...Views from mid-Atlantic
24 December 2005

A couple of takes on Christmas 2005. This one, lamenting attempts to remove Christmas from the holiday altogether, is from columnist Thomas Sowell, and was published in The Washington Times. "It is one of the sad signs of our times that we allow the ACLU to bamboozle us, or bully us with lawsuits, over something for which no one ever passed a law. The ACLU gets away with this not only because of liberal judges who create their own laws out of thin air and call it 'constitutional' law. The ACLU and others get away with spooking us on all sorts of things, even when they don't threaten us with lawsuits, but only with not being in step with the latest politically correct notions."

And this one's from Julie Burchill, writing in the London Times: "When I hear people complaining about Christmas becoming too selfish, hedonistic and commercialised, I never fail to marvel at their self-righteousness, uptightness and lack of ability to see beyond the superficial. And the whiners are as bad as the complainers - those people for whom the problem pages telling one How To Deal With Christmas Stress exist, and who never fail to remind us that 67 per cent of families row at Christmas. Then there are the warners, who are only too happy to bear the glad tidings that 80,000 people will end up in casualty this Christmas as the result of accidents in the home; apparently, vicious Christmas trees are responsible for 950 of these.

"As we whine about the great burden of celebrating Christmas in freedom, maybe it wouldn't hurt us to remember what Christians in other countries have lived through in recent years. This may remind us that, in the greater scheme of things, a few pine needles in the shag-pile aren't a tragedy."

Once you get beyond all that, I hope you have as wonderful a Christmas as the one I'm going to have. I'll be blogging again on Tuesday.

23 December 2005

Claudia Rosett reminds us that "It's an old rule of thumb in the reporting trade that when someone answers a good question with a bad attitude (especially someone as seasoned as the chief diplomat of the world), there is probably something there that deserves a closer look. In this case, it might just be that Mercedes."

What she's talking about, in her column in the National Review, is the Mercedes bought in questionable circumstances by Kofi Annan's son, Kojo, and Kofi Annan's snit this week about being asked questions about it by James Bone, the Times's correspondent. "Bone's question involved sludge turned up by Paul Volcker's UN-authorized inquiry into the UN Oil-for-Food program for Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Among other things, Volcker examined the work done by Kofi Annan's son, Kojo Annan, for a Swiss-based private company, Cotecna Inspection, which in December, 1998 won an important U.N. contract to inspect Oil-for-Food relief goods imported into Iraq. While digging into these matters, Volcker came across evidence that toward the end of that same year, in November, 1998, Kojo Annan allegedly misused his father's name and UN diplomatic status to buy a Mercedes-Benz at a discount in Europe and ship it duty-free into Ghana. There, the UN resident representative at the time certified to the Ghanaian customs authorities that the Mercedes was for 'personal use by Mr Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General' - thus obtaining a customs exemption on the car of more than $14,000.

"That discovery raised the question of whether Kofi Annan himself had been complicit in the alleged misuse of his own name and UN privileges. According to Volcker, Kofi Annan when asked about the deal claimed ignorance, saying 'he did not know that Kojo Annan was buying a Mercedes-Benz in his name'. Volcker reported that he had found no evidence to contradict Annan. And there Volcker's inquiry abandoned the trail, leaving the fate of the Mercedes itself a mystery."

Louis Menand, who's written the odd book himself, writes in The New Yorker this week about the culture of literary awards, in his review of a book by James English called The Economy of Prestige. It's a book Menand calls an "ingenious analysis of the history and social function of cultural prizes and awards."

"In the awards economy, the rich tend to get richer. Michael Jackson has been given more than two hundred and forty awards in his career. Steven Spielberg has ninety. The Return of the King, the third movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, won seventy-nine prizes. English estimates that among poets John Ashbery is the leader, with at least forty-five prizes and awards. John Updike sets the pace for novelists, with thirty-nine.

"English interprets the rise of the prize as part of the 'struggle for power to produce value, which means power to confer value on that which does not intrinsically possess it.' In an information, or 'symbolic', economy, in other words, the goods themselves are physically worthless: they are mere print on a page or code on a disk. What makes them valuable is the recognition that they are valuable. This recognition is not automatic and intuitive; it has to be constructed. A work of art has to circulate through a sub-economy of exchange operated by a large and growing class of middlemen: publishers, curators, producers, publicists, philanthropists, foundation officers, critics, professors, and so on. The prize system, with its own cadre of career administrators and judges, is one of the ways in which value gets 'added on' to a work. Of course, we like to think that the recognition of artistic excellence is intuitive. We don't like to think of cultural value as something that requires middlemen - people who are not artists themselves - in order to emerge. We prefer to believe that truly good literature or music or film announces itself. Which is another reason that we need prizes: so that we can insist that we don't really need them."

The Washington Times has published a pretty thorough summary of the law on FISA warrants, written by Daniel Gallington, a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va., deputy counsel for intelligence policy at the Justice Department and bipartisan general counsel for the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Bottom line: This specific category of communications - at least its US end - may have been handled (before September 11, 2001) by a request to the FISA court for a warrant. However, it didn't have to be. That's really all there is to it...

"According to the New York Times, the oversight of this 'new' NSA activity is apparently the same as the work of the FISA Court: comprehensive oversight reports and briefings to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. So, how goofy is it for Sen Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, to be 'outraged' by this? Pretty goofy: He is more simply unaware of it than anything, because he is 'informed' of the activity through his party's' vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee - who was most certainly briefed in detail about the executive order and the specific NSA activity.

"Remember the late, great Gilda Radner, the gifted comedienne, whose SNL character 'Emily Litella' always got it wrong? When she finally understood, all she said was, 'never mind'. Let's hope Mr. Schumer walks the few feet across his side of the Senate Chamber, listens, very carefully, to Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia (Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee) and finally gets it right on this."

The Muslim Brotherhood, which made political gains in Egypt in recent elections, has joined Iran's president in saying the Holocaust is a myth. Haaretz quotes "the director of the Israeli branch of the Nazi watchdog group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, as having warned that, 'There's no question that a very ugly wave of Holocaust denial is sweeping the Arab world. The problem is that so far in the Arab world very few leaders are willing to tell their own people that they have to understand that the Holocaust did take place,' Efraim Zuroff said.

"Akef's hard-line rhetoric was in contrast to the moderate tone the Brotherhood took in November and December's parliament elections, during which it played down its calls for implementing Shariah, or Islamic law, in Egypt and instead touted itself as a pro-democracy movement."

22 December 2005

George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London is a pale copy of Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun's much better book, Hunger, first translated into English 13 years earlier. If you want to read one of the most enchanting love stories ever written, read Hamsun's Pan. But perhaps because he's from a country that isn't thought of as having a great influence on the Western literary main stream, or perhaps because he had a reputation as a Nazi sympathiser during the Second World War, few people know anything about him.

The current New Yorker has a fine piece about him, written by Jeffrey Frank: "Isaac Bashevis Singer argued that 'the whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun, just as Russian literature in the nineteenth century "came out of Gogol's greatcoat".' In Scandinavia, though, Hamsun meant trouble. During those months in Copenhagen, I occasionally walked into one of the antiquarian bookstores that could be found all over the city's Latin Quarter. Several times when I asked about Hamsun's works, the man behind the counter (it was always a man) would shake his head and declare, 'He was a traitor!' I'd try to remember the shop so as not to embarrass myself again.

"I knew what that was about, of course. During the German occupation of Norway in the Second World War, Hamsun had been a collaborator; he had met Goebbels and Hitler, and was unrepentant to the end. It was baffling: how could the man who wrote Hunger, Mysteries, and Pan - those surpassingly original books - have had any sympathy for Nazis? Hamsun was not some bitter second-rater. He had won the Nobel Prize in 1920, and, unlike other Fascist sympathizers, such as Celine and Pound, he had a deep and lasting grip on his public, that of an enchanter. Singer admitted to being 'hypnotized' by him; Hesse called him his favorite writer; Hemingway recommended his novels to Scott Fitzgerald; Gide compared him to Dostoyevsky, but believed that Hamsun was 'perhaps even more subtle'. The list of those who loved his sly, anarchic voice is long."

People's Daily says the Chinese are struggling to absorb the meaning of some of the jargon US diplomats use - stakeholder, for example.

"The word was first used for Sino-U.S. relations by US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who repeated it seven times in remarks delivered at a dinner of the National Committee on US-China Relations this September...According to David M Lampton, a leading US scholar on Sino-U.S. relations who is very close to Zoellick, 'stakeholder' bears similar meaning to 'partner', but more strongly implies that the United States thinks of China as an equal and important member in the current international system that should share an interest in maintaining that system. 'I know there is no equivalent for stakeholder in Chinese, and in the United States the word carries a strong indication of equal rights and responsibility and equal interests and obligations', the Johns Hopkins University professor said in an interview with Xinhua."

It's a good example of a man lying for his country, I suppose.

A new Omani organisation, the International Research Foundation, has released a report on "Economic Freedom of the Arab World" that shows that changes in the region's policies could have a big affect on the economies of Arab countries. The Washington Times says the report's thesis is that greater economic freedom would lead to better economies.

"The report looks at 39 variables in 16 countries, ranging from size of government to monetary policy, trade openness, regulation and the rule of law. Published in conjunction with the Fraser Institute, whose global index on economic freedom is well known, the report suggests what is true of the world is also true in the Arab region: Economically free countries tend to be more prosperous and faster growing...

"Still, the report notes that, in the Arab world, 'most types of economic interaction... remain remarkably limited and inconsequential.' Trade among Middle Eastern countries represents only about 8 percent of the region's trade. The lack of economic freedom in many Arab countries limits commerce so richer states 'find better and cheaper products outside the region rather than in the region's labor-endowed states, where economic freedom tends to be relatively low.'"

BBC-News led last night on Saddam Hussein's claim, at his trial in Iraq, that he had been beaten while he was in US custody. In unscripted exchanges, the news presenter asked the reporter whether the claim wouldn't be an embarrassment for the US. The reporter said it would be a test of the court's legitimacy whether it would stop the proceedings, and order an enquiry into the allegations. None of this, of course, is preserved in the story as it appears on the BBC's website this morning. But it typifies, to me, the irresponsible and unprofessional way the BBC covers stories like this.

In the coverage of other media this morning, it is established that Saddam's outburst came during the closing moments of the day's proceedings. It is established that he seemed affected by the testimony of one of the witnesses, Ali Hassen Muhammad al-Heideri, prayed and seemed unwilling to look him in the eyes. Mr al Heideri said he saw his fellow villagers, and members of his family, tortured and killed on the orders of Saddam's half-brother. The survivors were taken to Abu Ghraib then transferred to a desert detention facility near Samawa, at both of which numerous men, women and children died. Mr al-Heideri said that Saddam's guards applied electric shocks to detainees and dripped hot plastic on to their skin, then pulled it off when it dried. Saddam's half-brother told the witness that a shoe was "more honourable than you and all your tribe, you dog!"

There can be no doubt that Saddam is an authentic monster, responsible for torture and death on a scale like that caused by people like Hitler, or Stalin. For an organisation like the BBC to take him at his word, and to suggest that his outburst was the most important news of the day, or that if the court failed to take his shenanigans seriously it would be failing to dispense justice properly, is just outrageous. It is an insult to all those Iraqis who suffered during Saddam's regime, and to all those who went to Iraq and fought to get rid of him. It's also an insult to the intelligence of people around the world who are watching, hoping that the trial will be able to overcome the circus-like atmosphere being created around it, and the machinations of those who would like to see it fail, and meet the standards required to be considered legitimate and just.

I can think of only one reason for the BBC's staff to believe the word of Saddam Hussein in such circumstances, and that is that they so oppose the United States and the war in Iraq that they want all of their efforts there to fail, no matter what the price.

"The extent of the U.S. military's assistance, well-known to Pakistanis, barely registers on the radar screens of most Western news outlets. That's a pity, because it overlooks one of America's most significant hearts-and-minds successes so far in the Muslim world." The Wall Street Journal says: "The assistance also illustrates another frequently overlooked fact: When it comes to foreign aid, the Department of Defense is one of the biggest contributors, and what it provides is something no other country can replicate."

21 December 2005

Blogger Edward Morrissey (he contributes to Captain's Quarters) takes a swipe at the New York Times, in this Weekly Standard piece, for its phonetapping story. "The Washington Post published a behind-the-scenes look at the Times's editorial decision and found a couple of motivations for the decision to dust off the story which had been spiked during the election year. With the Patriot Act up for renewal, the current headlines finally provided a political context that would make the story a blockbuster - not because it describes illegal activity, but because it plays into fears about the rise of Orwellian Big Brother government from the Bush administration. The second impetus to publish came from the upcoming release of James Risen's book, State of War, due to be released in less than a month.

"It had to dismay the editors at the Times, then, when an angry President Bush came out the next day, the day after that, and the day after that to take personal responsibility for the NSA effort...Had there been any scandal, the president would hardly have run in front of a camera to admit to ordering the program. He changed the course of the debate and now has the Times and his other critics backpedaling."

If you're following this story, Morrissey provides a useful look at some of the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which gives the US president power to conduct that kind of surveillance.

In a related development, DRUDGE seems to be reporting this morning (it's a flash, and a little confusing) that Presidents Carter and Clinton both also authorised such "unauthorised" phone taps.

Anthony Powell's series of 12 novels, A Dance to the Music of Time is by anyone's standard, one of the great literary achievements of the 20th Century. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Christopher Caldwell pays tribute: "Powell did not write (the way he did) because he was an old incorrigible - although, certainly, one feels a pleasant giddiness to read someone who died five years ago describing, first-hand, people born when Palmerston was prime minister. Powell's tastes in literature were decidedly modernist when he and the century were in their twenties. He was at Eton with Cyril Connolly and George Orwell. He annoyed (and was, in turn, annoyed by) Graham Greene. For a while in the 1930s he was considered the English novelist who had learned the most from Ernest Hemingway.

"But spending the entire Second World War in the army must have changed him as a writer. In A Question of Upbringing, his first novel in more than a decade, he tacked directly against what he called the 'pedantic and technique-bound' style of Joyce and other modernist writers, and even against much of what he himself had written up to that point. It is not surprising that (Kingsley) Amis was at a loss for what to make of it."

A new investigation has been launched into George Galloway's million-pound Iraq war political fund, the Mariam Appeal. The Herald reported that Britain's Charity Commission said last night that the fresh probe was started after inquiries by the US Senate and the UN into the appeal. "These resulted in claims that Fawaz Zureikat, the former Glasgow Kelvin MP's friend and one-time associate, funnelled 252,000 pounds from the UN's oil-for-food programme into the organisation, set up to help sick Iraqi children and oppose UN sanctions on Iraq.

"A spokesman for the charity watchdog said the new inquiry 'will ascertain whether any funds donated to it originated from transactions conducted under the UN's oil-for-food programme. It will also establish what is the legal status of these funds and examine the extent to which the trustees discharged their duties and responsibilities in accepting them.' He said the inquiry would consider the UN and Senate reports.

"The Senate's 60-page report claimed the Jordanian businessman, who was chairman of the appeal, deposited a total of about 450,000 pounds into its bank account, noting 'all of the Zureikat deposits... were made 'after oil allocations were granted to Galloway.'"

In his Wall Street Journal year-end roundup, Pete du Pont, former governor of Delaware, gives the very worst mark for performance to Kofi Annan: "...The worst failing grade for the year goes to the United Nations and Kofi Annan. Paul Volker's report on the Oil for Food scandal concluded that $10 billion worth of Iraqi oil was illegally smuggled to adjacent nations; that Saddam Hussein collected $229 million in bribes from 139 of 248 companies involved in the oil business, and illegal payments from 2,253 out of 3,614 firms providing humanitarian goods to Iraq. So Dennis Kozlowski stole $600 million from Tyco and got eight to 25 years in jail, while Kofi Annan supervised more than $10 billion in Oil for Food theft and will stay in his job since, in his own words, 'the business of the United Nations is not reform.'"

Over on the other side of the pond, Simon Hoggart, the Guardian's parliamentary sketch writer is handing out his own year's end awards: "Stupidest New Labour Decision (always a keenly fought award) goes to its conference organisers who, in one day, threw out an 82-year-old party activist, a former refugee from the Nazis, for heckling Jack Straw, and banned delegates from taking sweets into the hall on the grounds that they could be used as missiles.

"Best TV Insult: Jonathan Dimbleby, after David Davis and Alastair Campbell bickered for 10 minutes on the sofa, remarked: 'You're like two old queens in a china shop.'

"Least Scary Scare goes to Sandra Gidley, the Liberal Democrat, who in January warned the house of the serious dangers of binge drinking among old age pensioners."

20 December 2005

John Derbyshire tallies up his predictions account for 2005 and finds that Louis Menand was right about people who make predictions...give or take a bit. Anyway, his National Review verdict is that he's not clueless, but averagely clued.

People's Daily has a round-up of the strange stories of 2005. I didn't think they were all that strange, but judge for yourself: "A Chinese company calling itself 'Lunar Embassy' tried to sell real estate on the moon. Its founder claimed there was no law against such a project, but the authorities thought otherwise."

Just as well, I thought. If they'd let him carry on, he'd soon have discovered that an American thought of that, back in the day, and sold the moon by the square inch by advertising in comic books. It was the first real estate deal made by millions of members of whatever generation it was that came before baby boomers.

Freedom House, the organisation that keeps tab on political rights around the world, says that democracy is, indeed, spreading. The New York Sun says: "As the political battle intensifies over President Bush's efforts to spread democracy to Iraq and the Middle East, an influential human rights organization, Freedom House, has found that the past year brought significant improvements in personal and political rights across the region.

"Reports of increased freedom emerged from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian territories, and observers attributed the results to the Bush administration's support of fledgling democracies worldwide.

"The findings were released yesterday as part of Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2006 report, a global survey of political rights and civil liberties published annually by the organization since 1972. The report evaluates countries based largely on criteria drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and rates countries under the categories 'political rights' and 'civil liberties' on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 indicating the greatest level of freedom."

19 December 2005

Philip Pullman's is not exactly a household name, but often you can make a judgement about the worth of a writer by the market in first editions of his work. As a collector, I can tell you that if you want copies of Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials, you may need to ask your bank for help. They're children's books, but as they take a view of religion diametrically opposite that of The Chronicles of Narnia, Pullman's profile is higher than ever. Laura Miller of The New Yorker writes: "Every year at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, a guest is invited to speak on the subject of religion and education. Sometimes, a prominent bishop is asked to deliver a lecture, but, as a rule, the event isn't exactly a big draw. This year, the auditorium was filled, and another room, with a video feed, had to be set up for those who couldn't fit into the main hall. The speaker, Philip Pullman, is fervently admired for his sophisticated trilogy of children's novels called, collectively, His Dark Materials. In Britain, his books have sold millions of copies, and his often contentious essays on subjects ranging from censorship to education - 'We need to ensure that children are not forced to waste their time on barren rubbish' is a typical declaration - appear regularly in the London papers..."

Pullman says "Although I call myself an atheist, I am a Church of England atheist, and a 1662 Book of Common Prayer atheist, because that's the tradition I was brought up in and I cannot escape those early influences."

"In His Dark Materials, Pullman's criticisms of organized religion come across as anti-authoritarian and anti-ascetic rather than anti-doctrinal. (Jesus isn't mentioned in any of the books, although Pullman has hinted that He might figure in a forthcoming sequel, The Book of Dust.) His fundamental objection is to ideological tyranny and the rejection of this world in favor of an idealized afterlife, regardless of creed. As one of the novel's pagan characters puts it, 'Every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.'

"His Dark Materials may be the first fantasy series founded upon the ideals of the Enlightenment rather than upon tribal and mythic yearnings for kings, gods, and supermen. Pullman's heroes are explorers, cowboys, and physicists. The series offers an extended celebration of the marvels of science: discoveries and theories from the outer reaches of cosmology - about dark matter and the possible existence of multiple universes - are threaded into the story. Indeed, the central mystery of His Dark Materials concerns the nature of Dust, a dark matter-like substance that the scientists of Lyra's world have only recently learned how to detect. Dust is everywhere, but it tends to concentrate around human beings, and around adults more than children. The Church considers Dust to be the 'physical evidence for original sin.' Lyra's father, a Byronic figure named Lord Asriel, defies Church prohibitions by mounting an expedition to the Arctic Circle, where he learns more about Dust by observing another universe, which can be glimpsed through the northern lights. Her mother, the treacherous Mrs Coulter, is secretly running an isolated camp in the same region, where she conducts sinister Dust-related experiments on abducted children, under the aegis of the General Oblation Board, one of the Church's more malevolent offshoots. It is this outfit that kidnaps Lyra's best friend, setting the story in motion."

The treacherous Mrs Coulter! Is that a plot, or what?

American fishermen have had some success rejuvenating New England fish stocks by using a technique the EU has rejected - large-mesh nets. The Telegraph says: "As European fisheries ministers convene to set quotas this week, fishermen in New England are celebrating an increase of a third in their fish stocks over the past decade, achieved using conservation methods the EU has rejected."

"The size of cod and haddock on the auction market in Gloucester, the capital of New England's fishing industry, is more than twice what you will see in Peterhead, north-east Scotland, or other North Sea ports. This is because the New England Fishery Management Council has set the minimum mesh size of the nets fishermen may use at 6.5in, which ensures that the cod and haddock have bred at least twice before they are caught."

"Long a stronghold for Islamic extremists and the world's second-most populous Muslim nation, Pakistanis now hold a more favorable opinion of the U.S. than at any time since 9/11," according to the Wall Street Journal, "while support for al Qaeda in its home base has dropped to its lowest level since then. The direct cause for this dramatic shift in Muslim opinion is clear: American humanitarian assistance for Pakistani victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake that killed 87,000. The U.S. pledged $510 million for earthquake relief in Pakistan and American soldiers are playing a prominent role in rescuing victims from remote mountainous villages."

And in Iraq, by aiming to copy one of the successful tactics of the British anti-insurgency campaign in Malaya, American troops have had a success in Tal Afar, which, as the Telegraph says, "was the site of the largest military operation of 2005, when 8,000 US and Iraqi troops reclaimed it from armed groups.

"It has since been used to test a new strategy of 'clear, hold, build', in which areas would be purged of insurgents and then rejuvenated to win support from local people, before being handed over to the Iraqi security forces. It is also called 'ink spot' strategy, whereby one area of control would spread to another - like an ink spot spreading on blotting paper - until the entire country was covered, in a model similar to that adopted by the British in Malaya."

With some nicely-judged language that is a pleasure to read, Keith Thomas writes in the Times Literary Supplement about obituaries. Actually, it's a review of a Times book of obituaries, edited by Ian Brunskill. If you read newspapers regularly, you'll know that the Times does obituaries better than anyone else in the business. They have a bank of about 5,000 obits, written while the subjects are alive.

Thomas says that "By laying down obituaries in this way, The Times quickly gained an advantage over other newspapers, particularly when a prominent person died unexpectedly. Its closely guarded archive of future notices remains an object of macabre fascination, and somehow manages to escape exposure under the Data Protection Act. The disadvantage of obituaries which have been long in gestation is that they have a patchwork quality, being the work of several hands, the original author having sometimes predeceased the long-lived subject. One admires the candour of the Times obituarist who began his notice in 1873 by observing that 'our readers will not so much be surprised at hearing that Alessandro Manzoni, the veteran novelist and poet of Italy, has at last died at the ripe age of 89, as that he was still alive'.

"In recent decades, competition from other newspapers has been severe. The signed obituaries of the Independent and Guardian give them an interest which the strictly anonymous notices in The Times cannot possess (though speculation about their authorship can rival Su Doku as an intellectual sport). The Independent pioneered the imaginative use of pictorial illustrations; it was also the first to devote much space to circus artists, rock musicians and similar figures. The Daily Telegraph has always given closer attention to army officers and Masters of Foxhounds, while the Guardian finds more room for radical feminists, Labour activists and the sandal-wearing classes."

18 December 2005

Clive James reveals in this Times Literary Supplement article that it was Biggles, Bulldog Drummond and Sanders who prepared him for real life. "All the green-covered books had the word 'Biggles' in the title except Spitfire Parade, which somehow I treasured even more than the others, perhaps because you had to know it was about Biggles - it was, as I explained to my mother on several occasions, secret information...

"Bulldog Drummond arrived in my life like a descending testicle, a fair analogy for the size of his brain. By comparison, Sanders of the River was an intellectual. It never occurred to me - though it probably occurred to the author, Edgar Wallace - that Sanders, in demonstrating his mental superiority to all those benighted fuzzy-wuzzies, was the incarnation of the imperial principle. I just liked the way Sanders, having figured everything out in a flash, adjusted his pace so that lesser breeds could catch up. Bulldog had no such resources. But his capacity for ratiocination was never the attraction: it was his Caesarean speed of movement as he went into battle against the all-purpose international heavy Carl Petersen...Acutely potentiated by the hormonal stirrings of pubescence, my feelings for the even more evil Irma Petersen were a giddy cocktail of fear and desire - as, I now suspect, were those of Drummond. The bone-headed crusader would run, swim, drive or fly vast distances at incredible speeds specifically to place himself at her mercy. He always survived her perverted attentions, perhaps because (the thought scarcely entered my adolescent mind, for want, as it were, of a point of entry) she had a thing for him."

Speaking of Biggles, Simon Jenkins of the London Times isn't mincing his words about Tony Blair: "The European Union is ghastly. It poisons all it touches. Europe sabotaged Margaret Thatcher's last government. Europe mugged John Major to death. Now Europe has driven Tony Blair to make a complete ass of himself in Brussels. This protectionist cartel is internally corrupt and externally a menace to global trade and peace. Britain's leaders are humiliated whenever they try to reform it."

Jenkins says the deal that Blair struck yesterday with Europe is impossible to defend. "Such a way of disposing of the future governance of an entire continent is inexcusable. Overtired and overfed politicians negotiate stupendous sums of other people's money into the night, finally agreeing to any nonsense so as to get home for Christmas. It is like some medieval field of the cloth of gold. Amid much posturing and jousting, peace is declared and the parties go home to prepare for war."

In an editorial, the Times says Britain should have known. "Throughout his time as prime minister Tony Blair has been dogged by the accusation that he is a soft touch when it comes to hard bargaining. Sir Christopher Meyer, the former ambassador to Washington, recounted how Mr Blair failed to use his leverage in dealing with the White House over Iraq. Instead he was seduced 'by the proximity and glamour of American power'. The longer he has been in office the softer he seems to get, caving in to the public sector unions on pensions and his own backbenchers on a range of domestic reforms.

"In the early hours of yesterday he returned from Brussels clutching a piece of paper that represents his deal on the European Union budget. When the French start praising Tony Blair's negotiating stance you know something is wrong. According to Jacques Chirac, the French president, the prime minister had made a 'legitimate but politically difficult' gesture. Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, was a harsh critic of Britain's budget proposals in the run-up to the Brussels summit. After Britain's concessions he praised Mr Blair for risking a political battle at home to put the interests of Europe first."

In Israel, a country whose very survival depends on the quality of its intelligence apparatus, there is no question about it - there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the American invasion. Haaretz columnist Shmuel Rosner writes: "...Senior officials, who are intimately familiar with Israeli intelligence material, still believe that Iraq really did have weapons of mass destruction. Not nuclear weapons, of course. Israel never made this claim. The Americans indeed erred in inflating the insubstantial information on nuclear plans. But there were chemical and biological weapons. And if the Americans have decided otherwise, especially for political reasons, they are now making a second error on top of the first error."

The New York Times decision to release the Bush eavesdropping story the day the Senate began to debate the continuation of the Patriot Act, failing to mention that one of its own writers was about to publish a book that included the story, is now the gaudiest jewel in the necklace of political corruption that newspaper wears around its neck.

What will be obscured in the furor that has been created, in large part because of the newspaper's timing, is that the president acted perfectly logically, and within the power given him by the Foreign Intelligence Security Act. The only aspect of the President's use of these powers that is unusual, though not unlawful, is that he has cut out making an application to the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, because that procedure can take up to six months. As he said himself "The NSA's activities under this authorization are thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department and NSA's top legal officials, including NSA's general counsel and inspector general. Leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this authorization and the activities conducted under it."

I don't understand why the Times acted as it did, and I don't understand the reasoning of people who applaud its actions. A taste for undermining your country's efforts in a time of war is utterly obscure to me. But that's not so important. What is important is that Americans who don't have such a taste should understand that the leaking that has been going on, almost without pause, since the war on terror began, may well be an attempt to remove the administration by undemocratic means...a putsch. And what must now happen is that the administration should summon the political will to tackle the nasty business of finding and dealing with the leakers before all that the United States stands for is put at risk.

Henry Kissinger seems to be keeping a cool, analytical head as half of Washington takes leave of its senses around him. In this Washington Post article, he writes about the mechanics of eventually leaving Iraq: "Whatever one's view of the decision to undertake the Iraq war, the method by which it was entered, or the strategy by which it was conducted - and I supported the original decision - one must be clear about the consequences of failure. If, when we go, we leave nothing behind but a failed state and chaos, the consequences will be disastrous for the region and for America's position in the world.

"For the phenomenon of radical Islam is more than the sum of individual terrorist acts extending from Bali through Jakarta to New Delhi, Tunisia, Riyadh, Istanbul, Casablanca, Madrid and London. It is an ideological outpouring by which Islam's radical wing seeks to sweep away secularism, pluralistic values and Western institutions wherever Muslims live. Its dynamism is fueled by the conviction that the designated victims are on the decline and lack the will to resist."


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

Article Archive

2003 Index


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