...Views from mid-Atlantic
14 May 2005

Claudia Rosett gets really revved up in the National Review about the Senate committee report released last week on the UN Oil-for-Food scandal: "Another of the report's findings is especially interesting in light not only of Saddam's subversion of Oil-for-Food to bust sanctions, but also as context for the hot debate within the UN Security Council just prior to the US-led military overthrow of Saddam in 2003. The report explains that the prime targets of Saddam's scheme to buy influence were 'individuals and entities from countries on the UN Security Council.' Both documents and interviews with former senior officials of Saddam's regime confirm that 'The regime steered a massive portion of its allocations toward Security Council members that were believed by the Hussein regime to support Iraq in its efforts to lift sanctions - namely, Russia, France, and China."

On the pocket-rocket reaction of Britain's George Galloway to claims that he had been a major recipient of Oil-for-Food largesse, Rosett says Galloway "called (Norm) Coleman's team 'a lickspittle Republican committee', (in fact, both the committee and its report are bipartisan) and said he had received no response to repeated requests to appear before the committee and rebut their evidence. This has produced in the past 24 hours a spirited exchange, in which Coleman issued a statement that 'at no time' did Galloway contact his committee 'by any means, including but not limited to telephone, fax, email, letter, Morse Code or carrier pigeon.'"

The smart money, I think, is on Galloway never appearing in front of Coleman's committee, despite the flamboyant talk about being there on Tuesday to give them both barrels of his scorngun.

The NRO is as het up about Oil-for-Food as Rosett is. In an editorial that accompanies her piece, they say: "One of the biggest financial scandals of modern times just keeps getting bigger. Now we hear from the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman, that two European politicians, Britain's George Galloway and France's Charles Pasqua, together received allocations of over 30 million barrels of oil from Saddam Hussein under the UN's Oil-for-Food program. The two men, both vocal supporters of Saddam and opponents of the UN sanctions regime, are accused in the subcommittee's report of participating in what Iraqi officials called the 'Saddam Bribery System'. In exchange for their continued friendship, the report says, the two were among the select few granted quantities of Iraqi oil, which they could then turn around and sell for a profit. They allegedly attempted to cover up their activities by using third parties: in Pasqua's case, the Swiss company Genmar; in Galloway's, a charity he had set up to help a four-year-old girl suffering from leukemia.

"The allegations in the report derive from careful research into previously unpublished Iraqi oil-ministry documents as well as from interviews with Hussein regime officials, and they could be devastating. Galloway and Pasqua both recently won elections to their national legislatures. Pasqua, a close friend and ally of Jacques Chirac, could go to prison; his former foreign-policy adviser and authorized representative in the oil exchanges, Bernard Guillet was arrested last month as part of a government investigation into Oil-for-Food. Should there be a parliamentary inquiry in France, Chirac could be in serious trouble. Meanwhile, Galloway has promised to testify in a subcommittee hearing in Washington next week (expect more scandalous revelations to come, and not just about these two men). It's to be hoped that the British government will launch an investigation into the charges, and into the Oil-for-Food scandal generally.

"The greatest lesson of this is how significant a role corrupt Westerners had in boosting Saddam's regime. Not only did they provide the dictator with needed cash, but they played right into his scheme of using oil allocations to buy favor around the globe. Had they not done so, Iraq's fate might have been quite different. At least, millions of Iraqis might have been better off, sooner."

Charles Moore was the editor of the Telegraph until 2003, when he left to write a book. In this nice little piece of analysis in his old alma mater this morning, he starts in on the French referendum on the EU Constitution, and ends on the EU itself, and its aging champions, Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Jacques Chirac: "Win or lose this vote, their last battle is for an idea whose time has gone. I find it hard to believe that Tony Blair, who is a full generation younger, will be able to put his heart into this fight."

That's not to say that our aging pair of (now slightly dowdy) French rascals are going to be pulling their punches at all. Former European Commission president Jacques Delors let the cat a little out of the bag yesterday when he admitted that, for example, a 'no' vote won't end the fight - it would simply mean the constitution would be re-written and put up for another vote. The Independent quotes him as having said "a duty of truthfulness" forced him to admit that, if France voted no, there could be a 'plan B' or renegotiation of the treaty.

Paul Theroux writes in the Guardian about his attempt to follow William Burroughs into the jungles of South America to try yage, or ayahuasco. Of that drug, Theroux says, "Rocket fuel is another active ingredient: in an ayahuasca trance, many users have testified, you travel to distant planets, you meet extraterrestrials and moon goddesses." Burroughs agreed: "Yage is space time travel."

This is the piece without which your week will be sadly, shabbily incomplete. And by the way, when you get there and wonder, that cracker of a line is from the lips of Leontes in The Winter's Tale.

13 May 2005

The Art Newspaper says the British government has quietly dropped plans for a database of stolen art and antiquities, sparking outrage in the arts community. "The database had originally been a major recommendation in the 2000 report of the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel, chaired by Professor Norman Palmer. However, the scheme needed support from the Home Office, which does not regard the recovery of art and antiquities as a priority. The database would have been expensive—and the question was whether it should be primarily funded by the government or the trade. Professor Palmer admits that he is disappointed with the news. He says that some members 'were outraged, with disbelief that this policy decision had been taken without reference to the panel.' The House of Commons select committee on Culture, Media and Sport was also scathing about the U-turn. 'We are dismayed not so much by the decision itself - although it does seem to fly in the face of the evidence we received (not least from the Government)- but by the sheer amount of time it has taken to be made.'

"Last month the British Art Market Federation, representing the trade, pointed out that a nationally-run database, subsidised by public funds, would have represented 'a major deterrent against art crime.'"

I hope Tech Central Station didn't pay a lot for this piece - the Bermuda Triangle of American Politics, written by a Washington laywer. Ostensibly, the article is about Bermuda's part in the Benedict Arnold CEOs controversy sparked by the Kerry presidential campaign. Actually, it's just a collection of cliches and miscellaneous facts which, together, make no point at all. He should stick to lawyering. It's obviously easier for him.

Gerard Baker, who is a US editor of the Times, has written a fine piece analysing the effect on Tony Blair of the outcome of the French referendum on the EU Constitution. He thinks the French will vote in favour of it. "I say this not because of any inside knowledge of the reliability of French opinion polls but on the simple conviction that the French will simply not be allowed to vote 'no'. The country of Jean Monnet, Jacques Delors and Francois Mitterrand is not going to let a motley alliance of left and rightwing nobodies derail it from its destiny. I accuse no one of impropriety, but let me put it this way: when the votes are in from Martinique Ouest and Nouvelle Caledonie Central, just as they did in the 1992 Maastricht referendum, I suspect the 'yes' campaigners will have eked out a close but famous victory. The debate that will then follow in Britain will be among the most important we have had in 50 years..."

Roy Greenslade is the Guardian's media commentator and, good one that he is, he is warning this morning that the media may well be lynching George Galloway, accused to taking Oil-for-Food bribes from Saddam Hussein. "There will be many who snort contemptuously when I say that Galloway is now more sinned against than sinning because he has become so unpopular with both the media and political elites that they regard him as outside the normal rules of the game. Indeed, to defend him places the defender beyond the pale too. But the victim of what has all the hallmarks of a media feeding frenzy deserves a fair hearing, not only for his personal benefit, but for those he now represents - and in order to confront journalists with their own misguided agendas."

I'm posting something about it because it's a fair point. Doesn't change my own mind, though, in which I see Galloway as a bombastic villain who has learned that the best defence is to hop on the biggest horse in the stable and charge. In the Independent this morning, he outlines what he's going to do when he appears before the US Senate committee that is the latest institution to accuse him of having been on the take: "Mr Galloway said he would accuse the committee of producing a 'travesty' of natural justice. He said: 'I'm going to call them a bunch of liars.

'I'll be there to give them both barrels - verbal guns, of course, not oil - assuming we get the visas. I welcome the opportunity to clear my name. My first words will be 'Senator, it's a pity that we are having this interview after you have found me guilty. This is a right-wing committee with an agenda that reached its conclusion before even considering the facts. Joseph McCarthy must be smiling admiringly in Hades.'"

This is a bullshit artist.

Lenore Skenazy, a New York Daily News columnist, does a fine job with a story about a mystery that would probably have stumped even Uncle Einstein. In the Christian Science Monitor, she writes: "I asked a consortium of physicists and one persnickety professional organizer to explain: Why does stuff just disappear? And just as mysteriously: Why does some of the stuff, particularly the toothpaste, suddenly reappear, after you have either forgotten all about it or spent many, many, many hours hunting for it right where it suddenly reappears."

12 May 2005

Canada and the OECD have this morning published the results of their joint study of Literacy and Adult Skills in several countries, including Bermuda, done in 2003. It's enormous - Part 1 alone is a pdf of some 276 pages. You can get a copy at this site. I've had a look, though, and am pleased to announce that we whup some significant ass. There are four tests - Prose Literacy, Document Literacy, Numeracy and Problem Solving. We more or less equal Norway, the leader, on the Prose Literacy scale, and although we fall back a bit on the other scales, we do better than the US (and others) pretty much across the board. Poor old Italy comes bottom of the league on all of the tests. I once rang up their consulate in London to ask if I could get a quick visa for a visit. I was told by the woman I talked to that since I lived in a third world country, my application would have to be forwarded to the Foreign Ministry in Italy for vetting, which would take six months. I hope that poor, dumb creature is hanging her head in shame this morning.

I'm not sure the process should be called democratization, but China does in many ways become more like the US with every passing week. Remember the poor man who was jailed a decade ago...nearly executed...for killing his wife, who turned up alive, well and very much on his side in March? He's suing the Chinese Government, according to People's Daily. "She Xianglin, who was freed last month after being wrongly jailed for 11 years, yesterday demanded the State compensate him 4.37 million yuan (US$528,000). 'The compensation is based on She's mental injuries, restrictions of his freedom and infringements on his rights of life and health,' She's lawyer, Zhou Feng, told China Daily yesterday."

She's suit is certainly the American way, but I guess the Chinese have some way to go before they learn that a good, solid, democratic number has more zeros than that.

Really, this should have been a silly little piece for what in my day was often called the diary page, promoting a concert in Tumbridge Wells next week. But the chamber group playing calls itself The Fibonacci Sequence, and music critic Jonathan Jones rises to the occasion by delivering a long and fascinating lecture on exactly what the Fibonacci Sequence is. I hope the music's as good as the article.

Harold Evans, who was the editor of the Sunday Times in what were probably its golden years, from 1967 to 1981, may take over the late Alistair Cooke's Letter from America. The Guardian says he and the BBC are talking about it. Sir Harold moved to the US in 1984, and is now a much-praised author, most recently of a series of books on recent US history.

After the crowing he did in the wake of his defeat of Oona King in the British election last week, you can imagine that every newpspaper in the country is plastered with the story that MP George Galloway has been accused again of taking money in the UN Oil-for-Food scandal, this time by a committee of the US Senate. The Guardian's coverage is typical.

But as CNN's story says, it wasn't only Galloway who was in the firing line, the former French interior minister, Charles Pasqua was also accused. Galloway is alleged to have received something like 20 million barrels of oil, and Pasqua 11. The report was released early today by the Senate Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and claims to have uncovered "significant evidence" that the two men were allocated oil from the Saddam regime, basing its conclusions on documents from the Iraqi ministry of oil, interviews with senior officials of the regime and information from 'unnamed Iraqi sources'.

11 May 2005

Scientists at the University of Liverpool in Britain are coming to Bermuda to look at why ocean temperatures are rising in the tropics and falling up in the northern latitudes, according to a publication called Innovations Report. "The research team, which also includes scientists from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and the University of East Anglia, are departing on a research cruise from Bermuda to establish the extent of the most recent temperature changes. Scientists will be assessing the temperature of the ocean at different depths and collecting water samples to identify levels of carbon dioxide in the ocean."

It's nice that these scientists are having a cruise, but the Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute has already explained this phenomenon of ocean temperatures rising in the tropics and falling up north. It is caused by a slowing down of the Atlantic Conveyor, the current which circulates water in the ocean. If it slows down a lot, or stops, a mini ice-age could be triggered - something which has happened before, albeit in the distant past. I'm hoping it happens around the end of June, when temperatures around here start getting uncivilised.

Mainstream US media are beginning to pick up on the Luis Posada Carriles story - there are pieces in many of the major papers this morning, including this one in the LA Times which leads on declassified documents that were made public yesterday, that link Posada - long a violent opponent of Fidel Castro - to a plot to bomb a Cuban airliner in 1976 and indicate he was on the CIA's payroll for years.

The Washington Post quotes a US official as having confirmed that Posada has applied for asylum in the US. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on Monday that no extradition request from Venezuela for Posada had been received, but it is believed one is on the way. Casey declined to discuss Posada's past, saying only that the United States 'has no interest in allowing anyone with a criminal background to enter the United States.'"

None of this is new, but it does focus attention on the fact that there is a lot riding on the decision on asylum for this man, who seems to fit comfortably within the very stingiest definition of 'terrorist'. The fact that he once worked for the CIA may be uncomfortable for the US, but it should have no bearing on the disposition of Posada's case.

Simon Jenkins, the Times's much-respected columnist, is retiring. In his last column, he breaks a rule and writes about himself, acknowledging his debt to the late, greatest of them all, HL Mencken. "If I have had a mentor it is that monument to cussedness, erudition, prejudice and fun, H. L. Mencken. Before Mencken, American journalism derived from Fleet Street. After Mencken, Fleet Street derived from American journalism. He was the master of hilarious concision: 'The longest sentence in the English language is "I do".' Reading him taught me the tricks of the trade, the make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, the surprise, the quote, the use of rhythm, the outrageous twist. When he turned to politics, Mencken followed the simple dictum: 'Throw the rapscallions out.' To him the misery of watching a politician rise was far outweighed by the pleasure of watching him fall. He was the only writer I could hear cackling in print."

Max Hastings writes in the Guardian that while replacing the "risible, broken-backed" former secretary of state for defence, Geoff Hoon, with John Reid might be a step in the right direction for the British armed forces, they're still on the verge of crisis. "British defence is on the cusp of crisis, by no means its unnatural state but not the less grim for that. There is a desperate need for leadership, of a kind that Hoon, his top civil servants and the chief of defence staff, Sir Michael Walker, have resolutely declined to provide.

"The agenda on Reid's desk this week is bleak. It includes lots of things all governments hate - choices. A great US soldier-historian, Brigadier SLA Marshall, wrote at the nadir of the US army's fortunes in the early 1950s: 'No one wants to join a failing institution.' The challenge for ministers and senior officers is to restore flagging morale and to create a coherent vision for the future of the armed forces, which is absent. Their leaders seem in the business only of managing relentless shrinkage."

10 May 2005

Here's a stunning, if a little confusing, story from People's Daily, concerning some of the Chinese people who fought against the Axis during World War II. I had no idea that there was a "Chinese heroine, Qian Xiuling, who had settled in Belgium, saved nearly one hundred Belgians from the evil Nazi. Belgians respectfully call Ms. Qian 'the Chinese woman at the gunpoint of Gestapo', 'Chinese woman Schindler' and 'Chinese mother in Belgium'." Qian Xiuling, who was living in Belgium, apparently went to Brussels to plead for the life of a young activist from her village. In order to do it, she put the arm on a family friend, a German military officer called Alexander von Falkenhausen. He seems to have sympathised, and helped her save not only this Belgian, but also 96 other Belgians, who are described as "hostages".

People's Daily says "Falkenhausen was arrested by Gestapo after he returned to Germany and was about to be brought to court as dissident. In 1950, Falkenhausen was tried as Germany's top war criminal in Belgium. Hearing the news, Qian went around appealing in support of Falkenhausen's righteous deed. She told Belgian reporters that although Falkenhausen was an invader, he also tried his best to free many Belgians from fatal disaster.

After the World War II, Ms. Qian was awarded 'national hero' medal of honor by the Belgian government. Ecaussinnes city especially named a downtown avenue 'Ms. Qian Road' to remember the heroic Chinese lady."

That's a terrific story! It's confusing in part because it doesn't explain what happened to Falkenhausen, in part because Qian Xiuling doesn't seem to have been the only Chinese Schindler - there's a man called He Fengshan who is mentioned at the very beginning of the story. He's described as a Chinese diplomat who risked his life granting "life-saving visas" to 2,000 Austrian Jew refugees to China's Shanghai, but he is not mentioned again after that very brief reference. And it's confusing in part because there are tantalising little pieces of other fascinating stories scattered throughout, that I'd like to hear more about. The Chinese admiral after whom the US Navy just named a billion dollar warship, for example.

I'm not sure if this can be called a peace dividend, exactly, but it's good news nonetheless. AlJazeera is reporting that the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Israel are about to sign an agreement to dig a 110-mile canal between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, which has slowly been drying up over the past few years. The project will not only save the Dead Sea from evaporating completely, it will generate electricity and move fresh water into areas that desperately need it.

This Washington Times analysis of the UK election makes the point that it wasn't just the Iraq war that caused the dramatic reduction of Labour's majority in last week's election. "...Over the years, the relentless and visible spin of the Blair press operation, failure to improve the National Health Service and transport system (and) the persistence of crime (higher in London than in New York) all took a toll.

"Britons vote tactically. They have just one vote for one member of Parliament, but they use it to send messages. In 1997 and 2001, tactical voting was aimed almost exclusively at Conservatives: Anti-Tory voters cast almost all their votes for whichever party, Labor or Lib Dems, seemed the Conservatives' stronger opponent. In safe Labor seats and some marginals, antiwar voters swung to the antiwar Lib Dems in large numbers; Lib Dems once won most of their seats from Conservatives, but last week they won mostly from Labor."

This story in Editor & Publisher is particularly interesting because it comes a day after the New York Times published the report of an internal committee of journalists seeking to tighten the conditions under which anonymous sources are used in stories, among other things.

"An investigation into the sourcing and accuracy of news stories by a freelance journalist at a leading Internet news site," Editor & Publisher says, "concluded that the existence of dozens of people quoted in the articles could not be confirmed. Wired News, which publishes some articles from Wired magazine, paid for the review of stories by one of its frequent contributors, Michelle Delio, 37, of New York City. It disclosed results late Monday. The review determined that dozens of people cited in articles by Delio primarily during the past 18 months could not be located. Many of the people who were cited as sources and who could not be located had common names and occupations and were reported to be living in large metropolitan regions."

A member of the House of Representatives is accusing the US administration of hypocrisy in its lukewarm response to reports that Luis Posada Carriles, the anti-Castro Cuban linked to the bombing of a civilian airliner, is in hiding in the US. The Washington Times quotes Rep. William D. Delahunt, the ranking Democrat on the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, as having said the administration's lack of action in deporting Posada smacks of hypocrisy.

"Our sudden timidity with regard to a particular terrorist threatens to undermine the fundamental credibility of our global effort," Delahunt said. "There are mounds of historical evidence - reportedly including U.S. intelligence memos - that link Posada to numerous terrorist incidents. But he is an anti-Castro Cuban - not an Arab or a Muslim," Delahunt said in letters to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. "To my knowledge...there has been no official declaration from the Department of Justice that it is trying to determine if this terrorist is actually in the US; that he is unwelcome here; and that, if he is actually here, he will be immediately detained and deported," the letter to Gonzalez said. "I suggest an official announcement to that effect be made forthwith."

The Times says Federal officials have said they are not looking for Posada because they are not sure he is in the United States - "But they said if they get any specific information on his whereabouts they will check it out."

On the day American President George Bush pays an historic visit to his country, the president of the Republic of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, has published an op-ed in the Washington Post urging a new coalition of nations to consolidate democracy in countries like Georgia and Ukraine, and to extend its reach beyond the Black Sea.

"For 60 years," the president writes, "the word 'Yalta' has meant betrayal and abandonment. The diplomatic accord reached between Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States in that sleepy Black Sea resort relegated millions of people to a ruthless tyranny. As President Bush said last week in Latvia: 'The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable.'

"Thankfully, the division of Europe created at Yalta, and the Iron Curtain that marked its boundary, are ghosts in our past. The generation of 1989 succeeded in the streets of Gdansk, Prague and Riga, and much of the territory Yalta allotted to a dictator is now part of the community of democratic nations. Now it is our turn to contribute to the completion of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. After recent discussions with presidents Traian Basescu of Romania and Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, I believe that it is time for a new Yalta Conference, a voluntary association of new European democracies..."

09 May 2005

DEBKAfile has made more than one reference, recently, to a new, deadlier breed of al Qaeda operative spawned since 9/11. It sounds to me like the sort of exaggeration spawned by people spending too much time hanging around the office coffee machine, but...this is the way they tell the tale, in a story that leads on new details of the arrest on May 3 of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, 40, the man responsible for al Qaeda's operational planning and execution in Pakistan. "DEBKAfile's intelligence sources...reveal that, since entering its second term, the Bush administration has quietly initiated a new phase in the war on terror, adjusted to counter perceived threats from the new and deadly al Qaeda breed spawned since 9/11. Very little is known about the new structure, its central command, and whereabouts. 'No longer is the US global effort focused on the hunt to track down Osama bin Laden; instead, the search is on for his links,' say the sources.

"In any event, most of the earlier al Qaeda cells have either been caught or exposed and are no longer able to operate effectively. They have been replaced with a fast-growing network which takes its inspiration from Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Running it to ground, US and Pakistani intelligence agencies both believe, will uncover its links to the two leaders. Debriefings of the latest crop of al Qaeda detainees begin to lift the veil on the new structure's organization and reveal it as tight and tough with very few weak points. But no clue to the top men's whereabouts has been elicited."

The Washington Times reminds us that on Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was scheduled to vote on President Bush's nomination of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations. "But that is now in doubt," the Times says, "as Sen. Joseph Biden, the panel's ranking Democrat, warns that Democrats might seek another delay in voting on this nomination that was originally scheduled for a vote three weeks ago.

"The pretext for the Biden complaint is that the State Department hasn't provided evidence of how Mr. Bolton used intelligence information in his speeches. The fact is that Democrats like Mr. Biden and Sen. Christopher Dodd - emboldened by the failure of coalition forces to find large quantities of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - are out to discredit President Bush's foreign policy by suggesting that Mr. Bolton, one of the most stalwart of the president's supporters at the State Department during his first term, exaggerated the threats to American interests posed by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad."

The Times doesn't sound optimistic about the likelihood of Bolton being approved.

Reporter Claudia Rosset is mulling over the significance of the struggle that has developed between Paul Volcker, who is overseeing the official UN investigation into the Oil-for-Food scandal, and the House Committee on International Relations, which has subpoenaed papers from a resigned Volcker team investigator. In the New York Sun, she notes that when "When Mr. (Robert) Parton left the Volcker team, he took with him evidence that...consists of boxes of paper printouts, notes, verbatim transcripts, and CDs that contain recordings.

"Friday, at a hastily assembled press conference in New York, Mr. Volcker stepped forward to say he wants his evidence back...(Chairman Henry) Hyde said no. That has triggered a potentially explosive showdown, pitting the powers of Congress against the privileges and immunities of the United Nations, which, by Mr. Volcker's account, extend to his 'independent inquiry'. All of which may be useful in illustrating the rules by which the United Nations, and now its 'independent inquiry', play. Most involve the United Nations' climate of privilege and secrecy, whence sprang oil for food in the first place. Mr. Volcker's inquiry, for example, is funded at the behest of Mr. Annan, with $30 million left over from the $1.4 billion the UN Secretariat collected from Saddam Hussein's regime under oil for food to run the program in the first place. So, in the budget sense, Mr. Volcker's inquiry is just one more piece of oil for food."

Paul Volcker rather melodramatically warned on Friday that the Hyde committee would be putting people's lives at risk by making the subpoenaed documents public. Ms Rosset notes the warning "is also a reminder that many more innocents may be in danger due to the secrecy that the United Nations has to this day imposed, not on the identities of witnesses, but on the bulk of the UN oil-for-food records - most of which should never have been secret at all. From the glimpses we have had to date, they may provide glimpses of Saddam's network of arms rackets, terrorist groups, and cronies in high places who may still wield influence in world affairs."

That committee of New York Times staffers I posted about yesterday has published its paper, making suggestions for restoring reader credibility. Katherine Q Seelye says this morning that editor Bill Keller says the problem of the use of anonymous sources is already being addressed, in the sense that the Washington bureau chiefs of several newspapers met with the White House to urge that background briefings with anonymous administration officials be attributed by name.

Ms Seelye says "The report urged strict limitation of anonymous sources, but did not call for them to be eliminated entirely. Nor did the committee see much point in boycotting the background briefings. Sometimes, it said, guaranteeing anonymity is the only way to extract important information."

UPDATE - A copy of the report is available here.

Arthur Chrenkoff updates us on some of the work in Iraq to improve and expand Baghdad's power supply in his twice-monthly roundup, published in the Wall Street Journal.

He quotes a USAID statement: "Work is continuing on the expansion of the electrical generation capacity of the Baghdad South Power Plant. The scope of work for the project involves the installation of two new 120 MW turbines and accompanying skids, modules, switchyard, busduct, transformers, and embedded conduit systems. Currently, 45 Iraqi electricians working extended shifts are preparing the necessary power cables for the first new turbine and installing low and medium voltage switchgear. Work on the fire fighting system and the exhaust stack sound muffler has been completed. Work is continuing on grounding, fire protection piping, acoustical enclosures, and gas piping to the main unit breakers.

"The first turbine to be installed should begin light fuel operation in June 2005, with the second turbine scheduled for July 2005. The turbines will be ready for heavy fuel operation and be substantial completed by November 2005. When completed, 212 MW will be added to the Iraq grid. All work at the site is expected to be completed by December 2005."

While we're on that kind of subject - I've been having DSL line problems for several days, now. The local telephone company says it's working on it. If Pondblog updates should suddenly stop, you'll know why.

08 May 2005

One facet of the John Bolton confirmation struggle that interests me particularly, is his disagreement with intelligence analysts over how much of a threat Cuba poses to US interests. It has been cast by some as an argument over whether, as Bolton believed, Cuba was trying to develop a biological warfare capability, but that is transparently an oversimplification. The Weekly Standard says "On one side of the debate stands Bolton and other like-minded policymakers and analysts who see Cuba's role in Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution as a direct threat to US interests. This threat was aptly characterized by Bush administration official Otto Reich as an 'axis of subversion'. On the other side of the debate stand analysts and politicians who downplay the threat posed by the Chavez-Castro alliance and urge a softer approach to dealing with them...

"One analyst that has repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by the gathering storm south of the border is CIA analyst, Fulton Armstrong. In fact, Armstrong is at the center of most of the Democrats' claims about Bolton's 'bullying', 'pressuring', 'abusing' or seeking the reassignment of analysts with whom he disagrees. It was Armstrong who, before being reassigned to a more clandestine position, was involved in a very public spat with Bolton and his ilk in 2003. At a time when Cuban intelligence operations, which had successfully penetrated the upper echelons of the Pentagon, were being discovered, Mr. Armstrong was criticized by Mr. Bolton, Mr. Reich, and others for his lenient stance."

The CIA paper at the centre of all this is entitled Ways To Make Analysis Relevant But Not Prescriptive. At the end of it, Armstrong makes a reasonable and correct statement about the nature of his job: "The Intelligence Community should provide policymakers with analytic products that are realistic and reflect a range of legitimate interpretations of events and their implications for the United States. We should be the radiologists: We take the picture and read the spots on it to the best of our ability, but we leave the diagnosis and cure to the doctors. We should provide the facts and possible interpretations of them, but not apply a value ruler. Our products should reflect an awareness of the immutable 'national interests' as well as the range of policy options and political preferences - and not prejudge them for the policymaker."

That's a correct statement of the relationship between politicians and civil servants. But earlier in the paper, Armstrong's argument seems to be that relating threat to national interest is more complex than that, and he asks this question - "Should analysts accept the point of view of narrow interest groups as valid expressions of national interest, when an administration appears to endorse them?

"On Cuba, senior and mid-level policymakers have barely concealed in the past the fact that a relatively small constituency is the most intense promoter of the 'pressure cooker' approach of maintaining the economic embargo, isolating Havana internationally, and promoting internal upheaval. One past Coordinator for Cuban Affairs at the State Department would answer challenges to the government's policy, in open forum, with the answer, 'Cuba is first and foremost a domestic political matter.'

"You do not have to be a cynic to see a link between Cuba policy, Florida elections, and campaign finances. Most observers judge that the chance is extremely slim that explosive change on the island (the sectoral interest) would result in stability and democracy (the national interest). But that view continues to underpin the interpretation of our national interests in Cuba."

I'm at a loss to explain how he squares these obviously political thoughts with his pious words about leaving the diagnosis and cure to the doctors. But let's leave that to one side for the moment and talk about what kind of a threat Mr Castro really does pose. He must be just as much a threat to the national interest of the US as any totalitarian ruler is...and in this new, smaller, 21st Century world of ours, there isn't room for democracy and totalitarianism to peacefully coexist, it seems. But it doesn't end there, does it? Mr Castro has a kind of value-added quality about him, in that he has a currency with people around the world which completely ignores his politics. As a result of the, let's say, righteousness of the Cuban struggle against the forces of totalitarianism 50 or 60 years ago, Mr Castro is a highly credible spokesman for freedom, and has considerable power to draw individuals and countries to his side in any fight with the US. That really is a threat to the US national interest.

When you set them against that background, Mr Armstrong's points about Florida elections and campaign finances are obviously politically-driven red herrings, despite the fine words with which he tries to disguise them. That, perhaps, shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has been watching the struggle between the administration and the CIA over the last two or three years.

What do the critics say about Michael Gambon's performance as Falstaff? The Times says that "For once, the judges were not agreed on this performance by Gambon, rated by the playwright Arthur Miller as 'the greatest actor in England'. Some proclaimed him a triumphant incarnation of Prince Hal's corpulent and roguish friend, a character who morphs between flamboyance, villainy and poise. Others held he had fumbled on the beam, slurring his words and lacking the necessary charisma. He struck Benedict Nightingale in The Times as 'a rheumy oldster who might be the ancestor of one of Gambon's recent successes'.

But, the Times says, "Nobody has quite got the measure of Gambon, one moment playing Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter, the next hurtling around on two wheels in BBC2's Top Gear, which named a corner of their test track after him. A bear of a man, 6ft tall, with mischievous eyes that turn into dipped headlamps and folds that hang heavily from his cheeks, he guards his private life with a series of magnificent porkies. He once claimed he started out as a dancer at the Royal Ballet and for years carried a photo of Robert De Niro inscribed with the star's forged good wishes. In reality, his friends have included Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. Last month Lauren Bacall described him as 'my favourite - outrageous and brilliant'.

I can't, for the moment, remember who it was who, faced with a problem, went galloping off on his horse in all directions at once. It certainly wasn't Lee Siegel, who describes himself as the book critic for The Nation, the television critic for The New Republic and the art critic for Slate. But at least, with that background, he seems to have had some related experience. That may be why, in this New York Times piece about the reissue of Sigmund Freud's essay, Civilization and its Discontents, he seems not to be reviewing the book as much as he is conducting a kind of intellectual drive-by shooting from a vehicle moving at great speed.

Freud's ideas, he says, have spelled the death of psychology in art. They are to blame for the extinction of literary character. They are the product of a profoundly agitated, even disturbed, mind. They are hostile to Christianity. They are as severely circumscribed by time as by Freud's situation, and we can't understand them unless we understand all that. As a result, the most intractable division in the world now is between those who believe that the subconscious plays a fundamental role in human life, and those who don't. That, he says, is the real culture war, "and maybe even the real clash of civilizations."


The New York Times's "Public Editor", Daniel Okrent, says a committee of editors and reporters is just about to publish a document entitled Preserving Our Readers' Trust, designed to give guidance to the paper's staff on a number of journalistic practices that make readers nervous. Somewhere near the top, he says, will be the use of anonymous sources.

"Since I've been in this job, use of anonymous sources has been the substantive issue raised most often by readers. They challenge the authenticity of quotations. They question the accuracy of the information in the quotations. They believe reporters who invoke unidentified sources are lazy or, far worse, dishonest. As Leonard Wortzel of Atlanta wrote, 'Whenever I come across a phrase like 'according to a high-ranking official,' I translate it to mean, 'I, the reporter, will now state my opinion and disguise it as news.' Reporters bristle when they hear this sort of thing, just as you would if your integrity were challenged. But I don't think it matters if it's fair or not. If readers perceive deception or dishonesty, The Times has a problem."

Okrent says he doesn't know what the committee's recommendations are going to be, but it's unlikely members will suggest that the Times never use stories built using anonymous sources - that would be absurd, and Times readers know it. What they would like is reassurance that the standards of the Times journalists are sufficiently high that when an anonymous source is quoted, readers can have some confidence that the reporter really isn't disguising his opinion as news. The Times has some way to go in that area - having been caught red-, or at least pink-handed, on many occasions recently, publishing stories designed to advance its own biases.

It might also help promote confidence if the Times paid some attention to its use of grammar - the headline on this Okrent story is Briefers and Leakers and the Newspapers Who Enable Them. Newspapers who? I don't think so.


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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