...Views from mid-Atlantic
11 June 2005

Overheard at 24th and Park in New York:

Man: ...so how've you been?
Woman: Been good, you know I'm done with bein' bad.
Man: Nah, why's that?
Woman: My thighs hurt.

Treat yourself! Spend at least part of this day at this great site.

The Weekly Standard has published a little list of proposed changes to the European Union's Constitution. I particularly liked Declaration 722 - "The Government of France retains sole rights to the licensing and manufacture of Villepin: A Fragrance for Men."

What is it with Barbara Boxer and her hostility to Bush nominees? Katherine Ernst of City Journal says she's a bully. "...While it's not exactly news that a Marin County uber-lib would oppose a conservative nominee, Boxer somehow manages to turn her partisan misgivings into the kind of spectacles that make the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times swoon. John Ashcroft knows the drill and so does Condoleezza Rice (indeed, Boxer's attacks on Rice this year were so over-the-top that Saturday Night Live immortalized her in a sketch: 'An eruption of lies! Dr. Condo-lies-a-lies-a-lot!').

"Add Janice Rogers Brown to the list of Boxer's targets. The conservative African-American judge, confirmed to the D.C. Court of appeals yesterday, has had to endure the verbal wrath of the Smurf-sized senator over the past few weeks with nary an opportunity for an edgewise word (Boxer has a penchant for getting really riled up over black conservative nominees)."

The Zimbabwean pro-democracy group Sokwanele gives its view on the police crackdown in that country that has led to the arrest of thousands of street traders and homelessness, reportedly, to hundreds of thousands.

The Independent says when troops began their raids, they disguised themselves as UN troops.

10 June 2005

In three or four days, anti-Castro militant and accused terrorist Luis Posada Carriles is scheduled to appear before an Immigration court in Texas which will decide what to do with him. The Miami Herald says the private National Security Archive has chosen this moment (think someone doesn't want him around?) to post a declassified CIA document from 1976 that quotes Posada as saying, "We are going to hit a Cuban airplane." He has been accused of being involved in the bombing of an airliner full of civilians off the coast of Barbados in 1976.

Pittsburgh money manager MDL Capital Management, which once managed money on Bermuda's behalf, and which has been involved in a recent scandal involving a $50 million investment in a rare-coin fund made by the Ohio workers' compensation bureau, is leaking clients at an alarming rate. A story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette says the Allegheny County Retirement Board yesterday pulled MDL's management of $22.4 million in pension funds, Ohio ended the firm's oversight of the $6.1 million Southern Ohio Agriculture and Community Development Foundation and the Ohio attorney general vowed to pursue MDL to recoup the state's losses.

Is Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe simply mad? The Telegraph thinks a speech he made might be an indication that that's what's going on.

It's a lot longer than it could be, but this Independent story does a good job explaining why 40% of British children aren't up to snuff with English grammar. It's simple - their teachers aren't up to snuff, either.

It looks as if the PR campaign against the President of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, is in a pretty vigorous phase at the moment. Lebanese opposition leader Walid Jumblatt charged on a talk show in Lebanon this week that Syrian intelligence officials had been spotted in eastern Bekaa Valley and central Lebanon. The Toronto Globe and Mail says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is considering sending a UN team back to Lebanon to check this and other reports that Syrian intelligence officials may still be operating in the country.

Meantime, the Washington Post (and the NY Times) quotes Bush administration officials as alleging that "Syria has developed a hit list targeting senior Lebanese political figures in an attempt to regain control of its neighboring state, just six weeks after Syria said it had ended almost three decades of military occupation. 'These are threats against some of the most prominent Lebanese political leaders. The purpose would be to create instability and to create internal strife,' a senior administration official said. After a brief lull in Syrian interference in Lebanon, senior Syrian intelligence personnel have been seen back in Lebanon, particularly over the past week, the official added."

DEBKAfile says the US has run out of patience with Syrian bobbing and weaving. In an analysis published a few days ago, the agency says that last straw was Syrian duplicity during Operation Matador, when Syria appeared to cooperate with a US Marine operation in Iraq on the Syrian border: "...While helping the American military fight Iraqi insurgents, Assad did not neglect his commitment to the Iraq ex-Baathists running the insurgent campaign from Syria. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources, Washington was tipped off that Syrian military intelligence chief Asaf Shawqat had been instructed to get together Syrian-based Iraqi Baath chiefs for a secret conclave in Homs in advance of Operation Matador. Among them were the masterminds the guerrilla war in Iraq and personal representatives of Iraqi ex-vice president Izzat Ibrahim, the most senior Baath official still at large on America's most-wanted list. He is also believed commander-in-chief of the Iraqi insurgency at large. There, too, were former Iraqi army and intelligence officers now employed in the recruitment, training and dispatch of guerrillas into the homeland. Other chairs were filled by the moneymen who manage the Baath funds that underwrite the insurgency and run Saddam Hussein's straw companies.

"Shawqat's initiative was taken in Washington as clear evidence that Assad knows exactly where every Iraqi ex-official involved in the guerrilla war is located and what he is up to. Officials at the US state department and national security council were convinced that Shawqat's task was to explain to the Iraqis why Assad was obliged to cooperate with the Americans, to forewarn the guerilla leaders of the coming US offensive and to confer together on how to sabotage it. That piece of double-dealing was the last straw. The Bush administration finally lost patience with Bashar Assad and decided his time was up."

I've passed on suggestions in the past that Eliot Spitzer's much-publicised fight against dishonest businessmen owes more to his zealotry than it does to their criminality. The jury hearing the case against Bank of America broker Theodore C Sihpol seemed yesterday to agree when it threw out Spitzer's case against him. The Wall Street Journal put it this way: "The world is discovering why New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has been so reluctant to take his business targets into an actual courtroom. A jury of regular men and women might be inclined to instruct him in securities law and the concept of criminal intent.

"Mr Spitzer received precisely such an education yesterday, when a jury found former Bank of America broker Theodore C Sihpol not guilty on 29 counts, including several of grand larceny, related to after-hours mutual fund trading. The judge declared a mistrial on four other counts in which a single juror had held out for conviction. Mr Spitzer must now decide whether to retry the case on those four counts. But given the magnitude of his repudiation, and the suffering his office has already imposed on Mr Sihpol, a prosecutor with any sense of decency would throw in the towel...

"Congratulations to Mr Sihpol and his jury for reminding Eliot Spitzer that to be convicted of a crime in America you should first have to break the law."

09 June 2005

Richard W Rahn, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute, has written a thoroughly constructive and polite piece for the Washington Times about America's experiences with correcting a bad constitution. He means it to be advice for those who wrote the EU's Constitution, rejected in referenda in France and Holland. But the reality is that the writers of that document are busy with rather less intellectual tasks - trying to exact revenge from the Brits, for example, for being entirely too...well, good at things. Trying to exact revenge from that dreadful Sarkozy fellow, for another example.

Max Boot gets his right up the backside of that story about the damage being done to Korans at Guantanamo Bay in his LA Times column. "Far from confirming accusations of American depravity, what the report actually shows is that Guantanamo is the first gulag in history run on the principle that no sensibility of the inmates should be offended, no matter how inadvertently. All inmates are furnished a Koran at US government expense. Since they're imprisoned because they are suspected of being violent religious extremists, some might object that this adds fuel to the fire. But that's not the view of the 'Stalinists' who run the Defense Department. For some nefarious reason, they have issued guidelines that call for the utmost respect for the sacred scripture of their enemies.

"At Gitmo, personnel receive instructions: 'Do not disrespect the Koran (let it touch the floor, kick it, step on it).' They must 'handle the Koran as if it were a fragile piece of delicate art.' This means ensuring 'that the Koran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet area.' Only Muslim chaplains and interpreters are actually supposed to touch a Koran, and then only if wearing clean latex gloves. Moreover: 'Two hands will be used at all times when handling the Koran in a manner signaling respect and reverence.' The Hood report suggests that, for the most part, this elaborate etiquette is obeyed. The worst lapse, splashed (so to speak) across front pages around the world, occurred March 25, when a guard urinated outside an air vent and some of his urine blew into a cell and onto an inmate and his Koran. Human rights absolutists should be relieved (sorry, can't help myself) to know that the detainee received a fresh uniform and a new Koran, and the guard was reprimanded and reassigned."

The Times is making a point that certainly concerns the British people, because a Telegraph poll showed that to be so, and undoubtedly concerns others around the world. "Some of Africa's most corrupt and brutal regimes will benefit to the tune of billions of pounds from the agreement reached by Tony Blair and President Bush to write off the debts of the continent's poorest nations. Even as the Prime Minister returned triumphant from Washington with a deal that could salvage his hopes of making Africa the centrepiece of this year's G8 Summit in Gleneagles, the continent's woeful record on human rights, corruption and good government was already casting a shadow over his plans."

Criminals can rest easy, the Telegraph says: "Since 1999, when the Macpherson report into the death of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence accused the Met of 'institutional racism', London's police force has been paralysed by anxiety over the issue of diversity. Eager to prove its anti-racist, pro-gay, feminist credentials, the Met prefers to fight supposed prejudice than real crime.

"One sorry result of this neurosis about discrimination is the creation of a vast bureaucracy, which does nothing but waste resources. The Met is now awash with race units and equality action plans, all geared towards heightening the climate of grievance...Within the shambolic organisation there is a consultation, diversity and outreach unit; a diversity directorate that includes six separate diversity teams covering everything from age to sexual orientation; a diversity champion; an equal opportunities and diversity board; a positive action team; a lesbian, gay and transgender advisory group and a cultural and communities unit."

If my government were in power, I'd have a statue to honour the glorious hero Ashley Gibbins put up in front of the House of Commons. The Guardian explains.

Pirates, according to a new argument, weren't the villains they were made out to be. Historian Marcus Rediker of the University of Pittsburgh is quoted in the Christian Science Monitor as having said "The popular image of pirates as a gang of sadistic monsters led by a despotic, possibly deranged captain is largely a product of an early 18th-century propaganda campaign against them...

"'The authorities at the time were not only trying to capture and kill the pirates, they were also trying to delegitimize them in the eyes of common people who didn't necessarily see them as killers,' says Mr. Rediker, author of Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age. The book cites numerous references to the pirates' popularity in the letters of frustrated officials from Jamaica to Boston." (By the way, if you're surprised at the spelling of Edward Teach's surname as Thatch, I believe Thatch was an alias of his. Why Rediker should use it as the principal spelling isn't explained.)

It does seem to me that if one went by the expressions of support voiced at the time, Al Capone might be characterised as a misunderstood and mild-mannered fighter for the common people, as might Mao, Joe Stalin, Hitler and a wide variety of other monsters. However, pirates are pretty popular with readers, so maybe Rediker's hit on a good way of making himself a little money.

08 June 2005

Weather forecasters working with the Risk Prediction Initiative, an insurance industry-funded research group based on Bermuda's Biological Station for Research, are looking at different ways of measuring the threat hurricanes pose, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. "The forecasters are de-emphasizing the total hurricane count," the Journal says, "and instead working on projecting other, more-useful measures, like the number of landfalls and something called the accumulated cyclone energy index, which provides a measure of total storm intensity and duration...

"Ben Nelson, state meteorologist with the Florida Division of Emergency Management in Tallahassee, says the landfall predictions aren't yet good enough. 'That part of the science hasn't been accurate enough for us to base protective actions on them, months in advance,' he says. However, like other emergency managers, he values the yearly media hoopla around hurricane forecasts: 'Above all, the forecasts that Dr. Gray put out each year raise public awareness. We're supportive of anything that raises public awareness before the hurricane season begins.'"

I'm not normally given to lifting articles from fringe publications on the left or right, but fringe media are sometimes better at dealing with the shadowy world of undercover operations than mainstream media. Keep in mind when you read this story in Worker's World, that this is a publication devoted passionately to a political cause, and that its stories sometimes need to be taken with a grain of salt. "The case," the paper says, "of Luis Posada Carriles, a known terrorist whom US authorities have refused to extradite to Venezuela, reaches deep into the shadowy world of CIA covert action, especially against the Cuban Revolution. There is also mounting evidence that Posada Carriles was connected to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and was in Dallas's Dealey Plaza the day the fatal shots were fired."

It's one of those convoluted and unlikely stories the world of undercover work throws up, involving a group called Operation 40, a special unit set up in the CIA with National Security Council authority around the time of the Bay of Pigs landing in Cuba. The cast of characters is well-known to those who have followed the use of Cubans in the CIA in the last few decades, including Felix Rodriguez, E Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis and Porter Goss, all of whom are best known in slightly different contexts. The point is, though, that Posada's presence in the US, whether he's in custody or not, has handed certain enemies of the US a wonderful propaganda weapon.

There was recently an anti-terrorism forum held in Havana, for example, at which the name Luis Posada came up quite a lot. Granma's carrying a story this morning quoting a Mexican journalist as saying Posada was protected, on his way to the US, by a Central American drug ring. "Posada Carriles used the same maritime route used by drug traffickers to ship cocaine to the United States, revealed Renan Castro, news editor of the daily Por Esto of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, who spoke during the anti-terrorism forum held in Havana. The notorious murderer was protected in Guatemala, Belize and Mexico by drug traffickers from the Central American cartel led by the capo Otto Herrera Garcia. The latter is linked to criminal associations in Mexico led by Ismael Elmayo Cambala and Joaquin el Capo Guzman, who in turn are linked to the Cuban-American mafia based in Cancun. They were the ones who provided all the logistics for Posada Carriles so that he could remain for more than one week in Mexican territory, the journalist affirmed." There's a lot more, and a lot of the smear attaches to the US, which has never been clear about its present relationship with Posada. The faster the US can deal with this man, and get him out of its hands, the faster this kind of harmful press will go away.

US House lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved a strongly worded resolution urging the United Nations and member states to put an end to anti-Semitic language and political attacks against Israel, according to the Voice of America.

"Approval comes as legislation moves forward in the House of Representatives proposing to link future U.S. contributions to the United Nations with reform of the world body. The resolution approved Tuesday states that the 'viciousness with which Israel is attacked and discriminated at the United Nations should not be allowed to continue unchallenged.' It calls on President Bush to direct the US Ambassador to the United Nations to work against Anti-Semitic language and anti-Israel resolutions. But as Congresswoman Ilena Ros-Lehtinen notes, the resolution aims to bring about stronger action from the United Nations itself. 'The resolution before us calls for the United Nations to officially and publicly condemn anti-Semitic statements in all UN meetings and hold accountable member states who make such statements,' Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said."

The short explanation of this move is that it has become painfully obvious recently that the United Nations has permitted itself to be used as a battleground for political warfare against Israel, led by Arab and other states. Israel has been subject to over a score of critical resolutions in the UN General Assembly every year. If you want more information, here are two fine pieces written by Anne Bayevsky, who is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, on the subject. The first was published in Commentary in February of last year, and the second in the National Review in November.

Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, and Vin Weber, who is chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy, have co-written an article in the Washington Post which pushes some fine-tuning of the Bush administration's attempts to push democracy in the Middle East. "...In promoting democratic institutions in Arab countries, we should bear in mind that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable. Our goal should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.

"The administration should beware of crediting Arab leaders who engage in a pretense of democratic reform while omitting the substance. Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, for example, has asked parliament to approve multiparty presidential elections -- seemingly a positive step. But the system he is recommending would make it virtually impossible for truly independent parties to participate. Sham democracy should be exposed for what it is."

The popularity of Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin in France has slumped dramatically, in the wake of the referendum on the EU Constitution. The Guardian reports that "As the country continued to writhe in anxiety, self-doubt and anger after its rejection of the EU constitution, the poll showed Mr Chirac's popularity had plunged 16 points to 26%. And 69% of the French population expressed negative feelings about him...Within Mr Chirac's UMP party, his approval rating fell 34 points to 50%. Underlining France's lack of faith in its political class, 58% of respondents to the poll, for Liberation, thought the newly appointed prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, would not understand their problems, and 74% believed he could not resolve them."

In the old days, when you were in trouble at home, you took the population's mind off things by declaring war. In a way, that's what Chirac has done - as this story explains. He and Gerhard Schroder are deeply involved in an attempt to dismantle Britain's multi-million pound EU budget rebate. For my money, the significant paragraph in the report is the last: "In the most recent period Britain paid 35bn euros net into EU coffers which was two and a half times the amount paid by France. Without the rebate Britain would have paid 69bn euros which would have been 15 times the amount paid by France."

07 June 2005

Here's a story not getting a lot of play in the mainstream media this morning. Al-Jazeera says: "The Iraqi government announced on Monday some 900 anti-occupation suspects were detained and that more than 800 checkpoints had been set up in a two-week sweep that appears to have somewhat blunted attacks in the capital. Iraqi officials believe offensives like Operation Lightning, along with the deposed dictator's trial, could help deflate the violence waging across the country."

What is it with Japan? When you're a nerd over there, boy, you are a Nerd. Now they've got their own nerd ghetto. Seriously. Check out this article in the Washington Post about "Tokyo's neon-splashed Akihabara district, where 'costume cafes' are the latest of hundreds of new businesses catering to Japan's otaku, or nerds. A subculture of social misfits obsessed with electronic role-playing games, manga comics and Japanese animation, they began gathering in Akihabara in the late 1990s, lured by the district's proliferation of electronics retailers and stores selling everything you would need to build your own computer. Maligned and shunned by mainstream society, here they stayed, their tastes and habits transforming the area also known as Electric Town into what sociologists are calling an urban first - a ghetto of geeks."

The end may be near for outrageous expense claims by Members of the European Parliament, according to the Times. The solution is apparently to cut out the pay disparities that exist, that are evidently based on what country they represent (go figure). "Although many MEPs admit that their expenses system is little more than legalised corruption, the Parliament has repeatedly defended it as a way of balancing the disparity in pay between the worst-paid and best-paid. Those from poorer states have often been resentful at earning a fraction of the Italians' rate for doing the same job. To stop Italian MEPs objecting, their salaries will be topped up by the Italian Government. The change in expenses comes into force for all MEPs in 2009, although there is a phase-out clause for salaries that would enable sitting MEPs to maintain present arrangements until 2019 if they choose. Parliamentary authorities believe that the political crisis in the EU makes it even more important to clean up their image and will make it difficult for MEPs to object to the reforms. Timothy Kirkhope, the leader of the Conservative Party in the European Parliament, said: 'We have reservations about what would amount to a pay cut for British MEPs. We have always believed we should be paid the same as Westminster MPs.'"

Sculptor Richard Serra got a rave review from the New York Times's art critic Michael Kemmelman this morning. "The installation (in Bilbao, Spain) is one of the great works of the past half-century, the culmination of a remarkable fruition in Mr. Serra's career. It rejuvenates and pushes abstraction to a fresh level. And it is deeply humane, not least because it counts on individual perception, individual discovery...From the single ellipse through Blind Spot Reversed the installation lays out the evolution of torques and spirals. Even if you don't know an ellipse from a sphere, the gist is as transparent as the drama. Not just drama in the sense that the sculptures are striking, but also in the sense that they entail time, sound, movement, change. These are terms of theater or cinema. Mr. Serra's work is abstract, but it unfolds like a play or film. It withholds and controls disclosure. Its climaxes (the concealed interiors of each sculpture) are surprise endings. The work presses attributes of the temporal arts into the service of static forms.

"This is a radical condition for abstract sculpture. Now enshrined here, it becomes a benchmark for the young century."

Amnesty International's outrageous description of the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay as a "gulag" has touched off a storm of protest among the chattering classes. The Wall Street Journal says "Amnesty has given the concept of 'aid and comfort' to the enemy an all-too-literal meaning. The tragedy here is that the world needs credible organizations ready to hold governments accountable for human rights abuses. Amnesty International used to be just such an organization. But how will it be able to denounce the real monsters of the world, if now they can just point to the United States as the ultimate abuser of human rights? By waving the bloody shirt, it will be a long time before Amnesty can be trusted again."

And Anne Bayefsky, who is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, has written a perceptive piece for the National Review says the language used by Irene Khan, the head of Amnesty International, and William F Schultz, head of the organisation's US chapter, is simply the latest event in a long slide by Amnesty away from universal human-rights standards toward a politicized and anti-American agenda. "There are no detailed global reports emanating from Amnesty International on the abominations of terrorists," she says. "Searching Amnesty's website for 'terrorism' elicits 25 reports - all on violations by those combating terrorism...

"For far too long Americans have ceded the language of international human rights to just about everyone else on the planet. The failure to make the case for key elements of American foreign policy in human-rights terms has left the field wide open to the haters of America and of democracy, allowing them to appropriate and subvert the political currency of human rights. Every American kid on campus knows that the local human-rights club is an America-bashing hangout. If they are caring, compassionate, and full of energy to assist their brothers and sisters in all corners of the globe, they have nowhere to go - at least until they take the pledge of non-allegiance. Maybe Amnesty's absurdity will help sound a long overdue alarm bell."

06 June 2005

The American University of Beirut emerged from the 15 years of war in Lebanon - during which its president and at least a dozen faculty and staff members were killed, and many others abducted - bruised and battered, but intact. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education has a particularly good phrase for it: "Like an academic Rip Van Winkle, the university awoke to a very different higher-education environment. Earlier on, its only regional competitor for high-quality American-style education was the American University in Cairo. During the last decade at least half a dozen such institutions have opened in the region, including Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, in Morocco; the American Universities in Dubai and Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates; the American University of Kuwait; and Education City, in Qatar. More are planned.

"Leslie S. Nucho, vice president of Amideast, a nonprofit organization that promotes academic exchanges between the United States and the Middle East, believes it could take years for the newer institutions to prove their academic merit. "AUB trained many prominent people in the region and has been a vehicle for exposing thousands to the value of an American-style education," she says. "They are no longer the only game in town. But I think it will be some time before there will be significant competition, given their long track record." I'm particularly interested in this university because a member of the wandering branch of my own tribe works there. Thanks are due to friend Bob for the pointer.

The Kuwaiti government has appointed two women to its municipal council for the first time, al-Jazeera says, "in another historic move after the emirate granted women full political rights last month." The council is not exactly the seat of power in Kuwait, but it's a start.

The head of the American chapter of Amnesty International, William F. Schulz, was in the news again yesterday, claiming that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp is part of a worldwide network of U.S. jails, some of them secret, where prisoners are mistreated and even killed. As the Washington Times reports this morning, though, he also admits he hasn't any evidence to back that claim up, and doesn't know for sure what's going on at the facility in Cuba. He defended Irene Khan, the head of Amnesty International, whose comparison of Guantanamo Bay to a Russian gulag has excited such fury among administration figures and US commentators.

"'I don't believe [the charges] are irresponsible,' said Mr. Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A. 'I've told you the ways in which I think that [there are] analogies between the Soviet prison system and the United States.' Pressed to cite concrete evidence that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales are the architects of systematic torture at the prison, Mr. Schulz could produce none."

The editor of Vaniety Fair, Graydon Carter, has been talking to the Guardian about the Deep Throat story - the scoop of scoops - that set the US ablaze a few days ago. "It was the culmination of two years of intermittent discussions with Felt's representatives that started with a phone call out of the blue in March 2003. 'Graydon, you've got someone on the phone who wants to talk to you about Deep Throat,' his assistant said. 'It was funny because my assistant had no idea who Deep Throat was,' says Carter. 'I think people under 30 still think you're talking about the porn film.'"

Australian blogger Arthur Chrenkoff has published another of his twice-monthly roundups of news from Afghanistan. In this one, published in the Wall Street Journal, he says that barbers fed up with Afghanis' lack of respect for them have formed themselves into a political party.

"For the first time in the history of the eastern Afghan provinces, barbers have form a committee, calling themselves Pak Salmanian or the clean barbers with the hope of taking part in the forthcoming provincial elections. Barbers attending a meeting held in the provincial capital of eastern Nangarhar, Jalalabadd, from Kunar, Laghman and Nangarhar, nominated Saida Gul as their leader and representative. According to Saida Gul, 'A barber's life is in a bad way, because people no longer respect them in the society. So they have taken matters into their hands and want to address their own problems by having a representative.' Another member of the association says that 'democracy was at play and their rights were finally being met.'"

The Iraqis have arrested another senior terrorist. Xinhua says Mutlaq Muhmoud Mutlaq Abdullah was a key facilitator and financier for the Abu Talha group in Mosul, linked to Abu Musab al Zarqawi's group. He was captured in Mosul on Saturday.

05 June 2005

Everyone's so focused this morning on the discovery of that big insurgent bunker half way between Baghdad and Falluja, that they're not noticing the related news that Iraqi forces have captured seven important terrorists in Mosul, including a man close to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It's the second story in this CNN roundup. The Zarqawi associate is Mullah Mahdi, a senior member of Ansar al-Sunna, who is known as the Prince of Princes. My understanding is that he is not, as CNN says, a deputy of Zarqawi. The group Ansar al Sunna may act in support of Zarqawi, but is not under his command.

Another piece of good news that is flying at the lower limits of the public radar is contained in this Newsweek Periscope piece about the excellent cooperation being given Senate investigators by some of Saddam Hussein's former staff: "Senate investigators looking into prewar UN Oil-for-Food deals have named Saddam's former personal secretary and security chief, Abid Hamid Mahmoud al-Tikriti, former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan and former foreign minister Tariq Aziz as key witnesses who have provided inside info about Saddam's regime."

People's Daily says China is applying to UNESCO for Chen-style Tai Chi, or shadowboxing, to be given the status of world heritage. UNESCO has apparently been giving the title of Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity since 2001. "That year saw the proclamation of 19 of the world's most remarkable examples of the oral and intangible heritage," says People's Daily. "Two years later, UNESCO proclaimed another 28 masterpieces around the world...Chinese shadowboxing, commonly known as Tai Chi, or Taiji, is an internal Chinese martial art. Gentle and slow, Tai Chi is best known as the slow motion routines groups of people practice every morning in hundreds of parks across China and, increasingly, other parts of the world. Tai Chi theory and practice was formulated in agreement with many of the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, philosophy, and aesthetics."

Foreign correspondent Tom Hundley of the Chicago Tribune says people in France and Holland were voting, as much as anything else, against the bureaucratic nut-cases in Brussels when they rejected the EU constitution. "What they don't like," he says, "is the way Brussels seems to meddle in the little things.

"In France, it was Brussels' attempt to impose standardized hygiene codes on the ancient art of cheesemaking. In Italy, a cholesterol-laden pork delicacy called lardo ran afoul of the EU rulebook. For Claire Steinmetz, 37, an art dealer in Amsterdam, it was Brussels' recommendation that the Netherlands scrap the antique fishing boats that ply the Ijsselmeer, the artificial lake north of the city. This is a popular recreation for tourists and Netherlanders alike, but the old boats failed to meet EU specifications for accommodating people with disabilities.

"'It's just crazy. It goes too far. Each country should decide these details or else we lose our identity,' she said."

There are certainly a lot of people in Britain who would agree with Hundley's premise. The Telegraph has published an amusing draft of a new EU-Lite Constitution this morning that would take care of most of the Brussels bureaucrats in a big way: "For the avoidance of doubt, and as a defence against creative interpretation by European judges, a list of national Reserve Powers shall be drawn up in the Member States' constitutions (or by parliamentary statute in the United Kingdom). Such a list shall include: foreign affairs, defence, asylum and immigration, transport, energy, the powers of regional and local government, agriculture, fisheries, industry, social and employment policy, taxation, health, education, justice and home affairs. In these areas, the supremacy of national parliamentary and legal systems shall be guaranteed." It might have been intended to amuse, but it's a treasure trove of nuggets of truth and common sense that makes the 200-page real thing look pretty silly.

Interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post on the use of the Screamer, a piece of non-lethal weaponry the Israelis (and others) have begun to use. It's an acoustic cannon, small enough to be mounted on the bonnet of a jeep, which is used to disperse rioters. It emits a burst of noise which is not only painful to those in earshot, but makes them nauseous. The Post says "The IDF used the new weapon on Friday to disperse hundreds of protesters at the village of Bil'in near Har Adar in the Jerusalem corridor. IDF sources said the decision to use the non-lethal acoustic cannon represented a significant turning point in dealing with demonstrations." There are known to be lots of other promising pieces of non-lethal technology at various stages of development in Israel, in the US and in other places, although facts about them are hard to come by.

Byron Calame, the retired Wall Street Journal staffer who has replaced Daniel Okrent as the New York Times's public editor, has written his first column. He says he plans to make greater use of the web - "I intend to post more actual reader e-mails - with responses from Times editors and perhaps from me, if appropriate - on the Public Editor's Web Journal. My first commentary, posted there two weeks ago, questioned the Washington bureau's slowness in pursuing the significance of the so-called Downing Street memo on planning for the Iraq war." His web page is here.

You will also find at that site some pieces in which Paul Krugman defends himself against Okrent's he-gets-his-figures-wrong criticism, levelled as a kind of parting shot in his last column. Calam refers to Okrent's legacy only once, in this sentence, "The first public editor, Daniel Okrent, boldly established the genuine independence essential to carrying out the job and elegantly dissected many of the major issues of journalistic integrity." Okrent's relationships with the paper's journalists were known to be a little rocky, and I think this is a classic case of being damned with faint praise.

Calam also says he intends to try three new approaches to greater transparency: "(1) publishing stimulating and thoughtful e-mail messages and letters from readers - with responses from the editors and reporters involved; (2) presenting question-and-answer interviews with key editors and round-table discussions with editors and reporters; and (3) occasionally offering commentary on two or three different topics, rather than one."


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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