...Views from mid-Atlantic
01 October 2005

Here's something one knows perfectly well, but doesn't speak about for fear of giving offence, confirmed by scientific study. The LA Times reports that: "Too much religion may be a dangerous thing. This is the implication of a study reported in the current issue of the Journal of Religion and Society, a publication of Creighton University's Center for the Study of Religion. The study, by evolutionary scientist Gregory S. Paul, looks at the correlation between levels of 'popular religiosity' and various 'quantifiable societal health' indicators in 18 prosperous democracies, including the United States.

"Paul ranked societies based on the percentage of their population expressing absolute belief in God, the frequency of prayer reported by their citizens and their frequency of attendance at religious services. He then correlated this with data on rates of homicide, sexually transmitted disease, teen pregnancy, abortion and child mortality.

"He found that the most religious democracies exhibited substantially higher degrees of social dysfunction than societies with larger percentages of atheists and agnostics. Of the nations studied, the US - which has by far the largest percentage of people who take the Bible literally and express absolute belief in God (and the lowest percentage of atheists and agnostics) - also has by far the highest levels of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases."

And on that very subject, here's a downright frightening report from Byron York in the National Review, in which he writes: "A new film featuring Travis County, Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle as he pursued the investigation that led to the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay portrays Earle less as a partisan figure than as a messianic leader on a mission to rid American politics of the 'evil' influence of money. A copy of the still-unfinished film, entitled The Big Buy, was obtained by National Review Online Friday.

"On several occasions in the film, Earle engages in monologues on what he believes is the sinister effect of money in politics. 'The root of the evil of the corporate and large-monied interest domination of politics is money,' Earle says as he takes the filmmakers on a nighttime drive around Austin. 'This is in the Bible. This isn't rocket science. The root of all evil truly is money, especially in politics. People talk about how money is the mother's milk of politics. Well, it's the devil's brew. And what we've got to do, we've got to turn off the tap.'"

The London Times's arts reporter, Jack Malvern, seems to think there is some deep and dark meaning in the fact that Philip Larkin's first love, a fellow student at Oxford, was a tomboy with a boyish haircut.

"The revelation that Larkin's first love was a tomboy is critical to understanding how Larkin felt at a time when he was confused about his sexuality. Larkin, in his third term at St John's College, had written a poem to her entitled Sonnet: Penelope, August, 1942, describing his anticipation of seeing her again, but rewrote it when he realised he probably never would. The first ten lines remained intact, but he stripped the poem of its title and rewrote the last four lines to change the ending from fearful anticipation to gloom and relief that he would not need to confront her.

"He published the revised version in The North Ship, his first book of verse. He describes his relief that the relationship, which he imagines as a fruit tree, is 'cut, gummed', and his sorrow that his summer vacation is 'broke and drained'." Bollocks! I think some amateur phychologist has led him so far up the garden path that this fruit tree of his won't let him see the wood he's in.

This is the poem, in its North Ship entirety. You see whether you think he's right:

So through that unripe day you bore your head,
And the day was plucked and tasted bitter,
As if still cold among the leaves. Instead,
It was your severed image that grew sweeter,
That floated, wing-stiff, focused in the sun
Along uncertainty and gales of shame
Blown out before I slept. Now you are one
I dare not think alive; only a name
That chimes occasionally, as a belief
Long since embedded in the static past.

Summer broke and drained. Now we are safe.
The days lose confidence, and can be faced
Indoors. This is your last, meticulous hour,
Cut, gummed; pastime of a provincial winter.

Most of The North Ship is not Larkin at his best - some of it's a bit grim. But however successful the poem is or isn't, I think it had nothing to do with mistaking a tomboy for a boy. The simple interpretation is that the uncertainty and gales of shame he writes about have to do with not having the social skill to strike up a friendship with her, to allow the fruit she started in him to ripen. And the cutting and the gumming relates not to a tree, but to the image of her he is left with in his head (capable of inducing shame in him in the days when he could sense how out of step he was with the confidence that surrounded him at Oxford), now just another image in his scrapbook of memories - a scrapbook whose ordering is the pastime of a provincial winter.

If you haven't yet listened to the British tenor Ian Bostridge sing, then I envy you, because you have a great delight in store. He records for Hyperion, whose web page on him can be found here, and contains links to samples of his work for you to listen to. There is an argument to be made that no one has ever sung Schubert as well as Bostridge has, and in the Guardian today, he describes his realisation that there was was something miraculous about Schubert. "Schubert is famous as a great melodist and the reputation is a just one. But the resources of the piano encouraged him to produce songs of great harmonic complexity - from which a stunning simplicity can more tellingly emerge - in which the so-called accompanying instrument became more often than not the equal of the vocal soloist.

"The sheer volume of his songs, around 600, is testament to his dedication to the form. The titanic cycle Winterreise was a confident assertion of the centrality of the Lied to the most progressive music of the 1820s. It was influential not only in establishing its artistic credibility, but also in helping to legitimate a new Romantic aesthetic in which the juxtaposition of small forms, such as songs, could have great expressive power...

"The year 1814, when the 18-year-old Schubert wrote Gretchen am Spinnrade, stands out as a watershed in the history of song. Erlkonig followed in 1815. Not every Schubert song possesses the same extraordinary focus - many glanced back to models of the past - but it is his example that made song a matter of moment for Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Gustav Mahler, for Berlioz, Fauro, Duparc, Debussy, for Benjamin Britten and for Francis Poulenc.

"The irony is that it should have been Goethe who provoked Schubert's breakthrough: Goethe the master-spirit of modern German literature, a man well aware of the revolution in musical possibility at the end of the 18th century but unable to accept the seeming appropriation of the poetic text that the Schubertian Lied might represent. Schubert's settings were sent to Goethe on two occasions and he, famously, never replied. His views on musical setting were conservative; his preferred composer was his friend, Johann Friedrich Reichardt. Yet if Goethe's poetry lives for a non-German-speaking audience at the beginning of the 21st century, it is thanks to the universal appeal of Schubert's songs."

I've said before that I think the Commissioner of Police in London ought to resign. His desk was where the buck should have stopped when that poor Brazilian man was shot by mistake by an armed Police team a few weeks ago. Resignations have a symbolic importance in some circumstances, and this was, without question, one of those occasions. Apart from that, he seems not to be as tightly wrapped as he should be - he said, for example, that the Met would prosecute Kate Moss after pictures of her snorting cocaine appeared on the front page of one of the tabloids. You'd think he would have known, as his many subordinates, down to the rank of acting assistant police drummerboy certainly do, that you must be caught in possession of a drug for a prosecution to succeed. Appearing to take a drug has the same status as thinking about taking a drug - not yet illegal.

The Guardian reports that a document retrieved from the British government under the Freedom of Information Act has more to say about his policing perspicacity: "Sir Ian Blair personally ordered that independent investigators be denied access to the scene where an innocent man had been shot dead by police after being mistaken for a suicide bomber...The commissioner of the Metropolitan police wrote to the Home Office to block an independent investigation into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station on July 22. By law the Independent Police Complaints Commission should have been called in by the Met to investigate the case."

30 September 2005

There was no posting on this day because my web host, Blogger, was down. This firm must have, I think, one of the worst customer relations departments on the internet - without warning, service ceased. They put a sign up saying the service would be undergoing maintenance for one hour, from 4 pm to 5 pm Pacific time. The sign appeared first at about 4 am Pacific time, and was still up about three hours later when I had to stop trying. I can find nothing about it on their website this morning. Indeed, the page through which customers are normally alerted to problems appears to have disappeared from the site altogether. The last time I asked Blogger for help with a problem I was having, I was referred to some canned web pages that had absolutely nothing to do with my problem.

All of which leads me to suspect, perhaps a little uncharitably, that the reason Blogger is offered free to customers is that if they charged for the service, they'd have to actually provide some, which would be tiresome for them. Google, which owns the Blogger organisation, ought to be ashamed of itself.

29 September 2005

A couple of pretty impressively-qualified experts are warning that the US refusal to allow the international community to take over the running of the internet may one day become a cause celebre like the Kyoto Protocol or the International Criminal Court. The pair, authors of a National Review article on the subject are Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky, a graduate of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a student at Harvard Law School, and Joseph Barillari, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science and bioinformatics at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Although the Bush administration will not relinquish U.S. oversight of the Internet," they say, "a future president may be more willing to make this seemingly small concession to curry favor with internationalist elites or supposed strategic partners. As with the Kyoto Protocol or the International Criminal Court, Washington's refusal to bend to the 'international community' over the Internet might be magnified into another gleefully touted example of American arrogance. America's rivals, less constrained by electoral cycles, tend to view foreign policy over the longer term. They are willing to wait. If we are to preserve the Internet as we know it, the Bush administration must take steps to foreclose the possibility of it ever becoming the plaything of dictators."

The possibility that earthlings will one day ride an elevator into space sounds like a bad idea from a Buck Rogers comic. But actually, it is not only technically possible, but, as SpaceDaily says, is now under test. "LiftPort says it has completed preliminary tests of its high altitude robotic lifters under its waiver to use airspace granted by the Federal Aviation Administration. The lifters are early prototypes of the technology that the company is developing for use in the LiftPort Space Elevator, its commercial space elevator to ferry cargo back and forth into space.

"In tests conducted in Washington state last week, the robotic lifters successfully climbed 1,000 feet up a simulated, working space elevator - a model elevator 'ribbon' attached to a moored high altitude balloon. According to the company, these tests represent the first-ever use of this technology on a free-hanging ribbon in the development of the LiftPort space elevator concept."

The Washington Post says Egypt is trying to get a grip on its extraordinary penchant for red tape: "If buildings could talk, the Mugamma, downtown Cairo's hulking government office complex, would say, 'Come back tomorrow'. With a sneer. Built half a century ago, it was meant to be a one-stop destination for getting births, deaths and everything in between endorsed, with official permits and certificates duly rubber-stamped and signed. But over time, the Mugamma came to signify piles of useless paperwork, surly service and frustration - and became, in the process, an Egyptian landmark.

I may have a little insight into how it might have got that way. I had a friend whose family owned land in Egypt when it was under British rule 50 or 60 years ago. When the British left, they reached an agreement with the Egyptians that they could take back land they felt had been unfairly expropriated, but should pay the owners a fair, negotiated price for it. My friend applied on his family's behalf. He was asked to fill in a form and send it in. When he had done that, there was another form. Then another. Then another and another and another. So it went for years. When it seemed there could be no other forms, the Egyptians said, Oh, gosh, so sorry, we've lost the file. So he had to start again. Eventually, he simply gave up. Was anyone ever paid compensation for their land? I can't answer that question, and he died years ago so I can't ask him. But it did seem that that was the Egyptian way of getting around the agreement they'd made with the British, and my guess is that it became a bureaucratic way of life for them.

The Telegraph says "Now, under the direction of a new breed of technocrats dreaming of Internet-era efficiency, the building's days are numbered. The Mugamma - Arabic for 'the complex' - is scheduled for evacuation by June 30 of next year. Its offices are to be dispersed to all parts of Cairo, officials say. No longer will Egyptians wander its corridors in search of hidden windows that open at arbitrary hours and are overseen by gnomish functionaries. No longer will they exit the dark, 13-story labyrinth muttering curses to the absent piece of paper that, like a missing brick at the bottom of a wall, caused the collapse of a long quest for one last official stamp."

This has to be the ultimate British list - the ten countries of the world that make the worst tea. The French (was there ever any doubt?) are the absolute worst, the Telegraph says, followed by what are, for Britain, the usual suspects - Spain, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Austria. The US, which has only recently become an openly acknowledged suspect, is in there at number three on the list, and Britain itself comes in for a couple of smacks. "Traditional tea drinkers have reached boiling point," says the Telegraph, "over the state of the nation's cuppa, saying the standard of preparation is a disgrace and the taste so poor that the resulting brew often has to be thrown away."

Perhaps someone should compile a list of the worst coffee-making countries of the world - Britain would be all over that one, top, middle and bottom.

An old friend (thanks, Walcott) has steered me to this article in Commentary Magazine, which delves into the shooting of a young boy, Muhammad al-Dura, by Israeli soldiers, in front of his helpless father. His story, perhaps the single most powerful force behind the Palestinian cult of child sacrifice over the last years, has been dramatized in spots on Palestinian television urging others to follow in his path, retold in a recruitment video for al Qaeda, and immortalized in epic verse by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. The story of Muhammad al-Dura has attained near-mythic stature in the Arab and Muslim world. In the West, though its essence is largely forgotten, it has fired the political imagination of many who accept it as emblematic proof of Israeli culpability for the outbreak of the armed conflict and even for Palestinian 'martyrdom operations' against Israel's civilian population.

The Israelis claimed straight away that the killing was a nonsense, and bits and pieces of the tale of how the world was hoodwinked have appeared in publications around the world ever since. Now, Nidra Poller, a writer who lives in Paris and has written for several US publications, has pulled the threads together to expose one of the most extraordinary hoaxes ever.

Jurist is reporting that Texas Judge William L. Abbott has ruled that former anti-Castro CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles will not be deported to either Cuba or Venezuela, where local officials want to prosecute him for alleged terrorist acts. Posada has been accused of playing a part in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 innocent people, which makes him one of those terrorists the US is fighting a war against. People around the world, especially Spanish-speaking people, are horrified by the thought that the US might help this man escape the justice he so richly deserves. He had applied for asylum in the US, but gave that up some time ago. The State Department is apparently looking for a country to send Posada to that won't send him to Cuba or Venezuela.

28 September 2005

Television stories last night, perhaps more than print stories today, made much of the shock engendered by the resignation of New Orleans Police chief Eddie Compass. I cannot imagine why - on September 6, Compass went on the Oprah Winfrey Show to repeat charges that he had made to news organisations - babies were being raped and people being beaten in the New Orleans Superdome. The Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, chimed in, telling Oprah: "They have people standing out there, have been in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."

It turns out to have been made-up, hysterical nonsense, mostly. Authorities now admit they have no official reports of rape and no eyewitnesses to sexual assault. The state Department of Health and Hospitals counted 10 dead at the Superdome and four at the convention center. Only two of those are believed to have been murdered.

Senior officials can't behave like that. Compass has resigned, though it isn't clear whether it was because his conscience was troubling him. Nagin should do the same.

But it mustn't be forgotten how much help they got from the media. The Washington Times carries a piece this morning reminding us that many news organizations, carried these accounts and in some cases later repeated the claims as fact, without attribution.

The Times says "Several media organizations have examined, sometimes harshly, the work of newspapers and particularly cable-TV news networks. The New Orleans Times-Picayune published a lengthy account Monday of errors, misrepresentations and wildly exaggerated claims of murder, rape and abuse of children at the New Orleans Superdome. The newspaper cited publication of 'scores of myths about the dome and Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials'."

I think it's revealing that Dan Rather, the other day, when he was whining about a new climate of fear in the newsroom (which inferentially was to blame for his losing his job after getting caught cooking the books over President Bush's National Guard record), had high praise for the new generation of TV journalists and their coverage of Hurricane Katrina. He said: "It's been one of television news's finest moments."

I posted a piece yesterday on Guardian columnist Marina Hyde's theories about Tony Blair's speeches - that they are designed both to do the political trick necessary at any given time, and also to evaporate from the memory as quickly as the sun dries a shower (well, it does out here, anyway). Judging by the Guardian's coverage this morning, he did it again in Brighton. And the Guardian says he did indeed, manage the political trick necessary: "Mainly, though, this was a solid, coherent piece of work that did the job it needed to. What Downing Street feared was a conference that left Blair exposed as a leader who had run out of gas, with Gordon Brown as the coming man. If Brown had won a rapturous response on Monday and Blair had looked weak yesterday, calls for a swift transition would now be loud."

The US has killed two prominent al Qaeda leaders in Iraq. The insurgent leader of the town of Karabilah was killed on Tuesday, and Abdullah Abu Azzam, said to be the Al Qaeda leader (or emir) of Anbar Province, was killed in a raid in Baghdad on Sunday. The Christian Science Monitor reminds us that since the middle of August, the US has reported killing or capturing at least 16 members of Al Qaeda in Iraq. "How big a blow this is to the insurgency in Iraq remains unclear. While US human intelligence has clearly improved, no one has a clear understanding of the internal workings of Mr. Zarqawi's network, which is thought to be only a small portion of Iraq's decentralized and highly complex insurgency. 'By itself these events don't do much to destroy Al Qaeda as much as undermine and undercut it. But this comes after some very successful operations in Tal Afar that wrapped up the Al Qaeda network there,'' says Anthony Cordesman, a former senior intelligence analyst for the US and now an expert on the Iraq insurgency at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

That notwithstanding, the insurgents show no sign of quitting or slowing down. Max Boot, who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says in a column in the LA Times that the Bush administration is failing to cut off the insurgency in Iraq from its supporters outside Iraq. The Administration, he says, "needs to lean on Musharraf to do more - not only in fighting Islamist extremists but also in bringing back democracy - by cutting his allowance, if necessary. That it isn't pushing harder is perhaps understandable because of the widespread fear that toppling Musharraf would result in a more anti-American regime. Less explicable is our failure to apply greater pressure on Syria, whose regime is already as anti-American as it gets and which continues to act as a conduit for terrorists infiltrating Iraq.

And Fouad Ajami, who is Majid Khadduri Professor, Director of the Middle East Studies Program and teaches International Relations at Johns Hopkins University, writes in a valuable article in the Wall Street Journal this morning about the roots of anti-Shiite feeling in Iraq: "It was the luck of the imperial draw that the American project in Iraq came to the rescue of the Shiites - and of the Kurds. We may not fully appreciate the historical change we unleashed on the Arab world, but we have given liberty to the stepchildren of the Arab world. We have overturned an edifice of material and moral power that dates back centuries. The Arabs railing against U.S. imperialism and arrogance in Iraq will never let us in on the real sources of their resentments. In the way of 'modern' men and women with some familiarity with the doctrines of political correctness, they can't tell us that they are aggrieved that we have given a measure of self-worth to the seminarians of Najaf and the highlanders of Kurdistan. But that is precisely what gnaws at them.

"For the Arab enemies of this project of rescue, this new war in Iraq was a replay of an old drama: the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols in 1258. In the received history, the great city of learning, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, had fallen to savages, and an age of greatness had drawn to a close. In the legend of that tale, the Mongols sacked the metropolis, put its people to the sword, dumped the books of its libraries in the Tigris. That river, chroniclers insist, flowed, alternately, with the blood of the victims and the ink of the books. It is a tale of betrayal, the selective history maintains. A minister of the caliph, a Shiite by the name of Ibn Alqami, opened the gates of Baghdad to the Mongols. History never rests here, and telescopes easily: In his call for a new holy war against the Shiites, Zarqawi dredges up that history, dismisses the Shiite-led government as 'the government of Ibn Alqami's descendants'. Zarqawi knows the power of this symbolism, and its dark appeal to Sunni Arabs within Iraq...

"Zarqawi is a bigot and a killer, but he did not descend from the sky. He emerged out of the Arab world's sins of omission and commission; in the way he rails against the Shiites (and the Kurds) he expresses that fatal Arab inability to take in 'the other'. A terrible condition afflicts the Arabs, and Zarqawi puts it on lethal display: an addiction to failure, and a desire to see this American project in Iraq come to a bloody end."

27 September 2005

It's not even October, and I am in a position to claim the very first sighting of Christmas in the press this year. It's in the Guardian, which sometimes has no shame.

Those who take an interest in the (mostly) dark art of political speechwriting will be fascinated by Guardian columnist Marina Hyde's observations about Tony Blair's speeches. Like Chinese food, they're terribly tasty, but you're hungry again in a very short time. "It may be that this curious blank comes down to the old charges of style without substance, that nothing underpins Blair's fabled verbiage and it's all soundbites aimed at providing the headline writers with instant gratification. But perhaps something rather more insidious is at work. For all the time very skilled people spend crafting these speeches, and for all the little you remember of them, isn't it possible that such memory loss is the very aim?

"Consider last year's standout moment: the non-apology born of the decision to remove the word 'sorry' at the last minute, a move which contrived to leave even the headline writers frustrated. 'I can apologise for the information that turned out to be wrong.' I had to look that one up, obviously, as it's hard to conceive of a drier, more lawyerly way of making certain sure nothing endures which may later have to be denied. All evaporates into the ether. Or what about this, from the same speech: 'When the two, courage and conviction, combine their strength and take on the challenges ... what was a challenge becomes part of the new consensus.'

"Not exactly 'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn,' is it? As for the other detail thrown up by a cuttings trawl...well, it will almost certainly be news to you that he announced a 10-point plan in the same speech. And if it isn't, I dare you to name even one of these points."

In his lament for the passing of the university president as a dignified figure on the American scene, Victor Davis Hansen says, in the Wall Street Journal, that "The signs of erosion on our campuses are undeniable, whether we examine declining test scores, spiraling costs, or college graduates' ignorance of basic facts and ideas. In response, our academic leadership is not talking about a more competitive curriculum, higher standards of academic accomplishment, or the critical need freely to debate important issues. Instead, it remains obsessed with a racial, ideological, and sexual spoils system called 'diversity'...

"Hypocrisy, faddishness, arrogance and intellectual cowardice are among the ailments of the American university today, and it is hard to say whether even a great president could save higher education from its now institutionalized vices. Amid the variety of scandals afflicting the campuses, the one constant is how the rhetoric of "diversity" trumps almost all other considerations - and how race and gender can be manipulated by either the college president or the faculty in ways that have nothing to do with educating America's youth, but everything to do with personal aggrandizement in an increasingly archaic and unexamined enclave."

26 September 2005

Posting is going to be light today and tomorrow because I have to attend to some rather time-consuming business up in Hamilton. My apologies.

Demonstrations of one type or another of Israel's determination not to be played for a sucker as a result of their withdrawal from the Gaza strip seem to have had an effect. As the New York Times says, Hamas has backed down and asked its followers to stop firing rockets into Israel. Despite that, 2 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza on Monday. There is a little game of one-upmanship going on among the Palestinian groups. The whole rockets thing began when a truck full of weapons and explosives exploded during a Hamas rally over the weekend. Hamas tried to blame the Israelis, but Fatah said it was poor Hamas weapons handling that caused the explosion. I guess Hamas, which has big political ambitions, now has to move on as rapidly as possible. I wouldn't be at all surprised if today's rockets turn out to have been fired by Fatah, trying to make the Hamas leadership look ineffective.

I enjoyed this piece by John Fund in this morning's Wall Street Journal, on the sadly sagging level of commitment to public service in Louisiana. "No state turns out better demagogues than Louisiana - the state that Huey Long ruled with an near-fascistic fist and that inspired the new Sean Penn version of All the King's Men that hits movie theaters this November. While the Bush administration and Congress aren't in danger of being fried as witches, they better figure out that they and the taxpayers are about to be fleeced like sheep as they ship south $62 billion in emergency aid with few controls or safeguards.

"More will be coming. Last week, Louisiana's two senators didn't even blink when they asked the feds for an ultimate total of $250 billion in assistance just for their state. 'We recognize that it's a very high number,' Sen. Mary Landrieu admitted. 'But this is an unprecedented national tragedy and needs an unprecedented national response.'

"Even if the total ends up far short of that figure, the opportunity for fraud and waste will be unprecedented. 'We're getting a lot of calls' on emergency aid abuses, reports Gen. Richard Skinner, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general. Last week, police officers found a treasure trove of food, drinks, chainsaws and roof tarps in the home of Cedric Floyd, chief administrative officer for the Jefferson Parish suburb of Kenner. Mr. Floyd is one of several city workers who will likely be charged with pilfering."

25 September 2005

The Sunday Times says the SAS soldiers rescued last week after being handed over to a militia were part of an operation against the smuggling into Iraq of tank-busting bombs from Iran.

"The men had left their base near the southern Iraqi city of Basra to carry out reconnaissance and supply a second patrol with 'more tools and fire power', said a source with knowledge of their activities. They had been in Basra for seven weeks on an operation prompted by intelligence that a new type of roadside bomb which has been used against British troops was among weapons being smuggled over the Iranian border. The bombs, designed to pierce the armour beneath coalition vehicles, are similar to ones supplied by Iran to Hezbollah, the Islamic militant group."

Meantime, the CBS News 60 Minutes programme is going to suggest tonight that Osama bin Laden has been put out of business, to a very large extent, by Pakistan's forces. Ali, which is the nom de guerre of the head of that country's intelligence services, is quoted as having said "I think now [bin Laden] is being protected or assisted by a very short number, which keeps his profile very low." Ali believes that bin Laden is still someplace along the border, probably in Afghanistan, but that Pakistan's intelligence forces have diminished his power by capturing 594 al-Qaeda members and crippling the group's communications, including infiltrating their courier network. "We have been able to effectively break the communications network from top to bottom. We do not allow these people to communicate with each other," says Ali.

A professor of human geography at the University of Sheffield has taken issue with Trevor Phillips, the chairman of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, for saying Britain is allowing itself to becoming a country in which the races live in segregated communities. Writing in The Observer, Donny Dorling says the truth is that Britain is segregated by inequality, poverty, wealth and opportunity, not by race and area. "We have not been sleepwalking into segregation by race, but towards ever greater segregation by wealth and poverty."

The difficulty is that in Britain, people have developed an irrational taste for vilifying wealth, into which Mr Dorling's facts play. Because there are have-nots, they say, the haves are to blame, and should be forced to turn over their wealth to the state. They overlook the awkward fact that the haves don't just have the wealth, they also have a corner on the country's ability and creativity. If Britain is cruel to them, it risks losing, or at least damaging, the engine that drives its economy. Anyway, anybody who thinks the state will actually deliver money given to it for onward transmission to the poor is a crazy person.

A far better way of dealing with segregation by wealth is to break down the set of presumptions about class which makes the British believe that wealth and upward mobility are sinful.

Many thought Byron Calame, the new public editor at the New York Times, was going to be better integrated with senior editorial staff at the paper, and therefore tamer, than his predecessor, because of his own long background in journalism. Not a bit of it - he's got his cane out this morning and is laying on to their backs like der Katzenjammer Captain after another outrage from Hansie and Fritzie.

Alessandra Stanley, the paper's chief television critic, is at the top of Calame's column because she refused to correct a piece which touched on Geraldo Rivera's tendency to grandstand, in which she specifically accused him of "nudging" an Air Force worker out of the way of his staff. Bill Keller, the editor, also gets it in the neck because he backed her up. Calame says it was quite apparent Stanley saw nothing untoward, even if she suspected it might have taken place. Not good enough, he thunders.

Then Paul Krugman and Gail Collins, the editor of the editorial page, have the Calame finger pointed at them because Krugman has not been required to correct recent "acknowledged factual errors" in his column about the 2000 election in Florida. There's a piece further down in Pondblog, on September 22, that will explain that little controversy in greater detail.

Finally, on the one-year anniversary of The Times's decision to divide corrections into two groupings on Page A2, Corrections (for substantive errors) and For the Record (for less significant errors), Calame criticises the paper and its staff for putting more corrections than justified into the For the Record column and not enough into the Corrections column.

Well done, Byron Calame!

I'm a little confused by this story, which suggests that poor black and Hispanic students have made great educational gains by being mixed in, at school, with students from wealthier families. "Low-income students who have an opportunity to go to middle-class schools are surrounded by peers who have bigger dreams and who are more academically engaged," says Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, who has written about economic integration in schools. "They are surrounded by parents who are more likely to be active in the school. And they are taught by teachers who more likely are highly qualified than the teachers in low-income schools."

I thought the experience had been that in that kind of situation, poorer students caused behavioural problems which negated any potential for progress, even when they were present in relatively small numbers. Am I mistaken? I must be, because the New York Times says that in Raleigh, North Carolina, "black and Hispanic students...have made such dramatic strides in standardized reading and math tests that it has caught the attention of education experts around the country.

"The main reason for the students' dramatic improvement, say officials and parents in the county, which includes Raleigh and its sprawling suburbs, is that the district has made a concerted effort to integrate the schools economically. Since 2000, school officials have used income as a prime factor in assigning students to schools, with the goal of limiting the proportion of low-income students in any school to no more than 40 percent."

I watched BBC coverage last night of the game of tit and tat being played out in and around the Gaza strip with amusement. The station led on the Israeli air strikes and the damage they'd done, but didn't explain why they had taken place until later in the story, when the side of an intact Israeli building was shown with some rather pitiful and insignificant pock marks which the BBC implied was the result of Hamas or Fatah rocket attacks. The BBC is well known to dislike the Israelis, and the impression given by their coverage was that the poor little Palestinians were being victimised by the brutal Israeli aggressors once again.

The BBC is encouraging its listeners to ignore the underlying and painfully obvious truth of the event - the Palestinians have convinced themselves, foolishly and wrongly, that the evacuation of Gaza was caused by Israeli weakness in the face of suuccessful Palestinian use of terrorism. That's their story and they're not only sticking to it, they're doing their military planning on that basis. If the Israelis were to react to this first Palestinian act of aggression with anything less than their undivided attention, they would invite a great deal more of the same, not just now, but as a policy, for years to come.

The obscenity that Palestinian terrorism has forced upon the Middle East is that in order to save its population and its identity, Israel must be a ferocious foe, and must react with particular ferocity to this particular aggression. So as the Israeli media are confirming this morning, the Israeli Defence establishment has been given a free hand to react to Palestinian aggression as it sees fit. It is likely that they will resume targeted killings of terrorist leaders, but I would think an extensive ground assault is unlikely, despite the posturing on the border...there seems little point in leaving the place just to return five minutes later. The IDF will have left behind a robust intelligence presence on the ground in Gaza. If it works as it should do, the Israelis will be able to make their point with a minimum of damage to the Palestinian population and a maximum of damage to Hamas, Fatah and the other terrorist groups.


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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