...Views from mid-Atlantic
24 September 2005

It took her a while, but Claudia Rosett has finally written about the report of the Volcker enquiry into the UN's Oil-for-Food program. In the Weekly Standard, she says she isn't satisfied. "...Somewhere between the Volcker committee's labors on the ground and the conclusions of the three commissioners at the top - former Fed chairman Volcker, South African justice Richard Goldstone, and Swiss lawyer Mark Pieth - a fog descends. Despite the load of detail, illuminating and deeply damning to the United Nations, the result is a patchwork of dropped leads and watered-down judgments, leading in some cases to unwarranted and even bizarre conclusions."

In the past few years, unnoticed by the local press, Israeli-bred Arabian horses with pedigrees that go back 20 generations have astonished judges in important international horse shows. The Jerusalem Post quotes Micah Regev, chairman of the Israeli Arab Horse Society as have said "Last year, for the first time, an Israeli horse snatched the world championship from horses owned by royalty and European and American millionaires."

"In Europe's All Nations Cup last year, sponsored by the Sultan of Oman, three out of four champions were Israeli horses, Regev says. This, despite the fact that Israel has only about 3,000 purebred Arabians, compared to 30,000 in Germany or 50,000 in the United States. There are 10 large breeding studs in Israel, and Ariela Arabians, owned by businessman Eitan Wertheimer, is the most important. During the past 10 years this world-class breeding stud almost single-handedly catapulted the quality of the Israeli herd.

"'When I saw the beauty, charisma and charming personality of these animals, I realized the Arabian horse was a living ambassador for peace between nations, the perfect way to facilitate positive international communications,' says Wertheimer.

"One of Wertheimer's mares, Loubna, was named 2004 World Champion Mare. She was shown five times in 2004 and remained undefeated. Loubna is the daughter of Imperial Imdal, a stallion leased from the US for four breeding seasons by Wertheimer in 1994. 'His progeny took over the Israeli herd and in a short period we fast forwarded about 20 years,' says Kedar. 'Ten years ago, the ruler of Qatar sent two of his best mares to breed with this stallion.'"

Andrew Motion, who was made poet laureate of Britain in 1999, and who wrote, among other things, a pretty good biography of the poet Philip Larkin, draws attention to a painter whose reputation was denied him because he worked in Blake's shadow. The exhibition that is due to open at the British Museum late in October is the first that will have been held in Britain, Motion writes this morning in the Guardian, is the first in Britain since 1926. But Palmer really is quite an important figure in British art - Motion asks "Will this show, so long overdue, restore Palmer to the high place he deserves in the story of British art? Not all the work is of equal quality and interest (especially during the more conventional middle period), and most of the images are small, which might work against them here. But the originality, power to influence others, fascination, and integrity are all proof of greatness."

Shakespeare the way he intended it? Trevor Nunn, who is directing Kevin Spacey in Richard II at the Old Vic at the moment, writes in the Guardian that: "We cannot be sure of Shakespeare's intentions. Indeed, some would say we can't be sure of anything about Shakespeare. Who was he? Did he really write the plays? We are living through a time when a barrage of nonsense is making the rounds about Shakespeare's supposed or hidden identity. Shakespeare, whose genius uncovers every aspect of the human condition, has been identified as a dry essayist moonlighting as a playwright, or as one or another of a couple of extraordinarily privileged aristocrats, who, for some reason (which varies according to their proponents), could never reveal their involvement in such a lower-class pastime as the theatre.

"It is true that we don't know very much detail about Shakespeare's life, or his theatre, and therefore what he expressed as his intentions. But we do know...that the political allusions in his plays suggest that he and his company sailed as close to the wind as possible without being closed down for dissent.

"We know that he packed his work with contemporary references and satirical portraits of the rich and famous, and that he was never bothered by anachronisms. Cleopatra playing 'billiards'; an ancient Briton mocked as a 'base football player'; Pistol, living in early 15th-century London, characterised as a regular at the Playhouse - these were all part of Shakespeare's preference to keep his audience colloquially involved and in a state of spontaneous recognition rather than satisfied scholarship."

23 September 2005

The US State Department is apparently trying to keep quiet about a request from China that the US implement a blanket ban on the import of all Chinese cultural material made before 1911, according to The Art Newspaper. The Peoples Republic submitted its request in the fall of 2004. The newspaper says the Cultural Property Advisory Committee that advises the State Department on such policy matters has been deliberating in secret ever since. Other than a single public hearing that took place in February, members of the public - including the press - have been shut out of the process.

"The Chinese asked for the embargo in an effort reclaim stolen good and to stem looting and illicit export of archaeological material by reducing the market demand overseas. The request was made under the 1970 Unesco Convention regarding cultural property. According to the 1987 US law implementing the Unesco accord, to approve the request the CPAC must determine not only that the cultural patrimony of the State Party (i.e., China) is in jeopardy from pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials, and that the State Party has taken measures to protect its cultural patrimony. It also must determine that application of the import restrictions would be 'of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage' if the request is 'applied in concert with similar restrictions' by nations having a significant trade in such imported material."

A huge number of people make their living in the Chinese antiquities trade. What is worrying the Chinese is a recent, rapidly-expanding trade in burial goods - artifacts once buried with the dead and now widely looted from graves. Their export is forbidden (although it is still legal to sell smuggled burial goods in Hong Kong). However, the ready availability of such goods in the west is testament, perhaps, to the ease and efficiency with which they are being moved out of China.

Art Newspapers says "Opponents argue that China has a deplorable record of protecting its cultural patrimony, much of which was destroyed by Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution, desecrating in campaigns in Tibet, and inundated by the construction of Three Gorges Dam. They further argue that China has not done due diligence in enforcing its own export restrictions, and that the US is being singled out among many countries - including China itself - where large markets in Chinese cultural goods exist. The Chinese have an expanding auction market and private trade.

"Archaeologists wish to implement the ban because they see it as a way of staunching the looting of archaeological sites. Collectors, dealers, and the auction houses - whose trade would be slashed if the ban were imposed - have argued against the ban, hiring lawyers to press their case in Washington. Some museums also have come out against the blanket ban, which would limit their ability to add to their collections. They fear the embargo may open the door to legal actions against works they own that have questionable provenance. But despite the very real public interest at stake in the decision, the government has denied access to the original Chinese-language request, refused allow the public to attend CPAC meetings, and refused even to disclose the status of the request."

SpaceDaily gives some space this morning to a motorcycling jacket, developed for bike racing, that uses technology developed as a result of space exploration to keep the rider cool. An Italian bike clothing company, Spidi, is thinking of commercial uses of the design. My experience is that riding a motorcycle even on the hottest of days is a reasonably cool business. What would be really useful is a system that would cool the clothes of people who have to stand or sit in the sun for hours at a time.

The chairman of the British Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, has delivered a much-anticipated speech on how a tendency for racial groups to live in isolation from one another is creating communities "marooned outside the mainstream". The Telegraph's coverage was more or less typical of the British press. "His speech last night had echoes of an official report into the race riots in northern England in 2001, which said different races were living 'parallel lives'. Mr Phillips said some communities had become 'marooned outside the mainstream' and were on their way to becoming 'literal black holes into which nobody goes without fear and from which nobody escapes undamaged'.

"Although there has been some integration, notably in London and the South-East, in many parts of the country ethnic minorities largely live in separate areas, and are typically segregated at school and socially. CRE research shows that most Britons cannot name a 'single good friend' from a different race and that many young people from ethnic minorities have no friends beyond their own community."

The full text of his speech can be read at CRE's website. Sometimes I have agreed with what Mr Phillips and other chairmen of the Commission have said, sometimes not. But I must give them credit - they do have ideas and they do articulate them well, in a spirit of trying to make things better. Our own race relations officials tend not to communicate ideas (presuming they have any), speaking only as judges do, to condemn or clear.

An exhibition being held at the Grolier Club in New York "is the first time in more than two decades...that the two poets' (Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes) papers have been reunited in a single space, and it's hard to imagine other coupled writers for whom such an act is so reverberative...Frieda Hughes, the poets' daughter, commented at the opening of the exhibition at the Grolier on September 13: "Over the years people have separated my parents' lives and careers and negated the time they had together. To see the happy, productive part laid out, the part that set them on their future paths, has immense poignancy.

New York Times reviewer Michael Frank says "There is a vivid sense about this show of reawakening the dead, especially from the period of Plath and Hughes's courtship and the early years of their marriage, when, by listening to them both report on each other, we assume a peculiarly omniscient point of view that neither of them, in the moment, individually could have had...

"It is a little bit like sitting down with two highly gifted, impossibly loquacious, relentlessly driven and (admittedly) self-dramatizing people and having them try to speak to you over the heads of the biographers, the moviemakers, the conjecturers and the cliche-spinners. Look at us unmediated, they, or their artifacts, seem to be saying. Make up your own minds about who we were and what we did - if you dare."

22 September 2005

Paul Krugman, the liberal columnist for the New York Times, has often been accused of distorting figures in order to make his points. Recently, the Times's public editor, Byron Calame, agreed with readers who said Krugman had erred when he said, to bolster his claim that Al Gore was the real winner of the 2000 presidential election, that "Two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida's ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore."

Calame asked him to recant, and he did, sort of...his recanting was also in error. The Times doesn't seem interested in making him abide by their corrections policies. It is becoming a bit of a tangled tale, but Donald Luskin of the National Review, who reckons he owns this story, sums the whole thing up in a story published this morning, mentioning, along the way, that "In truth, the media recounts, which looked at what would have happened if the Florida supreme court's recount order had not been derailed by the U.S. Supreme Court, would have confirmed the win by George W. Bush under almost all recount methods. In other words, Krugman's statement was a full-fledged lie." I'd say, myself, that he should have said it was a "fully-fledged lie".

Calame, and others, are fighting a set of ideas that are pretty deeply ingrained at the New York Times. One of them is certainly that Gore won the election, another is that blacks are deliberately disadvantaged by American economic policies. Columnist Thomas Sowell takes aim at that one in a piece published in the Washington Times this morning: "When you get old, what seems like news to others can look like a rerun of something you have seen before. It is like watching an old movie for the fifth or sixth time.

"A headline in the New York Times Sept. 14 said: 'Blacks hit hardest by costlier mortgages.' Thirteen years ago, virtually the identical story appeared in the Wall Street Journal under the title, 'Federal Reserve details pervasive racial gap in mortgage lending.' Both stories are based on Federal Reserve statistical studies showing blacks and whites have different experiences applying for mortgage loans. And both stories imply racial discrimination is the reason.... However, both research and old age tend to produce skepticism about things that look plausible on the surface. Just scratching the surface a little often causes a plausible case to collapse like a house of cards."

Jordan's King Hussein is nearing the end of a tour of the United States during which he has addressed several interfaith meetings in an apparent attempt to position himself as the voice of moderate Islam, says the Washington Times. He "told a gathering of American rabbis yesterday that Jews and Muslims are irrevocably 'tied together by culture and history' and that he is willing to take radical measures to combat Muslim extremists.

"'We face a common threat: extremist distortions of religion and the wanton acts of violence that derive therefrom,' the king said. 'Such abominations have already divided us from without for far too long.' Criticizing al Qaeda terrorists Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi for 'abuses of our faith,' the king, speaking at a heavily guarded lunch meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in (Washington's) Northwest, made clear he wishes to establish himself as the voice of moderate Islam.

"He pointed to a July conference he held in Amman, Jordan, for 180 Muslim scholars as a key part of his effort to undermine the far Islamic right. The conference was supported by fatwas - or legal rulings - from 17 major Islamic scholars. 'Muslims from every branch of Islam can now assert without doubt or hesitation,' he said, 'that a fatwa calling for the killing of innocent civilians - no matter what nationality or religion, Muslim or Jew, Arab or Israeli - is a basic violation of the most fundamental principles of Islam.'"

New Delhi's rickshaw drivers are putting that city's terrible congestion to use by hooking their meters up to their horns - you pay by the honk. The Telegraph says that now, "No journey can start or finish without a five-minute shouting match, which usually ends with both parties claiming to have been cheated."

Quantum cryptography has apparently put within our grasp encryption that is unbreakable no matter how powerful the computer used to crack it. The Globe and Mail says the devices used rely on the principle that, at the subatomic level, you cannot observe a particle without altering it in a detectable way. One such particle is the photon - the most basic element of light.

"Normally, encryption relies on a secret 'key' - usually a string of letters and numbers - known to both parties. In quantum cryptography, this key is transmitted over optical fibre - or potentially as a beam of light through the air - with each bit in the key represented by one photon. An eavesdropper could still intercept this key, but anyone who does so cannot avoid altering its properties in the process. That means eavesdropping can be detected and compensated for by dropping bits that may have been intercepted, or by discarding the compromised key and starting over."

21 September 2005

Columnist Cal Thomas relates a wonderful moment in television's coverage of the effects of hurricane Katrina. It starred ABC correspondent Dean Reynolds (who, in my opinion, is one of those like Dan Rather, who tally broadcasting success in terms of how hostile the coverage is to the government). Writing in the Washington Times, Thomas said "...Reynolds corralled about 10 evacuees and put them in chairs in the parking lot of Houston's Astrodome where they watched the president's nationally televised address. Afterward, they were asked to comment. All the evacuees were black and apparently poor. Given the template of news coverage - a majority of blacks are said to believe aid was slow in coming because white people like George Bush don't like them - one might have expected a unanimously negative verdict to the president's address.

"The verdict was unanimous, but positive. One by one, the evacuees replied to Mr. Reynolds' questions. "What did you think of what the president said tonight?" he asked one woman. She replied, "I think the speech was wonderful." Did she find anything hard to believe? "No, I didn't," she answered."

George Galloway has written a piece in the Socialist Worker, denying...well, you have to be careful with a man like this to pay close attention to exactly what it is he's denying. Near as I can make out, he's denying two things. The first is that he made any money from the Mariam campaign, a charity he set up in Britain to bring a young Iraqi woman to Britain for medical treatment. "...What I will not tolerate," he says on that subject, "and will sue in any territory where it is possible to do so - is the lie that I personally benefited financially from the campaign."

The second denial is a little trickier to nail down. His words are these: "Of course, when I talked with Tariq Aziz, I talked about the program, but only in respect of the effects it was having on Iraq. I did not request or receive oil vouchers. I did not benefit financially. Not by one thin dime!" Is that a denial that he benefited financially from the Oil for Food programme? I've written such denials during my life, and I would say it is not. He could make a case, if pressed, that he was talking about making a dime from his meeting with Tariq Aziz, not the Oil-for-Food programme in a general sense. It is a statement that has a certain quality present in another famous denial - "I did not have sex with that woman" - doesn't it?

What seems to have exercised Galloway this time is this article, written by journalist Greg Palast. I use the word exercised loosely. It doesn't seem to me to be a particularly troublesome article - its allegations are not new, and Mr. Palast is not a particularly widely-read writer. Publicity for the tour?

Having tried all my life to write succinctly, I wonder that some people have the ability to string out into a book a subject that sounds to me no longer than a longish article. But I guess they're making the money and I'm not, and that's life's answer to that little reflection. Nonetheless, I expect this book, Don't Try This at Home, written by Kimberly Witherspoon and Andrew Friedman, is either pretty short or pretty thin. Despite that, it's a great idea, as the LA Times says, being a collection of chefs' stories about life in the kitchen - "...these guys are talking about the real miracle of restaurants - not the creation of a single great dish, but the challenge of repeating that act dozens of times a night in the face of the most absurd obstacles. There was the night the maitre d' finally flipped out and started beating up the customers. The day a monstrous meringue almost ate the kitchen. The time the Fish Guys battled the Meat Guys in the walk-in at Alain Chapel, and the big loser was the entire day's mise en place."

I liked the story about Mario Batali, a favourite of mine, finally deciding to walk out of a kitchen after months of putting up with an abusive British chef. He apparently made one of the all-time grand exits, throwing fistfuls of salt in all the sauces on his way out.

In its editorial on events yesterday in Basra, the London Times focuses on how alarming it was that Iraqi policemen should hand over two arrested British undercover agents to a militia, instead of doing what they were told by the central Iraqi government. I don't know why they should find that so surprising - the extent to which the Iraqi security forces are staffed by people either actively working for the other side or capable of occasionally working for the other side is no great secret.

What I found remarkable about the whole thing was the splendid decision taken by commanders on the ground to deal with the problem by driving a tank into the police station, prying information about the whereabouts of the two men from the police, then going and getting them.

That the two men were members of the SAS seems to me obvious. That other members of the SAS were involved with the rescue seems also obvious to me. And that the British have soldiers with the balls and ability to carry that little operation off ought to be cause for celebration and pride.

Had they not acted as swiftly and as decisively as they did, those two SAS men would have been spirited out of reach, to be held as hostages, centrepiece of some hideous drama which would almost certainly have ended in an unpleasant death for them.

That the Times, and most of the British people, should apparently be unable to think beyond a picture of a soldier with his shirt and beret on fire makes you wonder what on earth has happened to Britain.

William McGonagall is widely acknowledged by experts to have been the worst poet who has ever written in English. The Christian Science Monitor provides a most excellent example of his work in this morning's edition:

A chicken is a noble beast,
The cow is much forlorner;
Standing in the pouring rain,
With a leg at every corner.

"This week," says the Monitor, "we pay tribute to the triumph of steadfast faith in oneself despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, as epitomized by the life of William Topaz McGonagall. Widely considered to be the worst poet in the English language, McGonagall (1830-1902) was so bad that he would regularly be hired to perform for audiences wishing to derive entertainment at his expense rather than from his talents. Yet despite a complete lack of critical success, the poet never doubted himself - and while those who mocked him are long forgotten, The Great McGonagall lives on - in print, on film, and most recently through such websites as McGonagall Online.

"Created and maintained by McGonagallphile Chris Hunt, McGonagall Online is a basic but entertaining showcase of the artist's self-described 'Gems.' And while visitors may be tempted to question whether the works featured are some sort of Internet spoof, let me state for the record that this is not a joke - the man really did exist, and the works presented here are his and his alone.

"Still, skepticism is only natural, as the quality of McGonagall's works stagger the imagination, and his writing technique tests any reader's ability to wrestle the words into a recognizable meter. These are not your average amateurish rhymes, nor the simple saccharine inanities that one finds in greeting cards adorned with overly precious configurations of puppies and kittens. McGonagall reached for greatness, in his art as well as in his personal status, and fell so spectacularly short in both that he has become a legend. (Posthumously, McGonagall ranks as Scotland's second most famous poet, after Robert Burns.)"

The President of Iraq has, for the second time I can remember, written an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, thanking the US for its help with his country, and urging the American people to stay the course. Jalal Talabani writes: "Without foreign intervention, the transition in Iraq would have been from Saddam's bloodstained hands to his psychopathic offspring. Instead, thanks to American leadership, Iraqis have been given an opportunity of peaceful, participatory politics. Contrary to the new conventional wisdom, Iraq and the history of 20th-century Europe demonstrate that force of arms can implant democracy in the most arid soil.

"The rapidity of the democratization and reform of Iraq is staggering. There was no German state for four years after the Second World War. By contrast, Iraq has moved from a centralized, one-man dictatorship to a decentralized, federal republic in half that time."

20 September 2005

This story in the New Musical Express isn't up to much, but it's got Tom Waits in it, and that ought to be enough for anyone.

Brian Whitaker of the Guardian has written an excellent summary of the state of play of the UN investigation into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon. He includes an allegation that has appeared, apparently, in a number of Arab newspaper reports - that Hariri secretly tape-recorded Syrian President Bashar Assad threatening his life, using a tape recorder disguised as a pen that was given him by French president Jacques Chirac. The threat was made "...during a 10-minute altercation with Hariri last year when he is alleged to have threatened to 'break Lebanon over the heads' of Hariri and the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt rather than see his word in Lebanon broken. Was it a threat or just a crude warning?...Whether this is true or mere disinformation, circulation of the tale was clearly intended to turn up the heat on Damascus ahead of (UN chief investigator) Mehlis's visit."

the website Ynetnews, which is associated with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, says the pen device was given to Hariri by "Western security officials", rather than Jacques Chirac himself. Ynet claims that "Hariri managed to deliver copies of the recording before his assassination on February 14, to US President George W Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff. On the tape, Ynet says, "Syria President Bashar Assad made explicit threats on the life of late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri during their last meeting.

Mark Stein puts his finger on what's gone wrong with the German election in his usual blithe way. In his Telegraph opinion piece, he quotes a story running around Europe at the moment about a Frenchman who kept his dead mother in his apartment for years so that he could continue to collect her pension.

"That's the perfect summation of Europe," Steyn says: "welfare addiction over demographic reality. Think of Germany as that flat in Marseilles, and Mr Schroder's government as the stiff, and the country's many state benefits as that French bloke's dead mum's benefits.

"Germany is dying, demographically and economically. Pick any of the usual indicators of a healthy advanced industrial democracy: Unemployment? The highest for 70 years. House prices? Down. New car registration? Nearly 15 per cent lower than in 1999. General nuttiness? A third of Germans under 30 think the United States government was responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11.

"While the unemployment, real estate and car sales may be reversible, that last number suggests the German electorate isn't necessarily the group you'd want to pitch a rational argument to. In the run-up to the election campaign, there were endless references to 'necessary reforms' and 'painful change'. And, in the end, the voters decided they weren't in the mood for change, especially the painful kind."

I'm beginning to lose any sympathy I once might have had for Dan Rather. He is behaving like a punch-drunk fighter who can't figure out why he ended up on the canvas. Rather keeps offering up these vague conspiracies against journalism that were responsible for his demise, and in a score of tries, hasn't rung a bell yet. Reuters reports that "In a speech at the the Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan, occasionally forcing back tears, he said that...politicians 'of every persuasion' had gotten better at applying pressure on the conglomerates that own the broadcast networks. He called it a 'new journalism order.' He said this pressure -- along with the 'dumbed-down, tarted-up' coverage, the advent of 24-hour cable competition and the chase for ratings and demographics - has taken its toll on the news business. 'All of this creates a bigger atmosphere of fear in newsrooms,' Rather said."

Journalists cowering in their newsrooms? Crap. I can't remember a better time to be a journalist. The trick is not to get so arrogant you start cooking the facts to fit your opinions, which was Rather's problem.

The Guardian describes the only reality tv show I've ever heard of that has a point.

19 September 2005

The Washington Times says it has been given "a very ugly jolt of reality" by Palestinian behaviour in the Gaza strip after Israel withdrew. In an editorial, the paper says: "To people of goodwill who want to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, the anarchy and chaos that have engulfed Gaza since Israel uprooted its settlements and withdrew its military has been a very ugly jolt of reality. Both President Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have sought to give the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, a chance to build a democratic country that would live in peace next to Israel. But Gaza is coming to look more like Afghanistan under Taliban rule than a viable democracy.

"Today, it is a place where masked Hamas terrorist operatives openly parade in the streets and vow to destroy Israel and commit mass murder; where terrorists, no longer having to worry about the Israel Defense Forces, routinely smuggle arms and contraband across the Egyptian border, despite the existence of an agreement between Egypt and Mr. Abbas to police the Philadelphi Corridor given up by Israel; and where armed gangs drag people from their homes and loot and destroy property turned over by Israel to the control of the PA without interference from the Palestinian security forces."

I don't know where the jolt's coming from - the Palestinians have been behaving like this for years - they're like a poisonous spider so vicious it bites itself whenever it moves.

DEBKAfile says (standard warning: this is not a news site, it publishes what amounts to raw intelligence) they're stockpiling weapons in Gaza, including 3,000 automatic rifles, hundreds of anti-tank missiles, an unknown quantity of SAM surface-to-air missiles, improved Qassam surface-to-surface missiles, land mines and more than 250 tons of explosives. The stockpiling effort has been confirmed by a variety of press sources, although I haven't seen figures given before.

The Zimbabweans are being charming again. This Guardian story quotes a Cabinet Minister as having said "Operation Murambatsvina should also be applied to the land reform programme to clean the commercial farms that are still in the hands of white farmers. White farmers are dirty and should be cleared out. They are similar to the filth that was in the streets before Murambatsvina..."

The Guardian says "The government also announced it had annulled more than 4,000 court challenges by farmers to the expropriation of their farms. Last week Mr Mugabe signed a constitutional amendment taking away the farmers' rights to legally challenge land seizures. 'All the challenges are now useless - they are all being nullified,' said the chief law officer in the attorney general's office, Nelson Mutsonziwa."

A Christian Science Monitor story highlights another of those elephants in the living room - the financial barrel over which no-competition publishers bend students who must buy textbooks for their courses. A study estimates that "books and supplies set the average student back almost $900 a year. For most in-state students at public colleges, that amount would be enough to cover more than 25 percent of their annual tuition. These astonishing figures would be easier to accept if textbooks simply cost that much to manufacture. However, publishers routinely sell identical copies overseas for only a fraction of the US price. Last year, my friend bought for $60 an 'international edition' math book the identical American twin of which sells for over $100 more. Even in England in recent years, the prices for identical books have been half those in the US."

Airgo does not seem to be a public company, or I'd have put it on my little (you don't know) buy list. It has developed technology that will make inter-computer cabling obsolete, and I'd say that was a killer of an idea. The New York Times explains: "...Greg Raleigh, chief executive of Airgo Networks in Palo Alto, California, said his four-year-old company, which released two earlier generations of high-speed wireless technologies, had 'broken the wire speed barrier' with its latest chips and embedded software. Mr. Raleigh said that the first products using Airgo's new chips - notebook computers, wireless cards, routers and other peripherals - should be commercially available late in the fourth quarter of this year.

"Basically, this changes everything by removing the reason to stay wired," Mr. Raleigh said of his company's technologies, called third-generation True MIMO. He said that Airgo had production orders from a number of partners. In the past, companies including Belkin, Netgear, Sohoware and Samsung have used Airgo's wireless technologies. He said that Airgo's latest iteration of True MIMO, an acronym for Multiple Input Multiple Output that appears on product labels using it, operates at as much as 240 megabits a second, easily surpassing standard Wi-Fi rates of as much as 54 megabits a second. Mr. Raleigh said the technology also outperformed wired Ethernet networks, which generally move data at as much as 100 megabits a second."

The New York Times, as of today, has hidden its columnists behind a subscription-only barrier.

18 September 2005

Britian's SAS has been training police officers in Britain in the use of firearms, and if the views of two of them can be taken to be typical, isn't impressed. The Sunday Times quotes one of them as having said "When the tension starts to rise and the adrenaline is flowing, the 'red mist' seems to descend on armed police officers who become very trigger-happy. This has been shown time and again in training exercises."

"The SAS officers claim they often found police firearms units to be small 'cliques' with professional standards below those found in the military. 'In the bar after exercises, the police would still be carrying their pistols and have MP5s (submachine guns) slung over their shoulder so they could pose for photos. The first question they always asked was whether we had killed anyone...'

"The second soldier said: 'We thought that police firearms officers were far more concerned with their personal image, dressing in body armour and looking 'gung ho', rather than their professional capabilities. I'm not surprised at the number of mistakes over the years. There is no assessment of physical fitness, no psychological profiling, nothing. It's a major problem."

On the statistical face ot it, says Niall Ferguson in the Telegraph this morning, peace is breaking out all over.

"Historians love to ask why wars begin. Umpteen books have titles like The Origins of the...War. Yet we write much less about how and why wars end. Why did the killing - which claimed around 200,000 lives in each case - finally stop in Bosnia and Guatemala? Why does the world as a whole seem to be getting more peaceful?

"One deceptively simple explanation for the decline of war - the favourite of American political scientists - is that the world is getting more democratic. Back in 1977, just 35 of the world's 140 independent states were democracies - barely a quarter. Today, democracies account for 55 per cent of the total. Why should this make peace more likely? The reason is that two democracies are less likely to go to war with one another than, say, two dictatorships, or a democracy and a dictatorship. Ergo, the more democracy, the less war. And democracies are also less likely to descend into civil wars."

Here's a treat - Christopher Hitchens writing about his Grapple in the Apple with that man Galloway in the Telegraph. He was puzzled by the way some Americans took Galloway to their hearts after his appearance in front of a congressional committee, but worked it out this way: "I believe that there is a sick and surreptitious fascination with people of a certain thuggish unscrupulousness, from Mike Tyson to Henry Kissinger, and that many press hacks have a secret vicarious love for such people.

"I wish them joy of this. They enable Mr Galloway to lecture a captive audience in Syria, fawning upon a despot and saying that with '145 military operations a day' that the people he describes as 'these poor Iraqis...are writing the names of their cities and towns in the stars' and then to fly to America to commiserate with the mother of one of the dead soldiers. (Galloway was, remember, expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 after it interpreted some of his comments as an incitement to attack Coalition troops...)

"On Wednesday night in Manhattan, however, he made the mistake that all demagogues and bullies make, and forgot that he was on television and on the record, and sought only to please his own section of the crowd. He answered questions with crude abuse. I have plenty of time and patience to spare on this, and was addressing myself to a larger audience, and I never ask a question to which I don't know the answer. So we shall see, shan't we?"

Sounds as if, as far as Hitchens is concerned, it's not over...

Americans may not either be familiar with, or easily understand the place of Wallace and Gromit in British society - but as this piece in the Observer declares, "It is hard to imagine Britain without Wallace and Gromit. The nerdish human, prone to technological mayhem and a love of flat caps and Wensleydale cheese, together with his mute canine pal, loyal and intelligent, seem to have been a perpetual part of national life. We have Wallace and Gromit fridge magnets, cuff-links, mugs, and T-shirts to prove the point. Their films and catch-phrases trip off the tongue." It's hard to think of anything in American life that has the kind of homely and familiar clunk that makes the pair so popular - maybe if J Wellington Wimpy and Zippy the Pinhead were somehow thrown into a blender with Mary Worth and Garfield...but probably not.

Anyway, these animated films are made by moulding the characters in plasticine - it takes a day to make two seconds of film - so the last one was released a decade ago. But The Curse of the Were-Rabbit opens in London in a few days, and then the rest of the country.

The Observer says "To judge from Australian reviews, where the film had its world premiere two weeks ago, we are in for a treat: 'They are the Little Heroes from Little Britain. Utterly charming,' claimed one reviewer. Flat caps, Wensleydale and marrows can make it to the antipodes, it seems. The Atlantic is a bigger hurdle, of course, though so far things look good." Sounds as if a pond-hopping exercise is on the cards, so US viewers are advised to prepare by reading this story.

This is a story that made it to print with two leads, one slightly different from the other. It's proof, I guess, that computerising newspapers might have solved some problems and made what was difficult easy, but in the end, it's a pair of eyes that has to work properly if a paper is going to be edited well. All of which is a bit of a red herring so far as this very interesting Guardian feature is concerned. It's about life in the favelas of Brazil's largest city, Rio de Janeiro. If it interests you, get ahold of a film called Cidade de Deus - City of God - which was made not so very long ago. It's a well-made, unemotional look at what life is like there...which is mostly short.

That spectacularly wonderful American poet, Elizabeth Bishop, wrote about Brazil in Questions of Travel, and one of her poems, The Burglar of Babylon, was about Micucu, a famous favela gunman of years ago. Micucu (the first c is hard, the second soft), was eventually shot dead by the army.

Of the favelas, she wrote:

On the hills a million people,
A million sparrows, nest,
Like a confused migration
That;s had to light and rest,

Building its nests, or houses,
Out of nothing at all, or air.
You'd think a breath would end them,
They perch so lightly there.

But they cling and spread like lichen,
And the people come and come and come.


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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