...Views from mid-Atlantic
10 December 2005

Now here's a story: Scientists think a fissure that developed as a result of an earthquaqe in a barren region of Ethiopia in September may be the start of a new ocean. Since the thing's barely three months old and 13 feet wide at the moment, that seems a big jump to me, but the scientists are pretty confident. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes Dereje Ayalew, who leads the team of 18 scientists studying the phenomenon, as having said: "We believe we have seen the birth of a new ocean basin. This is unprecedented in scientific history because we usually see the split after it has happened. But here we are watching the phenomenon."

The Chronicle says "The findings have been presented at a weeklong American Geophysical Union meeting taking place in San Francisco that ends Friday...Dereje said that the split is the beginning of a long process, which will eventually lead to Ethiopia's eastern part tearing off from the rest of Africa, a sea forming in the gap. The Afar desert is being torn off the continent by about 0.8 inches each year.

"'The crust under Afar is becoming like the crust found in the Red Sea,' said Dereje, head of earth science at Addis Ababa University. 'Once the crust is formed you will have water because it is a low area and the water will migrate from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It becomes a basin.'"

The New York Times has finally winnowed its perfectly useless list of the 100 best books of the year down to ten. No real surprises...although to be honest, I wonder about the currently ubiquitous Haruki Murakami. I've only read one of his books, once, so the jury's still very much out, but I thought it was glib and lightweight.

The Conservatives in Britain have a new leader in David Cameron, and he seems to have captured the imagination of many in that country. Matthew Parris writes in the London Times that he's taken the tide at the right time. "Margaret Thatcher did not make Thatcherism, the Force did. John Major was not the architect of his downfall, the Force was. Tony Blair did not propel the rocket of his own rising: the Force did. Historians debate whether individuals matter in history. They do, but only in this sense: an epoch ripe for a Thatcher, a Blair or a Cameron may yet fail to find one.

"A new century, auditioning for an adequate Tory Dave, has looked in vain before now, and it is especially to the credit of this Dave that he has had the spirit and the guts to volunteer; but the qualities he is showing are, though impressive, not unique. Something bigger than him is on his side."

I saw the Night of the Iguana as a film, not a play, and it was so long ago that I can remember almost nothing about it. But as a play, says no less an authority than David Mamet, it's a piece of crap. His review is in the Guardian.

These two stories complement each other too well not to post them together. In the Weekly Standard Frederick W. Kagan, military historian and coauthor of While America Sleeps, argues that US chances for success in Iraq are good, and improving all the time.

"There is at this point at least as much evidence that the aggressive use of coalition forces is effective as that the presence of those forces is - as US critics insist - harmful. Desirable though the withdrawal of US forces is from both the American and the Iraqi perspectives, therefore, it must not be the first goal of US operations in Iraq. The truth is that calls for a precipitous retreat from Iraq, or for setting arbitrary deadlines or milestones for withdrawal, now threaten to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

And in the second, Victor Davis Hansen, whose credentials are too well-known to need repeating, thinks the Democrats are making a big mistake to be promoting the view that the US is on the verge of defeat. In the National Review, he writes: "Howard Dean, John Kerry, and Congressman Murtha represent the Democratic mainstream. And that's the problem. None of them can be characterized as embracing the Michael Moore/Cindy Sheehan fringe, and none are even prone to the wacky grandstanding of Jimmy Carter or Barbara Boxer. Yet what we get from the national chairman, the former presidential candidate, and the new popular icon - on the verge of the third and final election in Iraq - is a de facto admission that we are losing and must leave...

Yet "despite the heartbreak of 2,100 deaths, we are not just winning in Iraq, but on the verge of something far larger, and more permanent: not a return to the ancient caliphate or another dictatorship, but the real chance for the birth of a new Middle East that takes its place at last among responsible nations."

09 December 2005

Ghastly news for closet Christopher Robins everywhere - Hollywood's replacing him with a girl. The Times says it's because Christopher Robin just wouldn't sell. Disney, for a series marking the 80th anniversary of the publication of the first Winnie the Pooh story in the London Evening News, replaced him with a six-year-old girl.

Nancy Kanter, of the Disney Channel, is quoted elsewhere as having said: "We hope people will fall for this tomboyish girl. We got raised eyebrows, even in-house, at first. But the feeling was that these timeless characters needed a breath of fresh air that only the introduction of someone new could provide." The cartoon is still being written, so no name has been found for little creature. All that is clear so far is that she has red hair and blue eyes.

I can report that Eeyore's character remains untampered with, which will be a relief to some Pondblog readers.

The Jerusalem Post has given more details of the investigation that has started (see post yesterday) into the activities of the Black Hebrew Israelites in Israel, an organisation that has about two dozen Bermudian members. The newspaper reveals that while American authorities are investigating fraud involving HIC leader Ben-Ami Ben-Israel and his 11 "princes," or deputies, which runs into millions of dollars, the Israeli Police are conducting a parallel investigation into charges of fraud, child abuse and the forgery of identity cards and passports.

The Post comments that "The Israeli allegations are a product of the 2003 decision by then-interior minister Avraham Poraz to reverse the government's long-standing rejection of the Black Hebrews by granting them permanent resident status, which entitled them to receive NII benefits."

"The nation's capital is gearing up for its 'silly season' - that gauntlet of dinners from January through April that can launch a political star. Or not. The Christian Science Monitor takes a light-hearted look at the part jokes play. "Knock 'em dead at an event like the Gridiron Club or White House Correspondents' Dinner and a politician can become Steve Allen overnight. The right joke, deftly told, is also a preemptive strike. It can ease a scandal, derail an attack, or make someone more likable, even if they're not."

A variety of interpretations appear this morning of the Third Extraordinary Summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference at Mecca. This one, in the Christian Science Monitor, which highlights a speech by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who "urged the heads of 50 Muslim countries to work out a strategy for a Muslim renaissance...(and) called on Islamic countries to ban groups that preach violence or commit terrorist acts in the name of Islam."

The Guardian focuses on the "deep malaise" into which Muslim society has sunk: "'The Islamic nation is in a crisis,' the leaders said in a final statement. 'We need decisive action to fight deviant ideas because they are the justification of terrorism. There is a need to confront deviant ideology wherever it appears, including in school curriculums. Islam is the religion of diversity and tolerance.'"

And in the Washington Times, Claude Salhani, UPI's foreign editor, comments that "The American president, who is pushing for greater reform and democracy in the Arab world, may yet be getting his wish, albeit it may be coming at a far slower pace than he would like. One quasi-certainty is that the Middle East is unlikely to unilaterally adopt true democracy before the end of Mr. Bush's mandate.

Meantime, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is busy trying to wipe any progress made at the summit off the map by once again dipping into his strange little bag of virulent anti-Semitism.

People in the US and Europe have been turning a blind eye to criminal acts committed by those who claim to be fighting animal cruelty, or one ecological cause or another, but the war on terrorism seems to have nudged us into an understanding that terrorism is terrorism no matter what the cause. The New York Times reports that yesterday, "after years of investigation, federal officials announced one of the biggest roundups yet of people involved in a string of ecoterrorist attacks in the Pacific Northwest dating to 1998. Six people from five states, from New York to Washington, were arrested on Wednesday, and indicted on charges related to arson attacks and sabotage in Washington and Oregon, including the millennium eve destruction of a transmission tower owned by the Bonneville Power Administration.

"The arrests are intended to strike a blow against two related groups, the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, which have claimed responsibility for burning and bombing research facilities, timber operations and sport-utility vehicle dealers, among other targets."

08 December 2005

Harold Pinter's speech to the Nobel committee that awarded him the Nobel Prize for literature was more or less as you might have expected - a vicious, hysterical and muddleheaded attack on the United States. It makes you wonder whether George Bush would be as bad at writing plays is as Pinter is at making political judgements. But perhaps not for very long.

You can read the text of Pinter's speech here in the Guardian. The first 25% of it is about his plays, the rest about his politics.

I guess the real story here concerns the Nobel prize committee, which seems to have forgotten its purpose to reward excellence in literature, and now seems to be concentrating on rewarding people who share its members views on politics. Writers of the calibre of Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov died without being chosen for the prize, but second-rate hacks like Pinter, Dario Fo and last year's winner, Elfriede Jelinek, lefties all, are recognised.

Some time before this year's award was announced, one member of the Nobel committee resigned. Knut Ahnlund said he had resigned because of the choice of Jelinek the year before. He told the Swedish press that Jelinek's writing was "whining, unenjoyable, public pornography...a mass of text shoveled together without artistic structure." Giving Jelinek the prize, had "done irreparable damage to the Nobel Literature Prize, both to those who came before Elfriede Jelinek and those who come after her. Artistic ability has been set aside simply to play lackey to ideology."

But, you see, Jelinek's most recent play, Babel, is about Abu Ghraib. She is, like Pinter and Dario Fo, openly hostile to the Bush Administration. She's also a member of the Austrian Communist Party, so can be expected to have definite views about things like democracy and freedom of speech.

The Nobel Committee denies there is any political reason for their choices. But...look at what they do, don't listen to what they say.

The Washington Times is continuing its series of editorials on positive progress being made in Iraq this morning. "Najaf, Mosul and the Iraqi economy: These were the three pillars of President Bush's speech yesterday before the Council on Foreign Relations, and they are three of the best reasons why Howard Dean is utterly wrong to predict American defeat in Iraq. One wouldn't know it from the acrimonious debate in Washington, but the two former trouble spots are rapidly joining the 80 percent or so of Iraq that suffers little or no violence, while the Iraqi economy is looking better than it has in years."

Meantimes, the Heritage Foundation has posted on its website a research paper entitled "Dispelling the Myths About Iraq". This, as an example, is their take on the myth that the war in Iraq has set back the war on terrorism:

"Some critics contend that Iraq is a detour in the war on terrorism and a distraction from the hunt for Osama bin Laden, but this criticism is greatly overstated. The war in Iraq is a different type of struggle than the war against Al Qaeda. It has required different kinds of resources. Strategically, the US is certainly capable of engaging in multiple operations on a global level.

"True, some intelligence assets were diverted from the search for bin Laden to Iraq. But bin Laden had already gone underground, hunkering down on the Afghan-Pakistan border eighteen months before the Iraq war. And there is no evidence that bin Laden would have been caught had there been no war in Iraq.

"One often overlooked benefit of the war is that Iraq is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism. This is important because the United States cannot win the war on terrorism unless it eliminates or at least greatly reduces state support for terrorism. Al Qaeda, often held up as the premier example of 'stateless terrorism', actually was helped tremendously by the support of states. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the radical Islamic regime in Sudan provided crucial shelter that allowed Al Qaeda to develop into the global threat that it is today.

"Now Osama bin Laden has lost a potential ally, if not an actual ally, in Saddam's regime, which had a long and bloody history of supporting terrorists and many reported contacts with Al Qaeda. Moreover, free Iraqis increasingly are joining the fight against terrorism. Osama bin Laden's associates in Iraq clearly are worried about the expansion of the Iraqi security forces. A 2004 message from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, later was named Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, lamented Iraq's progress: 'Our enemy is growing stronger day after day and its intelligence information increases. By God, this is suffocation.'

"The war to liberate Iraq, coming after the successful war to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban, has disabused terrorists of the notion that the United States is a paper tiger. This perception was created by American withdrawals, following terrorist attacks, from peacekeeping operations in Lebanon and Somalia that did not involve vital American national interests.

"Another gain from the war is the effect that it has had on other rogue regimes. Libya was induced to disarm because of the Iraq war. In fact, Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi told Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that he moved forward after seeing what happened to Saddam's regime. Iran, also pushed by international pressure, decided to open its nuclear program to more inspections. Syria, caught red-handed in the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister, now is isolated and on the defensive.

While it is true that some Islamic extremists are going to Iraq to join the fighting, many of them would have ventured elsewhere to slaughter civilians had the Iraq war never occurred. As well, the indiscriminate murder of innocent Iraqis by Zarqawi's terrorists has undermined Al Qaeda's appeal throughout the Muslim world. Zarqawi's November 9, 2005, bombing of three hotels in Jordan outraged Jordanians and other Muslims, even those who previously had been sympathetic to Al Qaeda. While the war in Iraq has helped Al Qaeda's recruitment efforts, on balance it has helped the war on terrorism by depriving Osama bin Laden and other terrorists from receiving any future support from Saddam's regime.

"Now that Iraq has become, by Al Qaeda's own reckoning, a crucial front in the global war against terrorism, the United States and its allies cannot allow Zarqawi's thugs to establish a permanent base in Iraq. From there, Al Qaeda would be in a better position to penetrate the heart of the Arab world, threaten moderate Arab regimes, and disrupt Persian Gulf oil exports, than it enjoyed under the protection of Afghanistan's Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001. Finally, any 'exit strategy' from Iraq that is perceived by Muslims to be a victory for Al Qaeda would boost the group's ability to recruit new members far beyond the current rate."

The FBI and an organisation called the Diplomatic Security Service, which evidently operates out of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, are in the middle of an ongoing fraud investigation of the Black Hebrews of Dimona, according to the Jerusalem Post. Some 20 Bermudians are members of this group, including one who is said to have left Bermuda hurriedly and in disguise, to avoid being questioned by police investigating the 1973 murder of Bermuda's governor and other crimes.

Led by a man who calls himself Ben-Ami Ben-Israel - also known as Ben-Ami Carter, a former bus driver from Chicago - the group moved to Dimona in 1970 and has since attracted hundreds of additional African-Americans who have left the US and settled across the Negev Desert. Their core is made up of 350 African-Americans who emigrated first to Liberia in 1967 after Carter claimed to have seen in a vision that it was time to return to the Promised Land. But they moved three years later to Israel, claiming to be descendants of the ancient Israelites.

US authorities are investigating allegations of Social Security fraud and passport fraud, as most members of the closed community are American citizens and eligible to receive US benefits. The value of the fraud cases, authorities said, reaches into the millions of dollars. The group was reported by a newspaper here four years ago as having a thriving agriculture and tofu business. They evidently have guest houses spread throughout Israel and operate tours for tourists.

The Guardian is reporting this morning that "Syria is engaged in clandestine talks about reopening peace negotiations with Israel in an attempt to head off United Nations sanctions next week over its alleged role in the February assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

"Bashar Assad, the Syrian president," the paper says, "is being urged by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to restart bilateral talks with Israel that collapsed in 2000. Discussions were under way in Mecca yesterday at a summit of the Islamic Conference Organisation, chaired by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and attended by most Arab heads of government."

07 December 2005

True to its word, the Washington Times published this morning the first of what it promises will be a series of editorials concerning the more positive side of the news coming out of Iraq. In the same issue, columnists Helle Dale and Cal Thomas take a look at the fuss surrounding reports that the American military is paying the Iraqi press to publish stories about American Forces there. What's the big deal? is the conclusion both of them come to.

And in the Weekly Standard, staffer Edward Morrissey observes that "Since Rep. John Murtha made his supposedly stunning announcement that he wanted an immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq, the Democrats have embraced surrender." He asks, "When was the last time that an entire political party stood for backpedaling the way the Democrats have in the past two weeks?"

The Kuiper Belt, where Pluto orbits, is the largest structure in our planetary system, containing over 100,000 miniature worlds and worldlets that trace their history back to the formation era of the planets. It is often called the 'Third Zone' of our planetary system, for it lies beyond both the inner zone of rocky planets like Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, and the middle zone containing the giant planets-Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. It is such a treasure trove for science that the National Research Council ranked the exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt as its highest priority planetary science mission objective for this decade.

SpaceDaily says we're off next month. "The objectives of the New Horizons mission are to make the first reconnaissance of planet Pluto (the only unexplored planet) and its moons, and to then explore onward, into the vast, ancient, and icy disk of other bodies that Pluto orbits with on the frontier of our planetary system-the so-called Kuiper Belt."

US Ambassador John R Bolton has reiterated that UN reforms are lagging far behind Washington's expectations, and re-affirmed the Bush administration's intention to delay the UN budget if necessary. The Washington Times says "Bolton said in an interview that Washington cannot allow the $3.6 billion spending plan to pass unless it reflects the reforms.

"'We don't want to be in a position where we approve a biennium budget for two years and then find ourselves clawing from behind trying to make up the reforms,' Bolton said...'The way you focus people's attention is by combining the reform work with the budget,' he said."

I should have taken the time to find the text of Donald Rumsfeld's speech of the day before yesterday, in which he took the press to task for distorting news from Iraq. It's longer, more detailed and more forceful than the coverage suggested. The Wall Street Journal liked it sufficiently to run it in full. Sample: "Imagine the world our children would face if we allowed Zawahiri, Zarqawi, bin Laden and others of their ilk to seize power or operate with impunity out of Iraq. They would turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was before 9/11 - a haven for terrorist recruitment and training and a launching pad for attacks against US interests and our fellow citizens. Iraq would serve as the base of a new Islamic caliphate to extend throughout the Middle East and to threaten legitimate governments throughout the world. This is their plan. They have said so. We should listen and learn.

"Quitting is not a strategy. Quitting is an invitation to more attacks and more terrorist violence here at home. This is not just an hypothesis. The US withdrawal from Somalia emboldened Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. We know this. He has said so.

"The message retreat in Iraq would send to the free people of Iraq and to moderate Muslim reformers throughout the region would be that they can't count on America. The message it would send to our enemies would be: that if America will not defend itself against terrorists in Iraq, it will not defend itself against terrorists anywhere.

"What is needed is resolve, not retreat; courage, not concession. Rather than thinking in terms of an exit strategy, we should be focused on a strategy for success. The president's strategy focuses on progress on the political, economic, and security tracks. You can read that strategy paper on the White House's Web site."

The Wall Street Journal has some harsh words for Europeans who are exercised about secret prisons and 'ghost' rendition flights connected to the war on terror. In an editorial, the Journal says: "One of Europe's moral conceits is to fret constantly about the looming outbreak of fascism in America, even though it is on the Continent itself where the dictators seem to pop up every couple of decades. Then Europe dials 9-11, and Washington dutifully rides to the rescue. The last time was just a few years ago, as US firepower stopped Slobodan Milosevic, who had bedeviled Europe for years.

"In return, it would be nice if once in a while Europe decided to help America with its security problem, especially since Islamic terrorism is also Europe's security problem. But instead the US Secretary of State has to put up with lectures about the phony issue of 'secret' prisons housing terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans...

"If the Secretary of State weren't so diplomatic, she'd cancel her tour and say she won't come back until the Continent's politicians decide to grow up."

06 December 2005

Responding to Donald Rumsfeld's scolding of the press yesterday, the Washington Times says it is going to run "daily editorials" on unreported good news from Iraq, starting tomorrow: "We don't yet know whether Washington is in the process of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But certainly the jaws of defeat are not agape, except among Washington naysayers. Part of our answer to the contortions will be a series of daily editorials...

Rumsfeld quoted from new data that shows American politicians are increasingly out of step with the American public on Iraq. "The Pew data's general-public findings show that Americans as a whole haven't succumbed to political-class pessimism," the Times said. "A majority of Americans are still optimistic about the future of Iraq. The study, released on Nov. 17, found a 56 percent to 37 percent split in the affirmative on the question of whether the United States will ultimately succeed in forging a free and democratic Iraq...

"Presumably people on the ground in Iraq - Iraqis themselves and U.S. servicemen - would know if the facts warranted it. But both are notably more bullish than the politicians and media. The Pew study didn't look at Iraqi opinion, but last month, in a study Mr. Rumsfeld did not cite, the International Republican Institute found that 47 percent of Iraqis think the country is heading in a positive direction, compared to 37 percent who said it wasn't. Fifty-six percent believe that things will improve in six months' time. That judgment is echoed by military leaders, who are optimistic by a margin of 64 percent to 32 percent and are, by many accounts, downright puzzled by the acrimonious finger-pointing in Washington.

"Compare all this to the relative pessimism of the intelligenstia and political classes. Sixty-three percent of journalists think the Iraq effort will fail; so do 71 percent of foreign-policy think-tankers and academics. 'Jarring' was the word Mr. Rumsfeld used to describe the contrast between what Americans hear and read about Iraq and what Iraqis actually think. The description is apt."

"A leading gay Jamaican Aids activist was abducted and murdered by gunmen on the eve of World Aids Day in what appears to have been a homophobic attack." This Guardian report says "Gunmen forced their way into Steve Harvey's house, according to eyewitness reports, demanded money and then forced him to carry valuables to his car outside. One asked Mr Harvey and his two flatmates if they were gay. Two of them denied it and were tied up and left in the house. Mr Harvey was bundled into the car and found two hours later shot dead. The police have not yet released a report and could not be contacted yesterday."

Condoleeza Rice's remarks before leaving for Europe yesterday were straighforward and clear. The US does not use torture. The US does not transport suspects to other countries in order to be able to torture them. Renditions are legal, in international law, and have often been used by the US and other countries over decades. You can read a transcript of her remarks here. She was effective, I thought, in restating the dilemma that terrorists cause: "Protecting citizens is the first and oldest duty of any government. Sometimes these efforts are misunderstood. I want to help all of you understand the hard choices involved, and some of the responsibilities that go with them.

"One of the difficult issues in this new kind of conflict is what to do with captured individuals who we know or believe to be terrorists. The individuals come from many countries and are often captured far from their original homes. Among them are those who are effectively stateless, owing allegiance only to the extremist cause of transnational terrorism. Many are extremely dangerous. And some have information that may save lives, perhaps even thousands of lives.

"The captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice, which were designed for different needs. We have to adapt. Other governments are now also facing this challenge.

"We consider the captured members of al-Qaida and its affiliates to be unlawful combatants who may be held, in accordance with the law of war, to keep them from killing innocents. We must treat them in accordance with our laws, which reflect the values of the American people. We must question them to gather potentially significant, life-saving, intelligence. We must bring terrorists to justice wherever possible."

The UN has begun questioning five top Syrian officials over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Yahoo News quotes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as saying he expects the UN commission of enquiry to "correct its mistakes". He's referring to one witness who publicly recanted his testimony last week, saying he'd been paid to lie by Hariri's son. Another witness, Assad's brother-in-law, was not delivered up for questioning, and a third witness (it's not known whether he was on the UN's list) was murdered in Lebanon several days ago.

05 December 2005

Columnist Mona Charen joins what is becoming, I hope, a chorus of voices raised against the CIA's war on the Bush Administration with a piece in the Washington Times. "Though the CIA has steadily leaked damaging stories about the Bush administration since September 11, 2001, it has crossed a new threshold with a leak that severely damages CIA activities and arguably harms national security - just to cripple George W Bush.

"Most people outside the Beltway, as well as many within it, still think of the CIA as the home of swashbuckling hard-liners who break all the rules to advance US national interests. Not in this century. As attorney and former counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee Victoria Toensing put it, 'Derring-do is dead'. When she interviewed a CIA station chief in a major country, he bragged about his operatives' diversity rather than their accomplishments. Political correctness reigns in the US government at every level, and the CIA is no exception.

"The result is an agency conducting a steady leak campaign against President Bush designed to discredit the Iraq war and undermine the war on terror."

Self-healing software? Red Herring says IBM's the first to ride a wave that is expected to be the big thing in software in the coming five years.

An interesting piece in the New York Times that I missed over the weekend. Janet Maslin is having a crack at assessing the literary movement called, at the time, New Journalism, and coming to the conclusion that although a lot of very talented writers were said to be part of it, perhaps it wasn't a movement after all. You might not think that's such great news, since you've thought along those very lines for years, but Maslin was the first to write it, so she gets the credit.

I wonder if this ridiculous story, which appears only in the Guardian this morning, has anything to do with Gordon Brown's budget woes. Here's what it says: "Five trillion dollars has been corruptly removed from the world's poorest countries and lodged permanently in the world's richest countries. That is the 'conservative estimate' not of a leftwing anti-globalisation activist but of a leading American businessman and enthusiast for capitalism who has just completed a major study of how multinational corporations, wealthy individuals and unscrupulous governments are using the world's banking systems in ways that spread poverty."

Having read this kind of spin before, I'd say that what this really is is the beginning of yet another attempt by Mr Brown and the European Union to tax money which has been perfectly lawfully and reasonably stored out of their reach in low-tax jurisdictions by people who are tired of being singled out to have to pay for bloated, inefficient and corrupt governments which are determined to resist every attempt at reform. One of these days, maybe, they'll learn that the only way they're going to keep that money in their own jurisdictions is to tax it at rates which are competitive.

The former managing director of the company that owns the Daily Telegraph was enthusiastic about its takeover by the Barclay brothers when it happened, but has changed his mind. Writing today in the Guardian, he spells out what he thinks the brothers are doing wrong. A sample: "Editorially, the new management has paid a heavy price, both in luring new names at inflated salaries, and in losing key talent; it was a bad week when both Neil Collins and Paul Hayward accepted alternative platforms for their sublime prose. Should Matt Pritchett or Henry Winter decide that the time is right to listen to one of their many well-heeled suitors, the must-reads of the Telegraph will be further depleted. Can the Telegraph afford to lose Boris Johnson to politics? Or Tom Utley to anyone? An irony of recent mismanagement is that Martin Newland, a consumer-focused, modern editor, thoroughly in tune with the goal to lure a law-abiding but angry middle-class readership (from the Mail?), finally walked away from the incompetence and power struggles that overshadowed his dream job. He will rise again, while the title he leaves behind may struggle."

US law schools have a policy of not allowing military recruiters onto their campuses, apparently because they think the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy is discriminatory against gays, despite being the current law of the land. It's a policy that is about to be tested in the US Supreme Court. Tomorrow, the court will hear an appeal from a 2-1 decision by the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to condition its funding to universities on military recruiters being afforded equal access to students. The case developed from an attack on the Solomon Amendment, enacted by Congress in 1994, which mandates that federal funds should be withheld from any university in which any part (for example, a law school) denies military recruiters that access.

Here are two analyses of the case, the first written by the director of the Center for Individual Rights, who has submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case, published in the Wall Street Journal. The second is from Peter Berkowitz, who teaches at George Mason University School of Law, and who writes in the National Review.

04 December 2005

It's Los Angeles, so I suppose when local writers are asked to name the books they most enjoyed during the year, you're bound to get this sort of hokum: "When my marriage to Salman Rushdie failed...I wrote to Joan Didion in the wake of that despair. I got it in my head that, if I could write it out, I could control it and survive it. I got it in my head that I would write a book about writing couples - Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Mary McCarthy and Edmund Wilson, Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, Didion and John Gregory Dunne. I got it in my head that if I could ask Didion and Dunne how they held their marriage together as two writers, their answers might heal my scars."

But it's not all like that by a long shot. If you read this long article in the LA Times, you'll learn that LA-ians are pretty sophisticated readers. Here are three samples, chosen only slightly less than randomly:

Phillip Lopate: The best book published this year, in my opinion, is The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch (Alfred A. Knopf), which gathers all 10 collections printed in the lifetime of this marvelous American poet, who died in 2002. Koch sought to reinvent American poetry by letting in 'fresh air', eliminating mythic solemnity and styling a conversational vernacular ablaze with wit and linguistic surprise. He was by far the funniest of his contemporaries, which may have cost him the full regard of the academy because of a puritanical prejudice that the comic is a lesser mode. Believe me, he is a major poet - the equal of Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop and John Ashbery, as this generous volume proves. He is also full of sincerity and feeling when he wants to be. He can break your heart; he can do it all.

David Halberstam: I'm an inveterate reader of serious detective novels, particularly when I'm deep in my own work and tired at the end of the day. This summer, I picked up a copy of 36 Yalta Boulevard by Olen Steinhauer (St. Martin's Minotaur), a detective novel set behind the Iron Curtain. Steinhauer is a young American writer who spent time in Romania on a Fulbright listening closely to old stories of the worst of times, and he has now fashioned a precinct house all his own out of that world. What he's created is a group of detectives, all with secrets and vulnerabilities, at work in an Eastern European country in the early 1950s, dealing with the political burden of the Stalinist years. Some of the names are Hungarian, some Polish, some Czech, and the setting feels like Budapest. His people are real, the crimes genuine, and he is telling larger truths about that era, making it unusually accessible.

John Banville: Georges Simenon is a recent discovery for me - not the Maigret books, but what Simenon called his romans durs, such as Dirty Snow and Three Bedrooms in Manhattan - and hard they are indeed. The latest of these New York Review Books reissues, Tropic Moon (translated from the French by Marc Romano) is a dark masterpiece set among French colonials in heart-of-darkness Gabon in the early 1930s. Cruel, erotic, frightening and superb.

All I can tell you about this book is that it has a great cover. But two of Pondblog's readers have sent me emails drawing attention to the controversy that has arisen over its accuracy. I dunno, Mao=monster seems a no-brainer to me, but there's no question there's a-hell-of-a flapping going on over whether the authors got the degree of monstrosity right. At least that's what The Observer says it's about (you never know in the publishing game, do you?).

"It was a summer publishing sensation, an 814-page biography of a man the authors depict as the worst mass murderer of the 20th century, with 111 pages of notes and bibliography. Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang, celebrated author of the world bestseller, Wild Swans, and her husband, historian Jon Halliday, was hailed by reviewers, most of whom were not specialists on China. The book was described as 'a triumph', 'stupendous' and 'awesome' when it was published in Britain. UK sales have reached 60,000.

"But now the authors find themselves in a bitter battle with some of the world's leading China experts, who have united to unleash a barrage of criticism of the book in general, and, in particular, of its sourcing - the subject of a ten-point reply from the authors in the forthcoming edition of the London Review of Books."

I really enjoyed this Guardian piece by the refreshingly strange Paul Broks, a leading neuropsychologist who has written books and, apparently, a play about the workings of brain. "...Our deepest intuitions about what it means to be a person," he writes, "are based on an illusion. There is no inner essence, no ego, no observing 'I', no ghost in the machine. The story is all and, moreover, the story is enough. It was nothing personal. I've reeled off my litany of self-annihilation ad nauseam since Into the Silent Land was published...

"Didn't I find it depressing, someone once asked, to see myself as a vacant, soulless machine? No, I find it inspirational - at least I do when I stop to think about the unfathomably intricate device that packs my skull and the chasm that separates our knowledge of its workings from the universe of experience it generates. Being a machine does not stop me getting on with the things that matter."

Man, that stands a Sunday morning up to attention, doesn't it?

I link to this story in the Globe and Mail about the death of the founder of Toronto's radio station CHUM, not only because it was so important to me (I went to school in Canada) and to millions of people then and since, but also because of my appreciation for a television production company the late Allan Waters founded with another Canadian, Moses Znaimer. Much Music isn't known nearly as well as it should be, but I think it produces some of the most sophisticated stuff about music available today. The Much Music programmes I've seen compromise not at all with the supposedly low intelligence level of television audiences, and so are able to give an absolutely level and clear picture of their subjects. Even if they happen to pick someone not very clever to focus on, you're left at the end knowing you've just watched something rather special. So bravo, that man.

Somebody in this story about Barney Rosset, the legendary owner of the Grove Press, is quoted as having said of him: "when you start getting into Barney's world, it's this labyrinth that you never get out of. He's so utterly connected to so many important things in 20th-century culture that it just doesn't stop. You could go on forever.'"

That about nails it. You can read the story because you want to learn from and be inspired by a man who was...still is, obviously...a giant among pipsqueaks, or you can read it because you're interested in this tryptich of films he's putting out - The Evergreen Trilogy, with works by Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Harold Pinter. (I have reservations about grouping a second-rater like Pinter with the likes of Beckett and Ionesco, but in the circumstances, that's probably just a little cavil.)

The New York Times on the fading from seriousness of intelligent design: "...as a field of inquiry (it) is failing to gain the traction its supporters had hoped for. It has gained little support among the academics who should have been its natural allies. And if the intelligent design proponents lose the case in Dover, there could be serious consequences for the movement's credibility.

"On college campuses, the movement's theorists are academic pariahs, publicly denounced by their own colleagues. Design proponents have published few papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals."

I particularly liked this footling, dishonest analysis of why design failed by John G. West, who the Times describes as a political scientist and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, the main organization supporting intelligent design. He says "the skepticism and outright antagonism are evidence that the scientific 'fundamentalists' are threatened by its arguments."


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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