...Views from mid-Atlantic
16 April 2005

I guess I'd read most anything AS Byatt has written, and I was glad of it when I read this enchanting little piece of hers in the Guardian. It's about a Russian animated film that has won prizes for being the best of all time.

"Tale of Tales is a mysterious animated film, tough and delicate, that has won prizes at international festivals since it first appeared in 1980, culminating in prizes in both Los Angeles and Zagreb (in 2002) as the best animated film of all time. It was made in Soviet Russia by Yuri Norstein, who was not allowed to travel to receive any of his awards, and who was almost prevented from making, and then from showing, the film at all. It is a film that immediately changes the memory - mine at least - of all other films. It is immediately apprehensible, and needs to be seen again and again, because it remains puzzling, both as to its form and as to its meaning."

"Clare Kitson has written an exemplary book about her own fascination with it, and her own need to understand it. She has seen it 'at least 50' times, and has learned Russian in order to talk to its makers. The tale she tells sheds light on the origins and making of the images, on their relation to Norstein's life and to Russian culture, to other works of art (poems and paintings) and to the troubled culture of censorship. She illuminates, and deepens the mystery, leaving the power of the images intact and strengthened, which is what good criticism should do.

"The original proposal for the film, Kitson tells us, began: 'This is to be a film about memory. Do you remember how long the days were when you were a child?'"

David Gates is a senior editor at Newsweek who writes books himself, and has made a reputation writing about books. The New York Times Book Review has published a piece he's written on a new anthology entitled The Outlaw Bible of American Literature: The Rebel Establishment. It's a collaborative effort by writer Alan Kaufman, the editor Neil Ortenberg and Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset, but published by an outfit called Thunder's Mouth Press. The idea seems to have been to make a little money by publishing a sexy list of the hottest literary rebels of today. Why not?

But Gates, losing all touch with whatever sense of humour he might have, has taken it very personally, and somehow manages to get all political about it - "...the idea of literary outlawry - any kind of outlawry - is irresistible to the American imagination, which may never outgrow its Puritan-Manichaean origins. In fact, for two cents, I'd say The Outlaw Bible is a quintessential document of the Bush Era, but that would hurt everybody's feelings."

If you're wondering how in the world he manages to drag poor old George Bush into this, read on: "At any rate, although the Rosset-sponsored rebels of the 50s and 60s center this collection, the editors have opened the countercanon wide to take in a full range of American Unclubbables. Mickey Spillane, Sapphire, Waylon Jennings, John Waters, Greil Marcus, Margaret Sanger, Dave Eggers, DMX: you won't find all of these people together in any other book, ever. (The only folks not invited to the party seem to be the far-right cranks: the militiapersons in The Turner Diaries may be extralegal, but they're not outlaws.) It's just what an anthology of alternative/outsider literature ought to be: all over the place. You can read Woody Guthrie on hopping freights, Valerie Solanas on cutting up men and Emma Goldman on doing prison time. As long as you're not expecting that all these writers can write, there's no reason you shouldn't have a good time.

"But The Outlaw Bible is supposed to be good for you, and that's what changes it from an entertaining miscellany to something worth thinking about. Depending on where you sit, it's either a document recodifying a revolution or a relic recyling an obsolescent controversy. The editors' introduction, of course, argues for its contemporary relevance: "a revolt against a landscape dominated by a literary dictatorship of tepid taste, political correctness and sheer numbing banality." Your reflexive reaction is to leap to your feet, whet your knife and take the tarp off the old tumbrel - the problem with numbing banality is, it doesn't numb you enough - but then you remember what year it is. True, goon squads of editors and critics still keep the frightened masses buying superficially quiet fiction about superficially quiet people by Alice Munro and Marilynne Robinson. But some of the writers the regime is now grooming to take power look a lot like insurgents themselves: indecorous, sometimes indecent, not snobby about pop culture. Whatever you think of David Foster Wallace or Michael Chabon, Gary Shteyngart or Jonathan Safran Foer, they're more mermaid than Prufrock. For every current big-name writer who's flatlining, I can name you one who's redlining. (But not here. We'll talk after the show.)"

Whatever it is Mr Gates is taking, he's either getting too much or not enough.

As Kofi Annan, the US and Britain snipe at each other over blame for the UN Oil-for-Food scandal, new areas of concern over corruption at the UN are emerging. The New York Times reports this morning that a "Swiss judge is investigating possible bribery charges involving a $50 million contract to renovate the headquarters of a Geneva-based United Nations agency, according to government documents and Swiss and American officials. Jean-Bernard Schmid, the Geneva-based judge who has led the criminal inquiry, said in a telephone interview on Friday that his investigation was focusing on Michael Wilson, who was a consultant to the company that won the renovation contract at the World Intellectual Property Organization."

And as Fox News reports, Federal investigators have begun to pull at a string that leads from Iraq through Korean Tongsun Park to two high-ranking UN officials. Their enquiry leads Fox to ask the question: "Was the entire (Oil-for-Food) program created as a result of huge bribes going to UN officials?" Just a couple of months ago, that question would probably have been condemned as over the top. Not any longer, though.

15 April 2005

Sybille Bedford is one of those madly eccentric novelists that Britain used to produce by the dozen. She wrote a wonderful travel book in the 1950s, called A Visit to Don Otavio, which I remember as scatty and wonderful. She is now 94, and is publishing a memoir, Quicksands, in the US next month. To mark the occasion, the New Yorker's Joan Acocella has written a long, sprawling remembrance of Bedford and her life that is not to be missed.

A little sample: "Very little was known about her private life. A journalist once asked her if she could say anything about the Mr. Bedford whom, it is recorded, she married in 1936. 'No,' she replied. Soon after the marriage, she left for the United States, to wait out the war, and spent six years here. Doing what? Shortly after her return to Europe, she published her first book, at the age of forty-two. Why so late a start? And what about her love life? Mr. Bedford notwithstanding, the autobiographical heroine of one of her novels has a number of heated sexual encounters with women. Was Mrs. Bedford homosexual? When Shusha Guppy, in a 1993 interview for The Paris Review, tiptoed up to this question, Bedford stonily answered that novels were fiction, not fact. Another interviewer, obviously groping in desperation for a topic that she might be willing to address, inquired whether she had ever owned a pet. 'Yes and no,' she replied. 'It's a complicated question.'"

The US state department has denied a report by the TV network, NBC, that the commission investigating the shooting of an Italian intelligence agent guarding freed hostage Giuliana Sgrena has cleared the troops involved of any wrongdoing. The original NBC report can be read here. NBC said the commission found that the agent was at least partly responsible for his own death by deciding not to coordinate his drive to the airport with Sgrena with the US military.

It is said that delays in publishing the commission's findings have been caused by the reluctance of the Italian members - the group is led by senior US military officials but includes two Italians - to accept the US version of what happened.

It's income tax filing day in the US today - the perfect time for Daniel Mitchell of the Heritage Foundation to publish a piece in the Washington Times singing the praises of a flat tax. It's also timely because the president's tax-reform panel, headed by former Sens. Connie Mack and John Breaux, has been hearing testimony about the drawbacks of the current code. The panel is being urged to make the kind of major simplification a flat tax would represent. It is also known to be looking at ways to make US businesses more competitive in the global economy, which may mean an end to the kind of punitive taxes on US businesses operating abroad that help drive them into the arms of offshore financial centres like Bermuda.

Two recent reports, says the Weekly Standard, suggest that there may be "less to Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon than meets the eye. First, the daily Al Seyassah (a Kuwaiti paper which carries a Lebanese edition) reported that, according to sources close to the Lebanese Ministry of Interior, tens of thousands of Syrians have recently been naturalized. And among them are 5,000 Syrian Secret Service personnel. So, technically these officers are now Lebanese citizens with no reason to leave their 'own country'.

"Second, according to An-Nahar, one of the leading and oldest Lebanese dailies, dating from 1933, Lebanese police in Beirut arrested a Lebanese Army car occupied by two Syrian military officers. Meaning that Syrians can also infiltrate the Lebanese Army and pose as legitimate Lebanese."

Meantime, AlJazeera is quoting the Lebanese Interior Minister as warning of the possibility of unrest in the country in the wake of the resignation, for the second time, of Omar Karami. He says his resignation was triggered by his inability to form a new Cabinet. But that inability was clearly written on the wall at the time he was appointed, leading many to suspect the real reason for his resignation was simply to delay the scheduled elections.

The Jerusalem Post is carrying an interesting analysis of some of the catfights that have broken out between nations, over who should fill extra seats on the UN's security council. The Chinese and the Japanese are at each other's throats, as are the Indians and the Pakistanis, the Germans and the Italians and the Brazilians and the Mexicans. Doesn't fill one with confidence about the UN's ability to get on with reform.

14 April 2005

Columnist David Limbaugh is having a little rant in this morning's Washington Times about the media in Iraq. "They don't even pretend to be balanced," he writes. "Remember the early anti-administration reporting during the beginning of the ground war? There were predictions of quagmire, reports we were greeted as occupiers and not liberators, exaggerated stories of museum lootings, complaints about our supply lines not keeping pace with our advancing troops, and the like.

"Don't forget the media hype over alleged coalition negligence leading to missing explosives in Al Qaqaa, nor the media's preposterous, relentless quest to pin the Abu Ghraib abuses directly on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"The most egregious example of bias involved their conspiratorial joinder with Democrats to smear Mr. Bush as a liar concerning his claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When we failed to find large WMD stockpiles after deposing Saddam Hussein, they helped Democrats portray a global failure of intelligence (assuming the weapons weren't there and moved before our invasion), as premeditated deception by Mr. Bush. They've all repeated the lie so much it became part of the 'conventional wisdom.'"

This article from Beirut's Daily Star, ties in, for me, with what Limbaugh says. Like most Middle East newspapers, this one is not a great supporter of the United States. Nonetheless, the writers say "The center of gravity of the public debate about the Arab-Islamic world, and between Americans and Muslims, is slowly shifting. It is moving away from wars for regime change and clashes of civilizations, into a discussion of democracy and reform.

"Most intriguingly and significantly, a core issue in this global debate became clearer to me and many other participants here at the US-Islamic World Forum, organized by the State of Qatar and the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. It is the issue of whether, and how, to include Islamist parties and groups in the democratic process.

"As Arab and Islamic societies become more democratic, the most credible, organized and legitimate groups in society are likely to be Islamist parties like Hizbullah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. If they are denied participation in elections, or denied incumbency if they win, the democratic process will prove to be a sham. But, it is also asked, can they participate in politics and share in power if they remain armed? Significantly, the core of the debate now is not about whether these groups should participate politically, but how they can do so in a manner that is acceptable to all concerned."

I link to it because it seems to me to show how profoundly old media in the West have committed themselves to telling a version of the Middle East story that is becoming falser with every passing day. And I link to it because the writers seem to me to understand clearly the pivotal role groups like Hizbullah are going to have to play in the process of democratisation. Western observers, in their anxiety to accuse the US president of some kind of villainy in suggesting Hizbullah might become a part of Lebanon's democracy, have blinded themselves to the acuity of his suggestion.

I continue to be puzzled by the story about vials of flu virus mistakenly sent to Bermuda, among other places. It was confirmed yesterday that we were, indeed, among the intended recipients, and that the College of American Pathologists intended to use the virus as a test of the proficiency of our lab and others to correctly identify the virus.

This is my concern: One radio station here this morning said the vials had been received and destroyed some time ago. The daily newspaper says the same thing. The other radio station quoted Bermuda's Chief Medical Officer, Dr John Cann, though, as having said, on the air, that the vials had not yet arrived in Bermuda. I believe he's probably got the story straight, since he's in charge. Depending on who you listen to, they were sent either last October or last November. I know the mail between here and the US can sometimes be a little inefficient (don't get me started on that subject), but what kind of mail takes five or six months to get here? I'm interpreting what has been said in various places to mean that the CAP sent the virus to us via the Pan American Health Organisation, an arm of the World Health Organisation, but could that roundabout route count for much?

Officials in many publications in the US are being quoted as being optimistic that everything's fine, and that the vials of virus will all be destroyed within a few days. Even WHO itself says the risk is low. But we haven't even got ours yet. What kind of mail is it that takes all that time? Even a nurse in a damn rowboat should have been able to get here faster.

Palestinian journalists are protesting low wages and high interference in their work. The Jerusalem Post quotes one broadcast journalist as having said "Too many officials around [PA Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas are interfering with our work. They think the station should serve as their private public relations department."

The Post says "In a move that has alienated many Palestinian journalists, the PA recently decided to unify all government-controlled mass media under the jurisdiction of Shaath's ministry. The PA also decided to establish an 'executive media council' headed by Shaath to oversee the work of the media - a move seen by Palestinian journalists as an attempt by the Palestinian leadership to tighten its grip on newspapers and TV and radio stations. 'Palestinian journalists were expecting the new regime of Abu Mazen [Abbas] to treat them in a fair manner and to give them their full rights,' said columnist Khaled Musmar. 'They were also optimistic when the new minister of information was appointed and made many promises to improve their conditions. But they are now disappointed that none of the promises have been fulfilled.'"

This is a little gem of a story about the late, much lamented Frank Zappa. It was written by Germaine Greer, and increases my respect for her intelligence as a writer and an observer.

"I came to rock'n'roll late, via rhythm and blues," she writes. "I was never all that convinced by the posturings of the top earners with their lip service to the anti-war movement and the counter culture. I knew the Fugs long before I knew Zappa, and listened to his music in the same spirit, seeing it as an ironic, sometimes savagely satirical version of mass culture.

"I almost certainly imagined him to be a lot more radical than he was; I never doubted that he took drugs - which he didn't - and I thought he probably helped himself to the heaps of groupies that were lying around - he didn't. He loved his wife and the children he had with her too much for that. Where he was radical, and this I didn't get, was in his music. All the touring and recording was to finance his composing. What seemed to me to be satire was indeed disabused pastiche. He was doing it and doubting it at the same time...

"I didn't know about his concerts in celebration of the work of Edgar Varese; nor did I know that he has been a fan of Varese ever since he was a schoolboy. He conducted memorial concerts for Varese in New York and San Francisco; in 1993, four months before his death, Frank conducted the Ensemble Modern in a full programme of Varese. The Ensemble Modern also recorded an album of Zappa's compositions called The Yellow Shark. Four months later Frank was dead."

The Guardian has an interesting little feature this morning, publishing the comments of several people connected with the arts on the meaning of Lucian Freud's new painting, The Painter Is Surprised by a Naked Admirer. I was surprised at the superficiality of some of the comments. I was also intrigued by the comments of one of his models, Louise Liddell, who is not the one depicted in the painting, apparently. There's a book in her few words, in the light of this story, in the Times, which quotes a Welch patron of the arts, Sir David Williams-Wynn, as having confirmed that the model in the picture is his daughter, Alexandra. She says she and the painter are very good friends. "I don't really want a fuss being made of the fact a 32-year-old might be with an 82-year-old," she said last year. "I want to be a will-o'-the-wisp about such things." Mmmm.

David Brooks of the New York Times again: "It is impossible to set up legitimate global authorities because there is no global democracy, no sense of common peoplehood and trust. So multilateral organizations can never look like legislatures, with open debate, up or down votes and the losers accepting majority decisions. Instead, they look like meetings of unelected elites, of technocrats who make decisions in secret and who rely upon intentionally impenetrable language, who settle differences through arcane fudges. Americans, like most peoples...will never accept global governance because it inevitably devolves into corruption. The panoply of UN scandals flows from a single source: the lack of democratic accountability. These supranational organizations exist in their own insular, self-indulgent aerie." Good column.

13 April 2005

A scandal which has been bubbling away in local newspapers for a couple of weeks, now, seems to have hit at least one newspaper in the US. The Philadelphia Daily News (you'll need to register) reports that "Tina Poitevien, the top investment adviser to the city pension fund, is under fire in Bermuda, accused of importing pay-to-play politics from Philadelphia. The Mid-Ocean News reported this month that Poitevien arranged a Washington, DC, lunch in 2002 for a Bermudian Cabinet minister and sent invitations - at $2,500 a plate - to investment managers interested in doing business with the Bermudian pension system. At least a few of the luncheon guests are now managing some of Bermuda's pension money, according to the newspaper."

What the Daily News hasn't reported, at least fully, is the extraordinary conduct of Bermuda's Premier in the wake of the Mid-Ocean's story. In response to a call from the Opposition Leader here to discipline the Cabinet Minister, Alex Scott said, through a spokesman, that since he wasn't Premier when the lunch occurred, it was really none of his business! Lewis Carroll would have been jealous, I think.

There must be some mistake in this story (published in many media this morning, including the LA Times), which alleges that vials of a deadly flu were sent to a bunch of labs outside the US some years ago, including one in Bermuda. I can't imagine what we'd do with it - our lab is a diagnostic, not a research facility.

This really is my idea of an outrage. The Washington Post reports that Luis Posada Carriles, who it describes as "a CIA-trained Cuban exile implicated in a series of terrorist incidents", has applied for political asylum in the United States. This is not some romantic freedom fighter they're talking about, but a murderous prick who once blew up a plane-load of civilians. The fact that they were Cubans doesn't change the fact that they were civilians, putting him on an even footing with some of our present-day monsters like bin Laden or al Zarqawi or any of the rest of them.

Posada boasts that he flits in and out of the US more or less as he wants. His lawyer says he's "in hiding after recently slipping into the United States". He and three other Cuban exiles were mysteriously pardoned by Panama in August of last year after spending some years in jail there in connection with a plot to kill Fidel Castro at a Panamanian summit of Latin American leaders. The US denied it had anything to do with the decision, but flew all but Posada (who I guess was too hot to handle) to Miami immediately. The Washington Post carried that story as well.

The US seems recently to have figured out how to brush off the despots they backed in the Cold War years, but not how to deal with some of the ugly little bastards they recruited to kill for them in their dirty wars against communism closer to home. They should get cracking, because it is grossly hypocritical to be ranting and raving about human rights in Cuba in front of the UN's Human Rights Commission while at the same time contemplating the possibility of giving a man like Posada asylum.

Members of the European Parliament, who I must say don't seem easily embarrassed, have vetoed attempts to clean up their financial act. The Telegraph reports that "In a series of votes carried by a margin of six to four at a full session of the parliament in Strasbourg, MEPs resisted proposals for audits of their accounts and turned down calls to impose sanctions on those found to have defrauded the taxpayer. The votes 'gave an all-clear to embezzlement', said Chris Davies MEP, the leader of the British Liberal Democrats in the parliament."

Haaretz says the Israel Defense Forces arrested a 15-year-old Palestinian boy yesterday, who was carrying five pipe bombs at a busy West Bank checkpoint. Figure he had them for his own use?

The Christian Science Monitor, in its own rather understated way, is giving blogs the credit for making a Canadian judge change his mind about trying to keep testimony in a criminal case secret because of its political sensitivity. "The Internet has perhaps rendered publication bans futile. Whether that is a good thing can be debated. Freedom should not be mistaken for license. But given the level of alleged corruption exposed by the secret testimony, first at Captain's Quarters, and now all over mainstream Canadian media, it is difficult to argue that Canadians shouldn't be grateful for this clash of the blog and the ban."

The Monitor doesn't mention it, but the publication of the banned testimony may yet also cause the Canadian government to call a snap election to settle the political fallout from its publication.

Kofi Annan...Kofi A Annan, as he's calling himself in the New York Times today, is once again urging countries that have pledged money for an international crisis to pink up. This time, he's talking about Darfur, but I thought this piece of his was really rather confusing. He talks about the billions of dollars pledged by first world countries, but then says he needs "thousands more" from African countries. Does he mean dollars, or soldiers?

Then he sort of apologises for a year's worth of inaction by the UN...or does he?

"The International Commission of Inquiry, which I appointed at the request of the United Nations Security Council, has amply documented the murder, mass rapes, abductions and other atrocities committed in Darfur, as have many others. We know what is happening in Darfur. The question is, why are we not doing more to put an end to it? Last summer, the Security Council, the United States and the European Union all said Darfur was their top priority. But it was only last month that the Security Council agreed to impose sanctions on people who commit violations of international law in Darfur and, in a historic first, to refer the situation in Darfur to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, thus taking a critical step toward ending the prevailing climate of impunity.

"After all, giving aid without protection is like putting a Band-Aid on an open wound. Unarmed aid workers, while vitally necessary, cannot defend civilians from murder, rape or violent attack. Our collective failure to provide a much larger force is as pitiful and inexcusable as the consequences are grave for the tens of thousands of families who are left unprotected...In this watershed year for Sudan, it is vital that the international community move speedily to provide the resources to consolidate a fragile peace in the south, and to protect civilians from recurring violence in Darfur. We know what we need: money to help win the peace in the south, more African Union boots on the ground to help end the atrocities in Darfur, and political pressure to settle the conflict. It's that simple, and that essential."

He seems determined to be running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, never acknowledging that he himself had a significant role in what is yet another badly screwed-up UN endeavour.

12 April 2005

The New York Post says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's son, Kojo, "is a target of new investigations into whether he violated his controversial deal with a Swiss firm that won a major UN oil-for-food contract...Sources told The Post that lawyers for the Swiss company, Cotecna Inspections, as well as the commission headed by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker are investigating recent mysterious payments to Kojo Annan from the French firm Socotec International Inspections. The payments from Socotec came despite the fact that Annan had signed a 'non-compete' deal with Cotecna in which he was secretly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from 1999 to 2004 not to work for business rivals."

For all the fuss that's being made in front of a grateful media, John Bolton's confirmation is a done deal. The SF Chronicle explains that the Republicans simply have the numbers on their side. And there's some staunch support out there for the man. Brett Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation, for example, or Bill Kristol in the Weekly Standard. My problem with Bolton is ridiculously un-scientific, I know, but powerful for me, nonetheless. There's some kind of disconnect between the way he looks and the way he ought to look. He doesn't seem the fearless, insightful, efficient reformer he's made out to be. To me, he looks like a man who struggles with ugly demons.

Britain's Chief Rabbi has condemned the National Union of Students after three of its officials, who are Jewish, resigned last week over a perceived failure to tackle anti-semitism on campuses. They claimed the union's leadership was "turning a blind eye" to anti-semitic leaflets being distributed at conference and a series of rows on campuses throughout the year. The Guardian has more.

Meantime, over on the other side of the Atlantic, the fat lady is obviously not yet ready to sing in the Columbia University anti-Semitism controversy. Blogger Paul Mirengoff explains why in the Weekly Standard.

These two stories aptly demonstrate the way pre-election politics in Britain is conducted. Sometimes it seems the newspapers do more fighting than the politicians, and sometimes it seems more like the Hatfields and the McCoys than the Blairs and the Howards. This is the Telegraph on how Labour's lies have torpedoed the party's election strategy, while the Guardian explains its dismal view of the Tory election strategy.

It's almost not worth doing this kind of study, for all the difference it makes to the entrenched opinions of those fighting towers in their neighbourhoods. Nonetheless, as the Independent reports, "One of the most comprehensive studies into the dangers of mobile phones has found no link between how often they are used and the risk of developing brain tumours."

Holland is in a tizzy over a rediscovered silent movie, Beyond the Rocks, which stars Gloria Swanson and Rudolf Valentino. The Guardian says "Paramount advertised the picture as 'an enthralling procession of stirring incidents, marvellous gowns and startling settings'. Reviewers were not kind. It was reported that audiences laughed and jeered when Valentino saved Gloria's life just once too often, on the pasteboard Alps. The 2005 black-tie audience were more respectful, and what most strikes a modern viewer is that, tosh though it may be, Beyond the Rocks is played with skill and sincerity.

Here's the plot: "Theodora Fitzgerald (Swanson) is an English rose who marries an elderly millionaire for the sake of her impoverished family, but really loves handsome Lord Bracondale (Valentino). They try to suppress their passion. When Theodora's husband discovers the truth he decides to sacrifice himself on a dangerous North African expedition where he is obligingly assassinated by bandits. As he dies he tenderly joins the hands of Theodora and Bracondale."

Could it get any better?

11 April 2005

Liberals who arm themselves with pies and cakes to throw at conservatives on public occasions, says the Washington Times, are no better than fascists.

The Times has published an obituary of an extraordinary Canadian who was also a Governor of Bermuda for some years. Sir Edwin Leather came to Bermuda a few months after the murder of his predecessor, Sir Richard Sharples, in 1973. He was determined to shake up the then-slow-as-treacle investigation into Sir Richard's death, and succeeded. Two men were hanged for their part in the crime just after Sir Edwin left office.

The Times alludes to bad blood between Sir Edwin and the Bermudian establishment during his term of office, putting it down to his (admittedly rather unfortunate) habit of playing the drums and singing Mack the Knife at parties. I can reveal that the real Bermudian sniff-fest began when, without warning, he stopped serving booze at Government House garden parties on the Queen's Birthday. Not even Fu Manchu could have thought up a more dastardly strike against the cherished proprieties of the relationship between the citizens of a loyal Colony and its Mother Country. The incident quite finished Sir Edwin in Certain Quarters, and...surprise, surprise...he was not invited to serve a second term.

For scientists, 2005 is a year in which to celebrate the achievements of Albert Einstein. But, as the Guardian notes this morning, the focus doesn't mean everything they say about him is always clotted cream and strawberry jam. Scientists gathering for a conference about him at Warwick University in England, for example, are trying to disprove his theory that the speed of light is a constant. If their theory is correct, "it means that something called the fine structure constant - a measure of the strength of electromagnetic force that holds atoms together - has changed by about 0.001% since the big bang. The speed of light depends on the fine structure constant. If one varies with time then the other probably does too, meaning Einstein got it wrong."

But even that's not as bad as the conclusion to which columnist Peter Mehiman says he's come in the LA Timesthis morning. In an open letter to the scientist, Mehiman says: "My main problem with you, Albert, is that, with your brains, you could have helped humanity so much more than you did. But you squandered everything on physics, a science that is, at best, worthy of a hobby." Mehiman thinks that if Uncle Albert had been serious, he would have found a way of making diet Coke taste just like Coke, among other things.

Amazon.com is expanding into on-demand printing, according to the New York Times. "The company...purchased BookSurge, a book printing business based in Charleston, SC, that specializes in so-called on-demand printing. BookSurge, which was privately held, is among a handful of companies spawned during the dot-com boom that rely on Internet technology to print a few books at a time, or even one at a time.

"The services have been most popular with writers who are unable or unwilling to strike deals with publishing houses, and who do not want to spend thousands of dollars to complete a print run of, say, 2,000 books on a traditional offset press. Publishers, too, have used digital printing companies to satisfy small orders of obscure titles."

Clever move.

"Even in the face of continuing violence, there's a palpable sense of optimism in Iraq these days. The country's post-war election, held in January this year, appears to have boosted commerce and sales in the country - one of several signs that Iraqis are hopeful about their future." That's Oz blogger Arthur Chrenkoff's take on the situation there, published this morning in the Wall Street Journal.

"Baghdad's heavily commercial Karrada Street, for example, has its hustle back...Growing consumer confidence is a small, but critical economic step for Iraq, a country that needs to take many to get back on its feet.

"There is a ripple effect: Iraqis are enjoying higher salaries and buying big-ticket consumer products, like washing machines. And the growth in sales is leading to more jobs in commercial districts like Karrada Street. The job growth is small, but in a country with 30 percent unemployment, every job counts. And the employment revival is not only seen on Karrada Street. From Baghdad's airport to Sadr City's sewers, more and more reconstruction jobs are now going to Iraqis rather than foreign contractors."

10 April 2005

Max Rodenbeck has made a fine reputation for himself, writing about the Middle East for The Economist. The New York Review of Books has published a long, thoroughly worthwhile article by him this week, on the current political struggle in Lebanon. "...This statelet, which was subtracted by French imperialists from greater Syria, has suddenly found itself to be the fine point upon which the fate of a much wider region balances. That sounds an oversized claim, but an extraordinary passion play has been unfolding in Beirut over the last few weeks. It is a drama that happens to pit forces which, in a particularly stark fashion, seem to represent the competing narratives that will ultimately define the Arabs' vision of their recent past and soon-to-be-revealed destiny...

"...Aside from its nominal control of the country's weapons and the threat of violent sabotage that carries a risk of alienating ever more ordinary Lebanese, the loyalist action is weak. Yet the opposition is hardly strong, either. So far, it has proved capable of mustering huge, enthusiastic crowds. Having the sympathy of most of Lebanon's press corps, as well as the backing of its main private broadcasters, the opposition has also won the battle for public opinion hands down. But the assassination of Rafik Hariri has left it with no leaders to match the stature of Hassan Nasrallah, for example. Such figureheads as it has are, in many cases, tainted by their civil war pasts...

"Yet there is another, wholly new element that plays to the advantage of the opposition. This is the intangible yet powerful sense that a deep historical process is at work. Lebanon was created, in the wake of World War I, by a convergence of Maronite ambition and French colonial legerdemain. It was economically successful but failed as a nation-state. The Lebanese never seemed quite able to settle the core question of identity, never able to achieve a shared sense of belonging. The dominant Christians tilted too far toward the West; this led to a loss of control and then a tilt too far toward the East.

"That balance is now shifting to the center. Those vast, flag-waving throngs in the streets of Beirut showed themselves, if only fleetingly and in spite of their differences, to share a common pride and a common vision. Sectarian hotheads and saboteurs certainly still lurk in the shadows. But a chance has emerged, and it is one that most Lebanese would love to grasp, of creating a real nation at last."

Time Warner seems to have understood more quickly than the rest of us what a huge new audience for pop entertainment China represents. People's Daily reports that the US media giant has formed a partnership with the China Arts and Entertainment Group, and has co-produced a stage musican version of Casablanca. It had its world premiere in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Friday night, and the audience loved it.

People's Daily explains that "The film Casablanca, shot in 1942 by Warner Brothers, is popular in China for its tragic love story and heroic and patriotic themes. Many Chinese people can sing the classic song As Time Goes By' or recite some of the film's dialogue."

Victor Davis Hanson, classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has joined the ranks of those who feel the United Nations should move out of the United States in order to improve its contact with and understanding of the realities of the world. In the Washington Times, he recites a familiar story: "A half-century of Soviet bloc politics poisoned the body. Dictatorships that killed millions of their own had a say equal to many Western democracies. Third World countries were silent about the 80 million butchered by Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung and the millions more lost in African and Asian tribal and religious wars. Instead, more than 400 UN resolutions gratuitously targeted tiny democratic Israel - without equal condemnation of its autocratic neighbors or concern for China's annexation of Tibet or Russia's absorbing the disputed Sakhalin Islands. The terrorist Yasser Arafat addressed the General Assembly with a holster - to applause. Autocratic Cuba, Iran, Libya and Syria sat on or even chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights. UN blue helmets could do nothing to save innocent millions in Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkans and Darfur.

"The hallowed Western liberal idea that collective reason should trump force works with democracies, but how does one persuade a Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il or Saddam Hussein to stop murdering his own people and others, without some credible threat of force? While the US legislative, judicial and executive branches check one another, who or what watchdogs the UN?"

The Washington Post highlights the frustration of American parents, "who are growing increasingly resentful of paying sky-high tuition for colleges they see offering their kids a menu of questionable courses and politically absurd campus climates that detract from the quality of a university education."

There aren't many people in the world who can write well about architecture. Nicolai Ouroussoff, for my money, is one of the best of those who can. In the New York Times this morning, he's singing the praises of Rem Koolhaas's new Casa da Musica in Oporto, in Portugal. "Few people would question the quality of Rem Koolhaas's mind: he has long been celebrated as one of architecture's most audacious thinkers. But his recently completed Casa da Musica here is something new for him - a building whose intellectual ardor is matched by its sensual beauty.

"Set at the dividing line between the city's historic quarter and a working-class neighborhood, the building houses a 1,300-seat performance hall, rehearsal space and recording studios for the Oporto National Orchestra. Its smoothly chiseled concrete form, pierced by the rigid rectangular box of the main hall, is the most overtly seductive form Mr. Koolhaas has created yet."

Pollution? Smog? Rain? Disease? Even, maybe, global warming? It's the dandruff, dummkopf!


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

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