...Views from mid-Atlantic
21 May 2005

France is a little more than a week away from its referendum on the European Constitution, and there's some fairly fevered lobbying going on. I ran across this piece in the EUobserver, which was written by Susan George, Chairman of the Board of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam and vice-president of the French Attac organisation. It echoes some points people on this side of the Atlantic were making months ago, when the text of the document was first circulated:

"A Constitution should be comprehensible for the people it will govern. This text completely fails the test. The Constitution of the United States of America is about 30 pages long...The European Constitution is 252 pages long in the French version and with all the protocols and annexes comes to 850. I don't have a law degree (and I suspect you don't either), but I'm used to examining fairly difficult texts (MAI, WTO, IMF, etc). This one wins first prize for complexity.

"A Constitution must be based on popular sovereignty, that is, come from the people. We have known this since the 18th century. Here this principle is forgotten. The people who draw up such a document should be elected for that purpose by the people who will be subject to its provisions. The 105 members of the Convention, although many were national or European parliamentarians, were not elected for the purpose of designing a European Constitution. The American Constitution begins with the words "We the people". The European one begins with a long list of heads of State and Royal Highnesses. I don't know if there is already such a thing as "the European people" but if we plan to live together, we should encourage its emergence and development. The people are absent from this Constitution."

OK, they're little more than a bunch of goons. But you have to give the Zimbabwean government credit for bringing a type of uber-crassness to the state of goonship, to which I'm sure no goon has ever before aspired. Having kicked whites off their land and given it away more or less at random, sending the country skidding pell-mell down a steep slope towards starvation as a result, they're now talking about "allowing" them back to bail the place out. The Guardian says "White farmers may be allowed back on their land in Zimbabwe as part of a plan by the government of Robert Mugabe to solve the country's deepening economic crisis. The president's key finance aide has called for some of the farmers whose properties were confiscated in a land seizure programme to be allowed to resume growing crops to boost the country's flagging agricultural output. Gideon Gono, governor of the central bank and Mr Mugabe's main policy maker, made the proposal as he announced a 31% devaluation of the Zimbabwe currency."

Thomas Sowell has some sharp words for those in the Senate who are trying to avoid approving George Bush's judicial appointments: "The real issue is whether those Senators have the right to deprive all other Senators of the right to vote on these nominees. Nothing that is said for or against Justice Owen or Justice Brown has any relevance to the issue of some Senators denying other Senators the right to vote. The essence of bigotry is denying other people the same rights you have. For generations, it was racial bigotry which provoked filibusters to prevent the Senate from voting on bills to extend civil rights to blacks. But bigotry is bigotry, whether it is racial bigotry, religious bigotry or political bigotry."

20 May 2005

Gerard Baker has a fine little go at George Galloway in his Times opinion piece today. "I also wondered what his and our life might have been like if he had deployed some of his little-man courage before Saddam; standing up for some of those other hundreds of thousands of other good Muslims - Iraqis, who could have done with a persuasive advocate there and then.

"Perhaps in the end, if you're a cynic you may find Mr Galloway's asymmetrical approach to authority - a lapdog in the hands of the one who likes to watch as his victims are tortured; a lion in the face of those who threaten with questions and subpoenas — simply the familiar mark of the coward. If you're an optimist, you might find it oddly comforting The Mother of Parliaments clasps him to her bosom. The world's greatest deliberative body sits in embarrassed silence as he lectures it on its shortcomings...

"Me, though I'll celebrate my opponent's right to be wrong, I can't suppress a slight regret that the price of our liberty is paid in the deference we give to men who excuse tyranny...It is the tragic but hopeful people of Iraq who have shown us how to defy power and misery, and who, if we stand firm against the Galloways of this world, will one day get the Respect they truly deserve."

Baker has some amusing things to say about the US Senate's rather overblown sense of itself - the world's greatest deliberative body, as its members are fond of saying. Curiously, that particular phrase cropped up in the Washington Post this morning, in this context: "Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), on a visit to the Senate press gallery, was asked what character Democrats represent. 'We are the Jedi knights,' he replied instantly. 'We have the light source.' Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson scoffed at these claims, suggesting the Democrats are in fact led by a floppy-eared outcast from Naboo. If Frist is Palpatine and Democrats are Jedi, Stevenson wondered, 'would that make Howard Dean Jar Jar Binks?'

"It is a question worthy of the world's greatest deliberative body," the Post writer commented.

A lost Kerouac play? The Guardian rather grandly announces that it has resurfaced after 50 years. "Beat Generation, written in the autumn of 1957, the same year as the publication of Kerouac's breakthrough work On the Road, was unearthed in a New Jersey warehouse six months ago. An excerpt will appear in the July issue of Best Life magazine...The play recounts a day in the life of the hard-drinking, drug-fuelled life of Jack Duluoz, Kerouac's alter-ego.

"'Kerouac wrote the play in one night when he returned to his home in Florida after the publication of On The Road,' said Kerouac's biographer and family friend Gerald Nicosia. 'He was getting a lot of attention, being put on TV talk shows after On the Road, and an off-Broadway theatre producer named Leo Gavin said he wanted a play from him.'"

Pardon me if I yawn a little. I don't think Kerouac was a particularly good writer. On the Road was about the only thing he wrote that stood out, and it stood out not so much because it was an outstanding piece of writing, as because it was an important moment in social and literary history perfectly preserved. He caught it as neatly as a fly in amber. That certainly took talent, but luck had a great deal to do with it as well, I suspect, because nothing else he ever wrote gets even close.

In the story about the alleged desecration of a Koran at Guantanamo Bay, press coverage has gone in two directions. Once the rioting stopped, the media concentrated on Newsweek getting it wrong. Now that that seems to be dying down a little, what has begun to attract comment is the extraordinary way the Muslim world reacted to the possibility that a single Koran might have been flushed down the toilet. To the West, used to seeing its flags burned in every corner of the world, rioting over such a thing is a ridiculous over-reaction.

Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Saudi Institute in Washington, writes in the Wall Street Journal that there was also a contradiction connected to it that is internal to the Arab world. "As a Muslim, I am able to purchase copies of the Quran in any bookstore in any American city, and study its contents in countless American universities. American museums spend millions to exhibit and celebrate Muslim arts and heritage. On the other hand, my Christian and other non-Muslim brothers and sisters in Saudi Arabia - where I come from - are not even allowed to own a copy of their holy books. Indeed, the Saudi government desecrates and burns Bibles that its security forces confiscate at immigration points into the kingdom or during raids on Christian expatriates worshiping privately."

Muslim writer Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty and Change writes in theTimes (looks as if the article was published first in the New York Review of Books) that "These days, it's lazily assumed that if you challenge a group's deeply held religious convictions, you're undermining their dignity. That's certainly how my questions (whether there were not human errors involved in the compilation of the verses that make up the Koran) will feel to most Muslims. Yet by urging my fellow Muslims to consider these questions, I'm showing faith in our capacity to be more thoughtful and humane than most of our clerics give us credit for. I'm appealing to their heads rather than only to their hearts. Ultimately, I'm fighting not Islam but the routinely low expectations of those who practise it."

But Victor Davis Hansen takes a less charitable view, in his latest National Review column. "...Our Afghan rioters, and the Islamist organizations that have endorsed them, live in the eighth century of rumor, sexual and religious intolerance, tribal chauvinism, and gratuitous violence - but now electrified by the veneer of the 21st-century civilization that is not their own...Yet all the illumination in the modern world - neon, fluorescent, or incandescent - cannot light up the illiberal Dark Age mind if it is not willing (or forced) to begin the long ordeal of democracy, tolerance, legality, and individual rights."

What Hansen, especially, seems not to be taking into account is the doubt I have seen expressed elsewhere that the reaction in the Muslim world was a genuine one. Some claim the Koran allegation was simply a convenient excuse for provocateurs to ignite a deeper anger with the US. That certainly strikes me as more logical, but then logic and religion don't often mix well, do they?

19 May 2005

This Guardian story alleges that Reporters Without Borders, the group modelled on Medecins sans Frontieres, is shilling for the US Government and right-wing groups. It's interesting enough in itself, but what I find fascinating is that it surfaced first earlier this month in Granma, the Cuban Government newspaper. Granma's story was written by Jean-Guy Allard, who is a French-Canadian journalist living in Havana - one of those anti-American left-wingers whose stories resemble science fiction more than reality. He has written against Robert Menard, the group's founder, on several occasions in the past. He says the information contained in his Granma story came from an investigative journalist in California called Diana Barahona.

It turns out that Barahona isn't a journalist, but a research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, where she wrote this bizarre press release, published on Tuesday. She also wrote this article for Granma, published today. This Granma article was taken from one Barahona wrote for Counterpunch, a lunatic fringe socialist running-dog propaganda machine that describes itself, mistakenly, as America's best political newsletter.

I wonder what Barahona and this Council of hers are running - some kind of socialist hit team under the guise of being a news service?

The Guardian is reporting that Leica, maker of the finest cameras in the world, may have to go out of business. "Next week its manufacturer is holding an extraordinary general meeting following a disastrous year which saw a record 10.7 million pound loss for the company. Amid a sales slump, Leica will ask its shareholders to approve a 22 million Euro recapitalisation plan to turn around its fortunes. But if the plan fails the company, which single-handedly revolutionised photography in the 1920s and 1930s with its pioneering 35mm camera, is likely to go under."

Jack Straw was hinting broadly again yesterday that if France votes against the EU Constitution in their referendum at the end of May, Britain won't go ahead with its own. The Guardian says "Mr Straw's remarks reflect a near unanimous belief within the government that Britain will be unable to go ahead with its own referendum next year in the absence of a yes vote in the May 29 French referendum...

"Britain fears that the French president, Jacques Chirac, will blame Mr Blair for any setback. Britain is widely seen in France to have pushed for a constitution enshrining the rights of member states and commerce above those of EU bodies. If the constitution is rejected, the British agenda for further economic reform in the EU would be under serious attack."

What might have touched off this latest round of public hand-wringing is the fact that French polls announced a few days ago are showing that French opinion has swung again against the constitution by two or three points. But that has little to do with Britain and Tony Blair and much to do with the terrible economic bind France has put itself in by refusing to reform its welfare system. The New York Times did a feature a day or so ago about the problems the Alsace region is facing because of it: "'Because salaries and taxes are not harmonized in Europe, poorer countries with lower taxes can attract capital, and that puts pressure on us to lower taxes,' said Adrien Zeller, president of Alsace's regional council. 'But we can't lower taxes because we have expensive social services to maintain.'"

Britain seems to be becoming world headquarters for a bizarre undertow thrown up by the wave of scientific progress. Animal rights activists there must be the most violent, stop-at-nothing group in the world. Research on genetically modified crops has been brought to a halt because of the activities of green groups. And now, Brits seem to be revving up on nanotechnology. Greenpeace and scientists at Cambridge University are billing this five-week event as a debate, but it's a debate before a "citizen's jury" - which sounds to me a bit like something thrown up by the French Revolution.

18 May 2005

George Galloway put on quite a performance in the Senate yesterday. Strip away the bombast, though, and you're left with comments by those on the subcommittee that his testimony was "not credible", and this sentence at the end of the New York Times's story "Senator Coleman said that 'it strains any concept of reasonableness for him to assert that he didn't know, or wouldn't answer the question, whether his named representative in Iraq was involved in trading for oil.'"

That's a point which has not been missed in England, where the Times notes that as a result of the Senate's investigation, the Charity Commission may reopen its investigation into the sources of the funding for the Mariam Appeal, a charity Galloway set up to help an Iraqi girl with leukemia, but which might also have been used to help conceal dodgy money.

"In a statement last night after Mr Galloway's fierce testimony on Capitol Hill, the Charity Commission took issue with his statement that its inquiry had examined 'all money in and all money out'. It said: 'We did not undertake a detailed review of sources of income to the Appeal because the original concern prompting our inquiry was about the use to which funds had been put. Our inquiry did not find evidence of donations direct from oil companies but noted that one of the major funders of the Appeal was Fawaz Zureikat, an individual named on 12 May 2005 by the US Senate Sub-Committee as allegedly connected with payments in relation to allocations of oil under the Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme.

"'We have no evidence to show that the income received by the Fund from Mr Zuriekat came from an improper source. But had the recent allegations been known to us at the time of our inquiry, we would have made the information available to the appropriate UK authorities for them to decide whether the Mariam Appeal had received funds from an illegal source.'"

Galloway did at least admit to the Senate committee that political fundraising could be "messy".

How did half a ton of Frida Kahlo's belongings come to be locked away in a disused bathroom and forgotten for 60 years? Kahlo died in 1954. In 1958, after the death of Kahlo's husband, the muralist Diego Rivera, the Blue House in Mexico City in which the pair lived was turned into the Frida Kahlo Museum by Rivera's wealthy patron and executor, Dolores Olmedo Patino.

Olmedo owned 25 of Frida's darkest and most famous paintings. But in her heart of hearts, she didn't like them much. (The paintings cost Olmedo a total of $1,600; five years ago, one Kahlo self-portrait sold for $5m.) She is openly dismissive of Kahlo's work, referring to it as "trashy", according to the Guardian. "She acquired her masterpieces, she admitted, only because Rivera begged her to. 'Otherwise I would not have done it...I did not get along with Frida. She liked women and I liked men, and I was not a communist.'" When Kahlo died, Olmedo seems to have shoveled her possessions into a disused bathroom in her house, locked the door and forgot about them.

"Among the articles that have come to light in her unused bathroom is a precious stack of photographic glass-plates, almost certainly taken by her father, Guillermo Kahlo - a man whose relationship with and influence on his daughter will now, Kahlo scholars feel, become key to understanding her work." There's a pair of mouldy boots, the Guardian says, reinforced with steel to help Kahlo walk. "There is a dusty pickled foetus in a jar, donated to the childless artist by her doctor. A single earring has been found - an ivory hand given to Kahlo by Picasso when she visited Paris; 180 of her moth-eaten signature Tehuantepec dresses have been unearthed, along with 26,000 letters and documents." Extraordinary.

I must say, I like the sound of John Gertz. He inherited the rights to Zorro from his father. It occurred to him that Zorro had appeared in films, TV shows, comics - everything except serious literature. So, as the Guardian says, in another of its wonderfully offbeat features, he went looking for a writer. He wanted "someone to fill in the backstory of Zorro, the early years; someone who, like Zorro, knew California well and could think in Spanish; someone with a track record in historical research; someone who could bring a Latin sensibility to the myth of the Mexican-American do-gooder."

So Gertz knocked on Isabel Allende's door, and suggested she write a book about Zorro.

"'I said, 'What are you talking about? I'm a serious writer,' the serious writer explains, sitting in her living room, a picture window providing a backdrop of clouds scudding across the bay. Rather than taking no for an answer, however, the visitors left a box full of Zorro artefacts - tapes of old movies, comics, recordings of the TV series.

"'And so I fell in love again with Zorro,' she says, in her lilting English, 'because I had been in love with him when I was a child. He's the father of Batman and Superman. He's the father of all the action heroes with the double personality. Most of those guys have magic tricks. Zorro has only his own skills.'

"She prefers not to refer to the job as a commission. 'It was a proposition. They said, 'We have the character and you have the talent to write the book. Are you interested?' I said, 'OK, we'll go 50-50.' And that was it.'" The result is called Zorro: A Novel in the US and Zorro: The Novel in the UK, which seems pretty silly. So far, this and Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn are the must-have books of the year, I'd say.

The Christian Science Monitor has published a feature on Lidia Bastianich, whose books on Italian cooking, to me, have the force of statutes. I learned how to cook vegetables from her - a lost art, or perhaps it's better to say a never-found art in many kitchens of my acquaintance. I can't remember ever failing with one of her recipes, which is more than I can say even for Marcella Hazan, who comes a pretty close second with me.

It may put them in a really awkward political situation, but the US has saved itself from getting into an even more awkward moral position by arresting Luis Posada Carriles yesterday. If it is right that he had a part in the bombing of a Cuban airplane full of civilians some years ago, then he is a terrorist, by any definition, even although at the time he had a connection with the CIA. Giving him asylum, or turning a blind eye to his presence in the US would be the height of hypocrisy in the light of the present US attitude towards terrorists. The New York Times says Posada withdrew his application for asylum shortly before his arrest (my guess is that was a legal blunder on his lawyer's part that probably precipitated his arrest) but will now renew it.

Buried down in the middle of this NYT story is an interesting fact, in the light of the Times's recent report on, among other things, how to deal with stories that involve anonymous sources. Posada held a press conference a few days ago. The Times apparently declined to attend, "because of the terms, which included being driven by Mr. Posada's associates to an undisclosed place and agreeing to ask questions only on certain topics."

17 May 2005

I seem to have been wrong in guessing that George Galloway would find an excuse not to appear before the Senate subcommittee on investigations to defend himself against their Oil-for-Food allegations. Today's the day. According to the New York Post, Galloway's been warned by subcommittee chairman Norm Coleman that "he will be subject to US perjury laws when he confronts legislators today in an explosive showdown over the UN oil-for-food scandal."

Meantime, the Socialist Worker seems to be telegraphing Galloway's defence strategy in this morning's issue - it says the documents the Senate group is relying on are forgeries of the same sort of stripe as those used by CBS-News in its story about President Bush's National Guard Service:

"Investigation by Socialist Worker shows that evidence crucial to the alleged case against the Respect MP is a fake, created after the fall of Baghdad in 2003. The entire assault is another desperate attempt to smear the opponents of the war on Iraq and to make them appear as the corrupt hirelings of tyranny. In Britain the material is another dirty weapon to be employed in an effort to destroy George Galloway and break the rise of Respect."

They're also running an interview with a man who claims he was the forger. Course, he could be a socialist lackey, another of those corrupt hirelings Socialist Worker keeps on about, couldn't he?

Here's something I find hard to understand - the belief by archaeologists and others that they have a right to dig up people's graves in the name of research. I can understand that some Government agency might, in balancing the needs of science against respect for the dead, once in a while tilt in favour of science. But it should be a difficult process, one in which the benefit of any doubt should be given to the dead. That doesn't seem to be the way some scientists think it should work, however. In this Times story Japanese officials are said to be under heavy pressure to allow the exploration of nearly 1,000 imperial tombs, 124 of them those of emperors dating from the 7th Century BC through to that of Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989.

It's interesting to speculate how the American public would feel if someone were to propose digging up the graves of Presidents, ancient and modern, for the sake of seeing just what's in 'em and putting any valuable artefacts...well, (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) most of 'em, anyway...in some museum.

The big question about the Newsweek Koran desecration story, the Wall Street Journal believes, is why Newsweek was so ready to believe the story was true in the first place. "The allegation after all repudiated explicit US and Army policy to treat Muslim detainees with religious respect, including time to pray, honoring dietary preferences and access to the Koran. Yet the magazine readily printed a story suggesting that what our enemies claim about Guantanamo is essentially true. Why?"

The answer, the paper says, is that the news media hasn't trusted the military since Vietnam, when there was ample reason not to believe what its spokesmen said.

In this Journalism.org 2005 State of the News Media Report, the point is made that old media, if I can be forgiven that term, are losing support from readers and viewers at a rate of knots, while new media, like bloggers, are gaining gaining them at a rate of knots. It's not that bloggers are better at it - they couldn't hope to seriously rival the traditional media at newsgathering. But what people find attractive is presentation - the vitality and immediacy of internet-based media. Most of them don't make a lot of money from what they do. But there is a kind of vague faith that one day, they will. Old media have no such faith - and now that the novelty of the internet is wearing off, they are beginning to scale back their internet presence, or at least are failing to improve it, because they can't figure a way of making money out of it now.

That seems to me a big mistake, because it tends to accelerate their loss and the internet media's gain.

Journalism.org says "Despite the new demands, there is more evidence than ever that the mainstream media are investing only cautiously in building new audiences. That is true even online, where audiences are growing. Our data suggest that news organizations have imposed more cutbacks in their Internet operations than in their old media, and where the investment has come is in technology for processing information, not people to gather it. One reason is that the new technologies are still providing relatively modest revenues. The problem is that the traditional media are leaving it to technology companies - like Google - and to individuals and entrepreneurs - like bloggers - to explore and innovate on the Internet. The risk is that traditional journalism will cede to such competitors both the new technology and the audience that is building there."

Despite this, the New York Times yesterday annunced that the company is going to allow internet access to op-ed and news columnists only to those who are prepared to pay them $49.95 for an annual subscription. Even if a blogger subscribes, he or she will be unable to make the story available to non-subscribers, so the enormous added volume the columnists' voices get as a result of being quoted by blogs will largely be lost. What a shame, and what a thick-headed business decision!

16 May 2005

It's hard to tell you precisely what this Mark Steyn column, published in the Washington Times and elsewhere, is all about. Is it about the fact that 500 containers, representing one-quarter of all aid sent to Sri Lanka since the tsunami hit Dec. 26, are still sitting on the dock in Colombo, because of Indonesia's lunatic bureaucracy? Is it about "the grotesque charade" inflicted on the processing of the nomination of John Bolton as UN ambassador by the Democrats and one "squishy" Republican? Is it about the hypocrisy of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, pledging $425 million in aid to tsunami victims, but delivering only $50,000...Canadian?

It's all that, and more - a dispatch from the border between laughter and outrage.

Around the world, the media are reporting this morning that aides to the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, have confirmed that the Oil-for-Food programme was used to reward Russian officials for their support of Iraq. About 30% of the oil sold in the programme was allocated to Russia, apparently, even though Russia is an oil-exporting country. USAToday's report is typical.

But the New York Times has the best Oil-for-Food story of the day. They are reporting that Robert Parton, the former Volcker investigation aide, has accused the Volcker group of compromising its investigation by leaking information to Secretary General Kofi Annan that violated the confidentiality of a witness in the inquiry.

"Mr. Parton's court filing, made in response to Mr. Volcker's request for his information, accuses the Volcker committee of 'compromising the integrity of the ongoing investigation.' The document says that he resigned because unknown to him, members of the committee gave the name of a witness who was cooperating confidentially 'and the substance of his statement to the secretary general and his counsel'."

Henry Kissinger welcomes recent moves towards reform in the Middle East, but worries that Americans may misunderstand their significance. In an article published in the Washington Post, he makes this three-point warning:

"The process of democratization does not depend on a single decision and will not be completed in a single stroke. Elections, however desirable, are only the beginning of a long enterprise. The willingness to accept their outcomes is a more serious hurdle. The establishment of a system that enables the minority to become a majority is even more complex.

"Americans need to understand that successes do not end their engagement but most probably deepen it. For as we involve ourselves, we bear the responsibility even for results we did not anticipate. We must deal with those consequences regardless of our original intentions and not act as if our commitments are as changeable as opinion polls.

"Elections are not an inevitable guarantee of a democratic outcome. Radicals such as Hezbollah and Hamas seem to have learned the mechanics of democracy in order to undermine it and establish total control."

The next frontier, the director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at UCLA's school of medicine has told the Washington Post, is us.

A terrific story from England, where a smartly-dressed man, soaking wet and obviously disturbed, was found walking along a windswept road beside the sea at the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. Over the next few days he refused, or was unable, to answer questions about who he was or where he had come from. But when someone in the hospital to which he was taken in nearby Gillingham had the bright idea of leaving him with a piece of paper and pencils that a dramatic clue about his past emerged. He drew a detailed sketch of a grand piano. Excited, hospital staff showed him into a room with a piano and he began to skilfully perform meandering, melancholy airs. Now, several weeks later, he has still not said a word, expressing himself only through his music." The Times's story is typical.

15 May 2005

Philip Larkin, certainly one of the best poets of the 20th Century, didn't publish a lot of stuff. Publishers have tried to slake the public thirst for more by publishing material posthumously that Larkin would never have agreed to publish. Faber's just published another - Early Poems and Juvenalia - something that would have infuriated him. Adam Kirsch does some plain speaking about it in his review in the the Times Literary Supplement: "...The austere profile of Larkin's work has been steadily bloated by a series of posthumous publications, each one scraped from nearer the bottom of the barrel. The Collected Poems of 1988, edited by Larkin's executor Anthony Thwaite, began the process, dismantling the careful order of Larkin's books by mixing his great poems indiscriminately with juvenilia, scraps and squibs. Further Requirements (2001), a collection of fugitive reviews and interviews, was charming but slight. Trouble at Willow Gables (2002), which collected Larkin's semi-pornographic girls'-school novellas, was strictly unnecessary, and potentially damaging to his reputation among readers not perceptive or patient enough to understand their true function in the young poet's psychic economy. In the preface to Further Requirements, Thwaite promised that Trouble, then in preparation, would be the end of it - 'as far as the literary executors feel it useful or appropriate to go at the present time'.

"Something must have changed in the intervening four years, however, since we now have the present volume, full of material which Larkin himself not only did not seek to publish, but repeatedly disparaged in the most vehement terms. At 382 pages, Early Poems and Juvenilia is some fifty pages longer even than the Collected Poems. It reproduces all of the poems from the Early Poems section of the Collected and adds many more, for a total of some 250 pieces."

Doesn't recommend that Thwaite be publicly stoned, but then they don't do that sort of thing in the TLS.

Daniel Okrent is shortly to leave his job as reader's editor at the New York Times. He was the first they'd had, and he had a difficult time carving out a niche for himself. He's been talking to Neil Hickey of the Columbia Journalism Review about his experiences.

HICKEY: "You astonished a lot of people with a column headlined: Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper? Your first sentence was, 'Of course it is.' You mentioned gun control, gay rights, abortion, and environmental regulation, and said that if you think 'the Times plays it down the middle' on any of those issues, 'you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed.' That was inflammatory to many people at the paper.

OKRENT: Yeah. They didn't want to hear that, obviously. But I also got quite a bit of positive reaction inside the Times. There were people who were, in fact, concerned about the paper's coverage of those issues. Of course, there were many others who were dismayed. The negative part is that the column has subsequently been picked up by many of the Times's enemies on the right, which I suppose is inevitable. But that's one of the consequences of the job.

HICKEY: You raised another fuss when you called the Times coverage of the Tony Awards a 'panting orgy', and said that such excessive tub-thumping would continue unless the editors 'overcome several decades of their own inertia.' What was behind that?

OKRENT: That's the only column I've written that I will confess came not from any reader complaint. The only reader who complained was me. As somebody who goes to the theater a lot, it was always something that irritated me about the Times's theater coverage. So I gave myself a free pass to write about an issue that concerned me. I got an e-mail from Keller saying fundamentally, Ouch, we deserve that, and you're going to see changes. That was pleasing. The Tony season is about to start as we speak. Let's see what happens this year."

Romeo and Juliet in the Middle East? Not unless Uncle Will was spinning. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes Juliet's father, Bassem Sabat, on the background to an elopement that has the whole of Bethlehem armed and thirsty for blood: "These Muslim men are preying on Christian girls because they are forbidden from going anywhere near Muslim girls. If this had been the other way round - a Christian man running off with a Muslim teenager - both of them would be dead within hours, and the man's family would have to leave the country."

Instead, it was our Juliet who had to leave...not just the country, but the continent. She's now with relatives in Michigan, which ought to cool her jets in a big way.

The Chronicle says "Sabat was not exaggerating the passions such relationships set off. A few days earlier, an east Jerusalem man strangled two of his sisters in an 'honor killing' - a traditional Muslim punishment for girls whose morals appear to have been compromised. And on May 2, a Christian father in Ramallah killed his 22-year-old daughter after she told him she wanted to marry a Muslim man, triggering demonstrations by both Christian and Muslim women in that city."

The Sunday Times is leading this morning on a report that "Iraq's most wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been seriously wounded, according to a doctor who claims to have treated him last week. The doctor told an Iraqi reporter in the western city of Ramadi that Zarqawi was bleeding heavily when he was brought into hospital on Wednesday. After treating his wounds the doctor tried to persuade him to remain, but the Jordanian-born terrorist's minders drove him away."

Bernard Lewis, who is probably the West's foremost authority on the Muslim world, gave a lecture at George Washington University a few days ago which postulated that talk of dictatorship as being the immemorial way of doing things in the Middle East is untrue. It shows ignorance of the Arab past, contempt for the Arab present, and lack of concern for the Arab future. Creating a democratic political and social order in Iraq or elsewhere in the region will not be easy, Lewis says, tut it is possible, and there are increasing signs that the process has begun.

His speech was the basis of an essay published by Foreign Affairs that is well worth a read. "...Middle Eastern rulers, painfully aware of the need to catch up with the modern world, tried to modernize their societies, beginning with their governments. These transformations were mostly carried out not by imperialist rulers, who tended to be cautiously conservative, but by local rulers - the sultans of Turkey, the pashas and khedives of Egypt, the shahs of Persia - with the best of intentions but with disastrous results.

"Modernizing meant introducing Western systems of communication, warfare, and rule, inevitably including the tools of domination and repression. The authority of the state vastly increased with the adoption of instruments of control, surveillance, and enforcement far beyond the capabilities of earlier leaders, so that by the end of the twentieth century any tin-pot ruler of a petty state or even of a quasi state had vastly greater powers than were ever enjoyed by the mighty caliphs and sultans of the past.

"But perhaps an even worse result of modernization was the abrogation of the intermediate powers in society - the landed gentry, the city merchants, the tribal chiefs, and others - which in the traditional order had effectively limited the authority of the state. These intermediate powers were gradually weakened and mostly eliminated, so that on the one hand the state was getting stronger and more pervasive, and on the other hand the limitations and controls were being whittled away.

"This process is described and characterized by one of the best nineteenth-century writers on the Middle East, the British naval officer Adolphus Slade, who was attached as an adviser to the Turkish fleet and spent much of his professional life there. He vividly portrays this process of change. He discusses what he calls the old nobility, primarily the landed gentry and the city bourgeoisie, and the new nobility, those who are part of the state and derive their authority from the ruler, not from their own people. 'The old nobility lived on their estates,' he concludes. 'The state is the estate of the new nobility.' This is a profound truth and, in the light of subsequent and current developments, a remarkably prescient formulation."


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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2003 Index


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