...Views from mid-Atlantic
11 February 2006

Mark Steyn may have made his reputation as a comic, but that tends to conceal the fact that he has a really first rate brain, or perhaps I just think that because I agree with what he says so much of the time. In the Canadian magazine, Macleans, he's writing, approvingly, of the British Empire, of all things: "...If you step back, one way to look at the 'war on terror' is as a belated civil war within the British Empire - at any rate between the Anglosphere core (America, Britain, Australia, India) and a dysfunctional periphery (Gaza, the Pakistani tribal lands, the Sunni triangle), or between those territories that enjoyed the full attentions of the mother country and those it acquired in the Versailles settlement...

"Alas, for them, for their subjects and for the world today, when they finally got their hands on the Middle East, British imperialism had dwindled down to its bare bones: import some Hashemite prince, create a phony-baloney kingdom for him, and retreat to your bases...

"In 2003, Tony Blair spoke to the United States Congress. 'As Britain knows,' he said, 'all predominant power seems for a time invincible but, in fact, it is transient. The question is: what do you leave behind?'

"An excellent question - though Mr. Blair forbore to answer on Britannia's behalf. Today, three-sevenths of the G7 major economies are nations of British descent. Of the 20 economies with the highest GDP per capita, no fewer than 11 are current or former realms of Her Britannic Majesty. And if you protest that most of those are pinprick colonial tax havens - Bermuda, the Caymans - well, okay, eliminate all territories with populations lower than 20 million and the Top Four is an Anglosphere sweep: the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia.

"The key regional players in almost every corner of the globe are British-derived - South Africa, India - and, even among the lesser players, as a general rule you're better off for having been exposed to British rule than not: try doing business in Indonesia rather than Malaysia, or Haiti rather than St. Lucia."

I was sent an article this morning from the LA Times whose author condemned media editors around the United States for failing to publish those cartoons which Muslims are using as an excuse to try to face down Western governments. I must say that I don't share his views. The cartoons have already been published, they are easily available on the net. News media are there to publish new material, not old. The only purpose, it seems to me, that is served by republishing them is that of getting in the faces of those who claim to be offended by them. Whether their distaste is authentic or not, there is simply no point in being aggressive. The West can relax, because Muslims will be unable to alter the fact of freedom of speech, no matter how violent their riots become. Centuries of progress in thought aren't going to crumble at a touch.

Having said that, I understand that there are a lot of commentators who think that editors and publishers who fail to publish the cartoons are acting out of simple fear. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer is one of them: "The mob has turned this into a test case for freedom of speech in the West. The German, French and Italian newspapers that republished these cartoons did so not to inform but to defy - to declare that they will not be intimidated by the mob.

"What is at issue is fear. The unspoken reason many newspapers do not want to republish is not sensitivity but simple fear. They know what happened to Theo van Gogh, who made a film about the Islamic treatment of women and got a knife through the chest with an Islamist manifesto attached."

It's a powerful point of view, certainly, but in the circumstances, an overreaction. I think I agree with Victor Davis Hansen, who detects a pathetic note in these Muslim provocations. Writing in the National Review, he says: "The Islamists are also sad bullies, who hunt out causes for offense in the most obscure places, but would recoil at the first sign of Western defiance. Turkey may say little to the Islamists now, but they would say lots if the European Union decided to pass on its inclusion into the union. Local imams sound fiery, but if the West is too debauched a place for any pure Muslim to endure, why then do they not lead, Moses-like, an exodus of the devout away from the rising flood of decadence, and back to the paradise of a purer Syria or Algeria?

"...the bogus notion of multiculturalism has blinded us to a simple truth: we in the West can live according to our own values and should not allow those radicals who embrace or condone polygamy, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, political autocracy, homosexual persecution, honor killings, female circumcision, and a host of other unmentionables to threaten our citizens within our own countries.

"The deluded here might believe that the divide is a moral one, between a supposedly decadent secular West and a pious Middle East, rather than an existential one that is fueled by envy, jealousy, self-pity, and victimization. But to believe the cartoons represent the genuine anguish of an aggrieved puritanical society tainted by Western decadence, one would have to ignore that Turkey is the global nexus for the sex-slave market, that Afghanistan is the world's opium farm, that the Saudi Royals have redefined casino junketeering, and that the repository of Hitlerian imagery is in the West Bank and Iran.

"The entire controversy over the cartoons is ludicrous, but often in history the trivial and ludicrous can wake a people up before the significant and tragic follow."

The Wall Street Journal is saying something rather similar in an editorial this morning. The controversy over the cartoons isn't at all, it says, it's about something else.

"That something else might be called the premodernism of much of modern-day Islam, meaning the apparent unwillingness of too many Muslims to place reason above 'honor' and deal proportionately with intellectual provocations. The Western philosophical tradition is founded on the belief that the execution of Socrates for blaspheming the gods of Athens was an injustice. When British Muslims carry placards reading 'Butcher those who mock Islam', they are making their differences with that tradition depressingly plain.

"Put simply, what we have witnessed isn't the proverbial rage of the Arab street. It's an orchestrated effort by illiberal regimes, colluding with fundamentalist clerics, to conjure the illusion of Muslim rage for their own political purposes. The Iranian mullahs seek to discredit Denmark as it assumes the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, where Iran's nuclear program is being discussed. The secular Allawite regime in Syria wants to shore up its ties with the Sunni religious establishment, especially now that Bashar Assad's former vice president has declared a government in exile. The Saudis want to put behind them the latest stampede at the annual Hajj, where some 350 pilgrims were killed.

"And in Europe, clerics and self-styled 'community leaders' with close links to the Saudi government or the Brotherhood want to assert their dominance over populations that have yet to find their social or economic place in the mainstream of European life, as November's riots in France showed. The fact that European governments seem easily cowed by threats of violence has only made the problem worse."

10 February 2006

Bernard Malamud was one of the most influential and successful of 20th Century American writers, but...he had a dark side, as a new memoir by his daughter demonstrates. Writing in Forward, Mark Oppenheimer reviews My Father Is a Book: A Memoir of Bernard Malamud by Janna Malamud Smith.

"Perhaps it was silly of me to imagine a tame, tender, avuncular Bernard Malamud. But from the little I knew of his biography - and there is no biography of him, though an English critic is working on one now - Malamud had achieved that which had eluded Jewish American writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and Leonard Michaels: He had a long-lasting marriage to the former Ann deChiara; he successfully raised two children, who, so far as one hears, are reasonably well-adjusted adults; he taught, he wrote, he never got hooked on the booze. He lived placidly as a college professor, first in Oregon and then in Vermont, teaching and producing heartbreakingly good fiction.

"Shows what I know. Having read My Father Is a Book, the new memoir by Janna Malamud Smith (adult daughter of 'Bern'), I realize that I was a fool, gulled by those short stories that I can read over and over with no loss of delight. It turns out that the author of short stories like The Magic Barrel, The Jewbird and Angel Levine, and accomplished novels like The Natural, The Fixer and The Tenants had a long-term affair with one of his students at Bennington College. He was also a rather distant father, and he could be sadly indifferent to his wife's feelings. He wasn't a monster, just a small-time dabbler in loutishness."

Thanks for the tip, Brenda.

Perhaps in the circumstances, it isn't the greatest dividend a political action has ever paid, but it is a dividend, and it did come about as a result of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections. Stung by their rivals' victory, the Palestinian Authority has moved embezzlement and graft have moved to the top of their agenda. This week, the Palestinian Authority's attorney general announced 50 investigations that account for about $700 million stolen from the government treasury. Haaretz - reports that "Palestinian prosecutors have frozen bank accounts and seized assets in a widening corruption probe of dozens of government officials suspected of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, the attorney general said.

"But the sweep appears to fall short of a major post-election housecleaning in the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority. A Palestinian legislator who has collected information on dozens of officials and transferred it to prosecutors said two Cabinet ministers were among the corruption suspects but they are not currently under investigation.

"Growing voter frustration over corruption and official mismanagement is seen as a key reason the Islamic militant Hamas won last month's Palestinian parliamentary elections. This week, Attorney General Ahmed al-Meghani said he suspected officials have stolen billions of dollars from public coffers in the past decade."

One of the strangest failures to adjust to the new realpolitik of the 21st Century has been that of the American Library Association. Their oft-heard rant about the Patriot Act provision that allows security people the right to look at some of their files obscures something a great deal more difficult to understand. The Wall Street Journal explains: "Human-rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have condemned the repression (of librarians, among others, in Cuba) and called for the librarians' release. Yet the ALA refuses to even acknowledge their suffering Cuban counterparts. It apparently accepts the Cuban government's assertion that 'the dissidents' don't qualify as librarians and that freedom of information flourishes on the island.

"A cat jumped out of the bag at the ALA's January meeting in San Antonio, though, when keynote speaker and Romanian-born author Andrei Codrescu blasted the organization for abandoning the independent librarians. 'Is this the same American Library Association that stands against censorship and for freedom of expression everywhere?' To add insult to injury for apoplectic ALA leaders, a subsequent informal poll of the rank-and-file in an electronic newsletter suggested that 75% want the organization to stand up for the Cubans."

Michael Yon, who runs MichaelYon-Online.com, a remarkably individual and honest blogsite covering the grunt's war in Iraq, is an ex-Green Beret who once, as an embedded reporter in Iraq, couldn't resist grabbing a rifle and getting in on the action himself. He pisses military brass off, and he pisses 'real' journalists off, but he writes some of the best stuff coming out of Iraq. This Los Angeles Times article tells a little of his story.

09 February 2006

"Did you hear the one about the priest, the rabbi, and the imam? You won't, if Islamist goondom has its way." That's the editors of the National Review trying to find some dramatic shorthand to sum up this Muhammed cartoon controversy. The National Review doesn't shrink from calling a spade a spade, but you'll notice that it is careful, like everyone else in the West writing about this story, to say 'Islamist goondom', to distinguish radical Islamists, who it believes to be behind the violence, from moderate Islamists, who it believes must condemn such behaviour.

The Review's editors, and just about every other Western commentator on the planet, are wrong.

In a story that I'm still trying to get my head around, (and judging by its web-site placement, the New York Times is still trying to get its head around), the Times suggests that the Organization of the Islamic Conference - the leaders of all 57 Islamic nations in the world - agreed to play an organisational role in this crisis at its recent summit meeting in Mecca.

"After that meeting," says the Times, "anger at the Danish caricatures, especially at an official government level, became more public. In some countries, like Syria and Iran, that meant heavy press coverage in official news media and virtual government approval of demonstrations that ended with Danish embassies in flames."

It gets worse. As I understand it, Islam does not have an organisation like the Vatican to coordinate the views of its church, world-wide. Instead, each Islamic country has its own head of the Church. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference seems to have lobbied many of these Church leaders and won their support for the demonstrations against the cartoons.

This story is like the smoking gun of all smoking guns - it means that this cartoon nonsense has been conspired at, not simply by Muslim radicals, but by all Muslims, everywhere, radical or not. It means that the world's Muslim community has conspired to cause demonstrations which have caused great damage, and the deaths of many people. I have difficulty thinking of something that Catholics or Protestants might have got up to that could possibly compare with this - and perhaps it's better that way.

So, here's the thing about Islam - I acknowledge that the Times does occasionally get it wrong, but they seem to have had half their staff in the Mid-East working on this story, and one must presume that they understand what kind of mischief they would cause by getting it wrong. Here's the thing about Islam. If this story is correct, then that community, not just a part of it, but the whole Islamic community, has been exposed as...well, goondom.

08 February 2006

The Washington Times makes the intelligent observation this morning that although most of the world's media seem to have swallowed whole the idea that representations of the prophet Muhammad are banned in Islam, they do occur quite often in art. "Lost in the furor over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad," the paper says, "is the fact that his likeness has long been portrayed in the collections of some of the world's greatest museums and libraries without exciting alarm or comment. While rare in the 1,400 years of Islamic art, depictions of Muhammad are found in the collections of such institutions as New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris and the Edinburgh University library."

If you find that surprising, there is worse to come. Author Amir Taheri writes in a Wall Street Journal article this morning that in truth, there is no ban in Islam on making images of the prophet. "The Muslim Brotherhood's position, put by one of its younger militants, Tariq Ramadan - who is, strangely enough, also an adviser to the British home secretary - can be summed up as follows: It is against Islamic principles to represent by imagery not only Muhammad but all the prophets of Islam; and the Muslim world is not used to laughing at religion. Both claims, however, are false.

"There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else. When it spread into the Levant, Islam came into contact with a version of Christianity that was militantly iconoclastic. As a result some Muslim theologians, at a time when Islam still had an organic theology, issued 'fatwas' against any depiction of the Godhead. That position was further buttressed by the fact that Islam acknowledges the Jewish Ten Commandments - which include a ban on depicting God - as part of its heritage. The issue has never been decided one way or another, and the claim that a ban on images is 'an absolute principle of Islam' is purely political. Islam has only one absolute principle: the Oneness of God. Trying to invent other absolutes is, from the point of view of Islamic theology, nothing but sherk, i.e., the bestowal on the Many of the attributes of the One."

So it is true, what the Danish Prime Minister said yesterday. It's not really about the cartoons at all...the West is being attacked for political reasons by a few Muslim extremists, people like Abu Hamza, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in London this week for his murderous preaching. There is a terrible lesson to learn from some of the facts that emerged at his trial - for example that he was protected from prosecution, in essence, by MI5 and Scotland Yard's Special Branch. Those two organisations apparently thought they were being clever in using Hamza as bait to learn of the comings and goings of other radical Islamists. Their tolerance of Hamza baffled other intelligence agencies, who called London Londonistan as a result.

Dean Godson, research director of Britain's Policy Exchange, writes in The Times this morning that "There are echoes here of Tom Wolfe's Radical Chic - the belief of a certain kind of guilt-ridden white that the only 'authentic' blacks are the ones that express hatred for whitey and white institutions - and those that don't are little more than Uncle Toms.

"Britain desperately needs a rethink of this approach. It is right and inevitable that spooks and policemen put the bureaucratic needs of their trade first, namely monitoring threats to the State. But their needs, though important, need to be set in a much wider context. The gains that accrue from such surveillance have to be weighed much more carefully against the costs of envenoming society - which, in turn, results in even greater threats to public safety over the long run.

"What signal does it send to radical Muslim men that Abu Hamza and his sort were able to operate with impunity for most of a decade? How many of them have to fight for enemies of Britain in Afghanistan and Iraq, or blow themselves up in nightclubs in Tel Aviv before we wake up to the price of blowback on the Tube?"

In an editorial, the Times echoes his sentiments: "...The prosecution succeeded in demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that Abu Hamza's outpourings of bile overstepped not just the boundaries of taste, decency and liberal tolerance but also those of the law. At a time when the limits on free speech are at the forefront of our national debate, the jury delivered an unambiguous verdict: preaching that the killing of non-Muslims was justified in any circumstances, 'even if there was no reason for it', as Abu Hamza put it, was not just beyond the pale but also beyond legality...

"One of the unanswered questions relates to why Abu Hamza was not prosecuted earlier. Police and MI5 had been watching him for years. Yet he was initially arrested on an extradition request from US authorities, and only subsequently charged by their British counterparts. The verdict will perhaps encourage officers to intervene more promptly in cases where radical clerics are abusing their position to rally their flocks to hatred and killing."

Other Governments in Europe need to do as Britain has done and move the boundary between free speech and illegal incitement back where it belongs.

An interesting little sidebar to this story is occurring in Trinidad at the moment, where the government seems about to sue that country's Muslim leader for the damage he did during a failed coup in 1990. Caribbean Net News says "Trinidad's Muslin leader, Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, now being held on separate charges of terrorism for seditious statements made last year against the Trinidad Muslim community, could be made to pay some TT$31 million (nearly US$5 million) in compensation for the destruction of state property." It's a little like bringing Al Capone low by jailing him for not paying his taxes, isn't it?

As a Californian friend comments, the Anglican Church in Britain has sunk to a sad low this week. "The former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday he was 'ashamed to be an Anglican' following Monday's vote by the Church of England to disinvest from companies whose products are used by the Israeli government in the territories.

"The February 6 divestment vote, which was backed by current Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, was 'a most regrettable and one-sided statement,' Lord Carey said, and one that 'ignores the trauma of ordinary Jewish people' in Israel subjected to terrorist attacks. Lord Carey joined Jewish leaders protesting the vote by the General Synod, the church's legislature, to adopt a 'morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories and, in particular, to disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc., until they change their policies.'"

I've written before about Europe's bizarre conviction that despite mankind's history of creatively modifying crops that goes back a millennium or two, crops that have been genetically modified by the United States have been cursed by Satan and should be banned. The EU, and countries within the EU, including Britain, have banned or severely curtailed their use, despite an abundance of scientific evidence that their fears are not based in fact. Yesterday, as the Washington Post relates, the World Trade Organization made a long awaited ruling "that European resistance to genetically engineered crops amounted to a de facto moratorium that violated international trade rules, according to sources familiar with the ruling who demanded anonymity because the document is confidential.

"The finding is a symbolic victory for US farmers and agricultural companies, as well as those in Canada and Argentina, who had challenged Europe's anti-biotechnology stance in the world trade body in Geneva. How much practical effect it will have remains to be seen, though, as resistance to gene-altered crops remains high among European consumers and most European grocery chains refuse to stock products made with such ingredients."

07 February 2006

Columnist Daniel Pipes puts his finger on it in his New York Sun piece this morning: "The key issue at stake in the battle over the 12 Danish cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad is this: Will the West stand up for its customs and mores, including freedom of speech, or will Muslims impose their way of life on the West? Ultimately, there is no compromise: Westerners will either retain their civilization, including the right to insult and blaspheme, or not.

"More specifically, will Westerners accede to a double standard by which Muslims are free to insult Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, while Muhammad, Islam, and Muslims enjoy immunity from insults? Muslims routinely publish cartoons far more offensive than the Danish ones. Are they entitled to dish it out while being insulated from similar indignities?"

It's a good article, but I'm not sure how much defending the West will have to do - I think Islam's failure to evolve over the last two millennia is a fundamental flaw that will doom any attempt by radical Muslims to impose their way of life on the West...the worm of knowledge is already at work in the Muslim community. It was in the apple of emigration.

My blogging colleague in Bermuda, Christian Dunleavy of Politics.bm, draws my attention to a story running on CNN.com, among other places: "Scientists say they have found a 'Lost World' in an Indonesian mountain jungle, home to dozens of exotic new species of birds, butterflies, frogs and plants. 'It's as close to the Garden of Eden as you're going to find on Earth,' said Bruce Beehler, co-leader of the US, Indonesian, and Australian expedition to part of the cloud-shrouded Foja mountains in the west of New Guinea."

I think what Christian is subtly pointing out is that, by golly, there does exist a part of the world which has not been visited by our globe-trotting Cabinet Ministers. I predict our surprise will be swiftly overtaken by admiration of the speed with which that omission is corrected.

It is an odd experience to find one of the rock-solid principles of democracy under attack, not in some far-flung banana republic, but in a court in Canada, just across the border from country where democracy was born. There, in Ontario, according to the Globe and Mail, a superior court judge is trying to bar "foreign media" from her courtroom while she hears a case involving an HIV-infected blood clotting agent which was given to haemophilia patients some 25 years ago.

"At the request of the Crown, Madam Justice Mary Lou Benotto issued an order barring people reporting for or to publications, including Internet publications, from outside Canada. The order was granted as the pre-trial phase of the proceedings wound down." Roger Perrault, the former medical head of the Canadian Red Cross, three other doctors and New Jersey-based Armour Pharmaceutical Co. are all accused of having been involved.

This is not the first time this has happened. Ten months ago, a judge in the "Adscam" case tried something similar, but changed his mind after an American blogger, Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters, posted some of the testimony on his blog. Canadian bloggers linked to his site, but avoided sanction in Canada by not themselves publishing any of the material. The ban became farcical.

Madam Justice Benotto is trying again, making an attempt which in the context of the modern world is as silly as having a tilt at a windmill. But when you factor in the apparent lack of respect on the Canadian bench for the public's right to learn what goes on in Canadian courts, it becomes a good deal more troublesome.

Fouad Ajami, the director of the Middle East Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, says the claim by liberals that the Palestinian elections show that President Bush bet and lost on Arab democracy is not correct. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he says "This was not a defeat of President Bush's 'diplomacy of freedom' that has just played out in Gaza and the West Bank. The claim that the bet on Arab democracy placed by the president has now been lost is shallow and partisan.

"These were Palestinians who voted a mix of incoherence and legitimate wrath at a ruling political class that had given them nothing but false bravado and fed them on a diet of maximalism. For decades, the outside world had asked precious little of the Palestinians. Arafat, the Maximum Leader of their movement, had never owned up to any historical responsibility, and there were always powers beyond waiting to bail him out, to wink at his deeds of terror, to subsidize the economy of extortion and plunder that he and his lieutenants, and his security services, had brought with them to the Palestinian territories in the aftermath of the peace of Oslo.

"It was with this ruinous indulgence of the Palestinians that George W. Bush was to break in the summer of 2002, when he gave the Palestinians a promise of American support contingent on their renunciation of terror. Where American diplomacy during the Clinton years had averted its gaze from Arafat's cynical use of deeds of terror, Mr. Bush had put that Palestinian leader beyond the pale. The claims of 'victimhood' would no longer acquit the Palestinians; they would now be held responsible for the politics, and the history, they made. It proved hard for the Palestinians to make that adjustment, but there can be no denying that a measure of sobriety came into their world.

"The Arabs who had granted the Palestinians everything and nothing at the same time had drifted away from the cause of Palestine...The romance of the 'children of the stones' had subsided. Heartless and unsentimental, Arab society, in the midst of another windfall of oil wealth, now sought a reprieve from political and religious furies. A stock frenzy has taken hold in the Arabian Peninsula and the gulf; the tales of Palestinian woes would no longer hold other Arabs."

06 February 2006

I apologise to those of you who have been unable to raise Pondblog during the last couple of days. A technical problem at Blogger has evidently affected many sites like mine. Unusually, and to its credit, Blogger has posted information about the problem on its website to reassure bloggers, and says it hopes to be able to fix the problem overnight tonight.

An English firm called Nonsuch Publishing is to publish what is described by the London Times as "an ambitious series of forgotten classics" in English literature. First off the presses is to be The Clockmaker, or The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick, which was serialised in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Times, in 1837. Judge Haliburton, the author, was a Canadian-born judge and author who went to England and became a Tory MP.

Alan Sutton, the chief executive of Nonsuch, said that Haliburton outsold even Dickens in the 19th Century, adding: "Many authors who were famous in their day have disappeared into obscurity. We aim to resurrect these writers for a more discerning readership."

"The Clockmaker," says the Times, "was an immediate success, ensuring that Haliburton was the toast of London. It tells the story of Samuel Slick, of Slickville, a Yankee clock-pedlar with a fine line in shrewd observations and witty commentaries on 'human nature'. Satirical and scandalous, Slick was a fast-talking folk hero, unafraid to confront issues such as race, slavery and colonialism. After being published in instalments in the 1830s - in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Times - it came out as a book in 1843."

The fallout in Australia of involvement in the Oil-for-Food scandal is becoming as much of as problem for them as it was for India a few weeks ago. The London Times says the "Australian Wheat Board, Australia's sole wheat exporter, paid $223.5 million in bribes by charging Iraq above-market prices to supply wheat. The extra cash was then placed in a separate account which was allegedly used to bribe Iraqi officials. This inquiry into the 'wheatgate' affair will dominate the Australian Parliament when it sits this week and could expose one of Australia's biggest corruption scandals.

"The inquiry also threatens a rift between Australia and America, amid allegations that the Howard Government put pressure on a US Oil-for-Food inquiry to ignore allegations concerning AWB. US senators are under pressure from American wheat growers, who claim that they were shut out of lucrative wheat contracts in Iraq."

Guess it must be a slow day for the UK press - the Guardian is doing a bit of poet laureate-bashing. It is, to the likes of Roy Hattersley, as lipstick is to Boy George.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is making the case for that eavesdropping programme in the Wall Street Journal this morning: "The AUMF is not a blank check for the president to cash at the expense of the rights of citizens. The NSA's terrorist surveillance program is narrowly focused on the international communications of persons believed to be members or agents of al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist organizations. The terrorist surveillance program protects both the security of the nation and the rights and liberties we cherish. As the president said in his State of the Union speech, 'the terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America.' When I testify before Congress today, I will tell them not only that the president had the authority to use this effective antiterror tool, but that it would have been irresponsible for him not to employ this weapon to prevent another attack on our country."

05 February 2006

I think William T Vollman's an important contemporary writer, and if I had any room at all on my bookshelves, I'd start collecting him. He's written a new book, Uncentering the Earth/Copernicus and 'The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres'. Lisa Montanarelli, who is described as a New York writer, reviews it in this morning's San Francisco Chronicle. She says "Uncentering the Earth may surprise readers who expect William T. Vollmann, winner of the 2005 National Book Award for fiction, to churn out sprawling tomes on street prostitution, drugs and violence. But this new exegesis of Copernicus' epochal work, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), jibes with Vollmann's more abstract occupations, such as totalitarianism and individual freedom.

"What moves me the most about Revolutions', writes Vollmann, 'is the struggle it represents to free the human mind from a false system' - Ptolemy's Earth-centered cosmology, which had common sense and the Catholic Church on its side."

Interesting. But the really interesting thing, to me, though, is that Ms Montanarelli's sole comment on Mr Vollman's skill as an author is this: 'He also writes with such breathless flair that one occasionally wonders if he'll make it through the night.'

What on earth does that mean? More to the point, what has happened to the world of writing that a book reviewer these days can get away with 823 words of which 805 describe the plot, and only 18 have anything to do with how well it is achieved?

Senator Richard Lugar is off to the UN tomorrow to talk about reform. In the Washington Times, he explains what he and the rest of his delegation from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are up to: "Americans shouldn't let their frustration with UN shortcomings blind them to its value. Rather, we should show resolute leadership that will drive reform toward a constructive outcome. In the process, we must explain how these changes will help the world community.

"There have been some reforms, but the larger reform agenda is stalled. To break this impasse, we should start with a subset of important, long-overdue measures that enjoy wide support. I have written to Mr. Annan about such a list. Tomorrow, I will lead a delegation from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to UN headquarters in New York to discuss reform."

It's an effort that, by the following day, will have sunk, without trace.

After David Souter, and others on the US Supreme Court, voted in favour of allowing local authorities to confiscate private property for the good of the community (it's not as crazy as it sounds, given the legal history of "eminent domain"), a man called Logan Darrow Clements began a campaign to confiscate Souter's farmhouse, tear it down and build an inn.

Yesterday, Newsday reports, he lost, when residents of the area overturned his proposal. With great good sense, they substituted for it a call for the Legislature to strengthen state law on eminent domain, something that has happened in many states since the Supreme Court ruling.

But as Matt Labash writes in the Weekly Standard, the man who started the whole business is a pretty interesting fellow: "Logan Darrow Clements doesn't seem like the sort of fellow who'd go around stealing the houses of Supreme Court justices. He's mild mannered and laughs easily, often at his own jokes. Physically he resembles a less creepy Ralph Reed: He looks like a 36-year-old altar boy whose mom made him scrub up and dress for dinner. An Ayn Rand devotee, he heads an objectivist discussion group back home in Los Angeles. A zippy evening for the group might entail a field trip to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center or sitting through a presentation on The Force Minimization Theory of Ethical Taxation.

"As an objectivist, Clements is committed to Rand's notion of rational self-interest, self-reliance, and pretty much anything beginning with the prefix 'self'. Like all objectivists, he profoundly distrusts government, which has a 'monopoly on the initiation of force', so he'd only seek public office reluctantly. When conscience (or rational self-interest) called in 2003, he tried to do just that in the California gubernatorial recall election. But there was a whiff of the born-loser libertarian about him. Despite proposing crowd-pleasers such as privatization of all public schools, he finished 131st out of 135 candidates. He was beaten by the likes of Angelyne, a model with no last name who wanted to paint the statehouse hot pink, and Kelly Kimball, a business executive who ran as a member of the ButtMonkey Beer party."


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


About Pondblog
Contact the Pondblogger

About Last Night
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Arts Journal.com
Aworks :: "new" american classical music
Brad DeLong
Crooked Timber
Cup of Chicha
Day by Day by Chris Muir
Mickey Kaus
Kesher Talk
Little Green Footballs
Maud Newton
Michael J Totten
Oliver Kamm
Patio Pundit
Reflections in d minor
Roger L Simon
Talking Points Memo
The Forager
The Volokh Conspiracy

Bermuda Links

A Bermuda Blog
A Limey in Bermuda
Bermuda 4u
Bermy Adventures
Politics.bm: A Mostly Bermuda Weblog
The Bermuda Sun
The Mid-Ocean News
The Royal Gazette


10/26/2003 - 11/02/2003 11/02/2003 - 11/09/2003 11/09/2003 - 11/16/2003 11/16/2003 - 11/23/2003 11/23/2003 - 11/30/2003 11/30/2003 - 12/07/2003 12/07/2003 - 12/14/2003 12/14/2003 - 12/21/2003 12/21/2003 - 12/28/2003 12/28/2003 - 01/04/2004 01/04/2004 - 01/11/2004 01/11/2004 - 01/18/2004 01/18/2004 - 01/25/2004 01/25/2004 - 02/01/2004 02/01/2004 - 02/08/2004 02/08/2004 - 02/15/2004 02/15/2004 - 02/22/2004 02/22/2004 - 02/29/2004 02/29/2004 - 03/07/2004 03/07/2004 - 03/14/2004 03/14/2004 - 03/21/2004 03/21/2004 - 03/28/2004 03/28/2004 - 04/04/2004 04/04/2004 - 04/11/2004 04/11/2004 - 04/18/2004 04/18/2004 - 04/25/2004 04/25/2004 - 05/02/2004 05/02/2004 - 05/09/2004 05/09/2004 - 05/16/2004 05/16/2004 - 05/23/2004 05/23/2004 - 05/30/2004 05/30/2004 - 06/06/2004 06/06/2004 - 06/13/2004 06/13/2004 - 06/20/2004 06/20/2004 - 06/27/2004 06/27/2004 - 07/04/2004 07/04/2004 - 07/11/2004 07/11/2004 - 07/18/2004 07/18/2004 - 07/25/2004 07/25/2004 - 08/01/2004 08/01/2004 - 08/08/2004 08/08/2004 - 08/15/2004 08/15/2004 - 08/22/2004 08/22/2004 - 08/29/2004 08/29/2004 - 09/05/2004 09/05/2004 - 09/12/2004 09/12/2004 - 09/19/2004 09/19/2004 - 09/26/2004 09/26/2004 - 10/03/2004 10/03/2004 - 10/10/2004 10/10/2004 - 10/17/2004 10/17/2004 - 10/24/2004 10/24/2004 - 10/31/2004 10/31/2004 - 11/07/2004 11/07/2004 - 11/14/2004 11/14/2004 - 11/21/2004 11/21/2004 - 11/28/2004 11/28/2004 - 12/05/2004 12/05/2004 - 12/12/2004 12/12/2004 - 12/19/2004 12/19/2004 - 12/26/2004 12/26/2004 - 01/02/2005 01/02/2005 - 01/09/2005 01/09/2005 - 01/16/2005 01/16/2005 - 01/23/2005 01/23/2005 - 01/30/2005 01/30/2005 - 02/06/2005 02/06/2005 - 02/13/2005 02/13/2005 - 02/20/2005 02/20/2005 - 02/27/2005 02/27/2005 - 03/06/2005 03/06/2005 - 03/13/2005 03/13/2005 - 03/20/2005 03/20/2005 - 03/27/2005 03/27/2005 - 04/03/2005 04/03/2005 - 04/10/2005 04/10/2005 - 04/17/2005 04/17/2005 - 04/24/2005 04/24/2005 - 05/01/2005 05/01/2005 - 05/08/2005 05/08/2005 - 05/15/2005 05/15/2005 - 05/22/2005 05/22/2005 - 05/29/2005 05/29/2005 - 06/05/2005 06/05/2005 - 06/12/2005 06/12/2005 - 06/19/2005 06/19/2005 - 06/26/2005 06/26/2005 - 07/03/2005 07/03/2005 - 07/10/2005 07/10/2005 - 07/17/2005 07/17/2005 - 07/24/2005 07/24/2005 - 07/31/2005 07/31/2005 - 08/07/2005 08/07/2005 - 08/14/2005 08/14/2005 - 08/21/2005 08/21/2005 - 08/28/2005 08/28/2005 - 09/04/2005 09/04/2005 - 09/11/2005 09/11/2005 - 09/18/2005 09/18/2005 - 09/25/2005 09/25/2005 - 10/02/2005 10/02/2005 - 10/09/2005 10/09/2005 - 10/16/2005 10/16/2005 - 10/23/2005 10/23/2005 - 10/30/2005 10/30/2005 - 11/06/2005 11/06/2005 - 11/13/2005 11/13/2005 - 11/20/2005 11/20/2005 - 11/27/2005 11/27/2005 - 12/04/2005 12/04/2005 - 12/11/2005 12/11/2005 - 12/18/2005 12/18/2005 - 12/25/2005 12/25/2005 - 01/01/2006 01/01/2006 - 01/08/2006 01/08/2006 - 01/15/2006 01/15/2006 - 01/22/2006 01/22/2006 - 01/29/2006 01/29/2006 - 02/05/2006 02/05/2006 - 02/12/2006 02/12/2006 - 02/19/2006 02/19/2006 - 02/26/2006 02/26/2006 - 03/05/2006 03/05/2006 - 03/12/2006 03/12/2006 - 03/19/2006 03/19/2006 - 03/26/2006 03/26/2006 - 04/02/2006 04/02/2006 - 04/09/2006 04/09/2006 - 04/16/2006 04/16/2006 - 04/23/2006 04/23/2006 - 04/30/2006 04/30/2006 - 05/07/2006 05/07/2006 - 05/14/2006 05/21/2006 - 05/28/2006 05/28/2006 - 06/04/2006 06/04/2006 - 06/11/2006 06/11/2006 - 06/18/2006 06/18/2006 - 06/25/2006 06/25/2006 - 07/02/2006 07/02/2006 - 07/09/2006 07/09/2006 - 07/16/2006 07/16/2006 - 07/23/2006 07/23/2006 - 07/30/2006 07/30/2006 - 08/06/2006 08/06/2006 - 08/13/2006 08/13/2006 - 08/20/2006 08/20/2006 - 08/27/2006 08/27/2006 - 09/03/2006 09/17/2006 - 09/24/2006 09/24/2006 - 10/01/2006 10/01/2006 - 10/08/2006 10/08/2006 - 10/15/2006 10/15/2006 - 10/22/2006 10/22/2006 - 10/29/2006 10/29/2006 - 11/05/2006 11/05/2006 - 11/12/2006 11/12/2006 - 11/19/2006 11/19/2006 - 11/26/2006 11/26/2006 - 12/03/2006 12/03/2006 - 12/10/2006 12/10/2006 - 12/17/2006 12/17/2006 - 12/24/2006 12/24/2006 - 12/31/2006 12/31/2006 - 01/07/2007 01/07/2007 - 01/14/2007 01/14/2007 - 01/21/2007 01/21/2007 - 01/28/2007 01/28/2007 - 02/04/2007 02/04/2007 - 02/11/2007


design by maystar

Search WWW Pondblog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com

Join BermyBlogsPrevious siteList sitesRandom siteNext site

Site Feed
Technorati Profile