...Views from mid-Atlantic
12 March 2005

Further little bits of evidence that the shooting of Giuliana Sgrena was not, as some seem ready to believe, a deliberate act on the part of the US. In this Fox News report, two Italian daily newspapers are said to have confirmed that while the US knew Italian intelligence officers were in Iraq, they did not know that the mission was aimed at freeing journalist Giuliana Sgrena.

And New Zealand's XtraMSN News quotes Italy's justice minister as urging former hostage Giuliana Sgrena on Friday to stop making "careless" accusations after being shot by US forces in Baghdad, saying she had already caused enough grief.

Later that day, on an Italian talk show, she obliged, denying she had ever said the Americans were trying to kill her. Britain's Independent quotes her as having said "None of us is so stupid as to think the Americans did it on purpose."

University of Colorado officials investigating embattled professor Ward Churchill received documents this week purporting to show that he plagiarized another professor's work. Officials at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia sent CU an internal 1997 report detailing allegations about an article Churchill wrote, according to MSNBC. 'The article . . . is, in the opinion of our legal counsel, plagiarism,' Dalhousie spokesman Charles Crosby said in summarising the report's findings."

In all the years the lunatic UN Committee on Decolonisation has been in existence, Bermuda has managed to avoid becoming a partner in the strange dance of unreason that is its speciality. The Committee, while professing to stand up for the rights of countries to self-determination, has never abandoned its underlying belief that only independence counts as proper self-determination. When Bermuda, by an overwhelming majority, rejected independence in a referendum in the 1990s, the Committee paused not for a heartbeat in its demands that the evil colonising power, Britain, release it from its bonds forthwith. The Committee has been like an evil twin of Don Quixote, lurching about the world's landscape trying to prick the sails of ghost windmills with its lance, ever duller with the passage of time.

But now Bermuda's government, trying its best to push, pull, bully and cajole an obviously reluctant population into allowing it to take Bermuda to independence, seems to have given the Committee permission to visit Bermuda twice, once at the end of this month, and again at the very end of May and beginning of June. A press release carried on i-Newswire.comsays "The Special Committee on Decolonization this morning made arrangements for an upcoming United Nations special mission to assist the people of Bermuda in making an informed choice regarding their future status...The Committee's Chairman, Julian Hunte ( Saint Lucia ), emphasized the special nature of the Bermuda mission - 'perhaps the first one of its kind to a Non-Self-Governing Territory'. Led by the Special Committee, the mission would examine political, economic and social developments in the Territory, listen to various sectors of society and familiarize the members of the Bermuda Independence Commission and the public at large with legitimate political options and the role of the United Nations system in the process of self-determination. He also informed the Committee that the administering Power of Bermuda, the United Kingdom, had been very helpful in organizing meetings between the Bermuda Independence Commission and the Special Committee. The mission would be fully operational, as soon as the formal invitation from the administering Power was received.

"The Committee decided that the first stage of the Bermuda mission would take place from 28 to 31 March. During those four days, its participants would meet with members of the Bermuda Independence Commission and the public at large in interactive session and inform the Commission of the United Nations mandate in the process of decolonization. During the second part of the mission, from 30 May to 4 June, the Mission would meet with various groups representing all strata of the Territory's society. Meetings were scheduled with the Premier of the Territory, parliamentarians and prominent political figures."

The London Times reports that students at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London are reporting an atmosphere similar to that at Columbia University in New York. A number of Israeli and Jewish students at the renowned college in Russell Square, Central London, complain of being targeted by radical Muslim students in an increasingly isolating and intimidating atmosphere. Concern about anti-Semitism at the school has led Hazel Blears, the Minister who is responsible for policing and community safety, to order her officials to prepare a report on events at SOAS. She told MPs that legislation banning religious hatred may be needed.

The BBC has been forced to apologise to Israel for the behaviour of its deputy bureau chief in Jerusalem, Simon Wilson, who was barred from the country for failing to submit for censorship an interview with the nuclear whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu. The Guardian reports that "Mr Wilson was allowed to return to Israel on Thursday after signing a letter to the government acknowledging that he defied the law by ignoring demands from the security service and military censors to view tapes of an interview with Mr Vanunu after he was released from 19 years in prison last year."

11 March 2005

2005 is the unofficial year of the robot, in case you didn't know. That may sound a little footling to people in the robot-less West, but in Japan, it is an affirmation of what has already become reality. "Though perhaps years away in the United States, this long-awaited, as-seen-on-TV world...is already unfolding in Japan, with robots now used as receptionists, night watchmen, hospital workers, guides, pets and more. The onslaught of new robots led the government last month to establish a committee to draw up safety guidelines for the keeping of robots in homes and offices. Officials compiled a report in January predicting that every household in Japan will own at least one robot by 2015, perhaps sooner."

Palestinian terrorist groups are having trouble adjusting to the new scheme of things in the Middle East. The Jerusalem Post reports this morning, for example, that "30 Palestinian gunmen stormed into a conference hall where Fatah leaders were gathered on Thursday, forcing them to call off their meeting. The raid comes in the context of an ongoing power struggle inside the ruling Fatah faction between young, reform-minded activists and representatives of the old guard, who returned from exile with Yasser Arafat in 1994."

And terrorist groups aren't the only ones having trouble adjusting. As an extraordinary game of legislative ping pong over a security bill between the House of Commons and the House of Lords in Britain continues to play out, the Washington Post reports this morning that a year after massive terrorist bombings in Spain, "Europe's fight against terrorism remains hampered by some of the same national rivalries, fragmented intelligence services and bureaucratic obstacles that existed before the blasts of March 11, 2004, according to analysts, diplomats and other experts. About 75 people - the majority of them Moroccan nationals - have been arrested in connection with the attacks, and 23 remain in prison. But central questions of who organized them, and how, remain unanswered. Shortly after the bombings, the European Union created the post of counterterrorism coordinator to facilitate cooperation among European governments. It appointed a Dutchman, Gijs de Vries, to the post, but the position lacks real power or resources, and intelligence officials in EU countries continue to resist sharing their most sensitive data. Many proposals raised just after the attacks - for a Europe-wide fingerprint and DNA database and biometric passports, for instance - remain just proposals. Plans for a common arrest warrant, to make extradition of suspects easier, have faltered because some countries have withheld approval."

Still, at the conference on terrorism in Madrid, Kofi Annan delivered an excellent speech on what needs to be done to get the fight against terrorism back on track. The text of his address is here, and worth reading.

"For too long," he said, "the moral authority of the United Nations in confronting terrorism has been weakened by the spectacle of protracted negotiations. But the report of the High-Level Panel offers us a way to end these arguments. We do not need to argue whether States can be guilty of terrorism, because deliberate use of armed force by States against civilians is already clearly prohibited under international law. As for the right to resist occupation, it must be understood in its true meaning. It cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians.

"The Panel calls for a definition of terrorism which would make it clear that any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act. I believe this proposal has clear moral force, and I strongly urge world leaders to unite behind it, with a view to adopting the comprehensive convention as soon as possible."

In other encouraging news in the fight against terrorism, Spain's Muslims have issued a Fatwa against Osama bin Laden. The ruling was issued by the Islamic Commission of Spain, the main body representing the country's 1 million-member Muslim community. The commission represents 200 or so mostly Sunni mosques, or about 70 percent of all mosques in Spain. The commission's secretary general, Mansur Escudero, said the group had consulted with Muslim leaders in other countries, such as Morocco - home to most of the jailed suspects in the bombings - Algeria and Libya, and had their support. The fatwa said that according to the Quran "the terrorist acts of Osama bin Laden and his organization al-Qaida...are totally banned and must be roundly condemned as part of Islam."

And a report in the Washington Times suggests that "Palestinians have begun to sour on suicide bombings after years of honoring the dead attackers as heroes, and some have been emboldened to question whether the deadly blasts will hasten the goal of establishing an independent state. In the aftermath of a Feb. 18 suicide bombing that killed five persons in Tel Aviv, a chorus of condemnation has been sounded in the bustling shops of downtown Ramallah, the offices of civic leaders and the dens where Palestinian militants take refuge from Israeli troops."

NASA says it hasn't got the money to continue with a bunch of space programmes, including Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, now headed for interstellar space, billions of miles from earth. SpaceDaily says there's a lot of opposition to NASA's plan. Lennard Fisk, a University of Michigan space scientist who chairs the National Academy of Sciences Space Studies Board and is a former head of NASA space science, is quoted as saying the cuts were "an extremely foolish thing to do". Voyager, he says, is entering one of the most interesting scientific phases of its long life as its particle detectors approach the edge of the Solar System. "It doesn't make sense" to turn off Ulysses just as the Sun comes to the end of a 22-year magnetic cycle.

Launched in 1977, Voyagers 1 and 2 are now more than 14 billion and 11 billion kilometres from Earth, respectively. Having visited all the outer planets except Pluto, they are on their final quest - to locate the unknown boundary between the Sun's domain and the realm where interstellar space begins. Ground antennas are in regular contact with the spacecraft, which are expected to last until at least 2020 before giving out as their plutonium batteries decay. Under NASA's costing, the Voyagers currently need $4.2 million a year in funding for daily operation and data analysis.

10 March 2005

No need to be worried about Uncle Duke, apparently. He's the Hunter Thompson-like character in Doonesbury who seized power in an Iraqi city. The San Francisco Chronicle, ever in tune with things that really matter, says the fact that Duke's head exploded yesterday at least once, and today seems to be melting in the wake of the news of the author's death, should not concern people. Strip author Garry Trudeau has apparently said that regular readers of the strip should not find Duke's exploding head all that unfamiliar. "I've been exploding Duke's head as far back as 1985," he said. "I also had a rocket burst out of his head, a flock of bats, and during Duke's run for president, Mini-D, a tiny self that conducted Duke's business, even gave speeches when the candidate was incapacitated."

Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post lived in Beirut for a time, and so has a little insight into how disappointed the anti-Syrian Lebanese must feel at the re-appointment of its pro-Syrian Government, and the sight of pro-Syrian supporters marching in their streets in great numbers. Doesn't mean, he says, that those who "portray this embryonic Beirut Spring as a positive step in the democratic transformation of the Middle East" are wrong. "This is a moment that should be celebrated, supported and expanded, as President Bush suggested by predicting on Tuesday that 'the thaw has begun' for the region.

"But it is also a moment to keep expectations from racing too far ahead of Lebanon's complex reality and the differing views its troubles still provoke from outside powers, principally France and the United States. The best way to aid Lebanon's rebirth as a nation is to keep the focus on the intricate set of political negotiations over power-sharing that the Lebanese themselves must initiate, manage and make succeed once the Syrian boot is off their neck."

And keep the pressure up, of course, as AlJazeera reports Kofi Annan did yesterday with this sly little comment: "'But even the Hezbollah - if I read the message on the placards they are using - they are talking about non-interference by outsiders.. which is not entirely at odds with the Security Council resolution, that there should be withdrawal of Syrian troops."

Charming story about a Polish opera singer, Ganna Walska, whose California garden two decades after her death is just the sort of horticulural wonderland, open to the public to enjoy, that she wanted it to be. The LA Times tells the story of a love goddess from an era long gone by. "At 30, she had the dewy skin and liquid dark eyes of a teenager. Her romantic career began in St. Petersburg with an adolescent marriage to a Russian count and admiring notice from the czar. Well into her 50s, she was accustomed to seeing men fall helplessly in love after spending only days - or hours - in her company. And many of them were extremely wealthy: Her third husband, Alexander Cochran, was known in 1920 as 'the richest bachelor in the world'. When marriage paled, Walska came to Southern California looking for a simpler life. She wanted, she wrote later, 'a garden tiny...enough to count on only Nature's help for growing.' But 'tiny' was a relative term for a woman whose other properties included a New York town house and a French chateau. And what would 'simple' mean to a hostess who wrote knowledgeably of the protocol involved in seating two related grand dukes, a patroness of the arts whose summer parties had featured 'a different orchestra in each corner of the park'?"

Walska's 37 acres in Montecito - called Lotusland - are divided into more than a dozen gardens, the Times says, each of them seemingly a separate world.

I thought the New York Times coverage of the US withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in the Hague rather hard to understand, with its references to an earlier memorandum in which President Bush, the reporter said, seemed to contradict himself. It took a while to realise that what the President was doing, when he urged US courts to abide by the ICJ's ruling that new hearings should be held for 51 Mexicans on death rows in the United States, was simply making sure that while the US was a part of the IJC's jurisdiction, it complied with its rulings and directives. A president could hardly urge his courts to disobey. The NYT reporter's mistake, I think, was in allowing himself to think the memorandum was some kind of mis-step on the administration's part, and bringing it up to a prominence it really didn't deserve in the second paragraph. If he'd dealt with it as a side issue, later in the story, the reader would have had a much easier time understanding the whole business.

The Washington Post did it that way, and did a much better job, I thought. The Post also included the kind of on-the-money quotes that are so essential to understanding complex issues like this one: "'The International Court of Justice has interpreted the Vienna Consular Convention in ways that we had not anticipated that involved state criminal prosecutions and the death penalty, effectively asking the court to supervise our domestic criminal system,' State Department spokeswoman Darla Jordan said yesterday.

Withdrawal from the protocol is a way of 'protecting against future International Court of Justice judgments that might similarly interpret the consular convention or disrupt our domestic criminal system in ways we did not anticipate when we joined the convention,' Jordan added."

Where bloggers fit in to this kind of story is in being able to provide the kind of information traditional media just don't bother to chase. Opinio Juris, for example, is a legal blog that specialises in international law. It says withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the court may well not be as simple as the administration would like it to be.

09 March 2005

The UAE's Khaleej Times is suggesting the world may see Saddam Hussein on trial sooner rather than, as some have predicted, later. "The trial of ousted president Saddam Hussein will begin before Iraqis vote on a new constitution in October, senior leaders in the election-winning Shia coalition said Tuesday. 'Serious trials of those who committed crimes against the Iraqi people, first and foremost Saddam, will begin under...an elected government,' Sheikh Humam Hamoudi, a leading figure in the United Iraqi Alliance, told reporters.

"Saddam and his top deputies are expected to be charged with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity for murdering Kurds and Shias over the course of the Baath party's 35-year reign."

It is perhaps less so now than it was previously, but it is true that in some places in the Arab world, support from the United States can be counterproductive. In Lebanon, I'm sure anti-Syrian demonstrators would rather be seen as acting independently of the US, because US support plays into the hands of those in the pro-Syrian movement, who say the trouble in Lebanon is being fomented by foreign (especially US) agitators. On the diplomatic level, though, the maintenance of US pressure on Syria is vital. It makes for some strange types of communication. The Washington Times says President Bush was speaking directly to the people of Lebanon yesterday, when he said: "The American people are on your side. Millions across the earth are on your side. The momentum from freedom is on your side, and freedom will prevail in Lebanon.' In truth, though, the President was speaking to the Syrian government, and to other governments in the Middle East in order to counter the effect of the very impressive pro-Syrian turnout in Beirut yesterday.

Also in the Times, Walid Phares, the secretary-general of the World Lebanese Cultural Union and a senior fellow with Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, writes of the need for the Middle East experiment with democracy to be of a homegrown variety, and thinks Lebanon might be a good launching place. "This launching pad has to speak its languages and understand its problems. It must have an experience in democracy and a capability of exporting it within the region. The basis for Mideast and Arab democracy has to be able to teach it, broadcast it, model it into art, technology and culture. It has to be a bridge with the rest of the world, and it has to be able to extend around the world as well. It must be from the East but relate to the West. It needs to have understood the dangers of terrorism, but yet capable of renaissance after being liberated...

"The Arab world is witnessing small steps in Egypt and spasms in Saudi Arabia, but it is still under the onslaught of radical Islamists with their powerful propaganda machine. Women are still suppressed, and minorities agonizing. Lebanon, on the other hand, is a launching pad that can muster enough indigenous resources to mount the information campaigns, educate the cadres and provide a safe haven to the international coalition to establish its strategic credentials."

According to the Washington Post, Italy's foreign minister has now agreed that the killing of an Italian intelligence agent and wounding of an Italian journalist by U.S. troops in Iraq was an accident, saying he accepts that there are no grounds to believe the killing might have been deliberate. Nonetheless, he wants the United States to conduct a thorough investigation and punish anyone who is found to have been at fault. In Washington, Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top US general in Iraq, said he had been unaware Friday that Italian officials had entered Iraq to rescue Sgrena and said he had heard nothing since to indicate the Italians had informed US forces of the route her car would take.

Another little piece of good news in the war against terrorism - the Washington Post quotes President Bush as having said yesterday that the US response to the deadly tsunami has led to a dramatic change in the perception of Americans in many Muslim nations.

Control of the city of Jericho is to be handed over by the Israelis today to Palestinian security forces. Control of Tulkarm will similarly be given to the Palestinians tomorrow. According to the Jerusalem Post, quoting PA National Security Advisor Jibril Rajoub, "All of the Palestinian factions have agreed to uphold a cease-fire and refrain from attacks against Israel, including in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, to ensure the advance of negotiations between the two nations."

What a twisted, ugly world the IRA and Sinn Fein inhabit! The Guardian, and many others, are using a long statement issued by the IRA yesterday, giving further details of the murder of Robert McCartney, and claiming that the organisation had offered to kill those involved. The family of Mr McCartney apparently declined their offer. That the IRA would admit such a thing is an indication of the width of the moral gulf that separates this gang of criminal, terrorist thugs from the rest of the world, and will surely be the end of public support for it and its methods.

Britain - at least those in Britain who have had any part in the war against violence in Northern Ireland - have always been angered by the support the IRA has been given by Americans, and by the support Sinn Fein has been given by the American Government. It will have been a great relief for them to learn from CNN this morning that "The United States has demanded that the IRA disband after the guerrilla group's astonishing offer to shoot the killers of a murdered Northern Ireland Catholic man. 'It's time for the IRA to go out of business,' US special envoy Mitchell Reiss said Wednesday." CNN comments that for the IRA's political ally Sinn Fein, Northern Ireland's biggest Irish nationalist party, the US demand was yet another blow to its democratic credentials. Odds are it will be a fatal one.

08 March 2005

An internal Pentagon memorandum is suggesting that the Italian secret service's failure to plan a safe escape route for released terrorist hostage Giuliana Sgrena resulted in the accident that wounded her and killed her minder. The Washington Times quotes a retired army officer and military analyst, Robert Maginnis, as expressing that in rather blunter terms: "'It seems to me that the Italian secret service considers this a James Bond movie in Baghdad,' Mr. Maginnis said. 'They're driving around at night picking up a journalist who has been kidnapped and pretending they can get through a phalanx of checkpoints along the deadliest road in all of Iraq without being detected, much less shot up.'"

In an editorial, the Times says that while it's too early to be sure, the preponderance of evidence suggests that the notion that the US might have deliberately targeted Ms Sgrena is unlikely. Without any supporting evidence Miss Sgrena's assertion is more than a stretch; it's absurd, as White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday. For instance, if the troops manning the roadblock had been trying to kill her, why did they immediately cease fire once they realized what they had done? Also, killing Miss Sgrena hardly advances U.S. interests in the region, the push for democracy or America's relationship with Italy, so far a steadfast supporter in the war on terror. But for the anti-American mindset, this is all consistent. Simmering in the background of this controversy is former CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan's comments earlier this year that the U.S. military has targeted journalists in Iraq. For some, Miss Sgrena's account vindicates Mr. Jordan's unproven allegation, which cost him his job at CNN. It's usually best to ignore these specious conspiracy theories, but not when they endanger the lives of American servicemen and women."

We can expect a second Volcker report on the UN's Oil-for-Food scandal in weeks, according to Volcker's staff. The Swiss "news platform", swissinfo quotes the Reuters news agency as saying the results of a probe into possible conflict of interest by Secretary-General Kofi Annan will be published within weeks. "'When you are dealing with people's reputation, you have to be as careful as you possibly can be and to look at everything,' Reid Morden, executive director of the probe headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, told Reuters in an interview on Monday." Volcker has already released one report on the scandal-tainted program last month. This one will deal with work that Annan's son, Kojo, did for a company that had a contract with the United Nations in Iraq.

As news of the resignation of the president of the University of Colorado sinks in, the Denver Post has published a strong editorial suggesting that the institution should get Ward Churchill off its payroll.

"He's done enough damage to the university. Having to defend academic freedom in the context of Churchill's writings and rants was surely one chore that CU President Elizabeth Hoffman didn't need. Churchill is an absurd character who relies on First Amendment freedoms to defend his teaching position, while denying others the right to take part in a Columbus Day parade. He's turned stomachs across the country with his likening of September 11 victims to 'little Eichmanns' and with his 'right on!' response to the 2001 attacks. If he's lucky enough to not be fired, Churchill should quit for the good of CU. Of course he may find a hard time landing at another school - after all, he's more of a political figure than a scholar."

Many are expressing reservations about the nomination of the abrasive John Bolton to be US Ambassador to the UN, as the LA Times, among others, reports this morning. But the Wall Street Journal thinks it will be a good thing: "Mr. Bolton is a 'hard-liner', guilty of such violations of diplomatic protocol as calling North Korea 'a hellish nightmare' ruled by a 'tyrannical dictator'. More such violations will be required if Mr. Bolton's mission is to succeed...we can think of no better candidate than Mr. Bolton...During his most recent State Department tour, he engineered the Proliferation Security Initiative, the most successful and meaningful multilateral effort undertaken by this Administration--or the previous one, for that matter. He negotiated the 2001 Treaty of Moscow, the most comprehensive nuclear disarmament treaty in history. In the real world, this is called 'getting stuff done', something the UN could learn more about."

And as long as we're singing the praises of people who are prepared to follow a tough line, says New York Times columnist David Brooks, let's take another look at Paul Wolfowitz, "the man who's been vilified by Michael Moore and the rest of the infantile left, who's been condescended to by the people who consider themselves foreign policy grown-ups, and who has become the focus of much anti-Semitism in the world today - the center of a zillion Zionist conspiracy theories, and a hundred zillion clever-Jew-behind-the-scenes calumnies.

"It's not necessary to absolve Wolfowitz of all sin or to neglect the postwar screw-ups in Iraq. Historians will figure out who was responsible for what, and Wolfowitz will probably come in for his share of the blame. But with political earthquakes now shaking the Arab world, it's time to step back and observe that over the course of his long career - in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in Central and Eastern Europe, and now in the Middle East - Wolfowitz has always been an ardent champion of freedom. And he has usually played a useful supporting role in making sure that pragmatic, democracy-promoting policies were put in place."

The future is getting up off its knees to its east, and Western Europe doesn't like it at all. The Christian Science Monitor notes that "...last January, Slovakia became the sixth Eastern European country to adopt a flat tax, which means all income-earners pay the same rate. Since then, Romania and Georgia have followed suit, creating a global proving ground for the concept. In the process, flat-taxers have moved Eastern Europe from a Communist backwater to an investment spring - pressuring its higher-taxed Western neighbors to adapt to the new environment...

"To support large governments and sizable welfare payouts, many Western European countries impose a triple-tiered tax regime of Value-Added Taxes (VAT), akin to a sales tax, high taxes on corporate revenue, and personal tax rates that can exceed 50 percent. Eastern Europe's cheaper labor market and growing reliance on flat taxes leave Western European economies struggling to compete."

Thus far, Western Europe has defended itself by insisting that nations have a moral duty to impose high taxes, and has tried to force others to follow its example - notably in this part of the world through its unfair tax competition initiative. It seems to have proved to be too little, too late, however, and Western Europe may be beginning to understand that if it wants to survive, it's going to have to learn how to do it the other way - through the fairness of competition.

07 March 2005

This is what is needed to face a Monday morning with courage - a shot of ink from Mark Steyn's acid pen! In the Washington Times, he quotes the Guardian's Martin Kettle as having written (last week) that "The war was a reckless, provocative, dangerous, lawless piece of unilateral arrogance. But it has nevertheless brought forth a desirable outcome which would not have been achieved at all, or so quickly, by the means that the critics advocated, right though they were in most respects."

"Very big of you, pal," says Steyn. "And I guess that's as near a mea culpa as we'll get: Even though George W. Bush got everything wrong, it turned out right. Funny how that happens, isn't it?"

Former French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, the No. 2 in the opposition Socialist Party and a longtime staunch Palestinian advocate, has written an article praising Israel in the left-wing, traditionally pro-Palestinian weekly, La Nouvelle Observateur. As they are wont to do, the Israelis are reading rather a lot into that. The spokesman at Israel's embassy in Paris sent excerpts of the article back to the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, saying he thought it was an example of a "revision" taking place in France regarding Israel in general and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in particular. And a senior Foreign Ministry official says the "revision" may be taking place because Israel is now carrying out a policy - disengagement - of which the French approve.

Robert Crumb and his wife, Aline, the Guardian says, "must surely rank among the strangest families ever committed to celluloid." All dedicated Pondblog readers knew that, but this is still a must-read piece, for Crumb's remarks about Serena Williams' body, among other things.

What brings all this up is a retrospective being held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, a series of films based on or inspired by Crumb being shown at the National Film Theatre there, and the publication in New York and London this month of a compendium-cum-autobiography, The R Crumb Handbook. The Brits are threatening to take him seriously from now on. The Guardian says Critic Robert Hughes compares him to Brueghel, which is crap. All Hughes does is mention that Crumb himself says Breughel influenced him. Hasn't he influenced pretty much all of us? But Hughes, who knows his business, does understand that Crumb talks to people in the same way Breughel does: "He gets into the domain of shared dreams and does so in a language that doesn't pretend to be 'radically new'."

If you're tempted to think there must be something to allegations that US troops shot at the car carrying Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena on purpose, you should read this Christian Science Monitor story.

And while we're on that subject, do you suppose there would be any interest in transporting this pack of idiots out to Iraq so that they could be encouraged never to stop at checkpoints? It's either that, I think, or try to sell their sorry asses in the slave markets of Sudan.

Apple Computers has filed a lawsuit in California to try to find out who leaked company secrets to a blogger. At the heart of its suit is a pretty basic question - are bloggers reporters? The New York Times quotes a professor of law as saying that if the court decides they are not, they could be forced to disclose their sources for the information they're posting. Logic would suggest bloggers must be reporters, since they report news. Both bloggers and reporters, Susan Crawford notes, operate as public news sources. Blogs are becoming more and more powerful, and some have readerships that exceed those of small-town newspapers.

One of our number even has a White House press pass. And furthermore, a new study is showing, according to the Globe and Mail, that "Reliance on the Internet for political news during last year's U.S. presidential campaign grew six-fold from 1996, while the influence of newspapers dropped sharply..."

Mubariz Bidar would give Robin Williams a run for his money. He's an Afghan comic who has this city - once ruled by severe Taliban - howling at their former oppressors. His spot-on impressions of everyone from a Taliban soldier to an Afghan drug addict would have even Mullah Omar giggling into his turban. Giggling? As Oz blogger Arthur Chrenkoff points out in his twice-monthly report on the good news from Afghanistan, there is a serious side to comedy and theater. "Before last October's presidential elections, a Kabul-based nongovernmental organization hired the actors to promote voting in some of the country's most remote southern villages. Hundreds of people saw each show; the message stuck. Women's turnout in Paktia province, which borders Khost and is so traditional that women are rarely seen in public, was among the highest in the country. The success of the shows, Afghan observers say, illustrates how effective humor and theater is for educating a public with a low literacy rate (only 64 percent of Afghans can read). It may be, they say, the best way to unify the country's four major ethnic groups that are still quietly split along ethnic lines - one of the major obstacles to lasting peace."

06 March 2005

The ombudsman at the New York Times, Daniel Okrent, publishes an article today in which he airs the controversy over the paper's well-known reluctance to call a terrorist a terrorist. He writes: "Among pro-Israeli readers (and nonreaders urged to write to me by media watchdog organizations), the controversy over variants of the T-word has become the stand-in for the Israel-Palestine conflict itself. When Israel's targeted assassinations of suspected sponsors of terrorism provoke retaliation, some pro-Palestinian readers argue that any armed response against civilians by such groups as Hamas is morally equivalent. Critics on the other side say The Times's general avoidance of the word 'terrorism' is a political decision, and exactly what Hamas wants."

I guess he doesn't want to make the article too pointed, so he muddies it up with references to the use of other euphemisms, and even manages to take a poke in the direction of the Bush administration - "Hijacking the language proves especially pernicious when government officials deodorize their programs with near-Orwellian euphemism. (If Orwell were writing 'Politics and the English Language' today, he'd need a telephone book to contain his 'catalog of swindles and perversions. ') The Bush administration has been especially good at this; just count the number of times self-anointing phrases like 'Patriot Act,' 'Clear Skies Act' or 'No Child Left Behind Act' appear in The Times, at each appearance sounding as wholesome as a hymn. Even the most committed Republicans must recognize that such phrases could apply to measures guaranteeing the opposite of what they claim to accomplish."

In the end, though, the case for the perfectly justified use of the word 'terrorism' is simply too compelling to ignore, so he ends this way: "While some Israelis and their supporters assert that any Palestinian holding a gun is a terrorist, there can be neither factual nor moral certainty that he is. But if the same man fires into a crowd of civilians, he has committed an act of terror, and he is a terrorist. My own definition is simple: an act of political violence committed against purely civilian targets is terrorism; attacks on military targets are not. The deadly October 2000 assault on the American destroyer Cole or the devastating suicide bomb that killed 18 American soldiers and 4 Iraqis in Mosul last December may have been heinous, but these were acts of war, not terrorism. Beheading construction workers in Iraq and bombing a market in Jerusalem are terrorism pure and simple.

"Given the word's history as a virtual battle flag over the past several years, it would be tendentious for The Times to require constant use of it, as some of the paper's critics are insisting. But there's something uncomfortably fearful, and inevitably self-defeating, about struggling so hard to avoid it."

And there he leaves it. I guess Mr Okrent and I (or perhaps it's the NYT's board of directors and I) have differing ideas about what a Public Editor, as he is called, should be doing. Surely Okrent, having made up his mind, should go and bang on Bill Keller's door, demanding change. Once Keller capitulates, then Okrent can write all the articles he wants. To publish a silly, neither-here-nor-there article like this one, which I imagine will have little effect but to increase the distance and hostility between Okrent and the NYT editorial staff, is simply another way of allowing the Times to avoid changing its behaviour.

Sunday Times writer Bryan Appleyard is writing a book about aliens. "Since June 24, 1947," he says, "when a businessman called Kenneth Arnold saw a squadron of alien spaceships in the Cascade Mountains in Washington state - generally regarded as the first authentic UFO sighting of the post-war era - aliens have poured from the abyss that lies between ourselves and the world. We know them well. They are the grey aliens with slanting, black eyes and vestigial nostrils whose corpses are kept at Area 51, a secret military base in the Nevada desert. They are the tall 'Nordics' who gently oversee complex surgical procedures on human abductees. They are ET, the Borg, the Klingons and the Vulcans, the Pleiadians and the Nine."

Don't imagine it's easy work, writing about aliens. "'You've really taken on a monster here. Careers are really derailed by an interest in this subject,' Professor John Mack of Harvard University said when I told him I was writing a book about these real, dreamed, hallucinated or imagined creatures and the humans who have met or found themselves involved with them." But bold Appleyard plunged on, regardless of the danger. His book hits the stands tomorrow. The cheques will begin hitting his bank account in a month or two, I guess.

There seems to be more trouble at Palestinian mill. The Jerusalem Post reports that the ruling Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), is facing a major crisis after scores of young guard activists resigned over the weekend, accusing senior officials of mismanagement and corruption. Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti is believed to have orchestrated the rebellion from the cell where he is serving a life sentence for murder. One of the young terrorist turks he is using to foment the rebellion says "Unfortunately, we have discovered that nothing has changed since Arafat's death," he said. "Fatah needs an internal revolution to reorganize its affairs on a democratic basis."

Guardian columnist David Aaronovitch has been offended by a book written by an international lawyer, Professor Philippe Sands, called Lawless World. Sands's central proposition is that the war on terror and the war on Iraq, as prosecuted by America and supported by Britain, poses a unique threat to a valuable system of international justice. He argues that as a result of the war, "there is little evidence that the world is a safer place, and a great deal more evidence that the Iraq war has provided a major distraction to the challenge posed by global terrorism and al-Qaeda. Neither can it be said that the Middle East is more stable or peaceful.'

Aaronovitch counters: "This analysis looked a safer bet six months ago than it does now. Libya had already got rid of WMD capacity that it admitted possessing, but since then there have been the elections in Iraq, demonstrations against Syrian occupation in Lebanon, elections in Palestine, and suggestions of liberalisation in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Even sceptics are wondering whether something isn't afoot, something caused, in part, by the removal of Saddam. In these circumstances, it is an act of epic solipsism to argue this outcome is negated by the affront the action posed to the international legal system, a system that seemed to permit ill-doing and penalise its prevention. And if the law prevents good actions and objectively protects bad ones, it needs to be changed." Amen to that.

Fourteen years of clan warfare and total anarchy have left Mogadishu in Somalia a bizarre shadow of its former self, according to Der Spiegel. "The Somalian capital teems with both warlords and wireless Internet, armed checkpoints and a Coca-Cola plant. The African nation finally has a government: But its in exile in Nairobi. Whether or not it will succeed may hinge on whether it can manage to return to the city."


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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