...Views from mid-Atlantic
20 August 2005

CBS got some summer interns to tell them how to clean up their news act, and the little buggers leaked it! The New York Observer says they had quite a few useful comments, including this one: "In at least one case, the brass was more enthusiastic about innovation than the interns were. 'Podcasting was a big deal to them,' said one intern. 'That's because podcasting just came out on ABC and NBC... That's just a tiny little thing to us. That sort of showed us that they would rather hear what they were already thinking.'" Let that be a lesson to those who think, mistakenly, that podcasting is the Next Big Thing.

The New York Press is running an interview with Sonny Barger, the legendary Hell's Angel who is said to have held Keith Richard at gunpoint at Altamont. He was also a character in Hunter Thompson's 1967 book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. It's short, but it's worth reading. Here's a sample

Q What did you think of Hunter S. Thompson?

He was probably the greatest writer in the world. But, when he was with us on a run, we were going to fight the cops one day and he locked himself in the trunk of his car. That guy ain't my friend. He's going to run and leave me there when he's supposed to help us.

Q What about the late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia?

Jerry Garcia was a very good friend of mine. Jerry and I got along well, Jerry and the club got along well. I love Jerry's 60s music; I didn't like Jerry's 90s music. I would go to a concert and he would get the band to play a song just for me and I'd say, 'Jerry it stinks, you got to go back,' and he would get so mad.

Strip the mystery away from something, there's always some Luddite waiting in the wings to say you've ruined everything. In this case, it's the London Times, whose correspondent thinks the test Leo McCloskey devised is "turning wines into bland, homogenised McCabernets for the ignorant masses," which is a very British thing to say, isn't it?

"...In his laboratory in Sonoma County, tastebuds are not to be trusted. Sure enough, after consulting a lab analysis of the same wine, his face darkens. 'It's too high in complex anthocyanins. What's good about the wine now will have changed in two years. You can't tell that by tasting.'

"Welcome to the strange world of Enologix, a tiny technology-driven consulting firm founded by Mr McCloskey that has divided the American wine industry like never before...The National Post in Canada declared this week that Mr McCloskey had 'reduced the romance of wine drinking to binary code'. Last week The New York Times quoted the general manager of Ravenswood, a vineyard in Sonoma, as saying that he had stopped using McCloskey's technology because, 'when everybody tries to hit the same sweet spot, it's like making soda pop'. That's all crap, of course, this is the start of a major breakthrough in bettering the quality of wine.

McCloskey apparently has a sense of humour: "I consider myself an artist," he said, "who...has turned to the dark side."

The greatest sporting comment of all time, according to Radio Five listeners in Britain (via the Guardian) came in a Test match against the West Indies in August 1991. It was when Jonathan Agnew, the BBC's cricket correspondent (the late Brian Johnston was co-commentator), said "He just couldn't quite get his leg over." The fit of uncontrollable giggles that ensued was certainly because of the double entendre, but also, perhaps, because it was said of Ian Botham - who never had any trouble getting his leg over.

19 August 2005

Dana Berliner is a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which argued the eminent domain abuse case before the US Supreme Court In the Washington Times this morning, she withers claims by apologists that the Court's decision was a good thing: "Americans are not reassured - nor should they be: City leaders have in fact missed the point entirely. The problem is everyone understands the rationale of economic development - less profitable uses can be taken for more-profitable uses - goes against everything America stands for. It enshrines power and privilege over hard work and individual choice.

"America is still the Land of Opportunity, where people can work hard and buy a home or start a business and provide better for their families...The American Dream still rings true for so many. And to the vast majority of Americans, that dream, the soul of our country, is more important than a successful shopping mall."

Fabulous article in the Los Angeles Times about soda pop, of all things. "Following the first golden age, about 100 years ago, soda-pop flavor began a downward spiral. Natural flavorings were replaced by artificial ones, fructose replaced corn syrup and cool-looking, flavor-friendly bottles were tossed for aluminum cans. By the 1980s, a good soda was hard to find."

But now, "Rich, creamy root beers, spicy-hot ginger ales, pithy citrus drinks with real tang, complex, herb-scented colas - they're all out there, along with surprising one-of-a-kind fizzies in flavors as diverse as spruce, Key lime and espresso. This is the new golden age of soda pop." Read it, it's almost as tasty as one of those pithy drinks with real tang.

Britain's Secretary of State for Defence, John Reid, has published a piece in the London Times refuting one of Times columnist Matthew Paris's flights of fancy, this one suggesting, among other things, that Britain was on the verge of leaving Iraq. Paris had written "The game is nearly up: not the military game, the psychological one. We can no longer take the strain in Iraq. We are going to make a bolt for it. You know that, don't you? I suspect most British people do. It's bearing down on us with a terrible inevitability."

Reid replies: "...Let's not sell short the progress that is being made. Do we shrug at the presence of women in decision-making bodies across the country, often for the first time? Are we ambivalent when we hear that millions of Iraqis now enjoy power and drinkable water? Does it not matter that healthcare spending is up thirtyfold from Saddam Hussein's days? Is the rebuilding and revamping of 3,095 schools (with another 753 under way) irrelevant? These are tangible successes that have been delivered and continue to be delivered day to day.

"Above all, let's remember that whatever the controversy surrounding the original intervention in Iraq, the dividing lines are now absolutely clear. On the one side is not only the UK, the US and the coalition, but also the democratic representatives of the Iraqi people and the authority of the UN. On the other side of the line, bitterly opposed to peace, progress and the establishment of a democratic Iraq, are the terrorists, national and international.

"The way to defeat those terrorists is to allow Iraqis to triumph: to establish democracy, on their terms, as they want it; to help them to take the lead in their own counter-terrorism strategy and make themselves secure; and, to help them to rebuild their shattered infrastructure after decades of neglect. Iraqis now have a genuine opportunity to live in freedom and determine their own future. The people of that nation have a chance of achieving a place in Middle Eastern history; free, democratic and prosperous. They will decide how that democracy unfolds, not us. But we have helped to give them the chance and we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they do it, and until they do it."

I posted something on 16 August about the lack of coverage of the death in ambush in Iraq, a week ago today, of an important lieutenant in Abu Musab Zarqawi's organisation. The death a couple of days ago in Saudi Arabia of another senior al Qaeda terrorist illustrates perfectly what I was saying - the media has a completely different standard for what it will report in Iraq, as opposed to what it will report in the rest of the world. There have been hundreds of reports about the Saudi killing, published from one end of the world to the other. About the killing of Abu Zubair by Iraqi security forces, I can find about ten this morning. I know of others, so let's say, in round figures, that there have been a couple of dozen...it's a huge disparity and demonstrates very well, I think, what the coalition is up against where press coverage of Iraq is concerned.

As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling. Coverage of this shocking new theory is with the compliments of The Onion, which seems to get better at what it does with every passing day.

"'Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, God if you will, is pushing them down,' said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University. Burdett added: 'Gravity, which is taught to our children as a law, is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."

I should acknowledge that I found a link to this article at Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal.

18 August 2005

As Claudia Rosett says in the Wall Street Journal this morning, "Among the great scams of our time, there's a near-poetic inevitability to the convergence" of the Oil-for-Food programme and Enron. But poetic or not, investigators for Rep. Henry Hyde's International Relations Committee have unearthed documents showing that shortly before Enron imploded in late 2001, the company, among its other deals, was shelling out millions, some of it into Swiss bank accounts, to buy Iraqi crude exported by Saddam under Oil for Food."

Aljazeera reports that "The Palestinian-managed Arab Bank Group has been fined $24 million by US banking regulators for its alleged failures to comply with US anti-money laundering laws.

"The US Treasury Department's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network levied the civil fine on Wednesday. The fine approaches the record $25 million civil penalty imposed on Riggs Bank in May 2004, also for alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act. Regulators said Arab Bank's New York branch failed to adequately guard against the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing, and also failed to properly report suspicious activities."

I particularly enjoyed this quote, carried in a Bloomberg news piece used by several news outlets: "Arab Bank said it applied the antimoney-laundering controls to transactions initiated by the direct customers of its New York branch, but did not believe the law required these controls to be used for wire transfers."

The New York Sun says the newly-installed US ambassador to the United Nations has protested the United Nations Development Programme's funding of a Palestinian Arab propaganda campaign, timed to coincide with Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip. John Bolton labeled as "inappropriate and unacceptable" the UNDP's financing of materials bearing the slogan "Today Gaza, Tomorrow the West Bank and Jerusalem." Bolton said yesterday that the UNDP had failed to adequately explain why it funneled money to the Palestinian Authority to back the production of banners, bumper stickers, mugs, and T-shirts bearing not only the provocative slogan, but its own logo as well.

I don't know why the London Times do this - once again, they've labelled a piece by one of their own columnists as a 'guest contribution', which seems misleading. Nonetheless, Camilla Cavendish writes a pointed and timely article about those in the government who should bear much of the blame for Britain's problems with extremists: "...While politicians, judges and police are variously blamed for their struggle to get to grips with terror after July 7, the most guilty part of the Establishment is still lurking in the shadows offstage.

"The intelligence services bear considerable responsibility for letting in many of the extremists who have done so much damage in this country since the early 1990s and for doing so little to curtail their activities. It is distinctly ironic that those whose complacency helped to create the problem are now overreacting by pressing for unnecessarily draconian powers. Especially when some of these will make it harder to encourage British Muslims to inform on extremists - which must surely now be the intelligence services' best hope."

There is undoubtedly a lot of sympathy in Britain for the Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, in connection with the shooting death of a young Brazilian who was mistaken for a suicide bomber. But the facts, as they have been leaked (and not denied) are just appalling. Not only was the shooting a mistake, but Sir Ian is now alleged to have tried to cover the incident up by preventing an independent group from investigating the killing.

According to the Guardian, "Sir Ian wrote to John Gieve, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, on July 22, the morning Jean Charles de Menezes was shot at short range on the London tube. The commissioner argued for an internal inquiry into the killing on the grounds that the ongoing anti-terrorist investigation took precedence over any independent look into his death.

Information was leaked to the press at the time of the shooting, indicating that the Brazilian had behaved in such a way as to encourage the police in their belief that he was a terrorist. That turns out not to be true. Since it was the police who benefitted from the leaks, and since they have a professional PR team for whom an explanatory leak would have been standard operating procedure, it's a pretty good guess that it was them. Sir Ian encouraged public belief in what had been leaked.

The only English paper I've read this morning which seems to properly understand the significance of those facts is the Telegraph, which said in an editorial: "This business has the makings of one of the worst blunders in the history of the Metropolitan Police. The IPCC report must tell us whether Sir Ian knowingly allowed his officers to mislead the public. If he did, it is hard to see how he can remain in his post."

17 August 2005

The LA Times explains how they sock it to the press in Morocco: "Last month, a small item in Morocco's most provocative magazine pointed out that a female member of Parliament had once been a cheikha — a kind of Moroccan cabaret dancer. She sued, and now the writer and the magazine's editor face prison time and what may be the harshest fine ever handed down in a Moroccan libel case.

"Never mind that the member of Parliament was not actually named in the magazine. Or that the allegation was true. Or that the judge did not listen to arguments from either side. Or that the magazine's editor, Ahmed R. Benchemsi, not only wasn't at the hearing to defend himself but was out of the country at the time - serving, as it happens, as an editorial fellow on the Los Angeles Times editorial board...

"The judge ignored a letter from Benchemsi, presented by his lawyer, asking for a postponement until he returned to the country. At the hearing Monday, the judge recessed at noon and said proceedings would resume at 2:30 pm Then the judge returned to court at 2:15 pm and ruled that, because neither side's attorney was present, the case was closed. Shortly afterward, he sentenced both Benchemsi and the article's writer to two months in prison and fined the magazine the equivalent of $100,000 - a fee so punitive by Moroccan standards that it could force the magazine out of business."

Maurice Druon, much-respected French author and diplomat, feels Britain should get out of the EU because of its differences with European nations. And in giving voice to that controversial opinion, he has managed to pull off the most difficult of all the tasks a diplomat can be given - saying something unpleasant in a flattering way. The Telegraph explains: "He suggested instead that (Britain) should settle for the status of 'privileged partner', the much reduced level of affiliation that French opponents of Turkish EU membership believe should be offered to Ankara.

Mr Druon, 87, holder of an honorary knighthood for services to Anglo-French relations, said: 'What Britain and Europe want of the EU is quite different. You want an open market, whereas the rest of us want Europe to evolve as a strong power, not just economically but diplomatically and strategically, too.' Mr Druon listed the aspects of Britishness he judged incompatible with EU membership: an 'umbilical' link with America; demands for special budgetary treatment; support for Turkish accession in defiance of Europe's natural boundaries; and stubborn resistance to the Euro."

"Shouldn't we draw the consequences and ask whether it wouldn't be to everyone's advantage, Britain's included, for them to leave the EU's political institutions and take the status of privileged partner," he asked. "You cannot stay indefinitely both in and out. If a friend cannot raise this question, who else will dare to pose it? I am not suggesting that Britain should be chased out of the EU. It must be Britain that takes the first step towards a modified status."

Mr Druon said recent events had reinforced his admiration for the British. From the Queen to ordinary subject, the 'calm, dignified, disciplined' response to the July bombings had reminded him of his impressions of London in the Blitz.

Columnist Thomas Sowell says that immigration has joined the long list of subjects about which one may not talk in plain English.

"At the heart of much confusion about immigration is the notion that we 'need' immigrants - legal or illegal - to do work that Americans won't do. What we 'need' depends on what it costs and what we are willing to pay. If I were a billionaire, I might 'need' my own private jet. But I can remember a time when my family didn't even 'need' electricity.

"Leaving prices out of the picture is probably the source of more fallacies in economics than any other single misconception. At current wages for low-level jobs and current levels of welfare, there are indeed many jobs that Americans will not take. The fact that immigrants - and especially illegal immigrants - will take those jobs is the very reason the wage levels will not rise enough to attract Americans."

I'm linking to this commentary, published in the Guardian and written by Rev Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney and a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford, because it seems to me illustrative of what is wrong with the politically-correct Church in England. Ostensibly, it's about Salman Rushdie's statement, made in an oped piece published over the last few days in both the US and Britain, to the effect that Islam needs reforming.

In his analysis, Rev Fraser pulls no punches in describing the shortcomings of his own, Christian church. He mentions that the Reformation papacy was once known as the whore of Babylon, for example, and Martin Luthur as a virulently anti-semitic man. Refreshingly uncompromising language, you might think. But if there are any Islamic shortcomings, you're not going to learn about them from this vicar, who has not a word to say about them. As far as he goes is this: "Islam already resembles a reformed religion a great deal more than Rushdie acknowledges...there is no...centralised authority in Islam. Nor is there a hierarchical clerical establishment. The sober dress of Muslim leaders and the absence of fancy vestments to mark them out as special are clearly reminiscent of post-Reformation austerity."

So is there a point to his article? Really, there is not. It's just a sort of floppy waffle around the subject whose point seems to be not so much that he said something important at a critical time, as that he managed in the moment to say something without offending anyone. What an achievement! I'm sure God, long famous in moments of pique for hurling His thunderbolts about the place, cannot enjoy having this kind of intellectual sissy claiming to speak for Him.

Two guys come out swinging over the future of comic books, and both seem to have lost. It's all in the New York Times and, although it reads a little like a playground hair pulling-contest, it's still a thoroughly interesting read: "Shortly after 'Reinventing Comics' came out in 2000, Gary Groth, a founder of the comic-book publisher Fantagraphics, excoriated Mr. McCloud in the pages of his magazine, The Comics Journal. (Their exchange can be read on line at tcj.com/232/r_cuckoo.html, tcj.com/234/r_cuckoo2.html and tcj.com/235/e_mccloud.html.) There Mr. Groth suggested that Mr. McCloud's wild-eyed optimism about Web comics concealed a contempt for the comics form: 'It's pretty clear that McCloud hates the idea of those 'tiny boxes,' at least if they're confined on a finite page.' Indeed, Mr. Groth argued, Mr. McCloud was hankering after something more like animation or film. Well, Mr. McCloud got his way. Comics did go digital. But he did not get everything."

16 August 2005

The British Transport authorities have begun a crackdown on aircraft based in Britain, but registered abroad. They've sent a paper to interested parties in the UK, asking, among other questions, "Should the owners of aircraft based in the UK be able to opt out the UK regulatory system by placing aircraft on foreign registers?" This story in FlightInternational is about as easy to understand as the Uzbek constitution in the original Uzbek, but the paper written by Transport boffins is pretty clear. They're after aircraft registered in three countries, essentially - the US, Bermuda and Cayman.

The paper says: "...while no significant safety issues have come to light in relation to aircraft registered on the US, Bermudan and Cayman Islands registers, the Department does not know what other registers are involved or the safety risks associated with those registers. Nor can the Department predict or control future developments in the use of offshore registers for aircraft based in the UK. As these aircraft operate outside of the regulatory regime established for UK registered aircraft it is difficult for the Department to feel assured that satisfactory safety standards apply, or that the relevant regulatory authorities have the ability to ensure that those standards are complied with. On the face of it, this is an unacceptable risk."

Fine words. In comments carried by Flight International, another reason for the crackdown is suggested by Mark Wilson, chief executive of the British Business and General Aciation Association - "Foreign-registered aircraft are not subject to UK air operator's certificate (AOC) rules and there is a fear among air taxi operators that some aircraft are being used for charter operations, undercutting UK AOC holders."

The transport ministry says "There is no move to change the rules at the moment, we just want to understand why so many aircraft are being registered overseas. We want to be sure that aircraft registered in other countries are registered in 'safe' countries." Sure.

Bermuda has built up a well-respected aircraft registry over many years, as we did with our shipping registry over the period from the end of World War II into the 1970s. Nothing, however, seems to excite the British authorities' sense of duty to protect the public from risk as the knowledge that someone else's bureaucracy can do something better than their own can. They made attempts in the '70s to destroy our shipping registry, which failed as a result of some skilled negotiation by the then-government. One hopes this run at the aircraft registry will fail, too.

Infuriatingly, the London Times fails to identify the man who wrote this guest column today, beyond giving his name as Jad Adams. My guess is that he must be the author who wrote a book about Tony Benn fairly recently, but if I'm wrong, blame British newspapers (who do this all the time) for not caring enough to give the kind of basic information the Podunk Bugle and Times wouldn't dream of failing to run.

That's not to detract from Mr Adams point, though, which is that the Labour Government, in passing the Local Government Act in 2000, screwed up in a big way: "An independent organisation, LGOWatch, called on Sunday for the setting up of an independent local government complaints commission to bring order into a system it described as 'morally corrupt'. A strong warning light should be flashing in Whitehall, because the 2000 Act was supposed to herald a regime of quality, efficiency and leadership. In fact it has meant the introduction of the payroll vote and pork-barrel politics into English local government, along with the acceleration of an arrogant, managerial style of operation.

"One fact, glaring and inescapable, is that the total council tax bill in England has risen by more than 40 per cent in the years that the Local Government Act has been in operation, from 14 billion pounds in 2000-01 to 20 billion pounds in 2004-05."

The funeral of Robin Cook, who was known as a fine conversationalist, has inspired Martin Kettle to devote his column in the Guardian to wondering (as dozens of commentators must have done down the ages) whether the art of conversation is dying. He's been reading Robert Louis Stevenson on the subject: "Yet talk must not be dismissed as an inferior, preparatory stage of human communication before an idea reaches its supposedly higher, written form. On the contrary, says Stevenson - and what an astonishing thing this is for a great writer to say - literature is but 'the shadow of good talk', an imitation that falls 'far short of the original in life, freedom and effect'. While talk is always fluid and tentative and involves giving and taking, written words are fixed and dogmatic, as well as constrained by form and tradition.

"'In short,' argues Stevenson, 'the first duty of a man is to speak; that is his chief business in the world; and talk, which is the harmonious speech of two or more, is by far the most accessible of our pleasures. It costs nothing in money. It is all profit. It completes our education, founds and fosters our friendships, and can be enjoyed at any age and in almost any state of health.'"

The former Republican candidate for President, Bob Dole, was one of those who drafted the Intelligence Identities Protection Act - the legislation it is suggested was breached by leaking Valerie Plame's name to the press. In the New York Times this morning, he writes that that really wasn't what the drafters had in mind: "...The act was drafted in very narrow terms: our goal was to criminalize only those disclosures that clearly represented a conscious and pernicious effort to identify and expose agents with the intent to impair America's foreign intelligence activities. Not surprisingly, there has been only one prosecution under the act since it was passed.

"With the facts known publicly today regarding the Plame case, it is difficult to see how a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act could have occurred. For example, one of the requirements is that the federal government must be taking 'affirmative measures' to conceal the agent's intelligence relationship with the United States. Yet we now know that Ms Wilson held a desk job at CIA headquarters and could be seen traveling to and from work. The journalist Robert D Novak, whose July 14, 2003, column mentioned Ms Wilson, using her maiden name, and set off the investigation, has written that CIA officials confirmed to him over the telephone that she was an employee before he wrote his column.

"I, of course, do not know what evidence Mr Fitzgerald has presented to the grand jury, nor will I hazard a guess as to the final outcome of his investigation. But the imprisonment of Judith Miller will be even more troubling if it turns out that no violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act has occurred."

Two stories complaining that the world's major media are ignoring anything that looks like good news coming out of Iraq. Blogger Arthur Chrenkoff's latest round-up of the good news from Iraq leads on that premise. "The question is not whether bad things happening in Iraq should be reported back home - they should, and there are clearly many of them, a fact that no one is denying - but whether positive developments should also receive the media's attention. Judging by the coverage, the media's answer seems to be, not very often."

Columnist Deroy Murdock of the National Review Online agrees: "The journalist's maxim, 'If it bleeds, it leads', prevails. Major news outlets correctly focus on the depressing consequences of the Improvised Explosive Devices and car bombs responsible for 70 percent of July's US military fatalities in Iraq. Terrorist assassinations of civil servants and police officers obviously deserve coverage. But it honors neither America's soldiers nor Iraq's selfless patriots to overlook the achievements they share in this new republic."

Here's a case in point - the Defence Department confirmed in a press release yesterday that a lieutenant in Abu Musab Zarqawi's terrorist organisation was killed by Iraqi security forces in an ambush in Mosul. Abu Zubair, also known as Mohammed Salah Sultan, was a known member of al Qaeda in Iraq and was wearing a suicide belt when he was killed on Friday. That's a big deal - not only was he killed, he was killed in an ambush by Iraqi security forces, suggesting an intelligence-based operation. That the Iraqi security forces are getting their stuff together in that way is a highly encouraging sign.

But of the world's major media, only the BBC and USA Today carried it. Other, smaller media did as well, but it did not get anywhere near the coverage that would have resulted if Abu Zubair had turned left instead of right and set off his suicide belt near an Iraqi police station, or a US patrol.

15 August 2005

China's concern about what it sees as Japan's refusal to face up to its role in World War II borders on an obsession. People's Daily this morning treats Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's apology for his country's actions as sleight-of-hand. "In 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, then Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama apologized for Japan's past wrongdoings for the first time as a Japanese premier. Based on the so-called Murayama statement, Koizumi delivered a similar apology in a speech at the Asian-African summit in April in Jakarta, but has failed to make concrete actions to help improve ties with China and South Korea."

Their principal coverage of the event is an account of the heroic struggle of the Chinese people to defeat the Japanese. "When the nation's existence was in peril, the Chinese nation, united under the banner of the anti-Japanese united front, feared no difficulties and hardships, was unafraid of bloodshed and sacrifice, shared a bitter hatred of the enemy and rose up in resistance. From the "eight hundred heroic men" fighting bloody war in Wusong and Shanghai to battling the enemy with broadswords in Taierzhuang, from the armed working team in the enemy's rear areas to railway guerrilla war, and from shooting a famous general of the Japanese army to death in Huangtuling to the one hundred regiment campaign.The flames of the Chinese nation's War of Resistance to Japanese Aggression threw the arrogant Japanese aggressors into the vast sea of the people's war...

"The 1.28 million Japanese aggressor troops surrendered to China. By the time, the Chinese people, after fighting bloody war and expending great national sacrifice, finally defeated Japanese militarism and won great victory in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. After 14 years of heroic struggle and bloody war, the Chinese people, under the banner of the CPC-initiated anti-Japanese national united front and using backward weapons and equipment, defeated the powerful enemy which was stronger than China in terms of economic strength and military equipment, and wrought the miracle of defeating the imperialist power by a weak semi-colonial country."

Funny, I thought the Allies had something to do with it as well...and didn't I hear something about a bomb?

The San Francisco Chronicle documents some of the ideas about which maverick scientists are bucking the herd's accepted theories. For example, they doubt the idea that our universe is the only one. "Until recent years, most astrophysicists dismissed as metaphysical mumbo-jumbo the 'anthropic principle'. This quasi-scientific hypothesis posits a mysterious link between the existence of human life and the existence of the universe itself. For example, scientists have long puzzled over certain physical phenomena - say, the structure of the carbon atom - which seem almost ideally designed to support the existence of organic molecules, of which living entities are composed. Religious people interpret this fact in 'intelligent designer' terms - they say, in effect, that 'God made carbon atoms that way so that life would emerge.'

"But some scientists prefer a nondivine explanation. They propose there are innumerable alternate universes, each with its own unique physical laws and properties. For example, some universes might not have carbon-type atoms, or even anything that resembles atoms as we understand them. The fact that our universe generates carbon atoms with life-supporting structures is purely a matter of chance, they suggest. By contrast, most alternate universes - there might be zillions of them, for all anyone knows - could be lifeless."

I first posted something about The Ister in 2004, the year of its first release. It's a documentary that has slowly been making the rounds of film festivals, art house cinemas and academic conferences that is loosely based on a wartime lecture delivered by ex-Nazi Martin Heidegger on one of Germany's most celebrated poets, Friedrich Holderlin. Holderlin's poem, The Ister (it's an old Roman name for the Danube) is another source of inspiration for the documentary. As it meanders along the Danube from the Black Sea to the source of the river in Germany's Black Forest, more than 2000 km upstream, the film offers a broad series of connections and meditations from contemporary philosophers, as well as a Serbian engineer and a German botanist.

It obviously has staying power, because it keeps being discovered and reviewed as if it had been released yesterday. The New York Sun is the latest: "Today, for the first time since Plato, we are entering an era when writing may once again lose its place at the center of intellectual life. But we are not going back to the world of Socrates, where genuine thinking and teaching flourished in face-to-face encounters. In the age of television and the Internet, we are not returning to the preliterate, but descending into the postliterate. Writing may have been merely a trace of the genuine experience of philosophy, but what will happen when even the trace disappears, leaving nothing but images - the images that, to Plato, were the most transitory and untrustworthy of all things in this world of change? Can thinking take place in a visual medium?

"That is the question posed, quite self-consciously, by The Ister...Shot on digital video by a pair of Australian graduate students, Daniel Ross and David Barison, it is a nonfiction film but not a documentary, at least not in the usual sense: For while it does document many things, places, and people, its central purpose is not to record an event but to provide an experience - 'not merely to illustrate but to provoke thought,' in Mr. Ross's words. This high ambition makes The Ister, which runs for three hours and took some five years to produce, an important test of whether the philosophical impulse can survive in the new world of images."

Theoretical physicist Lee Smolin is the founding member of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada. In the current issue of Logosonline, he suggests that we've missed the point of Uncle Einstein's theory of general relativity. "General relativity is the most radical and challenging of Einstein's discoveries - so much so that I believe the majority of physicists, even theoretical physicists, have yet to fully incorporate it into their thinking. The flashy stuff, like black holes, gravitational waves, the expanding universe, and the Big Bang are, it turns out, the easy parts of general relativity. The theory goes much deeper: It demands a radical change in how we think of space and time.

"All previous theories said that space and time have a fixed structure and that it is this structure that gives rise to the properties of things in the world, by giving every object a place and every event a time. In the transition from Aristotle to Newton to special relativity, that structure changed, but in each case the structure remained fixed. We and everything that we observe live in a space-time, with fixed and unchanging properties. That is the stage on which we play, but nothing we do or could do affects the structure of space and time themselves.

"General relativity is not about adding to those structures. It is not even about substituting those structures for a list of possible new structures. It rejects the whole idea that space and time are fixed at all. Instead, in general relativity the properties of space and time evolve dynamically in interaction with everything they contain. Furthermore, the essence of space and time now are just a set of relationships between events that take place in the history of the world. It is sufficient, it turns out, to speak only of two kinds of relationships: how events are related to each other causally (the order in which they unfold) and how many events are contained within a given interval of time, measured by a standard clock (how quickly they unfold relative to each other).

"Thus, in general relativity there is no fixed framework, no stage on which the world plays itself out. There is only an evolving network of relationships, making up the history of space, time, and matter. All the previous theories described space and time as fixed backgrounds on which things happen. The point of general relativity is that there is no background."

New Yorkers credit their then police chief, Bill Bratton, with ending the City's Dodge City atmosphere back in the Nineties by intelligent and aggressive management of New York's finest. Los Angeles is beginning to feel the same way. The LA Times says, with an admiration that seems more than a little grudging: "It's...indicative of a larger attitude: Make what you've got work better, if not perfectly. Bratton has also put more officers onto the streets, despite the three-day police workweek instituted by Hahn in a battle with Parks.

"Bratton still has a big mouth (which got him in trouble after the police shooting last month of a toddler being held hostage by her father), a Hollywood ego and likely political ambitions. The election of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, with his own high-profile and ambitious agenda, could have been cause for anxiety. After all, it was a head-on personal collision with then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani that pushed out Bratton after two years as New York City's police chief. Villaraigosa and Bratton, however, seem aware that they can amplify one another's strengths. Villaraigosa, though he opposed asking voters for a new city tax to hire police, has put finding other ways to add officers near the top of his list.

"Bratton is only three years into a five-year contract. It's early to talk about a second term (the maximum allowed), but 10 years under a single effective chief shouldn't be too much to hope for."

It's departure day for those Israeli families who live in Gaza. A few weeks ago it was possible to drive through most of the Gaza Strip without seeing many outwards signs of disengagement. But on Sunday, it was hard to miss the signs of destruction and change in many settlements. Most of the homes in the small settlement of Pe'at Sadeh are empty shells, according to the Jerusalem Post. In Bedolah, where slightly more than half the 33 families were in the process of leaving, the streets were filled with boxes and moving vans."

Of the 1,486 families in Gaza, 897, or 60% have agreed to go. That leaves 589 families who soldiers will have to pull from their homes.

14 August 2005

Hot on the heels of her disquieting revelations about Bermudians falling out of love with their own national dress, muck-raking LA Times journalist Carol J Williams has published a second piece, this one suggesting we're falling out of love with our own success. "In a rare collective pause for reflection," she writes today, "the people of this prosperous mid-Atlantic island are debating whether they want to bust their own boom. The envy of most nations, with per capita gross domestic product of $36,000 and 13,000 offshore businesses spending $1.5 billion a year, Bermuda's 65,000 people are facing the possibility - some call it a threat - of becoming another Hong Kong. (Here's a great example of the extent to which our lifestyle colours our approach to life - this is a story about a Bermuda resident who has invented a bicycle whose drinks holder doubles as an IPod holder.)

"'There's been a tremendous loss of open space and people have to decide now, does it make sense to focus development in Hamilton and go high-rise?' asked Ross Andrews, who was sent by Britain to coordinate a sustainable development project for the island, which is a British overseas territory. 'If Bermuda wants to be Manhattan in the sea, that can be done, as long as Bermudians recognize the trade-offs...'"

The big question now is whether Carol J Williams has a third shoe to drop. Out of love with Bermuda shorts...out of love with success...I hope she has the nous to notice that on the political side, we've also fallen out of love with our government.

Thanks again to Brenda for keeping me up to speed on these LA Times stories.

Kobina Annan, the Ghanaian ambassador to Morocco and brother of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, is said by investigators to be "connected" to an African businessman at the centre of the oil-for-food scandal. The Sunday Times says "Kobina is the second member of Annan's family to be drawn into the scandal, which has led to the resignation of several senior UN officials. The secretary-general has so far escaped censure, but the final verdict on his conduct will not be delivered by investigators until the autumn. Kojo Annan, the secretary-general's son who was involved with several companies seeking to profit from the programme, has been criticised and remains under investigation.

"Inquiries into Kobina are at an early stage and he has not been interviewed. However, investigators are understood to suspect that Michael Wilson, an African businessman, and Kobina had a business relationship at the time of the scandal. A source close to the investigation said: 'We believe Kobina Annan may be involved with Michael Wilson and Kojo Annan. We know there is a connection between Kobina and Wilson.'"

Britain's going through a great debate about the rights and wrongs of deporting Muslim clerics who preach violence and hate. Simon Jenkins of the Sunday Times takes the conventional view: "The problem is that no law can unwrite the European convention. The 10 detainees cannot be sent home if they risk torture, period. This has nothing to do with judicial liberalism. As Lord Donaldson says, judges can only interpret the law as put through parliament by the government of the day. Ministers cannot have it both ways. In passing the Human Rights Act they deferred British law to what 46 sovereign nations, including Britain, had agreed when they wrote the convention after the war."

But there is another way of looking at it, as the Telegraph says in an editorial: "Vicious and callous apologists for terrorism such as Abu Qatada have in practice been granted protected status in Britain - to the consternation not only of Middle Eastern states such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but also of our European allies, such as France and Germany.

"Contrary to the legal myth nurtured by ministers, there is no insuperable barrier to deportation formed by human rights legislation. France, Italy and Spain are all signatories to the Human Rights Convention, with judges as eager to demonstrate their independence from the elected government as ours. Yet they have all sent men they believed to be terrorists back to countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. They have not been intimidated by fear of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. There is no reason why we should not be similarly robust. In this case, at least, there is much we can learn from our EU partners."

Cryovacking, which is more often called sous vide (French for under a vacuum), is poised to change the way restaurant chefs cook - and, like the Wolf stove and the immersion blender, it will probably trickle down to the home kitchen someday. According to the New York Times, "Cryovacking is an industry term for putting food in a plastic bag and vacuum-packing it. Sometimes the food is then cooked in the bag. Other times, the pressure of the packing process is used to infuse flavors into ingredients. The watermelon, for instance, was vacuum-packed with 20 pounds of pressure per square centimeter, to compact the fruit's cells and concentrate its flavor. It had the texture of meat. Just the thing for backyard picnics...(It) has also given great momentum to the scientific cooking revolution of the last five years. Chefs have begun using techniques developed for industrial food production and advances in science to manipulate the chemical make-up of proteins, starches and fats to create new textures and flavors - everything from fried mayonnaise to hot gelatins.

"Ferran Adria is often seen as the hero of this movement. From his tiny restaurant, El Bulli, in Rosas, Spain, Adria has sought to reform diners' expectations of ingredients like caviar (his might look just like osetra but is made of squid ink and calcium chloride) and to invent new flavors and textures (carrot juice frothed to a texture he calls 'air'). But the man who helped (New York chef Thomas) Keller master the technique that would compress watermelon and poach lobster with exquisite results, who taught Wylie Dufresne how to 'flash pickle' water chestnuts with honey and sherry vinegar and who is having a greater impact on how people cook than anyone since Escoffier is not even a chef."

This is something I never thought I'd read - Britain's most powerful Islamic organisation has accused the BBC of having a pro-Israel agenda. In an extraordinary letter obtained by The Observer, the Muslim Council of Britain has told director general Mark Thompson that a Panorama investigation of organisations representing Muslims in Britain, will 'inflame mistrust'. The letter will be used by critics of the MCB as evidence that it is out of touch amid growing concern that it does not represent moderate Muslims." Out of touch? Seriously deranged is more like it. The BBC has a long-established and well-documented history of anti-Israeli bias, a bias so pronounced it has led the Israeli Government to boycott BBC News, and to complain about its behaviour officially to the British Government.

What would cause the Muslim Council to make such an extraordinary statement? A separate Observer investigation into the group, the newspaper said, "has revealed its roots in the extremist politics of Pakistan. Its secretary general, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, and media spokesman Inayat Bunglawala have both expressed admiration for the late Maulana Maududi, founder of the radical Jamaat-i-Islami party, which campaigns non-violently for an Islamic state in Pakistan."

I posted a piece yesterday about comments made by Bernie Ribeiro, the new president of the Royal College of Surgeons, to the effect that a new method of funding Britain's health care must be found. The top surgeon in Scotland has now joined in, calling in the Scotsman for a radical rethink on the way the service is funded, and claiming the current system cannot be sustained.

"John Smith," the newspaper said, "believes using National Insurance payments to fund the NHS is failing to keep pace with modern developments in healthcare. Instead, he says a specific "health tax" should replace National Insurance to allow funds to be ring-fenced to meet the rising costs of the NHS."


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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