...Views from mid-Atlantic
10 June 2006

The United States conducted at least 56 raids against targets connected with Abu Musab Zarqawi's Al Qaeda in Iraq organization in the 48 hours after his death, seeking to capitalize on the killing by disrupting his network of fighters, military officials said. This LA Times story is one of only a few yet published to focus on the intelligence bonus that came with the death of Zarqawi.

Meantime, DEBKAfile (standard warning) provides what it says it the backstory of the bombing - a Jordanian intelligence interrogation of a foolish Zarqawi aide provided one of the missing links.

"DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources report that Abu Hufeiza held nothing back from his Jordanian interrogators. He was the source of the first real lead to Zarqawi's location to be made available to the US command and intelligence in Iraq.

"Abu Hufeiza also gave away certain members of the Butcher of Baghdad's command group. Here is a summary of the data the Jordanians extracted from him:

"The name of al Qaeda chief's chief of operations, Yassin Harabi - an Iraqi Sunni codenamed Abu Obeida. Going down the chain of command, he identified Yunas Ramlawi, a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Ramallah, and Muhammad Majid, a Saudi Arabian known as Abu Hamza. The descriptions he gave the Jordanians were good enough for identikit portraits and betrayed their hideouts, how they stayed in touch with Zarqawi and their movements.

"This data haul Jordanian intelligence whipped across to Washington where analysts went to work on it and rushed their findings to American headquarters in Baghdad. All of a sudden, the US military in Baghdad had an intelligence bonanza instead of chance identities of the odd Zarqawi adherent which was all they had to work with before. From Abu Hufeiza Jordanian intelligence had extracted the first clue to the location of the safe house near Baquba, where Zarqawi was actually in conference with his senior commanders. The next link in the chain came from a senior Zarqawi commander in Iraq, who fell into American hands and was persuaded to part with the final steps that brought two US 500-pound bombs crashing down on Zarqawi's last address."

An engrossing article in today's Guardian on the value of a well-done portrait to a biographer - one such as the author, Margaret Forster. There's a link to a National Portrait Gallery slide show of some of the portraits mentioned. Paula Rego's really fine painting of Germaine Greer (which also hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, last I heard) isn't among those included, but you can see it here, courtesy of the Guardian. You'll have to ignore the unfortunate remarks by Tristram Hunt, historian, who should stick to history.

Is it possible that Ms Greer is sitting on the back seat of a car? Anyone know? I've never seen the painting in the flesh, as it were.

It's sometimes a little difficult to follow this piece by Denis Boyles in National Review Online, but the lead is a cracker: "I've noticed that in France, the only people who speak French any more are the French, a rapidly dwindling aboriginal tribe quickly being replaced by Muslims looking for better jobs and English people looking for a better Kent."

09 June 2006

I remember banging on a while ago about it being a terrible thing for a leader to be unlucky - can't remember who I was talking about, but I'll bet he disappeared into the woodwork in a hurry. Here's the opposite - a lucky leader. Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, names the last three ministers in his national unity government on Thursday, the day Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is killed. He and his government are, for the moment, under the influence of a lucky star. If you think I'm crazy, just watch.

In the Washington Post this morning, Mr al-Maliki outlines his strategy for taking Iraq forward: "The completion of the national unity government Thursday in Iraq marks the starting point for repaying Iraqis' commitment to and thirst for democracy. We are at this juncture thanks to the bravery of the soldiers, police and citizens who have paid the highest price to give Iraq its freedom. Our national unity government will honor these sacrifices by pursuing an uncompromising agenda to deliver security and services to the Iraqi people and to combat rampant corruption.

"This government will build on the additional momentum gained from the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in order to defeat terrorism and sectarianism and to deliver on the Iraqi people's hope of a united, stable and prosperous democracy..."

In opera, anything is possible. Opera-goers are prepared to completely suspend their critical and moral faculties in order to allow a good story room to go where it wants to go. That's why we love it. It may also be why the story of Chung Ling Soo, the marvellous Chinese conjurer, couldn't be done with ease in any other medium. The Guardian explains: "On March 23 1918, the Wood Green Empire in north London was packed to the rafters as the most famous magician of the era, Chung Ling Soo - 'the marvellous Chinese conjuror' - neared the end of his act. As he had done at theatres across the country, Soo enthralled his audience with his trademark tricks, including the Chinese Ring trick and several breathtaking feats of disappearance. Since his arrival in the UK at the beginning of the century, these had made him the most famous and wealthy magician in the country. As always, Chung Ling Soo performed all his tricks in silence - he claimed never to have mastered English. Interviews with the press were always conducted through his personal interpreter."

Don't stop here - click on the damn link and read the story - the best (with a twist that'll make your eyebrows twirl), is yet to come.

Gordon Brown is backing away from his deceit-laden tax assault on trusts in Britain. It's a little difficult yet to assess what the climbdown is worth - the Treasury says it's simply an administrative adjustment, but then they would, wouldn't they? The Guardian's story says: "Last night the Treasury announced it had made amendments to the Finance bill that would allow the exemption for spouses to remain and families to continue to specify that a child could not receive money until age 25.

"Instead of charging 20% tax on assets put into the trust above the inheritance tax threshold of 285,000 pounds and an additional 6% every 10 years, starting on the day the child is bereaved and the trust comes into force, there will only be a 6% charge, effective between the ages of 18 and 25.

"A trust that closes on the child's 25th birthday will face a tax charge of just 4.2% on any amount over the inheritance tax threshold at the time.

"The Treasury insisted that its policy remained unchanged and that it simply addressed 'technical defects' identified during consultation. But the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, claimed it was a 'major U-turn' that had ended to 'one attack too many on Middle Britain by Gordon Brown'."

Every pundit in the world is having a go this morning about what the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi means to the war on terrorism and the struggle to build a democratic Iraq. This Washington Times editorial says more or less what everyone else is saying: "The past 48 hours have brought very good news for the American war effort and very bad news news for the Islamofascist forces that have plagued Iraq during the past three years: First, the airstrike that killed terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi; second, the announcement that Iraq has three new ministers.

"Zarqawi's death is a crushing blow to his al Qaeda in Iraq and a victory for the Iraqi people - Sunni and Shi'ite alike - who Zarqawi targeted for mass murder."

Here's something I can add that I haven't so far seen elsewhere. Many revealing documents and files were seized in this and other raids carried out at about the same time. Some overenthusiastic nitwit said so during yesterday's announcements and press conferences. It will be a measure of just how effective the new and, so far, highly successful, intelligence-driven military disposition in Iraq can be, if they have been able to overcome this compromise of critical short-term intelligence by nailing down more of Zarqawi's people before they were alerted and vanished.

08 June 2006

It's hard to imagine that there is anyone on the planet who doesn't know by now, not many hours after the event, that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a bombing raid in Iraq last night. It's certainly cause for celebration in the West, but it's also a good occasion to reflect that the war against terrorism didn't begin and doesn't end with the late Mr al-Zarqawi. This is a different kind of war. Terrorists don't operate in a top-down chain of command. Blowing up al-Zarqaqi or even Osama bin Laden might make us feel better, but it does little to stop others rising in their place. DEBKAfile has already printed the names of those who will carry on the struggle in Iraq. They grow, like ugly mushrooms, where the climate and the soil will support them. The process that's needed to combat them is more like a gardener's weeding than a series of air strikes. And the gardeners have to be the people among whom they want to hide - the way al-Zarqawi was caught - or our front-line troops are forced to rely more on luck than their military skills.

That's the point of David Warren's essay in the Ottawa Citizen - some of our gardeners are wasting time trying to pull up the wrong weeds: "We should be prepared to express outrage at the apologists for fanatical Islam, who attempt to run interference on behalf of those arrested by raising specious counter-charges of 'racism' and the like. But get used to that. Intrinsic to the threat against the West is not terrorism alone, but terrorism in combination with legal efforts to use the more fatuous provisions of our 'human rights' codes to subvert our defences."

One or two of the newspapers whose stance on events I would normally agree with have endorsed the remarks that John Bolton made about Mark Malloch-Brown's UN speech yesterday. It confused the hell out of me that early in the morning. At first, I thought I must have been missing something. But I've spent time going over what was said carefully, and I don't think I'm missing anything. Malloch-Brown's speech, in its entirety, is available at this site. It isn't particularly remarkable. Critics of the UN won't agree with him. Supporters of the UN will. But nowhere in it is there anything to justify Bolton's remarks, which are given in their entirety at the State Department's website.

The worst mistake by a senior UN official since 1989? Come on. How about ignoring the urgent telegram from General Romeo Dallaire, UN force commander in Rwanda, warning of Hutu plans for the extermination of Tutsis? What would Mark Malloch-Brown have to say to achieve any kind of moral equivalence with a decision that cost 800,000 lives?

I support John Bolton in his efforts to pressure the UN into cleaning up its act, but I don't support him in making this kind of ridiculously transparent and false assertion. It brings the whole UN reform effort into disrepute.

Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford University and founder of the Center for Internet and Society, and Robert W. McChesney, author, communications professor and co-founder of the media reform group, Free Press, seem to be making a career of working together to maintain the internet as that rare thing - a true expression of the ideals of democracy. In the Washington Post this morning, they're warning that a soon-to-be-taken decision by Congress may destroy the net's neutrality. "...Congress faces a legislative decision. Will we reinstate net neutrality and keep the Internet free? Or will we let it die at the hands of network owners itching to become content gatekeepers?

"The implications of permanently losing network neutrality could not be more serious. The current legislation, backed by companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, would allow the firms to create different tiers of online service. They would be able to sell access to the express lane to deep-pocketed corporations and relegate everyone else to the digital equivalent of a winding dirt road. Worse still, these gatekeepers would determine who gets premium treatment and who doesn't.

"Their idea is to stand between the content provider and the consumer, demanding a toll to guarantee quality delivery. It's what Timothy Wu, an Internet policy expert at Columbia University, calls 'the Tony Soprano business model'."

07 June 2006

There is nothing even remotely like the World Cup in the US. It's not only a footerfest of epic proportions, it's also the world's biggest and longest-running party. Der Spiegel has published this week an online guide to what's going on in all 12 of its World Cup host cities. They're throwing "massive, month-long parties where fans from around the world can catch the games live, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy a range of free cultural events. So hop on the next Ryanair or Easyjet flight or take the train. The party's about to get started."

No matter what really goes on on the ground, no matter who wins or loses, there's a second, underlying game going on that all Europeans know about. Britain and Germany, still sore at each other after a couple of world wars, have an all-in grudge match going on whether they play each other or not. Tempers fray. Heads get broken. Britain's human rights legislation goes into a kind of suspension while Fleet Street uses every pejorative it can think of to annoy the Germans...and generally succeeds.

This year, though, Der Spiegel's getting some licks in ahead of time. The Americans, they say, in another article in their current edition are right. It shouldn't be called football, it should be called soccer.

That, to a Brit, is not funny. Full marks to Spiegel for a deliciously painful, subtle suggestion. Most un-Hunlike, when you think of it.

Jim Geraghty, a National Review contributing editor and author of the soon-to-be-published Voting to Kill: How 9/11 Launched an Era of Republican Leadership looks back over the last three or four years of Jack Chirac of France's downhill race in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Chirac will leave office in spring 2007 with a mess in his wake. By nearly every measure - economic growth, foreign relations, crime, social policy - his nation has stumbled while others strode. The adoration over his Iraq war stance didn't last and 'Chirac-ism' is exposed as a dissatisfying combination of grandiose rhetoric and hesitant, status quo policies.

"Sometime soon, Bush and Blair may get together to enjoy the last laugh."

John Bolton, the US's man at the UN, is in the headlines again with a demand reported in the New York Sun that there should be mass resignations at the top of the organisation when Kofi Annan retires. Benny Avni reports that "Mr. Bolton, a strong believer of sweeping change at the United Nations, told The New York Sun that once a new leader assumes office on January 1, not only should the heads of various departments, known by their title of undersecretary-generals, leave, but also those directly underneath them, known as assistant secretaries-general.

"'I strongly recommend that all appointees, ASGs and above, should resign their posts to give the new secretary-general a lot of flexibility,' he said."

In China, they've started to let their TV newsreaders smile...an event apparently equivalent to a seismic upheaval. Britain's London Times reports that "To the amazement of millions of Chinese who watch the bulletins around their dinner tables, the usual grim-faced newsreaders were replaced on Monday by a stylish, half- smiling woman, Li Zimeng, and her polished colleague, Kang Hui. Even staff at China Central Television were taken by surprise when the pair presented the Seven O'Clock News, which is popularly known as the Chinese Communist Party's 'throat and tongue' and probably attracts the largest regular audience on Earth."

Doesn't affect their officials, however, who showed yesterday that they can still be as grim as ever. A report in People's Daily quoted a Foreign Ministry official as having blasted the US State Department for allowing its spokesman to mention Tienanmen Square on Sunday. Rude, wanton interference, he huffed.

Canada's arrest this week of 17 Muslims on charges of plotting terror attacks may dispel an impression that its ultraliberal attitudes meant that it was acting, in effect, as a safe haven for terrorists. Canadian authorities seem to be seeking to capitalise on the opportunity the arrests offer by making it known that actually, "The RCMP has quietly broken up at least a dozen terrorist groups in the past two years...'We have completed 12 disruptions of national-level terrorist groups across the country,' the Mounties say in briefing notes prepared for Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.

"Disruptive tactics - sometimes as simple as letting targets know they are under close surveillance - are used to prevent a terrorist attack when the police do not have enough evidence to lay criminal charges, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service say. Unlike the high-profile arrests and court proceedings resulting from the weekend roundup of terrorist suspects in Southern Ontario, the public rarely learns about these operations, federal security officials say."

06 June 2006

The Supreme Court has agreed to re-visit the still-muddy issue of whether it is Constitutional for universities to discriminate in favour of blacks in their annual admission of new students. The New York Sun's editorial is the clearest piece on it I've seen: "Of all the rulings to issue from the Rehnquist court in its last years, few were as perplexing as its 5-4 opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the court upheld race as a permissible factor in admissions decisions for higher education. Grutter arguably showed the high court at its worst, or at least at its most opaque. The justices' opinions were 'expressed' through a flurry of concurring and dissenting opinions that made it difficult to understand who truly agreed with whom about what.

"Once one waded through the marsh to the heart of the majority opinion penned by Justice O'Connor, one found an argument that made little sense. The court found that race could be a factor in higher education admissions, as long as it was not used as the 'defining' factor in the decision, but the justices stopped short of clearly explaining what separates a defining factor from a non-defining factor. To top it off, they expressed their hope, based on nothing in particular, that such considerations would be moot in 25 years."

Colorado State University's hurricane expert, Bill Gray, doesn't think much of hysterical environmentalists who try to spread panic in the world about the extent of such things as global warming. (Environmentalists claim increased hurricane activity is a sign of global warming, Gray and other weather experts say it is not.) He told a reporter for the Denver Post, David Harsanyi: "The only inconvenient truth about global warming...is that a genuine debate has never actually taken place. Hundreds of scientists, many of them prominent in the field, agree...

"'They've been brainwashing us for 20 years,' Gray says. 'Starting with the nuclear winter and now with the global warming. This scare will also run its course. In 15-20 years, we'll look back and see what a hoax this was.'"

A remarkably fine editorial in this morning's London Times prods European critics of US foreign policy to remember just what it is the West is struggling against. "We may all think that we know America, its music, its culture, its self-confident exceptionalism. We tend to forget that Americans fight only with extreme reluctance. We overlook their penchant for agonised self-criticism; everything bad we know about the US, we know because Americans inexhaustibly rehearse their society's shortcomings. There has never been greater transparency, whether than on the battlefield or the boondocks, and there has never been more open debate about the country's virtues and vices - the internet has transformed the quantity and, at times, the quality of the conversation.

"Better than most, Muslims understand why Islamist terrorism is war at its unholiest, an existential threat to societies. Iraqis may resent occupation, but they fear a weakening of US resolve. Their fears should be ours. Were it to become politically impossible for a president to keep America's forces engaged from its shores, then the backbone of international security would be broken. America-bashing may be a popular sport, but its adherents prefer not to contemplate its consequences."

Meantime, those who have placed themselves in the service of political correctness struggle, even when actually engaged with the enemy, not to allow us to see who they are. Andrew McCarthy, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, reports in the National Review that the Canadian authorities tried hard not to allow those they arrested for plotting to blow things up to be identified as Muslims.

"As Cliff May and I noted here on NRO, and Roger Simon detailed on his website, readers of the New York Times were told that the 17 men arrested 'represent the broad strata of our society … Some are students, some are employed, some are unemployed.' In point of fact, however, they represent a very narrow stratum of Canadian society: They are Muslims, many of whom attend the same mosque, the Al-Rahman Islamic Centre for Islamic Education in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga.

"Not only were all those arrested Muslims. The reported evidence against them fits to a tee the shopworn pattern of Islamic terrorism repeated for much of the last two decades. Young men were radicalized at the local mosque and its companion school by elders preaching from the Koran. They participated in paramilitary training in rural outposts. The training involved firearms and communications equipment. The plotters may have conducted surveillance on specific targets. And they ordered prodigious amounts of explosives components - in this case, tons of fertilizer in preparation for the construction of crude but deadly effective ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil) bombs."

The Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame special investigation plods on, apparently towards infinity. The Wall Street Journal thinks it may be becoming a quagmire: "Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald declared his intention last month to use that (a Wall Street Journal) editorial as part of his perjury and obstruction case against former Vice Presidential aide Scooter Libby, who had also questioned Mr. Wilson's claims. It suggests that his case is a lot weaker than his media spin. The more of Mr. Fitzgerald's case that becomes public, the more it looks like he has made the terrible mistake for a prosecutor of taking Joe Wilson's side in what was essentially a political fight.

"....Mr. Fitzgerald is scrambling even now to explain why a seasoned attorney such as Mr. Libby would lie to a grand jury. The prosecutor's original indictment doesn't mention a motive. And his mention of our editorial suggests he's now trying to invent a motive out of Mr. Libby's attempt to defend the White House from Mr. Wilson's manifestly false allegations at the onset of a Presidential election campaign. (Mr. Wilson joined the Kerry campaign until he was dropped after the official probes destroyed his credibility.)"

05 June 2006

Is the world going to come to an end tomorrow? The superstitious (is that the right word?) among us are worried that it might. The Washington Times asks: "Is tomorrow's date - 6-6-6 - merely a curious number, or could it mean our number is up?

"There's a devilishly odd nexus of theology, mathematics and commercialism on the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year." Uh-huh.

Over on the West Coast, the LA Times concentrates on what happened last time: "The last time the end of the world was at hand, the weather was just fair, but in a warning to the heathens, temperatures in Los Angeles were rising." (This is not quite accurate - they mean the last time the end of the world was at hand because of these sixes. The end of the world has been at hand many times since. No doubt the weather has been as variable as it normally is, or we'd have heard all about it by now.)

"The mayor threatened to depose a political boss in a primary. Police braced for anarchists and Reds to converge on the city to hear Emma Goldman discuss politics and free love. A national religion reeled from the disclosure the day before that its leader had 'fallen like Lucifer' and had been expelled for seducing little boys."

Business as usual, I guess.

The Washington Times takes a well-deserved poke at the New York Times's article the other day (I didn't see the Washington Post story) which seemed to be an attempt to de-demonise Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In an editorial, the Times says: "Judging from some of the recent front-page coverage of Iran's Holocaust-denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the NYT and The Washington Post, the specter of Durantyism is alive and well.

"Last Sunday, for example, the Times' page one, above-the-fold story by Michael Slackman suggested that the Iranian leader has been misunderstood: His real concerns are coming to grips with 'a system of conservative clerical rule that has lost credibility with the public'; negotiating with the United States; and fighting 'wealthy people' who are making life difficult for 'poor people' inside Iran. And never mind all that negative reporting elsewhere in the press about the regime's insistence that women wear the veil, or the vigilante harassment they are subject to if they are thought to be 'immodestly' dressed. Mr. Ahmadinejad is in the vanguard of the fight for social equality, opposing the vigilantes and fighting to permit women to enter stadiums."

A Jerusalem Post editorial celebrates a pollster's finding that the sheen is coming off the Palestinian cause in a big way in Europe at the moment: "Europe's arrogance and animus sometimes seemed so immutable and so entrenched that Israelis essentially wrote if off. The consensus here and in much of the Jewish world abroad was that to appeal to European reason and decency was a waste of breath.

"This, arguably, may have been wrong, even if understandable. A country embroiled in a struggle for its very existence has no right to give up in any diplomatic arena, no matter how adverse. But if it was wrong to abandon the battle for European opinion and yield to Arab demagoguery when it indisputably seemed to have the upper hand, then it's all the more so inexcusable if there is the slightest chance that Greenberg has accurately gauged new mind-sets in Europe."

The Greenberg to whom the Post refers is Stan Greenberg, a political pollster known for the work he did in the US during the Clinton years. In yesterday's Post, he said that "the shifts in attitudes reflected in the surveys were so dramatic that he 'redid' some of the polls to ensure there had been no error.

"He singled out France as the country where attitudes had changed most dramatically. Three years ago, 60 percent of French respondents said they took a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of that 60%, four out of five backed the Palestinians. Today, by contrast, 60% of French respondents did not take a side in the conflict, and support for the Palestinians had dropped by half among those who did express a preference.

"There has not necessarily been a rush to Israel but there has been a crash in backing for the Palestinians, he noted...

"At the root of the change, said Greenberg, was a fundamental remaking in Europe of the 'framework' through which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is viewed. Three years ago, he said, the conflict was perceived 'in a post-colonial framework.'

"There was a sense 'that Europe could cancel out its own colonial history by taking the right side' - the Palestinian side. Yasser Arafat was viewed as 'an anti-colonial, liberation leader.' The US was seen as a global imperial power, added Greenberg, and the fact that it was backing Israel only added to the 'instinctive' sense of the Palestinians as victims...

"Today, by contrast, the Europeans 'are focused on fundamentalist Islam and its impact on them,' he said. The Europeans were now asking themselves 'who is the moderate in this conflict, and who is the extremist? And suddenly it is the Palestinians who may be the extremists, or who are allied with extremists who threaten Europe's own society. An increasing proportion of Europeans are concluding that 'maybe the Palestinians are not the colonialist victims' after all."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan takes the side of migration in an oped published in this morning's Wall Street Journal: "In a report that I am presenting tomorrow to the UN General Assembly, I summarize research which shows that migration, at least in the best cases, benefits not only the migrants themselves but also the countries that receive them, and even the countries they have left. How so? In receiving countries, incoming migrants do essential jobs which a country's established residents are reluctant to undertake. They provide many of the personal services on which societies depend. They care for children, the sick and the elderly, bring in the harvest, prepare the food, and clean the homes and offices.

"They are not engaged only in menial activities. Nearly half the increase in the number of migrants aged 25 or over in industrialized countries in the 1990s was made up of highly skilled people. Skilled or unskilled, many are entrepreneurs who start new businesses--from round-the-clock delis to Google. Yet others are artists, performers and writers, who help to make their new hometowns centers of creativity and culture. Migrants also expand the demand for goods and services, add to national production, and generally pay more to the state in taxes than they take out in welfare and other benefits. And in regions like Europe, where populations are growing very slowly or not at all, younger workers arriving from abroad help to shore up underfunded pension systems.

"All in all, countries that welcome migrants and succeed in integrating them into their societies are among the most dynamic - economically, socially and culturally - in the world."

04 June 2006

The regime of Bashar Assad appears more confident than at any time since 2003, according to David Schenker of the Weekly Standard, who writes: "...Criticism rolls off Assad's back, and it has not been accompanied by measures compelling Syria to change its behavior. Whether Washington has been unwilling or unable to extract a real price from Syria, the effect is the same: Damascus believes it has dodged the bullet.

"To be sure, the administration has tried to ratchet up pressure. But its policy has suffered from inconsistency, even ambivalence. The Syria Accountability Act, requiring the president to choose from an array of sanctions, provides a good illustration. In 2002, the administration balked at signing this legislation, fearing that sanctions would prompt Damascus to stop cooperating with Washington on al Qaeda. But in 2003, the president did sign it into law - and the very same week, a new ambassador was dispatched to Damascus after a hiatus of four months. The timing no doubt sent a mixed message to the Syrians, taking the sting out of the law.

"US ambivalence has also been evident in the willingness to dialogue with President Assad even as Syria was contributing to rising American casualties in Iraq. The administration inexplicably spent three years trying to convince Assad that Syrian interests would be served by more moderate policies. Between 2003 and 2005 the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, and the National Security Council dispatched five senior delegations to Damascus to cajole, and later warn, President Assad that there would be consequences for continued Syrian meddling in Iraq and support for terrorism. These discussions only succeeded in alleviating pressure on the regime by delaying the imposition of tougher measures. Adding insult to injury, these trips, though the emissaries delivered blunt messages, were publicly spun by Syrian officials as 'breakthroughs' in Syrian-US relations."

The headline is dismissive in a particularly British way, but if you can get over that, the Sunday Times's Hugh Pearman has produced a predictable, but nonetheless fascinating interview with Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect I posted about a day or two ago. "Whatever you think an architect looks like, whatever you think an architect does, wherever you think an architect comes from, disabuse yourselves of those notions. Consider instead Zaha Hadid, the most extraordinary success story this notoriously volatile profession has ever produced.

"Women traditionally don't rise to the top in architecture - not the stratosphere where Zaha now exotically moves, where a handful of global - superstar architects is constantly airborne. Women don't get invited into that club. And as for a notoriously short-fused woman from Baghdad, of all places - no, that script would be turned down by Hollywood as just too inherently implausible. Besides, no actor on Earth could play the mercurial Zaha.

"And yet here I am, talking to the world's most famous female architect, a British citizen now 55 but effectively ageless, in the converted school in Clerkenwell that is her studio. She is wearing one of her trademark tunic tops, slim, shiny trousers, Prada sandals - all black. She lounges on a pink S-curved Verner Panton chair at her huge meeting table with its blue Perspex top, slashed and layered into a million indentations. Books and magazines line the room."

The Home Office scandal in Britain, caused by civil servants failing to deport foreign prisoners released from British jails, has already caused the removal from office of one Labour Home Secretary, Charles Clarke. Now, having grown legs, it is threatening the career of Clarke's replacement, John Reid, who described some of the staff of the office as incompetent. The Observer says: "In the first indication of the extent of possible criminality among Home Office immigration staff, one Metropolitan Police officer described levels of corruption among elements of IND staff as 'endemic'. The allegations come two weeks after The Observer revealed the case of a senior IND official who was offering asylum to a Zimbabwean teenager in return for sexual favours.

"Officers are currently conducting around 50 'live investigations' relating to corruption allegations involving Home Office staff, a proportion of which involve asylum applicants buying residency status to remain in Britain. So far this year alone, six IND staff have been dismissed for giving applicants 'leave to remain' status in the UK without being able to justify their decision to investigating officers."

If you like detective stories, this piece in the Wall Street Journal will make your weekend. PD James nominates her five favourites. You couldn't guess them if you spent a lifetime at it.


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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