...Views from mid-Atlantic
02 July 2005

Victor Davis Hansen describes the lesson learned in the Vietnam War that Americans now ignore at their peril. In his Washington Times column, he says that the perception of American weakness that followed the precipitate withdrawal from Vietnam "prompted communist adventurism from Afghanistan to Central America. Few in the Middle East thought there were any consequences to taking American hostages, or killing American soldiers and diplomats. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein alike little feared 'the pitiful, helpless giant'(Richard Nixon's phrase).

"There are lessons here. When the United States has stayed on after fighting dictatorial enemies - admittedly for decades in Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea and the Balkans - progress toward democracy and prosperity ensued. Disengagement from unresolved messy problems - whether from Europe after World War I, Vietnam in 1973, Beirut after the Marine barracks bombings, Afghanistan after the Soviet defeat, or Iraq in 1991 - only left murderous chaos or the 'peace' of dictators."

Hansen does not draw attention to another lesson that can be drawn from the US's Vietnam experience, one that has been taught by just about every guerrilla campaign. Insurgencies that have popular support are almost impossible to defeat; those not based on popular support almost never succeed.

God bless Bill Cosby for his stinging commentaries, the Washington Times says. "His blunt criticisms and the conversational town hall meetings he has been holding in cities across the country force Americans (and occasionally the mainstream media) to think and pay attention. The indictment he handed a year ago to middle-class Americans holds as true now as it did then. At some point, we need to stop making excuses, take control of our lives and our children, and simply say, Enough! The drug epidemics of recent decades prove that we either have to do that now or pay later.

"The crack epidemic that started in the 1980s left a crippling pathological effect on urban America, and we have yet to fully recover. The children of those early crack abusers are today's teen-agers and young adults - the very young people we are struggling to educate and turn into productive and independent citizens. Their parents are either still on it, dead, incarcerated or trying to stay clean. Drug crises turn forty-something parents into grandparents, and sixty-something grandparents into caretakers for boarder babies - infants legitimately taken from their crack-smoking parents."

A bizarre story is published in London's Telegraph today, suggesting that someone slipped forged documents into the National Archives, claiming that British intelligence agents murdered Heinrich Himmler in 1945. "It seems certain that the bogus documents were somehow planted among genuine papers to pervert the course of historical study. The results of investigations by forensic document experts on behalf of this newspaper have shocked historians and caused tremors at the Archives, the home of millions of historical documents, which has previously been thought immune to distortion or contamination."

In a separate story, the newspaper comments that "It is hard to imagine a more serious charge against a government than that it would sanction the murder of a senior member of an enemy regime, especially when it was planning the trials of defeated combatants." This charge was the centrepiece of a book called Himmler's Secret War, a new bookwritten by a British author, Martin Allen.

"The need to kill Himmler, according to the Allen thesis," says the Telegraph, "arose from fears that under interrogation he would tell the Americans that Britain had been taking part in peace negotiations without informing Washington. The phony documents, which were apparently created on a modern laser printer, incriminated British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

01 July 2005

The Bush administration yesterday demanded that Iran answer questions about President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's role as a possible ringleader of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the Washington Times reports. "The Iranian government, with respect to this question, has an obligation to speak definitively," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. At issue are charges by several former American hostages who have identified Mr. Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iranians who held 52 US diplomats and military personnel captive for 444 days."

In an editorial, the newspaper pointed out that the man is a living, breathing object lesson for those who want to deal with the world as if it were the place they wish for, not the often ugly place it really is. "During the early 1980s, he worked in the Iran Revolutionary Guards, where he developed a reputation as a brutal torturer and interrogator. His Iranian enemies claim he worked as an executioner during the 1980s at Evin Prison, one of the most brutal detention facilities run by the Iranian regime. In 1986, Mr. Ahmadinejad became a senior officer in the Special Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which carried out attacks outside Iran's borders, including murders of dissidents. He is said to have masterminded a series of assassinations in Europe and the Middle East, including the July 1989 assassination of Abdorrahman Qassemiou, an Iranian Kurdish leader who was gunned down in Vienna. In 1997, he organized Ansar-e-Hezbollah, an Islamist vigilante group best known for beating up students and other dissidents inside Iran.

"Mr. Ahmadinejad is 'Khomeini at a younger age, with more zeal than the old lunatic had,' according to Aryo Pirouznia, an Iranian dissident who runs the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran, which is working to replace the Islamist dictatorship. Mr. Pirouznia points out that Mr. Ahmadinejad (one of eight candidates left in the race after the ruling mullahs disqualified more than 1,000 others) has no mandate from the Iranian electorate. Indeed, Mr. Ahmadinejad's victory suggests that the darkest elements of the Iranian regime are ascendant. President Bush would do well to remind our European friends that we ignore such unpleasant realities at our peril."

This piece demonstrates that despite the high quality of its reporting in the arts and culture department, there is in the world no despot so low, no policy so murderous that some brisk little somebody at the Guardian won't try to defend him, her or it. John Vidal, the environment editor, and the somebody in question, theorises that the rest of the world is being unfair to Mr Mugabe in Zimbabwe. "The evictions - which are clearly happening on a wide scale - have been seized on by the west, and the former colonial power Britain in particular, as another reason to demonise President Mugabe and further humiliate long-suffering Zimbabwe. It's open season on the Harare regime and it appears that anyone can say anything they like without recourse to accuracy or reality. Whipped into a frenzy of hypocritical outrage, the EU, Britain and the US, as well as the World Bank - all of which have been responsible for millions of evictions in Africa and elsewhere as conditions of infrastructure projects - have rushed to condemn the 'atrocities'.

"The vilification of Mugabe is now out of control. The UN security council and the G8 have been asked to debate the evictions, and Mugabe is being compared to Pol Pot in Cambodia. Meanwhile, the evictions are mentioned in the same breath as the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans - although perhaps only three people have so far accidentally died. Only at the very end of some reports is it said that the Harare city authority's stated reason for the evictions is to build better, legal houses for 150,000 people."

Great controversy has been caused in the American media by Time magazine's decision to turn over its reporter, Matthew Cooper's notes in the Valerie Plame case to the special prosecutor, saving Matthew from having to spend time in jail. The New York times, on the other hand, has so far made no such decision, and its reporter Judith Miller may well have to spend the next few months in custody as a result. As the Wall Street Journal points out, "this is a debacle that some in the press corps have brought down upon themselves and the rest of us.

"They did so by demanding, in liberal unison like the Rockettes, that the Bush Administration name a 'special counsel' to find out who leaked the name of CIA analyst Valerie Plame. Under this pounding, the Justice Department obliged."

But instead of unmasking and jailing Karl Rove or some other neo-con villain, the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, went off the rails and has become a nasty thorn in the side of one, anyway, of the liberal newspapers that once championed his cause.

The New York Sun says "a more mature officer than Mr. Fitzgerald, one with more prosecutorial discretion, would not have permitted things to get to the stage they've reached. And a wiser bench would have found a way to deal with the prosecutor's overreaching, a kind of overreaching that seems, by the way, to happen all too often when special prosecutors are set up.

"While we wouldn't presume to tell the Times how to handle its legal problem, it strikes us as ironical that it is prepared to escort to jail a reporter whose brilliant reporting in Iraq it was unprepared to defend. And it strikes us as passing strange that the same Times that so sanctimoniously lectured Judge Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court about his obligations to bow to a higher court order in the matter of the display of the Ten Commandments is now chastising Time Magazine for bowing to a court order involving a dispute over the same First Amendment under which Judge Moore sought protection.

"'The same Constitution that protects the freedom of the press requires obedience to final decisions of the courts and respect for their rulings and judgments,' Time's editor-in-chief, Norman Pearlstine, said in a statement in which he noted that 'even Presidents have followed orders with which they strongly disagreed.' It's a point to remember as this case - which, again, involves a rogue CIA effort to undermine America's commander in chief during wartime - works its way through the courts. The real whistle-blowers and heroes here are those who understood this point and got word via the press to the American public."

30 June 2005

Keyboardist Sun Ra, who was travelling in outer space when NASA was still in short pants, formed his Arkestra in the 1950s. The band lived communally in a house in Germantown, in Philadelphia, starting in 1968. Although Sun Ra died in 1993, the Arkestra still lives there, and the Arkestra still thrives...sort of...under the leadership of Marshall Allen, alto-saxophonist. As this story in the New York Times says, "The Arkestra is still together; some members have been with it since the 1950's and 60's. After some lean times when it was in danger of folding, the band has rebounded in recent years. It played some 30 dates last year, including gigs in Europe, Brazil, a Buddhist temple in Tuva and the Manhattan nightclub Iridium.

"Mr. Allen...complains that the concerts do not pay enough to keep the entire band together like an extended family, the way Sun Ra did. Mr. Allen often has trouble scraping together a full ensemble (anywhere from 13 to 19 pieces) even for weekly rehearsals and must call upon Arkestra alumni to fill spots. The band still plays music that alternates between straight-ahead swing arrangements and squealing solos. The concerts still feature free-form dancers, light shows and musicians in outlandish costumes marching through the audience while chanting and singing.

"Band members often use megaphones to sing songs with the cosmic themes that were the trademark of Sun Ra, who claimed to be from Saturn and described his concepts with outer-space imagery. (He spoke of making music sublime enough to elevate humanity beyond Earth, to transcend reality. He spoke of a world in which people traveled in cars and rocket ships powered by music alone.)"

An aide to the new Iranian president, Mr Ahmadinejad, says his boss has denied American reports that he was involved in the November, 1979 US Embassy hostage-taking. Aljazeera notes that Ahmadinejad was a 23-year-old university student at the time of the takeover, and was a founding member of the student group that organised the storming of the US embassy compound.

The new Iranian president is lying, as these AP pictures published by blogger Little Green Footballs yesterday show quite clearly. But lying seems to be the official Iranian way of doing business these days, doesn't it?

Conservative columnist Thomas Sowell is angry about the Supreme Court decision that makes it easier for private property to be seized by local officials in the name of the public good. Personal politics shouldn't matter with judges who have the competence and the integrity to apply the law and uphold the constution. But it has mattered for the last half century, he writes in the Washington Times, because some judges "have gone beyond their judicial roles to impose their own policy preferences. Since these kinds of judges have almost invariably imposed policies favored by liberals, they have been cheered on - not only by liberal politicians, but also most media, law schools and intelligentsia. Any judge who might restore the Constitution by overturning some liberal precedents is now called an 'extremist' or an 'activist' - even by liberals who had cheered on liberal judges when they overturned previous precedents.

"Judges who take an oath to uphold the Constitution do not take an oath to uphold liberal precedents. If liberal members of the Senate Judiciary Committee try to impose such a commitment on judicial nominees, we can only hope others will have the sense and guts to expose and oppose such tactics. No policy litmus test, 'mainstream' or not, should be applied to any judicial nominee by either party, not if you want judges committed to the law rather than particular policy outcomes."

Richard W Rahn, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute, also criticised the Supreme Court decision in an article in the Washington Times, but on economic grounds: "Those familiar with economic literature know that protection of private property is a key ingredient in economic development and prosperity. Those who are abreast of the writings of the American Founding Fathers are also aware that they understood the importance of the protection of private property. So here we have five members of the court who get an "F" both in economics and history. I would not have mentioned their names if this were merely a rare lapse on their part, but there is a continuing pattern of both an inability to see the consequences of their decisions and a lack of understanding of the historical record."

Instead of simply handing in his final report this summer, as he had planned, the UN's Oil-for-Food investigator, Paul Volcker, is going to be making three more interim reports, according to an announcement from Kofi Annan. The Secretary-General also said he will turn over to Volcker notes of closed-door Security Council meetings related to sanctions on Iraq in the years before the 2003 invasion.

The New York Times's highly respected architectural critic, Nicolai Ourousoff, has written a scathing assessment of the re-designed Freedom Tower at ground zero in New York: "The new obelisk-shaped tower, which stands on an enormous 20-story concrete pedestal, evokes a gigantic glass paperweight with a toothpick stuck on top...The temptation is to dismiss it as a joke. And it is hard not to pity Mr. Childs, who was forced to redesign the tower on the fly to meet the rigid deadline of Gov George E. Pataki. Unfortunately, the tower is too loaded with meaning to dismiss. For better or worse, it will be seen by the world as a chilling expression of how we are reshaping our identity in a post-Sept. 11 context." Other critics at major US newspapers seem to agree with him.

In advance of the G-8's Gleneagles meeting, the Longon Times's British editor, Gerard Baker, interviewed President George Bush at the White House. In an article published today, he writes: "In person Mr Bush is so far removed from the caricature of the dim, war-mongering Texas cowboy of global popular repute that it shakes one's faith in the reliability of the modern media." (I can't offer any likely theory on the subject of where he's been for the last few years.)

The Times says, in an editorial, that when the American president arrives in Scotland, he will have been cast as the villain of the piece by what the newspaper rather tactfully calls "the protest lobbies". But, "this is not the impression that the President offers in his interview with The Times this morning.

"Mr Bush has scant time for fashionable causes and he drives a hard bargain. He has been willing, for example, to swallow some doubts and endorse much of Gordon Brown's blueprint for African debt relief, but provided that the condition of genuinely good governance in return is real and verifiable and not merely lip service. Mr Bush is right to be forceful on this point as the history of Africa over the past three decades is not one of insufficient outside financial assistance but of too little reaching those who need it most. That mistake must not be repeated...

"It is improbable, if the Kyoto treaty is deemed the exclusive measure of intent on this score, that Mr Bush will be as accommodating on climate change. Yet there are signs here that the President is informally shifting his position. There is no enthusiasm in any quarter of Washington - White House or the Congress, Democrat or Republican - for an approach to the environment rooted in the implicit assumption that all economic growth is to be regretted. There is, however, an acceptance that if technological innovation is to be the means for the reversal of global warming, then measures are required to encourage research in this area. Mr Bush may have more to announce in this area before reaching Gleneagles." Guess he must have tipped them to something.

"Scanning the commentary after President Bush's Fort Bragg speech on Iraq, our eyes were caught by a headline in The New York Times: 'Wanted: A Policy'. True, the advice was dated 1861, not 2005, and the President at whom it was directed wasn't George W. Bush, but Abraham Lincoln. But you get the idea; plus ca change.

"Americans have a long and honorable tradition of taking exception with their governments, even during wartime. After Mr. Bush's speech, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid described Iraq policy as 'adrift, disconnected from the reality on the ground and in need of major mid-course corrections.' Surely anyone offering such a biting critique won't object if we examine precisely what 'corrections' the loyal opposition has in mind." No prize for guessing the Journal isn't impressed.

Boris Johnson, who is a British Conservative MP and the editor of the Spectator, may have an idea or two about a part of the puzzle. In an article in the Telegraph, he writes: "Imagine the howls of hate, if a Conservative government had spent the past few weeks eroding the right to trial by jury, abolishing habeas corpus, curtailing free speech, and then slapped on the plastic poll tax - the ID card. Lefties are somehow assumed to be doing things for idealistic reasons, and for the collective good, and their high motives excuse their appalling solutions.

"That is why the servants of communist tyranny get sympathetic obits, and modern British girls wear CCCP T-shirts, and that is why a Labour Government can enact a series of authoritarian measures that a Conservative government could not contemplate. I cannot explain this injustice: I merely point it out."

29 June 2005

Google announced earlier today that Google Earth, free satellite imagery software, was available on its website in beta form. They've now shut the software download capability down, due to "the technical limitations of this beta launch". There was no indication when the facility might be re-opened. UPDATE - it's back on as of Thursday morning.

I thought President Bush did pretty well in his speech last night. Lots of commentators disagree, some for good reasons, some for bad. But of all the bad reasons to disagree, the Democratic Party's are the worst. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, complains that the President is "exploiting" 9/11, because there is no connection between it and the war in Iraq. Iraq is the principal battleground on which the war against terror is being fought. Saying it isn't is the kind of argument you'd expect to be used in a playground fight between six-year olds.

Magnus Linklater's article in the Times about the dearth of translations of foreign authors in Britain (and in the US), is passionate and well-argued: "How did we become so culturally insular? Why, unlike every other country in Europe, do we turn our backs on books by foreign writers? The statistics are shaming: in France a quarter of all books published are translations; in Britain the figure is only 3 per cent - and this includes technical, medical and scientific publications. Do we seriously think that a figure like that is a fair reflection of what is being written in Europe today, or in China, say, a country in ferment; in South America, the continent of Borges and Neruda; in Israel or Iraq? And do we care?

"We should do. On the award night, I sat with a hundred or so others, to hear the simple, eloquent, and moving speech of acceptance made by (Ismail) Kadare in the National Museum of Scotland. He spoke of how freedom and literature belong together and how, as a youth, during the years of suppression under Enver Hoxha, he was sustained and inspired by literature. Looming over his village was a sinister castle, used by successive regimes to house political prisoners. But he dreamt of another one - Macbeth's castle in Scotland, made real for him when he read Shakespeare's play at the age of 11, and copied it into his notebook. 'My fascination with that distant northern castle was enough to make my local fortress fade into insignificance...' he said. 'That teenager was already a citizen of another realm, the realm of literature. He had entrusted to it his imagination and also his moral conscience. Its laws came to override all other law. Its leaders - Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Kafka - became his true masters.'

"And so the life of a suppressed writer in Albania was enriched by the literature of other lands. Meanwhile, ours limps along on a bland diet of Danielle Steel and celebrity cookery books. We are in thrall to the bestseller. Our literary ambitions are limited to riding the Hogwarts Express or cracking the Da Vinci code. Part of the reason is bleakly commercial - the publishing industry today, dominated by multinationals, favours hot properties at the expense of everything else. The booksellers are complicit in the pile 'em high, sell 'em quick mentality. Only rarely does a foreign writer have the credentials to penetrate this well-cushioned sanctuary."

John Keegan, who writes on defence matters for the Telegraph is the author of a fine little article on the significance of the Battle of Trafalgar. "Trafalgar was not only a naval triumph. It also inaugurated the beginning of Britain's century of supremacy. After Trafalgar, Britain dominated the world's oceans and so the world's trade. By the middle of the 19th century, the Royal Navy was equal to the strength of the next seven navies in the world, while the British merchant fleet carried 90 per cent of the world's seaborne goods, taking British coal, iron and steel out, and Argentine beef, North American grain and Australian wool back. Such days will not come again, not even to the United States, Britain's successor as the world's foremost naval power."

Claudia Rosett has some stinging words for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his organisation in her Wall Street Journal column this morning. "...If there is one item in all Mr. Annan's talk of reform that should provoke distinct horror, cold sweats, and mighty fears over the trajectory of the UN, it is a small cipher embedded in Mr. Annan's tastefully printed and expensively bound proposal for UN reform, 'In Larger Freedom,' Annex item No. 5(d). That would be the proposal that developed countries contribute 0.7% of their gross domestic income to the cause of 'official development assistance'.

"For the U.S. alone, where gross national income now totals about $11 trillion, that would add up to more than $82 billion per year - by itself more than 10 times what the UN has already failed miserably to manage well. And though Mr. Annan does not spell out exactly how such official aid would 'officially' reach its intended beneficiaries, the clear implication is that it would go through the 'official' UN - generating a great gush of cash, with no more need for the UN to worry about reform, or Mr. Annan and his successors even to strain themselves sending staffers to lobby Washington, or signing self-laudatory Op-eds.

"Sound familiar? It should. It is unnervingly similar to the UN arrangement via Oil for Food in which Saddam paid 2.2% of his oil revenues to the UN to supervise the program. As long at the deal continued, the flow of funds to the UN was automatic. And because the money belonged by rights to the people of Iraq, but Mr. Annan did his UN deals not with them, but with Baghdad's tyrant, the effect was taxation without representation. The predictable result was a carnival of graft in which both Saddam and his biggest business partner, the UN, hoodwinked the general world public and short-changed most of the 26 million Iraqis who were neither family members of UN top officials, nor cronies of Saddam.

"Investigators are still trying to follow the money from that last UN grand scam. To think seriously for even a second about Mr. Annan's plan to levy a percentage tax, of any size whatsoever, on the GDP of the developed world, is a route not to help for the hungry, but to Orwell's 'Animal Farm'. The European Union seems so far to find this acceptable - perhaps because the continental elite know that once again, America would pay the lion's share of the biggest bonanza that global bureaucracy has ever seen. But the idea ought to inspire Americans, at least, to take those costly copies of Mr. Annan's reform report (round III) and, in the spirit of Boston, 1773, throw a Turtle Bay Tea Party."

Britian's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, says that by failing to condemn Robert Mugabe's actions in Zimbabwe, other African countries have made themselves his accomplices. At least, that's what he means, although he can't seem to bring himself to use quite those words. In the Guardian , he says: "The refusal of Zimbabwe's neighbours to condemn the 'outrages' taking place in the country has limited Britain's ability to take action. The fundamental difficulty about doing more rests with the approach of African leaders, that is true. It's very disappointing that, in the face of very clear evidence, they have been unwilling to speak out against these outrages. That's bad for the people directly affected in Zimbabwe. It's also bad for the reputation of Africa."

It's not often you can say, truthfully, of an author that he made a thoroughly wonderful contribution to the understanding of history during his lifetime, but it is certainly true of Shelby Foote, who died on Monday. The New York Times carries one of many tributes: "Shelby Foote, the historian whose incisive, seasoned commentary - delivered in a drawl so mellifluous that one critic called it 'molasses over hominy' - evoked the Civil War for millions in the 11-hour PBS documentary in 1990, died on Monday at a Memphis hospital He was 88 and lived in Memphis...His mission was to tell what he considered America's biggest story as a vast, finely detailed, deeply human narrative. He could focus on broad shifts in strategy or on solitary moments of poignancy, like the tearful but still proud Robert E. Lee picking his way through the ranks of his vanquished army to surrender...

"His goal was to emulate the authoritative narrative voice of the 18th-century British historian Edward Gibbon. Mr. Foote's books carried a great plot, and as academic historians increasingly saw themselves as social scientists armed with the tools of quantitative analysis, he turned to Shakespeare for metaphors and to colloquialisms for literary impact."

William Safire, who retired as a New York Times columnist in January of this year, has come out of retirement to write a piece fulminating against the possibility that his former colleague, Judith Miller, may be jailed for refusing to name a source.

"The case was about the 'outing' of an agent - supposedly covert, but working openly at C.I.A. headquarters - in Robert Novak's column two years ago by unnamed administration officials angry at her husband's prewar Iraq criticism...Evidently no such serious crime took place. After spending two years and thousands of F.B.I. agent-hours and millions of dollars that could better have been directed against terrorism and identity theft, the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, admits his investigation has been stalled since last October. We have seen no indictment under the identities protection act. What evidence of serious crime does he have that makes the testimony of Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine so urgent? We don't know - eight pages of his contempt demand are secret - but some legal minds think he is falling back on the Martha Stewart Theory of Prosecution. That is: if the underlying crime has not been committed, justify the investigation by indicting a big name for giving false information.

"Thus, if the reporters resist the coercion of the loss of their freedom, the prosecutor can blame them for his inability to go to trial on the 'heavy' charge. But if they cave in, he can get some headlines on the ancillary charge of false statements."

To that point, I agree with him. But when he says "the Supreme Court has just flinched from its responsibility to stop the unjust jailing of two journalists...by a runaway prosecutor who will go to any lengths to use the government's contempt power to force them to betray their confidential sources", he and I part company. The Supreme Court is not some comic book superhero leaping into a telephone booth to don its robes at the first sign of injustice. Its job is to interpret the law, and the prosecutor, no matter how much of a runaway he is, has the law firmly and quite obviously on his side.

28 June 2005

The Telegraph says Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi foreign minister, has put the blame for the bloody suppression of a Shia uprising on Saddam Hussein in a video released yesterday. "The footage, given out by the tribunal prosecuting members of the deposed regime, is likely to demoralise Saddam loyalists involved in the Iraqi insurgency because it contradicts claims by Aziz's lawyer that he would never betray Saddam."

It has been a little frustrating, during the last few days, trying to find authoritative sources of information about the election in Iran. One had to have been struck by how few western commentators seemed to have any kind of a handle on what was going on. About as deep as they seemed to be able to get was saying well, if this new guy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a hardliner, then things are likely to get worse. So I was relieved, if a little alarmed, to read two pieces overnight that did answer some questions for me. The first is in this morning's Wall Street Journal, and fills in some of the blanks where Ahmadinejad himself is concerned: "A student radical during Ayatollah Khomenei's revolution in the late 1970s, Mr. Ahmadinejad was involved in planning the seizure of the U.S. embassy and helped organize Khomenei's Islamic Cultural Revolution, during which universities were shut down and ideologically suspect lecturers and students were arrested and shot.

"In the mid-1980s, he worked as an interrogator, or worse, in Tehran's infamous Evin Prison, according to Iranian sources. Mr. Ahmadinejad then joined the Special Brigade of the Revolutionary Guards, where he was an officer in the 'Jerusalem Force', which had responsibility for terrorist attacks and assassinations abroad, including against prominent Iranian dissidents. In the late 1990s, he was one of the organizers of Ansar-i-Hezbollah, government-sponsored vigilantes assigned to break up peaceful demonstrations. In April 2003, Mr. Ahmadinejad was appointed (not elected) mayor of Tehran, where he set about organizing 'Abadgaran' (Developers) groups, which seek to return Iran to sterner Khomeinist principles."

I know my late Mother would have pointed out that in addition to the above (and far more significant), his eyes are altogether too close together. So Mr Ahmadinejad isn't emerging as one of this site's favourite public figures.

For some information on what the election of such a man means to Iran, read this piece at MEMRI - the Middle East Media Research Institute: "With the results of this election, the 'Second Islamic Revolution' of Iranian Leader 'Ali Khamenei and his conservative followers is complete. Prior to this, the military apparatus, the judicial system, and the religious establishment were already in the hands of the conservative circles. After winning the municipal elections two years ago, and the Majlis (parliament) elections earlier this year, the conservatives now have total control of the centers of power at all levels; no reformists remain in any top posts."

The chief curator of France's national library seems to be assisting French police with their enquiries into the whereabouts of 30,000 books and manuscripts, including nearly 2,000 considered to be of "exceptional historical value". The Guardian says: "Michel Garel...has been placed under formal investigation, one step short of being charged, in connection with the theft of a document known as Manuscript 52, a copy of the first five books of the Bible that was produced in France in about 1250 and bound in Italy in the 15th century. The work was offered in a sale of rare manuscripts at Christie's auction house in New York in 2004, and a wealthy, but unidentified, Anglo-Israeli collector and dealer living in London has reportedly told French police that Mr Garel sold it to him in 2000 for just under $100,000, as part of series of purchases totalling some $600,000.

Mr Garel had admitted stealing and selling the manuscript, but yesterday retracted his confession, saying he had owned up to a crime he did not commit because it was 'the only way to avoid being thrown into prison'. He said he was 'the perfect scapegoat' for the library's hierarchy, with whom he had been 'on difficult terms' for 10 years, and insisted he had never stolen anything."

John Kerry was rightly criticised for outlining ideas about Iraq during the presidential election that owed more to wishful thinking than a clear-eyed look at reality. Later today, President Bush is going to try to rally American citizens a bit with an address to American troops at Fort Bragg. In anticipation, Kerry is having another go at American policy in Iraq in a New York Times opinion piece that outlines what he thinks the President ought to say. It's a carefully put-together piece, but as all who have experience at crafting such documents know, taking too much care can suck the life out of your message. That is what seems to have happened here - Kerry spends so much time avoiding saying the wrong thing that what is left is rather a tepid recitation of the obvious without any particular sparkle or authority. Very like the man himself.

27 June 2005

People's Daily has published a short, but pithy, story about the discovery of a new type of toilet. This one, which promises to "lure dogs with scents, will make debut in Beijing. In July Beijing citizens will be able to bring their pets to experience them. According to sources the pet toilets developed by a company in Zhejiang were designed to address the environmental problem of the excrement and urine left by pets outdoors. They function by luring pets into the toilets with scents and are water efficient. Excrement and urine of pets is automatically packaged with degradable plastic with no odor leakage so that it won't pollute the environment and is easy to handle and utilize."

If this thing works, the Chinese won't need to invade the West militarily, as some warts are currently worrying. As long as they bring their toilets, they'll be welcomed in peace with open arms.

Bermuda has come second in the world's-highest-rate-of-jailing stakes, tied with Belarus and Russia. We apparently jail at a rate of 532 per 100,000 people. The US is the league leader, locking 'em away at a rate of 714 per 100,000, according to the Telegraph. I'm sure our officials, disgraced by this, will promise to try to do better next year but...really. Belarus and Russia?

The Globe and Mail says "A French judge investigating the Iraq oil-for-food scandal is planning to look into the activities of Serge Boidevaix, the former French diplomat who played a crucial role in keeping Iraqi crude flowing to the Come By Chance oil refinery in Newfoundland during Saddam Hussein's rule. A Paris court official has confirmed that Mr. Boidevaix's name is on a list of 11 French political, diplomatic and other personalities whom Judge Philippe Courroye intends to investigate for suspicion of profiting from the sale of Iraqi oil under the United-Nations-sponsored oil-for-food program.

"According to a report prepared by the Brigade de Repression de la Delinquance Economique, a French police unit that investigates corruption and other economic crimes, 'infractions of active and passive corruption and influence peddling appear to have taken place and continued until May of 2002.' The report, obtained by the newspaper Le Monde, says that 'Most of the individuals who received [oil] allocations were expected to spread a positive image of the Iraqi regime by taking a pro-Iraqi position,' and specifically names Mr. Boidevaix and Gilles Munier, secretary-general of the Franco-Iraqi Friendship Society."

Blogger Arthur Chrenkoff's twice-monthly roundup of good news from Iraq appears again in the Wall Street Journal this morning. As always, it's nothing if not thorough (into which you are invited to read long).

"In media news, a...radio station focusing on women's issues has hit the airwaves in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Topics under discussion include the importance of women's rights and the new constitution, the forthcoming general election, childhood needs and family problems.

"'The radio station is a voice for Iraqi women in the country, a voice to speak about her rights, her issues, her ambitions, her problems without hesitation,' manager of the radio station, Majed Rahak, said. Known as radio 'al-Mahaba' meaning love in Arabic, the station is supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) programme."

I didn't know they had one, but I suppose there's no excuse for being surprised.

Remember Henry Root? He was the wet fish merchant and eccentric right-wing bigot who, as the Times of London recalls, wrote to prominent public figures offering comment, advice and support - often in the form of a one pound note. Root's outrageous yet deadpan missives succeeded in provoking a range of often embarrassingly positive responses from the likes of Esther Rantzen, Larry Lamb, Lord Grade, Sir David McNee (the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police), and Root's personal and political heroine, Margaret Thatcher. The resulting book, The Henry Root Letters, was a bestseller for months."

Sadly, the man in whose twisted brain Henry Root was born, William Donaldson, has died. The Times says "Charles William Donaldson's privileged background had set him up for a life of self-indugent and reprehensible behaviour. There was also, however, a subtle intellectual competitiveness which manifested itself in his witty and biting attacks on bourgeoise values. A man who empathised with Flaubert's disgust at his brainless peers - his Dictionary of Received Ideas was intended in part as the realisation of a project Flaubert had not been able to complete - he claimed that he felt more at home with thieves and prostitutes than intellectuals...

His other works included further forays into celebrity ridicule, a number of autobiographical works and some impressively researched (if at times factually dubious) reference books: Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics - an A-Z of Roguish Britons Through the Ages and I'm leaving you Simon, you disgust me - A Dictionary of Received Ideas. None achieved the same degree of acclaim as the Root Letters, but all displayed their author's cultivated cleverness and the captivating, if rather destructive, roguishness by which he lived."

In Israel, they're asking the kind of blunt question New Yorkers are known for: "Abu Mazen wants to eradicate terror - but can't. Whereas Arafat could have, but didn't want to. The outcome with both is the same: There's terror. So what difference does it make? What do we care about good intentions?" Fair question.

26 June 2005

Here's something I'll bet not many know about Jack Kennedy - he did a stint as a reporter for Hearst Newspapers. He covered the founding of the UN in San Francisco in June of 1945. The SF Chronicle gives excerpts from a few of his dispatches this morning, 60 years after they were first published.

Sample: "The stormy sessions of the first week have done much to clear the air.

"They have shown clearly the tremendous differences between the viewpoints of Russia on the one hand and the U.S. and Great Britain on the other.

"Americans can now see that we have a long way to go before Russia will entrust her safety to any organization other than the Red Army.

"Any organization drawn up here will be merely a skeleton. Its powers will be limited. It will reflect the fact that there are deep disagreements among its members.

"The hope is, however, that this skeleton will put on flesh as time goes by. If confidence between the different nations grows, more and more tasks will be entrusted to the security organization..."

So common sense is still alive in the US's black community, despite all the low-ball remarks about Bill Cosby. The LA Times, among many others, reports that: "For the first time in decades, the NAACP on Saturday named a business executive - not a minister, political figure or grass-roots activist - as its leader. Bruce S. Gordon, former president of retail markets at Verizon Communications, said that under his leadership, the NAACP would increase its emphasis on entrepreneurial growth and economic justice in the black community. He also said the venerable civil rights organization should transcend partisan politics and build its ties with the Bush White House. 'Our organization needs to have a relationship on both sides of the aisle,' said Gordon, 59. 'We have a very polarized country, and I don't like that.'"

This story about making plastic from corn really is interesting...really. I'm linking to it, though, primarily because the lady who wrote it for the LA Times, Stephanie Simon, does an admirable job making something inherently dull come alive: "He operates 90,000 feet of hissing pipes and dozens of enormous churning vats - an industrial jungle with a single, remarkable purpose: 'Essentially,' plant manager Bill Suehr says, 'we've got corn coming in at one end and plastic coming out the other.'

"In a hot, noisy factory that smells of Frosted Flakes, yeast and wet farm animals, agribusiness giant Cargill Inc. has set out to lead a new industrial revolution - one fed by the green fields of the Midwest rather than the oil fields of the Middle East."

See what I mean? Frosted Flakes, yeast and wet farm animals gets very high marks, indeed. I personally, faced with a source whose quotes failed to measure up, would have cheated a little and changed one of those comings to a going. A man who thinks he can be in two places at once would never have noticed.

Well, here's Congressman Henry J Hyde, chairman of the US House of Representatives' Committee on International Relations writing in the Telegraph about the American position on aid to Africa in advance of the G8 meeting at Gleneagles. Doesn't that conjure up thoughts of a perspiring, overweight ballet dancer, bourree-ing through a field of cactus? It's worth reading just to see how he does it. This, take my word for it, is as close as he gets to thorniness: "We must no longer treat Africa as a ward of the developed world. We must no longer espouse the welfarism of patting the continent on the head, muttering 'poor Africans' while opening our wallets so we can sleep better at night thinking we've made a difference when we haven't. No nation ever spent its way out of poverty by cashing foreign aid cheques."

A much-cherished British belief - that they were conquered in a violent Roman invasion in 43 AD - turns out not to be true. In fact, it was spin - manufactured, not by some lickspittle Roman PR guy, but by the Emperor Claudius himself (if you're inclined to believe the Independent's take on it, that is). "More than 40,000 Roman soldiers were believed to have landed in Richborough, Kent, before carving their way through the English countryside...evidence unearthed in Sussex overturns this theory. Archaeologists now believe that the Romans arrived up to 50 years earlier in Chichester. They were welcomed as liberators, overthrowing a series of tyrannical tribal kings who had been terrorising clans across southern England. Sussex and Hampshire became part of the Roman Empire 50 years before the invasion that historians have always believed was the birth of Roman Britain."

Want to know what makes a set of brass knuckles and a pair of Doc Martens an attractive Christmas present option? The Observer reports that "Brainstorming, the buzz term used by executives to generate ideas among their staff, has been deemed politically incorrect by civil servants because it is thought to be offensive to people with brain disorders. Instead staff at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in Belfast will use the term 'thought-showers' when they get together to think creatively. A spokeswoman said: 'The DETI does not use the term brainstorming on its training courses on the grounds that it may be deemed pejorative.' Sources inside the department said there was concern that the term would cause offence to sufferers of epilepsy as well those with brain tumours or brain injuries."


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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