...Views from mid-Atlantic
13 August 2005

Benon Sevan, the director of the UN Oil-for-Food programme who has been accused by the Volcker enquiry of having taken bribes, is safe from prosecution as long as he stays in his home country of Cyprus, according to Bloomberg.com. That country's constitution does not allow it to hand its nationals over to other countries for prosecution.

It should be remembered that Sevan was allowed to leave the US, probably in June, despite the UN having repeatedly said it was keeping him on its staff with a symbolic salary of $1 a year so as to ensure that he would not leave the country and that he would work with the Volcker committee. Inevitably, there has been speculation that he was allowed to go as part of a deal - no prosecution for him as long as he gets back to Cyprus and stays there, giving no information to Volcker that might be embarrassing to others in the UN.

Britain has become so risk-averse, says Lord Skidelsky, the Professor of Political Economy at Warwick University, in the London Times that a forest of overzealous regulation has sprung up. Take school outings, for example: "The rules governing these are decided not by the children and young people themselves (which is understandable), nor by the schools, but by the LEAs acting as agents for the Health and Safety Executive and other government bodies. A pack of 'Regulations and Guidelines' on how to conduct 'Off-Site Activities and Educational Visits', issued by my area's county council, consists of 300 pages covering every type of school outing with its attendant hazards to be guarded against. These range from the serious to the trivial and extremely improbable. But each offsite visit requires a formidable exercise in risk assessment, form-filling and precautionary, supervisory and reporting activity.

"Country rambles are full of perils: 'changes in the weather', wasp stings, sunstroke, dehydration, premature abortion (from contact with sheep), and, of course, child abuse. A ludicrous example is the requirement that the adult 'explain clearly, in advance' why physical contact with a child may be necessary. One has a nightmare of the teacher not having time to complete his 'explanations' before the child falls off the edge of the cliff."

The new president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Britain is warning that the National Health Service's goal of providing free health care, at the point of need, all the time is not achievable with the present funding structure. In the Telegraph , he says "health care in this country should be paid for instead through a social insurance system, similar to that used in France and Germany. Patients would pay a proportion of the cost of their treatment, and take out insurance to cover that cost.

"His comments," the newspaper says, "will reignite the political debate about the funding of health care in Britain. Although some senior figures in the Labour Party called for the introduction of a new funding mechanism in the last Parliament, Gordon Brown ruled out changing the way in which the NHS was paid for. He raised national insurance, following the publication of the Wanless report into the future of the NHS, to increase the resources available for health care."

Alex Ross is the music critic of the New Yorker, and a blogger to whose site you can access from the link in the list on the right hand side of the page. The Guardian this morning carries a shorter version of an article first published in the New Yorker, which examines the effect of recordings on our musical life. "Recording has the unsettling power to transform any kind of music, no matter how unruly or how sublime, into a collectable object, which becomes decor for the lonely modern soul. It thrives on the buzz of the new, but it also breeds nostalgia, a state of melancholy remembrance and, with that, indifference to the present; you can start to feel nostalgic for the opening riff of a new favourite song even before you reach the end.

"Throughout the 20th century, classical musicians and listeners together indulged the fantasy that they were living outside the technological realm. They cultivated an atmosphere of timelessness, of detachment from the ordinary world. Recording was well liked for its revenue-generating potential, but musicians preferred to think of it as a means of transcribing in the most literal manner the centuries-old classical performance tradition."

So will recording kill off live performances? Maybe...

12 August 2005

Here's some news that's going to put an angry cat among us Bermudian pigeons. Only weeks after our Tourism minister paid a small fortune to a US fashion designer to put Bermuda shorts in his summer collection, as a publicity stunt, it's revealed that not even Bermudians wear the damn things any more. Los Angeles Times staff writer Carol J Williams tells the ugly truth: "Increasingly, the national dress of this British colony is worn only by a diminishing circle of elderly white gentlemen and workers in the hospitality industry, who put them on solely for the paycheck.

"Bermuda's residents may still drive on the left and play cricket instead of baseball, but a tectonic cultural shift has occurred since the industrial barons of Boston, New York and Baltimore began turning to this temperate island of 65,000 people to escape icy winters and stifling summer heat. Now a haven for US banking and insurance companies seeking tax breaks, its ties to Britain and its traditions have been unraveling under the friction of North American influences, including hip-hop and affirmative action.

"'I would say it has been changing more than diminishing, going from dress attire to a more casual look,' said Laurence Trimingham, whose 120-year-old Front Street shop was the premier purveyor of the classic shorts-and-socks outfit before going out of business in late July.

"'Originally, the shorts came to us from the British military summer uniform,' the clothier said. 'As that influence in the colonies has gone away, so have the shorts.'"

Deary me. And thanks to Brenda for the tip.

An editorial in the Washington Post suggests some rather unpalatable truths have been exposed by the publication of a recent report on Sudan.

"Some remain skeptical of President Bush's concern for Africa, and there's no doubt that the United States could and should do more. But the latest report on Sudan from the United Nations offers a snapshot of an issue on which Mr. Bush has been a leader. So far this year the United States has given $468 million in foreign assistance to Sudan, mostly for humanitarian relief in the western region of Darfur. The US contribution comes to 53 per cent of all outside donations - a proportion about twice the size of the nation's weight in the global economy.

"A few other countries have been even more generous relative to the size of their economies, notably Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Britain. But the contribution from many others has been embarrassing.

"How can France, which prides itself on its leadership in Africa, give only $2 million to this year's U.N. appeal for Sudan - an amount that, when rounded, comes to zero percent of total contributions to the country? Even if one generously ascribed, say, a fifth of the European Union's donation of $90 million to French taxpayers, France's share of the total contribution to Sudan comes to a paltry 2 percent."

"There are plenty of other culprits. Japan accounts for just 2 percent of total contributions despite the size of its economy; China has made no contribution to the UN effort, even though it has extensive investments in Sudan's oil sector. But perhaps the most striking absentees are the oil-rich Arab countries, which have more money than ideas on how to spend it, thanks to oil prices above $60 a barrel. Saudi Arabia has contributed a grand total of $3 million, according to the UN data; the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have given less than $1 million between them. No other Arab country even makes the list.

"This Arab indifference is shameful. The victims of Sudan's worst crisis, in Darfur, are Muslim, and aid to non-Muslim southern Sudan is essential to shoring up the fragile north-south peace deal that would help Muslims as well. Sudan borders Libya and Egypt; only the narrow Red Sea separates it from Saudi Arabia. Arabs have every reason to care about Sudan, and yet they have done far less than remote non-Muslim countries such as Norway, which has an economy roughly the same size as Saudi Arabia's."

South Africa's new Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, has called for her country to copy Zimbabwe's land reform policies in an attempt to speed up redistribution, according to the Independent.

"Mrs Mlambo-Ngcuka's remarks came shortly after a government summit to review South Africa's land reforms opted to drop the willing buyer/willing seller policy in favour of a new policy yet to be spelt out.

"'Land reform in South Africa has been too slow and too structured. There needs to be a bit of oomph. That's why we may need the skills of Zimbabwe to help us,' she said at an education conference. 'On agrarian and land reform, South Africa should learn some lessons from Zimbabwe - how to do it fast.'

"But analysts and opposition MPs, who fear South Africa is already on the path to losing its status as the world's sixth-biggest net food exporter following the rejection of the willing buyer/willing seller policy, condemned Mrs Mlambo Ngcuka's comments as 'grossly irresponsible'." Irresponsible...it almost makes you think they don't do ethics over there.

The British left can behave like the most awful pigs when exposed to sums of money larger than they're used to dealing with. The Guardian today carries one of the nastiest stories I've ever come across, suggesting that anyone who wants to sell a valuable painting for its fair market value is a greedy traitor to the British cause: "Knowing full well that no combination of British galleries could come up with his over-inflated 50m pounds asking price, the Earl of Halifax is now touting his Titian across the world's private auction houses. In doing so, he is only following the example set by the Duke of Northumberland, who agreed to sell the Madonna of the Pinks to the Getty Museum for 35m pounds without the knowledge of the National Gallery - despite the fact that the gallery curators had first identified its authenticity(!).

"None of this is to suggest that aristocrats - like anyone else - should not be allowed to dispose of their property as they wish. But with personal greed subsuming any sense of noblesse oblige or the national interest, it is time the hallowed romance of titled wealth was dispelled. The modern British nobility increasingly represents large, land-owning corporations ruthlessly focused on shareholder value. After a brief flirtation with the national interest, the aristocracy is back to putting dynasty before duty."

This is the kind of vicious twisting of the truth that the Brits are now prepared to deport Muslim clerics for - but in Britain, as long as it's "nobs" (defined, if push comes to shove, as anyone who isn't within an ace of bankruptcy) into whose crotch you're putting your boot, you can get away with just about anything.

My son, who is a photographer, once had an assignment to take pictures of Tim Berners-Lee for some publication. He got him to sign a copy of his book, Weaving the Web, and gave it to me for Christmas that year. It was a terrific present which I now count as one of the gems of my book collection. This Guardian profile will give you some idea why: "There are, according to recent figures, more than 35 million web users in the UK today. More than 15 million British homes have internet connections and, thanks to faster broadband technologies, we are living in a radically different world from that which was predicted.

"The world wide web has changed millions of lives in little more than a decade. For some it has changed fortunes as well: this week was the 10th anniversary of what is widely acknowledged as the beginning of the dotcom boom - when the web browser firm Netscape floated on the US stock market before ever turning a profit. That sparked a technology goldrush that has transformed modern communication. And while much of the boom was hyperbole, one rock solid fact remains: none of it would have happened had it not been for Tim Berners-Lee."

Daniel Schorr, of whom I thought better, shows he is as blind as anyone else to the offence committed by ABC when it aired an interview with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev. In a short article in the Christian Science Monitor, he speaks grandly of the freedom of the press, which he suggests has been threatened by the Russian response, and he suggests that it somehow makes a difference that a Russian freelancer actually conducted the interview. Let's say ABC had aired an interview with Julius Streicher in the middle of World War II. Would it have mattered that the interview was actually conducted by a German freelancer? Would it have been an assault on the freedom of the press to accuse ABC of behaving treasonously?

11 August 2005

There's a great debate under way in the United States over whether charter schools - schools partly freed from the bureaucracy of government schools - are effective or not. New York City has invested in them heavily, and seems convinced that they can be a great force for the improvement of the delivery of education to young children. Teachers, though, who are heavily unionised in the US, see the schools as a challenge to the comfortable employment cushions they have spent years building up, and criticise the experiment at every turn. Every time statistics show charter schools have made an improvement, the teachers and their allies produce statistics suggesting the opposite.

It seems obvious, though, that charter schools really are an improvement, and that eventually, their success will be documented in an unequivocal way. According to the Washington Post, a report by the Educational Policy Institute shows movement in that direction: "Twenty-seven KIPP charter middle schools, including one in the District (of Columbia), have posted 'large and significant gains' beyond what is average for urban schools...The Virginia Beach-based research organization, using data provided by the Knowledge Is Power Program, said 1,800 mostly low-income black and Hispanic fifth-graders showed gains significantly above average in reading, language and mathematics from 2003 to 2004."

Two fairly major pieces of archaeological news from the Middle East. The Jerusalem Post has the first: "In what could turn out to be the archeological find of the century, a prominent Israeli archeologist claims to have uncovered the ancient palace of King David near the Old City of Jerusalem. The 10th Century BC building discovered by Dr. Eilat Mazar in Jerusalem's ancient City of David, following a six-month dig at the site, has stirred international interest, igniting a debate in the archeological world whether the building is indeed the Biblical palace built for the victorious King David by King Hiram of Tyre as recounted in Samuel II:5.

In the second, reports the LA Times, "Workers repairing a sewage pipe in the Old City of Jerusalem have discovered the biblical Pool of Siloam, a freshwater reservoir that was a major gathering place for ancient Jews making religious pilgrimages to the city and the reputed site where Jesus cured a man blind from birth, according to the Gospel of John.

"The pool was fed by the now famous Hezekiah's Tunnel and is 'a much grander affair' than archeologists previously believed, with three tiers of stone stairs allowing easy access to the water, said Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, which reported the find Monday."

A global shortage of UFOs is having an impact in Cumbria, in the north of England. The Guardian says the Cumbrian branch of the British UFO Hunters may go out of existence. Joe McGonagle, who runs UFOlogyinuk, the main internet newsgroup for British ufologists, says "Ufology has shot itself in both feet and needs drastic surgery in order to recover. Ufology is suffering from the paranoid accusations of government cover-ups which some of the more vociferous groups and individuals are all too willing to believe and kick up a fuss about. All of these things drive people away from what is already a peculiar subject."

The Guardian says "McGonagle points to the decline in the number of local UFO clubs as ufologists get their information from the internet instead; apathy among the public (oddly, he links the failure to report sightings to the falling turnout in general elections); and a general 'loss of focus' in ufology. The great flying saucer-spotting days of the mid-20th century are long gone."

Claudia Rosett wryly suggests in the Wall Street Journal this morning that if the most recent Volcker report is anything to go by, the final two reports should be what Ed Sullivan would have called a "big, big, big show". "Mr. Volcker's latest report, after more than a year of investigation, is the first from his team to document actual bribes. It covers a grand total of $1.1 million in graft and runs to 130 pages, annexes included. If that ratio holds for the billions grafted, skimmed and smuggled out of Iraq relief funds under the UN cover of Oil for Food, we can expect that the final two reports, promised in September and October, will run to well over 1.5 million pages combined. No one is seriously expecting anything that massive, but it does give some idea of the scale of corruption with which the UN under Oil for Food became complicit. And it perhaps gives a hint of the scope of reform that will truly be required to clean up the UN."

Jokes aside, though, the Washington Times reminds us that the Oil-for-Food scandal is by no means the only problem the UN is facing: "...While investigators continue to sort out the graft in the Oil-for-Food program, the UN General Assembly will meet in September to adopt a series of reforms laid out by Kofi Annan in a 63-page transformation plan he announced last spring. The blueprint includes new rules for the use of military force, the adoption of an antiterrorism treaty, and an overhaul of the UN's shameful Human Rights Commission. Ideas to end the corruption and ineptitude within the organization are also on the table. Likewise, Congress has proposed legislation tying future US financial commitments to UN reform.

"However, other more important issues regarding U.S. interaction with the world body are simmering out of the limelight - issues that, in terms of America's sovereignty, mean much more than whether or not the UN can improve its office efficiency."

It is somehow a pleasure, as if something I thought was lost had turned up again, to be able to make the observation that the editors of China's People's Daily like publishing pictures of women without a lot of clothes on. They never miss a beauty contest, no matter how obscure. This morning, having run out of pageants, I suppose, they've run a photo feature on an international underwear festival in the city of Nova Friburgo in Brazil. "More than 100 underwear companies participate in the four-day festival in Nova Friburgo, well-known for its underwear culture, to promote their latest designs and materials," says the Daily, deadpan.

10 August 2005

The Weekly Standard says the significant thing about Ayman al-Zawahiri's videotape, released on August 4, is that al Qaeda is changing its tactical approach to the West: "They are now attempting to convince Westerners that they are worth negotiating with and can be appeased. Zawahiri put forth this idea in a section of the tape where he speaks directly to Americans. In it, he mentions the hudna, or truce, that Osama bin Laden offered last year in exchange for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Muslim world. Zawahiri asks, 'Didn't Osama bin Laden tell you that you would never dream of peace until we actually live it in Palestine and before all foreign forces withdraw from the Land of Muhammad?'"

That seems a little bit of a stretch to me. But Claude Salhani, UPI's international editor did notice something significant about the weapon al Zawahiri was carrying. In the Washington Times, he says he thinks it was a Pallad grenade launcher, made by Kalashnikov, but such an unusual weapon that a weapons expert told Salhani he'd never come across one before, despite years of deployment in Vietnam and Beirut. Salhani says al Qaeda could only have been able to obtain such a rifle from a government and gets his tame expert to speculate that that government might have been either North Korea or China.

According to the Cuban Government's official newspaper, Granma, "The US administration, which lays out millions every year to falsely accuse Cuba of blocking the free circulation of books, has just confiscated at the Mexican border hundreds of English-language texts destined for the University of Havana library. As the crowning absurdity, the seized works include titles as controversial as The Little Prince, by Frenchman Antoine de Saint-Exupery; and Lady Chatterley's Lover, by Briton DH Lawrence."

That's a good story, but it was written by a French-Canadian journalist living in Havana, called Jean-Guy Allard, who has a distinctly troubled relationship with the truth, and who is quite capable of pulling this kind of stuff out of thin air.

He says "The seized books are among the items taken from the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan by US Customs agents at the McEllan border crossing to Mexico in Texas on July 21, under express orders from the Department of Commerce." Express orders don't travel from Commerce to US Customs, except in the imaginations of people like M Allard, which suggests this story might not be what it seems. We'll see if and when one of the other media picks it up.

It's easy, in the shadow of all the publicity surrounding the return to earth of Discovery, to forget that it's not the only space story running around at the moment. SpaceDaily reminds us that "NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is ready for a morning launch on Thursday, August 11. The spacecraft will arrive at Mars in March 2006 for a mission to understand the planet's water riddles and to advance the exploration of the mysterious red planet. The mission's first launch opportunity window is 4:50 to 6:35 a.m. PDT, Thursday. If the launch is postponed, additional launch windows open daily at different times each morning through August.

"For trips from Earth to Mars, the planets move into good position for only a short period every 26 months. The best launch position is when Earth is about to overtake Mars in their concentric racing lanes around the Sun."

More reliable rain forecasting seems to be on the cards, which will be a relief to people worldwide. The Telegraph says "Scientists, whose research is published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, have produced a formula by taking into account recent advances in knowledge about how tiny water droplets group together to become rain."

Jazztimes says a newly-discovered recording of Charlie Parker playing with the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet has just come on the market. It's called Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945 - you can hear excerpts at Uptown Jazz Records, the label which released it. It's hard to explain what an album like this means to a jazz fan. 1945 was the year bebop was born. Bird and Dizzy were founders of bebop, but seldom played together.

You can count the recordings of them playing together on a badly-mutilated hand. Will Friedwald of the New York Sun wrote a piece a couple of days ago (which I can't link to because it's behind a subscription curtain) in which he said "This was recorded so early in the day for bebop that the show's master of ceremonies, Symphony Sid Torin, pronounced the trumpeter's name as 'Dizzy Jill-espie.' For a few years previously, Parker, Gillespie, and a few others - chiefly drummer Kenny Clarke and pianist Thelonious Monk - had begun hearing the new music in their heads and working out the details on their instruments independently of each other. Bebop's evolution accelerated during the war years, and the music's pioneers began moving from uptown after-hours clubs in Harlem to the mainstream jazz clubs on 52nd Street. There were two Town Hall concerts starring the Gillespie-Parker band in the spring of 1945, both produced by promoter Monte Kay's New Jazz Foundation. The first, on May 16, survives only in a series of photographs that grace the CD booklet; the second, thankfully, was recorded.

"Parker and Gillespie had only recorded twice together before this, and both poorly pressed studio sessions barely begin to document the majesty of the most auspicious partnership in all of modern jazz. In contrast, the Town Hall performances were supercharged with the fire of recent discovery. Parker's and Gillespie's solos were breathtaking - no one ever played higher or with greater clarity than Gillespie or faster and more lucidly than Parker - but the passages they played together were even beyond that. They stop and start together, taking every twist and bend of the melody as a team - a vital reminder that although bebop intensified the role of the soloist, it was first and foremost ensemble music.

"In addition to the two headliners, the rhythm section that night included Al Haig, piano; Curly Russell, bass; and a very young Max Roach, drums. They were joined by two guests, Don Byas and drummer Big Sid Catlett. The tunes were nearly all Gillespie's, including two complete originals, A Night in Tunisia and the opener Bebop. The musicians also played three variations on standards - Salt Peanuts (I Got Rhythm), Groovin' High (Whispering), and Tadd Dameron's Hot House (What Is This Thing Called Love?) - and made a brief run through Thelonious Monk's 52nd Street Theme as the chaser. Interestingly, none of the selections is based on the blues, although that was a key foundation element of the new music. The lack of blues indicates that this was Gillespie's gig - Bird was equally featured, but Dizzy, who was far less a specialist in the blues, was calling the shots."

09 August 2005

DEBKAfile says Osama bin Laden's moving to a des res somewhere in Iraq. "Coded electronic signals bandied in recent days among al Qaeda Middle Eastern elements across secret Internet sites all carry the same message: the supreme leader, Osama bin Laden, has come out of hiding in Afghanistan and set out, or is about to set out, for Iraq. This is the sense gained from this correspondence by DEBKAfile's exclusive counter-terror sources.

"Some of the signals schedule his date of arrival as the second half of September when Ramadan is estimated to begin. His arrival in Iraq is planned to signal the launching of the biggest offensive his organization has ever launched against the US army. If these signals are a true representation of bin Laden's plans and not a red herring, what is planned is a dramatic landmark battle in the global war on terror and the Iraqi conflict."

If these signals are indeed a true representation of this military genius's plans, I'd say he won't be around for very much longer.

Meantime, it appears someone in Saddam Hussein's family has succumbed to an outbreak of sanity and fired all but one of his defence legal team's cast of thousands. AlJazeera says "Saddam Hussein's family dissolved his large defense team and appointed only one lawyer to represent the ousted leader. The family said in a statement, signed by Raghad, Saddam's eldest daughter who is authorized to act on behalf of his family, that they were obliged to change the Jordan-based legal team 'given the unique nature of the case'.

Most newspapers in the world are carrying stories this morning about the Volcker committee's latest report on the UN Oil-for-Food scandal. They know that Benon Sevan, the former head of the Oil-for-Food programme, has been accused of having taken bribes, and they know that a former UN procurement officer, Alexander Yakovlev, yesterday entered the first guilty plea by a UN official since the scandal broke when he appeared in a Manhattan federal court. But it's important to understand that the court appearance has not occurred as a result of the Volcker report, although the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, David Kelley, who brought the charges, has been coordinating his timing with the UN's Office of Internal Oversight. No, indeed, there is some bad blood between the New York authorities, the UN and Volcker's group which is being reported in the press a little, but not a lot.

As Benny Avni says in the New York Sun, Volcker has complained that his staff has been "stonewalled" by the federal prosecutor's office. "The one-time Federal Reserve chairman, however, said he cooperated with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who, according to Mr. Volcker, is looking into criminal wrongdoings by the other principal target of yesterday's report, Mr. Sevan.

"Mr. Sevan, however, is currently in Cyprus, which like other EU members, excepting Britain and the Netherlands, does not extradite its citizens for criminal trials in America. Mr. Sevan was allowed to leave America even though the United Nations repeatedly said it maintained Mr. Sevan on staff with a symbolic salary of $1 a year to ensure that he would not leave the country and that he would work with the Volcker committee. According to Mr. Volcker, Mr. Sevan has not cooperated with the UN-mandated committee for more than six months, refusing interviews and agreeing only to answer written questions." It's easy to speculate that Sevan might have been allowed to escape the net because he knows too much about wrong-doing by others in the UN. Although UN officials have immunity from prosecution, the level of publicity and concern about the Oil-for-Food scandal has the effect of trumping that immunity.

Mr. Yakovlev's attorney yesterday declined to comment on whether his client was cooperating with federal investigators, but if you believe that means he isn't cooperating, you need your head examined. Mr Kelley has the right idea - when in the middle of a chaotic situation, get hold of one piece of string and pull...gently, but firmly. With a little luck, it will eventually unravel the whole puzzle.

The Times of London comments this morning that "The scandal laps at the ankles of the Secretary-General himself. It is unclear why he was unduly slow to call in outside investigators; unclear how Iqbal Riza, then his chief of staff, was able to shred critical files spanning three years; and as yet unclear whether Kofi Annan's memory has failed him with respect to Cotecna, the Swiss company employing his son Kojo which secured a big Oil-for-Food contract. Mr Volcker's last word on that matter is expected next month.

"It is clear that for this scandal to have continued unchecked on Kofi Annan's watch diminishes his credibility, as does his reluctance fully to acknowledge that wider responsibility. Europe has by and large been unmoved, because it expects little of the UN. In the US, which, to its credit, has never settled for the 'Third World playpen' view of the global organisation, Congress is insisting on a thorough cleaning of the stables. These are the voices the UN needs, not the yawns of world-weary cynicism."

I said yesterday how puzzled many of us in Bermuda are by our present government's lemming-like insistence on developing a relationship with Cuba, despite the obvious disapproval of the US, our major trading partner. It also puzzles us that our government has begun developing a relationship with CARICOM, the Caribbean community. We have history in common with the West Indies, in that our settlement came at about the same time, and involved many of the same cast of characters. But Bermuda's situation is markedly different from that of most of the Islands down south in that this country belongs more to the first world than the third. We export almost nothing, and import from the US and Europe, so CARICOM as a trading organisation does nothing for us. As a country of nearly 70,000 people who compete for 21 square miles of space, we strictly limit immigration of even the most skilled workers, so CARICOM has nothing for us in the employment sphere, either.

I say all that to express alarm about this editorial in Caribbean Net News which is in reaction to a recent decision in Barbados to deport some Guyanese citizens who were there illegally. It's written a little oddly, but its meaning is clear - the editor feels no CARICOM member should impose any restriction on immigration for the citizens of other CARICOM countries. He proposes a political union in order to allow that to happen.

"The Caribbean People Masses Unity Committee believes that the rejection of another CARICOM citizen in another CARICOM State brings full reality to the Free Movement of Persons in the CSME and reason why the CSME is in need of some form of a Political Union. A political Agreement is required because without it, all CARICOM citizens will face the same rejection of not being worthy Caribbean persons to visit or work in Barbados or Jamaica or Guyana or Dominica or Trinidad and Tobago."

Again, there is this feeling of being pushed inexorably towards an unpleasant drop.

An election, Arthur Chrenkoff reminds us in his twice-monthly report on that country's good news, looms in Afghanistan. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he says: "Foreign election assistance continues to arrive. NATO, which currently has 10,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, will be boosting its presence to 12,000 to increase security for the election. There will also be 93 Austrian troops. A European Union Election Observation Mission (EOM) has now been deployed in Afghanistan. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will be sending a 50-strong election support team. The Japanese government is contributing $8 million toward the cost of the election.

"The United Nations Development Fund for Women is assisting with electoral education: To raise awareness and understanding of the parliamentary process, UNIFEM has published a manual titled 'Parliamentary Manual: Institutional and Legal Principles,' which has been distributed widely among government offices, Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) staff, and through the JEMB's provincial offices to more than 6,050 candidates in Dari and Pashto. English, Dari and Pashto versions have also been distributed among journalists, UN agencies, gubernatorial offices throughout Afghanistan, embassies, and some international and local NGOs. Additional copies of the manual are available from the UNIFEM Afghanistan office or website. . . .

"UNIFEM is partnering with Afghan National Radio and Television to produce a TV and radio program, based on the manual, to inform parliamentary candidates and the general public about fundamental constitutional and parliamentary concepts. Expert Afghan resource persons debate and discuss the material drawn from the manual on 30-minute weekly shows that are aired each Thursday from 9:30 to 10 pm on Afghan state TV, and rebroadcast every Friday from 2 to 2:30 pm. The shows then go on state radio on Sunday from 9 to 9:30 pm."

There's been another study. And this time, it's official. Those people who think they were kidnapped by Martians really do think they were kidnapped by Martians. We still don't know why they think so. But, as the New York Times reports, the investigators have concluded that "alien abduction stories give people meaning, a way to comprehend the many odd and dispiriting things that buffet any life, as well as a deep sense that they are not alone in the universe. In this sense, abduction memories are like transcendent religious visions, scary and yet somehow comforting and, at some personal psychological level, true." That's a lily that plainly ought not to be gilded.

08 August 2005

Jim DeFede, the Miami journalist fired by the Herald for surreptitiously tape-recording a conversation with a source, is getting some moral support from an unusual source - Cuba. Cubans claim DeFede is a victim of the anti-Castro Cuban mafia in Florida, because of a column he wrote condemning the lack of US action to deal with accused terrorist (and ex-CIA operative) Luis Posada Carriles. The official Cuban newspaper, Granma charges that "The Miami mafia's roots in the Batista dictatorship are the underlying factor in the intolerance that reigns in Florida. They cannot forgive DeFede for the opinion he expressed in the Miami Herald regarding that group's favorite son: 'Is Posada the creation of an American foreign policy that for decades was built on muscle and arrogance, an America where the ends justify the means? Posada may well be that bastard child. But he is not a hero. He does not represent what is good and strong and admirable about this country, but rather what can go wrong with it. He is...an aberration. And a reminder of the evil that lurks within each of us and must be suppressed with vigilance.'"

New York writer Nat Hentoff is fuming about the ethical myopia of those who want to make excuses for Zimbabwe's monstrous leader, Robert Mugabe. In the Washington Times, he writes: "Recently, on a liberal New York radio station, WBAI, I was describing how Mr. Mugabe has caused an unemployment rate of 70 percent, ruinous inflation, the pervasive decline of Zimbabwe's once bountiful harvests and the savage punishment of dissenters inflicted by his merciless youth militia. A caller to the radio station identified himself as an American black pastor and a human-rights activist around the world.

"He admonished me for not giving Mr. Mugabe credit for rescuing Zimbabwe from having been 'a white-ruled plantation.' I told him the country still is a plantation -- ruled by a black master.

"Also scandalous in these crimes against the people of Zimbabwe is the silence of the African Union, formed five years ago to prove that the continent can take care of its own problems and protect economic, political and human rights. A July 7 front-page story in the Financial Times began: 'Kofi Annan yesterday urged African leaders to break their silence over actions by governments, such as Zimbabwe's, that were undermining the continent's credibility in the eyes of the world.' The U.N. secretary-general emphasized: 'What is lacking on the continent is [a willingness] to comment on wrong policies in a neighboring country.' But in the same article, Olusegun Obasanjo, president of Nigeria and presently the chairman of the African Union, defiantly said he would 'not be a part' of any public condemnation of Mr. Mugabe."

From our straw-in-the-wind department: The Telegraph says a major British retailer has announced that it is phasing out 35mm cameras, citing a lack of demand. "Dixons, the market leader, said sales of film cameras had slumped following the arrival of digital technology. Once its current stocks ran out, they would not be replaced."

Remember the story of the disturbed man found wandering in a wet dinner jacket on a beach in southern England, unable to speak? They called him Piano Man, for want of a better name, and the Independent suggests today that we may never know who he is. "The story of the man found wandering near a remote beach in Kent with the labels cut off his dripping wet evening suit excited imaginations the world over. From Stockholm to Vancouver, calls flooded in suggesting names for the silent enigma that was Piano Man. Now, four months later, the mute blond virtuoso remains in a psychiatric hospital in Dartford. His carers said yesterday that they believe that he may never be identified."

The Volcker Committee of Inquiry into the UN's role in the Oil-for-Food scandal is to publish its latest interim report today, a day earlier than originally scheduled. It was leaked last week that this document will accuse Benon Sevan, the UN official formerly in charge of the program, with having taken kickbacks. Yesterday, as the Globe and Mail (among many others) explains, Sevan quit.

"The former chief of the Iraq oil-for-food program resigned just a day before investigators release a report that is expected to accuse him of taking kickbacks under the $64-billion (U.S.) humanitarian operation. Benon Sevan announced his decision Sunday in a scathing letter that lambasted UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UN Security Council, the United Nations' critics, and the Independent Inquiry Committee investigating the allegations of corruption against him."

Cubans anxious to get out of Cuba have powered up a lively little market for foreign husbands and wives, according to the BBC's Cuban correspondent. It's a measure of how desparate people are to get out from under the economically suffocating Castro regime. I've commented before that Bermuda's new government, for reasons one can only guess about, has begun a friendship with the Cuban government, despite clear signals that the United States, our major trading partner, is not comfortable with it. Recently, it has been announced that a deal has been struck to allow Cuban construction workers into the country, presumably because they'll work for less than Canadians, who make up the bulk of our imported construction workers. Critics have pointed out that Cubans pose a risk, in that any request for asylum will touch off an inevitably protracted, expensive, fraught legal and diplomatic dance that, in a country where nearly 70,000 residents compete for space in 21 square miles of land, cannot really result in anything but a loss for the country. One has this feeling, living here, of being pushed towards a drop...

07 August 2005

London Times columnist Simon Jenkins has accused London mayor Ken Livingstone of presiding over a collapse of planning regulations governing height in the city: "The chief sponsor of this so-called 'f***-you' planning is Livingstone himself. High buildings policy is one of the few powers he has vested in him. Early in his reign he visited New York and returned with a bad case of 'Manhattan syndrome', a belief that skyscrapers are the key to a mayor's virility. With his office in what he himself calls 'the testicle' he craved erect phalluses all round him. Developers with fad architects in tow promptly beat a path to his door.

"Height controls collapsed. Because Canary Wharf had breached the 600ft rule, everywhere could. The cluster policy was set aside in favour of 'landmarks', more or less wherever a developer wanted one. Sight lines from Hampstead, Richmond or Waterloo Bridge were forgotten. Only St Paul's retained a modicum of dignity from the rule book. The socialist Livingstone had fought for humane planning in Covent Garden and Coin Street. The Blairite Livingstone fights against it at Spitalfields and Bishopsgate."

British authorities are likely to prosecute three resident Muslim clerics with offences such as solicitation to murder, which carries a possible life sentence, incitement to treason and treason in the wake of remarks they made after the 7/7 bombings. The The Observer says "Those individuals facing charges include the controversial cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, the London-based spiritual leader of the extremist sect al-Muhajiroun, who last week said the London bombs would make the West sit up and take notice. He has said he would support hostage-taking at British schools if carried out by terrorists with a just cause.

"The others are Abu Izzadeen, spokesman for group al-Ghurabaa or 'the Strangers' and Abu Uzair of radical spiritual group the Saviour Sect, one of the successor organisations to al-Muhajiroun. In a BBC interview Uzair appeared to condone the attacking of UK troops in Iraq and said 'the banner has been risen for jihad inside the UK'. Izzadeen also provoked anger when he said the suicide bombers behind the slaughter of 52 innocent people in London were 'completely praiseworthy'. Concerns were raised over Izzadeen in the Commons in October 2001 after he spoke in support of the 11 September hijackers."

Prosecuting these men would certainly mean that the British Government starts as Tony Blair says it means to go on, and it also will fairly quickly give leaders of Britain's Muslim community answers to their questions about the limits of their freedom to speak. In a statement last week, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said "we are seeking clarification from the government to ensure that expressions of support for people who are living under brutal military occupation is not to be outlawed. That would be completely unacceptable. Our faith of Islam commands us to speak out against injustice wherever it occurs. To prohibit support for oppressed peoples would make us complicit in the injustice and would have dire consequences for the upholding of international legality."

In the Washington Post, writer Salman Rushdie cautions against paying too much attention to the good Sir Iqbal, however. ..."this is the same Sacranie who, in 1989, said that 'Death is perhaps too easy' for the author of The Satanic Verses. Tony Blair's decision to knight him and treat him as the acceptable face of 'moderate', 'traditional' Islam is either a sign of his government's penchant for religious appeasement or a demonstration of how limited Blair's options really are.

"If Sir Iqbal Sacranie is the best Blair can offer in the way of a good Muslim, we have a problem.

"The Sacranie case illustrates the weakness of the Blair government's strategy of relying on traditional, essentially orthodox Muslims to help eradicate Islamist radicalism. Traditional Islam is a broad church that certainly includes millions of tolerant, civilized men and women but also encompasses many whose views on women's rights are antediluvian, who think of homosexuality as ungodly, who have little time for real freedom of expression, who routinely express anti-Semitic views and who, in the case of the Muslim diaspora, are - it has to be said - in many ways at odds with the Christian, Hindu, non-believing or Jewish cultures among which they live."

"The insistence that the Koranic text is the infallible, uncreated word of God renders analytical, scholarly discourse all but impossible. Why would God be influenced by the socioeconomics of seventh-century Arabia, after all? Why would the Messenger's personal circumstances have anything to do with the Message? The traditionalists' refusal of history plays right into the hands of the literalist Islamofascists, allowing them to imprison Islam in their iron certainties and unchanging absolutes. If, however, the Koran were seen as a historical document, then it would be legitimate to reinterpret it to suit the new conditions of successive new ages. Laws made in the seventh century could finally give way to the needs of the 21st. The Islamic Reformation has to begin here, with an acceptance of the concept that all ideas, even sacred ones, must adapt to altered realities.

"Broad-mindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace. This is how to take up the 'profound challenge' of the bombers. Will Sir Iqbal Sacranie and his ilk agree that Islam must be modernized? That would make them part of the solution. Otherwise, they're just the 'traditional' part of the problem."

Another of those wonderful, fairytale Cuban musicians who made up the Buena Vista Social Club has died. Ibrahim Ferrer died in Cuba on Saturday, at the age of 78. The Globe and Mail says that although a cause of death was not given, Ferrer's colleagues said he suffered from emphysema and had been feeling ill earlier in the week.

"Known for his trademark cap and graying mustache, Ferrer was a wiry, animated figure who clearly enjoyed performing Cuba's traditional son music of the 1940s and 1950s for new generations of fans.

David Brooks of the New York Times says the US is in the grip of an astonishing improvement in the behaviour of its citizens. Domestic violence is down, violent crime is down, violence by teenagers has dropped by an astonishing 71 per cent.

Why? He thinks there are four principal reasons: "The first thing that has happened is that people have stopped believing in stupid ideas: that the traditional family is obsolete, that drugs are liberating, that it is every adolescent's social duty to be a rebel. The second thing that has happened is that many Americans have become better parents. Time diary studies reveal that parents now spend more time actively engaged with kids, even though both parents are more likely to work outside the home.

"Third, many people in the younger generation, under age 30 or so, are reacting against the culture of divorce. They are trying to lead lives that are more stable than the ones their parents led. Post-boomers behave better than the baby boomers did. Fourth, over the past few decades, neighborhood and charitable groups have emerged to help people lead more organized lives, even in the absence of cohesive families."


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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