...Views from mid-Atlantic
25 February 2006

Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and at Touro College Law Center. She is also editor of www.EyeontheUN.org. She writes in the National Review that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is trying to quickly ram through changes to the UN's comically-flawed human rights body which will make the institution "more contemptible than its predecessor".

"Protecting human rights," she says, "was the the essential rationale for establishing the U.N. The credibility of the entire organization depended on fixing its discredited central human-rights mechanism, the Commission on Human Rights. It is now clear that this effort has failed.

Regardless of its content, Secretary General Kofi Annan desperately wants the creation of this new council to stand as the crowning achievement of his nine years in office. So, shortly after the text was announced, Annan released a statement dramatically raising the stakes. He claimed that failure to adopt (President of the General Assemply Jan) Eliasson's proposal 'would undermine this Organization's credibility, render the commitments made by world leaders meaningless, and deal a blow to the cause of human rights.'

"The reality, however, is that the proposed council represents an enormous step backward for the international protection of human rights and the spread of democratic governance. The United States would do the legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt, the first chair of the Commission on Human Rights, an enormous disservice by pretending otherwise.

"The heart of the problem with the commission lies with its membership. Current members include some of the world's worst human-rights violators: China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Throughout the months of negotiations over a new entity, such states vehemently opposed efforts to introduce criteria for membership on the council. They succeeded. Not one criterion is included. Instead, the draft merely suggests 'when electing members' a state's human-rights record be 'taken into account'. Even states under Security Council sanction for human-rights violations (although this includes, at the moment, only Sudan and Cote d'Ivoire) would not be excluded automatically."

I'm not sure if you would describe this as a new high or a new low in the game of anti-Semitism that is played by so many Muslims, but it does seem to me to demonstrate how heart-stoppingly ugly people can be when they hate. This is a university professor talking, a man who is a cultural adviser to his Government:

"There is a cartoon that children like. They like it very much, and so do adults - Tom and Jerry...Some say that this creation by Walt Disney [sic] will be remembered forever. The Jewish Walt Disney Company gained international fame with this cartoon. It is still shown throughout the world. This cartoon maintains its status because of the cute antics of the cat and mouse - especially the mouse.

"Some say that the main reason for making this very appealing cartoon was to erase a certain derogatory term that was prevalent in Europe. If you study European history, you will see who was the main power in hoarding money and wealth, in the 19th century. In most cases, it is the Jews. Perhaps that was one of the reasons which caused Hitler to begin the antisemitic trend, and then the extensive propaganda about the crematoria began...Some of this is true. We do not deny all of it.

"Watch Schindler's List. Every Jew was forced to wear yellow star on his clothing. The Jews were degraded and termed 'dirty mice'. Tom and Jerry was made in order to change the Europeans' perception of mice. One of terms used was 'dirty mice'. I'd like to tell you that... It should be noted that mice are very cunning...and dirty...

"No ethnic group or people operates in such a clandestine manner as the Jews."

You can read the whole disgraceful lecture at MEMRI.

24 February 2006

Victor Davis Hansen appears to have gone off to Iraq to see at first hand how things are going. He likes what he sees, he says in a National Review column. "Again, the question now is an existential one: Can the United States - or anyone - in the middle of a war against Islamic fascism, rebuild the most important country in the heart of the Middle East, after 30 years of utter oppression, three wars, and an Orwellian, totalitarian dictator warping of the minds of the populace? And can anyone navigate between a Zarqawi, a Sadr, and the Sunni rejectionists, much less the legions of Iranian agents, Saudi millionaires, and Syrian provocateurs who each day live to destroy what’s going on in Iraq?

"The fate of a much wider war hinges on the answers to these questions, since it would be hard to imagine that bin Laden could continue be much of a force with a secure and democratic Iraq, anchoring ongoing liberalization in the Gulf, Lebanon, and Egypt, and threatening by example Iran and Syria. By the same token, it would be hard to see how we could stop jihadism from spreading when an army that is doing everything possible still could not stop Islamic fascism from taking over the ancestral home of the ancient caliphate.

"Can-do Americans courageously go about their duty in Iraq - mostly unafraid that a culture of 2,000 years, the reality of geography, the sheer forces of language and religion, the propaganda of the state-run Arab media, and the cynicism of the liberal West are all stacked against them. Iraq may not have started out as the pivotal front in the war between democracy and fascism, but it has surely evolved into that. After visiting the country, I think we can and will win, but just as importantly, unlike in 2003-4, there does not seem to be much of anything we should be doing there that in fact we are not."

It's a great quote, coming as it does, from a Catholic holy man, normally a pretty quiet breed. "Enough now with this turning the other cheek. It's our duty to protect ourselves," Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican's supreme court, thundered in the Italian daily La Stampa. What's got his goat is Muslim hypocrisy.

"The West has had relations with the Arab countries for half a century, mostly for oil, and has not been able to get the slightest concession on human rights," he said. La Stampa asked him to comment because, as the Washington Times reports, "After backing calls by Muslims for respect during the furor over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, the Vatican is urging Muslim countries to reciprocate by showing tolerance toward their Christian minorities...Vatican diplomats argue that limits on Christians in some Islamic countries are far harsher than restrictions in the West that Muslims decry, such as France's ban on head scarves in state schools."

When Nikita Krushchev started criticising Joseph Stalin in a speech at communist party headquarters in Moscow in 1956, he was doing something so unthinkable that some in the audience fainted. People thought Krushchev was acting out of moral conviction, but Russian historians, according to the Guardian now think otherwise. "...In Russia, amid muted celebrations of the anniversary, there is growing evidence that Khrushchev's speech was a cynical ploy to save his skin and that of his party cronies. 'Khrushchev was trying to dump all the blame on Stalin when his own hands were drenched in blood,' says Yuri Zhukov, a historian from the Russian Academy of Sciences who has studied newly declassified archives on the period.

"The re-evaluation comes as critics accuse President Vladimir Putin of leading a drift towards an authoritarianism that resembles the rule of the communist strongmen who dominated the 20th century. New measures have included increased state control over broadcast media and the replacement of elected governors by appointees."

New York Times reviewer Michael Kimmelman gives the Frick's current exhibition of late Goya works a rave review: "The compact Frick show is sublime. An early French biographer, Laurent Matheron, writing about Goya during his twilight in exile, blew off the late work as 'feeble and slack'. Matheron must have been blind, or saw pictures now lost. They're certainly not here. I can't recall too many exhibitions on this scale more revelatory.

"The inspiration for it was one of the Frick's own Goyas, a deceptively fine portrait of a young woman, from 1824, the sort of painting you might miss if you weren't looking closely. The curators, Jonathan Brown and Susan Grace Galassi, decided to spotlight it, and the show naturally grew, but not too much, to include other late works."

23 February 2006

I've remarked many times before that in its selective leaking of politically-charged material over the last few years, some employees of the CIA seemed to be conducting a dump-Bush political campaign. The Weekly Standard has singled out one CIA employee, Paul Pillar, as a leading one of those whose actions gave the agency a reputation for being dysfunctional and out of control.

"Porter Goss, who became the director of Central Intelligence in April 2005, has confronted this highly-politicized bureaucracy. The result has been a staggering amount of house cleaning. Various press accounts have discussed the ongoing purge of senior-level officials from Langley. But the bureaucrats who once ran the nation's supposedly super-secret spook organization aren't going down without a fight. Bureaucracies die hard.

"Enter Paul Pillar.

"Few, if any, old guard bureaucrats have been more vocal in their opposition to the Bush administration than the man who was the former National Intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia at the CIA from 2000 to 2005.

"We still don't know who leaked Pillar's own National Intelligence Estimate, which painted 'a dark assessment of Iraq', to the New York Times in September 2004. That leak, which was disclosed just several weeks prior to the presidential election, seemed perfectly timed to discredit the Bush administration and its policies. But it is clear that Pillar long ago discarded his 'neutral role' as an intelligence analyst and 'inject[ed] himself in the political realm', as Guillermo Christensen, himself a 15-year veteran of the CIA, recently explained in the Wall Street Journal.

"It is no surprise, then, that upon departing Langley we find Pillar continuing his career as a critic of the Bush administration in the pages of Foreign Affairs Magazine. With more than a dab of irony, Pillar claims to expose the ways in which the administration 'disregarded the community's expertise, politicized the intelligence process, and selected unrepresentative raw intelligence to make its public case.'

"But while there are certainly legitimate, rational criticisms to be made of the Bush administration's prosecution of the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and the intelligence that informs its handling of both, you will not find any of them in Pillar's piece. Instead, Pillar demonstrates that he himself is a master of the art of politicizing intelligence. Far from being a dispassionate analyst, Pillar practices the very same 'manipulations and misuse' he claims to expose."

Why, asked an enquiring gringo mind, do Mexicans call white people gringos? In his weekly column, Gustavo Arellano answered this way: "Dear Gabacho. Mexicans do not call gringos gringos. Only gringos call gringos gringos. Mexicans call gringos gabachos." Arellano's is a column, according to the Los Angeles Times, in which Americans get good-humoured answers to the questions they fear are too politically incorrect to ask elsewhere.

"'The people who write in - they have this preconceived notion of what a Mexican is,' Arellano said. 'I answer their question, but in a way that's either going to flip the stereotype or going to explode it.'"

A court case in Britain centres around the leaking of Prince Charles's private diaries, and their publication by the Daily Mail. Diaries are diaries no matter who writes them, and Prince Charles's contain the kind of private thoughts that people who write diaries like to get off their chests, but wouldn't dream of making public. He wrote that he thought that the Chinese leaders he met when Hong Kong was handed over to China some years ago were "appalling old waxworks", for example. And he revealed that he thought of himself as a political dissident, a traditionalist kibbitzing to soul-less modern lawmakers from the sidelines. Since the Royal Family in Britain has been reduced to little more than waxworks, trotted out occasionally for show, this would be a rather sad, dusty little footnote anywhere else in the world. But in Britain, it has become the stuff of high drama.

The editors of the Guardian, for example, have been gripped by the kind of spasm of rage over the thought of a Tory Prince giving his views to decision-makers that might have been more appropriately directed towards...I don't know...the rape of babies or something of that sort.

"...The prince," they hissed, "is a fool to allow this issue to fester. His wish to engage on public issues was already a problem. But he is now playing with constitutional fire. Prince Charles has never given the impression of being comfortable changing his mind or his ways. But he needs to do both, and to do so soon. It is not acceptable for someone in his position to play politics, let alone party politics, to the extent he now does. Incredible though it may be, John Dunning's famous House of Commons motion from 1780 is as freshly relevant today as it was then. The influence of the prince has increased, is increasing - and ought to be diminished. If the prince does not act himself then, now as then, parliament may have to do so."

The motion to which they refer was one directed against George III. It wasnted Parliament to take note of the fact that "the influence of the crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished." There is, I think, a certain irony in the fact that its notoriety owed more to its cheekiness than its effect, which the Guardian's editors were probably too full of righteous indignation to notice.

A more realistic view is given in the Telegraph, where conservative MP Boris Johnson gives an opinion that "The Prince can say these things precisely because he is not in charge, and his peculiar position means they will be heard, even if we choose to ignore him. That is why we need him to keep it up.

"Go on Charles: you keep firing off those green ink letters to ministers; you keep going with the unfashionable causes; keep babbling away to the herbaceous borders; don't stop caring about Tibet and the Book of Common Prayer; don't worry about the treacherous toads who defect to a self-interested media. The Prince's actions are completely harmless, and sometimes useful." Which seems about right.

I should draw your attention, finally, to the most excellent illustration on this Guardian page, which seems to me almost to make the entire silly row worthwhile.

Two nanotechnology breakthroughs announced this month are promising. One points the way to an alternative to chemical batteries, the other boosts solar-cell efficiency. The Christian Science Monitor reports that: "The promised devices are assembled from particles, tubes, or filaments that measure just 100 billionths of a meter (100 nanometers) in at least one of their dimensions. At that size, the material of which these units are made - carbon or a metal, for example - has most of its atoms on its surface. It is much more active chemically or electrically than is the same material in bulk form, where most of the atoms are buried inside. This activity is what gives devices assembled from such nanotech units their technological edge - and their potential toxicity.

"Conventional solar cells, for example, are made from thin wafers cut from blocks of silicon. Building the cells as assemblies of nanotech units is a better way to boost solar-cell efficiency, says Craig Grimes, an engineering professor at Pennsylvania State University. His research team builds cells as molecule-size arrays of titanium. These titania nanotubes are covered with a dye that converts light energy to energy of electrons. The tubes channel the electron flow to form the cell current - electric power."

22 February 2006

Farid Ghadry, president of the Reform Party of Syria, and Oubai Shahbandar, spokesman for the Reform Party of Syria are the authors of an opinion piece published today in the Washington Times, calling for more American support for their efforts in Syria. "To paraphrase an American idiom, we seek to offer the Syrian people a choice, not an echo. Without US support, the Syrian people along with the rest of the Arab world shall find themselves in a Catch-22 where elections only lead to further misery and freedom lays fallow in a field that was never attended to properly.

"Real reforms, accountability and transparency constitute an agenda palpable to every social and age group in Syria, but it is an agenda that remains open to the danger of usurpation by ideological medicine men experienced at the art of manipulation and nihilist instigation.

"Syria's liberal voices need to be strengthened yesterday. Every moment wasted strengthens the footing of illiberal ideologies that see an opportunity to infuse themselves in a post-Assad/Ba'ath Syria. This is a matter that requires more than a passing glance and sympathetic nod; what is needed is the full attention and effort of a US government that must shore up its credibility as a supporter of liberty in the Middle East by supplying the heavy weaponry of its moral and logistical support to the other frontline soldiers in this war on terror: the Syrian democratic resistance."

You might say this is a turn-up for the book - A Washington Times reviewer is heaping praise on, of all people, Alan Dershowitz: "Next week a vastly important book will be published: Preemption, A Knife That Cuts Both Ways by Alan Dershowitz. Yes, that Alan Dershowitz: the very liberal civil libertarian, anti-capital punishment Harvard Law School professor. And but for my lack of his legal scholarship, there is nary a sentence in the book that I - a very conservative editor of The Washington Times and former press secretary to Newt Gingrich - couldn't have written.

"The premise of his book is that in this age of terror, there is a potential need for such devices as profiling, preventive detention, anticipatory mass inoculation, prior restraint of dangerous speech, targeted extrajudicial executions of terrorists and preemptive military action, including full-scale preventive war...

"Mr. Dershowitz's sound, practical scholarship is commendable. But what I find heartening is the political fact that a prominent scholar of the left has finally entered into a constructive conversation about how to manage our inevitably dangerous WMD/terrorist-infested future. If such as Mr. Dershowitz and I can find common ground, there should be space there for a multitude. And from that common ground can grow a common plan for a common victory."

The Washington Post has published a muscular and praiseworthy editorial about the departure of Lawrence H Summers from the presidency of Harvard University: "Mr. Summers fought several well-publicized battles with Harvard's establishment. He refused to rubber-stamp appointees chosen by the faculties, blocking candidates who seemed insufficiently distinguished and pressing for diversity in political outlook. This prompted complaints that he was acting like a corporate chief executive - as though there were something wrong with that.

"Next, Mr. Summers had the temerity to suggest that Cornel West, a professor of Afro-American studies, produce less performance art and more scholarship. This plea for academics to do academic work was construed as racist. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Summers criticized Harvard's hostility to the U.S. armed forces and called attention to the cultural gap between elite coastal campuses and mainstream American values. The fact that these commonsensical positions alienated people at Harvard speaks volumes about the cultural gap that troubled Mr. Summers."

The Post laments the fact that "in university politics as elsewhere, loud and unreasonable minorities can trump good sense."

We are going to be debating what it means to send David Irving to jail for believing that the Holocaust is propaganda for a long time, I think. Lots of people think he got off lightly. In the Guardian, David Cesarani, a research professor in history at Royal Holloway, and author of Eichmann: His Life and Crimes" argues this way: "...the internet is awash with falsehood and bigotry. Good ideas and beautiful truths coexist with trash and outright evil. Amid this anarchy, all that decent people can do is agree to reasonable limits on what can be said and set down legal markers in an attempt to preserve a democratic, civilised and tolerant society. The sentence on David Irving shows where the line is drawn."

I think he'd dead wrong. There's no question that Irving is a sleazy, dishonest, cowardly man who is making a living out of peddling a lie. But making one's living in that way is not in the least unusual. All those people, for example, who write books about the perils of the Bermuda triangle and whether the lines on a desert in South America were made by Martians are doing precisely that.

The Western principle that people are free to think what they like isn't something to be applied one minute then removed the next, according to context. It underlies our approach to life. It must be applicable all the time, and the assumption is that Western society is sufficiently robust to be able to deal with the rough bits without losing its collective head. Isn't that what we've been telling Muslim society angry about those cartoons?

Ours is an adversarial culture. All of what we believe is up for debate all the time. That might sometimes make for nail biting, but it is our great strength, it is what keeps us in a constant process of evolving into a society that is better than before.

Somebody should throw a pie in David Irving's face, perhaps, but nobody should put him in jail for being a person who deserves a pie in the face.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Robert Scheer gets it absolutely right, but laments the fact that people are paying so little attention to what has happened. "In both instances, the world has been presented with a teaching moment, in which the argument for free thought - that die gedanken sind frei ('thoughts are free') that the Nazis and every other absolutist dictatorship have excelled in crushing - was not advanced by those who know better. As a result, a world sorely in need of a crash course in the efficacy of free debate received nothing of the sort. Instead, the lesson has been that the suppression of ideas is valid, as long as the suppressors are convinced that they are in the right." I think people simply need a little time to think. Lessons like this one take a while to filter through, but we do get there in the end.

21 February 2006

One of Bermuda's best-known residents (well, on weekends, anyway) is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He's a guy who knows a thing or two, and one of them is that the only thing better than one house in Bermuda is two. So, according to the New York Daily News, he's buying the house next door.

"Mayor Bloomberg's presence in Bermuda is about to get a whole lot bigger. His daughters, Emma and Georgina, have filed an application with the Bermuda Minister of Home Affairs to buy The Jungle, a 1.7-acre property next to their dad's $10.5 million mansion. The ultraexclusive property is owned by Hugh Lowenstein, one of Bloomberg's oldest friends and a member of his company's board of directors."

David Aaronovitch is writing in the London Times today about what's going on in the universe parallel to the one in which liberals are busy appeasing murderous Muslim mobs protesting, of all things, cartoons. A Reuters report from Rome, for example, reveals that "The Vatican has protested in 'the strongest possible terms' against the publication in paperback of Dan Brown's bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code. Cardinal Loopi, of the Office of the Defence of the Faith, condemned the book for defaming Catholicism and, in its suggestion that Jesus Christ was married, of heresy. 'We demand that the book be destroyed and that the author be punished,' said Loopi, 'otherwise we cannot be held responsible for how Catholics throughout the world may react...'

The French government newspaper, Le Monde, says "The Netherlands may have created the avian flu virus in order to damage the economies of Europe, and cleverly planted it first in the Far East to divert attention away from the real plan."

And Angela Merkel, in remarks on German attempts to produce a nuclear weapon, said: "Those who oppose us should be grateful that our people has acted nobly towards you so far, and has been patient. We want to remain patient. Don't make us lose our patience. The peoples have awakened. The world of Christendom has awakened. Do not make us reconsider our policies."

Yup. That's a little of what's going on in our world today.

The Wall Street Journal isn't too happy about efforts to reform the UN's Human Rights Commission: "...The UN proposes distributing seats according to what it calls 'equitable geographic distribution': 12 seats to Africa; 13 to Asia (including the Middle East); eight to Latin America; five to East Europe and seven to the so-called West European and Others Group, which includes the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel.

"Thus the two groups that contain the greatest proportion of liberal democracies are allotted the smallest number of seats. By contrast, in 2005 only nine countries in the whole of Africa were rated 'free', according to Freedom House. In Asia and the Middle East, only about a dozen of 54 countries are free, and that's if you're counting Tuvalu, Palau, Nauru and Kiribati.

"Put simply, this structure not only fails to exclude abusive regimes from membership in the Council, it actually guarantees them their seats. And it is rigged against the very countries whose opinions about human rights might be other than blatantly hypocritical. As to the potential merit of those opinions, we'll leave it to posterity to decide whether what the world really needed in this decade was another platform for Scandinavian highmindedness."

Yesterday, I posted something about the British version of a 'telephone cheat sheet', which helps frustrated callers short-circuit those automated telephone answering systems businesses seem to use these days. The Brit sheet was based on one developed in the United States by a computer expert from Boston, Paul English. I tracked him down yesterday, at his website, gethuman.com. The site, he says, is being run on behalf of "over one million consumers who demand high quality customer service from companies they use...

"The infamous gethuman database shows you secret phone numbers and codes for getting to a human at hundreds of big companies in the US. This list is constantly updated and is managed by a team of volunteers."

Useful stuff.

20 February 2006

I've been following a story that a young journalist called Stephen F Hayes, who works for the Weekly Standard, has made his own. It is about the US's failure to translate thousands upon thousands of documents seized in Iraq during the invasion. Many of these papers apparently contain new information about pre-invasion terrorist activity and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the American government isn't doing much about translating them because, in a nutshell, they say they have better things to do. But Hayes's relentless banging away about their significance is slowly making a difference.

(This is the lead on his latest story on the subject, published last week: "For more than a year, The Weekly Standard has sought the release of documents captured in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have pressured Pentagon officials, cajoled intelligence analysts, listened to would-be whistleblowers, interviewed Iraqis and filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests with multiple government agencies. Today, because of two developments that have nothing to do with these efforts, we will all learn more about the captured documents and what they tell us about our enemies in the global war on terror.")

This morning, in an editorial, the Washington Times provides a little further evidence that Hayes has helped make the American government to pay a little more attention: "One new piece of information revealed on the tapes, released Saturday by Mr. Tierney at the Intelligence Summit, a private conference held in Arlington, is that Saddam was actively working on a plan to enrich uranium using a technique known as plasma separation. This is particularly worrisome because of the date of the conversation: It took place in 2000, nearly five years after Iraq's nuclear programs were thought to have stopped.

"Perhaps most disturbing of all, according to Mr. Tierney, was the fact that the Iraqi scientists briefing Saddam about the uranium enrichment plan in 2000 'were totally unknown' to UN weapons inspectors. The plasma program also appears to have escaped the attention of the Iraq Survey Group, which reported two years ago that it had ended back in the late 1980s. Mr. Tierney points out that the 12 hours of information that he has translated thus far is just a small fraction of the hundreds of hours of tape recordings and other raw intelligence data collected after the fall of Saddam...

"It is apparent that the American public has much more to learn about Moscow, Damascus and WMD and precisely when Saddam's nuclear weapons programs actually stopped."

Former US president Jimmy Carter led a team from the Carter Center and the National Democratic Institute that observed last month's Palestinian elections. In the Washington Post this morning, he has outlined his views on how to proceed in the light of Hamas's win. It doesn't take much of an imagination to guess his views - he thinks efforts to avoid dealing with the terrorist organisation are wrong, because they cause suffering among the Palestinian population. "Israel moved yesterday," he writes, "to withhold funds (about $50 million per month) that the Palestinians earn from customs and tax revenue. Perhaps a greater aggravation by the Israelis is their decision to hinder movement of elected Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council members through any of more than a hundred Israeli checkpoints around and throughout the Palestinian territories. This will present significant obstacles to a government's functioning effectively.

"Abbas informed me after the election that the Palestinian Authority was $900 million in debt and that he would be unable to meet payrolls during February. Knowing that Hamas would inherit a bankrupt government, US officials have announced that all funding for the new government will be withheld, including what is needed to pay salaries for schoolteachers, nurses, social workers, police and maintenance personnel. So far they have not agreed to bypass the Hamas-led government and let humanitarian funds be channeled to Palestinians through United Nations agencies responsible for refugees, health and other human services...

"This common commitment to eviscerate the government of elected Hamas officials by punishing private citizens may accomplish this narrow purpose, but the likely results will be to alienate the already oppressed and innocent Palestinians, to incite violence, and to increase the domestic influence and international esteem of Hamas. It will certainly not be an inducement to Hamas or other militants to moderate their policies."

It's vintage Jimmy Carter, and of course it is praiseworthy to care for "oppressed and innocent" people like the Palestinians. But this is far from the simple equation he wants us to believe it is. If the countries involved had used his formula in the 1930s, Mr Hitler and his pals, and every other political monster before and since, would have had a much easier time of whatever it was they happened to be up to. It must be correct not to treat Hamas as if it were like any other political party. It must be correct that Hamas should have to pay a penalty for embracing terrorism. And it must be correct for the nations that have to deal with Hamas to be guided by a sense of morality, not simple-minded pragmatism, in groping for a solution to this unprecedented problem.

Meantime, Hamas thinks it can do without funds from Israel and Western nations. Haaretz quotes Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's candidate for prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, as having said that the Palestinians have "alternatives in the Arab and Islamic world" to replace the lost income. Boy, has he got a surprise in store.

Here's a guy who can cut through bullshit like that hot knife they're always talking about. His name is Anatole Kaletsky, and he notes, wryly, in the London Times business section that "After reporting the unexpected collapse of Euroland's growth rate from 0.6 to 0.3 per cent in the fourth quarter and the slump in the German economy into what will probably turn out to be its third recession in four years, the Financial Times added reassuringly: 'Many economists, however, believe that Eurozone prospects are the brightest they have been since early this decade and expect a rebound in the first quarter of 2006'...

"Investors should pay no attention to Eurozone central bankers or politicians, whose record since the Euro was created suggests they do not know what they are talking about. Instead, we should look at the figures, the policies and the economic principles that tie them together.

"The figures show that, far from accelerating or rebounding, the Eurozone economy is getting even weaker and this downtrend is almost certain to continue in 2006. Starting with the figures, it is arithmetically impossible for Europe to have an economic recovery unless consumers spend more and save less. An export-led recovery is impossible for two reasons.

"Firstly, because exports, at 12 per cent of GDP, are simply not large enough to drive the Eurozone economy as a whole. German exports may account for 30 per cent of GDP and they may even grow as rapidly as implied by the euphoric German business surveys (although personally I rather doubt it), but the fact is that most German exports go to other Eurozone countries and thus contribute precisely nothing to European demand as a whole.

"Secondly, because exports to the three main EU markets outside the Eurozone - Britain, America and China - have been slowing since early 2005 and are likely to get even weaker. This is demonstrated by the $80 billion deterioration in the Eurozone current account during the past 12 months."

This isn't the clearest story the Times of London has ever published, but the gist is that people have been doing good work in finding a way around those dreadful automated telephone answering systems that are so popular with businesses these days. "Dodging the drone of the automated answer was pioneered last year by Paul English, an American computer expert from Boston, who has cracked the cheat route for hundreds of US companies and government departments...He has extended his research to Britain and has found that simply pressing zero several times in quick succession will circumvent the answering systems of many institutions, including American Express, Bank of Scotland, Barclays, BUPA, the DVLA, NatWest, NHS Direct and Sky."

All very well. The peculiar thing about the story, though, is that it credits Cheapflights, a British-based internet travel company, with coming up with a "cheat sheet" - a list of codes for getting straight through to a real person, and it refers those interested to the Cheapflights URL. So you go there, and where is this vaunted cheat sheet? It's just as hard to find as it is to get through to an operator when trapped in one of the systems it says it can short-circuit. There's no search facility and the site is far from intuitive. So it's a kind of Times-sponsored Kafkian bait-and-switch scam - to try to find your way out of a maddening auditory maze, you are directed to a maddening visual maze. Makes you think of clubs and heads, doesn't it?

: The editor of the Cheapflights website, Craig McGinty, has been nice enough to give the detailed URL of the telephone cheat sheet in a comment on this story. The comments software has truncated it, of course, so I'll reproduce it in full here: http://www.cheapflights.co.uk/travel-tips/cheatsheet.html. Thanks, Craig.

19 February 2006

John J Miller of the National Review is echoing the question Peggy Noonan asked in the Wall Street Journal - will President Bush dump his hapless second-in-command and get someone else? "Asking the question - as Peggy Noonan did yesterday in the Wall Street Journal - is not to hope that Bush will be called upon to answer it. Nor is it to believe that it will actually happen. Instead, it merely pays homage to the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is perhaps the likeliest choice for Bush. He trusts her and no doubt believes she would carry on his foreign-policy vision, which is how his presidency will be remembered in history, for better or worse. Although she has never held elective office, she is certainly qualified for the job - more so, in fact, than a lot of Washington's current officeholders."

Claudia Rosett's got Kofi Annan in her sights again. He accepted a big bundle of money from Dubai's ruler (attached to an environmental award). As she points out, an elected official who accepts money from one of his constituents is behaving in a quite staggeringly inappropriate fashion. In the Weekly Standard, she writes: "The real issue is why on earth Kofi Annan thinks it a good idea while serving as secretary-general to accept $500,000 - for any reason - from a high-ranking official of a UN member state. Sheikh Mohammed is not only the ruler of Dubai but the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. No doubt he bestowed this award as a gesture of appreciation. But if the other 190 UN member states were to follow his lead, Annan would be rolling in $95 million worth of personal prize money. Once the secretary-general allows himself to become a collector of cash awards, where's the line to be drawn? If Syria were to offer him a $10 million environmental prize, or China were to up the ante to $100 million, should he grab a suitcase and go pick it up?

"Annan accepted the Dubai prize on the heels of setting up an ethics office within the UN Secretariat just last month. He has recently issued guidelines requiring staff to report any gifts of more than $250, down from previous guidelines that smiled on the acceptance of do-dads worth up to $10,000. Staff rules do not apply to the secretary-general himself, who is presumed to operate as an exemplary civil servant.

"But one wonders what UN employees will make of their boss's big purse. Just last summer, a former UN procurement officer, Alexander Yakovlev, pleaded guilty in a US federal court to taking hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes involving taxpayer-funded UN contracts. Annan's secretariat has yet to get to the bottom of this still-spreading scandal in its own procurement department. Imagine for a moment that UN contractors were to start holding contests for the world's finest procurement officer, and began handing out big cash prizes to UN officials. Should the secretary-general then congratulate the winners - or investigate them?"

The very worst blunder by an American president? It was President James Buchanan's, for failing to avert the Civil War, according to a survey of presidential historians organized by the University of Louisville's McConnell Center. The Toronto Globe and Mail carries a list of the top ten.

"The survey's top 10 presidential blunders were announced Saturday during a President's Day weekend conference called 'Presidential Moments'. 'We can probably learn just as much - or maybe even more - by looking at the mistakes rather than looking at why they were great,' said political scientist and McConnell Center Director Gary Gregg."

This is a very fine Sunday morning treat for literature fans - Henry James reviewing Winslow Homer's paintings (with a twist, yet to be revealed): "We frankly confess that we detest his subjects - his barren plank fences, his glaring, bald, blue skies, his big, dreary, vacant lots of meadows, his freckled, straight-haired Yankee urchins, his flat-breasted maidens, suggestive of a dish of rural doughnuts and pie, his calico sun-bonnets, his flannel shirts, his cowhide boots. He has chosen the least pictorial features of the least pictorial range of scenery and civilisation; he has resolutely treated them as if they were pictorial, as if they were every inch as good as Capri or Tangier; and, to reward his audacity, he has incontestably succeeded."

The twist is that James is being quoted by John Updike, the real author of this piece, which is an extract from his book, Still Looking: Essays on American Art, used by the Guardian to promote an exhibition of Homer's work, starting tomorrow at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.

So with that tangle out of the way, we can move to another: "This tangle of praise and blame arises from preconceptions long obsolete (this is Updike's take on James's criticism): the paintings that spelled beauty and imagination to James now loom to us as ugly - forced, formal concoctions redolent of stuffy patronage and devoid of simple truth. James's eye was too good not to see Homer's 'great merit' of atmospheric fidelity: 'He naturally sees everything at one with its envelope of light and air.' That to achieve this merit the painter must brave the bleak outdoors and forsake the cluttered studio and the manipulated props of 'imagination' James was too European to admit. He found, in fiction, his friend William Dean Howells mundane and formless, and Mark Twain far beyond the pale. He could never quell his sensation that there was something intrinsically unworthy in American subject matter. Only the pure, dry American soul, caught in the toils of Old World corruption, pleased him; that soul's plain and provincial furniture he gratefully eased from his mind. Homer stayed with the furniture...

"With Homer, we feel...a succession of smaller or greater acts of possession, from the dazzlingly deft and dappled glimpse of two bonneted apple-pickers in Apple Picking (1878) to the oceanic appropriations of his later oils. (Among his feats might be listed the best, least caricatural portraits of postbellum African-Americans.) He beautifully exploited his talent and his days; a sense of strain and extravagance attends only the massive exclusion, from his art and, increasingly, from his life, of what might be called European civilisation. To a degree no longer possible, he lived as the New World's new man - self-ruled, resourceful, and beginning always afresh."


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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