...Views from mid-Atlantic
29 October 2005

Lebanon's army has loosened its grip a little on the pro-Syrian Palestinian guerrillas it has surrounded this week at their bases near the Syrian border. The Qatar Gulf Times says troops removed two checkpoints near positions run by the Syrian-backed Fatah Uprising and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. The army also allowed militants to leave the bases to obtain food and supplies, they added.

But the Lebanese seem in no mood to leave. DEBKAfile says the Palestinians are based in that area in order to control the Lebanese Beqaa-Damascus highway, which the Syrians have always been jealous to protect because in a war it would be easy route for the Israeli army to cut through to reach Damascus. When the Syrians were forced by the Security Council to pull their army out of Lebanon, they left armed Palestinian forces as watchdogs over the strategic route under Syrian command. By laying the Palestinians to siege, Beirut has delivered a nasty setback to the regime and high command in Damascus.

"For the moment," says DEBKAfile, "the Lebanese battalions are at a standstill, waiting for the UN Security Council to judge the presence of armed Palestinian outside the refugee camps illegal...In the south, Lebanese troops are deployed outside the Palestinian refugee camps. For the first time in many years, they are conducting searches of people going in and out."

I sometimes criticise them, but Bermudians do have one most admirable attribute - a big, genuine desire to help people in need. When people are suffering somewhere in the world, we regularly contribute more, per capita, than any other country. Katrina was no exception, and some of our schoolchildren who tried to put a personal touch on the help they gave, are getting a handsome thank-you from kids in Louisiana. The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that Greenbrier Elementary School was sent 500 shoe boxes filled with useful items like toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap as well as school supplies, snacks and small toys. The kids at Greenbrier have responded by staging a kind of Bermuda show - songs, dances, skits and recitations of facts about Bermuda. The show was videotaped and the Louisiana kids intend to create a CD that will be mailed to their Bermuda counterparts.

And in England, Manchester News reports that a grandmother who was stranded in Bermuda without insurance when she fell ill during a holiday trip, is back in Manchester after a Bermuda businessman paid the 50,000 pounds needed to fly her home. The businessman, who is retired, asked that his name not be used, but Bermudians all know who he is, and are inspired by the extraordinary, unfailing generosity he has shown to people in need, no matter who they might be.

What has happened in the US government during the last few days? First they offer to send a hurricane relief team to Cuba, now they've invited the UN in to inspect the facilities at Guantanamo Bay. The San Francisco Chronicle says: "The U.S. government has invited three United Nations human rights experts to visit the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, amid growing concerns of rights violations and claims that the health of some hunger-striking detainees is deteriorating. It is unclear whether the three UN special rapporteurs will accept the invitation - which was extended Friday at about noon after nearly four years of UN requests to inspect the facility - because the Defense Department plans to impose fairly strict guidelines on any visit. Guantanamo Bay holds more than 500 detainees, and current guidelines would not allow the UN experts direct access to prisoners." It's really not fair to the commentariat, this sort of stealthy reversal of policy. Surely we could at least be warned.

Two little bits to add to the Ahmadinejad debacle - first, he seems to have fired half the diplomatic corps for agreeing half-heartedly with him about destroying Israel. AlJazeera published that part of the story this morning: "The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fired his country's ambassadors to Britain, France, and Germany, a government official told Iran Focus. 'Ahmadinejad has been angered by what he sees as the envoys' meek reaction to the global condemnation of his Wednesday speech against Israel and the West', the official said on condition of anonymity, adding that the President 'made the speech with the full blessing of the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] and has his green light to stifle any dissenting voice within the government'." Stifle any dissenting voice within the government - there's a ringing phrase.

The Guardian published a nicely worded editorial this morning about the damage this lunatic is doing to himself and his country.

28 October 2005

Heather MacDonald's flinty logic really is a pleasure to read. If you're not familiar with her work, she is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a writer for New York's City Journal. In the Los Angeles Times this morning, she takes aim at the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court: "Miers never would have been nominated if she had been a man. But having just appointed a white male to be chief justice, and faced with the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (one of only two women on the court), Bush and his advisors clearly felt that the next pick had to be a woman.

"This is completely unacceptable. Although there undoubtedly are many plausible female contenders for the court, they should be selected only if they are found, after close examination, to be the best possible candidate. To do any less - to grab the nearest woman and nominate her to the highest court in the land - is an insult to women and a dangerous assault on the rule of law."

The latest Volcker report on the UN Oil-for-Food scandal (as well as the earlier ones) can be found on this web page. Bermuda is not one of the countries mentioned in this dispatch, although I'm sure that's only because Bermudians generally are so consumed with themselves that the outside world may as well not exist. However, if it had been known there was money to be made out there, I'm sure our government, for one, would have put its best foot forward.

The name Galloway did come up, however, as this Guardian story explains. Denis MacShane, former Foreign Office Minister, has likened Galloway to Lord Haw-Haw. In the Telegraph, MacShane said the claims were so serious that they should be investigated by a joint committee of the Commons and the US Congress. "Speaking on the floor of the Commons, Mr MacShane said...Mr Galloway 'employs very expensive libel lawyers to stop any press investigation into his role as Lord Haw-Haw for one of the worst tyrants in the world's history, responsible for killing more Muslims than anybody else in the history of that religion."

Pondblog enters its third year of being today. I claim, in the name of the Three Princes of Serendip, that this BBC News report has been sent as a gift by the gods to mark the occasion: "Cuba has accepted a US offer to send a disaster team to help with Hurricane Wilma - the first time in decades that Cuba has said yes to such an offer. A three-member disaster assessment team is set to go to the Cuban capital Havana, the US state department said. Cuban President Fidel Castro confirmed that Cuba did not object to the US visit, but said the country was not appealing for international aid."

Maybe he's trying to sort the mess out before he dies - it would be an absolutely poisonous legacy for his successor and for Cuba.

27 October 2005

Newspapers in Britain and elsewhere in Europe have been full of comment for the last few days on the sad state of crisis into which the European Union has fallen since the failure of referenda on its constitution during the summer months. The London Times has a different view: "...The EU is not in crisis. The collapse of the mistimed, overblown constitutional project is a plus, not a minus, and enlargement is already doing more to shake the EU out of its lethargy than the Lisbon agenda could have hoped to achieve. Listen to some of the dynamic new members' experiences, the Prime Minister should say, and learn from them.

"Mr Blair cannot publicly admit a further truth, which is that the EU budget can wait a few more months, but that a winnable EU strategy for the Doha round of trade talks is now urgent. On the budget, his colleagues know that the British rebate is negotiable only in the context of revamped EU spending priorities, and that the Commission proposal to review the new budget in 2009, with changes to take effect in the following, post-2013, budget cycle, falls well short of a clear guarantee of reform. But at the World Trade Organisation, the EU's refusal to offer acceptable cuts in its farm tariffs has brought talks to breaking point. The EU is on notice, from the US and the developing world, to come up with a radically improved offer within ten days. If France blocks further progress, the WTO's director-general Pascal Lamy may call off the December 12 ministerial meeting in Hong Kong.

"If this mammoth negotiation were to collapse, they may not resume before President Bush's 'fast track' negotiating authority expires. The risk to the multilateral trading regime would then be acute. Failure would be so damaging to EU growth and jobs that it would offset the most ambitious agenda for internal reform. And the consequences for Africa and beyond would be even more severe. The EU is not in crisis. But it is creating crisis at a global level."

Lebanon has begun to move against Palestinian terrorists based in that country. The Jerusalem Post says: "Lebanese commandos manned positions near Palestinian terrorists bases in this rugged region for the second day Thursday while soldiers blocked smuggling routes along the mountainous border with Syria as Lebanon tried to strengthen control over its territory amid heightened tensions with Syria. Hundreds of Lebanese troops, backed by tanks, have deployed to pro-Syrian Palestinian terrorist camps in Sultan Yacoub, a village some 5 kilometers from the Syrian border, and the nearby town of Helweh.

"Lebanon blames the Fatah Uprising group for shooting dead a Lebanese civilian army contractor this week at Helweh, claims which the group denies. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, another heavily armed Palestinian terror organization, is linked to weapons smuggling from Syria."

Around the world, people and their leaders are reacting with horror and condemnation to the remarks of Iran's Prime Minister, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said in a speech on Wednesday that "there is no doubt that the new wave [of attacks] in Palestine will wipe off this stigma [Israel] from the face of the Islamic world." The Globe and Mail in Torontoquotes Israel's vice-premier, Shimon Peres, as having called for Iran's expulsion from the United Nations. "'There has never been such a scandal. It is impossible to ignore this and close your ears,' said Mr. Peres, a Nobel peace laureate."

In Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Post seems to feel that Ahmadinejad's extraordinary statement was a result of his political inexperience: "I think [Ahmadinejad's statement] certainly is a diplomatic blunder,", the Post quotes Trita Parsi, a Middle East specialist at Johns Hopkins University, as having said.

"'This is an inexperienced politician who has yet to understand the consequence of his statements,' said Parsi. 'That's clear from his statements at the UN, which caused Iran great damage.'"

The Post thinks the new Iranian President has had an "unsteady" start. "First he flopped in the Majlis. The parliament, which was filled with his supporters, rejected a number of his choices for cabinet ministers. Then he gave a speech at the UN, which came at a critical time when his country was being threatened over its nuclear program. But the speech...'was more like a Friday prayer in Teheran than attempt to address the inter national community at the UN [General] Assembly.' It came as little surprise many that shortly thereafter the spiritual leader and overall ruler of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, gave the Expediency Council, which is head ed by Rafsanjani, 'supervisory' powers over all branches of government, including the presidency. In other words any policy made Ahmadinejad must approved by Rafsanjani."

I think Ahmadinejad has done Israel a couple of favours. He has called attention to the true nature of the Middle East's opposition to Israel at a time when it was needed. His lunatic speech must also have horrified, and therefore stiffened the spines of those dealing with Iran's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. It must also be a comfort to the IDF and others that Ahmadinejad's ability to make military judgements is so bad that he thinks the Palestinians are anywhere near being able to "wipe Israel from the face of the Islamic world".

He ought to be in a position to have better judgement on such matters because, as is said in the Washington Times commentary this morning, Iran is a big player in Gaza, through Hezbollah, a terrorist group it controls.

"While the headlines focus on the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah for control of Gaza," the Times says, "the real winner is Iran, which, with its proxy Hezbollah, has been infiltrating all of the Palestinian terrorist groups for over a decade. The general disorder will leave Iran with a free hand to use Gaza as a platform for terror, not just against Israel, but worldwide. Along with Tehran's quest for nuclear weapons and subversion in Iraq, the Iranian effort to subsume the Palestinian terrorist groups is a central component of Iran's bid to become the dominant Middle Eastern power."

If you search in Pondblog for the words kopi lowak, you'll find an entry in which they are shown to be the name of an expensive coffee from Sumatra, in Indonesia, whose beans acquire their particular flavour as they pass through the digestive system of a civet cat, from whose dung they are collected prior to being sold. It turns out that kopi lowak isn't the only digestible that gets that through-the-gut treatment. The New York Times explains: "For centuries, the Berbers in this stark coastal corner of North Africa have followed the goats around as they climbed the spiny, evergreen argan trees to eat their leaves and leathery olive-sized fruit. They collect the undigested pits that the goats spit up or excrete and split them to extract the bitter kernels inside, which they grind and press to make a nutty oil used in cooking and cosmetics.

"The oil was sold in Moroccan markets even before the Phoenicians arrived, yet the hardy argan tree, called the Moroccan ironwood by some people, has been slowly disappearing. Overgrazing by goats and a growing, wood-hungry local population have whittled the number of surviving trees down to less than half of what it was 50 years ago."

A rescue posse of ladies who lunch internationally is being formed as I type.

Paul Volcker's fifth and final report on the UN Oil-for-Food scandal is to be released on Thursday. In this one, according to the New York Times, Volcker is going to name companies in 60 countries that paid kickbacks to Saddam Hussein for the privilege of doing business with him. "More than 4,500 companies took part in the United Nations oil-for-food program and more than half of them paid illegal surcharges and kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, according to the independent committee investigating the program. The country with the most companies involved in the program was Russia, followed by France, the committee says in a report to be released Thursday. The inquiry was led by Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

"The findings are in the committee's fifth and final report, a document of more than 500 pages that will detail how outside companies from more than 60 countries were able to evade United Nations controls and make money for themselves as well as for the Hussein government. Three investigators who described their findings in interviews declined to name the companies, though they said the companies would be identified in the document on Thursday. They refused to speak on the record about the report until it is released. The new report studies the people outside Iraq who profited illicitly and how they did it. It will identify companies and individuals who took part, both deliberately and inadvertently, and will chronicle in detail the experience of 30 to 40 of them, the investigators said."

And in the Wall Street Journal today, Claudia Rosett continues her probe of one company in particular, IHC Services. It is, she says, "a private company that for years was one of hundreds of firms selling goods and services to the UN. As a rule, the UN keeps secret most details of these deals. But scandals involving IHC have begun lifting the lid on how the UN handles taxpayers' money...It appears the UN has been serving as a bazaar in which corruption, conflicts of interest and shadowy financial networks have found ways to set up shop. Behind the maze, who was the real owner of IHC during its nine years of doing big business with the U.N.? The UN won't say, and quite possibly does not even know. Its policy, in fact, was not even to ask."

26 October 2005

I'm not sure what this Trinidad Express story means. Scotland Yard has apparently confirmed, in response to a freedom of information enquiry in Great Britain, that it either currently has, or soon will have, a presence in 13 Caribeean countries, including Bermuda. If that is to help our own Police tackle crime, all well and good. They could do with some help. But somehow I get the impression there's more to it than that. I do remember Gordon Brown's recent trumpeting of his intention to find and punish every poor bugger who's ever tried to put his savings out of the reach of the taxman...

Yesterday, I used a Washington Post article on Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame's husband, because I was glad someone on the press was focusing on Wilson's part in the scandal. My point was that Wilson is not what he pretends to be, and may have played a part orchestrated by the CIA, which is well known to have been at odds with the administration over the war in Iraq. The CIA's behaviour since the war has been such that no one should be at all surprised to find they ran a covert operation against their own boss - a sort of yellowcake honey trap, you might say. That's a guess on my part, I admit, and it must be said that Wilson's inept, patently dishonest performance after his Niger trip so undercuts any notion that he was being run by an intelligence agency worthy of the name that it may well be an off-target guess. But I'm still bothered. Wilson was entirely too much the right man with the right story at the right time.

The Weekly Standard's Stephen F Hayes recalls Wilson's performance: "Wilson lied and lied repeatedly. His central contention - that he had seen documents about the alleged sale and determined that they were forgeries - was a fabrication. We know this because Wilson took his trip in February 2002 and the US government did not receive those documents until October 2002. It could not have happened the way Wilson described it to (Washington Post reporter Walter) Pincus.

"Wilson was later confronted about his misrepresentations. He told investigators from the Senate Intelligence Committee that he may have 'misspoken'. CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Wilson specifically about these obvious discrepancies, citing Pincus's June 12, 2003, Washington Post story. Wilson decided to share the blame. He pointed the finger squarely at Walter Pincus..."

David Blair is the young Telegraph reporter who found the documents in Iraq that form the basis of the allegation George Galloway was on the take in the Oil-for-Food scandal. In an article this morning on his home turf, Blair reviews some of the facts that Galloway finds uncomfortable - such as the forensic examination that helped show the documents were genuine, as Tariq Aziz has now attested to the US Senate. But, as Blair says, it's hard to get a straight answer from Galloway - "True to form, George Galloway has lashed out in all directions in response to the Senate's report on his dealings with Saddam Hussein's regime...Looking back, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Mr Galloway's aggressive response to scrutiny is nothing more than an unthinking, knee-jerk reaction."

The Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood, seems to have slipped without fuss and without most people noticing, into the role of literary senior. I confess to finding her writing a little thin, at times, but this new play (it's not a play, really, it's a sort of stage event) is a terrific idea. It's called the Penelopiad, after Odysseus's wife. Atwood and her British friend, Phyllida Lloyd, are staging it tonight at St James's Church in Piccadilly for the first time. In this Guardian interview with Lisa Allardice, Atwood explains "It's surprising how many women there are in the Odyssey and they all help Odysseus, which is why I made him so charming. He's the kind of guy women like - he has a lovely voice, he takes an interest in them, he understands human nature. That's why he's so persuasive: he doesn't get his way by force, he's not a thug. He was fun to be around. That's why Penelope is sad he's not there. He's helped by women at every turn: by Helen in The Iliad, and by all the goddesses he meets along the way in the Odyssey. And then there's Penelope holding the fort while he's away. That's the kind of guy he was."

I have a feeling the Penelopiad, after tonight, may morph a little into something slightly different and rather more substantial. Just a feeling...

What prevents dogs from seeming to be as clever as they really are is that they want their humans' permission to be clever. And if that surprises you, the Christian Science Monitor will blow you away with this assertion that dogs have the ability to mimic our body language...though I assume they have the grace to do that behind our backs.

25 October 2005

Bermuda's best-known professional football player, Shawn Goater, is going back to school at the age of 35. He's getting a little old to play and wants to continue his career by coming home to Bermuda to coach soccer. According to a Manchester City Football Club report: "City legend Shaun Goater has revealed that he is set to pursue a career in coaching with the aim of returning to his native Bermuda.

"The former City striker who scored a hundred and thirteen goals for the Blues in his six year stay is set to call it a day on his playing career. The thirty five year old is returning to 'school' to study for his Uefa coaching badges and this season starts studying for his Uefa B licence. It is the start of a two year long journey which the Bermuda born striker hopes will culminate with the award of his Uefa A licence and his passport to a new career in coaching."

This is what they call a killer ap - Cisco Systems is to announce on Monday that they have found a way to marry incompatible radio systems on demand. Members of the public who hear, in the wake of some disaster, that a contributing factor was the inability, without working telephones, of one agency to talk to another, can't be blamed for assuming that this is a planning failure, an original sin which is fixable simply by making all agencies buy the same radios, or something of that sort. It's not that simple at all - quite apart from the chaos you can cause by crowding radio networks, there are ompatability problems with the various "languages" that are used on the air, and problems with the varying degrees of privacy required. But according to the New York Times, there's a magic wand on the way: "Cisco Systems plans to announce on Monday a new method - based on a widely used Internet telephone standard - for marrying the frequently incompatible radio gear used by emergency services agencies and businesses.

"The approach is aimed at connecting the diverse array of push-to-talk radio systems with other voice and data systems without the expense of replacing the existing systems. Cisco executives said the method, based on existing network routers, could be used in the transportation, finance and retail industries as well as at public safety agencies. The system, a set of software programs and hardware interfaces that connect with existing radio networks, will likely prove most immediately useful in emergencies." As long as you can switch the bastard off when the emergency is over, that is. If that's possible, buy Cisco shares today.

Black columnist Eugene Robinson went on a three-day press trip with Condoleeza Rice recently to see if he couldn't get a handle on why she isn't part of what might, with a dash of cynicism, be termed the black conspiracy. In the Washington Post, he admits that he failed: "Like a lot of African Americans, I've long wondered what the deal was with Condoleezza Rice and the issue of race. How does she work so loyally for George W. Bush, whose approval rating among blacks was measured in a recent poll at a negligible 2 percent? How did she come to a worldview so radically different from that of most black Americans? Is she blind, is she in denial, is she confused - or what?

"After spending three days with the secretary of state and her entourage as she toured Birmingham, where she grew up in a protective bubble as the tumult of the civil rights movement swirled around her, I have a partial answer: It's as if Rice is still cosseted in her beloved Titusville, the neighborhood of black strivers where she was raised, able to see the very different reality that other African Americans experience but not to reach out of the bubble - not able to touch that other reality, and thus not able to really understand it.

"Rice's parents tried their best to shelter their only daughter from Jim Crow racism, and they succeeded. Forty years later, Rice shows no bitterness when she recalls her childhood in a town whose streets were ruled by the segregationist police chief Bull Connor. 'I've always said about Birmingham that because race was everything, race was nothing,' she said in an interview on the flight home. When she reminisces, she talks of piano lessons and her brief attempt at ballet - not of Connor setting his dogs loose on brave men, women and children marching for freedom, which is the Birmingham that other residents I met still remember. A friend of Rice's, Denise McNair, was one of the four girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. That would have left a deep scar on me, but Rice can speak of that atrocity without visible emotion."

Robinson assumes, as do so many others, that it is mandatory, if you're black, to be stereotypically black. It is a flawed assumption, one that defeats the very object of the conformity exercise by holding individual blacks back, by limiting their forward progress to nearly the speed of the slowest among them. Exceptional humans, like Condoleeza Rice, need to be allowed to fly without baggage.

I won't flatter myself by believing the Washington Post reads Pondblog, but it was about time that somebody in the press took a closer look at Valerie Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, as I said yesterday. This story is a start, but it doesn't go far enough. It does not say whether Wilson was accompanied by his CIA agent wife when he was the US's top diplomat in Iraq, and it does not ask the questions I think ought to be asked about the extent of Wilson's own relationship with the CIA...then and now. Specifically, the public ought to be told whether Wilson was being run by the CIA when he published an article in the New York Times, denouncing the Administration for using the discredited Niger yellowcake story.

The Post says "To his backers, Joseph C. Wilson IV is a brave whistle-blower wronged by the Bush administration. To his critics, he is a partisan who spouts unreliable information. But nobody disputes this: Possessed of a flamboyant style and a love for the camera lens, Wilson helped propel the unmasking of his wife's identity as a CIA operative into a sprawling, two-year legal probe that climaxes this week with the possible indictment of key White House officials. He also turned an arcane matter involving the Intelligence Identities Protection Act into a proxy fight over the administration's credibility and its case for war in Iraq.

"Also beyond dispute is the fact that the little-known diplomat took maximum advantage of his 15 minutes of fame. Wilson has been a fixture on the network and cable news circuit for two years - from 'Meet the Press' to 'Imus in the Morning' to 'The Daily Show.'"

Some of the most senior members of Saddam Hussein's regime have contradicted George Galloway's adamant denials that he ever benefitted from Iraqi oil. The London Times reports that "The most damning fresh testimony came from Tariq Aziz, the former Deputy Prime Minister, who told the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that Iraq granted Mr Galloway oil allocations to help to fund his Mariam Appeal. The investigators said Mr Aziz also told them that a letter allegedly recording a request by Mr Galloway for an increased 'share of oil' is authentic. The letter, found in a government building, purports to be from the Iraqi Intelligence Service, dated January 2000."

Galloway's now being tossed on a sea of trouble. Quite apart from the fallout from the results of the Senate investigation, which will be passed to American and British authorities for possible action, there is a Parliamentary investigation under way in Britain (although it is currently stalled until the outcome of the Telegraph's appeal against the libel decision Galloway won against it in 2003. So it now looks inevitable that we'll have a demonstration of how much, or how little protection a big mouth provides against the wheels of justice, once they start to turn.

The Telegraph's carefully-worded editorial this morning isn't worded carefully enough to disguise a note of satisfaction...and perhaps a little relief: "Mr Galloway is rightly noted for the feistiness of his denials. But, as the Senate findings show, this has not quelled suspicion of wrongdoing. Many questions have still to be met. The case is far from being closed."

24 October 2005

Benny Avni, who is the New York Sun's Turtle Bay correspondent, predicts a strange struggle in the Security Council tomorrow when they discuss the report on the assassination of former Lebanese president Rafik Hariri. In a story headed How Annan Edited Mehlis, he writes: "American, French, and British diplomats will encounter resistance as they start the drive tomorrow to ensure that the Hafez al-Assad clan bears the consequences of its responsibility for the assassination of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri. And yes, UN Security Council defenders of Damascus will be subtly supported by Secretary-General Annan.

"How do I know this? Because prior to releasing a doctored version of Detlev Mehlis's report on Thursday, Mr. Annan said he wanted to avoid 'politicization' of the probe into the assassination of Hariri. In the region, the statement was taken to imply that Mr. Annan wanted to avoid any turmoil that might unseat the al-Assad clan. Some feared damning facts in the Mehlis report would be sacrificed to assure political stability.

"Indeed, shortly after Mr. Mehlis released his analysis that determined Syria and its allies in Lebanon were responsible for the February 14 murder of Hariri, Damascus dismissed the report as 'political.' The Baathists bolstered their argument by pointing out that Mr. Mehlis named no senior Syrian officials as responsible for the car bombing in Beirut that killed Hariri and 20 others...

"So why, despite the public denials, was Mr. Mehlis apparently urged by Mr. Annan to edit his report? In part, it is the convictions that were apparent in Mr. Annan's appeasement maneuvers leading up to the Iraq war. Faced with the possibility of an American-led forceful action that might upset the apple cart of Middle Eastern politics, Mr. Annan opted to rush to the aid of established rulers, no matter how odious...

"Another explanation has to do with internal UN politics, and specifically the so-called 'North-South' division. Mr. Annan is taunted by an ongoing American nagging at UN shortcomings. Even after he assumed a corner was turned on oil for food, for example, the investigations rage on in Congress and in the American court system. Mr. Annan assumes his natural allies are the poorer nations of the 'South', which will rush to the side of the Baathists. That last assumption, by the way, might turn out to be wrong after all, as most Arab capitals are about ready to write off Damascus.

"If the 'South' puts up a credible Security Council fight to save Mr. al-Assad's hide, it will be led by a northern capital, Moscow, which has Syrian interests. It will also be cheered from the sidelines by the secretary-general. Just as he did by helping Mr. Mehlis to do some creative editing, Mr. Annan will continue to oppose any muscular stance to oust the outlaw Syrian regime."

Meantime, the Damascus regime seems to be feeling the heat, if lashing out at its enemies is any guide. The Washington Times reports that: "A brutal beating delivered last week to Anwar al Bounni, one of the few lawyers who dares to represent political prisoners before Syria's security court, indicates that after a brief 'Damascus Spring,' the administration of President Bashar Assad is cracking down on dissent.

"Mr. al Bounni, a slight, quick-to-smile human rights lawyer from Damascus, was driving through the capital when his car was cut off by another vehicle. Several men jumped out, pulled Mr. al Bounni from his car and beat him around the head, leaving him dazed and badly bruised."

I can't help feeling that the American authorities must have held some kind of a briefing to lay out groundrules for the world's journalists on the Valerie Plame case - a meeting that I missed. There must be some kind of an agreement among the press not to mention that Joe Wilson was the last American ambassador in Baghdad before Operation Desert Storm in 1990. He once briefed reporters with a hangman's noose around his neck, instead of a tie, to thumb his nose at Saddam Hussein's threat to hang anyone who didn't hand foreigners over to him. This is not, as far as I know, the sort of thing good, experienced diplomats do, but then again, Wilson describes himself as 'a former hippie, surf bum and ski bum'.

So Wilson's an unlikely diplomat, his wife is a CIA agent who has experience with weapons of mass destruction, and is presumably in Baghdad with her husband while Saddam is at the height of his lunatic rule. Does this two, and that other two, make four? I mean, I don't want any part in the outing of operatives and all that, but something's going on here, dammit! Is Wilson himself an agent? Some of the more extraordinary aspects of this case might make more sense if people focused on this a little more. Why don't they?

The Wall Street Journal, meantime, is focusing on "What a bizarre irony it would be if what began as a politically motivated lie by Mr. Wilson nonetheless leads to indictments of Bush Administration officials for telling reporters the truth."

For list freaks - Time magazine's 100 best novels since 1923. That year was chosen because it was the year Time Magazine was founded, which will give you some idea of the fragility of the underpinnings of this piece. Without getting into specifics about which book should be on the list and which should not, this line-up has three further major flaws - it contains only books written in English, and it contains no poetry. That's two. The third is that it pays no attention to the way literature has developed. The list of books to which no other list comes close to is Cyril Connolly's The Modern Movement, which starts at about Flaubert and ends at about Hemingway and defines a period in literature as distinct as, say, impressionism in pictures. There isn't much question in my mind (fragile underpinnings again, I admit it) that Allen Ginsberg's reading of Howl can be counted (perhaps only iconically, but that's another story) as the start of another period in literature, through which we are now still living. So 1923 is arbitrary to the point of being...well, lets say unusual, so as not to give offence...and makes this list a bit of a pointless mishmash.

I missed this yesterday - a Claudia Rosett and George Russell piece on FOXNews which leads with this sentence: "The scandal engulfing the United Nations Procurement Department now appears to be bottomless. It also shows signs of growing more sinister, especially where it involves a mysterious private company called IHC Services, which did big business with the procurement department until it was removed from UN rosters in June." You'll understand why I'm including it today, even if it is by now old news.

23 October 2005

Syria is going to get another stiff slap around the ear from a second UN report being released this week, one written by UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen. He was asked to examine the extent of Syria's compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1559, which called on the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanese affairs. Israel's Haaretz feels this report may be even more damaging to Syria than this week's report on the Hariri assassination. According to "an unpublished report obtained by Haaretz...Roed-Larsen's report will place much more pressure on Syria than the Mehlis report because it states that Damascus did not genuinely implement Resolution 1559, preferring instead to maintain its indirect military control of Lebanon through its agents in the Lebanese presidential palace, the army and intelligence organizations."

On a related matter, the Washington Post has published an interesting piece this morning on Detlev Mehlis, the UN investigator probing the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister. The Post says he "has done what no Lebanese crime fighter could do: He has penetrated Syria's intelligence service, ordered the arrest of pro-Syrian generals and pursued suspects high up in Syrian President Bashar Assad's inner circle. The German prosecutor's inquiry has jolted Syrian political ranks and made Mehlis a hero among Syria's opponents in Lebanon, who are struggling to shake the last vestiges of Syrian domination over the country's political life. It has also made Mehlis, 55, the target of death threats."

An Observer columnist, Akin Ojumu, writes this morning that "There are such powerful feelings of guilt about racism in this country that it has become hard to talk openly about racial issues. Race is such an obvious difference that it puts an extra pressure on how we deal with it. We can't hide from it so let's be as inoffensive as possible.

"Over the past 50 years Britain has changed from a largely homogeneous population into a wonderfully diverse nation, but such rapid progress has left scars. To compensate for all the struggles endured by my parents' generation and the current one, we have decided that racism is society's greatest ill. Of all the isms, this is seen as the worst. Sexism, ageism, homophobia, Islamophobia certainly aren't tolerated in polite society but they don't carry the same stigma.

"The result is that talking about race is too often like tiptoeing through a minefield. If I give the impression or suggest that someone's views about race are simplistic, their reaction is to act so shocked that I usually feel obliged go on the defensive. And that annoys me. Why can't I suggest that someone isn't as liberal as they would like to think without causing a scene?"

His sensible comments are being read, coincidentally, a few hours after violence broke out in Birmingham between Asian and black youths. The cause seems to have been an attack on a young black woman by three Asian men. This story illustrates what columnist Ojumu says, in that it fails to identify the victim as black, or her attackers as Asian - something that is quite obviously important to an understanding of what went on.

The story does say that the area where rioting took place "has a strong African-Caribbean presence, the biggest contingent of which comes from Jamaica. Asian gangs have also sprung up in the area and there has been simmering tension between the two racial groups. Often trouble has related to drugs - mainly heroin - and gun crime. Asian gangs used to operate in partnership with black gangs. But the two sides have now evolved into opposing crime syndicates, and even the black gangs are divided and violent towards each other." That's another thing that needs to be brought out into the open and talked about - the extraordinary propensity of Jamaicans for violence and lawlessness. They're famous for it in the Caribbean, in the US and elsewhere. Kids in Bermuda who like to be thought of as tough affect a Jamaican accent. People don't like to talk about it because there are plenty of perfectly law-abiding Jamaicans whose sensibilities are easily offended. But it ought to be talked about. Quite apart from the obvious impact of that fact on public policy, there is the proposition that if Jamaicans are more inclined to be violent than other people, perhaps a reason can be discovered and dealt with.

New York Times Public Editor Byron Calame has published, as he promised, a column on the Judith Miller this morning. He doesn't pull punches - "...the journalistic practices of Ms. Miller and Times editors were more flawed than I had feared.

"The Times must now face up to three major concerns raised by the leak investigation: First, the tendency by top editors to move cautiously to correct problems about prewar coverage. Second, the journalistic shortcuts taken by Ms. Miller. And third, the deferential treatment of Ms. Miller by editors who failed to dig into problems before they became a mess."

Calame puts it politely, but plainly - he does not feel Miller ought to be allowed to be a reporter for the Times any longer. His column comes after a fairly abject mea culpa from editor Bill Keller, published yesterday, in which he admitted that he failed to deal with Miller as he should have.

But don't be fooled by this outpouring of honesty and admission from the Times - they are still trying hard not to touch on what really was driving this business. The Times allowed a reporter who its editors knew perfectly well was untrustworthy to get publicity for herself by pretending she was a saint persecuted by a cruel administration. The reason the Times did that was that it served their own little fantasy of riding up on a white horse to save journalism everywhere from the evil of being unfairly forced to reveal their sources by a cruel administration. The reason the whole thing fell apart was that both ambitions were houses built of cards.

I've got nothing to do with the Times, and I live a thousand miles from New York. If I knew all along that Judith Miller was a flake who should have been in some other business, then the editors and the staff of the paper most certainly knew, and all this business of Oh, Gosh, I Should Have Taken Action Earlier, is a crock. They knew going in what the deal was, but pretended not to have known because they felt they could keep Miller's Joan-of-Arc balloon in the air.

On top of that piece of nonsense, they tried to build another house of cards by suggesting it was an injustice that journalists should be forced to reveal their sources. Bullshit. Every journalist worth his salt knows that the cause of justice trumps the cause of journalism. It isn't often that in order to dispense justice, judges need to poke around in reporters' notebooks. But when they do need to, a reporter and his bosses have a choice - stand firm on whatever principle it is that is involved, in which case someone's probably going to have to go to jail, or give it up with as much grace as can be mustered. The notion that journalists ought to be above the law would fail in a primary school debate.


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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