...Views from mid-Atlantic
03 September 2005

The New Criterion has filled its September issue with articles about the changing face of Britain. There's lots of fascinating stuff in there to mull over. I particularly liked this article by Peter Mullen, Rector of St. Michael's Church in Cornhill and Chaplain to the London Stock Exchange, about the demise of the Church of England.

"As we prepare for our Harvest Festival Services, we see that what's left of the English Church is indistinguishable from a lunatic asylum. Everywhere you peer inside this once refined and educated, lovely and lovable national institution, there is only a mania for self-destruction. How else can you account for church services that compete with pantomime for dramatized idiocy?

"...They have thrown out the Book of Common Prayer and The Authorized Version of the Bible and substituted dumbed-down, politically correct prayers which sound as if they were written by a committee made up of Tony Blair, Karl Marx, and Noddy. I was at a synod for all the London clergy in All Souls, Langham Place. When it was time for the prayers, a female crooner came on the stage.

"Stage? Stage? But you thought this was supposed to be the church? Don't ask! She warbled syrupy phrases about 'race relations' and 'those who seek to bring signs of enrichment.' Between each petition was the soporific chorus, 'Remember, remember.'

"That excruciating service was no anomaly. This is how it is almost everywhere you go in today's Church of England. But are we supposed to turn to these fools for spiritual guidance? And don't look to the next generation either: the giggling theological colleges are run like children's television."

People's Daily Online says the size of the middle class in China has grown to 11.9 percent of all employees in the country. Others think that's a low figure. "Zhang Wanli, an associate research fellow from the China Academy of Social Sciences, believes that China's middle class has grown to 13-15% of employees since the late 1990s, taking into account general knowledge, prestige of career, type of work, income, expenditure and social influence.

The last time I saw a comparable figure for the size of the middle class in Bermuda was in a study, published in 1994, but referring to 1991. Then, 46% of our households were part of it, and that compared with 34% in the United States in the same year. People's Daily quoted Zhang Wanli as having said that an ideal size for the middle class in China would be 30%. Then, he said, they could become a driving force for social modernization, stability, strong social values and high levels of consumption. I guess the consequences of having a small middle class are obvious. But can someone tell me what the consequences are of having one bigger than 'ideal'?

Two articles, one from the West coast, one from the East, criticise proselytisers in academia. In the Los Angeles Times, Leila Beckwith, who is professor emeritus of pediatrics at UCLA, writes that "Most Californians, including most University of California professors, think that they know the meaning of the term 'academic freedom.' They assume it's the equivalent of free speech and therefore that it is bestowed on faculty by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. Because they conflate academic freedom and free expression, they assume that academic freedom is immutable and eternal and exists without responsibilities."

But, she argues, "political agitators" have corrupted higher education by changing the rules. Now, because the new rules grant faculty members almost unlimited freedom to teach anything they want in the classroom, academic freedom as currently defined allows and fosters political proselytising - not by the government or the community, but by professors and teachers' aides eager to impose their self-certain views on the students.

And in the the National Review Candace de Russy claims that fringe academic activists of a number of stripes have been put in charge of the International Freedom Center that is to be housed alongside the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero, and will probably desecrate the place.

"As any informed and honest campus watcher knows...campuses today are indeed 'sanctuaries', but almost exclusively for scholars of radical-left persuasion. Under cover of 'academic freedom', those of traditional or conservative bent are systematically excluded, and most 'unconstrained discourse' is that of rank ideologues, including neo-Marxists, multiculturalists, transnationalists who have rejected an American national identity, militant feminists and secularists, and anti-American and anti-Israel activists."

The 300 year-old Viotti Stradivarius, mostly silent for the last 80 years, is being 'played in' by the Brits - a gradual process to coax the full mellowness and warmth of the instrument out into the open - to prepare it for a new, busier life. As the Guardian explains, "About 650 of Antonio Stradivari's instruments survive and, although countless copies of them have been made, the precise secret of their magic remains elusive. What is certain is that, given the chance, almost every violinist wants to play one.

"The Viotti, made by Stradivari in 1709 and named after its most famous owner - the Italian violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) - was offered to the nation in 2002 in lieu of inheritance tax by the son of its previous owner, John Bruce. However, its market value of about 3.5m pounds considerably exceeded the amount of tax owed - leaving the Royal Academy of Music to spearhead a spirited campaign to save it for the nation by raising a cool 2.1m pounds."

02 September 2005

Is the West too soft to fight terrorism? That's the question Victor Davis Hansen is asking in the Washington Times this morning. "For bickering Americans back home, Abu Ghraib is a 'Stalag,' but for the terrorists it's apparently a rest stop before resuming their hunt for Americans. This recent incident once more reflects how confused we are in the West over the proper way to obtain the needed ends. While we worry we have gone too far in our harshness, our enemies are convinced our softness has us too far gone to win this war."

The third Volcker report, due out on Wednesday, will fault Kofi Annan for mismanagement, but will not allege personal wrongdoing, according to the LA Times's sources. UN people will be busy from now to then spinning what that means: "A senior aide to Annan, who also asked to remain anonymous, said, 'I very much hope that while it may be a damaging report, it will be a survivable report.

"'He does feel that he has not done anything wrong, and that the program should have been much better managed, and that he clearly will take the responsibility for that, unambiguously,' the senior aide said. 'But he doesn't think it is a resigning matter...' Although UN officials hoped that the independent inquiry would clear up doubts about Annan's alleged conflict of interest and mismanagement in the oil-for-food program, it is instead likely to raise questions about whether he retains the credibility needed to clean up the organization - or even to survive the last 16 months of his term as secretary-general."

My personal view is that, contrary to what the unnamed UN official says, this is a resigning matter - a slam-dunk resigning matter at that - and if Annan survives those 16 months, it will be another indication of how desperately sick the UN is as an organisation.

The Times goes on to note that "The timing of the report is tricky for the UN The report's release will come a week before Annan will ask world leaders at a UN summit to expand the powers of the secretary-general and support ambitious reforms he has proposed for the troubled organization."

Meantime, more evidence of the extent of the rot in the organisation, as FBI agents arrest a second Russian (the first was arrested early in August) on money laundering charges. The Toronto Globe and Mail, among many others, says he's Vadim Kouznetsov, the chairman of the General Assembly panel that oversees the UN budget.

It had been thought that Fats Domino, whose songs Ain't that a Shame and Blueberry Hill are burned into the brains of everyone who was alive in the Fifties, was a casualty of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where he was born. But as the Washington Post reports, he has been rescued...a small piece of good news in a swirling sea of horror.

Meantime, MEMRI reports that the reaction of a high-ranking Kuwaiti official, Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi, director of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Endowment's research center, to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina has been to publish an article entitled The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah, But Not an Adherent of Al-Qaeda.

An excerpt: '...As I watched the horrible sights of this wondrous storm, I was reminded of the Hadith of the Messenger of Allah [in the compilations] of Al-Bukhari and Abu Daoud. The Hadith says: 'The wind is of the wind of Allah, it comes from mercy or for the sake of torment. When you see it, do not curse it, [but rather] ask Allah for the good that is in it, and ask Allah for shelter from its evil.' Afterwards, I was [also] reminded of the words of the Prophet Muhammad: 'Do not curse the wind, as it is the fruit of Allah's planning. He who curses something that should not be cursed - the curse will come back to him.'"

What is it they say about what comes out of the mouths of babes and idiots?

01 September 2005

It was put about that Kofi Annan cut his vacation short because of John Bolton's amendments to the UN reform scheme, but as Benny Avni of the New York Sun says, the truth is that he spent most of his two days meeting with Paul Volcker's group in advance of the release next week of their third report. "Under the guise of aiding General Assembly negotiations on reform, Secretary-General Annan rushed back to Turtle Bay yesterday, interrupting his end-of-summer vacation. But his two-day New York appearance was largely dedicated to meeting with oil-for-food investigators."

Many a slip, and all that, but it does look as if the Luis Posada Carriles case (previous stories all over the place on Pondblog) is finally moving towards a just conclusion: "An anti-Castro militant accused of illegally entering the country withdrew his request for US asylum Wednesday, and his attorneys said they will focus instead on trying to prevent his deportation to Venezuela. Luis Posada Carriles says he will be mistreated if he is returned to Venezuela to face charges that he plotted the deadly 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner while he was in Caracas."

This is bizarre - Trinidad and Tobago is swapping English for Spanish as the national language. The Independent reports that "English is the language of almost all of its inhabitants. Football and cricket are its national sports. And its main business hub is called Scarborough. But, eyeing the markets of Latin America seven miles off its shores, the former British colony of Trinidad and Tobago is rejecting its Anglo-Saxon past and aiming to be Spanish-speaking by 2020."

It's a surprise that grips you by the throat, that apparently intelligent people expect other intelligent people to take fairy tales like intelligent design seriously, and won't back down in the face of overwhelming evidence of their mistake. Still, I guess that's a fact that would give Mr Barnum heart, were he still here with us.

In the Guardian, scientists Richard Dawkins, professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University, and Jerry Coyne, professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, explain why teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution is a bit of a joke.

"Intelligent design is not an argument of the same character as these controversies," they say. "It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In those cases, the demand for equal time for 'both theories' would be ludicrous. Similarly, in a class on 20th-century European history, who would demand equal time for the theory that the Holocaust never happened?

"The weight of the evidence has become so heavy that opposition to the fact of evolution is laughable to all who are acquainted with even a fraction of the published data. Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system."

Maybe there's an explanation for clinging to the kind of hope adherents have for intelligent design somewhere in my reaction to the news that the very last Gauloise comes off the assembly line today. I haven't smoked cigarettes for years, know from personal experience what damage they can do to your health, wouldn't smoke another one if you paid me half the money in China, but I'm still prepared to mourn and regret the death of this extraordinary cigarette.

Brushing aside the saggy little forest of puns that surrounds it, this is the nub of the story from the Guardian: "They drink half as much red wine as they used to, barely anyone wears a beret, the bidet has been banished from their bathrooms...and now they've stopped making Gauloises. Le pays, as the French do not say, is going to les chiens."

I'm coming to this a little late - David Warren published his account of Pope Benedict's recent address to Muslim leaders a week ago - but it does contain some interesting and, I think, important observations. If you're not familiar with his work, Warren writes for the Ottawa Citizen. He's one of the best essayists at work today. Warren says, of Pope Benedict, "I found his speech an important development from his predecessor's remarks on 'Christian-Islamic relations'. Most obviously, the implied 'apology for the Crusades' has been rephrased. It now includes an accusation as well as a mea culpa. It politely reminds a Muslim reader that Christians were not alone in committing atrocities, in the Holy Land or anywhere, in past centuries. I think it tells the Catholic reader, as subtly, that we have done with making gratuitous apologies for distant historical events.

"Trying to read it as if I were an intelligent and educated Muslim, I would note several things. First, that the Pope is well informed about Islam, and about its historical consciousness, yet rejects its central theses. But there are some very clever moments. When he speaks of the 'new barbarism', for instance, he is using a phrase that will ring bells among Muslims, as a companionable allusion to the Mongol hordes who descended on mediaeval Baghdad."

The Pope's suggestion of impatience is pretty pale, set against the anger of some with terrorism and with the Muslim community's slow-as-molasses efforts to police its own, but it is remarkable nonetheless for the fact that it was made at all. In the Guardian this morning, Professor Ziauddin Sardar, a respected British writer who specialises in the future of Islam makes the suggestion that a reform movement is already under way in the Muslim community. "...The truth is that the vast majority of Muslims in the world are not Arab, Arabic speaking or located in the Middle East. Over this year I have visited various countries around the fringes of the Muslim world, countries where a majority of the world's Muslims live.

"In places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Morocco and Turkey, a profound homegrown change is under way, in part prompted by revulsion at the atrocities perpetrated in the name of Islam. But it is also driven by determination to address the real issues of poverty, underdevelopment and lack of genuine, effective popular democracy that has been the general condition of Muslim existence."

Mind you, the column is a teaser for a television show due to air on Monday. The professor wrote the script and will present Battle for Islam on BBC2.


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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