...Views from mid-Atlantic
15 October 2005

Are we really screwing up the war in Iraq? Victor Davis Hanson says not, in his National Review column: "Oil is the weirdest theme of the debate over the war. Opponents claim that we went there to steal or control it. But after we arrived, as in the case of 1991 when we had the entire mega-reserves of Kuwait in our grasp, we turned it back over to the local owners, ensuring that for the first time in decades a transparent Iraqi government - not the French, not the Russians, not the Baathists, not the Saddam kleptocracy - now controls its own petroleum. The more the terrorists talk about Western theft of their national heritage, the more OPEC gouges the industrialized world and sends its billions in petrodollars abroad to foreign banks.

"The story of the war since September 11 is that the United States military has not lost a single battle, has removed two dictatorships, and has birthed democracy in the Middle East. During Katrina, critics suggested troops in Iraq should have been in New Orleans, but that was a political, not a realistic complaint: few charged that there were too many thousands abroad in Germany, Italy, the UK, Korea, or Japan when they should have been in Louisiana."

At last...the dirty little secrets of space hygeine are revealed! People's Daily says the Chinese astronauts will change their underwear only once in their five-day journey. A perfectly disgraceful state of affairs, it seems to me. I'm sure our proud Western boys are ahead in this race, just as I'm certain there is no real necessity for them to be.

Simon Hoggart's diary is always one of the Guardian's best reads, but I link to this one particularly for the joke: "An American, a Russian, a Chinese man and an Israeli are at a street corner when a pollster comes up. He says, 'Excuse me, what is your opinion of the meat shortage?'

"The American says 'What's a shortage?' The Russian says, 'What's meat?' The Chinese chap says, 'What is an opinion?' and the Israeli asks: 'What is this 'excuse me'?'"

Western nations which send food aid to Africa are faced by an unpleasant choice - send money and risk it being ripped off by middlemen, or buy food and ship it, risking being ripped off by middlemen and pirates. The Christian Science Monitor says the difficulties are such that they "support a view by a few experts that the entire food-aid system should even be scrapped - and that Africa would be better off with much less help from abroad. Either way, it's an urgent issue with some 12 million southern Africans once again facing food shortages in coming months, the UN says."

13 October 2005

It seems a widespread belief that Bashar Assad of Syria is in some difficulty. This Washington Times commentary is typical: "Since the beginning of his tenure in June 2000, Mr. Assad has little to show to his credit. Following the collapse of Iraq, Syria lost not only its remaining Ba'athist ally, but also a significant source of income that came, partly, due to its involvement with the oil-for-food scheme. Mr. Assad's perceived lack of ability to curb international pressures has caused Syria to unilaterally withdraw and lose much of his grip over Lebanon, creating a severe financial and prestige crisis in the ranks of the Syrian army. But that withdrawal, unlike the Israeli withdrawal of Ariel Sharon from Gaza, has brought little international credit to Mr. Assad. On the contrary, Syria's lack of ability (or will) to control its border with Iraq has not only showed its weakness but also further heightened the level of American frustration with Syria."

Trouble, OK. But fatal trouble, I'm not so sure. This is an intelligent, wily regime that has demonstrated its ability to ride trouble out before. Those who are interested in describing how serious this is for Mr Assad keep pointing to the movements of his exiled brother. But so far, he seems little more than a sideshow, even a slightly comic sideshow.

The death of the Syrian general yesterday (assuming it was more than a suicide, which I think is perfectly reasonable in the circustances), demonstrates a willingness to take bold action to find a way out of a difficult situation. The London Times, I thought, did a good job of analysing the forces at play in arranging for the general's death. If the Assad regime manages to survive the fallout from this, then I think it is unlikely that Mr Assad will lose his job.

The fate of the French state-owned ferry company, SNCM, provides, according to the Guardian, a textbook example of where the French cradle-to-grave welfare state can go catastrophically wrong. "It now looks highly likely that the Societe Nationale Corse-Mediterranee, a ferry line that transports more than one million passengers a year between France and the beautiful but unruly island of Corsica, will be formally declared bankrupt tomorrow, after a strike by most of its 2,400-strong workforce that is currently in its 23rd day.

"Led by the Communist-dominated CGT and separatist-inspired STC unions, the striking sailors and ground staff have so far hijacked its flagship (necessitating a high-profile, helicopter-borne intervention by French special forces), imposed an on-off blockade of the island (driving hundreds of small Corsican companies close to collapse) and, with the support of fellow unionists on the mainland, prevented the vast majority of maritime traffic from entering or leaving France's largest port, Marseille, since September 25. The workers object to a government plan to sell off a majority share in the company to a French investment firm, Butler Capital Partners, and transport group Connex," in a last-ditch attempt to save the company from ruin.

12 October 2005

"France's former UN ambassador, Jean-Bernard Merimee, was detained for questioning in Paris in connection with an investigation into corruption in the $64 billion United Nations oil-for-food program," the Washington Post quotes French officials as having said yesterday.

"A French investigative magistrate, Philippe Courroye, took Merimee into custody Monday to determine why former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime granted him rights to purchase about 4.5 million of barrels of Iraqi oil at a discounted price. Merimee, 68, is the most senior former French official to be detained by Courroye during a three-year probe into possible corruption by French officials and companies in Iraq."

Having last week released excerpts from an intercepted letter sent by Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Sawahiri, to the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Director of National Intelligence has now decided to release the whole thing. It can be found on the Office of National Intelligence website, which comments: "Al-Zawahiri's letter offers a strategic vision for al Qa'ida's direction for Iraq and beyond, and portrays al Qa'ida's senior leadership's isolation and dependence. Among the letter's highlights are discussions indicating:

1. The centrality of the war in Iraq for the global jihad.

2. From al Qa'ida's point of view, the war does not end with an American departure.

3. An acknowledgment of the appeal of democracy to the Iraqis.

4. The strategic vision of inevitable conflict, with a tacit recognition of current political dynamics in Iraq; with a call by al-Zawahiri for political action equal to military action.

5. The need to maintain popular support at least until jihadist rule has been established.

6. Admission that more than half the struggle is taking place 'in the battlefield of the media.'"

George Will gives an anti-UNESCO argument a pretty good try in the Washington Post today: "It is not a good idea badly executed; it is a pernicious idea executed about as you would expect it to be by people capable of conceiving it. And capable of using words such as 'interculturality,' and of creating an International Fund for Cultural Diversity to finance UNESCO whims. The pernicious idea is that 191 governments can be trusted to sensibly define and prudently cultivate the proper content of culture and artistic expression. Not even democratic governments should be trusted to do that. And as for unsavory governments, why should they be encouraged to engage in cultural fine-tuning?"

He loses me in this one - there is much that is pernicious in American culture. It achieves a kind of un-threatening context in the sheer size of the United States. But often, it cannot achieve the same context elsewhere. Why shouldn't other countries try to protect themselves from American culture if they feel they are at risk from it? Differences exist - long live the differences!

The Telegraph's appeal against the libel judgement against it in the Galloway case has begun. The nub of the case, the newspaper reports, is this: "The law, as applied by Mr Justice Eady, was such that documents such as the ones found by The Daily Telegraph in the looted and burned-out Iraqi foreign ministry after the fall of Saddam, could only be reported 'shorn of any background material or editorials whatsoever'.

"It presented a 'Catch 22' situation, said Mr Price, opening the newspaper's appeal before the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, Lord Justice Chadwick and Lord Justice Laws. The judgment says that privilege was denied because The Daily Telegraph published comment. And it lost the right to comment because the documents were not privileged.'

"If the newspaper was entitled to publish documents under the protection of privilege, it was entitled to comment on them, even if its views were provocative, offensive, biased or wrong, Mr Price said. The case is the first to raise the question of how the Reynolds public interest privilege defence can fit with the defence of fair comment, the court heard."

I've mentioned before how much I admire Trevor Phillips, the head of Britain's race relations council, for his determination to provoke a debate in Britain about racial matters. Coming from a country whose population preferred keeping silent about racial matters to running the risk of saying the wrong thing, I believe that the Phillips approach is the right one. When sensible people keep silent, an atmosphere is created in which the debate is hijacked by people whose interest is not in solving problems as much as it is in bettering themselves from a continuation of the controversy. They include politicians, people with something to sell, opportunists and simple blackmailers. They profit when people are so anxious not to be politically incorrect that they look the other way when people behave immorally in the name of race. The Guardian gives space to Lee Jasper, who is the mayor of London's director of policing and equalities, to disagree with Trevor Phillips' approach. "Britain still has a long way to go," he says, "to become a society where equality of opportunity is assured for all citizens. It is the job of the chair of the CRE to provide leadership and develop clear strategies to reduce the impact of discrimination. Instead, his credibility is becoming strained in black communities. Last week he was at it again at the Tory party conference, claiming the British empire had shown that Britons were not by nature bigots because under the empire 'we mixed and mingled with people very different from those of these islands' - when in reality the empire was a system of subjugating hundreds of millions of black and Asian people, justified by a white supremacist ideology."

Jasper's arguments are a much-repeated cliche whose truth or lack of it is really beside the point. Trevor Phillips, I think, understands that you can't make a properly-functioning society on a foundation of guilt and punishment. It must be built on reason.

Bermuda's Premier, caught making a racist remark about a political opponent in one of those email-sent-to-the-wrong-address scandals, suggested, in trying to extricate himself from the mess, that he might seek to curb press freedom during the next session of Bermuda's Parliament. If he's looking for legislation to use as a model, he might take a leaf out of King Gyanendra of Nepal's book - he has just approved a new law allowing the Government of Nepal to sentence publishers and editors up to one year imprisonment for publishing banned items.

The Nepal ordinance puts a stop to the publishing of news items that result in the king or his relatives being disliked or disrespected - something very much in the mind of our premier, who feels there is no greater sin. Nepal's new law would also outlaw FM radio stations that broadcast news programs, a useful thing to have up one's sleeve in case someone from that neck of the woods is tempted to be disrespectful.

10 October 2005

If you read nothing else for a week, read this piece on the flawed morality of modern times, written by by Israeli author Amos Oz in the Los Angeles Times.

"Satan, it seems, has been hired for work once again, this time by postmodernism. And this time his job is verging on kitsch: A small, secretive bunch of 'shady forces' are always guilty for everything, from poverty and discrimination and war and global warming to September 11 and the tsunami. Ordinary people are always innocent. Minorities are never to blame. Victims are, by definition, morally pure. Did you notice that today, the devil never seems to invade any individual person? We have no Fausts any more.

"According to trendy discourse today, evil is a conglomerate. Systems are evil. Governments are bad. Faceless institutions run the world for their own sinister gain. Satan is no longer in the details. Individual men and women cannot be 'bad', in the ancient sense of the Book of Job, or of Macbeth, of Iago, of Faust. You and I are always very nice people. The devil is always the establishment. This is, in my view, ethical kitsch.

"In truth, there are good people in the world. There are evil people in the world. Evil cannot always be repelled by incantation, by demonstrations, by social analysis or by psychoanalysis. Sometimes, in the last resort, it has to be confronted by force. In my view, the ultimate evil in the world is not war itself, but aggression. Aggression is 'the mother of all wars'. And sometimes aggression has to be repelled by the force of arms before peace can prevail."

This must qualify for prizes as one of the most ridiculous self-inflicted wounds in history - the Washington Post says the Weather Service is suffering from a chronic shortage of money. The Post quotes a Miami Herald story saying its investigation found, among other things, that:

"Data buoys have been broken for months and weather balloons are inoperable or missing in some areas, especially in the Caribbean.

"Despite nearly $2 billion spent in the 1990s for Doppler radar installations and electronic weather sensors, they often fail during lightning and power outages in severe weather. The weather sensors shut down more than 60 times during the four hurricanes that struck Florida last year.

"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's two hurricane-hunting turboprop planes are sometimes sent on missions during hurricane season that have little to do with tropical storms. And the budget for the agency's Gulfstream IV-SP jet is not enough to fly continuous missions during storms.

"Since 1995, NOAA's Hurricane Research Division lost 11 scientists and has replaced four, leaving 31 people and a base budget that has not topped $3.5 million in more than two decades. The researchers do not have time to study what they have accumulated: the life spans of dozens of storms that could help forecasters predict the course of new storms."

Despite advances in medicine over the last generation, there are four times as many people claiming incapacity benefits in Britain than there wwere 25 to 30 years ago. David Blunkett, now Work and Pensions Secretary, is trying to clamp down, and is telling malingerers to switch off their TVs, according to this Guardian story.

09 October 2005

Despite all the blather, the left and the right are reaching a consensus of sorts on how to think about Iraq, according to Victor Davis Hanson in the National Review. "The old debate whether Saddam Hussein was involved with al Qaeda is now calcified. Liberal conventional wisdom denies any such linkage since there is no firm evidence that Saddam knew of, or was involved in, the September 11 attacks. Thus most on the left ignore entirely that Ansar al-Islam was doing Saddam's dirty work in fighting the Kurds, that Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas resided in Baghdad, that Saddam openly harbored Abdul Rahman Yasin and Ahmed Hikmat Shakir who were connected to the effort in 1993 to blow up the World Trade Center and various anti-American plots, and that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi fled Afghanistan to the sanctuary of Iraq.

"No matter. That was then, this is now - and there is no denying that al-Zarqawi is conducting al-Qaedist operations in Iraq, or that the sort of people who attacked us on September 11 are the sort of people now flocking to the Sunni Triangle and often dying at the hands of US military forces. Everyone can agree on that."

The UN employees union has criticized Secretary-General Kofi Annan for retaining his former chief-of-staff as an adviser, despite accusations the aide authorized shredding three years-worth of files on the corrupt oil-for-food program for Iraq.

The criticism came in the wake of Paul Volcker's Independent Inquiry Committee's criticm of Iqbal Riza for giving approval to shred the documents on April 22, 2004 - a day after the UN Security Council authorized an investigation into the oil-for-food program.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes? No sane bookshelf could possibly be without it. "During the all-too-brief time it ran - from Nov. 18, 1985, to Dec. 31, 1995 - Calvin and Hobbes was simultaneously the most old-fashioned and the most innovative comic strip in newspapers. Its creator, Bill Watterson, returned to the principles of polished draftsmanship, visual imagination and character-driven humor that have been the source of comic strips' popularity since their inception in the 1890s. But he applied those venerable principles in new ways to make his strip personal, contemporary and very, very funny."


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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