giant, irregular white columns hove into view. 'Everybody knew it was something very different,' she says. When you find something new, you get to name it. The researchers named their forest of chimneys the 'Lost City,' even though it's not a city, and it was never lost. The finders dubbed the goliath of the spires 'Poseidon,' after the Greek god of the sea. Poseidon soars 60 meters - almost 200 feet - above the sea floor."

The UN has been investigating all 16 of its peace-keeping missions around the world in the wake of the discovery of incidents of rape and other crimes committed by UN troops in the Congo. The Washington Times says they've uncovered similar cases in five other locations - Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burundi and two other unnamed countries. The UN currently has some 64,000 military personnel and police deployed. Disciplinary action against the suspects can only be taken by the participating country, not the United Nations, but the organisation is planning to lock future peacekeepers into observing a stricter code of behaviour by including it in the agreement with participating nations.

In an accompanying editorial, the Times criticises the UN for taking too little action, too late, and endorses a proposal by a House committee to make greater oversight a condition of the US contribution toward the peacekeeping bill. "The United Nations has no legal jurisdiction over its peacekeeping personnel. So, if a peacekeeper commits a crime, the worst the United Nations can do is send him home. Once there, the suspect's country may level criminal charges, but obviously this hasn't been much of a deterrent. The United States, however, can threaten to withhold precious funds if the United Nations continues to operate its far-flung missions with little or no oversight. Just such a proposal has been drafted by Rep. Christopher Smith, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations. Mr. Smith's bill would demand safeguards and regular reports from contributing countries and the United Nations before the United States hands out any cash. Now that the United Nations has proven incompetent to manage its responsibilities, it's time for Congress to step in and make the best of a bad situation."

Peggy Noonan's got some advice for CBS executives in her latest Wall Street Journal column: "Beef up the correspondent staff, hire the best, spend bucks on bureaus, be more independent and creative in your coverage, settle back and let America discover your show...For the anchor, get a reasonable journalist and surround him with a great show. Soon enough, as respect and numbers grow, your anchor will be called a Cronkite. That's how you get a Cronkite. You make the show the star and he becomes a star."

A survey of reading habits shows that the French like to be patriotic, the Americans like politics and the Brits are celebrity-crazy. The Times explains that the study, which was commissioned to celebrate World Book Day, which is today, analysed the books sold to 47 million customers on Amazon's six sites - in Germany, Britain, France, the US, Canada and Japan.

Not only was Robert Mugabe's seizure of land from Zimbabwe's white farmers a monstrous, racist crime, it was a failure. The Telegraph says Mugabe knows it. "The new farmers are unable to raise bank loans because their properties are formally owned by the government and they have no individual title deeds. Without loans, they cannot buy seed, fertiliser or farming equipment and the regime has broken a pledge to supply them with tools. Some farmers have resorted to using horse-drawn ploughs. Many have given up trying to produce anything at all. President Robert Mugabe confessed yesterday that millions of acres of prime land seized from Zimbabwe's white farmers are now lying empty and idle."

02 March 2005

A few weeks ago, a Washington think tank called the Council on Hemispheric Affairs published a paper on the efforts of Bermuda's governing Progressive Labour Party to promote independence for the Island. It described the PLP as "limousine liberals" and used words like cronyism, nepotism and corruption to describe their style of governance. The Council was taken to task for certain inaccuracies, and for the extravagance of its language. Its director apologised for the report's wording to a local newspaper columnist, but then claimed he hadn't. He did, though, acknowledge that the piece had been written by an intern. Now, the Council has released a second take on the independence question, written by the director himself. It seems to take substantially the same line as the first one.

Headlined Beating a Dead Horse? the assessment says that as a result of his independence politicking, "Scott's approval rating has taken a dive from 80% a year ago to below 35% in January 2005. More alarmingly for the Premier;s long term prospects is his disapproval rating, which has jumped 10 percent, from 36% in November 2004 to 45% in January. Scott's single-minded focus on independence, whether meant simply to disseminate information or pursue full-fledged independence, has brought his political motives into question, especially when on average 60% of Bermudians have consistently been opposed to independence. The methods Scott has used to market his preference for independence are somewhat disappointing as well, particularly when he suggested independence would cut crime as a result of giving the Bermuda government control of its police force...

"As much as Premier Scott and the PLP might like Bermudians to believe it, God Save the Queen has no demonstrable effect on crime. Likewise, the UBP and other critics of independence should not assign the independence movement the role of a convenient scapegoat in order to explain existing racial tension, crime or any other of the island's economic, political and social maladies."

Two updates in the UN Oil-for-Food scandal story. The New York Post quotes a former UN official as having alleged that former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali worked against US-backed sanctions against Saddam Hussein - and even had an Iraqi Ba'athist advising him on Middle East policy. "In a blistering statement released by the House International Relations Committee last night, Paul Conlon, who used to work on the Iraq Sanctions Committee, said lax management and the former secretary general's opposition to US policies played a key role in the morphing of the oil-for-food program into the world's biggest financial scandal." Read it if only to check out the Post's wonderful headline.

And the Washington Post reports that a longtime US ambassador in Africa, William Lacy Swing, now the United Nations' top representative in the Congo, is set to resign in the wake of a sexual misconduct scandal involving UN peacekeepers. "UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Swing has not formally offered his resignation 'at this point' but that he will meet with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday to discuss 'plans for the future'. UN officials said that although Swing, a longtime US ambassador in the region, still commands Annan's respect, he is being forced out to send a signal that senior UN officials will be held accountable for not cracking down on misconduct by UN personnel under their watch."

Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of US forces in the Middle East, is quoted in the Washington Post this morning as saying that the strength of the Iraqi insurgency is waning as a result of momentum from elections. He predicted Iraqi security forces would be leading the fight against insurgents in most of Iraq by the end of 2005. "While acknowledging that Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency gained intensity from November through January compared with the previous year," the Post said, "Abizaid told a Senate panel that the insurgents' failure to disrupt January 30 elections marked a turning point and indicated declining popular support. Insurgents fielded only 'around 3,500' fighters on election day, he said, citing US intelligence estimates. Earlier US intelligence had put the number of core Iraqi and foreign fighters at as many as 20,000."

One of the reasons may be the effectiveness with the Iraqi public of a television programme that features arrested terrorists confessing their crimes. The LA Times says "The one-hour tapes constitute a sort of reality TV whose aim is to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Aired twice a day, they serve as a counterpoint to the now-familiar images shot by insurgents of cowering hostages and beheadings. They are also a centerpiece of an intense government campaign designed to convince an edgy population that the fledgling government and its hard-hit security forces are making Iraq safer.

"'Terrorism in the Grip of Justice' is the title of the series, which began airing shortly before Iraq's national election Jan. 30. While it's not clear just how truthful the videos are, the provocative images seem to bolster skeptical Iraqis' confidence in a government often assailed as ineffective against lawlessness and violence."

Haaretz is speculating that Lebanon may choose to avoid the difficulty of choosing an interim Government by declaring a state of emergency and authorising military rule until the May elections. That would be a shame, and would allow Syria to tighten its grip on Lebanon. The first institution Syria would have infiltrated when it began its occupation of Lebanon would have been the military. Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, is himself a former head of the army. But it is a possibility. As Nizar Hamzeh, professor of politics at the American University of Beirut told the Christian Science Monitor yesterday, "Either the country will emerge united in terms of forming a transitional government or ... if there are no concessions between the two sides, Lahoud will have the choice of resigning or forming a military government."

The Lebanese opposition is meeting today at the well-guarded mountain residence of Walid Jumblatt, the most outspoken critic of Syria's presence here, to decide its next moves. Analysts say the opposition has to choose whether to push for a confrontation with the pro-Syrian president now or wait until after the parliamentary elections, which must be held by the end of May, CSM says. "'The ideal course is for Lahoud to resign, a compromise candidate to be elected and a new government to be formed. The new president and the new government would then ask the Syrians to leave before elections are held,' says Chibli Mallat, a professor of international law at St. Joseph University." Lahoud isn't likely to want to take that course.

Interestingly, according to the Washington Times, what has happened in Lebanon has inspired muttering within Syria itself about the need for democratic reform. "Demonstrations that brought down the government of neighboring Lebanon on Monday inspired Syria's intellectuals and activists to issue new calls yesterday for greater political participation in their own country - a nation known for its strict limits on dissent. 'What happened [in Lebanon] was a huge victory not only for the Lebanese people, but for the people of this region,' said Wael Sawah, a Syrian political analyst and activist. 'This is the first time a Cabinet resigns under popular pressure.'"

Oh, and by the way, If the Times can get it, how far behind can European public opinion be? "Suddenly, there is a whiff of 1989 in the air. The Middle East, one of the last regions in the world to cling to repressive government by corrupt and self-perpetuating elites, has been touched by democracy. One by one, regimes that seemed as entrenched as they were unresponsive have accepted demands for greater democracy and accountability - demands that only a few months ago would have brought persecution, arrest and even torture to those voicing such sedition. As with the collapse of communism, the challenge to authoritarian Arab governments has appeared suddenly, has emboldened once cowed protesters and has been largely inspired from outside.

"Two things, in particular, have fuelled the protests that in Lebanon have led to the unexpected resignation of the pro-Syrian Prime Minister and the noisy demand by Lebanese of almost all factions for the 14,000 Syrian troops to quit. The first was the murder two weeks ago of Rafik Hariri, the Prime Minister for most of the past 12 years who rescued his country from collapse after its long civil war. The second was the election in Iraq."

Some advice on the shape of the road ahead of the US in the wake of the sudden shift towards democracy in the Middle East.

David Ignatius of the Washington Post warns that "catastrophic change is dangerous, even when it's bringing down a system people detest. This is not a time for U.S. triumphalism, or for gloating and lecturing to the Arabs. That kind of arrogance got us into trouble in Iraq during the first year of occupation. It was only when Iraqis began to take control of their own destinies that this project began to go right. The same rule holds for Lebanon, Egypt and the rest. America can help by keeping on the pressure, but it's their revolution." We'll have to forgive him for forgetting that it's chaos theory, not catastrophe theory.

"Many of the brave people in the suddenly democratic Arab streets are inspired by America, and by George W. Bush himself," says National Review columnist Michael Ledeen. "It should go without saying that we must support them all, in as many ways as we can. Most of that support will be political - from unwavering support by all our top officials, to support for radio and television stations, and tens of thousands of bloggers, who can provide accurate information about the real state of affairs within the Middle Eastern tyrannies, to financial assistance to workers so that they can go on strike - but some might be military, such as hitting terror camps where the mass murderers of the region are trained. We are, after all, waging war against the terrorists and their masters, as is proven by the daily carnage in Iraq and Israel, and the relentless oppression and murder of democrats in Iran.

"The president clearly understands this, but, in one of the most frustrating paradoxes of the moment, this vision is rather more popular among the peoples of the Middle East than among some of our top policymakers. For anyone to suggest to this president at this dramatic moment, that he should offer a reward to Iran for promising not to build atomic bombs, or that we should seek a diplomatic 'solution' to Syria's oft-demonstrated role in the terror war against our friends and our soldiers, is a betrayal of his vision and of the Iranian, Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian people. Yet that sort of reactionary thinking is surprisingly widespread, from leading members of congressional committees, from the failed 'experts' at State and CIA, and even some on the staff of the National Security Council."

Another sign (that is, in addition to the Larry Summers affair at Harvard and an outbreak of anti-Semitism at Columbia) that all is not well in academia. The Denver Post reports that about 200 University of Colorado faculty members have signed a full-page ad in the Boulder Daily Camera, demanding that school administrators end an investigation of professor Ward Churchill.

Legal blogger David Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy (scroll down about a quarter of the page to a February 28 entry) says the faculty members are claiming to "'defend an environment in which ideas may be openly exchanged.' Yet Churchill himself has attempted to destroy such an environment, at CU and around the nation. Two former students have alleged that their grades were lowered in retaliation for their exercise of freedom of speech. (One student wrote a campus newspaper article reporting the evidence that Churchill is not an Indian; another student suffered retaliation for disagreeing with Churchill's statements in class that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was a good thing.) A CU administrator reported that Churchill physicially threated her because she favored naming a building after a retired administrator, rather than after an Indian tribe, as Churchill preferred. Churchill called for the murder of anarchist writer Bob Black. He called for the death of a student newspaper cartoonist who had criticized a racist professor in Hawaii who wrote about her fantasy of mutilating and killing a white woman.

"Although CU professors are required by state law to sign an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Colorado Constitution, Churchill has repeatedly called for the violent overthrow of the US government, and has urged his audiences to perpetrate 9/11 type terrorist attacks in the United States. In doing so, he has provided explicit instructions about where the attacks should take place, and how the attacker should dress so as to be able to get to the target.

"Now perhaps Churchill has credible defenses to the above charges, but if so, we have not yet heard them. There is overwhelming evidence that the University of Colorado's current investigation of Ward Churchill's conduct is well-grounded. For the CU 199 to claim otherwise is nonsense. The CU 199 allege that to investigate Churchill undermines 'the very idea of the university itself'. To the contrary, the very idea of a university depends on professors who do their work honestly, rather than with fraud and plagiarism, and depends on professors who respond to their intellectual foes by using counter-arguments, rather than by threatening and promoting violence and homicide. That 199 professors could defend a fraudulent thug and bully like Ward Churchill shows how very far the University of Colorado has fallen from the very idea of a university itself."

That pretty much says it.

01 March 2005

It's a little difficult to see exactly what's going to happen next in Lebanon, after the fall of the pro-Syrian government there yesterday. There's an election due in May, so I doubt the Opposition would want to take part in some kind of coalition care-taker government. ABC News says the president of the country (as opposed to the prime minister, whose government resigned) is setting about the business of forming a new government today. The mechanics of it go like this: After consultations with the Speaker of the House, the president will begin polling deputies. A decree to appoint a prime minister will be followed by consultations between the premier-designate and parliamentary blocs before naming a Cabinet. In Lebanon's fractious politics, the prime minister should be a Sunni Muslim and Cabinet should be half Christian, half Muslim, with religious sects allocated seats according to their size. It's a process that could take days or weeks. The Lebanese parliament must sign on with a vote of confidence in the new Cabinet, based on its policy statement. But the President, too, is known to the pro-Syrian, and the Cedar Revolution's demonstrators seem to have set their sights on getting him out as well.

I imagine it will be difficult for demonstrators to keep up their presence on Martyrs Square, now that the initial euphoria of forcing the government to quit is coming off the boil and the long,drawn-out process of finding a caretaker government is beginning. It will be easier if the Syrians are seen to be getting involved in the process, but one would think they'll be smart enough to avoid becoming a visible symbol of what the demonstrators are fighting. But if the Cedar Revolution is to succeed, the continuing presence of the demonstrators will be vital...as will continuing international pressure on Syria.

Microsoft's Bill Gates has a pretty persuasive go at explaining why he has joined with US state governors in condemning US high schools as obsolete. In the LA Times, he describes their performance as "an economic disaster.

"In the international competition to have the best supply of workers who can communicate clearly, analyze information and solve complex problems, the United States is falling behind. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world. In math and science, our fourth-graders rank among the top students in the world, but our 12th-graders are near the bottom. China has six times as many college graduates in engineering. As bad as it is for our economy, it's even worse for our students. Today, most jobs that pay enough to support a family require some post-secondary education. Yet only half of all students who enter high school enroll in a post-secondary institution. High school dropouts have it worst of all. Only 40% have jobs. They are nearly four times more likely to be arrested than their friends who stayed in high school. And they die young because of years of poor healthcare, unsafe living conditions and violence.

"We can put a stop to this. We designed these high schools; we can redesign them.

"We have to do away with the outdated idea that only some students need to be ready for college and that the others can walk away from higher education and still thrive in our 21st century society. We need a new design that realizes that all students can do rigorous work. There is mounting evidence in favor of this approach. Take the Kansas City, Kan., public school district, where 79% of students are minorities and 74% live below the poverty line. For years, the district struggled with high dropout rates and low test scores. In 1996, it adopted a school-reform model that, among many other steps, requires all students to take college-prep courses. Since then, the district's graduation rate has climbed more than 30 percentage points. Kansas City is not an isolated example. Exciting work is underway to improve high schools in such cities as Oakland, Chicago and New York."

Martin Kettle expresses some of the frustration the people of Britain are feeling about the discovery that the IRA and its political defenders, Sinn Fein, have transformed themselves from simple terrorists to members of a bank-robbing criminal syndicate. In the Guardian, he heaps scorn on those who compare the IRA to the African National Congress in South Africa. "First, he said, the worst discrimination against Ulster Catholics was already being tackled before the IRA began its campaigns. Second, the IRA itself quickly became an enemy to the civil liberties of Catholics and Protestants alike. And third, the ANC used violence sparingly and reluctantly and, once democracy and equality were on offer, it disbanded its armed wing. The IRA, of course, has done no such thing. Its failure to do so is the main reason why Northern Ireland has no devolved government any longer and why there is little likelihood of it having one any time soon, especially now."

In the Telegraph, Paul Bew, who is Professor of Irish Politics at Queen's University of Belfast, is saying similar things, if rather more politely. "Sinn Fein's appeal in the South has been based on its appropriation of the story of Ireland and Irish patriotism and on its image as crimefighter by any means necessary. Republicans have sauntered across the stage of Irish politics since 1998 like returning war heroes. They, after all, fought the British for 25 years - 1969-94 - while Mr Ahern's political ancestors in the Old IRA only did it for three years: Ahern's father fought the British from 1918-21.

"They were legitimated by a popular version of history which blamed Britain and the Ulster Protestants for Ireland's woes. Mr Adams was among the most famous Irishmen on the planet - in particular, he was more popular than Bertie Ahern among Irish-Americans. Sinn Fein was not implicated in the obesely bourgeois corruption of the Dublin political scene. The new allegations about money-laundering, the licensing of Dublin criminals and shady dealings in corporate high finance are a challenge to the purity of Sinn Fein's self-image."

28 February 2005

It's time for blogger Arthur Chrenkoff's twice-monthly reportt on the good news from Iraq. In his OpinionJournal piece, he includes some idea of the speed with which the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi police are continuing to expand:

"As of January, there were about 56,000 Iraqis in military forces organized into 90 battalions across Iraq.

"In the 1st ID's area of responsibility, the number of battalions increased to 20 from eight or 10 when the division arrived a year ago.

"At a facility near Tikrit, between 300 and 350 Iraqi soldiers graduate every 28 days, or about three battalions in one year...

"The Iraqi Police Service graduated 272 officers today from seven specialty training courses taught at the Adnan Training Centre located in Baghdad. The advanced training is part of the Iraqi government's ongoing effort to train up its security forces...To date, 11,158 police officers have completed the course which is taught by police trainers from Iraq, Jordan, Canada, Sweden, Slovenia, Austria, Finland, Czech Republic, Singapore, Poland, Slovakia, Australia, Hungary, Belgium, United Kingdom and United States."

He doesn't mention it, but I thought that this little squib from the Spanish press was also good news: "A group of Huriyah citizens captured four terrorists who were responsible for ambushes against security forces in Iraq along Highway 6. They kept hold of them Special Police Commandos could pick them up."

It is largely one of those collections of flabby cant that politicians so love to spout, but Ayad Allawi's piece in the Wall Street Journal is still something worth reading: "We have a better chance of getting this right if the constitutional debate is as broad and public as possible. The whole of Iraqi society needs to be engaged in both the debate and the reconciliation which it should bring. This places a big responsibility on the new, free media in Iraq.

"But the pan-Arab media has a big role to play as well - something it already appeared to relish during the election campaign. Arabic satellite TV stations such as Al Arabiya were obviously excited and inspired by the sight of real democracy in the heart of the Arab world. By reporting fairly on the elections, they in turn inspired their Arab audience across the Middle East and beyond. Iraqis were proud to see their country dominating the region's airwaves, and indeed the media of the world, for reasons not of war or conflict, but for the fascinating sight of real democracy at work."

William Rees-Mogg is criticising the EU Constitution in the Times this morning: "Whenever one dips into the constitution one is liable to sink into a bog of unexamined propositions. I cannot think of any document of comparable historic importance which raises so many questions or answers so few. As an American scholar has observed, the European constitution, if it were American, would raise numerous Supreme Court cases in every paragraph."

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is commenting this morning on events in three middle east problem areas - Iraq, Lebanon and Israel - having reached the point at which they are tipping from bad news story to good. I think he's got his nose too close to the map to notice that the Middle East as a whole is tipping that way. Here's another sign of it in the Jerusalem Post, which is reporting this morning that "Syrian, Jordanian and Israeli Foreign Ministry officials held secret peace talks in Jordan last week, an official Jordanian source told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. According to the source, technical committees from Syria and Israel were hosted at the Movenpick Hotel on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea."

I posted something yesterday about secret talks supposedly having taken place between Iraq's interim president and remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime...Syria is supposed to have handed over Saddam's wanted half-brother...Egypt is opting for more democratic elections...There are signs all over the place that there is momentum towards progress. Once again, I quote Lebanese Opposition leader Walid Jumblatt: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

There is an odd disconnect between these two stories. In Haaretz, Mahmoud Abbas is quoted as saying the hopes the London meeting on the Middle East will lead to an international conference to discuss a final accord envisaged in the US-led 'road map' for peace. "'The London meeting must lead to the holding of the international conference called for in the road map to relaunch final status negotiations and a credible peace process,' Abbas said. He also praised US President George W. Bush's 'indispensable' role in the Middle East peace process.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will host the London meeting of senior politicians, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Abbas sounds generally enthusiastic about the meeting. But in the Guardian, he sounds downright unenthusiastic. "Downing Street had to put pressure on a reluctant Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to attend Tony Blair's Middle East conference in London tomorrow after the Palestinian leadership expressed fears that the meeting will serve Israel's interests by raising new hurdles to the revival of political negotiations.

Mr Abbas had planned to send his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, as a demonstration of scepticism about the conference, which will agree specific political and security reforms and mechanisms to revive the Palestinian economy."

27 February 2005

DEBKAfile's intelligence suggests some really positive movement has taken place both in Iraq's fight against terrorists, and in the struggle to fit the Sunnis into a post-election government.

"...In secret talks with Allawi, several heads of the Baathist underground guerrilla insurgency have offered to lay down arms if Baghdad sets up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the lines of the South African forum devised by Nobel peace prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They want the chance to confess their crimes before the commission, repent publicly, obtain a pardon and walk free. The interim prime minister is willing to consider this option quite seriously.

"Allawi believes a good basis for a breakthrough in negotiations with Iraq's Sunni leaders is already in place, embodied in understandings attained by former US ambassador John Negroponte before his abrupt departure from Baghdad to take up his new appointment as director of national intelligence in Washington. DEBKAfile's Baghdad sources reveal the three points agreed: The Sunnis will gain full partnership in the post-election government with ministerial appointments; they will sit on the commission drafting the new constitution, despite having no seats in parliament; and they will participate unreservedly in the next general elections."

In Russia, if a judge doesn't take good care of the interests of justice - the reputation of the courts and the trust of the people in the judicial system - he or she can lose his job in a jiffy. The Washington Post this morning is telling the story of Alexander Melikov, for example, who was stripped of his judgeship in December, when he was brought before a judicial disciplinary body called the Qualification Collegium on charges of letting the system down.

We could do with that kind of stern resolve in Bermuda, where it is not unknown for the magistrates of our lower courts, particularly, to behave almost as oddly as some of the people brought before them. On Friday, for example, two magistrates were involved in a strange and unseemly tug-of-war over which of them was going to try a case. Bermuda's daily newspaper, the Royal Gazette, described it thusly: "Pandemonium erupted in the lower court yesterday as two magistrates argued over who should hear the case of a Warwick woman charged with driving without due care and attention. Defence lawyer Saul Froomkin, QC and Crown Counsel Juan Wolffe dug in their heels and refused to budge over Magistrate Edward King's demands that the trial of Melanie Wedgwood start in his courtroom and all involved move from brother Magistrate Will Francis's courtroom."

I can't link to the story because the Gazette hasn't yet put it up on its website, but the confusion and frustration created were reportedly so great that one woman tried to turn herself in to police because she felt she might otherwise assault someone.

We have a new Chief Justice in Bermuda who was hired at least in part because it was felt he was the man to give our judicial system a much-needed tuneup. If the Gazette's story is correct (it contained so much detail that it would be hard to imagine how it could not have been), I hope he and his boss, the Governor, put their heads together in a kind of scratch Qualification Collegium this week and sort this one out for once and for all. Justice deserves better than to have two magistrates squabbling in public like bad-tempered, irresponsible children.

Larry McMurtry, the American author of Lonesome Dove, and other books celebrating the American West, is the owner of a huge, albeit little-known rare bookshop in the little town of Archer City, Texas. His shop contains 400,000 books, so many that it takes up four buildings, all lining the Archer City courthouse square. The office is in the main building, Booked Up No. 1, which was once a Ford dealership. Purchases of books stored in other buildings are made through the honor system; customers walk them across the street or down the block to pay for them. In Archer City, it's the biggest business in town, and the rest of the townsfolk have come to depend on it as a magnet that increases their own trade. But, according to the LA Times, McMurtry, who has written nearly 30 books and 30 screenplays, figures he needs a sabbatical, and is going to close Booked Up Inc down for a while.

Opinion polls in Britain one week show the Conservatives catching up with Labour, the next week losing ground. But according to Minette Marrin of the Times, "This may not be a new dawn, but it is the beginning of the end of a long Conservative night, whatever the polls say...

"This change is due to the persistent, indefatigable efforts over many years of many individuals and small groups - not focus groups or highly paid spin doctors and publicity juju men, but intelligent and idealistic people on the right and centre right - who have tried to understand what matters in British society and to explain it to others.

"Some of them are even journalists. But most are independent-minded people in think tanks and research groups. They have quietly and unglamorously been carrying the small 'c' conservative torch where most Conservative politicians have been failing to lead at all, or even to agree among themselves. In the midst of the bitter Tory rout they have been preparing the intellectual way for a real opposition."

Clifford Longley, who writes about religion for the Telegraph, says people may misunderstand the position of the American church in the Anglican Communion, and the role it believes it has played since the Revolutionary War. "The point is well illustrated by a conversation I had with an Episcopalian grandee before the 1988 Lambeth Conference, the 10-yearly gathering of Anglican bishops. What, I asked him, did the American bishops hope to take away from the conference? 'We don't see these events as an opportunity to take, but to give,' he patiently replied. And what followed was a potted lecture on American Church history that explains everything that has happened since - and tells you what will not happen next.

"'Do not forget,' he said, 'that the Revolutionary War was not just a military and political rebellion against the English Crown. It was also a religious breach. In our eyes, England had lost credibility as the most favoured among the nations. We were no longer prepared to look to it for guidance or leadership. In fact, henceforth we would lead. That is why we come to the Lambeth Conference.' This is the real origin of the peculiar Anglican Communion insistence on 'provincial autonomy'. And this is why the American Church is not about to be dictated to by the rest, least of all by the English (or in the Archbishop of Canterbury's case, the Welsh)."


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

Article Archive

2003 Index


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Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Arts Journal.com
Aworks :: "new" american classical music
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Day by Day by Chris Muir
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Kesher Talk
Little Green Footballs
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Michael J Totten
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Reflections in d minor
Roger L Simon
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