...Views from mid-Atlantic
11 March 2006

I posted earlier this week about a film made of Ask the Dust, a book by John Fante. It was written and directed by the much-respected script writer, Robert Towne (Chinatown, Bonnie and Clyde, among others). It opens today all over the US, and the New York Times got its staffer, Manohla Dargis, to review it. Talk about damning with faint praise! As close as she comes to an opinion is this: "Mr. Towne has retained the period flavor of his speech wonderfully well. He lifts words and ideas straight from the novel, gently tempering Arturo's extravagant flights of fancy so they sound more naturalistic coming out of his star's mouth. Timeless in its way, Ask the Dust is also very much of its specific moment, as evidenced by the lovingly recreated cheap beachfront cottages, the rumbling streetcars and the Japanese fruit vendor who keeps Arturo's belly full. The unpaved roads fill the air with dust and don't all yet lead straight to Hollywood.

"Eventually, of course, they will. By the time Fante wrote Ask the Dusk, he had already started working in Hollywood, which helped him out of poverty, though at personal cost. It's hard not to think that this partly explains why Mr. Towne wanted to tell this particular story, to summon up this dreamland of old Hollywood and lost Los Angeles. The beauty of Fante's prose has its attractions, of course, as does angry youth, but what matters here isn't simply and only Ask the Dust, but also its postscript, the one about a writer whose best work transcended all the compromises, the periods of neglect and wild contradictions. This is only Mr. Towne's fourth film as a director, but after a life of providing beautiful words for other people to say, this was clearly one story he very much needed to tell himself."

I obviously haven't seen this film, so I can't say whether it's good or bad. But I trust my instinct, and my instinct tells me that Manohla Dargis wrote this B-Flat review, not because it's a B-Flat picture, but because she doesn't know what to make of it. Robert Towne wouldn't make a film under these circumstances without making it well. I remember the pounding Bonnie and Clyde (whose script, I remind you, was written by Robert Towne) got when it was shown to critics. It was Pauline Kael's essay about it, published in the New Yorker, which saved it from that grey graveyard to which misunderstood stuff is consigned. My instinct tells me that Ms Dargis, despite all the research she's done, just doesn't get Fante, or Towne. Her piece comes across as the sort of defensive stuff a critic would write as Plan B, after realising, when the lights came up, that she didn't fully understand what she had seen.

Remember the lovable orca called Luna? He has been well known most of the six years of his short life because, after he was separated from his orca family, he developed a habit of trying to find friends among the ships plying the waters of Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Scientists should have been able to reunite him with his family so that he could develop normally. They tried, but were stopped by the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation, who were convinced that Lula was their chief, Ambrose Maquinna, returned after death as a killer whale, as predicted while he lived.

The Mowachaht-Muchalaht signed a $10,000 deal with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans to watch Luna, but only in the summer months. In the winter, the boisterous creature was on his own.

As the Globe and Mail tells the story, "...yesterday, Luna got too close and was sucked into the two-metre-long propeller of an idling tugboat seeking shelter off Bligh Island from a vicious storm. His death was instantaneous, scientists said."

You can always rely on Tom Wolfe to have an arrestingly fresh way of looking at things. Some say his greatest work of fiction is is his own persona. He wouldn't be the first by any means, but he does it so well, and others do it well so seldom, that the only sensible response is to suspend all cynical faculties and watch with admiration. Joseph Rago, one of the Wall Street Journal editors, did a great little interview recently in which Wolfe plays himself, if anything, better than usual: "Then, unbidden, he casts his white suit as metaphor, 'a very mild rebellion,' he puts it, a way to attract attention and maybe a status cue. 'Incidentally,' he comments, in a way that suggests he's letting you in on the joke, 'I have this pimped-up car now, which is all white, with total white interior; there's synthetic white suede that covers the roof and ceiling; they call it the headliner. White leather seats, and the rims are powder-painted white, and it has white sidewalls. I figured why spend all that time on the highway and not be noticed?'

"I asked a personal question, and Mr. Wolfe has no obligation to obey the laws of our celebrity culture. But while his reply was a hoot, it was also nonresponsive and, in its way, representative of the man - a brilliant exterior concealing darker, unknowable corridors. Straining out the comic extravagance and the reportage, Mr. Wolfe's reading of the world seems at bottom rather grim. If, as he argues, we can't escape or define our age's moral tone, if status pours the foundation for our innermost lives - well, what's the point? What's there to admire, or aspire to? What is it that Tom Wolfe believes in?

"'I'm very democratic,' he says after a time. 'I think I'm the most democratic writer whom I know personally, though I don't know all writers of course.' Silence. 'I also believe in the United States. I think this is the greatest nation that ever existed, still is. It's really the only really democratic country in the world. Find me one country, just one country in the entire world that would let a foreign people - different culture, different language, and in many cases different color than the majority of the native stock - take over politically an entire metropolitan area in less than one generation. I'm talking about the Cubans in Miami...'"

10 March 2006

Stories like this one appear in the media over and over again. We pay little attention because we have become conditioned to believe that things outside the ambit of our own political difficulties aren't really worthy of attention. But we are going through a period in which the known details of the universe around us are multiplying at a very rapid pace. It is no longer that flat, barren place 'up there'. With new information is coming a kind of third dimension which allows it a reality it has never had before.

This time, SpaceDaily says the NASA space probe Cassini may have found geysers of liquid water erupting on Saturn's small moon Enceladus.

"'We haven't found water, per se - we've found evidence of water, and our best models right now are those that suggest that there's pockets of liquid water under the surface, and what we're seeing in these jets are like the equivalent of Old Faithful, in Yellowstone (National Park in Wyoming), they're geysers that are erupting out of pockets of water.'"

Britain's Independent says the media tycoon Robert Maxwell was being investigated for war crimes and was to be interviewed by police just before he mysteriously drowned 15 years ago.

"Revelations that Maxwell, a captain in the British Army, knew he faced a possible life sentence for murdering an unarmed German civilian in 1945 lend support to the theory that he took his own life in 1991.

"A Metropolitan Police file released to The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act shows that, weeks before he died, detectives had begun questioning members of Maxwell's platoon and were preparing a case for the Crown Prosecution Service. Maxwell would have been told about the inquiry and knew that, if found guilty, he would be the first Briton to be prosecuted for war crimes. The War Crimes Act 1991 was enacted just six months before Maxwell's body was found floating in the Atlantic on 5 November after disappearing from his yacht, the Lady Ghislane."

This is an interesting story from a couple of standpoints. It is about Andrea Levy, the young British author whose Small Island concerns the first big wave of Caribbean, especially Jamaican immigrants to Britain in the late 1940s. It won her a Whitbread Prize and an Orange. The story is carried in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, which is especially interested because Levy has Jewish roots - an ancestor was one of the Spanish Jews who fled to the Caribbean in the 17th Century to escape persecution. Small Island is just now being published in Hebrew.

If you're a book collector, there are some interesting comments on a current wave of popularity in Britain of immigrant literature. "In the late 1980s, Levy said, she still had difficulty finding a publisher for her books. Today, immigrant literature in Britain is flourishing, and Levy's books are part of this trend. 'I think a lot of it is boringly down to the demographic. The great waves of immigrations happened only since the end of the Second World War, there were writers writing about their experience of coming from the Caribbean to Britain like George Lamming, V.S. Naipaul. It took time for the second generation - people like me - to grow up, become writers and then write a book. That's what we're beginning to see now, the children and indeed the children of the children of that immigration now finding their voice and starting to feel confidence to be able to put it out there.'

"Ten years ago, your novels were considered marginal literature, today they are considered mainstream. What has changed?

"'I don't know, my first three books came out and they were well received, but they had a small following here. But then Small Island came out. It just seems that this country is ready to listen to this story for the first time.'"

So there's a little niche developing for collectors, especially those with an interest in collecting literature connected to the Caribbean. Levy, Lamming, Naipul. There is at least one other that no one seems to mention any more, Colin MacInnes. He wrote a fine, experimental trilogy about black immigrants in London in the 1950s, City of Spades, Absolute Beginners and Mr Love and Justice and I think he's going to end up not only as the acknowledged best of the bunch, but his trilogy is going to be understood as one of the key works of the 20th Century in English.

This will be a good test of the underpinnings of the European Court of Human Rights. French Muslims have asked it, according to the Jurist, to "declare the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in French newspapers an infringement of the non-discrimination provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights."

09 March 2006

"Iran secretly agreed to assist the Taliban in its war against US forces in October 2001, according to the transcript of a high-level Taliban official's tribunal session at Guatanamo Bay, Cuba. The seven-page transcript, as well as thousands of pages of similar documents, was released by the Pentagon on March 3 in response to litigation brought by the Associated Press." The Weekly Standard says that although the detainee was not named, he was described as "the governor of Herat Province in Afghanistan from 1999 to 2001."

"The government also alleges that he at one time served as 'the Taliban spokesperson for the BBC and Voice of America;' a charge the detainee did not deny. Nor did he deny a third, more astonishing allegation: Detainee was present at a clandestine meeting in October 2001 between Taliban and Iranian officials in which Iran pledged to assist the Taliban in their war with the United States."

It's a funny thing about US society - girls with tits and guys with guns get all the attention they can handle. But a man with real, drop-dead talent, like Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, is almost unknown after a lifetime of doing amazing things. The Los Angeles Times calls him the Master of Delight - I don't know what on earth that means, and I suspect it conceals the fact that they don't quite know what to make of him, either. But they are kind enough to predict that his name will be a lot closer to a household word in the US after Sunday, when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art opens the first museum survey of his designs in the United States.

The Times says "The artist has long been iconic in Europe, where his work is exhibited at the great museums, and he is perhaps best known as the Memphis Man - the rebel who formed the Memphis design collaborative in the 1980s and inspired an explosion of unorthodox ideas in furniture and decorative arts that rocked the Western world."

You can see some of his stuff here, and more of it here.

Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg looks at opposition to the deal to allow a Dubai company to manage US ports and sees...Europe. In the Los Angeles Times, he writes: "Liberals are naturally sympathetic to socialistic arguments, conservatives to nationalistic ones. But to everyone's benefit these two outlooks have been quarantined in different parties. Conservatives have been culturally nationalistic but economically liberal (in the classical sense). Liberals have been economically nationalistic - on healthcare, regulation, taxes, unions - but culturally liberal. Although it's been quite painful for them, this cultural liberalism has kept the Democratic Party in favor of free trade and immigration. Protectionism hurts foreigners and poor Americans, after all.

"Indeed, to be fair, the Democratic Party has been heroic in bucking its base - the economically nationalistic labor movement - on free trade. FDR, Truman and Kennedy were all consummate economic nationalists. Free trade was tactically in their interests for a long time because it dovetailed with labor's interest. When the United States stopped being the manufacturer to the world, the Democratic Party struggled — not always successfully - to stay pro-trade on principle, even at the cost of votes. Meanwhile, the GOP has had the opposite challenge: to stay pro-free trade even as its ranks swell with working-class voters enamored with their paychecks, not Adam Smith.

"Now, a win-at-all-costs Democratic Party has realized that this is the perfect moment for it to re-brand all of its economic ideas in the language of patriotism. Many Republicans are determined to fight the Democrats for this turf. So they too are bending their economic policies to fit their cultural conservatism.

"And if we let them follow this path, we'll have the same problems as Europe in no time."

I thought I had posted something about this book before, but quite a lot of searching has turned up nothing, so I'm either posting it for the first time, or posting it again, without apology because it one of those heart-stopping stories that deserves to be better known. The book is called Suite Francaise, and it has just been published for the first time in English. The author was Irene Nemirovsky, a Russian Jew who was a well-known novelist in France before the Second World War. She and her husband were arrested and taken to be murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz. But her two daughters, Denise and Elizabeth, escaped and survived the war in hiding. Denise, who was the older of the two, had no idea what was in the small suitcase that her mother took with her wherever she went, but realised it was important, and so took it with her. In an interview in the Guardian, she tells the story of the manuscript's long path to publication.

08 March 2006

The London Times does its usual excellent job of summarising the life of Ali Farka Toure, the man from Mali who was known as Africa's best guitarist, and who died yesterday: "That same year the London-based World Circuit label issued his first self-titled recording made outside Africa. The River - a reference to the spirit world beneath the River Niger - followed in 1990 and three years later came The Source, which included guest appearances by the American bluesman Taj Mahal and the British-Asian fusionist, Nitin Sawhney. These records established him as one of the biggest African names on the European and American world music scene, but even better was to come when, in 1993, he travelled to Los Angeles to record an album of guitar duets with Ry Cooder. Their collaboration proved to be inspired and on its release the following year the resulting album, Talking Timbuktu, won a Grammy award and established Ali not merely as a great African artist but one of the world's foremost guitarists in any genre.

"Ironically, at almost exactly the same time as Talking Timbuktu was making him an international star, he developed an increasing reluctance to leave his farm. As a result he did not make another album for five years, when the World Circuit owner Nick Gold, who had despaired of ever getting him back into a Western studio, travelled to Niafunke with a mobile recording unit. Sessions, in an abandoned school, were fitted in between the demands of tending his crops and the resulting album, Niafunke, was released to more rave reviews in 1999. Four years later he appeared in Martin Scorsese's documentary film Feel Like Going Home, which traced the history of the blues from the Mississippi Delta back to the banks of the Niger."

Aram Bakshian, editor of American Speaker and an aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, reviews for the Wall Street Journal a book called Infamous Scribblers, by Eric Burns, television newsman and author. It is, as its name suggests, a book about the early days of the American press, when reporters felt themselves a good deal less confined by truth than they do now...and politicians used newspapers perhaps more than they do now to get their points across. Among the stories he tells is how the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings story came to be made public in the first place:

"The Founding Fathers claimed to be above party politics, but the country divided into quarreling factions within years of independence. Both the federalists and republicans had their infamous scribblers, and sometimes they got help from the higher reaches of power. Jefferson commiserated with Washington over press smears but, as Mr. Burns notes, 'what Jefferson did not say, what he would never admit...was that, while serving in Washington's administration, he had been secretly and shamefully polluting [press coverage], doing so for his own ends, which were seldom the same as the president's.'

"Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. In the end, Jefferson's own reputation was soiled by one of his hired hacks. Of all his faction's scribblers, none was more infamous than James Thomson Callender, an itinerant Scots pamphleteer who published some private letters of the federalist Alexander Hamilton involving adultery and blackmail - letters that reached Callender's hands from a crony of the republican James Madison.

When Jefferson was elected president and Callender demanded a postmastership as reward, Jefferson snubbed him. Callender sought revenge, revealing Jefferson's role as his past patron and going public with the Sally Hemings story, alleging that Jefferson had sired bastards with his slave housekeeper.

"Outraged denials followed, and a disgraced Callender died soon after, found face-down in Richmond's James River. But as Mr. Burns writes: 'DNA testing would reveal that our nation's third president had almost certainly fathered several children with a Hemings, and that Sally was the only likely candidate. James Thomson Callender's maliciously intended journalism...was in this case factual as well.'"

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been in Britain this week to deliver a speech at London's Institute of Strategic Studies - the JURIST has some details. "US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales insisted Tuesday that US treatment of detainees is consistent with the Geneva Conventions, but questioned the relevance of some Geneva provisions in the context of 'this new kind of war, against this new kind of enemy.' In an interview with BBC News...Gonzales wondered whether Convention requirements that detainees be given commissary privileges and a monthly allowance made sense and also questioned whether embarrassing or insulting a detainee should constitute cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

"This is not the first time that Gonzales has questioned the relevance of the Geneva Conventions to the war on terror. In a 2002 memo written while he was White House counsel, Gonzales suggested that the post-September 11 situation and the war against terror 'renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.'"

There are links to the speech and to the BBC report in JURIST's coverage. I thought his speech was polite, intelligent and rather flaccid. But that's what happens when you allow a committee control of content.

The Daily Telegraph, and its sister paper, the Sunday Telegraph, have been a conservative voice in Britain for the better part of the organisation's 150-year history. But recently, the paper seems to have been having a little difficulty with its identity. The Independent reports that the difficulty has cost the Sunday Telegraph's most recent editor, Sarah Sands, her job. Her departure yesterday follows "a disastrous relaunch of the Sunday Telegraph last November, which was aimed at making the newspaper more appealing to women but has cost the title about 30,000 readers. Stella magazine, which was described by Sands as 'incredibly pretty', was launched with a glitzy party at a fashionable London restaurant. The Sunday Telegraph's report of the event said: 'Prettiness and panache were the order of the day and the cry, 'Hi! You look great!' ubiquitous and well-merited.' But that same cry was anything from ubiquitous in Middle England as readers plucked their new-look newspaper from the letterbox.

"Senior Telegraph sources said management became concerned when the change of tone became apparent in the news pages. One said: 'The news started to look fluffy. The news agenda was seen as being too close to Woman's Own.'"

Sands has been replaced by Patience Wheatcroft, the business and city editor of the London Times. She is known as a pretty tough customer, and is thought likely "to restore the Sunday Telegraph to its key territories of business, politics and comment. Prettiness and panache will no longer be the order of the day."

The New York Times and many others have covered Kofi Annan's announcement of plans to make sweeping changes in the organisation of the United Nations, changes that would "streamline the United Nations' often chaotic procedures, professionalize its recruitment and training and seek contracts abroad for costly services it now provides from its New York headquarters."

But few of the media bothered to cover the reaction of UN staff to Annan's proposals. Benny Avni of the New York Sun reports: "U.N. staffers heckled and booed Secretary-General Annan yesterday in a raucous meeting after he presented a 'management reform' plan that includes cutting jobs for New Yorkers employed at Turtle Bay.

In a clear sign that U.N. employees have lost confidence in a leader who rose from their ranks, one staffer told the secretary-general bluntly, 'Nobody believes you.'"

But staffers, angry at not being consulted about the plan, vowed to fight many of its provisions, including the loss of jobs in the New York headquarters, which will be, as Mr. Annan described it, 'offshored' and 'outsourced' to other countries."

07 March 2006

Law schools in the US yesterday lost their bid to keep US military recruiters off their campuses in a unanimous vote in the Supreme Court. The New York Times has the basic facts of the case well enough, but perhaps doesn't convey enough of a sense of what a drubbing the plaintiffs got at the hands of the Justices. These were not naive litigants. They were the finest law schools in the land. The really cogent question is one that the Weekly Standard asked before the judgement was given: "How could (they) have collectively embraced such an embarrassing farce?"

From our over-worked Oh-for-Heaven's Sake department comes this dispatch from Britain. It seems that nursery rhymes are being...well, the London Times says rewritten, but I think butchered is a better word...in the name of political correctness.

Instead of singing 'Baa baa, black sheep' as generations of children have learnt to do, toddlers in Oxfordshire are being taught to sing 'Baa baa, rainbow sheep'.

Stuart Chamberlain, manager of the Family Centre in Abingdon and the Sure Start centre in Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, told the local Courier Journal newspaper: 'We have taken the equal opportunities approach to everything we do. This is fairly standard across nurseries. We are following stringent equal opportunities rules. No one should feel pointed out because of their race, gender or anything else."


06 March 2006

MOMA's put on a comprehensive show of Edvard Munch's work in New York at the moment. He's not my cup of tea - there are a few admirable paintings, but the bulk of his work seems to me shallow and second-rate. But this New Yorker piece is from Peter Schjeldahl, one of the best of art critics, so I bow to his better-formed view. He puts Munch with the quartet of Post-Impressionism - Cezanne, van Gogh, Gauguin, and Seurat. "Munch, though younger than those masters, and hitting his stride a bit later, suddenly seemed to me their peer in giving form to the seismic forces of European modernity. He still does, both despite and because of a radically impure style that, at its best, varies from picture to picture.

"His strongest works, dating from about 1890 to the early years of the last century, exalted pictorial functions - narrative and illustration - that were being combed out of modern painting as specialties more proper to literature and the popular arts. Thereafter, until his death, in 1944, Munch, with less to say of life, painted mainly just to paint, with so-so results, except for the occasional, jolting self-portrait. As a happy compensation for being so long marginalized, and at a time of resurgent interest in storytelling among young artists, Munch today appears fresh and challenging in ways that his more honored peers may not."

South Africa has land problems similar to those faced by Zimbabwe recently. The Washington Times says the debate about what to do about it is heating up again. "With the local elections around the corner, President Thabo Mbeki used his recent State of the Nation address to revisit the 'willing-buyer willing-seller' principle for land redistribution. As early as next month, the government is expected to start expropriating farm land at government-determined, not market, prices...

"The South African government has the land and money it needs to at least partially address the injustices of the past. Then again, having a perpetually aggrieved population may be in the African National Congress' interest. That way, the ANC can use the landownership issue in the elections and divert public attention from the government's failure to fulfill many promises made during the last go-round."

More pressure on the administration to do something about documents and tapes seized in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The New York Sun reports that Rep Peter Hoekstra, Republican, of Michigan, says he is planning to hold hearings on the subject this month, before the Easter recess, and is marking up legislation he introduced last week to "force the directorate of national intelligence to declassify the tapes and what he now believes are 48,000 boxes of documents captured during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"The move to pressure the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, comes as the committee has hit a dead end on what appeared to be a promising lead only last month. Mr. Hoekstra said that after the committee's staff had interviewed former Iraqi regime officials recommended by a former general, Georges Sada, he could not confirm General Sada's account that weapons of mass destruction had been transferred to Syria in the spring of 2002 in a converted civilian aircraft.

"'We have not been able to verify the claims made in General Sada's book,' Mr. Hoekstra said. 'We followed up pretty extensively. There were some interesting things. But we can't verify the aircraft transfer.'"

If you thought there was a fuss over the prospect of a Dubai-owned company managing American ports, wait till Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit next month. The Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby thinks that, broadly speaking, it'll play like this: "...the Dems are going to play the China card, and the Bush administration, which will be in the uncomfortable position of hosting Hu's visit, will be thrust onto the defensive. Congressional Republicans, who have stopped betting their job security on the president's prestige, won't listen to the administration's pleas for statesmanlike restraint. When Democrats attack China, Republicans will scramble to sound equally aggressive.

"You can see this process playing out already. Sen Chuck Schumer, one of the chief brewers of the Dubai storm, is sponsoring a bill that would impose a 27.5 percent tariff on all Chinese goods unless China revalues its currency. This tariff would be illegal under the rules of the World Trade Organization, but Schumer doesn't mind: His bill isn't going to become law, but it will advance the electoral prospects of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, Republicans are readying their response. Sen Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, is cooking up his own anti-China legislation."

05 March 2006

This is quite a match-up - Robert Towne, who wrote the screenplay of Chinatown, among other things, and John Fante's novel Ask the Dust. The movie that resulted opens in the US in a few days, starring Salma Hayek and Colin Farrell.

Towne tells Los Angeles Times: "When I picked up Fante's Ask the Dust, I just knew that was the way those kids talked to each other - the rhythms, cadences, racism. The book triggered all kinds of memories...Although I wasn't born until 1934, my sense memory of that time was of blinding white stucco from the sun, red tile roofs and dust in the air, because there was so little to hold it down. All this foliage was imported from everywhere on earth, just as people have come here from everywhere on earth and taken root in this desert sand. The foliage keeps the dust and dirt from blowing around, and in the '30s, there wasn't so much of it.

"And the smells - the eucalyptus, the orange blossoms. You could smell the orange blossoms on the road just driving down Wilshire. You could smell the ocean from Westwood. Western was called Western because that was as far west as the city was at that time. All of these memories, things I barely knew I remembered, were triggered and enhanced by my simple reading of Ask the Dust. The book brought back my past. It so threw me that I didn't start Chinatown for a while."

Some scientists believe it rained aliens in Kerala in India in the summer of 2001, according to the The Guardian's sister paper, the Observer. They're red, in case you wanted to know.

At first, "investigations suggested the rain was red because winds had swept up dust from Arabia and dumped it on Kerala. But Godfrey Louis, a physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, after gathering samples left over from the rains, concluded this was nonsense. 'If you look at these particles under a microscope, you can see they are not dust, they have a clear biological appearance.' Instead Louis decided that the rain was made up of bacteria-like material that had been swept to Earth from a passing comet.

"Not everyone is convinced by the idea, of course. Indeed most researchers think it is highly dubious. One scientist who posted a message on Louis's website described it as 'bullshit'.

"But a few researchers believe Louis may be on to something and are following up his work. Milton Wainwright, a microbiologist at Sheffield, is now testing samples of Kerala's red rain. 'It is too early to say what's in the phial,' he said. 'But it is certainly not dust. Nor is there any DNA there, but then alien bacteria would not necessarily contain DNA.'"

Next week: Did red rain escape from Milton's phial when he left it open in the lab? What is the significance of the half-eaten remains of the Blairs at Number Ten? Why was Harrison Ford in such a gosh-darned hurry? Stay tuned, radio listeners...

I much enjoyed this New York Times piece this morning, about a Muslim imam doing his best to reconcile his rigid faith with the world his transplanted congregation now live in.

"'America transformed me from a person of rigidity to flexibility,' said Mr. Shata, speaking through an Arabic translator. 'I went from a country where a sheik would speak and the people listened, to one where the sheik talks and the people talk back...Islam is a legalistic faith: Muslims believe in a divine law that guides their daily lives, including what they should eat, drink and wear. In countries where the religion reigns, this is largely the accepted way.

"'But in the West, what Islamic law prohibits is everywhere. Alcohol fills chocolates. Women jog in sports bras. For many Muslims in America, life is a daily clash between Islamic mores and material temptation. At the center of this clash stands the imam.

"'In America, imams evoke a simplistic caricature - of robed, bearded clerics issuing fatwas in foreign lands. Hundreds of imams live in the United States, but their portrait remains flatly one-dimensional. Either they are symbols of diversity, breaking the Ramadan fast with smiling politicians, or zealots, hurrying into their storefront mosques...

"Is a Big Mac permissible? Yes, the imam says, but not a bacon cheeseburger.

"It is a woman's right, Mr. Shata believes, to remove her hijab if she feels threatened. Muslims can take jobs serving alcohol and pork, he says, but only if other work cannot be found. Oral sex is acceptable, but only between married couples. Mortgages, he says, are necessary to move forward in America.

"'Islam is supposed to make a person's life easier, not harder,' Mr. Shata explained."


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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