...Views from mid-Atlantic
14 January 2006

The American Thinker seems to have caught the New York Times in another of its 'one law for George Bush, quite another for us lefties' moments: "The controversy following revelations that U.S. intelligence agencies have monitored suspected terrorist related communications since 9/11 reflects a severe case of selective amnesia by the New York Times and other media opponents of President Bush. They certainly didn't show the same outrage when a much more invasive and indiscriminate domestic surveillance program came to light during the Clinton administration in the 1990s. At that time, the Times called the surveillance 'a necessity'."

Still hasn't been much mainstream media interest in the Iraq documents showing a connection between Saddam Hussein and international terrorism. But columnist Deroy Murdock writes in the National Review that: "Drop by drop, isolated news stories and emerging documents are eroding the popular myth that Saddam Hussein had no connections to Islamofascist terrorists.

"These revelations undermine war critics' efforts to whitewash Baghdad's ancien regime - such as when Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid declared: 'There was [sic] no terrorists in Iraq.' Likewise, Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) describes a 'nonexistent relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein'.

"Reid, Levin, and others who dismiss the Baathist-terrorist nexus would struggle to do so if the Bush administration unveiled the evidence tying Hussein to Osama bin Laden and other extremists. President Bush immediately should release papers discussed in the January 9 Newsweek and the January 16 Weekly Standard."

Here's a Victor Davis Hansen twofer for a quiet Saturday. In the National Review, he warns: "If Iran can play brinkmanship now on just the promise of nuclear weapons, imagine its roguery to come when it is replete with them.

"When a supposedly unhinged Mr. Ahmadinejad threatens the destruction of Israel and then summarily proceeds to violate international protocols aimed at monitoring Iran's nuclear industry, we all take note. Any country that burns off some of its natural gas at the wellhead while claiming that it needs nuclear power for domestic energy is simply lying. Terrorism, vast petroleum reserves, nuclear weapons, and boasts of wiping neighboring nations off the map are a bad combination."

And in The Washington Times, he talks about the role that oil really does play where the terrorists roam: "Free-market libertarians (say) that our oil is simply a commodity like anything else - oblivious that current US enemies are parasites and cannot even craft the weapons they use against us without a Middle East awash in petrodollars.

"Some environmentalists are as clueless. Even as Russian and African polluters frantically pump without American-style regulations, these well-meaning activists argue we should not drill responsibly in small areas in Alaska and offshore to feed our own appetite. If the left pushed nuclear power and more drilling, and the right pushed more mandatory efficiency standards and alternative fuels, the United States could cut its imports and collapse the world price.

"Imagine the dividends to America that transcend even scaling down our trade imbalances. Cash-hungry failed foreign nations would now have fewer resources to aid terrorists like al Qaeda or Hezbollah, or even to fund anti-Western madrassas. The Arab Street would have to blame its own elites for mismanagement rather than Western bogeymen. And it would be far easier to curb weapons of mass destruction if madmen lacked the oil to pay for them."

Tom Waits never really bothered to tailor his part in interviews to what he thought his audience wanted to hear. But the older he gets, the less self-conscious he gets, and what he says seems to be headed for some sort of nexus with what he sings. His wonderful interview this morning in the Telegraph illustrates:

"So if you were to give a tour of LA, what sights would you include?"

"Let's see. For chicken, I suggest the Red Wing Hatchery near Tweedy Lane in South Central LA. We're talking both fryers and ritual chickens. Hang one over the door to keep out evil spirits; the other goes on your plate with paprika.

"For your other shopping needs, try BCD Market on Temple. Best produce in town; also good pig knuckles, always important in your dining plans. Ask for Bruce.

"Below the Earth, on Hill Street, is the best spot for female impersonators; then you're going to want to be looking into those pickled eggs at the Frolic Room. Guy behind the bar has the same birthday as me, and his name is Tom.

"Finally, you have to take in Bongo Bean, who plays the sax on the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Figueroa. We're talking Pennies from Heaven time. Bongo is tall, good-looking, there most every night. Accept no substitutes."

13 January 2006

"The leader of a large Shiite mosque in Queens has joined the new Iranian president in disputing the Holocaust, saying the Nazi massacre of an estimated 6 million Jews during World War II 'has been exaggerated.' The New York Sun quotes Sheik Fadhel al Sahlani, spiritual leader of the Imam Al Khoei Islamic Center in Jamaica, New York, as having said "The numbers which have been mentioned are too much."

"Sheik al Sahlani, who said his mosque has a membership of about 3,000, said that the killing of innocent Jews during the war was 'an injustice' but that the extent of Nazi persecution needed further examination. 'The numbers, the reasons, we have to study more,' he said."

Benny Avni of the New York Sun says John Bolton is involved in an "escalating confrontation between America and Turtle Bay on the issue of Israel's place at the world body. In a sharply worded letter to Secretary-General Annan, Mr. Bolton threatened to cut funding to the United Nations if it continues to promote anti-Israel events.

"Mr. Bolton's January 3 letter, which was seen yesterday by The New York Sun, is a response to a November 29 event celebrating an annual 'International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People.' At the event, which was attended by Mr. Annan and other top diplomats, a map that 'erases the state of Israel,' as Mr. Bolton wrote, was displayed.

"'Given that we now have a world leader pursuing nuclear weapons who is calling for the state of Israel to be wiped off the map, the issue has even greater salience,' Mr. Bolton wrote.

"A photo of Kofi Annan standing below the map - several days after President Ahmadinejad of Iran made his statement - was carried last month on the Web site eyeontheun.org, creating a storm of criticism. The site also highlighted the seven-figure budget of UN bodies dedicated to promoting what Israel and America consider one-sided, anti-Israel propaganda in the guise of solidarity with Palestinian Arabs."

Budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet are using complex price-structure calculations to fill seats on their European flights, and in doing so have become more profitable than even the most successful commercial airlines. The Globe and Mail says this new pricing algorithm "last year turned Ryanair into the most successful airline in Europe. And that success has transformed the European economy in ways that are only beginning to be understood." Interesting stuff.

I've called attention twice this week to articles appearing in the Weekly Standard about the contents of documents, now being translated by US authorities in Iraq, which show that Saddam Hussein had a well-developed relationship with Islamic terrorists around the world, training thousands of them at camps in Iraq. Since the claim that there was no such relationship is a major plank in the platform of those who oppose the war, this seems a highly significant story. Few in the mainstream media seemed to agree, because the story has developed very little momentum. I was delighted to see this morning, however, that the Wall Street Journal feels the same way I do: "It is almost an article of religious faith among opponents of the Iraq War that Iraq became a terrorist destination only after the US toppled Saddam Hussein. But what if that's false, and documents from Saddam's own regime show that his government trained thousands of Islamic terrorists at camps inside Iraq before the war?

"Sounds like news to us, and that's exactly what is reported this week by Stephen Hayes in The Weekly Standard magazine. Yet the rest of the press has ignored the story, and for that matter the Bush Administration has also been dumb. The explanation for the latter may be that Mr. Hayes also scores the Administration for failing to do more to translate and analyze the trove of documents it's collected from the Saddam era...

"A benign explanation is that the first Bush priority was searching Saddam's files for WMD, not terror ties. But the WMD work has been done since the Duelfer report was substantially wrapped up well over a year ago. The current threat to US soldiers in Iraq is from terror attacks, not WMD. Anything the US can discover about whether and how Saddam and his coterie planned a guerrilla war before the invasion could be invaluable in defeating this enemy...

"A less benign explanation for the Bush Administration's lethargy is that its officials don't want to challenge the prewar CIA orthodoxy that the 'secular' Saddam would never cavort with 'religious' al Qaeda. They've seen what happened to others - Scooter Libby, Douglas Feith, John Bolton - who dared to question CIA analyses. Mr. Hayes reports that the Pentagon intelligence chief, Stephen Cambone, has been a particular obstacle to energetic document inspection."

12 January 2006

Uncle Einstein called the "cosmological constant" his biggest blunder, when evidence was found that cast doubt on it. Then scientists found more evidence and said that maybe it wasn't that kind of blunder after all. Now...well, this kind of thing would be boring if they figured it out, wouldn't it? If you agree with that you can relax, because we appear to be far from understanding what the hell the universe is up to.

The Washington Post explains: "In the quest to decipher the evolution of the cosmos, no topic generates greater interest among scientists than 'dark energy', the mysterious force that appears to be causing the universe to expand at an ever-accelerating rate.

"Yesterday, Louisiana State University astronomer Bradley E. Schaefer tossed a grenade into this debate, presenting new research to suggest that the force dark energy exerts may have varied over time. That casts new doubt on the validity of Albert Einstein's 'cosmological constant' only a few years after astronomers rescued the concept from scientific oblivion...

"Schaefer based his findings on analysis of ultra-bright cosmic explosions called gamma-ray bursts, detected as far as 12.8 billion light-years away. He found that the most distant explosions appeared brighter than they should have been if the universe were accelerating at a constant rate.

"'As you go back in time, the universe is pushing [outward] less and less,' he said. 'At some point, the pressure of dark energy is zero and is exerting no force on the universe. There is no explanation for it.'"

John Keegan, who is undoubtedly the best military analyst alive, is worried about Iran. In a piece in the Daily Telegraph this morning, he writes: "Iran is actually turning itself into a nuclear weapons state, a fact disputed by none of the players on the international scene. Iran, moreover, does not seek such weapons for psychological reasons. It wants them for practical purposes, including, according to a statement by its new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former revolutionary guard, to 'wipe Israel from the map'. Islamic extremists are, of course, given to blood-curdling rhetoric. Nevertheless, Iran's record must cause not only the West but all Iran's neighbours to take the threat seriously...

"...if the West is considering military action, so are the ayatollahs. They are the sponsors of much of the insurgency in Iraq and suppliers of the insurgents' weapons. They also have intimate links with most of the world's worst terrorist organisations, including al-Qa'eda and Hezbollah. Iranians may well be the missing link for which MI5 is searching behind the July 7 bombings in London.

"Moreover, while Iran has its own armoury of medium-range missiles suitable for nuclear delivery, the ayatollahs are also known to favour the placing of nuclear warheads in target cities by terrorists travelling by car or public transport.

"This is a bad and worrying time in world affairs."

Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner is impressed by Israel's acting Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, although his opinion didn't start out that way. "You have to judge politicians, especially those running for prime minister, without sentiment. And if they've changed direction, you have to give more weight to what they've done lately than what they did before. Unless the candidate is a truly malevolent character, you have to judge him or her on two things: leadership ability and political direction. And on that basis, I think Olmert is better suited to be prime minister than anybody else around."

Peggy Noonan thinks that the Alito hearings tipped over into liability territory for the Democrats when the judge's wife left the hearings in tears. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, she says: "...This one is all kind of over, isn't it? It definitively ended when Mrs. Alito walked out in tears. But to me it seemed over on day one. The Democrats on the committee seemed forlorn in a way, as if they knew deep in their hearts that nobody's listening. Two decades ago they could make their speeches and fake their indignation and accuse a Robert Bork of being a racist chauvinist woman hater and their accusations would ring throughout the country. But now the media they relied on have lost their monopoly. Everyone who's fired at gets to fire back, shot for shot.

"It's all changed."

The Washington Times agrees. In an editorial, the paper says: "Judge Alito gave another day of calm and reasoned testimony in spite of the fireworks, just as he did on Monday and Tuesday. He appears ever more qualified for the bench. Not that that matters to Senate Democrats. If Mr Kennedy's stunt is any indication, the Democrats' grounds on which to filibuster - and to provoke the nuclear option in return - are dropping lower and lower."

11 January 2006

The Weekly Standard, which earlier this week revealed that a treasure trove of documents exists in Iraq to show there were extensive contacts between Saddam Hussein's regime and international terrorism, is providing a little more background. In an article, staffer Dan Darling writes "Skeptics of Iraqi ties to al Qaeda appear prepared to argue that even if Saddam did have substantial connections to Ansar al Islam, the GSPC, and the Sudanese Islamic Army, these relations do not constitute ties to al Qaeda. But unless one is prepared to engage in an extremely legalistic parsing similar to that which has surrounded Abu Musab Zarqawi's relationship with Osama bin Laden, the issue is easy enough to resolve."

Caribbean Net News says Trinidad and Tobago's Energy Minister Eric Williams has resigned from the government. "The Minister's resignation follows a financial scandal in which Williams is alleged to have accepted TT$75,000 in bribe money in return for giving government contracts to a local government councilor, Dhansam Dansook, in reference to a seismic project.

"The incident is alleged to have occurred over three years ago. Williams is one of two government ministers who have now been charged relating to the same matter. The other accused is former Works and Transport Minister, Franklyn Khan, who was charged last year with six counts of accepting bribes. He is now on bail in the sum of TT$250,000 following his arrest."

One Trinidad and Tobago dollar is worth about 16 US cents.

China is trying to make internet censorship appear palatable by putting cute faces on its online thought police. People's Daily says: "Netizens have found a pair of lovely cartoon police images, 'Jingjing and Chacha' (the separate word for police in Chinese) when browsing websites in Shenzhen. These two virtual police will be on duty on cyber space, answering all the questions put forward by cyber citizens and handling emergences. It is said that the virtual police, introduced by Internet Supervision Department, Shenzhen Public Security Bureau is the first of this kind that has been promoted so far in China."

The US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, is making a major speech there today, pushing for a new Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. In an editorial, the New York Sun says: "Mr. Bolton's ideas for a reformed human rights body are fine with us, at least as far as they go. But The Great Bolton is himself limited by the fact that the Bush administration has chosen, thus far at least, to play within the United Nations' own rules.

"The current commission has fallen into disrepute because its membership is dictated by a complex regional voting system that allowed America's so-called friends - Sweden, Austria, and, of course, France - to vote us off the commission while Cuba, Zimbabwe, and the Sudan have been voted on. Libya even chaired the commission for a while. The absurdities became so obvious that even the U.N. leadership was coming around to the idea that some kind of change was needed."

Meantime, in the National Review, Claudia Rosett says "the arrest in Houston last Friday of South Korean businessman Tongsun Park brings us a step closer to understanding the origins of the largest humanitarian fraud in UN history.

"Not least, Park may be able to provide some answers to questions surrounding one of the top former UN officials with whom Park had dealings - the godfather of the Kyoto treaty, former potentate of the Canadian-power industry, and longtime eminence of UN policy, 76-year-old Canadian Maurice Strong."

While Ariel Sharon lies recovering in an Israeli hospital, Benjamin Netanyahu is in New York, trying to position himself as Sharon's natural successor. An article published yesterday in the New York Times describes the bobbing and weaving he's doing to win support without looking as if he's got his foot on Sharon's back. "...With Mr. Sharon lying incapacitated, Mr. Netanyahu stands to gain politically from Israelis worried about security and the rising power of the radical Palestinian movement Hamas. Mr. Netanyahu wants to bring a lot of Likud voters who were tempted by Kadima and Mr. Sharon back into the fold before the election. If he can, he could find himself back in government even, just possibly, as prime minister."

Netanyahu is more Sharon's worst enemy than his natural successor. The timing of his resignation from the Cabinet, just before the removal of settlers from Gaza last summer, made it clear that he intended the move to be a political knife-thrust into Sharon's back. He and his allies were the principal cause of Sharon's departure from Likud to start the new, centrist Kadima.

Netanyahu's behaviour is being noticed in Israel. The newspaper Haaretz says Netanyahu's New York Times claim: "involves more than a little vulgarity and effrontery. Vulgarity, even to speak of inheriting while the legator is in the hospital in serious condition, and effrontery, because Netanyahu is trying to blur the significant gaps that developed between himself and Sharon over a Palestinian state (as evidenced by the Likud Central Committee vote) and the disengagement, which led to his opportunistic, last-minute resignation from the government...At the end of March, the public will be called upon to decide whether Netanyahu is fit to return to power. But the Likud chairman must not blur his party's essence and place on the political map: a right-wing party whose positions are no guarantee of progress in the peace process."

Netanyahu does have a difficult row to hoe just at the moment. Polling, says Haaretz, shows that "If elections were held now, Kadima would win 44 Knesset seats - four more than in the first survey taken after Sharon was hospitalized. Labor dropped two seats (to 16), while Likud lost one (to 13) in comparison with that poll."

10 January 2006

A strange thing has happened at the nomination hearings for Judge Samuel Alito, says The Washington Times: "Reporters scoffed at the ridiculousness of Sen. Ted Kennedy. Notably, one columnist called his antics 'meandering and listless' and suggested Mr Kennedy is beyond his prime.

"It's about time: Mr Kennedy and his 1960s mental furniture cannot square a modern nominee, much less a conservative one. So the spectacle of an angry and rambling Mr Kennedy yesterday accusing Judge Alito of 'support for an all-powerful president' and other baseless charges can only increase the guffaws.

"Since Judge Alito was nominated in November, Mr Kennedy has been searching for a monarchical, racist or sexist dragon to slay in the hopes of creating a second Robert Bork. He tries to suggest he has found one, but everyone knows he hasn't. Lately, his every flail and factual misstatement confirms it. But Mr Kennedy still insists he hasn't made up his mind how he will vote."

What's so damn wrong with being in the propaganda game, asks a former CIA case officer and now resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Rueul Marc Gerecht, writing in the Washington Post, asks: "Why did the United States spend so much covert-action money in Western Europe after World War II? Washington was unsure of Western Europe's commitment to democracy and its resolve to oppose the Soviet Union and its proxy European communist parties. The programs had to be clandestine: The foreigners involved usually could not have operated with open US funding without jeopardizing their lives, their families or their reputations. Did these CA projects retard or damage the growth of a free press and free inquiry in Western Europe after World War II? I think an honest historical assessment would conclude that US covert aid advanced both.

"Surely democracy in Iraq is at least as shaky as it was in Western Europe after the defeat of Hitler. The real complaint that ought to be made against the Bush administration is that it has allowed such important work to be contracted to a public relations firm (in the case cited above, the Lincoln Group) that has done a poor job of protecting anonymity. Nevertheless, one has to give the Pentagon credit: It seems to be the only government agency that is at least trying to develop Iraqi cadres to wage the 'hearts and minds' campaign. The CIA seems to have all but abandoned its historical mission in this area."

I wrote, a couple of days ago, about Richard Dawkins's views on religion. The Guardian's Education staff has interviewed him and published the result this morning: "Religion offends every bone in Dawkins's rational, atheist body.

"'You can see why people may want to believe in something,' he acknowledges. 'The idea of an afterlife where you can be reunited with loved ones can be immensely consoling - though not to me. But to maintain such a belief in the face of all the evidence to the contrary is truly bewildering.' If individual faith is, for Dawkins, an expression of an ignorance, collective faith and organised religion embody something much more pernicious. That is what drove him to make two films for Channel 4, the first of which was shown last night, and to write his new book, The God Delusion, to be published in September.

"Dawkins describes these projects as 'consciousness-raising exercises' but the films come across as full-frontal assaults. Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism and Islam all get both barrels. Powerful and well-argued, they are; subtle, they ain't. Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, gets a walk-on role as the liberal voice of religion, but mostly it's the fundamentalists of all faiths who fall under Dawkins's scrutiny. 'They are profoundly wrong,' he says, 'but in some ways I have more sympathy with their views than I do with the so-called more liberal wings. At least the fundamentalists haven't tried to dilute their message. Their faith is exposed for what it is for all to see.'"

Prolific American author Joseph Epstein, who wrote, among other things, a book called Snobbery: The American Version, thinks newspapers in the US are becoming less serious and more vulgar by the minute. In the magazine Commentary he writes: "To the degree that papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times have contributed to the political polarization of the country, they much deserve their fate of being taken less and less seriously by fewer and fewer people. One can say this even while acknowledging that the cure, in the form of on-demand news, can sometimes seem as bad as the disease, tending often only to confirm users, whether liberal or conservative or anything else, in the opinions they already hold. But at least the curious or the bored can, at a click, turn elsewhere on the Internet for variety or relief - which is more than can be said for newspaper readers...

"(Once)...newspapers did not mind telling readers what they felt they ought to know, even at the risk of boring the pajamas off them. The Times, for instance, used to run the full text of important political speeches, which could sometimes fill two full pages of photograph-less type. But now that the college-educated are writing for the college-educated, neither party seems to care. And with circulation numbers dwindling and the strategy in place of whoring after the uninterested young, anything goes.

"What used to be considered the serious press in America has become increasingly frivolous. The scandal-and-entertainment aspect more and more replaces what once used to be called 'hard news'. In this, the serious papers would seem to be imitating the one undisputed print success of recent decades, USA Today, whose guiding principle has been to make things brief, fast-paced, and entertaining. Or, more hopelessly still, they are imitating television talk shows or the Internet itself, often mindlessly copying some of their dopier and more destructive innovations."

09 January 2006

Two senior Trinidad and Tobago Government officials, one a serving Cabinet Minister, the other a former Cabinet Minister, are facing fraud charges for taking bribes in return for Government contracts. Caribbean Net News says this morning that "Police have issued a warrant for the arrest of Trinidad and Tobago's Energy Minister, Eric Williams.

"Minister Williams is wanted on seven fraud charges arising out of allegations of financial bribes from a local government councilor, Dansam Dhansook, over two years ago in return for lucrative government contracts relating to seismic projects. The Energy Minister is one of two government ministers accused of accepting financial payments from the same local government councilor. The other accused is former Works and Transport Minister, Franklyn Khan who was charged last year with six counts of accepting bribes. He is now on bail in the sum of TT$250,000 following his arrest."

One Trinidad and Tobago dollar is worth about 16 cents US.

As the world watches the resurgence of technology as engine of economic growth in the West, China's government has served notice that it won't be left behind. In People's Daily, Chinese President Hu Jintao says his country's gearing up to compete. And it sounds as if one of his first moves will be a raid on the rest of the world's brainpower: "He said China will train world first-class scientists, especially young and middle-aged scientists, based on national key scientific research projects and international scientific cooperation projects. An incentive mechanism should be formed to increase the efficiency of innovation and provide more chances for the young talented people. China will introduce more overseas talented people and attract overseas Chinese graduates back to start businesses in China, Hu said.

"China should not only inherit and develop traditional culture but also absorb the advantages of the cultures of other countries, said Hu."

Of all the Americans whose public personas have been made over by the vehemence of their opposition to George Bush - think of Barbara Streisand, Michael Moore, George Clooney - none has been dealt quite as hard a blow as Harry Belafonte. Once a respected statesman for the world of entertainment, his excessive and often silly political pronouncements have turned him into a sort of twittering birdbrain. Leading a delegation of Americans on a trip to Venezuela, according to FOXNews, he "called President Bush 'the greatest terrorist in the world'...and said millions of Americans support the socialist revolution of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

"Belafonte led a delegation of Americans including the actor Danny Glover and the Princeton University scholar Cornel West that met the Venezuelan president for more than six hours late Saturday. Some in the group attended Chavez's television and radio broadcast Sunday."

Thanks for the tip, Mike.

08 January 2006

I had one of those rare, wonderful moments of excitement at reading something revelatory and important last night, when I read Herbert Muschamp's long New York Times piece entitled The Secret History of 2 Columbus Circle. It's a little hard to encapsulate, because it is so long, but Muschamp, who was the Times's architectural critic until a few months ago, is essentially putting on paper ideas that (for me, anyway) existed only in the air, uncaptured, uncoalesced, undocumented. What he says, I think, is important to people's understanding of 2 Columbus Avenue, certainly, but also to a general understanding of gay culture, its effect on New York's culture and its effect on culture universally.

This may be a helpful excerpt: "The gay audience is a stereotype: all those silly boys clapping their hands to a pulp whenever Judy hit a high note or Marlene got both sides of her mouth working at more or less the same time. We love you, Maria! Any Maria. But our enthusiasm was not confined to broken-down divas. We also had a thing for broken-down buildings. We can give ourselves a lot of credit for the emergence of architectural preservation as a major force in contemporary urban life.

"Will Fellows does. His book A Passion to Preserve, published in 2004 by the University of Wisconsin Press, explores the history of the preservation movement. Subtitled Gay Men as Keepers of Culture, the book asserts that a cater-cornered coalition between gay men and straight women has been the movement's spine. It also unpacks the psychological motivation that has driven some of these good folks to reclaim artifacts from modernity's trash. Paraphrasing no less an authority than Liberace, Mr. Fellows calls it "the thrill of redemption." Now there's a crowd-pleaser.

"The gay audience, excluded by society, has an organic relationship to artifacts that have been rejected by society's taste-makers. Pluck a discarded ornament out of the town dump, take it home, polish it up and put it on a pedestal: it's a way of refusing to abide by rules designed to shut you out. Somebody once loved that old lamp, that old building, that old street, that old neighborhood, that city that progress left behind."

Muschampt refers quite early in his article to a Susan Sontag essay published in 1964, called Notes on "Camp". Part of my excitement about his article came from the deepened insight I gained by re-reading Sontag's article. I did read it in the '60s, but it made far less of an impact then than it should have done. I find Sontag an awkward writer, with a sometimes quite bewildering sense of metre. But there is no question in my mind that this essay must have had the effect of a bomb going off among people a little more tuned in to popular culture than I obviously was at the time I first read it. It's a treat. There's a copy here, if you want a look.

The New York Times Book Review takes a look at two new books about black American life. One of them's a keeper, the Review says, one of them not. The keeper is We Who Are Dark, by Tommie Shelby. Creating Black Americans, by Nell Irvin Painter, apparently doesn't maintain the pace she has set with other books.

Shelby is writing about the shape of black identity. Reviewer Orlando Patterson, a Harvard University professor and author in his own right, says "Identity politics took its modern form during the second half of the last century. It emerged as an emancipatory mode of political action and thinking based on the shared experience of injustice by particular groups - notably blacks, women, gays, Latinos and American Indians. It is a movement born in a double negation: the rejection of rejection, through the proud, self-conscious union of those who have been defined as belonging to an excluded group.

"It is precisely this focus on a particular group, on the significance of difference from the dominant other, that disturbs many, on the left and right, and in the center. The traditional left is uncomfortable with conceptions of solidarity not based on class. The right has little patience with the radical reordering of what it views as natural, God-given relations and identities. Meanwhile, the individualism of the mainstream center, and its insistence that rights and redress apply equally to all citizens, is clearly at odds with notions of collective solidarity."

Shelby's concern, Patterson says, "is with the ways black spokesmen think about this heritage and the chauvinistic claims commonly made about it, beginning with the questionable view that being black means one is, or ought to be, culturally black.

"The laudable goal of promoting the finer aspects of black cultural productions, Shelby argues, in no way implies that every black person should root his identity in them or is under any obligation to cultivate them. And the fact that blacks have had to make a special effort to undo the centuries of denigration of black cultural creations in no way implies that a common cultural identity should undergird political solidarity. Further, just because blacks created some particular cultural form is not necessarily a good reason to value it, since there is a good deal in black culture, as in all cultures, that is without value. And he nicely extends previous criticisms that the tiresome proprietary claims made of black culture risk marginalizing both black culture and intellectuals.

"It is impossible in the short space of a book review to do justice to the complexity and thoroughness of Shelby's analysis. He knows how to ask all the right questions: Is collective identity necessary? Would a shared identity help? Is blackness simply any and everything that black people do? And does not such a view reduce blackness to 'a matter of ontology, sinking us right back into the quicksand of essentialism?' His answers, while drawing on other scholars, and not always on the mark, are rarely without originality."

Turning to the second book reviewed, Patterson says: "Anyone who doubts the value of Shelby's criticisms of black cultural identity politics should read Nell Irvin Painter's textbook on African-American history, Creating Black Americans...

"Painter would seem to be an ideal choice for such a task. Her many important works are models of clarity, especially her beautifully wrought biography of Sojourner Truth. Alas, the same cannot be said of this plodding and distressingly chauvinistic volume. Beginning with a chapter on Africa, it travels the familiar route through the slave trade, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era and so on up to the present. Part of Painter's problem is that she tries to cover the whole complex panorama of African-American history in 359 pages, about a third of them taken up with illustrations. There is simply no space to evaluate the relative importance of the events she touches on, or engage the reader with the fascinating moral, cultural, political and intellectual issues raised in the study of them."

"The former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein trained thousands of radical Islamic terrorists from the region at camps in Iraq over the four years immediately preceding the US invasion, according to documents and photographs recovered by the U.S. military in postwar Iraq," claims the Weekly Standard. The news magazine says the existence of the documents has been confirmed "by eleven US government officials".

"The secret training took place primarily at three camps - in Samarra, Ramadi, and Salman Pak - and was directed by elite Iraqi military units. Interviews by US government interrogators with Iraqi regime officials and military leaders corroborate the documentary evidence. Many of the fighters were drawn from terrorist groups in northern Africa with close ties to al Qaeda, chief among them Algeria's GSPC and the Sudanese Islamic Army. Some 2,000 terrorists were trained at these Iraqi camps each year from 1999 to 2002, putting the total number at or above 8,000.

"Intelligence officials believe that some of these terrorists returned to Iraq and are responsible for attacks against Americans and Iraqis. According to three officials with knowledge of the intelligence on Iraqi training camps, White House and National Security Council officials were briefed on these findings in May 2005; senior Defense Department officials subsequently received the same briefing."

The reason more has not been made of these documents, the Standard says, is the slow pace of tranlation and confirmation. Its editor, William Kristol, says that although a few of the docoments have been released, they have not had sufficient impact to shake the conventional, but mistaken view that there never was a connection between Saddam Huseein and terrorism. Kristol says all of them should be trotted out.

I'm not so sure how typical Shanghai's experience with the end of a property boom is likely to be - for some reason it sounds to me as if its extreme nature and its drama are going to be peculiar to that city. But maybe not...you never know.


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
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