...Views from mid-Atlantic
28 May 2005

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is an international counterterrorism consultant, and also works as an attorney at the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. A couple of weeks ago, he co-wrote a widely-read article for the Weekly Standard about the extent to which Uday Hussein, Saddam's son, was using Oil-for-Food money to curry favour in the Arab-language press, including al-Jazeera. The story had been broken by al-Hurra, the US-funded Arabic satellite network that beams a signal to a potential audience of 120 million people in 22 countries. Gartenstein-Ross thinks it should have been given more mainstream press attention than it got.

Writing in The Conservative Voice, he says "The information unearthed by al-Hurra matters because certain segments of the Arab media - al-Jazeera in particular - have been unstinting opponents of US interests in the Middle East, and hold tremendous sway over public opinion in the region. While al-Jazeera had once unflinchingly supported Saddam's regime, its coverage seamlessly transitioned to support for the insurgency. As Walid Phares told me, 'Al-Jazeera cooperated with the regime which was the target of the international coalition. Even after the regime was gone, they continued to support the jihadists.' Phares even dubbed al-Jazeera 'Jihad TV' in an article for National Review Online that discusses how the network transparently attempted to manipulate American opinion against the war by airing footage of dead American soldiers as well as the interrogation of American prisoners of war."

Germany approved the EU Constitution on Friday, and Gerhard Schroeder has nipped quickly off to France to help his mate Jacques Chirac try to overcome opposition to it in France in time for the vote there on Sunday. The Washington Post says Germany is the ninth country to approve the European Union's proposed constitution.

It doesn't look good for Constitution supporters in France, though. The final polls are showing that the No voters are losing no strength as the referendum nears. The Times, though, is cautioning that while a French 'non' is generally expected, it is not a foregone conclusion. "With both mainstream parties officially in favour, although the Socialists are split, with almost every newspaper supporting a 'yes' and with the 'yes' camp dominating airtime in a campaign into which the State has poured more than 400 million euros, a 'no' would be a rebuke to almost the entire political establishment.

"Still, when President Chirac announced last year that the treaty would be put to a referendum, rejection appeared unthinkable. The failure, in France as in Britain, of the 'yes' campaign to present a coherent and convincing case for the constitution is partly responsible for changing voter intentions. M Chirac claims that the constitution will defend the French 'social model' - and that if France votes 'no', it will 'cease to exist politically in the EU'. That line is flatly contradicted by Nicolas Sarkozy, the Centre-Right's most popular leader, who urges a 'yes' vote to force change on France, arguing that 'the best social model is one that provides jobs for everyone. In other words, it is no longer ours.'"

That mystery piano man discovered wandering around on the Isle of Sheppey in Britain may have been identified as a Czech named Tomas Strnad, according to the Independent. His friend, Klaudius Kryspin, has been in touch with British authorities and has talked about a distinguishing mark that will make the identity certain.

If, as I did, you downloaded the new version of Netscape during the last few days, Microsoft is asking you to dump it because it causes problems with Internet Explorer. The St Louis Post Dispatch explains. The problem is that some XML pages - those from an RSS feed, for example - will show up blank in IE. If you use Netscape more or less exclusively, there's little reason for you to care. If you use both, and if you like Netscape 8, which is based largely on the Firefox engine, there is an alternative to deleting the program. If you're comfortable editing your registry, you can delete the XML node from HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Plugins\Extension. Frankly, I wasn't particularly impressed with Netscape 8. It seems slow by comparison with 7.2, which I intend to continue to use.

27 May 2005

Tony Blair seems to be playing an odd game in connection with the French referendum on the EU constitution. From a PR point of view, yesterday was the last day on which anyone who wished to make an impact on the vote could say something. M Chirac chose it to make a final plea to the French people to vote for it. But the Guardian reports that the British Prime Minister chose that day to make a speech in London in which he criticised the EU for the absurdity of some of its regulations. The Guardian said "Mr Blair's speech in London will excite interest as a possible indicator of how he may react when the French deliver their expected rejection of the European treaty on Sunday. His remarks suggest he will be willing to tell Europe that it urgently needs to reform, and be less interfering, to win back public support.

"He said: 'About 50% of regulations with a significant impact on business now emanate from the EU and it often seems to want to regulate too heavily without sufficient cause. Europe has done itself more damage through what is perceived as unnecessary interference than all the pamphlets by Eurosceptics could ever do.' He promised that when Britain assumed the presidency of the EU in the second half of the year, he would push for a 'comprehensive impact assessment' for all new EU legislation. He would also propose further simplifications of EU regulations."

His speech will certainly infuriate M Chirac and his pro-Constitution campaign. What other reason he had for making it is not clear.

Britain's leading union of university professors voted yesterday to end its misguided boycott of Israeli universities. It's being reported that 75% of those who voted were against it, which goes some way to restoring one's confidence in the ethical judgement of people who play such a vital role in shaping generations of Britons. The Guardian says that the woman who proposed the original boycott, Birmingham University's Sue Blackwell, has been saying that "despite the result the 'genie was out of the bottle'.

"'This is the start not the end as far as the boycott campaign is concerned. We have put this issue firmly on the map and we have shown that people in British academia do care about what is happening in the occupied territories. There has been a massive and well funded campaign against us and incredible pressure put upon members in the run up to this debate.'"

The invention of Worcestershire sauce was an accident, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. If that seems to you an odd place to find such arcane information, the Independent explains that "The men who gave their names to some of British cupboards' best-known products are among those to make it into the new online edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The 140 new figures in the dictionary include 15 biographies of entrepreneurs to have created household brands, among them Jacob's crackers, Lea & Perrins sauce and Veno's cough mixture."

Umberto Eco, who wrote The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, can be difficult to read. Yet his books sell well. The Telegraph asked whether he worried that people buy his books in order to impress their friends, but never actually read them. He gave a good answer: "If some people are so weak that they buy my books because they are piled high in bookshops, and then do not understand them, that is not my fault. If people buy my books for vanity, I consider it a tax on idiocy."

New York State's Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed a lawsuit yesterday against the American International group, charging that former chairman and CEO Maurice 'Hank' Greenberg and former CFO Howard Smith used "deception and fraud" to inflate the company's stock price. Newsday says that "Although the suit, filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, was expected, the court papers include new allegations involving AIG's operations, including charges that (the two men)engaged in 'sham transactions' to create the appearance of insurance reserves; hiding underwriting losses from an auto warranty unit, National Union, by transferring the losses to an offshore entity AIG secretly controlled; covering up losses in a Brazilian subsidiary, Unibanco Seguros, by linking the losses to a Taiwanese subsidiary, Nan Shan Life Insurance Co. Ltd."

25 May 2005

If I post little today, I apologise. I'm still having difficulty with connectivity. I complained about it to the Telephone Company about it for the third time on Monday. Perhaps this time they'll get lucky.

24 May 2005

There has been a dramatic rise in New York City's fourth-grade reading scores. The New York Sun says it's the highest one-year increase ever achieved by the city's public-school pupils on the state English Language Arts exam. The Sun's story isn't long on analysis, but it does say that "it's worth noting that the city's charter schools led the testing gains, achieving even higher scores than public schools overall. In the city at large, the percentage of fourth-graders meeting state reading standards rose 9.9 points to 59.5%. New York City's public charter schools saw a rise of 13.2 points, for a total 60.9% proficiency. Eleven of the 16 charter schools with fourth-grade students outperformed their district averages, according to an analysis by the New York Center for Charter School Excellence." Charter schools are different from other schools in that they are given greater independence from control by bureaucrats - an idea that is welcomed by many parents, but opposed vehemently by bureaucrats, the unions that represent them and the New York Times, for some reason. Its story about the test results on Sunday managed not to mention the particular success of charter schools at all.

This is a good example of the kind of lazy-minded repetition of a cliche that gives reporters a bad name. In Iraq, a joint US/Iraqi sweep through neighbourhoods in the western part of Baghdad has resulted in the arrest of...well, this story says 285 suspected terrorists, but I'm reading elsewhere that the total has risen to 428...and the seizure of $6 million in US $100 bills, which is apparently the preferred way of paying hit men and bombmakers. Pretty satisfactory stuff, huh? Not according to one Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder, who whines that "Some Iraqis said that while Operation Squeeze Play took some insurgents off the streets, it's also likely to fuel the same cycle that has hounded the American presence for two years: angering moderate Iraqis while giving insurgents a friendlier environment in which to carry out attacks." Silly prick.

A large number of Nobel laureates and other leaders have written to the Guardian, expressing their ooposition to the British Association of University Teachers' boycott of Israeli Universities. Their letter said "There is nothing more intrinsic to the academic spirit than the free exchange of ideas. Academic freedom has never been the property of a few and must not be manipulated by them. Therefore, mixing science with politics, and limiting academic freedom by boycotts, is wrong.

In an accompanying story, the Guardian says there has been such an angry backlash against the AUT's decision from all over the world that academics are holding an emergency conference this week to try to overthrow it. AUT members opposed to the vote have mobilised support in Europe, the US and the Middle East ahead of Thursday's pivotal meeting in London.

The thing that surprises me most about the AUT's action is what it says about the ethical judgement of those who have charge of young Brits at the time when they are intellectual most absorbent. One expects one or two nutcases in any large group, but that there are enough of them in the AUT to carry a motion that is so transparently unethical is alarming.

What do the two sides in the Bush/Mahmoud Abbas talks want? I don't think there's any doubt that President Bush's goal will be to persuade the Palestinian leader to dismantle the terrorist groups with which the Palestinians have surrounded themselves. The Christian Science Monitor puts the best possible construction on what Mr Abbas is hoping for. It quotes one Middle East specialist as saying "There is a growing sentiment among Palestinians that the Bush administration has not delivered on its lofty rhetoric about the benefits of democracy and progressive reforms, and that disappointment is starting to have political impact." In plain English, he's looking for money. In his State of the Union address, Bush pledged $350 million to help Abbas's reform efforts. So far, he has asked Congress to approve $200 million of it.

The Middle East Media Reasearch Institute yesterday published a lengthy assessment of Mahmoud's effectiveness as the new Palestinian leader, and essentially concluded that while he's done some good things, he has a long way to go before he can be considered to have been a success. MEMRI's report starts this way: "Upon his election as president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) declared he would act to halt the 'militarization of the Intifada' and made a commitment to impose law and order in the PA in order to ensure the residents' security and to further the interests of the Palestinian people. However, to date he has been only partially successful in reaching these goals, mainly because of his desire to avoid violent domestic conflict."

I'd say that when Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe resorts to arresting 9,600 residents of the capital for "general lawlessness", then it is probably doing so because it is afraid that it is on the brink of losing power. The New York Times says "the official explanation for the dragnet, announced in state-run newspapers, was that the raids were aimed at black-market profiteers who were hoarding commodities like cooking oil and corn meal, creating artificial shortages. But the roundups sent a pointed message to Zimbabweans that the government could arrest and prosecute anyone deemed a threat to public order at a time of growing unrest. In recent days, the police have had to quell near riots at gas stations and stores as thousands of people fought for a chance to buy fresh deliveries of scarce commodities like gasoline and sugar."

23 May 2005

It's a pity those who live in the state of Kansas can't be locked up in a room somewhere and not allowed out until they have read this excellent piece in The New Yorker about intelligent design. "Biologists aren't alarmed by intelligent design's arrival...because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism; they're alarmed because intelligent design is junk science."

Mark Steyn asks a good question in a column published by the Washington Times this morning: "Muslims can dish it out big-time, so why can't they take it, even the teensy-weensiest bit?" And he takes a crack at Imran Khan, familiar to people on the right-hand side of the Pond as Pakistan's greatest cricketer, now an up-and-coming politician in Pakistan. "...Even these riots wouldn't have happened if Imran Khan hadn't provided the short fuse between Newsweek's match and those explosive mobs. Imran is a highly Westernized wealthy Pakistani who found great fame and fortune in England...having demonstrated little previous interest in the Muslim street's preoccupations, Imran began pandering to it. I doubt he personally cared one way or the other about that Newsweek story but he's an opportunist and that's why he went out of his way to incite his excitable followers."

Coincidentally, the Washington Times is urging President Bush to take a hard line about the Palestinian style of dishing it out with Mahmoud Abbas during his visit this week. "Mr. Bush will need to emphasize to the Palestinian leader that his continued failure to act decisively against anti-Semitic incitement could have catastrophic consequences. Mr. Abbas needs to put an end - and not just halt for a couple of weeks or so - the obscenity which continues to be broadcast on PA Television, such as a May 13 sermon likening Jews to AIDS and calling for 'the extermination of every single Jew'."

Blogger Arthur Chrenkoff writes about the new freedom Iraqis have to call talk shows in Iraq to vent their pet peeves. In his twice-monthly summary of good news from the country, published in the Wall Street Journal this morning, Chrenkoff reports that "There is plenty to complain about, especially in towns like Baquba, a battleground between guerrillas and government and U.S. forces about 50 km (35 miles) north of Baghdad. The on-air attempt to get official responses to grievances would have been unthinkable before a U.S.-led invasion in 2003."

A newly-discovered trove of two thousand pieces of correspondence to and from Enrico Caruso is to go on display in Verona on June 17, according to the Guardian. Caruso's life was as melodramatic as the plots of some of the operas he sang. In Pagliacci, for example, Canio the clown weeps at the thought of his wife's infidelity. Canio is mistaken, but Caruso wasn't mistaken about the infidelities of his mistress, Ada Giachetti, who was sleeping with almost anything in pants. Eventually, she ran away with Caruso's chauffeur. True to the sort of twist an opera's plot might take, the pair of them tried to extort money from the singer, but Ada was put on trial and sentenced to three months in prison. As the Guardian says, "It was not until 1918 that Caruso found a wife, the American Dorothy Benjamin, who was 20 years his junior. It was she who was with him for the finale in this real-life epic."

Blockbuster news in the world of photography - researchers in Quebec say they have created a new lens five times thinner than a sheet of paper, which can zoom and focus with no moving parts, potentially eliminating the distortion caused by digital zoom and the bulky glass of a conventional optical lens. Might also mean, the Globe and Mail points out, an end to the dreadful quality of cellphone pictures.

The New York Times isn't the only big American newspaper to have decided to revamp its policy on using anonymous sources. In the wake of Newsweek's experience with the unfortunate Koran story, the Washington Post, USA Today and NBC News are also in the throes of working out new ways of dealing with the phenomenon. This New York Times story says one of the most stringent policies has been adopted by USA Today's new (since April, 2004) editor, Kenneth A. Paulson, in the wake of revelations that Jack Kelley, one of its star reporters, had fabricated parts of at least 20 articles. All anonymous sources must now be identified to a managing editor, who considers whether the paper should trust the source and whether the news value of the article warrants the practice.

22 May 2005

Today is Daniel Okrent's last day on the job as the Reader's Editor at the New York Times. In his last column, he writes about some things he said he meant to write about and didn't get around to. He thanks people, says he's sorry, praises people and, most notably, criticises. He singles out three columnists for special mention in the criticism column - Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd and William Safire: "Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. Maureen Dowd was still writing that Alberto R. Gonzales 'called the Geneva Conventions quaint' nearly two months after a correction in the news pages noted that Gonzales had specifically applied the term to Geneva provisions about commissary privileges, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments. Before his retirement in January, William Safire vexed me with his chronic assertion of clear links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, based on evidence only he seemed to possess.

"No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards."

Okrent's successor is to be Byron "Barney" Calame, who recently retired as a senior editor at The Wall Street Journal. His first column will appear on the Op-Ed pages of the newspaper on Sunday, June 5.

British society is in trouble, says the Telegraph in a hard-hitting opinion piece written by author David Selbourne this morning. "There are no boundaries of class or party among those who sense, or know, that British society is in profound trouble.

"Yet the consensus that this anxiety has created remains largely unexpressed. Politicians dare not tell the whole truth about it for fear of adding to public alarm, and losing by it. Complaint over the quality of public provision, or about the education system, or about the statistics of violent crime regularly break surface, but in fragmentary fashion. Those who specialise in intellectual evasions even deny the facts of civil society's disorders; many who have pointed to them have retreated from the scene.

"In 1994 I wrote The Principle of Duty; I would find it difficult to get published now. In the book I argued that limits must be set to selfish individual entitlement if our free social order is to be preserved. Today, libertarians of every stripe command public debate and such argument is increasingly perceived as reactionary rather than enlightened.

"The blame for the disabling of previously existing moral assumptions about the right management of our affairs is widely shared. All three main parties have offered to a disintegrating body politic the same kinds of vacuous notions about 'choice', 'value for money', improved 'delivery' of public (and privatised) services to the 'customer' or 'consumer', and other related market ideals espoused in freedom's name: the same notion of liberty which, in the 1840s, Carlyle dismissed with scorn."

The Telegraph says the Art Newspaper is going to be publishing further revelations about Qatari Sheik Saud al-Thani, who is under investigation by his government's authorities in connection with his free-spending habits in collecting art for Qatar, and for himself. I posted the Art Newspaper's coverage of the Sheik's sudden recall from London on 18 March. Now, says the Telegraph, "The newspaper, which will be available from Tuesday, highlights three invoices that bear the name Oliver Hoare Ltd, dated August 6, 2002. Suspicions about the invoices were highlighted in The Sunday Telegraph last month when questions were raised about the amounts quoted on the documents and the prices at which the items were known to have been sold, to an anonymous buyer, at previous sales in 2001.

"The Art Newspaper has now learnt that Sheikh Saud was the original buyer of the items in 2001 from auctions at Christies and Sothebys. Mr Hoare declined to comment last night on speculation that the invoices bore inflated prices and did not relate to actual transactions. The three invoices purport to show that the sheikh was billed 5.5 million pounds for a 17th-century jade pendant made for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, 7.5 million pounds for an 18th-century diamond, emerald and enamel turban ornament, and 6.2 million pounds for a 217-carat Mughal carved emerald. Investigations by the newspaper have established, however, that the sheikh or his agents bought these items from Christie's and Sotheby's for just over 3 million pounds in October 2001. Mr Hoare is believed to have played no part in that original sale."

The Observer says France and Germany are blocking Tony Blair's ambitious plans to tackle poverty in Africa by increasing aid to Africa. "Around 15 billion pounds of extra aid - enough to lift half of the world's poorest people out of extreme poverty - is at risk this week because of the unwillingness of the two countries to back an ambitious upgrade in spending," the paper says. It is a good thing, to me, that someone's putting the brakes on. Increasing aid to Africa in the absence of self-imposed reform in the continent isn't going to lift half the world's poorest people out of poverty, it's going to make about six of them billionaires.


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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