...Views from mid-Atlantic
04 March 2006

Eager to emphasise their Caribbean status and, of course, to tempt the younger generation away from the Yankee-influenced baseball diamond, the Cuban government has embarked on a joint initiative with UK Sport to revive cricket in Cuba. The Telegraph reports that: "'The Cuban government want to be more closely aligned with the Caribbean countries rather than the States and they want to encourage the population to feel they are part of the West Indies rather than the USA,' Debbie Lye of UK Sport said yesterday. 'There is a huge potential to be built on there, but obviously it must be done carefully and with sensitivity. It is very promising.'

"It's not that the Cubans are new to the game. In the 1920s, an influx of sugar workers from Jamaica and Barbados brought cricket with them to the plantations on the east of Cuba. Their teams played in leagues and cup competitions in Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo and Barague.

"Among the leading lights was a man called Leonard Ford, a Bajan, whose daughter Leona is the leading light in the sport's revival now. She rejoices in the title of President of the Commission of Rescue and Development of Cricket in Cuba, and now enjoys the full support of the state sports ministry."

Author Edmund White, in a readable, pleasant review of the National Gallery's exhibition, Americans in Paris 1860-1900 nonetheless poses what seems to me rather a silly question. In the Guardian, he puts it like this: "Americans embraced Impressionism at the same time that it was dying out in France as a movement. In the States it became a politer ??? movement (sic), linked to the cult of nature and the portrayal of innocent family outings; it was also stripped of all political content. Who knows why it was so successful in the States. Possibly because Cassatt and Sargent, art heroes to fellow Americans, had vouched for it. Perhaps because it celebrated pretty mothers and rosy-cheeked children, public gardens and boating parties. That it also, in the hands of Degas, showed half-starved dancers, the rats de l'opera and men at work at the cotton exchange in New Orleans or, in the hands of Caillebotte, pictured workmen installing parquet floors - all such social and political content could be easily ignored. What remains in the memory is the image of a flower-filled, eternally sunny nation; you would never guess from Impressionism that France is so rainy.

"Impressionism may have also suited the American spirit because it was a rejection of pondered evaluations and a rapid notation of sensations caught on the wing. Our greatest poet, Walt Whitman, was after all something of an Impressionist. He, too, worked outdoors. He, too, rejected preconceived visual and moral ideas in favour of an unmediated vision of things in themselves. He, too, expanded the repertory of what could be noticed in a work of art. Like the Impressionists, he rejected history in favour of the exquisite now. Europeans might have remained faithful to history painting, but Americans had too little history to worry about. They wanted to discover the exact dimensions of the moment."

I say it's a silly question because impressionism, it seems to me, really wasn't a conscious choice for those involved. It had the force of a breaking wave, not just in Paris and the United States, but globally. One might ask why Surrealism or Fauvism was the choice of those who were involved, but impressionism was different. It was the place to which human consciousness had progressed as a result of its experience to date. We as suddenly found ourselves in an impressionist world as we had found ourselves in a world of printing on paper a few years earlier. It was a fundamental change in the way humans saw the world. No choice, pal.

Although many delegations to the UN understand that the proposal to reform the Human Rights Commission is inadequate, they think they must settle for it because otherwise, as the Chilean Ambassador put it to a New York Times reporter, it would "be a negative signal for the priority that human rights should have at the UN." The result is, says the Times, that "the United States has found itself isolated in its opposition to a proposal to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, and its pledge to vote against adoption of the plan has thrown the United Nations into turmoil."

The fact is, though, that the timing of the reform of the Human Rights Commission makes it less about the priority of human rights in the UN than about the ability of the organisation to do the job it is supposed to do. Failing to reform the organisation properly is a clear signal that the UN, despite the embarrassment of its recent failings, is really too attached to the ease and enjoyment of inefficiency to make any improvement. What has been proposed doesn't really even deserve to be called photogenic - it's only just enough to be called a reform at all.

Delegates are apparently so disenchanted with efficiency that they can't even be punctual for meetings - News One reports that "An unpopular punctuality drive launched in the UN Security Council UN Security Council last month by US Ambassador John Bolton came to an abrupt end on Thursday when Argentina took over the council's rotating presidency.

"Bolton had cracked the whip while presiding over the 15-nation UN body in February, starting meetings precisely on time, even with empty chairs in the room, as part of a plan to modernize council operations. He had also called in ambassadors almost every morning of the month for closed-door briefings by UN staff on overnight global political and peacekeeping developments.

"But Argentine Ambassador Cesar Mayoral made clear it would be a different story in March. If ambassadors wanted to come on time, it would be up to them, he told reporters. As for the morning briefings, 'this is impossible,' he said. 'We aren't having a daily briefing each day.'"

03 March 2006

From commenting specifically about Iraq for the last couple of weeks, Victor Davis Hanson switches to the Middle East in a general sense. The Europeans are taking a beating, he says: "Ever so slowly, after the French riots, the bombings in London and Madrid, and the Danish cartoons, the Europeans are learning that for all their anti-American triangulating, nice talk to the Iranians, and money given to Palestinian terrorists, they have won only contempt from the Middle East.

"The result? They are coming back around to the United States, in a way that would be impossible had we sent dozens of envoys to London and Paris begging to restore the old Atlantic partnership. Gerhard Schroeder, after all, not George Bush, is now a paid lackey for a post-Soviet state-owned oil company, and Jacques Chirac is blathering in his dotage about using French nukes. The legacy of that sad pair of bystanders is only appeasement, cheap anti-Americanism, and oil deals with Saddam, while the United States has altered the very dynamic of the Middle East."

It seems to be a pattern in countries that just don't understand democracy very well - first, you get involved in a little graft. Rumours of what you've done begin to spread. It becomes public. What's your reaction? Attack the press. The Christian Science Monitor reports that "Masked, armed police Thursday stormed the offices of a leading Kenyan media company, torching newspapers and damaging equipment, in a raid seen as punishment for reports criticizing the government's dismal record on corruption.

"Dozens of officers carrying AK-47 assault rifles ransacked the Nairobi editorial headquarters of Kenya Television Network (KTN) and the downtown printing press of The Standard, Kenya's oldest newspaper.

"The country's interior minister, John Michuki, says the clampdown is necessary to assert the state's authority in the face of repeated verbal attacks on the administration. 'If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it,' he told journalists Thursday."

Uh huh.

Is it possible, asks the Wall Street Journal, that the intelligence community doesn't want those documents seized in Iraq to become public? "These items - collected and examined in Qatar as part of what's known as the Harmony program - appear to contain information highly relevant to the ongoing debate over the war on terror. But nearly three years after Baghdad fell, we see no evidence that much of what deserves to be public will be anytime soon.

"For example, if it hadn't been for the initiative of one Bill Tierney, we wouldn't know that Saddam Hussein had a habit of tape-recording meetings with top aides. The former UN weapons inspector and experienced Arabic translator recently went public with 12 hours (out of a reported total of 3,000) of recordings in which we hear Saddam discuss with the likes of Tariq Aziz the process of deceiving U.N. weapons inspectors and his view that Iraq's conflict with the U.S. didn't end with the first Gulf War.

"In one particularly chilling passage, the dictator discusses the threat of WMD terrorism to the United States and the difficulty anyone would have tracing it back to a state. With the 2001 anthrax attacks still unsolved, that strikes us as bigger news than the DNI or most editors apparently considered it.

"In another disclosure, The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes was told by about a dozen officials that Harmony documents describe in detail how Saddam trained thousands of Islamic radicals in the waning years of his regime. So much for the judgments of many in the intelligence community - including Paul Pillar, the latest ex-spook to go public with his antiwar message - that the secular Saddam would never consort with such religious types."

02 March 2006

The BBC is reporting that Salman Rushdie is among a dozen writers to have put their names to a statement in a French weekly paper, warning against Islamic 'totalitarianism'.

"'Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present," the writers added, saying it is nurtured by fears and frustrations.' The writers said they refused to accept that Muslim men and women 'should be deprived of their rights to equality, liberty or secularity in the name of respect for culture or tradition.' They also said they would not give up their critical spirit out of fear of being accused of Islamophobia."

Black families in Minneapolis are so fed up with the poor education their children are getting in public schools in the area that they're putting them in charter schools, or taking advantage of open enrollment at suburban public schools. The Wall Street Journal says that "As a result, Minneapolis schools are losing both raw numbers of students and 'market share'. In 1999-2000, district enrollment was about 48,000; this year, it's about 38,600. Enrollment projections predict only 33,400 in 2008. A decline in the number of families moving into the district accounts for part of the loss, as does the relocation of some minority families to inner-ring suburbs. Nevertheless, enrollments are relatively stable in the leafy, well-to-do enclave of southwest Minneapolis and the city's white ethnic northeast. But in 2003-04, black enrollment was down 7.8%, or 1,565 students. In 2004-05, black enrollment dropped another 6%.

"Black parents have good reasons to look elsewhere. Last year, only 28% of black eighth-graders in the Minneapolis public schools passed the state's basic skills math test; 47% passed the reading test. The black graduation rate hovers around 50%, and the district's racial achievement gap remains distressingly wide. Louis King, a black leader who served on the Minneapolis School Board from 1996 to 2000, puts it bluntly: 'Today, I can't recommend in good conscience that an African-American family send their children to the Minneapolis public schools. The facts are irrefutable: These schools are not preparing our children to compete in the world.'"

Leonard Cohen has won a suit against his former manager, Kelley Lynch, and a tax lawyer, Richard Westin, for diverting so much of his money to their own use that the singer had almost nothing left. The Globe and Mail says: "The Montreal-born Cohen, 71, has alleged that Lynch over eight years had siphoned off more than $5-million of his savings, so that by late 2004 his retirement nest egg had been reduced to about $150,000. Westin, now teaching law at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, was named in the claim because Cohen alleged that Westin helped Lynch with the $12-million sale of both Cohen's music-publishing company and artist royalties. Most of these proceeds went into a Lynch-created company, Traditional Holdings, of which Lynch had 99.5 per cent ownership."

The NY Times says www.blurb.com's software allows bloggers to publish books cheaply. In fact, it's for anyone who wants to publish a book. And it's apparently free.

01 March 2006

Yet another analysis of the UN's new plan for the Human Rights Council which says it nearly fails to make any improvement at all. This one was written by columnist Helle Dale of the Washington Times. "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but that is exactly what UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal to reform the deeply flawed UN Human Rights Commission is trying to do. Our outspoken UN ambassador, John Bolton, used a slightly more diplomatic metaphor when he denounced the efforts to replace the commission with a new Human Rights Council, calling it 'not a butterfly', and he vowed to vote against the proposal. In this case, Mr. Bolton found backup from as strange a bedfellow as the New York Times editorial page, which tells you something about just how inadequate the reform proposal is.

"Now, reform of the old Human Rights Commission is long overdue. The Geneva-based subsidiary of the United Nations has, in recent times, called unfavorable attention to itself by including in its membership of 53 egregious human-rights abusers, such as China, Libya, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

"The problem here is the UN system of regional representation, which allows each region to select its own representative regardless of the country's political system or human rights record. That is how, a few years back, we found Sudan on the Human Rights Commission, while the United States was deselected in the group of Western countries to which it belongs. This despite the fact that we continue to pay 22 percent of the commission's budget. It is also how, briefly, Saddam Hussein's Iraq took the chairmanship of the disarmament committee in the run-up to the Iraq invasion."

Victor Davis Hansen continues his series of articles on Iraq, written as a consequence, I think, of a recent visit there. In the Wall Street Journal, he writes: "The second-guessing of 2003 still daily obsesses us: We should have had better intelligence; we could have kept the Iraqi military intact; we would have been better off deploying more troops. Had our forefathers embraced such a suicidal and reactionary wartime mentality, Americans would have still torn each other apart over Valley Forge years later on the eve of Yorktown--or refought Pearl Harbor even as they steamed out to Okinawa.

"There is a more disturbing element to these self-serving, always evolving pronouncements of the 'my perfect war, but your disastrous peace' syndrome. Conservatives who insisted that we needed more initial troops are often the same ones who now decry that too much money has been spent in Iraq. Liberals who chant 'no blood for oil' lament that we unnecessarily ratcheted up the global price of petroleum. Progressives who charge that we are imperialists also indict us for being naively idealistic in thinking democracy could take root in post-Baathist Iraq and providing aid of a magnitude not seen since the Marshall Plan. For many, Iraq is no longer a war whose prognosis is to be judged empirically. It has instead transmogrified into a powerful symbol that apparently must serve deeply held, but preconceived, beliefs - the deceptions of Mr. Bush, the folly of a neoconservative cabal, the necessary comeuppance of the American imperium, or the greed of an oil-hungry U.S."

British playwright Conor McPherson does a superb job of writing a simple guide to the plays of Samuel Beckett. The occasion is the Beckett centenary festival, which opens in London later this month. In the Guardian, he says: "Perhaps the supreme irony at the heart of Beckett's plays...is that while he is often carelessly described as a 20th-century European existentialist who created hymns to 'nothingness', he was in fact an Irish pagan who sought to celebrate the infinite mystery and endurance of the human heart through public rituals. His plays are not easy to perform and none can have been easy to write. But I believe that each one is enormously personal (perhaps this is why he never gave interviews), and while he always mercilessly stripped the work to its barest bones, at the same time he allowed his real feelings to shine through. This is what imbues his plays with their great power. They are also lovingly and respectfully shaped for an audience: this is what has made them enduring. And as long as they are performed with one eye on our spiritual longing, and another on the banana skin, they will continue to endure for generations yet to be born."

In 1991, Englishman Julian Radcliffe did something you'd have thought Interpol should have done - he created a database of stolen art. Since then, his London-based Art Loss Register has helped recover more than $100 million-worth of stolen property, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

"Since he set up the London-based Art Loss Register (ALR)," the Monitor says, "an inventory of stolen and missing works of art, Radcliffe has helped recover more than $100 million worth of stolen property. The ALR is the largest database of looted treasure in the world. It catalogs more than 170,000 uniquely identifiable items, from Picasso and Cezanne originals, to sculptures, jewelry, silverware, furniture, and even classic cars and toys. It logs stolen items and searches its database when suspect items turn up." And it turns a profit, enabling him to start his own art collection.

28 February 2006

It's a sort of Heart of Darkness take on terrorism, this Washington Times article by Louis Rene Beres, who is the chairman of Project Daniel, and the author of, among other books, Terrorisim and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat. "At its very heart, the problem of terror/violence is always a problem of displaced human centeredness. Ever anxious about drawing meaning from their own inwardness, particular human beings draw closer and closer to the herd. In all too many cases this herd spawns hatreds and excesses that make certain forms of killing desirable. Fostering a ceaseless refrain of 'us' versus 'them', it prevents each affected person from becoming fully human and encourages each such person to celebrate the death of 'outsiders'.

"Not surprisingly, when Palestinian mothers and their children recently crowded into a newly constructed 'museum' celebrating the immolation of Israeli mothers and children in a bombed Sbarro pizza restaurant, it was not fellow mothers and children that they recognized. Rather, they saw only 'Israelis', 'infidels', 'Zionists' - a loathsome abstraction, a population so presumptively vile (that is, so different from themselves) that their longingly hoped-for extermination of the 'Jews' carried absolutely no bit of regret.

"Each person contains at least the possibility of becoming fully human, an empathetic possibility that could reduce corrosive loyalties to the terror group herd and prevent mega-terrorist violence against the United States. It is only by nurturing this essential possibility that we can now seek serious remedies. Futile as it may seem, our immediate task must be to encourage masses of people in the Arab/Islamic world to discover the way back to themselves, as authentic persons, as feeling and caring individuals. Otherwise, large elements of this world (large enough to number in the tens of millions) will continue to embrace the annihilatory ideals of a homicidal religious collectivism. For the aspiring terrorist, this dreadful life of conformance and fear could soon make even chemical/biological/nuclear terrorism seem altogether desirable."

"Had Otis Chandler never worked a single day, his would have been a memorable life. An Olympic-caliber athlete, a champion weightlifter, an accomplished race car driver, big game hunter, surfer, cyclist, antique car and motorcycle collector, Chandler, who died Monday at 78, was a man whose avocations alone were the stuff of legend." He did work, though, as the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, which is paying tribute to him today.

"...In a remarkable 20-year span as publisher of the Los Angeles Times - from 1960 to 1980 - he reshaped this newspaper to an extent that has few, if any, parallels in the history of American journalism. 'No publisher in America improved a paper so quickly on so grand a scale, took a paper that was marginal in qualities and brought it to excellence as Otis Chandler did,' David Halberstam wrote in The Powers That Be, his 1979 book about the news media."

Thanks, Brenda, for the tip.

In Britain, people have become disillusioned by politics over the last ten years, as evidenced by low turnouts in elections in 2001 and 2005, according to the BBC and others. To find out why, the Joseph Rowntree Trust, as a centenary project, funded a 12-month enquiry headed by the energetic Baroness Helena Kennedy.

The inquiry's report calls for a shift in control from ministers to parliament and from central to local government, state funding of political parties and a voting age of 16. "Politics and government are increasingly in the hands of privileged elites, as if democracy has run out of steam," Lady Kennedy told the press.

In an interview in the Telegraph today, she explains in more detail: "The iPod generation, she says, wants more power over its politicians. 'Doing the business once every four years - and your vote not counting very much - now feels very arid to most people.'

"In its report, published today , the inquiry sets out dozens of proposals to bring the political system into the 21st century. Lady Kennedy picks some of them off - including the first-past-the-post system for electing MPs, which the inquiry considers outdated. She wants to replace it with a single transferable vote PR system. 'We need to give people a sense that they have more options and their vote may really count,' she says. 'Your first choice might be a Tory, your second might be a Green.'

"And Parliament itself, she says, must be revitalised. The inquiry calls for concordats to be drawn up, setting out the relationship between Parliament and the Executive and between central and local government. Select committees, the report recommends, should have the power to subpoena witnesses and to become involved in choosing public appointments such as the head of the BBC.

"'You need to have less cronyism - it leads to cynicism, and we need to restore trust,' says Lady Kennedy. Thus, the inquiry's report says that MPs should be given a vote on all matters of national importance, such as going to war. And the power of the whips should be curbed."

I'm mistrustful of this kind of thing. There were low turnouts in those two elections principally because there was little doubt about how they would turn out, and, as a consequence, people didn't feel any sense of urgency about voting. The way bodies like the House of Parliament and the House of Lords fuction is a product of centuries of experience, and I think people should be very reluctant about second-guessing the product of that procedure.

Tony Blair's Labour Government has been very successful in many ways, but it has often moved too quickly to make reforms. This Times of London story gives a good example. "Last week, all eyes were on the House of Commons as it debated identity cards, smoking and terrorism. The media reported both what MPs said and how they voted. For one week at least, the Commons mattered. All the more peculiar then that the previous Thursday, in an almost deserted chamber, the Government proposed an extraordinary Bill that will drastically reduce parliamentary discussion of future laws, a Bill some constitutional experts are already calling 'the Abolition of Parliament Bill'."

This is the kind of screw-up that makes voters disillusioned, and the remedy isn't all that complex stuff about select committees and giving 16 year-olds the vote, but the simple, time-tested process of changing the cast of characters involved at the next opportunity.

Thanks for the tip, Graeme.

27 February 2006

The American media watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists, has released a report slamming Cuba for its treatment of journalists - 24 of whom are behind bars there. Caribbean Net News says "The Committee to Protect Journalists, cited the example of journalist Jorge Olivera Castillo, who was released from jail in December 2004 on medical parole. Olivera was ordered by a Havana municipal court on Tuesday to work at a state-controlled office that the court would select. He also told CPJ that he was barred from attending public gatherings and leaving Havana.

"Olivera was sentenced in March 2003 to 18 years in prison in a massive crackdown on the independent media. While on medical parole he has contributed to the Miami-based news Web site CubaNet and other international publications. 'It is outrageous that Cuba, which jails more journalists than any other country in the world except China, should continue to harass journalists even after they have left prison,' said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.

"'Cuba now has 24 journalists behind bars solely for exercising their right to free expression. Some of them are not receiving the medical treatment that they need, Cooper said."

Historian Niall Ferguson is writing about the two best think-pieces of the post-Cold War period, Samuel Huntington's essay (and later, book) called The Clash of Civilisations and Francis Fukuyama's The End of History. In the Los Angeles Times: "It has been nearly 13 years since Samuel Huntington published his seminal essay The Clash of Civilizations in Foreign Affairs. As works of academic prophecy go, this has been a real winner - up there with George Kennan's epoch-making 1947 essay The Sources of Soviet Conduct, which laid out the rationale for containment of the Soviet Union.

"'In this new world,' wrote Huntington, 'the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations…. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.'

"The other great think-piece of the post-Cold War period was Francis Fukuyama's The End of History. Published in 1989, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, it argued that liberal democracy had conquered, once and for all, rival ideologies such as fascism and communism. But Fukuyama went from seeming prescient to seeming overoptimistic within just a few years. In particular, Bosnia's civil war showed how history might actually resume with a vengeance in some post-communist societies."

Ferguson pans both books for failure to be entirely accurate. I'm not sure he isn't demanding too much of them - but his comments are those of an expert and, for that reason, fascinating.

In Britain, a group called the Committee on Standards in Public Life has developed, over the course of some years, a code of conduct for people in public life - politicians and civil servants. Their website is here, if you want a look. I wrote about them for an article in a magazine called Bermudian Business a few months ago (it's not available online) because although our Bermuda Government had such a code some years ago, they either pay no attention to it or, perhaps, have abandoned it. The Times of London is reporting that the Committee has now made a change in the code: "For the first time MPs, ministers and civil servants will have to agree to a code of conduct which binds them to the truth as part of a package of measures proposed to combat the low level of public trust in Government. Sir Alistair Graham, head of the powerful sleaze watchdog, is driving through the first major changes to the Seven Principles of Public Life since their introduction in 1995.

"The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life said that he believed that trust in Government had declined further over the last two years. He will start by proposing overhauling the code's definition of 'honesty' - at present a technical definition focusing on conflicts of interest - after focus groups said this missed the central point."

Our gang's record on honesty is such that I doubt they'd be able to govern if they had to do so under such a stricture.

A trio of heavyweight British print executives, assembled to address the Judge Business School Media and Business conference in Cambridge at the end of last week, had starkly different opinions. The most gloomy of them, according to the Independent, was "Andrew Gowers, until recently editor-in-chief of the Financial Times, who compared print to vinyl records. 'Ink on dead trees,' he called it, with the entire industry facing a 'wrenching change', unlike any previous upheaval. 'The digital revolution takes in all income streams,' he said, dismissing new formats and DVD giveaways as 'sticking plasters' on the dying patient."

Over on the other side of the world, the San Francisco Chronicle is telling the story of Mohammed Jabiri, a 71 year-old Moroccan whose occupation is also under pressure from more modern methods of getting the story out. "Jabiri is a storyteller, a profession he has practiced for more than 40 years. Every day, he conjures up a real or imagined past that is filled with ancient battles and populated with sinners and prophets, wise sultans and tricky thieves."

Gowers and Jabiri are both talking about the same thing, and Jabiri's long history in his business is in some respects a rebuke to Gowers. The mistake Gowers makes is to confuse potential with reality. Yes, the internet is capable of seeing traditional newspapers off the scene. But the reality is that while the internet is certainly changing the newspaper business, it is not going to kill it off. The newspaper experience is very different from the internet experience, and people like their newspapers. Same with books.

26 February 2006

The Manhattan Institute, according to the Washington Times, has been studying how lawsuits affect the healthcare of Americans. It ain't a pretty sight - "the barrage of lawsuits battering the medical and pharmaceutical industries is incredibly expensive. Even worse, it shackles doctors, spooks researchers, and leaves patients sick or dead...

"To gauge its impact, consider the 406 percent increase in per-doctor malpractice insurance premiums between 1975 and 2003. Simultaneously, medical-care inflation grew 525 percent, while Trial Lawyers, Inc. turbocharged medical-malpractice expenses 2,108 percent, to $26.5 billion.

"Insurers shield themselves from massive payouts by charging doctors more for malpractice coverage. Average policies rose 18 percent in 2003 alone: Chicago-area obstetricians watched their premiums zoom 67 percent to $230,428."

Pots and pans carved from rock? They're not just pretty, according to the Los Angeles Times. "They're substantial cookware, with unique virtues in the kitchen.

"'Soapstone is beautiful to cook with,' Kleiman (Evan, owner of Angeli Caffe on Melrose Blvd in LA) says. 'I love it because I love cooking things very slowly in moist heat. I love making small stews, Persian rice and bean soups in them.'" There are links, at the end of the story, to help you buy your very own.

This is one of those facts that can be misinterpreted so easily - the chauffeur of the car in which Princess Diana died worked for the French secret service, according to the Times of London. Conjures all kinds of theories, doesn't it? But what it means is that he moonlighted as a spy...perhaps just as an informer...not that he was working as one at the time of the crash.

The British inquiry into the circumstances of the Princess's death, headed by Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan police commissioner, "is now trying to obtain the chauffeur's files from French intelligence but is being delayed by the reluctance of the authorities to hand them over. Stevens's team has asked the country's domestic intelligence service, the DST, to surrender all its 'agent handling' files on Henri Paul, the chauffeur, to establish whether he was doing any work for his French intelligence bosses on the night of the crash."

A British writer, Graham Hancock, theorises that all cave art was painted by people in an altered state of consciousness. The Toronto Globe and Mail says: "In his new book, Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind, published by Random House, British writer Graham Hancock has taken Prof Lewis-Williams's research as a point of departure to posit a theory as fascinating as it is provocative: If it's true that cave art derives from altered states of consciousness, then it constitutes a watershed moment in human history, marking the first visible encounter with the supernatural, the first expression of spiritual myth.

"Perhaps not coincidentally, the paintings were begun just when, according to anthropologists, human civilization made a great leap forward in terms of social organization, hunting-and-gathering skills and general creativity.

"Mr. Hancock (previously author of Fingerprints of the Gods and The Sign and the Seal) notes striking similarities between cave paintings produced by shamanic artists 25,000 years ago and the abundant descriptions of fairies, elves, angels and other fantastic creatures commonly reported in Europe from the medieval ages to the 17th century.

"And what is their modern equivalent? Mr. Hancock suggests the myriad accounts of alien abduction. His new book devotes several hundred pages to documenting these parallels, showing a surprising commonality of visions."

I suggest you don't try taking that one to the bank.

Paul Krugman, the New York Times's liberal columnist, infuriates people with, among other things, a weakness for bending figures to his own ends. In the National Review, Donald Luskin, the chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC, an independent economics and investment-research firm, does a little analysis of the way Krugman said the numbers showed Indian tribe contributions to Democrats fell once Jack Abramoff came into the pictures. Luskin says Krugman compared one year's total to the previous six years's total - the apples and pears comparison that statisticians say you can't make.

"But Krugman can. In fact he's done it before - and more than once...most recently in his New York Times column of January 30, when he tried to show that the Jack Abramoff scandal is a purely Republican affair. Here is Krugman, talking about how political contributions to Democrats from Indian tribes who employed Abramoff don't really count:

"'A study commissioned by The American Prospect shows that the tribes' donations to Democrats fell by 9 percent after they hired Mr. Abramoff, while their contributions to Republicans more than doubled. So in any normal sense of the word 'directed', Mr. Abramoff directed funds away from Democrats, not toward them.'

"But that study doesn't 'show' that at all. An American Prospect article indeed claimed it - but the data from the study commissioned by the Prospect shows that this claim is based on...fuzzy and self-serving arithmetic..."


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

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