...Views from mid-Atlantic
30 April 2005

If so many in the world are pissed off at the US, says Victor Davis Hanson in the National Review, it must be doing something right.

If you know about 1500 words of English - don't bother with the grammar - you can speak Globish, and potentially carry on a conversation with anyone in the world. Ben Macintyre of the Times explains that "Globish is not like Esperanto or Volapuk; this is not a formally constructed language, but rather an organic patois, constantly adapting, emerging solely from practical usage, and spoken in some form or other by about 88 per cent of mankind. Its chief promoter, astonishingly enough, is a Frenchman, Jean-Paul Nerriere, a linguist and retired computer executive who has earned the loathing of the French Establishment by insisting that Globish - simple, inelegant and almost universal - is the language of the present and the future. In his primer, Parlez Globish, Nerriere points out that Globish is not intended for writing poetry or telling jokes, but for communication at the most basic level. It is not a language in the traditional sense, freighted with cultural meaning, but a supremely useful and ingenious tool, the linguistic equivalent of a Swiss Army knife."

The reserves of everything that kept Zimbabwe limping downhill for the past five years of self-destruction, says Peta Thornycroft in the Telegraph, have now dried up. "Even the last summer rain this week before the long dry winter sets in did not lift anyone's spirits. The wealth of resources on the former white-owned commercial farms that produced foreign currency has run out and the 'new' farmers, largely Mr Mugabe's clique, have no idea how to grow tobacco or other crops for export.

"It doesn't matter if there isn't a yard of electric cable to be had as the factory that makes it cannot get foreign currency to import copper wire. It doesn't matter if there isn't any cooking oil, and we cope without electricity for a few hours daily. We are used to water cuts and have learnt to keep a few filled buckets at strategic places. All that is bearable. But no petrol is unbearable."

Most Zimbabweans are no longer able to find protein to eat, she says.

The Guardian's theatre critic Michael Billington gives a kind of preview of the two parts of Henry IV, which are being staged at the National Theatre in London as of tomorrow. Michael Gambon is playing Falstaff. "Shakespeare is offering not only an unmatched portrait of England. He is writing, as so often in the histories, about the cost of kingship and the price of power. Hal, to become an effective ruler, has to overcome the chivalric glamour of Hotspur and renounce the seductive companionship of Falstaff.

"If it is simply a story of a dessicated calculating-machine who rejects a lovable rogue, it is predictable and un-interesting. But if one sees the two plays as a study in the painful solitude of power, then they acquire a universal resonance. They also confirm my long-growing suspicion that Shakespeare speaks most clearly to us today through his history plays. We share the suffering of Hamlet and Lear. We mingle tears and laughter in our response to Shakespeare's sublimely melancholy comedies. But it is in the histories that Shakespeare, in a way unmatched elsewhere in drama, explores the national psyche, analyses the dynamics of power and effortlessly combines reality and myth."

William Burroughs said of John Giorno that he "raises questions to an almost unbearable pitch, to a scream of surprised recognition. His litanies from the underworld of the mind reverberate in your head and ventriloqize your own thoughts." Giorno was the first performance artist, his mission to draw attention to the spoken word as a form of art. You could say that he spent his life restoring the spoken word to the place it once had as the principal way by which poetry enters into people's consciousness.

Rising star writer (I think) Sarah Boxer of the New York Times writes today that Giorno's 1960s and 1970s project, Dial-A-Poem, is making a transition to the internet. "It's 1969," she recalls. The phone is the medium and the poem is the message. Dial-A-Poem is brand-new. You pick up your phone, dial (212) 628-0400 and hear one of a dozen recorded poems by William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Joe Brainard, Anne Waldman, John Cage or who knows who. The next day there's a fresh dozen. Some are dirty. Some are radical. A lot are about guns. Some really aren't poems at all but songs or rants or sermons."

Nowadays, you can't dial that number any more. But you can go to www.ubu.com/sound/dial_index.html (there are lots of them, so play around with the URL to get others) and you can hear what Dial-A-Poem was like.

29 April 2005

Le Monde Diplomatique has published a detailed analysis of last year's crisis in Ivory Coast, which began early in November, when that country's armed forces attacked a French post in Bouake, killing nine French peacekeepers. In retaliation, French president Jacques Chirac ordered the destruction of the Ivorian air force. In retaliation, Gbagbo's supporters turned on the expatriate French community in Abidjan.

"None of this settled anything," writer Boubacar Boris Diop says, "but it did clarify the nature of the conflict. This was the first time in 40 years of postcolonial apprenticeship that the lives of French citizens in Africa had been so threatened. Everyone had been happy to watch Africans kill each other, but television images of tearful French evacuees stepping off planes outside Paris were another matter - almost enough to make viewers forget that French forces had killed Ivorian civilians and destroyed a sovereign state's air force to reassure 15,000 compatriots and to avenge the deaths of nine soldiers.

"Even the most sceptical were forced to recognise that France was closely implicated in the power struggles in its former colonies. Paris usually worked behind the scenes, but events in Abidjan forced it to show its face. The tragedy is that innocent French civilians had to pay such a high price for bringing everything into the open. Africans noticed that the emperor had no clothes: despite a strong military presence, France had been unable to guarantee the safety of its nationals. It was cornered, on the defensive, and could only stammer barely convincing denials.

"(Then-French Foreign Minister Dominique) De Villepin had acknowledged, in coded terms, that the rebels were not acting alone to the French Senate in October 2002, shortly after the beginning of the anti-Gbagbo rising: 'The situation has developed in such a way that questions have arisen about possible foreign complicity or support.' Any French foreign minister knows what he is talking about where French Africa is concerned. Every word counts. So does every omission: De Villepin neglected to mention that his government was strongly suspected of having financed the revolt. France, previously sovereign in 'its' Africa, was in the dock."

The United Nations says Kofi Annan is not going to discipline his former chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, for shredding documents relating to the Oil-for-Food scandal. "While those actions were careless, I do not believe they can be construed as deliberate attempts to impede the work of the independent inquiry committee," Annan said in a letter to Mr. Riza that was released yesterday. "I accept your apology and assure you that I still have great faith in your professionalism and well-known integrity," Annan wrote.

Investigations into individuals and companies alleged to have improperly received money in the scandal are going on in several countries, now, including the US, France and Germany. Switzerland, it was announced yesterday, has joined them. The Federal Prosecutor's Office said those in question were suspected of corruption and money laundering.

In the US, the Washington Times reports on the meeting yesterday of the House International Relations subcommittee on oversight and investigations. It was told that the US arm of the French bank, BNP Paribas, approved hundreds of payments to unauthorized third parties under its contract with the United Nations' oil-for-food program. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said the bank had been lax in monitoring who received the billions of dollars in transfers it processed under the seven-year program that ended in 2003.

Since Tony Blair released the interim advice given to him by the British Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, about the legality of invading Iraq, there has been speculation that he first warned Blair against going to war in Iraq, but later changed his mind about it, impliedly under pressure. But anyone who has consulted a lawyer about the legality of a particular course of action will know that doesn't ring true. The advice you get is likely to set out both sides of the story fairly clearly, and not simply describe the course of action your lawyer advises.

The Times makes that point this morning: "...by setting out all possible legal angles that might come into play, Lord Goldsmith was competently performing his function, not implicity signalling that any conflict would be legally dubious. It was emphatically not his task to be part of any whitewash. It was instead his duty to inform his 'client' of the multitude of the legal ramifications and challenges that might manifest themselves. It should be recalled in this context that while giving warning of what the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court or the judiciary at home might do, the Attorney-General also indicated that he did not think a legal challenge would prevail.

"...It is also plain from the text that has been released that the Attorney-General did not, as has been frequently alleged, 'flip-flop' - initially concluding that a war would be illegal and then reversing that stance under pressure from Mr Blair (or anyone else for that matter). He states in his missive: 'I disagree, therefore, with those commentators and lawyers who assert that nothing less than an explicit authorisation to use force in a Security Council resolution will be sufficient.' His, at that stage interim, analysis is careful in tone but it contends that 'a reasonable case' can be made for war. That thesis would harden only moderately in the days before the invasion."

Good editorial, although it's futile to expect it to change the minds of those who are politically predisposed to believing in the hanky-panky theory.

28 April 2005

Benon Sevan has threatened retribution against the UN if it doesn't rescind its decision to stop paying his legal fees. The New York Sun's Benny Avni says Sevan's lawyer "implied in his letter that Mr. Sevan could go public with the circumstances surrounding the initial promise by the United Nations to cover Mr. Sevan's legal fees - and the organization's subsequent about-face. Mr. Sevan's knowledge of the program might include potentially damaging information about several UN officials."

And in another Oil-for-Food scandal development, the Financial Times says a former French Cabinet Minister has been arrested in Paris in connection with the oil-for-food enquiry. United Nations, US and French investigators are examining Iraqi documents that show officials in Baghdad were instructed to transfer lucrative oil allocations to an offshore company, in order to shield Charles Pasqua, a former French minister of interior, from criticism. Mr Pasqua's alleged role has emerged as inquiries turn to the role of foreign governments in the corruption within the humanitarian aid programme.

Marine scientists have begun to call for urgent action, the Guardian says, to save the bluefin tuna. Contrary to the impression given, it's not the only fish that goes into your tuna melt, but the scientists do have a point.

In Canada, more signs of the aggravation that unbalanced attempts to regulate Atlantic fisheries have caused. The Globe and Mail says Newfoundland fishermen blockading St. John's harbour over a new crab quota system decided Wednesday to expand their protest by surrounding a Portuguese vessel cited for overfishing. The protesters likened their latest action to a citizen's arrest.

University lecturers opposed to the British Association of University Teachers' boycott of Israeli universities are trying to overturn the decision before it has time to make an impact, according to the Guardian. The decision of the AUT to sever links with Israeli academia was met with an angry backlash from both Israeli and non-Israeli groups in the UK and around the world. Union members who opposed the decision are calling for a special AUT council in the next month to overturn the decision. The campaign is being run by Jon Pike, a philosopher at the Open University, who needs 25 signatures to invoke union rules and secure a fresh debate. He doesn't think he'll have difficulty, despite the number who have resigned from the organisation in protest.

Anti-boycott supporters have also set up a website, called ENGAGE, to help them coordinate their opposition.

What's wrong with a bad temper anyway, asks the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan. It has a distinguished provenance in the US Government.

Columnist Max Boot, writing in the LA Times, agrees. "Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James Baker III and Richard Holbrooke, among others, were all tough customers. Those are exactly the qualities you need in dealing with the hard cases who rule much of the world. No milquetoast need apply for the post of UN ambassador, or any other demanding diplomatic job."

27 April 2005

Venezuela has started proceedings to extradite from the US Luis Posada Carriles, the former CIA agent who has been accused of blowing up an airliner full of civilians in 1976. Posada is thought to have slipped into the US recently, and is now, apparently, seeking asylum in Miami. The Herald Tribune has details.

The Art Newspaper has published an unprecedented three stories in the same issue about Sheikh Saud Al-Thani, now in custory in Qatar in connection with his free-spending nine years of acquiring art for the Qatari Government. In one, they say that the Sheikh sold a collection of 25 antiquities at Bonham's in London in July of last year, only to later reacquire several of the objects. In another, they detail the excessive sums a leading London art dealer put on invoices given the Sheikh. And the third suggests that despite what he said, the Sheikh bought at least two items not capable of being exported.

This is the second part of the San Francisco Chronicle's long article about the life of the poet, Thom Gunn.

Claudia Rosett says that tomorrow, the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing to delve into some of the oil-for-food banking details. In today's New York Sun, she quotes Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who will lead the hearing, as saying she expects that with some of the material due to be disclosed, "heads will turn". The bank likely to be given the closest scrutiny is the New York branch of the French bank, BNP Paribas (formerly the Banque Nationale de Paris).

"Asked to answer questions related to BNP's role in oil for food and its handling of such matters as letters of credit and banking fees, BNP officials responded via a public relations firm, saying they 'really don't want to talk to anybody before the hearing.'"

Meantime, in a denial that is bound to remind people of Bill Clinton's "I did not have sex with that woman," Kofi Annan says, in effect, "I did not say that report exonerated me." The Guardian has details.

The quote people used was from a press conference given by Annan when the second Volcker interim report was released. He said "After so many distressing and untrue allegations have been made against me, this exoneration by the Independent Inquiry Committee obviously comes as a great relief." But he denies having meant exoneration in a general sense. He points out that immediately before that, he had referred to the report having exonerated him on the narrow ground of exonerating him of meddling in the Oil-for-Food contract selection. It is telling, I think, that he didn't raise this at the time, waiting until Paul Volcker himself said the report was no exoneration.

Flowers are a species unlike practically any other in their ability to induce positive emotion and other profound changes in our mental state. More intriguing, the Independent says a study in evolutionary psychology is suggesting that flowers may have actually evolved to exploit this unique impact on humans.

Cunning bastards.

The international bank HSBC was given permission recently to buy the Bank of Bermuda here, despite the country's long-standing policy of keeping foreign banks out. The Independent notes today that "...a City banker is suing one of the largest and most respected banks in the world for 5 million pounds, claiming that he was sacked because he was gay...

"Peter Lewis, 43, who earned 1 million pounds a year as head of equities at HSBC, was fired after seven months in the job for alleged gross personal misconduct. An employment tribunal will hear claims about an encounter with a male worker at the firm's headquarters in London's Canary Wharf. Mr Lewis's lawyer, Alison Downie of Bindman and Partners, insists her client lost his job 'because HSBC discriminated against him because of his sexual orientation'."

Was Abu Ghraib an overhyped story? The Wall Street Journal thinks it was. "Sometimes we wonder if proponents of this torture-cum-whitewash accusation have ever stopped to consider the improbable nature of the coverup they are now suggesting. Mr. Schlesinger and other investigators would all have to be lying. And where are the whistleblowers? There would have been a widespread outcry in the military if senior brass and civilians really were trying to shift blame for abuse onto the lower ranks. Yet the only military people claiming that they are taking some kind of fall are the convicted Graner and the former Abu Ghraib Commander, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was blamed for weak leadership in the original Taguba report - which, by the way, remains a thorough and insightful account of what went wrong at Abu Ghraib.

"The salient and remarkable truth here is that America has punished its own for the Abu Ghraib abuses; and it has done so even before Saddam and his henchmen have faced justice for the horrors they propagated in that same prison. More than a few good soldiers have had their careers tarnished by the media and Democratic innuendo that they somehow condoned human rights abuses. They deserve an apology. After all the evidence to the contrary, continuing to allege systematic prisoner abuse - and a coverup - by the US military is itself shameful.

26 April 2005

Lil' Kim 101? It's the title of an article by Katherine Ernst in City Journal, and she's upset about Syracuse University English professor Greg Thomas. He's offering a course analysing Lil' Kim's lyrics on the American judicial system, following her conviction for lying to a grand jury. He apparently taught a course last semester that was called "Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen B@#$H 101."

"Go ahead and laugh, you ignoramus," writes Ernst "for Thomas's course was no exercise in celebrity worship or an 'easy A'. As (Phew!) In other words, Lil' Kim is a hip-hop Virgil guiding students through the wonderful world of Gender/Womyn's studies - and her Dante is not some Birkenstock-clad granola prof but rather a cool dude known as 'G' to his students. After all, as Thomas wrote on allhiphop.com, 'Kim's whole system of rhymes radically redistributes power, pleasure and privilege, always doing the unthinkable, embracing sexuality on her kind of terms.' (We can assume Professor Thomas chucked his Paradise Lost lesson plans, since Milton's 'rhymes' didn't aspire to touch on such themes.)

"So a drum roll, please, for an accurate sample of these awesome, sea-changing, worthy-of-college-level-studying lyrics (from her 2000 hit song, How Many Licks?) "Should we care about such collapsing of the distinction between 'high' and 'low' art, between timeless, revered text and flippant pop culture? Does it matter that a university has put King Lear on the same plane as Suck My D--k, another Lil' Kim gem? Or that it employs a cliche lefty prof who had the following to say about Kim's convictions (mind you, her trial revolved around a shoot-out at a New York City radio station): 'How do we communicate the political absurdity of this brilliant Black female artist facing hard time in the age of George 'Weapon of Mass Destruction' Bush, and all these corporate lies?' (Note to Professor Thomas: It's not that absurd that Lil' Kim is facing hard time when videotape was the key piece of evidence against her). We should care because academe's progressive silliness is now seriously hurting the students it claims to enlighten."

To which (Phew!) I can only add that we should also care because the woman can't even get the apostrophe in her name in the right place.

Thom Gunn, according to one critic, was the best poet in English until he died last year. I'm not sure I'm able to go along with that...not with the likes of Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney striding about the place in boots of a certain size. But he was an important modern poet, of that there's no doubt. The San Francisco Chronicle today publishes the first of a two-part article on a man it calls a San Francisco poet, but who was actually born in Gravesend, in Kent.

"Thom Gunn, the San Francisco poet who died a year ago today at age 74, wore many skins in his lifetime and embodied wild contradictions. His poetry had a chaste reserve that reflected his Englishness, but off the page he was a merry wit who laughed loudly, told raunchy jokes and felt more at home in a leather bar than a stuffy literary function. The author of the 1992 collection The Man With Night Sweats was 'the best living poet in English,' says author and Threepenny Review editor Wendy Lesser. But also uncommonly modest, unpretentious and wholly indifferent to the perks of celebrity."

The New York Sun's London correspondent says the decision of the British Association of University Teachers, to boycott Israeli universities, is the tip of a much larger problem in Britain. "News of the academic boycott of Israel comes less than a fortnight before the first British general election in which anti-Semitism and militant Islam have played a significant part. One Labor poster depicted Michael Howard, the first Jewish leader of the Conservative Party since Disraeli, as a sinister hypnotist swinging a watch on a chain - an anti-Semitic stereotype strongly reminiscent of Fagin, the villain of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. Mr. Howard's spokesman on finance, Oliver Letwin (who is also Jewish), was indeed compared to Fagin by the Labor Party chairman. Though these and other slurs were quickly withdrawn, Muslim community leaders have been pointedly asked whether they could expect anything from the likes of Messrs. Howard and Letwin.

"The commonest anti-Semitic trope, however, is the Jewish world conspiracy, involving American neoconservatives (all supposedly Jews), the transatlantic 'Jewish lobby,' and, of course, the ubiquitous influence of Israel. Tony Blair, unlike several of his European counterparts, has refused to dabble either in anti-Americanism or anti-Zionism. But the British public has been bombarded by the BBC and the rest of the liberal press with hostile images of Israel and the suggestion, usually implicit but increasingly explicit, that Israel is to blame for Islamist terrorism against the West in general, and Britain in particular.

"Worst of all has been the emergence of violent gangs of highly politicized young Islamists, who target candidates they suspect of supporting the Iraq war or Israel. At a memorial service for more than 100 victims of a Nazi V2 rocket that hit London's East End (then largely Jewish, now mainly Muslim), the pro-war Labor candidate Oona King, who is both black and Jewish, and many Jewish war veterans were pelted by missiles.

"I wish I were confident that such incidents were not part of a pattern. But the ghost of Oswald Mosley, the prewar fascist leader who fomented anti-Semitic riots in the East End, is stalking the streets of London."

Yesterday, I carried a report of a speech by British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, saying that modern culture is killing classical music. I almost dismissed out of hand this report in the Independent in which a man called Robert Maycock disagrees, but I'm glad, having read it, that I did not. British newspapers seldom seem to explain who the people who write their op-eds are, and I think it is important to understand in this case that Mr Maycock is not just a guy with a CD-player and a typewriter. He has written a serious study of modern composer Philip Glass - Glass: A Biography of Philip Glass is both biography and appraisal of his work. Sir Peter is wrong, he says. Classical music is suffering a creative crisis due to its reliance on established masterpieces of the past.

"There is a tendency among composers to castigate the public and the profession for its lack of adventure, but the causes are more profound. In some ways they began with Beethoven, or rather with his time, poised between Enlightenment liberation and Romantic individualism.

"Beethoven became the original heroic figure of composition, pursuing his ideals at whatever cost they might bring in isolation or lack of understanding. He was a model impossible to resist. A gap opened up between the creative pioneers and ordinary mortals, a chasm that widened in the 20th century until new music began to resemble research rather than art."

Thomas Sowell thinks he's found a reason for lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, and higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity among US blacks. They're rednecks.

In the Wall Street Journal, he writes that "While a third of the white population of the US lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people. It eroded away much faster in Britain than in the US and somewhat faster among Southern whites than among Southern blacks, who had fewer opportunities for education or for the rewards that came with escape from that counterproductive culture.

"Nevertheless the process took a long time. As late as the First World War, white soldiers from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi scored lower on mental tests than black soldiers from Ohio, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Again, neither race nor racism can explain that - and neither can slavery.

"The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only 'authentic' black culture - and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct."

Max Hastings finds a man in Kenya who gives the lie to the notion that Kenyans can't cook, in this charming Guardian piece with a headline that probably first appeared on papyrus - Eating About the Bush. Thanks for the tip, Hip Hop.

25 April 2005

The British composer, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen's Music, has warned that classical music could become extinct in Britain. The Times reports that Sir Peter attacked government cutbacks in music education and lamented an assumption by the vast majority of people that classical music was elitist. "Delivering the Royal Philharmonic Society Annual Lecture at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, his first major public speech since his appointment, Sir Peter said yesterday that masterpieces such as Bach's St Matthew Passion were now seen as 'the exclusive domain of the elderly'. There was an inverted snobbery about cultural standards, he said. Pop music had played its part in 'drugging' constructive, creative thinking, sometimes offering texts that were 'even more right-wing than our more extreme politicians'."

If, like me, you want to know what on earth he means by that, you can ask the Royal Philharmonic Society to email you the text of his speech by going to this page.

Former European Commission president Romano Prodi says that if the French vote against the EU constitution in their referendum at the end of next month, it will cause the "fall of Europe". The Times says there is a growing consensus that a no vote in France (and, it's forecast, the Netherlands soon after) it would be a turning point, marking the end of 50 years of "ever closer union", threatening the single currency and halting enlargement, particularly for Turkey. Some predict the EU's fragmentation, with groups of member states banding together only to pursue pet projects.

The headline on this story in the Christian Science Monitor is "Secretly, tiny nations hold much wealth." It's about places like Bermuda, of course, and the Monitor comments that "Although they have only 1 percent of the world's inhabitants, they hold a quarter of United States stocks and nearly a third of all the globe's assets. They're tax havens: 70 mostly tiny nations that offer no-tax or low-tax status to the wealthy so they can stash their money. Usually, the process is so secret that it draws little attention. But the sums - and lost tax revenues - are growing so large that the havens are getting new and unaccustomed scrutiny." It's hard to be universally correct when you're writing about 70 countries, but where Bermuda (and many others) is concerned, the Monitor should have made a great deal less of the secrecy claim. We're about as transparent as countries get. People are attracted here because we're politically stable, have lower taxes and a financial infrastructure that is as good as they come. In the circumstances, it would be an offence against common sense, and everything your grandpappy told you about taking care of money not to.

But the point of my post is this - with this much money, we should get more respect. EBay, for example, could do a great deal to make up for its past insulting behaviour by allowing us to sign up for PayPal. They'll deal with places like Ecuador, Turkey, Jamaica and Anguilla, but not Bermuda. What's the deal? Anguilla? For God's sake!

Nearly an hour of tapes of the short-lived Thelonious Monk quartet that included John Coltrane has been found in the US Library of Congress, according to the New York Times. The tapes were apparently made at a concert at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 29, 1957, a benefit for a community center. "The concert was recorded by the Voice of America, the international broadcasting service, and the tapes also include sets by the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra, Ray Charles with a backing sextet, the Zoot Sims Quartet with Chet Baker, and the Sonny Rollins Trio. (Newspaper accounts of the concert indicate that Billie Holiday appeared as well, though she is not on the Voice of America tapes.)

"But it is Monk with Coltrane that constitutes the real find. That band existed for only six months in 1957, mostly through long and celebrated runs at the East Village club the Five Spot. During this period, Coltrane fully collected himself as an improviser, challenged by Monk and the discipline of his unusual harmonic sense. Thus began the 10-year sprint during which he changed jazz completely, before his death in 1967. The Monk quartet with Coltrane did record three numbers in a studio in 1957, but remarkably little material, and only with fairly low audience-tape fidelity, is known to exist from the Five Spot engagement."

Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff has been posting, for many months now, good news from Iraq that has been largely ignored by the media. In this bi-monthly update published in the Wall Street Journal, he notes, among other things, that adjustments are being made to the reconstruction policy and procedures. "The State Department has ordered a major reevaluation of the troubled $18.4 billion Iraqi reconstruction effort, blaming problems on early decisions to hire US companies for major infrastructure projects. In a report to Congress last week, the State Department said reconstruction officials will cancel several planned water and electricity plants and shift $832 million to focus on immediate job creation and training for Iraqis. The new approach would also place a strong emphasis on spending remaining funds to contract with Iraqi companies, which have experienced fewer problems with insurgents and have lower overhead than US multinationals."

The Washington Post is remembering the failed (and now almost entirely forgotten) military mission to rescue American hostages in Iran, 25 years ago. Operation Eagle Claw was an unmitigated disaster, in which many US servicemen lost their lives. I read the after-action report in a previous life. Although it did not say so in so many words, I thought it was pretty clear that President Carter himself screwed up. Faced with competing claims to control of the operation from the leadership of the various armed services involved, he took the easy way out and, in effect, put no one in charge. The classic mistake.

24 April 2005

The language the British Conservative Party is using to condemn the BBC this morning suggests to me that it doesn't fully understand what an outrageous and terrible blow the BBC has struck against the ethics of journalism...and its own reputation. The Telegraph reports that "The BBC was last night plunged into a damaging general election row after it admitted equipping three hecklers with microphones and sending them into a campaign meeting addressed by Michael Howard, the Conservative leader." They shouted things like "Michael Howard is a liar", "You can't trust the Tories" and "You can only trust Tony Blair".

Once perhaps the most-respected group of journalists in the world, the BBC has fallen very quickly to the level of yellow press pace-maker, because of its inability to stop its journalists from proselytising on behalf of the left. The Tories have asked the BBC to apologise and promise it won't happen again. They really ought to be asking the British Government whether it can any longer afford to be seen lying in the same gutter as this bunch of clowns, drunk on their own supposed moral superiority.

Bermuda is apparently giving sanctuary to a man wanted in Texas in connection with a sexual assault on an employee of Howard College. MyWestTexas.com says: "Believed to be hiding in Southampton, Bermuda, a former Howard College dean of students has been a fugitive since his March 2003 indictment on two felony charges for the alleged sexual assault of a college employee. Liberia native Franklin Wellington Fahnbulleh III, 49, initially was charged with misdemeanor public lewdness after the Nov. 8, 2002, incident in the office of an accounts payable clerk, said a Houston attorney involved in a civil lawsuit related to the case.

"Released on a $1,200 bond, Fahnbulleh allegedly fled the United States before a Howard County grand jury indicted him on two third-degree felony counts of official restraint, or using force to prevent a government official from doing his or her duty, attorney Kenneth McGwire said...He could be sentenced to two to 10 years in state prison if convicted."

Howard College, it is worth mentioning, is not Howard University, from which many Bermudians have graduated.

Further to my link yesterday to his interview with Ariel Sharon, the editor of the Jerusalem Post has published today a little mise en scene that contains some not-to-be-missed observations: "Remarkably robust though he is, and singlehandedly, nervelessly championing his own radical policy shift under extraordinary pressure, Sharon is nevertheless a man of 77, and you are immediately conscious of it. His eyes don't quite focus on the same point; his neck seems to be giving him pain; from time to time he snaps his head to one side. Still, his hearing seems fine, and although his answers sometimes set out from disconcerting departure spots, they do generally reach appropriate destinations." That's why he's the editor.

A new Jack the Ripper theory has been launched, so I guess this must be April, or something.

This is a long and thoroughly interesting article in the The New York Review of Books about what is ailing those of the liberal persuasion at the moment. It was written by one Thomas Frank, who is billed as the editor of The Baffler magazine, a publication that had eluded me until now.

I'm quoting this particular paragraph not so much because it sums the whole thing up, but because it concerns an amusing little episode in the run-up to the last US election that I was delighted to be reminded of: "Then came what must rank as one of the most ill-conceived liberal electoral efforts of all time: in October the British Guardian newspaper launched a campaign to persuade one contested, blue-collar county in Ohio to vote against President Bush. The idea was to have Guardian readers in Britain write personal letters to voters in Ohio, whose names and addresses the newspaper had secured from registration rolls. Unsurprisingly, the Ohioans strongly resented being lectured to on the foolishness of their national leader by some random bunch of erudite Europeans. Indeed, the episode was so outrageous that there was almost no need for columnists and talk-radio hosts to sputter about the 'pansy-ass, tea-sipping' liberal elitists who thought they knew best - the arrogance of the wretched thing spoke for itself. The county had gone for Gore in 2000, but this time, like the state, like the nation, it chose Bush. And why not? Biased newscasters, conceited foreigners: to hell with them all."

The Baffler, by the way, is on its 16th issue. The blurb says: "The Baffler reveals the shocking breadth of American ignorance, and argues that the nation's mental and moral decline-like that of the Roman Empire-is spreading from the better classes downward. In this highly readable issue, Tom Frank gets to the root of Ann Coulter's mental infirmity. Nick Cohen examines Britain's outbreak of millennial lunacy. Paul Maliszewski details the delusional narcissism of 'the creative class' and its theorist, Richard Florida. Jamie Kalven chronicles Mayor Daley's Neronian cruelty to the poor of Chicago. Dubravka Ugresic fondly remembers the gentler days of Socialist Realism." So I guess it's for young lefties.

People's Daily demonstrates that Chinese editors and journalists are as helpless to resist the temptations of punning as any of us: "China is coming clean about its filthy toilets, first hosting a world toilet summit and now about to hold its first ever toilet exhibition which will lift the lid on new technology. (Most of China's public lavatories are squat-style pits with no running water, toilet paper or hand-washing facilities.) Beijing (is) eager to freshen up its primitive privies before it hosts the 2008 summer Olympics, recently added high-tech, self-cleaning toilets near tourist sites like the Forbidden City and Summer Palace and promised to keep them stocked with toilet paper."

The headline's weak, though. I thought it might have been Beijing Movement to End Tourists' Bum Deal, or something of that sort. Any better suggestions? Anything that includes the phrase Full of Eastern Promise will be rejected out of hand. You know who you are.


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