...Views from mid-Atlantic
28 January 2006

The French writer, Bernard-Henri Levy, has become a familiar figure in the United States during the last few months, appearing on television and in newspaper stories. The Atlantic Monthly sponsored his trip to the US, asking him to follow in the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville (whose American roadtrip in the early part of the 19th Century resulted in the classic book Democracy in America) and write about it for a modern-day - really, one ought to say a post 9/11 - audience. It's been a fascinating experience on a lot of levels, watching the whole thing unfold, and had Bernard-Henri been a different person, it might have been outstanding intellectual theatre. Alas, Bernard-Henri is entirely too precious, too frilly, too much a specimen supplied by central casting, to break free from seeming to be a slightly extravagant parody of himself.

The book he wrote about his journey, American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, has now been published. The New York Times, which, by God, was owed a break after screwing up enough serious journalism in a short time to raise Mencken from the dead, has published a brilliant review by Garrison Keillor, one that will earn him an honoured place in reviewry forever (and hopefully a promotion for whoever came up with the intelligent idea of asking Keillor, of all people, to write the thing). This is his first paragraph:

"Any American with a big urge to write a book explaining France to the French should read this book first, to get a sense of the hazards involved. Bernard-Henri Levy is a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore; he rambled around this country at the behest of The Atlantic Monthly and now has worked up his notes into a sort of book. It is the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion beloved of European journalists for the past 50 years, with stops at Las Vegas to visit a lap-dancing club and a brothel; Beverly Hills; Dealey Plaza in Dallas; Bourbon Street in New Orleans; Graceland; a gun show in Fort Worth; a 'partner-swapping club' in San Francisco with a drag queen with mammoth silicone breasts; the Iowa State Fair ('a festival of American kitsch'); Sun City ('gilded apartheid for the old');a stock car race; the Mall of America; Mount Rushmore; a couple of evangelical megachurches; the Mormons of Salt Lake; some Amish; the 2004 national political conventions; Alcatraz - you get the idea. (For some reason he missed the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the adult video awards, the grave site of Warren G. Harding and the World's Largest Ball of Twine.) You meet Sharon Stone and John Kerry and a woman who once weighed 488 pounds and an obese couple carrying rifles, but there's nobody here whom you recognize. In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food. You've lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don't own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title."

Christ. He could have left it there...that would have been an appropriately devastating, even a savage comment. But then, I suppose, we'd have been done out of the treat that the second paragraph is...and the third...and so on to the glorious end.

Really, this is all you need to know about the world on this Saturday.

27 January 2006

Is Fidel Castro losing his mármoles? Buried down in the middle of this long rant in his official newspaper, Granma, are these two rather odd paragraphs: "In addition, Fidel qualified the US Interests Section in Havana as a smuggling enterprise. Last year, that office brought in more than 100 tons of products - cameras, videos, radios, to better receive the broadcasts of the ill-named Radio and TV Marti - using the diplomatic pouch.

"After exposing that it is also a place through which enormous sums of money are channeled to promote the counterrevolution and create destabilization in the country, he also emphasized that its employees have increasingly less oxygen."

A major overhaul of the United Nations' discredited human rights agency is 'quite likely' this year the Washington Times is quoting the State Department's lead negotiator as having said yesterday. "'I think it is quite likely we can get a new human rights council, although it is not certain,' Mark Lagon, deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, said at a Washington roundtable on U.N. reform....he also said the United States would insist on real reforms before agreeing to a deal.

"The United States backs a plan to scrap the current 53-member UN Human Rights Commission, which critics say has been co-opted by some of the world's worst human rights abusers, including Sudan, Zimbabwe and China."

There's something about Arabia that makes the Brits go all mushy. History is littered with silly asses made sillier yet by the romance of the desert. One of them, a Colonel I seem to recall with a certain horror, dedicated his book on the Sahara "To Feri n'Gashi. Only a Camel, but steel-true and great of heart." Here's another one, reacting in the Guardian to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian election: "Above all, Europe should not get hung up on the wrong issues, like armed resistance and the 'war on terror'...Hamas's refusal to give formal recognition of Israel's right to exist should also not be seen by Europe as an urgent problem." He's coming to these conclusions after having met a Hamas leader, he says, who "exuded the clearest sense of inner steel", and who "left me with no sense of embarrassment about the imminence of power."

The Times of London, obviously made of sterner stuff than the Guardian's gushing young correspondent, had a somewhat clearer view of what the Hamas victory represented: "Few political parties more fully deserved to lose a democratic election than Fatah, the corrupt, ramshackle Palestinian faction that has held a virtual monopoly on power since the Palestinian territories won a measure of self-government. Fatah's comprehensive defeat at the hands of Hamas, in elections that all international monitors agreed were fair, reflect the anger and frustration of 1.3 million Palestinian voters at the feuding, mismanagement and corruption of the late Yassir Arafat's cronies who have dominated the Fatah-led governments in the West Bank and Gaza. The electors have seen the ministerial villas amid the Gaza slums. They have suffered from the lawlessness. And they have seen huge sums donated from abroad squandered while the Palestinian economy stagnated. This is Arafat's true legacy."

True enough, but perhaps a little off the point at this stage, when the world is trying to figure out how it's going to deal with a government that is openly committed to violence, terrorism and genocide, one that wants to turn the clock back on solving Middle East problems by 60 years or so. Saying, as the US has done, that it won't deal with Hamas, just isn't going to be enough. Some accomodation is going to have to be made to provide a basis for dealing with the (after all) democratically-elected government of the Palestinians.

Much of the accomodation is going to have to be made by Hamas itself, which will be as surprised by its victory as the rest of the world. In its present state, it is far from centred and sure of itself, I think. Emanuele Ottolenghi explains in the National Review the dilemma in which Hamas now finds itself. "There will be no excuses or ambiguities when Hamas fires rockets on Israel and launches suicide attacks against civilian targets. Until Tuesday, the PA could hide behind the excuse that they were not directly responsible and they could not rein in the 'militants'. Now the 'militants' are the militia of the ruling party. They are one and the same with the Palestinian Authority.

"If they bomb Israel from Gaza - (which is) not under occupation anymore, and is therefore, technically, part of the Palestinian state the PLO proclaimed in Algiers in 1988, but never bothered to take responsibility for - that is an act of war, which can be responded to in kind, under the full cover of the internationally recognized right of self-defense. No more excuses that the Palestinians live under occupation, that the PA is too weak to disarm Hamas, that violence is not the policy of the PA. Hamas and the PA will be the same: What Hamas does is what the PA will stand for."

Vancouver is getting new parking meters, and these things are the ultimate in stool pigeonry. The Globe and Mail explains: "Unlike traditional meters, its PhotoViolationMeter is networked, using sensors embedded in the ground and a camera: When a car pulls into a spot, a picture is taken of the licence plate and billing starts. Try to drive off without paying, and a picture of the licence plate is sent to a central ticketing centre.

"For those who try to foil the meters by covering the camera, an internal alarm detects when a picture can't be properly taken and alerts a parking officer to go to the spot and take a shot of the license plate with Photo Violation's wireless handheld unit. The meter also offers high-security zones, such as airports, the option of setting up the system to transmit photos of the licence plates to a parking enforcement centre, where they can be examined to identify suspicious or stolen vehicles."

26 January 2006

In a book being published this week, the Iraqi officer who was second-in-command of Saddam Hussein's air force, Georges Sada, claims Iraq moved weapons of mass destruction into Syria before the war by loading the weapons into civilian aircraft from which the passenger seats had been removed. The New York Sun says: "The Iraqi general...makes the charges in a new book, Saddam's Secrets, released this week. He detailed the transfers in an interview yesterday with The New York Sun.

"'There are weapons of mass destruction gone out from Iraq to Syria, and they must be found and returned to safe hands,' Mr. Sada said. 'I am confident they were taken over.' Mr. Sada's comments come just more than a month after Israel's top general during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Moshe Yaalon, told the Sun that Saddam 'transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria.'"

Kofi Annan's son Kojo says he's going to reimburse Ghana for the $14,000 in import duties he dodged by falsely registering that Mercedes in his father's name. The Times in London says "William Taylor, Kojo Annan's lawyer, has now written to Ghanaian officials, acknowledging that 'the automobile was not for the Secretary-General's own personal use and therefore the exemption was not justified'."

James Bone, the Times reporter who Kofi Annan called "an overgrown schoolboy" for asking embarrassing questions about the car a month of so ago, isn't impressed. He writes in the Times that "I am not finished with my questions just yet. If Kojo Annan has admitted his tax dodge in Ghana, the first question must now be whether his famous father was aware of his son's actions...

"A memo found on the computer of Kofi Annan's personal assistant, Wagaye Assebe, dated November 13, 1998, read: 'Sir, Kojo asked me to send the attached letter re: the car he is trying to purchase under your name. The company is requesting a letter be sent from the UN. Kojo said it could be signed by anyone from your office. May I ask Lamin to sign it? Please advise.'"

Here's another question for him to ask: Why isn't Kojo also going to reimburse Mercedes for the discount they gave him on the strength of buying the car in his father's name?

Buried down at the bottom of a Reuters story on the wires this morning is this little paragraph, taken from an interview with Joko's lawyer: Top News | Reuters.co.za: "Kojo Annan's reimbursement offer did not extend to the diplomatic discount granted due to his father's UN position...'Mercedes doesn't need the money,' he said."

Like many other countries, Bermuda has begun preparing Freedom of Information legislation. Our government has spent much of its time in office making it clear that it does not believe in being open with the press and the public, but was forced to embrace Freedom of Information when it became a popular plank in the Opposition's election platform. The Government chose to consult the public on what it thought ought to be in the bill. It hardly seems an appropriate project for that kind of consultation - Freedom of Information is hardly a throbbing issue here, so the public has neither opinion nor experience to call on in suggesting the scope of the legislation. What public consultation did do was take up a lot of time, making the cynics among us suspect that the government was trying to put off the evil moment for as long as possible. As a result, other countries are beginning to forge ahead of us.

My friend Steve has pointed out that Guyana's Stabroek News said on Friday that: "Last week, the Freedom of Information Bill 2005 was submitted to the Clerk of the Guyana National Assembly by the Chairman of the 'Alliance For Change' (AFC) Khemraj Ramjattan. The eventual consideration of this Bill by Parliament will represent a crucial opportunity for Guyana to enact a strong law which could be used to promote more informed democratic practices, entrench public accountability, tackle poverty, expose endemic corruption and reverse the scourges of ethnic division and social exclusion.

"Currently, around the world, more than sixty countries have enacted freedom of information (FOI) laws. Indeed, many of Guyana's neighbours in the Caribbean have implemented FOI laws. These include Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda and nearby Belize, while the Governments of Cayman Islands and Bermuda have also announced their willingness to implement the right to information. Guyana now has a historic opportunity to benefit from the enactment of its own FOI law."

The sweeping Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections has put Israel's government in an awkward position. Haaretx explains: "Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is now facing a real crisis, as he has the option of a bad choice or an even worse one. If he shows signs of moderation or softening toward Hamas following its victory in the Palestinian parlimantary elections, his political rival, Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, would base his party's election campaign on the claim that the Gaza pullout was a reward for Hamas.

"On the other hand, if he threatens to sever ties with the Palestinians, boycott them, further delay funds owed to them or impose any other punishment, Olmert will find himself facing increasing international pressure to honor the legitimate, democratic election results, and to prevent the collapse of the Palestinian Authority's social and public services."

25 January 2006

"As revolutions go, if that's what the narrow defeat of Canada's ruling Liberal party by the Conservatives in Monday's national election can be called, it was a typically Canadian one," according to National Review staffer Doug Gamble. "By awarding the Conservatives a minority government - the party won most of the seats in parliament but fewer than the opposition parties combined - voters were saying, 'We want to give you a try but we don't really want to hurt the Liberals' feelings.' Call it the 'Excuse Me' Revolution." He might also have pointed out that in Canadian politics, conservative is an entirely relative term. A shift to the right up there still comes to an end within shrieking distance of, say, Barbara Boxer.

Columnist Paul Greenberg likens those who are complaining about the administration's wire-tapping programme to the anti-Federalists, whose flawed design nearly strangled the Republic at its birth. In the Washington Times, he writes: "It seems the anti-federalists didn't disappear from American history after the Constitution was ratified; they still spring up periodically to warn that security is incompatible with liberty. And to portray a strong, independent executive branch as the real threat to our freedom. If today's anti-federalists prevail in this critical period, how long before we return to the sleepy America of September 10, 2001, and at what risk?"

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has published another of his occasional articles in the Washington Post, this one about Darfur: "People in many parts of Darfur continue to be killed, raped and driven from their homes by the thousands. The number displaced has reached two million, while three million (half the total population of Darfur) are dependent on international relief for food and other basics. Many parts of Darfur are becoming too dangerous for relief workers to reach. The peace talks are far from reaching a conclusion. And fighting now threatens to spread into neighboring Chad, which has accused Sudan of arming rebels on its territory.

"Despite a chronic funding crisis, African Union troops in Darfur are doing a valiant job. People feel safer when the troops are present. But there are too few of them - a protection force of only 5,000, with an additional 2,000 police and military observers, to cover a territory the size of Texas. They have neither the equipment nor the broad mandate they would need to protect the people under threat or to enforce a cease-fire routinely broken by the rebels, as well as by the Janjaweed militia and Sudanese government forces."

He sounds like a grave, highly-polished tortoise complaining about the behaviour of hyperactive hares, which about sums up what makes it impossible for the UN (and the process it represents) to efficiently tackle problems like this one.

In the New York Review of Books, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof gives a horrifying account of what the UN's glacial pace has facilitated. "In my years as a journalist, I thought I had seen a full kaleidoscope of horrors, from babies dying of malaria to Chinese troops shooting students to Indonesian mobs beheading people. But nothing prepared me for Darfur, where systematic murder, rape, and mutilation are taking place on a vast scale, based simply on the tribe of the victim. What I saw reminded me why people say that genocide is the worst evil of which human beings are capable."

The Daily Telegraph, to my great surprise, has lost its appeal against a libel conviction for publishing documents concerning money George Galloway was alleged to have received from the Saddam Hussein regime. But any pleasure that might give Mr Galloway will be tempered by further news that investigators from the Serious Fraud Office have begun making enquiries into his alleged role in the Iraqi Oil-for-Food scandal. A four-member SFO team returned from Washington yesterday with thousands of documents about the scandal. The SFO is expected to decide, within the next month or so, a whether a full criminal investigation should be mounted into a range of UK individuals and companies said to be involved in the oil-for-food scam, including Mr Galloway.

24 January 2006

Michael Ledeen, writing in the National Review, says "The Assad family's grip on Syria is weakening, and this is welcome news indeed, both for the long-suffering Syrian people and for us. The Iranians are obviously desperate to keep Assad in power, and Hezbollah armed to the teeth. Should things go the other way, Iran would lose its principal ally in the war against us in Iraq.

"As is their wont, the Iranians have been paying others to do much of their dirtiest work, and they have awarded Assad tens of millions of dollars' worth of oil, as well as cash subsidies, to cover the costs of recruiting, training and transporting young jihadis, who move from Syria into the Iraqi battle space (and, according to Jane's, a serious publication, the Iranians have also sent some of their WMDs to Assad for safekeeping). That deadly flow has been considerably reduced in recent months, thanks to an extended campaign waged by US and Iraqi forces in Anbar Province, and further along the Iraq/Syria border. The Syrians have accordingly sent radical Islamists into Lebanon, perhaps to link up with Hezbollah in a new jihad against Israel...

"...We must increase our support for freedom in Syria. There are several new political organizations calling for Syrian freedom. Predictably, most of the organizers live outside the shadow of Assad's thumb, but they have held recent meetings in Europe with a surprising number of Syrian citizens, they are beginning to broadcast into the country, and many entrails and tea leaves suggest far more support for democratic revolution than the cynical old guys at State and CIA had believed possible. The administration should embrace all such organizations - it is not for us to pick Bashar's successor, that is the kind of old-Europe tactics best left to the futile Cartesian scheming of the Quai D'Orsay - and press hard for pulling the military fangs of Hezbollah, the sooner the better.

"You can be sure that, as Assad collapses, the reverberations will reach Baghdad and Tehran. The Iraqis will gain the security they desperately need in order to advance their brave democratic project. And the Iranians, turbaned and bare-headed alike, will see the hour of their own freedom draw ever closer."

Edward Gorey was a genius in a way that only people who live in New York can be geniuses. Don't ask me to explain that - I'm not sure I can in less than lebenteen thousand words, but it's true. In San Francisco, the Chronicle says, the costume ball that celebrates his work is getting bigger and bigger: "Saturday, a crowd of top hats, tails, corseted dresses, men dressed as Death and women dressed as bats, with a number of powdered faces and outrageously teased hair, gathered outside the Great American Music Hall for the Sixth Annual Edwardian Ball.

"Inspired by the dark genius of Edward Gorey's illustrations and children's books -- this year's theme, The Gilded Bat,' takes its name from one of his classics - the ball featured the burlesque troupe Diamond Daggers, acrobatic cabaret from Vau du Vire Society, chanteuse Jill Tracy, DJs, and the Edwardian house band, Rosin Coven.

"The event's popularity, even at a larger venue than last year's Cat Club, forced a sad situation: 50 to 60 people found themselves all dressed up with nowhere to go. Thanks to a large number of tickets purchased online, the venue had to stop selling tickets at the door and began letting people in only when other people left. The box office line went the length of the street..."There's nothing to do but pout," said Amelia, who declined to give her last name, resplendent in a black coat and red lipstick. "They keep telling us to wait, and I've been waiting two and half hours. I've missed it for years in a row."

Michael Wharton wrote the Peter Simple column in the Daily Telegraph for nearly half a century. He had one of those very eccentric, very funny minds that the Brits seem to nurture so well. Christopher Howse laments his death. "When Michael Wharton started on the Peter Simple column on New Year's Day 1957, the column, begun two years earlier by the brilliant, but politically-minded Colin Welch, had something of the flavour of Beachcomber (J B Morton) or the less remembered Timothy Shy (D B 'The Wrong' Wyndham-Lewis) - funny, no doubt, but via a more show-offish, Bellocian persona.

"Wharton's own flavour comes out in any episode from the misfortunes of 'lovely sex-maniac-haunted Sadcake Park', the pride and 'iron-lung' of the fictional Stretchford conurbation, with its 'picturesque yellowish fog, fed by emissions from neighbouring chemical works'.

"Wharton wrote of 'Mr R S Viswaswami (Environmental Amenity Officer, Grade III), who lives in a specially constructed hermitage on the island in the middle of the boating lake and is thought to be the only naked sadhu employed by a local authority in England'. Viswaswami's speciality is the projection of Tibetan thought-forms (an early interest of Wharton's, as featured in his strange novel Sheldrake).

"On this day, 'as the huge red sun set behind the trees, a lone sex maniac, moving with short, quick steps and gripping one cuff of his municipal-issue mackintosh, wheeled his rusting bicycle towards the exit, while the sadhu playfully harassed him with thought-forms of assorted Hindu deities, multiple-armed, wielding thunderbolts and riding peacocks and fabulous serpents'."

Just what kind of work Valerie Plame did for the CIA seems to have become an issue as Scooter Libby's lawyer's prepare for his trial. In general terms, the law prevents an agent's identity being revealed only if he or she is on undercover duty. Whether Plame was undercover or not has become an issue of "significant disagreement" between prosecution and defence. Sorting that disagreement out is going to mean using classified evidence at the trial, which the Associated Press says involves a "highly secretive court process that could bog down the case."

Meantime, the Columbia Journalism Review has published a long, fascinating article written by Timothy M. Phelps, Newsday's Washington bureau chief, on the damage the Plame case has done to what reporters thought were guarantees of their freedom to protect the anonymity of their sources in the First Amendment. It's an article that ought to be read from start to finish, but this is a representative excerpt: "...How badly has what we might now call the Judy Miller case damaged the First Amendment? For one thing, there is now no protection for journalists in federal criminal cases in Washington and many other areas of the country. In civil cases, where the balancing act of constitutional needs is different because lawsuits are considered less compelling than law enforcement, rulings in federal courts have been less stacked against the press. Yet the same federal appeals court that ruled against Miller and Cooper refused in November to block a court order that four journalists must testify in the Wen Ho Lee civil case. (Lee, who was suspected of stealing nuclear secrets for China but later largely exonerated, is suing government agencies for allegedly leaking fake information about him. The four reporters, James Risen of The New York Times, Robert Drogin of the Los Angeles Times, H. Joseph Hebert of The Associated Press and Pierre Thomas of ABC, as well as a fifth, Walter Pincus of the Post, have been held in contempt of court and seem headed for the same anguished decision made by Cooper and Miller.)

"In a rare though not yet final victory for the press, a federal district court judge in New York ruled last February 24 that there is a limited reporter's privilege in criminal cases. The legal combatants were none other than Judy Miller and Patrick Fitzgerald. In his more normal role as US attorney in Chicago, Fitzgerald is investigating with another grand jury who in the government may have told Miller about impending government actions against two Islamic charities in Chicago. Judge Robert Sweet blocked his attempt to obtain Miller's phone records.

"But meanwhile, even the original case involving Wilson and Plame is still fraught with danger for the press, as Fitzgerald continues to plough through the ranks of Washington journalists, now including Bob Woodward of The Washington Post and Viveca Novak of Time. All of the journalists who have testified - mostly under agreements restricting their testimony to very specific issues - are still in jeopardy. If the Libby case goes to trial, Libby's lawyers are not bound by such agreements.

"The prosecutor seems to have had the last word about the First Amendment, at least for now. 'Journalists are not entitled to promise complete confidentiality - no one in America is,' he told Thomas F. Hogan, chief judge of the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Hogan agreed. Of course, we never did have the right to offer complete confidentiality in every circumstance. But as a result of this case and others in the pipeline, the question now is, Can we honestly promise our sources anything?"

23 January 2006

The fuss about domestic wiretapping in the US wouldn't happen in France, where the Government spies on its citizens as a matter of course. Foreign Policy is carrying a fascinating article in its new issue on just how the French do fight terror: "...Questions of spying, security, civil liberties, and privacy are not new to France, which found itself in the cross hairs of Middle Eastern terrorists well before the United States did. France was the first to uncover a plot to crash a jetliner into a landmark building (the Eiffel Tower) - a chilling preview of the 9/11 attacks. It was the first to face the reality that its own citizens could become assets of Islamist terrorist groups, long before British nationals bombed the London Underground last July. As a result, it has continuously adapted its judicial system and intelligence services to the terrorist threat that it faces.

"Like most European countries, France favors a judicial approach over the US-style 'war on terror'. But the French blend of aggressive prosecution, specialized investigators, and intrusive law enforcement is unique in Europe (I think the author must mean modern Europe). And though the policy has gone through trial and error, the early warning helped fashion what has proven to be a fairly successful - though controversial - counterterrorist response."

In China, they're beginning to come to grips with the price you pay for becoming wealthy. People's Daily carries a story about kids in Beijing who are souping up cars and racing them on publc streets. "Illegal car racing has become popular among young motorists in Beijing, causing serious concern about safety, the Beijing Youth Daily reported yesterday. The new development has been linked to gambling, sometimes involving thousands of dollars for each race.

"On Friday night, Beijing police broke up a group of enthusiasts of around 50 young men and women near Yizhuang, a southern suburb, who were planning a race, according to the report. Their cars had apparently been customized specially for the race."

Takes you back a bit, doesn't it?

As I'm a book collector, this piece by the rare books librarian at University College in London, in which by chance she discovers that a rare volume in her charge is a great deal rarer than she thought, is something I'm bound to read. But I have a protest to make. If a poem by Byron is the punchline of your story, Susan Stead, then it is a pretty big mistake not to quote the damn thing, or some of it at least. I'm surprised the Los Angeles Times let her get away with it.

The Christian Science Monitor outlines the issue Tony Blair has claimed is going to be paramount during his third term - anti-social behaviour: "...It seems Prime Minister Tony Blair is putting his foot down. He says antisocial behavior - the verbal abuse, physical intimidation, nocturnal din, and graffiti that blights many British neighborhoods - is one of the top problems facing the country. To the chagrin of some here, restoring 'respect' is now Blair's key domestic priority for his third term.

"'What lies at the heart of this behavior is a lack of respect for values that almost everyone in this country shares - consideration for others, a recognition that we all have responsibilities as well as rights, civility, and good manners,' he said earlier this month as he unveiled his 'Respect Agenda.'"

Yet many people, Rupert Murdoch among them feel that Blair and his Labour Party are themselves responsible for the growth of disrespectful behaviour. Murdoch last night said Tony Blair's administration was to blame because it had extended the 'nanny state', and eroded the concept of personal responsibility.

I think he's in the right church, but the wrong pew. He really should be castigating Blair for creating a 'ninny state', in which the powers of the state have been so diminished that its agencies are no longer capable of demanding the respect of the people they're meant to be controlling. The Police are the most obvious example, because they're so very much in the front line. But they're just the tip of the iceberg. Throw in the whole criminal justice system, which has become so toothless and ineffective that the rights of criminals outweigh the rights of citizens. Throw in the education system, which lacks the ability to control its classrooms. Throw in...well, you get the picture without me droning on. If you create circumstances in which citizens think you're soft...an easy mark...unworthy of respect...then, on what authority do you demand that citizens should respect one another?

Thanks for the tip, Mike.

22 January 2006

More on those documents captured in postwar Iraq: Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard is reporting that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released 39 of the 40 documents House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra had requested. Hayes hasn't read them, but he lists their titles in this story.

There are a total of 2 million of them. Only 50,000 or so have been examined by US intelligence, many of them simply because of their possible relevance to the search for weapons of mass destruction. In another article published in the Weekly Standard, Hayes says "Some U.S. officials, including several at the Department of Defense, have argued in internal deliberations that the exploitation of these materials is best left to historians. What is the urgency, they ask, about translating and analyzing documents that come from a deposed regime?"

Well, says Hayes, "There are at least two answers: to defeat the insurgency in Iraq; and to gain a better understanding of the relationship between rogue regimes and the transregional terrorists they use to extend their power...

"Understanding what we got right and what we got wrong about Iraq's involvement in terrorism is more than an academic exercise. It is important as the U.S. intelligence community continues to analyze the roles of other rogue states - Syria, Iran, North Korea - in support of terror. Winning the fight in Iraq, meanwhile, requires making maximum use of intelligence resources at hand. (John, Director of National Intelligence) Negroponte is surely right that our determined adversaries cannot be thwarted otherwise.

I'm a great fan of Christopher Hitchens, but I thought his New York Times review of a new translation of Gustave Flaubert's Bouvard et Pecuchet showed that he was out of his depth for once. He writes about the book as if it were a collection of Mutt and Jeff cartoons - "Economy and perfectionism in point of words would have been the last concern of the two losers featured here, whose working lives were spent as copy clerks and to whom words were mere objects or things. Drawn to each other by a common mediocrity (Flaubert's original title was The Tale of Two Nobodies), Bouvard and Pecuchet are liberated by an unexpected legacy to embark on a career of unfettered fatuity. Many fictions and scenarios have depended upon a male double-act, usually enriched by contrast as in the case of Holmes and Watson or Bertie and Jeeves, or of course the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance and his rotund and pragmatic squire. More recently, each half of the sketch has been equally hapless and pitiful, as with Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Vladimir and Estragon or Withnail and I. If you stir in the rural setting, plus a shallow addiction to the mysteries of technique and innovation, you find that Flaubert's pairing has also anticipated Dumb and Dumber. It's often necessary to mark off two fools or jerks by discrepant heights: Bouvard is tall but pot-bellied while Pecuchet is short. A mnemonic here might be Schwarzenegger and DeVito in Twins."

That's all very clever, but neither in that paragraph nor in the rest of his review is there any sense of how important the book was to the development of literature, or how beautifully it was written. Cyril Connolly counts it as one of the 100 most significant books in the Modern Movement. Flaubert is said to have read 1,500 books in preparation for writing it, and the work he did in creating it undoubtedly contributed to his early death. It was James Joyce's favourite book. Hitchens is right to mention Vladimir and Estragon from Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The Flaubert book's obvious influence on that classic from the next literary period alone justifies a great deal more respect than Hitchens manages in this dog of a review.

Victor Davis Hansen paints a disturbing picture, in the Washington Times, of the seriously deranged man now in charge of Iran. "In all his crazed pronouncements, Mr. Ahmadinejad reflects an end-of-days view: History is coming to its grand finale under his aegis. Mr. Ahmadinejad magically entrances even foreign audiences into stupor. Of his recent United Nations speech, he boasted: 'I felt that all of a sudden the atmosphere changed there. And for 27-28 minutes, all the leaders did not blink.'

"So the name of the haloed Mr. Ahmadinejad will live for the ages - but only if he alone takes out the crusader interloper in Jerusalem. The Shi'ites may be the dispossessed of the Muslim world, but, as the messianic figure the Great Mahdi come to Earth, Mr. Ahmadinejad can do something for the devout not seen since Saladin expelled the infidels from Palestine...

"Mr. Ahmadinejad also grasps that there are millions of highly educated but cynical Westerners who see nothing much exceptional about their own culture. So if democratic America has nuclear weapons, why not theocratic Iran?.. Moreover, he knows how Western relativism works. So who is to say what are 'facts' or 'true' - given the tendency of the powerful to 'construct' their own narratives and call the result 'history'? Was not the Holocaust exaggerated, or perhaps even fabricated, as mere jails became 'death camps' through a trick of language to take over Palestinian land?

"We laugh at all this as absurd. We should not.

"Money, oil and threats have brought the Iranian theocrats to the very threshold of a nuclear arsenal. Their uncanny diagnosis of Western malaise has now convinced them that they can carefully fabricate a Holocaust-free reality in which Muslims are the victims and Jews the aggressors deserving of punishment. And thus Mr. Ahmadinejad's righteously aggrieved (and nuclear) Iran can, after 'hundreds of years of war', finally set things right in the Middle East. Then a world that wishes to continue making money and driving cars in peace won't much care how this divinely appointed holy man finally finishes a bothersome 'war of destiny'."

It seemed likely, when UN purchasing officer Alexander Yakovlev pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering back in August, that a deal had been made to allow him to help officials uncover further crime in his area at the UN. The Washington Times is reporting that the UN's procurement chief, Andrew Toh, is the highest-ranking of eight individuals suspended from their jobs as part of an investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, the officials said. The Times comments that "The suspensions raise the question whether the United Nations is on the brink of another scandal after extensive probes into the defunct UN oil-for-food program in Iraq."

At the Financial Times in London (this link won't last long, so be quick), they're reporting that "An internal review of United Nations peacekeeping activities has found 'substantial evidence of abuse' in procurement operations, leading to 'financial losses and significant inaccuracies in planning assumptions', according to a copy of the report circulating in New York. The review, which may be published imminently, also expresses 'great concern' at a failure of UN management to enforce accountability and adhere to internal control procedures."

The FT comments that "The findings are likely to deal a powerful new blow to the world body headed by Kofi Annan, its secretary-general, as it tries to recover from scandal over its mismanagement of the multi-billion-dollar oil-for-food programme in Iraq."


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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