...Views from mid-Atlantic
19 March 2005

The African disease seems to have claimed another victim - Uganda. The Telegraph tells the unpleasant tale: Suspected dissidents disappear after midnight visits to their homes; chilling screams can again be heard from Idi Amin's infamous torture chambers, reopened after a quarter of a century of disuse. From the few that escape come tales of punishment beatings and even mass executions. Welcome to President Yoweri Museveni's Uganda. One of Britain's favourite African states in recent years has, almost unnoticed in the West, become a sinister land where a corrupt regime uses its secret police to rule through fear.

"The president was long seen as an African role model in the West for his willingness to introduce economic reforms demanded by the World Bank. But many donors are now disgusted both by the repression and by the corruption in Mr Museveni's cabinet, many of whom are relatives of the president. 'Museveni hoodwinked many donors for a long time and people wanted to see the glass as half full,' a diplomat said. 'We are now learning our lesson.'"

You have to read down a little to get to it, but the Guardian's ombudsman is trying to restore the missing 'might' to the language: "Grammatical errors are interruptions that divert the reader from the content, even when the content is urgent or grave. A reader writes, quoting from an article in the Guardian this week: ''She was told she may never walk again after breaking her back in a riding accident.' The confused tenses in this meant that I believed that [the person involved] still had a problem until I read the rest of the piece and was happy to find she is now OK. As always, wrong tense means lost sense - it should have read, 'she might never walk again'.'"

Reading a book on line is one thing, but reading it on a cellphone? That's what happens in Japan, apparently.

18 March 2005

That terribly dramatic young Qatari Sheik who has been staggering the art world with his willingness to pay top dollar for art of almost any kind during the last few years, has now been arrested, according to The Art Newspaper. "The world's biggest art collector, Sheikh Saud Al-Thani of Qatar, has been arrested and is now under investigation for alleged misuse of public funds. The Art Newspaper understands that Sheikh Saud, who is a second cousin of the ruling Emir of Qatar, is currently under house arrest in the Qatari capital Doha. He was detained at the end of February.

"Qatar, with its vast reserves of oil and gas, is one of the richest countries in the Arab region. Consequently Sheikh Saud's budget for the purchase of art has appeared to be almost limitless. He has been prepared to pay colossal sums for acquisitions in several fields from Islamic art and Egyptian antiquities to Faberge objects, photography, art deco furniture, natural history specimens and books, vintage cars, classical sculptures, and objets d'art, to name just a few. Working through European dealers, he has bought entire collections outright. The Sheikh's willingness to spend disproportionate amounts of money for certain objects has astonished the art world. At a sale of Islamic art at Christie's in London last April The Art Newspaper identified an agent working for Sheikh Saud as the buyer of a Mughal agate and garnet fly-whisk handle formerly belonging to Clive of India for $1.7 million, 113 times its high estimate of $15,000. At the same sale we also identified the Sheikh as the buyer of two unusual Safavid tiles, both with low estimates of only about $2,000, for $59,000 and $181,000 respectively. Sheikh Saud also purchased numerous lots at Sotheby's and Bonham's in that week's Islamic sales."

Speaking of art, if you live in Bermuda, toddle along to the City Hall Arts Centre at 5.30 pm after work this evening. An old friend of mine, Dan Dempster, is going to be opening a new a show there, together with the daughter of another old friend. Heather MacDonald is a young Bermudian artist who has had her work accepted and exhibited in the Bacardi Biennial at the Bermuda National Gallery in both 2002 and 2004. One of her recent works was also exhibited in the Bermuda National Gallery's show, Painting Bermuda, 200 Years of Changing Tradition. Heather's current work ranges from the impressionistic to the abstract using oils on both canvas and heavy paper.

Kofi Annan has told the Syrians he wants them out of Lebanon, lock, stock and barrel, before elections are held in May. Al-Jazeera reports that "Annan's demand was announced after he met with his special envoy on the Lebanese-Syria issue, Terje Roed-Larsen, who just returned from the Middle East. On the basis of the briefing, the secretary-general said that he expects the full withdrawal of all Syrian troops, including the intelligence apparatus and military assets, to take place before the Lebanese parliamentary elections," UN chief spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

Rehan Mullick monitored the Oil-for-Food program for the United Nations. He repeatedly alerted UN officials to its problems. Every time he did, they reduced his responsibilities. He was reduced to running the slide projector at staff meetings. Eventually, CNN reports, he submitted a 10-page report to UN headquarters in 2002 reporting that 22 percent of supplies imported under the program never reached Iraq's 27 million people. The UN fired him.

The Times thinks Paul Wolfowitz will make a fine president of the World Bank. Its editorial is worth reading. Sample: "Even his most vociferous foes do not deny that Mr Wolfowitz is a clever man with a record of walking into rather conservative institutions and trying to shake them up. This is precisely what the World Bank requires after a decade in which the current incumbent, James Wolfensohn, has shown personal charisma, yet allowed costs to balloon and spent too much time attempting to appease interest groups with a dubious claim to represent the world's poor. This will be a particularly tough nut to crack. Secondly, Mr Wolfowitz brings with him considerable experience of Asia (not least as US Ambassador to Indonesia). It is here where most of the success stories of development aid have been found, just as most of the disasters belong to Africa. The bank as an organisation has to be more forceful in insisting that loans or aid are tied symbiotically to the promotion of democracy and a crackdown on corruption. Finally, he will offer unusual energy and optimism. Mr Wolfowitz is not a cynic about outside financial backing for developing nations. In the right circumstances, he believes it can be transforming. For that reason, perhaps, despite a caricature as a 'right-wing hawk', he has not ceased being a registered Democrat. The World Bank needs a man who can think unconventionally. Mr Wolfowitz is that person."

Andrew Buncombe of Britain's Independent writes about the push towards Independence being made by Bermuda's current government, quoting two of Bermuda's bloggers, Christian Dunleavy and Philip Wells. There was a referendum on independence in Bermuda ten years ago, in 1995, when 74% of a respectable 59% turn-out voted against the idea. The Progressive Labour Party, now the government, boycotted that vote because they felt the idea had been stolen from them for political reasons, which was more or less correct. If another referendum were held sometime in the near future, the number of those voting for independence would be swelled by PLP supporters, certainly. But that effect would be tempered by what I suspect would be a large number of people who might not object to independence, but would be terrified of independence under a government quite as cross-eyed about money as this one is.

Britain's Ministry of Defence paid 250 million pounds for eight Chinook helicopters which can't be flown in Britain because they can't be shown to meet the Ministry's own safety requirements. The Guardian says: "The MoD bought eight Chinook Mark 3 helicopters from the US manufacturer Boeing in the late 1990s. But officials specified in the contract only 45 of 100 'essential elements' specified in the ministry's own requirements, says the Commons public accounts committee. The problem was compounded by the refusal of the US to give the MoD access to all the aircraft's software codes. As a result, they do not meet the ministry's safety regulations." I don't know what that business about essential elements is all about, and the reporter doesn't seem to feel it necessary to explain, but the bottom line is that these brand new helicopters are now just a collection of spare parts. Typical of the MOD, which sometimes seems Britain's equivalent of the Keystone Kops.

One in eight children in Zimbabwe will die before the age of five, the highest mortality rate in the world, according to figures published yesterday by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef). The Guardian quotes Unicef's executive director, Carol Bellamy as having appealed for increased aid to Zimbabwe, saying the the world "must differentiate between the politics and the people" of the country.

"Acknowledging that donors were reluctant to give significant funds to Zimbabwe, because of the allegations of corruption and state torture, she said: 'Look for other ways to make a political point, but don't take it out on Zimbabwe's children, they are the ones who are suffering.' In addition to the rising rate of child deaths, Zimbabwe has a million children - one in five - orphaned by Aids. In 1990 it had one of Africa's best healthcare systems. But in recent years the government has reduced the health and education budgets and channelled the funds to the army and its internal security network, the central intelligence organisation."

Picasso, apparently, wrote poetry. The Christian Science Monitor says he wrote in "the raw, unpunctuated style of the Surrealists". They give two examples - this is the second:

drop by
pale blue
the claws of
green almond
on the rose

A little cluttered, maybe. William Carlos Williams did the same thing much better:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

But then, he probably couldn't paint a lick.

17 March 2005

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Gen. Bantz Craddock, the chief of the US Southern Command, said he was concerned by the importation of a huge number of Kalashnikov rifles into Venezuela. He implied that he was worried that Venezuela may be arming South American terrorists as well as giving them safe harbour. According to the Washington Times, the General told the Committee "I am also concerned with Venezuela's influence ... The capture of senior FARC member Rodrigo Granda in Venezuela, carrying a valid Venezuelan passport and his possible connection to the kidnapping and killing of the daughter of Paraguay's former president is of concern."

The Times comments "The FARC is one of Colombia's largest terrorist groups, and Granda's capture highlighted the presence of Colombian militants in Venezuela. Colombia coordinated the capture of Granda on Venezuelan soil, an operation which caused a major but brief diplomatic rift between the two countries. Colombia has reportedly sent proof to Venezuela that other terrorists are living freely in the country."

I can't find the quote quickly, but I recall that Winston Churchill was once criticised for being, some said, overly civil to a man facing capital punishment for some grievous crime. He said "It costs nothing to be polite to a man who is to be hanged in the morning," or something close to that. I think the fuss over Kofi Annan's little bow towards the grave of the gangster Arafat, covered by, among others, the New York Sun this morning, falls into the same category. It really costs nothing to be polite to a dead man.

The Internet seems to have bored a hole through the wall of secrecy that the Syrian regime built around itself. The Jerusalem Post recalls: "The Syrian regime had ranked as one of the world's most centralized and insulated. The Mukhabarat, or secret police, controlled all information flowing in or out of the country. Every phone call, letter, telex or fax was monitored and many were censored. Even today, according to Western diplomats based in Damascus, some diplomatic messages sent by mail and even e-mail continue to arrive at their destination having been tampered with. Sometimes they don't arrive at all.

"But the Internet era has punctured the regime's ability to exercise the full control of information it used to maintain. While access is still largely limited to Internet cafes, and the cost is prohibitive for many, content flows fairly freely once you're on-line. Homegrown hackers have even managed to bypass Web sites that the regime has sought to block. You can log on to jpost.com at Internet cafes all over the capital, even in the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp. In all, it is now estimated that up to 500,000 Syrians (out of a population of 18 million) use the Internet on a regular basis."

The British bookseller, Waterstone's, is asking people to nominate their favourite literary villain. The Independent has asked a gaggle of prominent Brits to nominate theirs, and to explain why they made that particular choice. "From Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the murderer with the exquisite sense of smell in Patrick Suskind's Perfume, to Alex, the vicious delinquent in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, the list of villains in literature is a long one. And by piling up hundreds of the most compelling villains - alongside a smattering of heroes and a significant roll-call of anti-heroes - in its network of bookstores, Waterstone's hopes to challenge the British public to discover more of them over coming weeks and discuss them at home, in schools or in book clubs."

I'm torn between Dr Fu Manchu and Elmer Fudd, myself.

16 March 2005

The United Nations team investigating the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in a February 14 bomb blast has completed its probe, officials told Beirut's Daily Star, and returns to New York today to report to the UN. "The head of the UN team, Ireland's deputy police commissioner Peter Fitzgerald, informed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud that he would leave Beirut on Wednesday and travel to New York, where he would submit his report to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The UN team, also comprised of Egyptian and Moroccan investigators and joined by Swiss bomb experts, has been in Beirut since February 24 gathering information on the killing."

The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, has been quoted in a variety of publications this week as having said that half the membership of the UN's Human Rights Commission attends "not to promote human rights, but to undermine the Commission. That is a travesty. It is a travesty that there is a duty for the United Nations to address, if it is to redeem its credibility as a meaningful promoter of human rights."

The Commission opened its new session on Monday, and if you like travesty, there was Cuba, of all countries, getting out ahead of the curve and, according to Granma, calling for "an integral and profound reform of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, comparing it to a 'sinking ship'. Speaking on the first day of the 61st Session of that UN body, Juan Antonio Fernandez, Cuba's representative, stated that the HRC 'is being shipwrecked by the weight of its increasing lack of credibility and prestige.'"

Or there was Nicholas Howen, secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists, a global body that monitors if countries are respecting the rule of law, revealing that Nepal's Home Minister had told him that any Nepalese rights activist criticising his country's new regime at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva is in danger of being arrested when he returns home to Nepal.

Or there was Reporters without Borders reminding people that members of the Human Rights Commission had more reporters in jail than any other combination of countries on the face of the planet - 27 of them in China, 21 in Cuba, 13 in Eritrea and 9 in Nepal.

People's Daily still hasn't acknowledged that there is any opposition at all in the world to its anti-secession law. The paper this morning is filled with stories saying what a good idea it is, and on the front page, the lead story is an editorial: "We never waver in our determination to uphold the one-China principle, never give up our efforts for peaceful reunification, never change the principle of placing our hope on Taiwan people, never compromise in our opposition to 'Taiwan independence' separatist activities.

"This is an important declaration on developing cross-Strait relations under the new circumstances, as well as the essence of the 'Anti-Secession Law'. We believe that all the Chinese people including the 2.3 million Taiwan compatriots will definitely comprehensively understand the accurate implication of this law, grasp the legislative purpose of this law, jointly defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and jointly safeguard the fundamental interests of the Chinese nation.

"We believe that publication and enforcement of this law will certainly help combating and curbing 'Taiwan independence' secessionist forces' attempt to split the country, and help promote the development of cross-Strait relations and realize the great cause of the peaceful reunification of the motherland."

Why, Dr Seuss, you old devil you! The San Francisco Chronicle reveals that before he wrote for children, he wrote T&A films for soldiers. "Racy and suggestive, the animated films are enough to shatter one's innocent appraisal of such Seuss titles as 'The Seven Lady Godivas', 'Hop on Pop' and - say it isn't so - 'There's a Wocket in My Pocket!'

"The short military-training cartoons, along with disturbing propaganda films that Seuss also worked on, were shown to troops during and shortly after World War II. Although most copies of the movies were destroyed, a few dozen people in San Francisco were lucky enough to see several of them over the weekend when Dennis Nyback, a New York film curator, was in town to screen them in a touring program he calls 'The Dark Side of Dr. Seuss.'"

The sisters of the man murdered in a bar by IRA officers are in the United States, and are telling all who will listen that the romantic notion of an IRA struggling to win independence from imperialist Britain died ten years ago. Now, according to the Guardian, they are saying that Northern Ireland is "dealing with criminal gangs that are still using the cloak of romanticism around the IRA to murder people on the streets and walk away from it. And we are going to bring the reality home to the American people who have political and financial influence in Northern Ireland."

Ms McCartney rejected the suggestion by Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, that the sisters were being used to harm the republican movement. "We are trying to stay away from that," she said. "What we would like to say to Martin McGuinness is we are able to speak for ourselves. There is an implication that there is someone pulling our strings. We would like to show everyone the only person pulling our strings is Robert."

Ah yes, Martin McGuinness. The Telegraph asks, cogently: "What, exactly, did Martin McGuinness mean when he warned the McCartney sisters to 'be very careful' about standing for Parliament against his Sinn Fein candidates in the coming general election?" And we all know that what he meant was to scare them witless. A thug's a thug.

15 March 2005

Thomas H. Lipscomb, a senior fellow at the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California and a regular contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times and The New York Sun, has written a piece for Editor and Publisher that sees the theory that bloggers are to blame for the Rathergate and Easongate scandals off the property once and for all. "Readership and audiences of the mainstream media are dropping like a stone, but the reporting by the mainstream media on Rathergate and Easongate give little sign that anyone understands why. CJR Daily managing editor Steve Lovelady gave a pretty accurate consensus of the mainstream media's view of what the real problem was: the bloggers did it! Rather and Jordan went down, he said, because: 'The salivating morons who make up the lynch mob prevail.'

"If it takes 'salivating morons' to get major news organizations to clean up their acts and remember Journalism 101, may they slobber on - before the American people stop paying any attention to big media at all. In the end, as The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz points out, Jordan only resigned 'following a relentless campaign by online critics but scant coverage in the mainstream press.' Those of us in mainstream media had better ask why we didn't do a better job ourselves."

Physicist Zlatko Tesanovic of Johns Hopkins University puts it starkly - "there is an intellectual struggle going on for the very soul of theoretical physics, and for the hearts and minds of young scientists entering our field." It's hot stuff, says the San Francisco Chronicle: "Superstringers have created a culture in physics departments that is openly disdainful of experiments...String theorists and their foes can't even agree on what constitutes success or failure. For example, the most unexpected and counterintuitive discovery of recent science occurred in the 1990s, when astrophysicists at Berkeley and elsewhere realized the universe is expanding faster with time. The apparent reason: a mysterious dark energy pervades space and drives the accelerated expansion. Critics mock superstringers because their so-called theory of everything failed to predict this colossal discovery. String theorists fire back that no one else predicted it, either, and besides, 'string theory is the only approach that has the potential for explaining dark energy' based on pure theory, says John Schwarz, a pioneering string theorist at Caltech. That's because string theory is the only existing hypothesis that holds serious promise of merging the two grandest branches of physics - the theory of gravity, the basis of cosmological theory; and quantum mechanics, the science of the subatomic realm, Schwarz says."

The amount of money Canadians have tucked away in offshore financial centres has soared eight-fold since 1990, to $88-billion in 2003. Sensibly, the report that documents this, put out by StatsCan, (which I guess is the Canadian Statistical Department) calls for lower taxes in Canada to make the country more competitive. "Jack Mintz, president and chief executive of the C.D. Howe Institute, is quoted in Canada's National Post as having said the study underscores the reality that "we're not as attractive enough as a country for foreign investment, and that's a concern." The Post's story says: "Mr. Mintz said it is not suprising Canadian investment in tax havens has jumped in recent years, given that Canada has one of the highest corporate tax rates among industrialized countries. 'We have a significant issue that we have to deal with on the tax side to make Canada more attractive,' he said. 'We've actually created a policy disadvantage for investment in Canada.'"

But Canadian politicians don't like the idea of reforming the tax system any more than European politicians do, and keep looking for an easier way to solve the problem. "Judy Wasylycia-Leis, the NDP finance critic, said the Liberal government 'has to start taking seriously its commitment to shut down tax havens, because they result in higher taxes for Canadians.'"

I said yesterday that the AIG board was manoeuvring to push Hank Greenburg out as chief executive of the world's largest insurance company. Yesterday, Greenburg retired. He is the most prominent executive to step down since the New York attorney general began an investigation of fraud in the insurance industry.

Disagreement between Kurds and Shias has delayed the formation of a new Government in Iraq. The dispute is primarily over the future of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds want incorporated into Kurdistan, and Kurdish insistence that their peshmerga militia - not the Iraqi army - be responsible for the security of their semi-autonomous region. The Telegraph quotes interim Prime Minister Allawi as having said the delay threatens national unity as it frustrates the ordinary Iraqis who turned out in their millions to demonstrate their commitment to the political process by voting.

"'I am not happy to be a caretaker prime minister', he said. 'It is not good for the country. There must be a government. A decision has to be made and made very soon.'"

James Dyson, the British inventor who revolutionised vacuum cleaning with a bagless device in 1993, says he's had another Eureka moment. The Independent says he's marketing a new machine called The Ball, which is balanced on what looks like a yellow ball, and can apparently "speed up the tedious task of cleaning floors and carpets by steering past furniture and zigzagging round corners. The vacuum cleaner has gears rather than a belt and the ball at its base enables it to swing around obstacles with a quick flick of the wrist, rather than the user having to walk around with it or push and pull to manoeuvre it into position."

14 March 2005

The situation in Cuba, where 71 of 75 Cubans arrested recently for their politics are still in jail, according to Eric Olsen of Amnesty International, "is a dark spot on our hemisphere, where democracy and freedom are shared by a mass majority of our countries, but are put down in Cuba." He's quoted as having said that in a Washington Times story about Cuba's efforts to avoid a repeat of last year's censure by the UN Commission on Human Rights at the group's annual meeting in Geneva that begins today.

That Cuba has any hope at all of avoiding such a censure is itself a condemnation of the Commission. Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, is quoted in the Jerusalem Post today as having said that the commission has become a refuge for governments like Sudan, which should be in the dock rather than on the top UN rights body. He and the heads of other human rights groups have accused the Commission of allowing the worst-offending betrayers of human rights to protect each other from condemnation.

Help may be on the way, however. New UN broom Mark Malloch-Brown said in an interview on Fox News over the weekend that the UN is to propose changes in the coming weeks to begin repairing its reputation by revamping its 'human rights machinery' to keep dictator nations off the Commission. The Washington Times quotes him as having said the new plan will "try and restore the credibility of this and have people on that commission who really are people of stature and reputation and record and come from countries of the same thing, with real human rights standing in the world." Governments making up the current membership include Cuba, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia. Libya is the outgoing chair of the committee.

Jonathan Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School, has written a strong attack on the behaviour of Fox News analyst and law professor Susan Estrich, who has called for a feminist campaign against the Los Angeles Times. In the Washington Times, he writes that "what is most disturbing is the silence of the feminist community in the face of an individual who, in the purloined name of feminism, has abandoned not just any sense of legitimacy but any sense of decency. Instead, dozens of feminists have publicly supported Ms. Estrich." Estrich, it will be remembered, attacked the editor of the Los Angeles Times, Michael Kinsley, for not using enough women writers. Ms. Estrich used Mr. Kinsley's suffering from Parkinson's disease as part of her attacks. She insisted that his failure to publish women like herself is evidence that "your illness may have affected your brain, your judgment, and your ability to do this job."

"Described in the press as 'belligerent' and 'semiliterate'," writes Turley, "Ms. Estrich's tirades became increasingly unhinged after it became clear that Mr. Kinsley would not yield to her ultimatums. Indeed, at one point, Ms. Estrich went to all caps in offering Mr. Kinsley 'ONE MORE CHANCE BEFORE I GO PUBLIC'. Before one charity event, she asked menacingly, 'you want me to work that dinner about what an [expletive] you are?' After descending to calling Kinsley a 'jerk', 'fool' and other names, Ms. Estrich turned on Times Editor John Carroll when he complained to her that her attacks on Mr. Kinsley showed 'extravagant malice'. She responded by claiming defamation and telling him to expect a call from her lawyer."

It's Commonwealth Day today, but the Guardian wonders whether, for all the hoopla, the organisation is up to much.

It's also the 50th anniversary of Charlie Parker's death, and here we're on safer ground. He was our greatest jazz musician, and although the headline on this Telegraph story is a really dreadful, lame pun, it does pay suitable homage: "'He played with so much authority. He'd play things and all the guys like John Lewis, Miles, Dizzy, would run to the piano to check the harmonic progressions to determine whether he was crazy or right. And he was always right! He'd turn away and laugh!'. The novelty of his music went with a completely idiosyncratic - not to say anarchic - approach to life. His practical jokes were notorious. On one occasion he appeared outside a jazz club, dressed as a farmer from Kansas, toothpick in mouth. He approached bourgeois-looking passers-by with the words, 'A jazz musician, I presume.'"

The New York Times is reporting that AIG's board may be thinking that it should part ways with its chief executive, Maurice R Greenberg. "In an effort to grapple with an accelerating investigation into American International Group...the company's board has in recent days been discussing the potential impact on A.I.G. and on Mr. Greenberg's future, according to a person briefed on the matter," the Times says. "Although the details of the board's talks are not clear, it is likely that the directors were briefed on the role Mr. Greenberg played in a 2001 transaction that regulators say may have been designed to artificially bolster the company's financial position. Mr. Greenberg, who will turn 80 on May 4, has run American International Group with an iron hand since 1967. Neither he nor the company has ever articulated a succession plan, a matter of concern to shareholders."

In Iraq, journalists have been so busy telling the story of what has been going badly that they've missed what has been going well, says Oz blogger Arthur Chrenkoff. In the Wall Street Journal today, he quotes Bret Stephens as having said: "The cliche is that journalism is the first draft of history. Yet a historian searching for clues about the origins of many of the great stories of recent decades - the collapse of the Soviet empire; the rise of Osama bin Laden; the declining American crime rate; the economic eclipse of Japan and Germany - would find most contemporary journalism useless. Perhaps a story here or there might, in retrospect, seem illuminating. But chances are it would have been nearly invisible at the time of publication: eight column inches, page A12.

"The problem is not that journalists can't get their facts straight: They can and usually do. Nor is it that the facts are obscure: Often, the most essential facts are also the most obvious ones. The problem is that journalists have a difficult time distinguishing significant facts - facts with consequences - from insignificant ones. That, in turn, comes from not thinking very hard about just which stories are most worth telling."

13 March 2005

Californians are worrying about an outbreak of y'alling in their midst, sullying their own Double D Bad brand of streetspeak. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes a linguistics professor at the University of Wisconsin who also taught for years at Harvard, as making soothing noises. He talked about the phenomenon of wiggers - white people like MTV veejays trying to sound black. Is there a a distinction between wiggers and crossover y'allers? Yes, he said, it's a social solidarity word conveying the primitive message: 'Hey, you're one of us'! Another word like it out there, he says, is 'dude', the surfer's y'all. So this is why all the y'alling is going on, the Chronicle says. "On a lonesome, whirring planet, it subconsciously evokes a feeling that encapsulates what is best about the South: a combination of friendliness, pleasure and relaxation - come join our picnic blanket."

And Double D Bad? Hey, I gotta explain everything? That's when something is so beyond cool, that it transcends bad and goes to Double D Bad, as in 'badd', not just 'bad'. Check out UrbanDictionary.com for all the latest in speechifying, dudes.

In China, they're in a bit of a panic about fire ants. Fire ant mounds were spotted in some areas of Hong Kong SpecialAdministrative Region (SAR) and neighboring Guangdong Province, both in southern China in January this year, according to People's Daily, and the Chinese people are worried they're on a long march to Beijing in the north.

"The fire ants can bring huge damages to cropland and electricalwires, acknowledged Zhang, a scientist from Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The ants can cause anannual economic loss of some 5 billion and 1.2 billion US dollars in the United States and Germany respectively."

UN military commanders have been told they'll lose their jobs if they don't curb the culture of sexual permissiveness that has plagued the organisations's peacekeeping operations over the last few years. The Washington Post says "The United Nations is facing new allegations of sexual misconduct by UN personnel in Burundi, Haiti, Liberia and elsewhere, which is complicating the organization's efforts to contain a sexual abuse scandal that has tarnished its Nobel Prize-winning peacekeepers in Congo. The allegations indicate that a series of measures the United Nations has taken in recent years have failed to eliminate a culture of sexual permissiveness that has plagued its far-flung peacekeeping operations over the last 12 years. But senior UN officials say they have signaled their seriousness by imposing new reforms and forcing senior UN military commanders and officials to step down if they do not curb such practices."

Which naughty Palestinian nicked the gangster Arafat's little black bag of booty? That's the question a Palestinian Authority investigation is trying to answer, according to the Jerusalem Post. The paper says "On his last trip to Paris in late October, the ailing Arafat did not forget to take along the suitcase, which this time contained $1.6 million. Arafat even had a special aide whose only job was to carry the 'black bag' and distribute money according to his boss's instructions.

"But when Arafat's coffin was returned to Ramallah aboard an Egyptian military helicopter two weeks later, many PA officials noticed that the suitcase was missing. Some assumed that Arafat's bag-carrier had returned the suitcase with the money to the PA chairman's office. Others did not bother to ask for fear of alienating Arafat's top cronies. Hafez Barghouti, editor of the Ramallah-based daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, revealed that the PA had launched an investigation into the circumstances of the disappearance of Arafat's cash-filled suitcase."

One hopes this concern over petty cash doesn't prevent the Palestinians from keeping their eye on finding the many, many millions of dollars Arafat is said to have stolen and squirrelled away in a variety of dark little banking holes around the world.

President Bush says he won't deal with Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein again, according to Britain's Independent, after finding out that while he was pressing Mr Adams late last year to relaunch the power-sharing deal in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein's armed wing - the IRA - was planning the $50 million raid on the Northern Bank in Belfast." He's refused to give Adams a permit to raise funds in the US. The real question is why on earth the US Government has had such a soft spot for the IRA and Sinn Fein for so many years. The terrorist organisation and its political wing would have had a hard time of it without the funds they managed to raise in the US, but were allowed constant access to the US despite successive administrations having access to British intelligence which made it perfectly plain what sort of murdering scum they were dealing with.

The United Nations has criticised the UK's recent decision to liberalise its drug laws, saying that the downgrading of cannabis from Class B to C could send the wrong signal and damage the global fight against drug abuse. A story in The Observer quotes Koli Kouame, secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the UN agency dedicated to monitoring legal regimes of member states, as having said "Whenever a government gives a sign which can be interpreted as indicating that a lower danger is associated with the use of a drug, that can cause problems,...It is too early to judge the impact [of the downgrading], but often the signal sent is as important as the act itself." Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, seems to agree with him. He has been hinting that the reclassification might have to be reconsidered.


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
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