...Views from mid-Atlantic
23 April 2005

The Washington Times is carrying a story about a teacher who altered the US Pledge of Allegiance to try to make it more politically correct. As she led her eighth grade charges through their recitation, the paper reported, instead of 'one nation, under God,' she said, 'one nation, under your belief system.' Quite rightly, there has been an uproar. I imagine Americans will be upset about an attempt to alter something they consider inviolate, something connected with the birth of their nation. As a non-American, I think of it slightly differently - as an ugly, mindless assault by someone who obviously doesn't understand syntax on something beautifully expressed.

Quite coincidentally, a friend sent me an article yesterday that appeared in City Journal quite a long time ago, about the price that is to be paid by educators' failure to make schoolchildren memorise poetry, these days. It is an article that I wrote about in Pondblog back in October of last year, but I'm going to link to it again, because it talks about what a huge part memorization plays in building up an 'ear' for English, and therefore in building up students' ability to use English well.

The article, written by Michael Knox Beran, can be read here. It says the student who memorizes poetry will internalize the rhythmic, beautiful patterns of the English language. These patterns then become part of the student's language store, "those wells that we all use every day in writing and speaking."

"The memorization and recitation of the classic utterances of poets and statesmen form part of a tradition of learning that stretches back to classical antiquity, when the Greeks discovered that words and sounds - and the rhythmic patterns by which they were bound together in poetry - awakened the mind and shaped character. They made poetry the foundation of their pedagogy. Athenian schoolboys learned by heart the poetry of Homer, through which they gained mastery of their language and their culture. They memorized as well, in versified form, the civic pronouncements of Solon, the founder of the Athenian political tradition."

It's worth reading.

Somewhere on the net this morning, there's an article that observes, lightheartedly, that this has been a wonderful year for obituary writers...what with this and that. The Times is always at the head of that particular field, and is up to their usual standard with this well-done tribute to "Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, the Scottish sculptor, collagist, printmaker and film-maker." He was "was one of the most influential artists in postwar Britain. Widely esteemed as one of the fathers of British Pop Art, he left an imposing legacy of monumental civic sculptures and made substantial donations of his works and his collections of popular ephemera to leading museums."

The Times alludes to his humour. I'm not sure the writer adequately conveys, though, how that translated. He was a most extraordinarily witty, insightful artist. He didn't do humour, he did clever.

Ariel Sharon is not a man I'd describe as easy to read at the best of times. But now, with so much going on in the Middle East, he seems a particularly distant and enigmatic figure. So this lengthy interview with him at a time when he is trying to walk a tightrope over a pit full of the hungriest of tigers, published in the Jerusalem Post this morning, is fascinating. I'm particularly interested in the way he's handling the settlers who are losing their homes, so I offer this as a sample:

Post: Do you understand the anger of people who voted for you and who now say that you are not doing what they anticipated you would as prime minister?

Sharon: "I think that the settlers are going through really a very difficult crisis. For me this was a very hard decision, perhaps the hardest decision I have ever had to make. So, it's completely clear to me that from the settlers' point of view, it pains them even more. In every generation here, there was a group that led. In the last generation, it was the settlers who led. They led in settlement, they led to a great extent in security and today they feel rejected. That's very grave and very dangerous.

"The fact is that Israel's problems are not over. We have to look to the day after. Anyone who thinks that there'll be this or that agreement and that, after that, Israel can rest on its laurels – that won't be the situation. The Jews will always have to stand firm. So these political things you hear [criticizing the settlement enterprise]: that it was all a waste, that it was all for nothing, that Israel's economic situation is a consequence of what was and that the fatalities we've sustained were a consequence of the settlement enterprise – I see this as very dangerous.

"Now, when I speak to [the settlers], I say, 'I don't think that these things were in vain. People say that you didn't achieve anything? I say you achieved a great deal.' I say to them, 'We had a dream and the dream was not realized in full. But there have been very great achievements.'"

In the Guardian, Canadian poet and author Margaret Atwood recalls a trip to Europe in 1964 in an excerpt from her book Curious Pursuits: Occasional Writings. It's long, amusing, nicely written and, on a grey Saturday morning, as comforting as sugary milk..."I did get to Stonehenge, incidentally. I felt at home with it. It was pre-rational, and pre-British, and geological. Nobody knew how it had arrived where it was, or why, or why it had continued to exist; but there it sat, challenging gravity, defying analysis. In fact, it was sort of Canadian. 'Stonehenge', I would say to the next mournful-looking European man who tried to pick me up. That would do the trick."

You won't be allowed to forget she's a poet: "...I was supersaturated with culture; waterlogged, so to speak. If someone had stepped on my head, a stream of dissolved brochures would have poured forth."

22 April 2005

In a long City Journal piece, writer Kay S. Hymowitz tries to figure out what truth it is that comedian Bill Cosby has put his finger on when he criticises black parents. "Let's start with a difficult truth behind Cosby's rant: 40 years and trillions of government dollars have not given black and white children equal chances. Put aside the question of the public schools for now; the problem begins way before children first go through their shabby doors. Black kids enter school significantly below their white peers in everything from vocabulary to number awareness to self-control. According to a 1998 National Center for Education Statistics survey of kindergarten teachers, black children are much less likely to show persistence in school tasks, to pay close attention in class, or to seem eager to learn new things than are their white counterparts; Hispanic children fall midway in between. As a 2002 book from the liberal Economic Policy Institute, Inequality at the Starting Gate, puts it, 'disadvantaged [disproportionately black] children start kindergarten with significantly lower cognitive skills than their more advantaged counterparts...'

"Cosby struck many as insufficiently sensitive to the challenges that the inner-city poor face. Perhaps. But the people pouring into his lectures were not looking for sympathy. They were looking for inspiration, a vision of a better self implicit in Cosby’s chastisements. This is a self that procedural parenting ignores."

Victor Davis Hanson lists some lessons that the war on terror should have taught in his National Review column this week. "The events that followed September 11 are the most complex in our history since the end of World War II, and require far more skill and intuition than even what American diplomats needed in the Cold War, when they contained a nuclear but far more predictable enemy. Since 9/11 we have endured a baffling array of shifting and expedient pronouncements and political alliances, both at home and abroad. So we now expect that most who profess support for democratization abroad do so only to the degree that - and as long as - the latest hourly news from Iraq is not too bad.

"One of the most disheartening things about this war is the realization that on any given day, a number of once-stalwart supporters will suddenly hedge, demand someone’s resignation, or bail, citing all sorts of legitimate grievances without explaining that none of their complaints compares to past disappointments in prior successful wars - and without worry that the only war in which America was defeated was lost more at home than abroad.

"Yet if we get through all this with the extinction of Islamic-fascist terrorism and an end to the Middle East autocracy that spawned and nurtured it - and I think we are making very good progress in doing just that and in less than four years - it will only be because of the superb quality of the American military and the skilful diplomacy of those who have so temperately unleashed it."

Columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave seems to be one of those journalists who are troubled by blogs. In the Washington Times, he quotes National Security Agency and Defense Information Agency experts as having said there are "more than 180 million blogs all over the world". But, says de Borchgrave, bloogers are "frustrated would-be editors, journalists, private detectives and a multitude of others craving recognition," whose favourite topic is sex. When it's not sex, we're apparently being used to pass terrorist messages back and forth.

de Borchgrave is billed by the Times as its editor-at-large. He ought to be its editor-at-pasture.

The lead on Benny Avni's New York Sun story is that there is a financial tie between Paul Volcker, the head of the probe into the UN Oil-for-Food scandal, and Maurice Strong, the UN official now being investigated because of ties to South Korean fixer Tongsun Park. But the most important facts are much further down in the story, presumably because the Sun knew it would be competing with stories in half the newspapers in the world if it used them as its lead.

"According to a top researcher at the Heritage Foundation, Nile Gardiner, the Bush administration might drop its support of Mr. Annan in the coming months. 'It is looking increasingly likely that the Bush administration may express no confidence in the secretary-general, as the situation continues to deteriorate for Kofi Annan,' he told the Sun. Mr. Gardiner yesterday urged Mr. Volcker to resign following Mr. Parton's departure.

Mr. Gardiner said that the investigators' resignations 'undermine the credibility' of the committee, and that Mr. Volcker's continued leadership seems 'untenable' as a result. The resignations 'cast a huge shadow on Mr. Volcker's ability to continue as chairman of the inquiry committee,' Mr. Gardiner said."

In a related story, Toronto's Globe and Mail focuses on the South Korean at the center of this emerging story: "In his heyday three decades ago, Tongsun Park was known as 'the Onassis of the Orient' and the 'Oriental Gatsby', a socialite par excellence whose famous Georgetown parties attracted the likes of Spiro Agnew and Frank Sinatra.

'He had a very beautiful home and he entertained a lot,' says C. Wyatt Dickerson, an old Washington friend and sometime business associate of Mr. Park, recalling how ambassadors, senators and congressmen would often turn up at Mr. Park's elaborate soirees."

Ralph Moore's work with miniature roses has earned him the reputation of being "one of the greatest rosarians of all time". The LA Times explains: "If you've ever looked at a miniature rose and wondered, 'How'd they do that?' the answer is: a lifetime's work, and not by a 'they,' but a he. Ralph Moore. In a career spanning 77 years, the founder of Sequoia Nursery in Visalia has single-handedly created the market for rose bushes that could grow on a window sill. Virtually every miniature on the market is a hybrid stemming from hundreds of miniatures he has registered with the American Rose Society.

He's seen roses with good flowers but bad foliage, good foliage but bad flowers. Roses prone to black spot, mildew, rust. Beautiful roses that died young, ugly roses that thrived. He's bred miniatures as small as your thumbnail, and crossbred them to give large, ranging plants shape. His search for the hardiest, most beautiful plants for American gardens has been so sustained, so discriminating, that rose geneticist David Byrne of Texas A&M University calls him the 'David Austin of miniature roses.' Marilyn Wellan, president of the American Rose Society, seconds this and adds, 'I believe he is one of the greatest rosarians of all time.'"

The Palestinian Authority has suspended a senior Muslim religious judge who criticised its judicial system and complained about anarchy and lawlessness, according to the Jerusalem Post. "The decision, the first of its kind since the death of Yasser Arafat, contravenes promises made by his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, to democratize Palestinian society and encourage freedom of expression. The kadi, Dr. Hassan Jouju, was suspended following an interview he gave to the Jerusalem-based biweekly Sawt al-Nissa (Voice of Women) on April 14. 'The Shari'a (Muslim religious law) judiciary suffers due to the lack of legislation that regulates work, so chaos has spread,' he said in the interview."

At least the PA is sophisticated enough to allow voting - some Muslims have difficulty with even that concept, as the Guardian reports. "The extreme Islamist group accused of threatening George Galloway and hijacking a meeting of moderate Muslims is planning to step up its direct action campaign to stop fellow believers from participating in the election."

21 April 2005

The Miami Herald has joined the ranks of those who oppose giving citizenship to Luis Posada, a long-time CIA operative who has been accused of blowing up an airliner full of innocent civilians in the course of a long career of trying to bring down Fidel Castro's regime. In an editorial, the paper says "We, too, want Cuba freed of Castro and his dictatorship. But coddling or encouraging those who sow terror and kill civilians isn't the answer. Those are Castro's means and the means of other Cuban dictators before him. Such violence doesn't bring peace, much less democracy or the rule of law - only more violence. Being sympathetic to Mr. Posada's goals is no reason to excuse his terrorist past."

Maurice Strong, the senior UN official who, in the wake of allegations that South Korean fixer Tongsun Park had bribed two senior UN officials, admitted he was Park's good friend, has stepped aside as UN envoy to North Korea while an investigation is conducted, according to the Washington Post.

Meantime, ABC News, like many other media, reported that "Two senior investigators with the committee probing corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program have resigned in protest, saying they believe a report that cleared Kofi Annan of meddling in the $64 billion operation was too soft on the secretary-general...The investigators felt the Independent Inquiry Committee, led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, played down findings critical of Annan when it released an interim report in late March related to his son, said Mark Pieth, one of three leaders of the committee."

I should note that this story was broken this week by the well-known California mystery novelist, screenwriter and blogger, Roger L. Simon, who, like reporter Claudia Rosett, has taken a special interest in corruption at the UN.

Many French voters, the Times believes, no longer believe a word Jacques Chirac utters. The harder he tries to convince them to vote for the European Constitution, the lesss likely it is that they will, the paper believes. "The French do not think they like this constitution (about whose contents they are almost as vague as were the enthusiastic Spaniards, and about which they are being told 15 incompatible things before breakfast). They also know beyond question that they do not like the Government appealing for their support. Yet this is no ordinary protest vote, rooted in domestic politics, since voters are similarly unmoved by the sight of the bitterly divided centre-left opposition tearing itself to shreds on the issue. No matter that a former President of France, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, presided over the Convention that drafted the EU treaty. Tant pis if their President tells them that rejection would make France the 'black sheep' of the EU and even, absurdly, that 'France would cease to exist politically'. To left and right, opposition swells.

"Many voters no longer believe a word Jacques Chirac utters. What is more, they quite fancy the role of Europe's black sheep. A third are undecided, a big enough margin to turn the result. But as campaigners increasingly concede, Non is in. Non is chic. "

Those credited with being Bermuda's official discoverers were shipwrecked here in a hurricane in 1609. They had been on their way from Britain with supplies and settlers for Jamestown, the troubled, shortlived first settlement in the New World. It was once thought that the site of Jamestown had been swallowed by a river, but it was re-discovered recently on dry land. Now, archaeologists and scientists think they've found the remains of Bartholomew Gosnold, who the Times describes as the unsung founder father of the US: "Although Captain Gosnold died within three months of arrival on American soil in 1607, he is credited with laying the foundations for the American legal system and government that remain to this day. He is also credited with naming Cape Cod after the fish that he found there and Martha's Vineyard, the island off the southern Cape coast, in remembrance of his daughter, who died in infancy.

"It is argued that had he not assembled and funded his crew of adventurers, who set off on the Godspeed 13 years before the Pilgrim Fathers set sail, the United States of America would now be a Spanish- speaking nation."

Quirky little story in the Guardian establishes that Francis Poulenc and Sergei Prokoviev used to play bridge together in Paris. So what? Well...the point is, the Guardian says, that one comes to think of composers who enrich one's life as personal benefactors, "and the more one knows about them, even at a trivial level, the closer the links seem to be. If you believe in an afterlife you might even hope to meet them one day. If you don't, it's the best chance you will get of a moment in their company."

20 April 2005

AlJazeera is reporting that a bill allowing women to vote and run in municipal elections in Kuwait for the first time has passed its first reading. It must pass a second reading, in this kind of political system, in about two weeks time, then be signed into effect by Kuwait's ruler. "The bill," AlJazeera says, "passed on a 26-20 vote, with three abstentions. It was also backed by 13 cabinet ministers as well as liberal and Shiite Muslim MPs." Past efforts to grant political rights to women have not been successful.

A Stanford University study has dramatically corroborated the notion that if you set high standards for children at school, you get good results. The Washington Times reports that earlier studies had suggested that "The secret of success...is setting high expectations focused on real achievement measured by frequent testing, not fuzzy, feel-good criteria dictated by some educator's whim. Also important, the study found successful schools aligned their curriculum to meet state standards and - not surprisingly - provided extra help for students in need.

"A recent Stanford University study dramatically corroborated these findings, and should finally put to rest the education establishment's hand-wringing over the supposedly deleterious effects of standards and testing. The Stanford study demonstrated high accountability and extensive testing led to high scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, particularly among African-American and Hispanic students. Stronger accountability did not increase dropouts, or cause more students to be left behind, as some feared. On the contrary, the analysis showed greater progress for both at-risk and gifted students."

Kofi Annan has upset the US, France and Britain by acceeding to a Syrian request to delay publication of a report, written by UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, which will say that Syria has not fully complied with the UN call to leave Lebanon, particularly on withdrawal of intelligence agents in Lebanon. It also calls for a verification mission to be dispatched soon to Lebanon to make a formal assessment, according to Western diplomats who are concerned that Assad is trying to preempt the report or force it to be revised and weakened. The Washington Post says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French President Jacques Chirac telephoned Annan on Monday to urge him not to agree to a request from Syrian President Bashar Assad to delay the report, to no avail. The Western nations feel that Annan's agreement will encourage Damascus to think it can manipulate or delay the final phase of its pullout.

Claudia Rosett is criticising some other decisions Annan's made in the Wall Street Journal this morning. "...How is the UN handling the possibility that some of its high-ranking officials may be under investigation for sitting on illicit millions in secret payoffs from a former totalitarian regime under sanctions? In any private company, or any democratic government, this would fill top management not only with dismay, but with an urgent mission to ransack the place to the rafters, immediately.

"At the UN, there has been no sign of any such urgency. At a press briefing Monday, Kofi Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, when asked for details that might help identify the accused officials, told reporters to go check the library (where reporters were told the materials needed were not on file).

Ms Rosett argues that Annan responds to trouble by simply ordering up reform of the organisation to take the heat out of the situation and moving on. "Mr. Annan is now planning another UN reform jamboree this September," she says. "Brace yourself."

The Times's religious writer, Daniel Johnson, says the BBC's got it wrong in trying to figure out whether Benedict XVI is going to be a liberal or a conservative. His choice is really going to be between more secular and less secular, he says. Johnson's probably right, but it's not just the BBC, the media generally don't get the meaning of politics in the lives of people like popes, and judges.

"The Papacy," he writes, "is the oldest and most successful institution in the world. Asking the Pope to abandon or water down Catholic doctrine would be like asking him to abolish his own office...As usual, the BBC got the story all wrong. The task for the new Pope is not to take sides between liberals and conservatives. Nor was that the choice the cardinals faced in this extraordinarily rapid conclave. All cardinals are, by definition, conservative.

"No, the great issue for Pope Benedict XVI is the one that he set out in his remarkable sermon at the preconclave Mass in St Peter's. Does he wish to lead the Church down the primrose path of secularism, following the Christian heartlands of Europe in their descent into moral relativism, or does he intend to turn towards the new missionary Church of Latin America, Africa and Asia, to reaffirm the faith of Christ, the faith of St Peter, the faith of John Paul II? That is the real choice."

Meantime, EBay has moved to stop the auction of a Eucharist wafer said to have been blessed by Pope John Paul II. As the Washington Times notes, bids had gone from $189 to nearly $2 million. "Online auction house EBay yesterday urged a seller to end the sale of a Eucharist wafer purportedly blessed by Pope John Paul II after officials determined they couldn't verify 'outrageous' bids. A British seller put the wafer on EBay on April 17 with an opening bid of $189. When EBay took the wafer off its site yesterday, the top bid was close to $2 million. This is the second wafer in two weeks that has been put up for bids, prompting outrage among Catholics. Catholics believe that once a wafer is consecrated by a priest, it becomes the body of Jesus Christ. Consuming the Eucharist is one of the religion's seven sacraments."

A Nobel Prize for Literature for Leonard Cohen? The Guardian lets its John Mullan do a little dreaming.

When science and cookery get together, apparently, it's not just the salad that gets tossed, a bunch of traditional ideas about how to get best results do as well. Take, for example, the way green vegetables are cooked. As the Guardian says, you're supposed to throw a little salt in a pan of boiling water and pop the vegetables in after it, taking care not to let the water come off the boil. That's great if you're cooking half a dozen beans, hopeless if you're trying to cook in a restaurant and, where the final result is concerned, without effect.

19 April 2005

Yesterday, Claudia Rosett did a little beating of the UN Oil-for-Food bushes in New York's Daily Sun (see yesterday's first post), in the wake of allegations that bribes were paid to two high ranking UN officers. Interesting to see who's scurrying around today! CBC says the Canadian Rosett thought might have some information about their identity, Maurice Strong, known sometimes as 'Mr UN', has admitted knowing the Korean said to have paid the the bribes, but "denied any part in the scandal that saw money diverted from humanitarian aid in Iraq to pay millions in kickbacks to former leader Saddam Hussein's regime."

And former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told the Associated Press that he, too, was "good friends" with Tongsun Park, the businessman accused of accepting millions of dollars from Iraq in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal.

Meantime, the Washington Times delivers a sharp rebuke to another senior UN official this morning: "Embattled UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrapped himself in the cloak of victimhood Thursday, as he attempted to shift blame for the scandal in the oil-for-food program to the United States and Great Britain. Mr. Annan complained that most of Saddam Hussein's ill-gotten gains came from smuggling that occurred outside of the program. He said that Washington and London 'knew exactly what was going on' and 'decided to close their eyes to smuggling.'

"It would be difficult to imagine a more dishonest, misleading account of history," the Times thunders.

John Keegan, the Telegraph 's highly-respected defence correspondent, has drawn attention to the British Labour Government's lack of support for the armed forces before. Today, he's being a little more specific about it - Gordon Brown's to blame!

"Tony Blair appears to be genuinely attached to the Armed Forces and to have concern for their welfare. Gordon Brown does not. Though acutely sensitive to accusations that he does not understand defence, he appears to share the Treasury view that the defence budget exists only to provide cuts to spend on other sectors of Labour's programme.

"How else to explain the decisions to reduce the strength of the infantry by four battalions, when the infantry in Iraq was grossly overstretched, to cut the size of the Navy's tiny escort fleet by six frigates when it could barely cover its commitments and to reduce further the number of combat aircraft available both to the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm? A particular concern, never addressed or even mentioned by the Prime Minister or the Chancellor, is that the operations of our Armed Forces, especially on the ground, are maintained by the commitment of our reserve forces to serve not only alongside but also within our regular units. The British contribution to the war in Iraq has been maintained only by committing about 30 per cent of the Territorial Army. It is not the role of the Territorials to make good deficiencies in the regular forces during times of general peace. The calls made upon Territorials, though cheerfully met, so interfere with their civilian occupations that recruiting is adversely affected.

"If Labour persists in this trend, it will end by doing serious damage to our reserve structure and also leaving our regular forces even shorter of operational manpower."

The National Association of Teachers of English is suggesting that English literature should be scrapped as a separate exam at A-level, according to the Independent. A report by the group says the subject fails to give youngsters the skills they need to write academic essays. "Instead," the Independent says, they believe "it concentrates too heavily on studying a small number of texts in detail, and writing about them without developing a broader understanding of current culture. As a result, the subject should be merged with the English language A-level, and include study of the modern media."

Claire Fox, of the Institute of Ideas and a former English teacher, said: "One suspects there is an irritating anti-elitist agenda at work here. The very act of reading great literature should help you develop an understanding of great literature and therefore help you improve your writing."

Anti-elitism is very much the usual suspect in British society at the moment...it's like watching the French Revolution in very, very slow motion.

Which came first, the Guardian's chicken or AlJazeera's egg?

A backlash is beginning to take shape against the highhanded tactics of US Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose much-publicised raids on the insurance industry have cost several people their jobs, including AIG's Hank Greenberg. The editor in chief of Chief Executive magazine, William J Holstein, has allowed the Wall Street Journal to use excerpts from an editorial to be published in his May issue this morning, which raises doubts about whether the contingent payments he is targeting really amount to the criminal bahaviour he alleges.

"One proper way to resolve this," writes Holstein, "would be to create a policy framework with clear rules, which does not currently exist. Another way would have been for the Securities and Exchange Commission to negotiate an earnings restatement with AIG. But Mr. Spitzer reportedly threatened a criminal indictment, which in effect would have put AIG out of business. Then he went on television to pronounce that the AIG transactions were 'wrong' and 'illegal', which some legal scholars say is unusual. It's not yet clear what the charges are. Nor has Mr. Spitzer heard Mr. Greenberg's side of the story.

"So the New York attorney general both charges and convicts in the court of public opinion. This pattern of overcriminalization is of deep concern to many chief executives. The proper process is for judges or juries to convict defendants only after convincing themselves that a charge has been proven 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' Too much publicity can be deemed prejudicial. At the same time, Mr. Spitzer's political ambitions are increasingly clear. He wants to use his record to become governor of New York. Mr. Spitzer's campaign office even paid Google to link a search for 'AIG' to a Web site promoting his campaign before it was quickly taken down. In the same television show where he discussed the AIG case, Mr. Spitzer said he was 'very close' to presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and didn't rule out a run for the vice presidency or presidency.

"Mr. Spitzer has thus created a reasonable doubt about whether he is using the legal process for political gain. An attorney general running for higher office is different than a senator running because it creates a risk that the legal system becomes politicized and is no longer seen as adhering to principles of fair play and due process. In short, Mr. Spitzer has a classic conflict of interest. The only way to resolve it is to resign as attorney general."

In the Weekly Standard, Irwin M. Stelzer, the director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute, is making some similar points: "The Spitzerization of companies goes like this: First, public accusation; then, threat of criminal charges and corporate ruin unless the accused waive their right to confidential access to counsel, and the board fires its CEO; and, in the end, a cash settlement in lieu of a trial that would determine the truth of his charges. Even this defender of Sarbanes-Oxley and corporate reform worries whether the happiest of ends justifies these means."

18 April 2005

In the New York Sun, Claudia Rosett is pushing a little on the story of the two unnamed UN officials who are said to have taken bribes in connection with the Oil-for-Food scandal. "We...know the grand jury thinks one of these mystery UN officials has close family business ties to Canada," she says, "and is acquainted with the South Korean lobbyist named in the indictment, Tongsun Park, alleged to have served as go-between for the bribes.

"At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his staff responded to questions about the identities of the mystery officials by saying they have received no information on this from federal prosecutors and are as much in the dark as anyone else. On Friday, Mr. Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, told the press: 'I wish I knew. I don't think anyone in this building knows.'

"Maybe Mr. Annan should ask a longtime United Nations undersecretary general, Maurice Strong, special adviser to the secretary-general since 1999 and currently Mr. Annan's personal envoy to the Korean Peninsula. The New York Sun is not asserting, or even suggesting, that Mr. Strong himself is one of the UN officials in question. But Mr. Strong's history indicates he might be especially well-placed to offer insights into at least the likely identity of UN official #2, who according to the indictment had family business ties to Canada, and along with UN official #1, met with Mr. Park sometime around 1996 - the year the flawed terms of oil-for-food took shape.

"Mr. Strong is a Canadian tycoon with extensive experience at the United Nations, where he has served as secretary-general of the 1992 Earth Summit, as chief architect of the Kyoto Treaty, and as the world body's guru of governance in the 1990s. Mr. Strong also has abundant connections in both North and South Korea. According to a recent dispatch from the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, Mr. Strong is also said to be acquainted with Mr. Park."

Meantime, Mark Malloch Brown, Kofi Annan's new chief of staff, was interviewed by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel recently. Germany is one of the countries being looked at as a possible new member of the Security Council, so it was interesting to see how Malloch-Brown handled the inevitable question: Should Germany become a permanent member?

Malloch Brown: The fact that the composition of the Security Council is no longer representative is becoming a real problem. That's why Kofi Annan has put forward two proposals for reform. Model A calls for expanding the Council from 15 to 24 members, including six new permanent seats. Model B would provide for a sort of semi-permanent membership for about four years. Both proposals would expand and strengthen Germany's role.

: Which one do you favor?

Malloch Brown: I have to be very careful not to take sides and spoil everything. But the so-called G4 candidates - Germany, Brazil, India and Japan - have a strong case. I'm sure they'll negotiate effectively. If necessary, the final outcome could fall somewhere between the two models."

Despite Donald Rumsfeld's warnings, the Shiite Muslim group leading the new government of Iraq are going to demand the removal of all top officials who played a part in Saddam Hussein's regime. The Washington Post says "The move would be part of a purge that US officials fear could oust thousands of the most capable Iraqis from military and intelligence forces the United States has spent more than $5 billion rebuilding. The Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance also will insist on trials for every former official, soldier or worker suspected of wrongdoing during that time, Hussain Shahristani, who helped form the Shiite alliance, said in an interview that outlined plans for handling members of Hussein's Baath Party in the armed forces and intelligence services."

I'm as bothered by global waming as the next human. But it has become a scratching post for a motley collection of exaggerators, liars, snake-oil salesmen and shameless self-promoters, all shouting Fire in the theatre. For them, I have nothing but contempt. I don't know whether the writer of this staggeringly frilly piece in Mother Jones is responsible, or his source, but one of the facts it alleges is nonsense. "Rising sea levels in the Atlantic," the article says, "have swallowed the coastal mangrove forests of Bermuda."

Perhaps it is true that thousands of years ago, Bermuda did have mangrove forests. We certainly don't have them now - we have little patches of mangroves dotted here and there. They are shrinking, and people are worried about that - but the principal reason given by a scientific study done quite recently was encroachment by development, not rising sea levels. If sea levels have risen in Bermuda, the effect is not obvious to those of us who live here, and certainly has not been of a sufficient magnitude to allow the swallowing of anything much bigger than a young barnacle.

This story in the Jerusalem Post appears to be a rather narrowly-focused treatment of something rather bigger. The Post story says: "In the third incident of its kind in recent days, Fatah gunmen stormed the offices of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Jenin, accusing the Palestinian Authority of failing to pay the families of security prisoners held in Israel. Palestinian officials say the increasing frequency of such incidents underlines widening dissatisfaction with Mahmoud Abbas's stewardship of the Palestinian Authority, and the growing threat of a descent into anarchy unless he is able to tighten his grip."

But the Fatah gunmen were just one part of it. As AlJazeera records, "Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets...demonstrating on behalf of prisoners held by Israel and denouncing the PA for failing to secure their freedom. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners' relatives also rallied outside the Ram Allah offices of Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia."

The Galapagos - the Islands that are the world's treasure house of natural history - are being threatened by mismanagement, made worse by a bad patch in the history of Ecuadorian politics, according to the Independent. "On top of all of that has come a more than usually tawdry period in Ecuadorian politics, in which the Galapagos have come to be seen not as a valuable resource for tourism revenue and international prestige, but rather as a fertile territory for the granting of jobs and other favours to the political friends and allies of the country's desperately weak President, Luis Gutierrez.

"Since Colonel Gutierrez came to office just more than two years ago, there have been 11 directors or acting directors of the Galapagos National Park, the body set up by the Ecuadorian government in 1959 to safeguard the islands' biodiversity. Morale has plummeted as dozens of respected park managers have been pushed out or induced to quit, and the resulting drop in staff numbers - 180 now compared with 280 three years ago - has made it almost impossible to enforce the park's strict legal framework. And patrols designed to stamp out illegal fishing have dwindled to almost nothing."

17 April 2005

The Washington Times reports that this is the 10th anniversary of the commercialization of biotech crops. "More are planted, grown and eaten each year. Yet somehow despite the warnings of environmentalist and organic groups, we have managed to survive - and thrive. Indeed, evidence keeps building that gene-spliced food can be considerably healthier than so-called health food.

"Globally, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, biotech acres planted have grown almost 50-fold since 1996. They now cover the equivalent of 40 percent of the U.S. land area. An increasing percentage of these crops are in places with hungry populations such as China and South Africa. In the United States, three-fourths of the cotton, almost half the corn and 85 percent of the soybeans planted are biotech. Considering the massive variety of foods we consume containing corn and soy and cottonseed oil, almost all of us eat biotech food daily. The case for the extraordinary healthiness of biotech crops is strongest with corn that has an insecticide gene from bacillus thuringiensis built into it to kill munching moth larvae."

Yet Europeans, perhaps especially the British, are still in the grip of a strange frenzy of horror over genetically-modified crops, as if they had popped out of a dumbwaiter leading down into the ghastly laboratories of Beelzebub himself.

Lord Broers, in one of the BBC Reith Lectures, is scolding the British for their superstition. The Telegraph quotes Lord Broers, who is the president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, as having said the debate about GM crops has been handled so badly that Britain is now in the position of having thrown the baby out with the bath water.

"Lord Broers, who will discuss risk and responsibility when he gives his final lecture next month, spoke out yesterday as experts warned that the country is falling far behind in plant science. This, they say, is a direct result of public hostility to GM food. The agrobiotech industry is now pulling out of Britain. Rather than discussions about the merits of each GM crop, say the scientists, the debate has been reduced to pro and anti GM.

"'The GM debate and how it has been conducted is an example of how we, as a society, seem unable to contemplate such difficult emotive issues,' said Lord Broers...who argues in his lectures that technology holds the key to the future of the human race."

I hadn't quite thought of the widespread distaste for American evangelicals as religious persecution, but Jay Ambrose, the former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard News Service, makes a pretty good case for that notion in an op-ed in the Washington Times this morning: "A (Bill) Moyers article in the New York Review of Books was headlined on the front page as 'The evangelist menace'. How far is that from 'The Catholic menace' or 'The Jewish menace'? About zero, that's how far.

"(It is) Mr. Moyers who is the menace. The rant of this retired PBS journalist, and of so many like him, that activist evangelicals threaten much that is dear to America through their extraordinary influence on a dependent Republican Party and theological conclusions, is at once absurd and destructive."

On a stage in Cannes to receive the Palme d'Or, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami kissed Catherine Deneuve on the cheek. In Tehran, Kiarostami's honour at Cannes was reported, but not as a great coup for the leading light of one of the most interesting national cinemas in the world, nor as the high point of the filmmaker's 27-year career. Instead, as the Guardian reports, "the fact that a man had kissed a woman to whom he was not married in public offended conservative Iranian sensibilities so much that the release of the film was thwarted."

Daniel Hannan, who is a conservative British Member of the European Parliament, is horrified by the refusal of his European colleagues to allow reform of their much-corrupted allowance system. In the Telegraph, he writes that Europeans have no culture of transparency in these matters. "Presented with the opportunity to hose out their stables, Euro MPs instead voted to heap the ordure higher. And why? Because they know they can get away with it. While the British, aware that they were being watched, voted conscientiously for reform, most Continental Euro MPs sank their snouts further into the swill."


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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