...Views from mid-Atlantic
17 December 2005

Victor Davis Hansen has another of his excellent columns in the National Review this morning. "For some time," he writes, "a large number of Americans have lived in an alternate universe where everything is supposedly going to hell. If you get up in the morning to read the New York Times or Washington Post, watch John Murtha or Howard Dean on the morning talk shows, listen to National Public Radio at noon, and go to bed reading Newsweek it surely seems that the administration is incommunicado (cf. 'the bubble'), the war is lost ('unwinnable'), the Great Depression is back ('jobless recovery'), and America about as popular as Nazi Germany abroad ('alone and isolated')."

He couldn't have seen it when he wrote the article, but this morning's New York Times editorial, whose lead paragraph is "Iraq's Election Day was a glorious success. Now on to the hard part," is an excellent example of a newspaper determined to turn a silk purse back into a pig's ear.

But, writes Hansen, "In the face of that growing ulcer of discontent, we quietly kept on killing terrorists, promoting elections in Iraq, pressuring Arab autocracies to democratize, and growing the economy. All that is finally lancing the boil, here and abroad - and what was in there all along is now slowly oozing out, making the cure seem almost as gross as the malady."

Salman Rushdie reviews an exhibition of paintings by the Italian abstract painter Francesco Clemente. The Guardian says (it didn't mean it this way, but I'm a journalist, so a little book-cooking is almost expected, no?): "The results are irresistible." Actually, the results are like watching a magnificent display of fireworks:

"What is it about Italians and Indians? Because if the best kind of comedy is the comedy of recognition, the laughter that comes when we think, yes, it is like that, things are so and we are thus, then in India there is often a recognition-comedy of this sort between Indians and Italians, because sometimes Indians, when looking upon Italian visitors, feel that we are looking into a sort of mirror, as if we were seeing ourselves in translation; we recognise something, perhaps, in the gesticulations, or the volubility, or the love of mothers, or the poetry, or the gusto of the eating, or the high pitch of the speech, or the caste system, or the vehemence, or the quickness of the temper, and we think, some Indians think, that perhaps, if only we drank wine, we would be those people, perhaps Italians are just Indians who drink wine. Consequently in India it is sometimes said to Italians that they, the Italians, are the Indians of Europe. Usually of course it is said to make these visitors feel at home and so it is a form of Indian politeness - and there are so many forms of Indian politeness, including ones that are really insults - but this one contains enough truth to merit repetition. And if the Italians are the Indians of Europe then the Indians are the Italians of Asia and not only because we are both southerners, Indians and Italians, not only because we each hang off the bottom of our continent of origin, Italy like a giant leg, India like a giant, dripping nose. And standing upon the Italian-Indian border, that fantastic frontier, straddling, or, better, leaping back and forth across this imaginary borderline, smiling his wicked commedia dell'arte smile, at once satyr-like and iconic - satyriconic - is Francesco Clemente, mingler of the two worlds, artist of spiritual cynicism and erotic chastity, or perhaps of cynical spiritualism and chaste eroticism, his face hanging hugely above his dreamscapes like the moon."

You can see a half-dozen pages of images of Francesco Clemente works on this artnet page. You can buy Salman Rushdie's stuff at any bookstore.

Leo McGarry, the Bartlet administration's White House chief of staff in The West Wing, has died of a heart attack. He was a big piece of the backbone of that program, playing a role which fit him like a glove. I'm sure they'll find someone else, but it won't be the same. The Globe and Mail quotes Toby Zeigler as having said of him: "He was one of those rare combinations of divinely gifted and incredibly generous. There are very few personal treasures that you put in your knapsack to carry with you for the rest of your life, and he's one of those."

Rudy Giuliani complains about the Senate's failure to renew the Patriot Act, in a surprisingly flat opinion piece in the New York Times. It hits all the right points, it's nicely put together and easy to read, but...the words seem so tired. I suspect it's another example of the way writing by committee can suck the juice out what you say.

"Yesterday the Senate failed to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, as a Democratic-led filibuster prevented a vote. This action - which leaves the act, key elements of which are due to expire on December 31, in limbo - represents a grave potential threat to the nation's security. I support the extension of the Patriot Act for one simple reason: Americans must use every legal and constitutional tool in their arsenal to fight terrorism and protect their lives and liberties.

"The attacks of September 11, 2001, made clear that the old rules no longer work. The terrorists who attacked us seek to kill innocent men, women and children of all races and creeds. They seek to destroy our liberties. They willingly kill themselves in their effort to bring death and suffering to as many innocents as they can, here in this country or anywhere in the world where freedom has a foothold."

16 December 2005

Walter E. Williams, who is a professor of economics at George Mason University and a nationally syndicated columnist, says it's time that black people hold fellow blacks accountable for squandering opportunities won by those who fought for civil rights. In the Washington Times, he writes that the progress made in the field of civil rights "not only speaks well of the determination and intestinal fortitude of a people, but also of a nation in which such gains were possible.

"For a large segment of the black community, these gains remain elusive. The gains will remain elusive so long as black civil rights and political leadership blame and focus their energies on discrimination. While discrimination exists, the relevant question is how much of what we see can be explained by it. A 70 percent illegitimacy rate, 60 percent of black children raised in female-headed households, high crime and poor school performance have devastating consequences. This level of pathology cannot be attributed to discrimination, considering that much of it was absent in earlier times when there was far more discrimination, greater poverty and fewer opportunities.

"It's time that black people hold fellow blacks accountable for squandering opportunities won at a high cost by our ancestors. Failing to do so makes all blacks complicit in the betrayal."

Eliot Spitzer seems to have got Hank Greenberg's goat in a big way. After stories appeared all over the world yesterday quoting Spitzer as alleging Greenberg had abused his position as executor of a colleague's will, Greenberg went on the offensive. Stories are appearing all over the world today, suggesting that Spitzer's charges are nothing more than an electioneering publicity stunt. He told the Washington Post in person. "In response to Spitzer's allegations, which were made in a report to the Starr Foundation's board, Greenberg summoned a reporter to the Starr Foundation's wood-paneled offices on Manhattan's Park Avenue for a rare interview. Surrounded by aides and drinking herbal tea from a porcelain cup, the trim and combative 80-year-old denounced the attorney general's tactics as a betrayal of long-standing legal principles against using prosecutorial powers for political gain.

"Greenberg said Spitzer made public the Starr Foundation report in part because late last month he had been forced to concede that he will not bring criminal charges against Greenberg for alleged accounting and other improprieties stemming from his time at AIG and will pursue instead only civil remedies. Also, Greenberg said, Spitzer was simply seeking publicity for his declared bid to become New York's governor; the election is next year.

"'It's simple: He's running for another office,' Greenberg said. 'It has nothing to do with right or wrong.'

"Under New York law, the attorney general is the primary regulator of the state's 60,000 charities. In a letter to the Starr Foundation with the report, Spitzer recommended that the group appoint an independent committee to investigate the transactions. Greenberg said he expected the foundation's board to agree to that request and said he had recused himself from the matter.

In what seems to have been a telephone interview with the New York Sun, Greenberg criticised Spitzer for making the allegations in a press release, rather than in court. "'The proper place to make allegations is in a courtroom,' Mr. Greenberg said. 'To choose this forum to do it is simply inappropriate.'

"Mr. Greenberg said that the assets of the foundation had grown from $1 million when Cornelius Vander Starr died in 1968 - plus another $15 million if one includes the value of Starr's estate - to $3.5 billion today. In addition, over that period, the foundation gave away $2 billion.

"'To suggest that we did something improper not only is an outrage, it's an insult,' Mr. Greenberg said. 'Everybody should be outraged by it.'"

The European Union, according to analysis published in the London Times, is setting the stage for taking company tax away from individual European nations and setting the rates itself. This is a subject that has come up on Pondblog several times. What the EU is seeking to prevent is to have economic reforms forced upon them by a situation in which countries vie for company registrations, for example, by setting competitive rates of company tax.

"Tax is, in theory, the preserve of member states. Largely for historical reasons, the European Commission has some rights over VAT rules and what rates can be levied. It guards these rights so jealously and exercises them so zealously, not least through frequent resort to the European Court of Justice, that most finance ministries are more determined than ever to retain autonomy.

"Undeterred, Mr Kovacs (Laszlo Kovacs, the EU's Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union) is preparing a common set of rules for company tax, the so-called tax base. In Brussels, this week's European Court judgment in the Marks & Spencer case is seen as another lever to justify and hasten a common company tax regime.

"The driving force behind Mr Kovacs's plan is not companies but France and the last German Government. They called for harmonisation of tax rates to put a stop to tax competition from new members states from East and Central Europe, several of which have brought in flat tax rates below 20 per cent. Harmonising rules and the tax base is the key because it can be done without unanimity. By using 'enhanced co-operation', the regime can be standardised in most of the EU, bypassing recalcitrants such as the Irish Republic, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia and Britain.

"As the former German finance minister made clear, however, promoters of a common tax base see it as 'the first necessary step towards full harmonisation of tax rates'. That presents a dilemma for business akin to entry into the euro.

"For individual companies, a common tax regime could save a lot of costly bother and appealing to the European Court to assert EU authority over domestic tax laws can cut bills. But for business as a whole, a uniform tax regime could not be changed readily to tackle new priorities arising from changes in the economy, trade or competitiveness. And tax rates would be harmonised up, not down."

In an editorial today, the Wall Street Journal says: "We're increasingly confident that victory in Iraq is not only possible but likely. The biggest threat to winning now is in Washington, DC.

"Let's hope that with their tremendous vote yesterday Iraqis delivered faint-hearted US politicians the necessary dose of fortitude. Let's also hope this election mutes the Howard Deans, Jack Murthas and others who say the war is 'unwinnable'. The scope of yesterday's vote shows again that the insurgency lacks any broad base of support inside Iraq. If a new government is skillful in accommodating Sunni demands for representation and for sharing oil revenues, the terrorist room to operate will further shrink. There's a reason Abu Musab al-Zarqawi worried in a letter last year that 'Democracy is coming, and there will be no excuse \[for violence\] thereafter.'"

The Journal isn't the only newspaper to have caught the victory vibe. The Jerusalem Post says: "Even in neighboring countries, such as Oman and Kuwait, the Iraqi elections are being dubbed 'historic' and a hopeful harbinger for the region.

"Regional dictators are less enthusiastic. As the preeminent historian of the region, Bernard Lewis, speaking of the European fear that democracy would not work, put it this week, 'There is a much more deadly fear in the Middle East that democracy in Iraq will work, and the fact that it is working relatively well is why that shabby collection of tyrants who rule most of the Middle East are dead scared.' Lewis continued, 'When the terrorists attack a wedding party in Amman, these are desperate measures. They feel they're losing. And they are.'

"It is becoming increasingly evident that, while Iraqi democracy is hardly out of the woods yet, the horrendous terrorism that nation has suffered has not, and most probably will not, succeed in derailing the democratic process. This is remarkable, and has tremendous implications for the future of the region and even the world.

"In Iraq, there could not be a more head-on collision between terrorism and democracy, and democracy is winning. If anything, there is a danger of Iraqis' hopes and expectations for their new found freedom running too high, and that the messiness and inefficiency of democratic politics will disappoint.

"Such worries, however, are a luxury that this region a short time ago would not have been able to contemplate. Having lived under a tyrant who murdered them by the millions, Iraqis know this. Indeed, even if Iraq's new government gets off to a rocky start, it will not change what has already been demonstrated: that Arabs are not exempt from the human desire for freedom and democracy.

"It is in this context that what is going on closer to home, among our Palestinian neighbors, is both illustrative and disappointing. On the one hand, Palestinians are paying Israel the ultimate compliment by attempting to mimic our politics, going as far as holding the first party primaries to be seen in the Arab world. On the other, the widespread anarchy - as pictures of masked and armed Fatah militias emptying the election commission of its computers underline - should remind us that it is simply not possible to build a democracy where there is no rule of law."

15 December 2005

Caroline Glick yesterday, now Claudia Rosett today. The veteran reporter according to the New York Sun, was honoured by the Center for Security Policy, which gave its Mightier Pen Award to her.

"Rosett, who is journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, was honored particularly for her reporting on the U.N. oil-for-food scandal. The Mightier Pen Award recognizes writers who have stressed the necessity of military strength and robust US national security policies for international peace. Previous recipients of the award are William F. Buckley Jr., A.M. Rosenthal, Charles Krauthammer, and Mark Helprin."

Nathan Lane is half of the Nathan Lane-Matthew Broderick team that took Broadway by storm with its adaptation of Mel Brooks' comedy, The Producers. Ryan Gilbey of the Guardian interviewed him and published the very readable results this morning: "Six years ago, Nathan Lane went out of town with Mel Brooks, brainstorming gags for a Broadway adaptation of Brooks's bad-taste comedy The Producers. Lane had been cast in the show as Max Bialystock, the unscrupulous impresario with dollar signs in his eyes, Brilliantine in his comb-over and disappointment in his heart. He and Brooks hung out, made each other laugh, had dinner together. All went swimmingly until Lane's suggestions for the lyrics of Max's big number, The King of Broadway, made his collaborator bristle."

Iraqis go to the polls today, and early turnout reinforces a sense that some kind of corner is being turned over there. This little roundup starts with Peggy Noonan, who was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior. She recalls, in a piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning, that "Pat Buchanan said a few months ago something bracing in its directness. He said a constitution doesn't make a country; a country makes a constitution. But today, in the voting, we may see more of the rough beginnings of a new exception to that rule. News reports both in print and on television also seem to be suggesting a turn. They seem to suggest a new knowledge on the ground in Iraq that democracy is inevitable, is the future, and if you don't want to be left behind you'd better jump in. One senses a growing democratic spirit. A sense that daring deeds can produce real progress.

"'Tis devoutly to be wished, and all of good faith must wish it."

The Washington Times thinks that involvement of Sunni Muslims in this vote is a key part of that progress: "Sunnis are expected to turn out in droves this time around. This was the critical missing factor from January's otherwise highly successful vote. Back then, Sunnis obeyed fatwas by clerics to boycott the vote. But this time, as many as a thousand Sunni clerics have issued fatwas urging followers to participate. Turnout could top 80 percent in some Sunni areas.

"That paves the way for Sunni leaders to begin working wholeheartedly within the system, and that offers hope for ending the insurgency. Yesterday, Saleh al-Mutlek, a Sunni and a man regarded by some insurgents as an ally, told the Financial Times that the election will open the door for negotiations between the United States and Sunni leaders for the eventual curbing of violence. Mr. Mutlek has in mind a US pullout - he wants to 'convince them that they should withdraw from the cities' - but the fact that insurgent allies are even talking about negotiations suggests the enemy is starting to regard Iraq's constitutional government as permanent."

DEBKAfile says those negotiations have already begun, in secret: "For the first since the US-led invasion of March 2003, post-Saddam Iraq stands on the threshold of a genuine tipping point. This is because the Sunni Arabs have finally made up their minds to vote in the Dec. 15 election for the 275-seat National Assembly that will determine the shape of Iraq's regime...

"Nizhar al-Dulaimi, the Sunni businessman and founder of the Iraqi Progressive Party was the main go-between in the US-insurgent exchanges. He had actively urged Sunni voters to turn out. Tuesday, he was murdered in an ambush laid for his convoy in Ramadi. But by then his work had borne fruit.

"Our sources report that the important Islamic Front for Iraqi Resistance - JAME - issued new guidelines. One calls on JAME members to break off ties with Abu Musab al Zarqawi's followers, namely al Qaeda; another, with an eye to the future, orders adherents to desist from attacks on infrastructure and national resources such as oilfields and pipelines.

"DEBKAfile's military sources say it is too soon to say whether these directives are carrying weight on the ground and affecting the insurgents' rank and file's collaboration with the terrorists. But Wednesday, in certain Sunni-dominated voting districts, local Sunni tribal militias linked to al Qaeda undertook to secure the polling stations instead of Iraqi police and soldiers. This too is thought to have been generated by the pre-election understandings forged between the US and certain Sunni leaders."

I don't know whether you can count this as another encouraging sign of the development of Iraq towards success, really, but it is a comforting little wild card in the wind. The senior Israeli general during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Lt Gen Moshe Yaalon, still believes firmly that chemical weapons were moved from Iraq to Syria six weeks before the invasion began. He told the New York Sun's Ira Stoll that "Saddam spirited his chemical weapons out of the country on the eve of the war. 'He transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria,' General Yaalon told The New York Sun over dinner in New York on Tuesday night. 'No one went to Syria to find it.'" That was certainly rumoured at the time...there were many reports that chemical and other weapons were taken out by truck, and that they were eventually stashed in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Be a real yes-Virginia-there-is-a-Santa-Claus moment to find them, wouldn't it?

14 December 2005

Caribbean Net News is one of several media reporting this morning that The wives of five Cuban political prisoners who founded the 'The Ladies in White' protest movement have been refused permission by the Cuban Government to go to France to receive a human rights award. "According to the women, the government prevented them from attending a ceremony to receive the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom on Thought, the European Parliament's foremost human rights honor."

Claudia Rosett relates conversations she had with Gebran Tueni, the Lebanese journalist who was murdered in Beirut earlier this week. In the Wall Street Journal, she writes: "Coming within hours of the latest United Nations report from Detlev Mehlis's investigation into the February bomb assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, Tueni's death also underscores big questions about whether it is enough to wait upon the further findings of UN process - however admirably diligent that has been in digging into the affairs of the prime suspect, which is the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.

"In the matter of Lebanon's afflictions, Tueni himself spent years telling us what the problem was, and the direction he pointed was not only Syria, but Iran.

"You had to meet Gebran Tueni. He was a cross between the hard-hitting journalists of legend and the courageous democratic politicians who do in fact stand up in today's Middle East only to end up jailed, exiled or killed for their beliefs. He played one of the leading roles in the democratic Cedar Revolution that swept Lebanon this spring, and was elected this year to the Lebanese Parliament."

Syria wasn't impressed. Any doubt about their opinion of Tueni was cast aside by their Ambassador to the UN, who yesterday likened him to a dog. The New York Sun has the story: "Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Fayssal Mekdad, likened slain Lebanese legislator Gibran Tueni to a dog yesterday and indicated that Israel leads American policy on his country. American and French officials, meanwhile, vowed support for Lebanon, but shied away from pushing for sanctions against Syria in the aftermath of yet another damaging report on that country's role in Lebanon.

"America's UN ambassador, John Bolton, said he would ensure that international pressure on Syria is 'unrelenting.' When asked why he did not refer specifically to sanctions, which the UN Security Council has decided to employ against individuals involved in the killing of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, he said only, 'The council's word is at stake now.' Mr. Bolton's words seemed designed to challenge some in the 15-member body who have advocated a softer line on Syria.

Mr. Mekdad blamed Israel for his country's increased isolation and dismissed the Lebanese Cabinet's request to expand the Hariri investigation to probe six other alleged political assassinations. The request came after Monday's bombing in Beirut that left four people dead, including Tueni, an anti-Syrian legislator and journalist. It was endorsed last night in a French proposal for a Security Council resolution.

"'So now every time that a dog dies in Beirut there will be an international investigation?' Mr. Mekdad said to an Arab diplomat during a closed-door council session, according to a diplomat who heard the conversation but asked to remain anonymous.

"Earlier, speaking in Arabic, Mr. Mekdad told reporters that his country wanted to have better relations with America, but 'based on what Bolton said today, it doesn't seem that the other side wants to have such relations. They keep taking positions that are pro-Israel, and the other side has to pay for that.'"

Caroline Glick's reporting from Iraq, while she was embedded with US troops involved in the invasion, was superb, as Pondblog has mentioned before. Undoubtedly because of her past experience as an Israeli Defence Force officer, she understood the military significance of what the troops she was with were doing, and was able to explain it to her readers. She was almost the only embedded journalist with that ability, and as a result, was a voice of reason in an otherwise pretty chaotic babble. Others noticed too, apparently. The Jerusalem Post reports: "December has been a good month in the life of The Jerusalem Post Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Glick, whose columns have received wide attention in Israel and abroad. Glick was in New York this past weekend to receive the prestigious Ben Hecht Award for Outstanding Journalism in the Mideast from the Zionist Organization of America. The award was presented at the ZOA's annual Louis Brandeis Award dinner."

Jonathan Freedland will always have a special place in my memory as the writer who said George Bush's second election was so important to the world that Europe should be allowed to vote. But he is a good writer, and his piece today in the Guardian is so good that I'm prepared to believe aliens must temporarily have taken over his brain on that occasion back in November of Ought Four.

Today, he is writing about the moment when he lost patience with Muslim anti-semitism, and his words have that special quality words get when they come from the heart.

"Blood libels and the Protocols were dreamed up in Norwich, Mainz or Moscow - yet now they breathe anew in Cairo, Riyadh and Damascus. This represents a menace to Jews, of course, but also a tragedy for Muslims. Theirs is a tradition that historically valued learning, and when an ignoramus like Ahmadinejad denies the overwhelming weight of historical evidence he makes a mockery of that tradition. In a period Jews still look back on as a golden age, Muslims were the people of scholarship, of science, of tolerance and coexistence - a contrast with the Crusader barbarians. Yet now many lap up the myths and lies that were once fed to the peasants of Europe, lies which endured through to the last century - and which led all the way to Treblinka."

Probably Ahmadinejad is an ignoramus. He was at it again yesterday. In a speech, he reiterated his view of the Holocaust as myth in a speech in the Iranian city of Zahedan. But if his words come from ignorance, his actions, as reported by the New York Times, are those of a man intent on making an evil mischief. He apparently sent at least four tanker trucks filled with thousands of forged ballots into Iraq less than two days before nationwide elections. The Iraqi border police seized one of them, but the others seem to have got through.

Philip Roth is famous for being uncooperative with journalists. So this interview by a Danish writer, Martin Krasnik, and published by the Guardian, is remarkable for having taken place at all, I suppose. But what is really remarkable is how good it is. It is a gem. It's written beautifully, reveals more about Roth than I've ever got from an interview before and, if it can be taken at face value, demonstrates that Krasnik is an absolutely masterful interviewer. I say at face value, because it is possible that, if he spent hours with Roth, he just happened to get lucky for an aggregate of ten minutes or so. But I suspect that's not the way it happened. I suspect Krasnik was able to get Roth to lower the barriers because he's good at doing it.

However it occurred, this is an outstanding interview. I've chosen an excerpt almost at random:

"Roth goes and fetches a small black plate - the cover for his new book. It is completely black with a narrow red line framing the title: Everyman. 'What do you think about it? It's getting approved today,' he says. 'It looks as if it's about death,' I say. 'Yes, you get your money's worth, if you want death. Everyman is the name of a line of English plays from the 15th century, allegorical plays, moral theatre. They were performed in cemeteries, and the theme is always salvation. The classic is called Everyman, it's from 1485, by an anonymous author. It was right in between the death of Chaucer and the birth of Shakespeare. The moral was always 'Work hard and get into heaven', 'Be a good Christian or go to hell'. Everyman is the main character and he gets a visit from Death. He thinks it's some sort of messenger, but Death says, 'I am Death' and Everyman's answer is the first great line in English drama: 'Oh, Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind.' When I thought of you least. My new book is about death and about dying. Well, what do you think?'

"'It's black,' I say, and ask him if the publisher isn't worried that people won't want to buy it because of the colour. 'I don't care,' he says. 'I just want it my way.'"

13 December 2005

Reporting from Cairo, Eli Lake of the New York Sun says Sunni Arab participation in Thursday's election in Iraq "could drive a wedge between the nationalist and Baathist elements of the insurgency and Al Qaeda. It is also a reversal for the Sunni Arab political leaders who boycotted January elections and in some cases threatened voters who cast ballots.

Lake recalled that in a speech yesterday, President Bush praised the recent meeting of involved parties in Cairo hosted by the Arab League. "At that parley, many Sunni Arab leaders signed a statement vowing to participate in the elections...'These are important steps,' Mr. Bush said. 'Iraq's neighbors need to do more. Arab leaders are beginning to recognize that the choice in Iraq is between democracy and terrorism, and there is no middle ground.'"

Mark Steyn is railing about a tendency in Britain to want to police people's thoughts. In the Telegraph, he writes: "Lynette Burrows has been investigated by police merely for expressing an opinion. Which is the sort of thing we used to associate with police states. Indeed, it's the defining act of a police state: the arbitrary criminalisation of dissent from state orthodoxy...We should be able to discuss homosexuality, Islam and pretty much everything else in the same carefree way Guardian columnists damn Bush's America as 'neo-fascist'." Seems reasonable...he may get off with a warning.

A self-destructing e-mail? If you could buy shares, this would be like Netscape all over again. (Don't think I didn't check. But the LSE lists no such company.) The Guardian says, with true British understatement, that the new technology "will be seized upon by philandering sportsmen and loose-fingered politicians, and paranoid business executives could also find it useful. Embarrassing, incriminating or just plain sensitive text messages that have a nasty habit of being forwarded on to friends, enemies and tabloid journalists could be a thing of the past with a new service that makes messages self-destruct after the recipient has read them."

Speaking of investment...it's all going on in Estonia. Of all places. The NY Times says things are crackling everywhere in that country's tech industry, especially in the company called Skype (which is the hot voice-over-internet telephone technology company). "The company has become a hot calling card for Estonia, a northern outpost that joined the European Union only last year but has turned itself into a sort of Silicon Valley on the Baltic Sea.

"'We are recognized as the most dynamic country in Europe' in information technology, said Linnar Viik, a computer science professor who has nurtured start-ups and is regarded as something of a guru by Estonia's entrepreneurs. 'The question is, How do we sustain that dynamism?' Foreign investors are swooping into Tallinn's tiny airport in search of the next Skype (rhymes with pipe). The company most often mentioned, Playtech, designs software for online gambling services. It is contemplating an initial public offering that bankers say could raise up to $1 billion."

12 December 2005

Claude Salhani, the international editor of UPI, draws attention in a Washington Times piece to the role played by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in the very positive meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in Mecca a few days ago. "With the aim of curbing radicalism in Islam and addressing a slew of social, economic and political ills affecting the Islamic world," Salhani says, the Saudi king convened the meeting.

"The recent manifestation of extremism, violence, and terrorism that are plaguing Muslims and non-Muslims alike has alarmed Saudi Arabia and made it clear that an endemic problem currently exists in the Islamic world," said the king in a 'highly confidential' policy document made available to United Press International. Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi security adviser, told UPI, 'King Abdullah realizes that at no other time in history has the Islamic world been so leaderless.'"

The Japanese, according to the Washington Post, are "rethinking commerce by doing away with the increasingly arcane concept of cash.

"Technology analysts say the use of electronic money amounts to a leap forward in commerce and shopping. Using cell phones that transmit infrared signals or...a smart card that doubles as a set of electronic keys...Japanese consumers are whisking through checkout lines, buying everything from sushi to furniture without ever yanking out their wallets. Users can add value to their cards or cell phones at thousands of automated docking stations around the country, where they insert paper money and get credit for e-cash. They can also use credit cards to replenish e-cash on the Internet."

It might almost be called the British disease - the politically correct avoidance of risk taken to a ridiculous extreme. The Telegraph reports on a Ministry of Education website which advises that "Children should be protected from 'terrifying' Father Christmas, shielded from 'alarming' pantomimes and encouraged not to send wasteful Christmas cards."

Here's another sighting from the same newspaper, an author of a book about baby care who says her rivals are suggesting methods that would create a kind of baby boot camp. "The general trend now - not only in books but in articles in parenting magazines and the press - is sleep training, controlled crying and treating the baby like an enemy."

Or how about this one, again from the Telegraph, warning of the dangers of pet obesity in the Christmas season: "Dog owners could be killing their pets with kindness this Christmas - as humans are not the only ones likely to overindulge during the festive season."

Oy vay.

This is a pleasant Christian Science Monitor story from Paris about beekeepers in that city. I was struck by the encapsulated good sense of something one of the beekeepers said: "When neighbors see a hive they get stung, and when they don't see a hive they don't get stung. That's how neighbors are."

Norman Podhoretz, the author and distinguished editor-at-large of Commentary, has written a long and nicely-reasoned article for the Wall Street Journal, criticising many in the American public for panicking over the Iraq war. He begins and ends his piece by citing Thomas Paine, recalling his disgust at the time of the American War of Independence with the way pressure forced many a panicked backslider to reveal himself.

"And so, 'quitting this class of men . . . who see not the full extent of the evil that threatens them,' Paine turned 'to those who have nobly stood, and are yet determined to stand the matter out,' and rested his hopes on them.

"These hopes, we know and thank God for it, were not disappointed. And neither will be the hopes of those today who likewise see 'the full extent of the evil that threatens' us; who understand the necessity of the war that our country has been waging against it; who recognize the moral, political, and intellectual boldness of how George W. Bush has chosen to fight this war; and who take pride in the nobility of what the United States, at whose birth Tom Paine assisted, is now, more than 200 years later, battling to achieve in Iraq and, in the fullness of time, in the entire region of which Iraq is so crucial a part."

On the way to that conclusion, Podhoretz quotes blogger Arthur Chrenkoff, whose Good News from Iraq pieces I linked to until he was no longer able to spare the time to compile them. "About a year ago, concerned that he might have been exaggerating when he made this assertion on the basis of his 'gut feeling,' Mr. Chrenkoff decided to check it out more scientifically. So he did 'a little tally' of the stories published or broadcast all over the world on a single average day (which happened to be Jan. 21, 2005). Here are some of the numbers that, with the help of the Google News Index, he was able to report from that one day:

"2,642 stories about Condoleezza Rice's confirmation hearings, in the context of grilling she has received over the administration's Iraq policy.

"1,992 stories about suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.

"887 stories about prisoner abuse by British soldiers...(I've cut out ten other categories of bad news for lack of space)

"As against all this, the good news made a pathetic showing:

"16 stories about security successes in the fight against insurgents.

"7 stories about positive developments relating to elections.

"73 stories about the return to Iraq of stolen antiquities."

The Editors of the National Review Online are making similar points about media bias: "For too long, the Bush administration has seemed to let the media's biases go unchallenged, even as support for the war dipped to new lows. That's why we're so glad to see the Bush administration fighting back. Donald Rumsfeld's Monday speech at Johns Hopkins University about the media's coverage of Iraq came not a moment too soon. Among his many excellent points was the following:

"'We've arrived at a strange time in this country where the worst about America and our military seems to so quickly be taken as truth by the press, and reported and spread around the world, often with little context and little scrutiny, let alone correction or accountability after the fact. I understand that there may be great pressure on many of them to tell a dramatic story. And while it's easy to use a bombing or a terrorist attack to support that interest, it is not always the most accurate story, or at least not the full story."

The editors said the mainstream media had exercised an "almost prosecutorial zeal in impugning the war at every turn."

11 December 2005

I'm not keen on articles written by a committee, because that process seems to remove some essential contribution towards eloquence. However, the ideas in Condoleeza Rice's article in the Washington Post this morning have an eloquence of their own that overcomes the process that was undoubtedly used to get them onto paper. It is about breaking new ground in diplomacy, in order to deal with the new political realities of the 21st Century world.

"Since its creation more than 350 years ago, the modern state system has always rested on the concept of sovereignty. It was assumed that states were the primary international actors and that every state was able and willing to address the threats emerging from its territory. Today, however, we have seen that these assumptions no longer hold, and as a result the greatest threats to our security are defined more by the dynamics within weak and failing states than by the borders between strong and aggressive ones....

"After all, who truly believes, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, that the status quo in the Middle East was stable, beneficial and worth defending? How could it have been prudent to preserve the state of affairs in a region that was incubating and exporting terrorism; where the proliferation of deadly weapons was getting worse, not better; where authoritarian regimes were projecting their failures onto innocent nations and peoples; where Lebanon suffered under the boot heel of Syrian occupation; where a corrupt Palestinian Authority cared more for its own preservation than for its people's aspirations; and where a tyrant such as Saddam Hussein was free to slaughter his citizens, destabilize his neighbors and undermine the hope of peace between Israelis and Palestinians? It is sheer fantasy to assume that the Middle East was just peachy before America disrupted its alleged stability.

"Had we believed this, and had we done nothing, consider all that we would have missed in just the past year: A Lebanon that is free of foreign occupation and advancing democratic reform. A Palestinian Authority run by an elected leader who openly calls for peace with Israel. An Egypt that has amended its constitution to hold multiparty elections. A Kuwait where women are now full citizens. And, of course, an Iraq that in the face of a horrific insurgency has held historic elections, drafted and ratified a new national charter, and will go to the polls again in coming days to elect a new constitutional government."

Good piece, well worth reading.

This is an article in Britain's Sunday Times which suggests ten possible Christmas gifts for "the tech-lover in your life". I thought it was interesting for two reasons. First, most of these gadgets involve music in some way, and second, I don't think a single one of them would improve my life in any way. Advanced geezeration, I suppose.

Linguists have apparently identified Britain's first multi-ethnic dialect, which they describe as "a variant of English that includes words and sounds from cockney, Jamaican creole, Bengali and other languages." The Sunday Times says "The dialect (which they don't seem to have named) is becoming the standard way for teenagers of different ethnic groups to communicate across the racial divide. While it may be baffling to teachers and parents, researchers believe it will spread outside its urban heartlands and become a firm part of everyday English over the next 20 years.

"Professor Paul Kerswill, a sociolinguist at Lancaster University who led the study, said: 'Inner-city Londoners are using a new kind of English as their everyday speech, their completely internalised way of speaking, parallel to a local dialect like cockney or geordie. In one group we had students from white Anglo backgrounds along with those with Arab, South American, Ghanaian and Portuguese backgrounds and all spoke with the same dialect."

The Times does make one mistake, I believe - it defines galang as 'hot'. Really, it's a Jamaican word that simply means 'go along', used in the same way New Yorkers use 'get outta heah'. I think it was used in the lyrics the Times quotes - slam, galang, galang - not so much for its meaning as for its contribution to the rhyme.

Niall Ferguson, who is a Professor of History at Harvard and well-known pundit, is another who thinks Harold Pinter is full of it. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he says "Nobody pretends that the United States came through the Cold War with clean hands. But to pretend that its crimes were equivalent to those of its Communist opponents - and that they have been wilfully hushed up - is fatally to blur the distinction between truth and falsehood. That may be permissible on stage. I am afraid it is quite routine in diplomacy. But is unacceptable in serious historical discussion.

"So stick to plays, Harold, and stop torturing history. Even if there was a Nobel Prize for it, you wouldn't stand a chance. Because in my profession, unlike yours - and unlike Condi's, too - there really are 'hard distinctions...between what is true and what is false'."

Mind you, I think Pinter could have taught him a thing or two about sounding like a prat by trying to avoid splitting an infinitive.

I missed this article when it appeared in the Christian Science Monitor last month, but noticed it when it was published on my home page, Arts & Letters Daily a couple of days ago. Its author, Frank Furedi, is a professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Britain, and author of The Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right. In it, he writes about the great popularity of conspiracy theories to explain events in the world today - "a vast global neoconservative conspiracy has turned into an all-purpose explanation for the many ills that afflict our times."

All that he says is correct, of course, but what I thought was missing from the article was an opinion of what it is that is present or lacking in the people who are attracted to these theories. About the only clue we get to what he thinks is that he describes conspiracy theories it as "simplistic", when he says: "The simplistic worldview of conspiracy thinking helps fuel suspicion and mistrust toward the domain of politics. It displaces a critical engagement with public life with a destructive search for the hidden agenda. It distracts from the clarification of genuine differences and helps turn public life into a theater where what matters are the private lives and personal interests of mistrusted politicians. A constant search for the story behind the story distracts us from really listening to each other and seeing the world as it really is."

I think it's a combination of attraction to the fashionable, in the sense that blaming things on a conspiracy implies "inside" knowledge; laziness, because conspiracy theories are easy, and save people from doing the work that's required to make an attempt to really understand what's going on; and a lack of any sense of responsibility towards the truth.


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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