...Views from mid-Atlantic
01 July 2006

The New York court case involving Korean fixer Tongsun Park was postponed yesterday until July 5 because a juror went missing. Nonetheless, Claudia Rosett's blog - Rosett's Notebook on National Review Online - has some elsewhere unpublished information up this morning. It's testimony from Government witness Samir Vincent about the thieves' kitchen of crooks that coalesced around the possibility of being able to steal some serious money from...well, even from Tongsun Park himself.

Sample: "To get the cash back to New York, Vincent drove across the Iraqi desert the next day, had his driver smuggle it across the Jordanian border, retrieved it from his driver and flew to Frankfurt. There he hooked up with a 'former business associate', paying him $30,000 from the stash for help in getting the money into the US. They flew together from Germany to Newark, then split up as they left the plane. The associate, according to Vincent, passed through customs carrying both the contracts and the cash - which he had stuffed in his socks, shirt, coat and underwear - 'He had it all over his body'."

"Meanwhile, Vincent was pulled aside by US officials who 'asked me if I had money with me.' They searched his suitcase and briefcase, and finally let him go through. It occurred to him 'somebody in Iraq or somewhere must have informed somebody in the United States that I was carrying a lot of money.'"

The editors of the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, Dean Baquet and Bill Keller, have co-authored a piece that appears in the LA Times this morning(also in the NYT), discussing why they believe they were right to use the financial transaction oversight leak. It's not a particularly good piece (can you imagine the kind of argument those two would have over wording?), but it's interesting because they went to the trouble of writing it, and because it makes a couple of pretty good points: "...The virulent hatred espoused by terrorists, judging by their literature, is directed not just against our people and our buildings. It is also aimed at our values, at our freedoms and at our faith in the self-government of an informed electorate. If freedom of the press makes some Americans uneasy, it is anathema to the ideologists of terror.

"Thirty-five years ago Friday, in the Supreme Court ruling that stopped the government from suppressing the secret Vietnam War history called the Pentagon Papers, Justice Hugo Black wrote: 'The government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of the government and inform the people.'

"As that sliver of judicial history reminds us, the conflict between the government's passion for secrecy and the press's drive to reveal is not of recent origin. This did not begin with the Bush administration, although the polarization of the electorate and the daunting challenge of terrorism have made the tension between press and government as clamorous as at any time since Justice Black wrote.

"Our job, especially in times like these, is to bring our readers information that will enable them to judge how well their elected leaders are fighting on their behalf, and at what price."

Thanks for the tip, Brenda.

The standoff in the Middle East over the fate of young Cpl Gilad, kidnapped by Hanmas terrorists (those quisling moral dwarves at the BBC are referring to him as "captured" by Hamas, I notice), seems to have gone a little pear-shaped. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh popped out of his rabbit hole for a moment yesterday and was dutifully defiant, the Hamas military wing was as well, repeating its original demand that Israel get out of Gaza and free a thousand of its jailed comrades. Israel said it wouldn't. Haaretz has a Saturday roundup of developments.

There's no word of the Egyptian diplomatic effort, no word of the Syrian reaction to the pressure being put upon its Government. Except that Debka (you're warned) says the key players in the drama "appear to be a secret messenger from the Hamas hardline, Damascus-based Hamas chief, Khaled Meshaal and the captors themselves. The messenger, whose identity is known to president Hosni Mubarak and his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, arrived in Cairo Wednesday, June 28. Meshaal refused to take the chance of traveling to Egypt himself for fear of assassination at Israel hands, even after Mubarak promised to send his own presidential plane to fetch him. The Hamas emissary carried two messages from his chief: He is prepared to be reasonable in the Gideon Shalit affair - was one. The second: The principle of a return for his release must be honored.

"The captors appear to be controlled by Meshaal and Muhammed Jaabari, commander of the Hamas armed wing, Ezz e-Din al Qassam. But they are capable of breaking away from this control and going it alone at the very moment that the Egyptian intermediaries wrap up a deal. The last-minute breakdown could well precipitate the intensification of Israel's Summer Rain offensive.

"DEBKAfile reports the highlights of the latest Egyptian proposal:

"1. Gilead Shalit will be freed and handed to the IDF.

"2. Israel will then pull its troops back from the Gaza Strip.

"3. The 87 Hamas leaders Israel detained last Thursday on the West Bank will be released.

"4. Olmert will give Mubarak his personal guarantee to free groups of Palestinian prisoners at a suitable future opportunity as a gesture of goodwill."

UPDATE:Haaretz quotes Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as saying the principal reason there has been no resolution of the hostage crisis is that it is not clear who in Hamas is authorized to make decisions about Shalit's fate. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, apparently has no say in the matter, according to a statement from Abbas's office.

"'The next hours are critical, sensitive and serious...Abbas's office said in a separate statement."

It may be over the top to compare Herge's Tintin books to books by Dickens, Flaubert, Marlowe, Brecht, Balzac, Jane Austen, Henry James, Moliere, Dumas and Rabelais all in the space of four paragraphs, but it's forgiveably, only-by-a-hair over the top. This excerpt in the Guardian from a new book by Tom McCarthy, then, is as if given by the gods, for some of us: "The Tintin books, as we know them now, are stupendously rich. Characters such as Captain Haddock and Bianca Castafiore rival any dreamt up by Dickens or Flaubert for sheer strength and depth of personality. Professor Calculus could hold his own against any number of literary scientists from Marlowe's Doctor Faustus to Brecht's Galileo.

"The supporting characters, from fiery sub-Guevaran General Alcazar to bitter and twisted multi-millionaire Laszlo Carreidas, billow off the page in all their awkwardness, their childishness, capriciousness. Even the most minor among them exude a presence far beyond that which we might expect from a novelist, let alone a cartoonist: the girthy, thunderous but frightened Americanist Hercules Tarragon of The Seven Crystal Balls; the neatly perverted kleptomaniac civil servant Aristides Silk of The Secret of the Unicorn; right down to the nameless airport official whose constant fiddling with rubber bands so irritates the captain in Tintin in Tibet.

"Like many of the very best writers, Herge has bequeathed a bestiary of human types. Taken together, they form a huge social tableau - what Balzac, describing the network of characters spread across his books, calls a comedie humaine, made of emirs, barons, butchers, whose telephone numbers keep getting confused with one's own, and ghastly petit-bourgeois louches who are too socially insensitive to realise when they are not wanted.

"When these figures are thrown together, the tense, loaded situations that arise are managed with all the subtlety normally attributed to Jane Austen or Henry James. People misunderstand one another. Discussions are shown taking place behind the main conversations, dialogues whose content we can infer from the context. Exegeses vital to the plot are offset by, for example, one participant's continuous attempts to prompt another into offering him wine, as in the sequence in Professor Topolino's kitchen in The Calculus Affair. Moliere-style social comedy runs effortlessly into Dumas-style adventure with Conradian boxed narratives, throughout which, thanks to the captain, volleys of Rabelaisian obscenities echo and boom."

There's a kind of unspoken, but universal recipe for what is acceptable in the persona of a leader, which largely involves the supression of anything in the slightest childlike, in thought or dress or deed. Much of it is unnecessary, leading in weak people to the creation of a kind of terrified, harsh priggishness that can do real harm. So when two of the more prominent world leaders toddle off to Graceland to play air guitar and have a bit of a clown-around, it is an occasion for celebration. The boundaries of what is possible for leaders in people who really ought to be followers (if you get my drift) have been rolled back, and that's a Very Good Thing.

30 June 2006

One of the ugliest and longest-playing little dramas in US political life has to be the campaigns John Kerry and the SwiftBoat veterans group are continuing to wage against one another. There's no mistaking whose side columnist R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is on. In the Washington Times this morning, he claims the SwiftVets are being "harassed by the senator's supporters with crank calls in the night and venomous postings on the liberal Web site HuffingtonPost.com.

"This sort of harassment is not new to the veterans and it will probably continue. At least one other site still posts their telephone numbers. Yet, as one Swiftie told me, 'These men will not be intimidated. The SwiftVets are 300 strong. They include Kerry's entire chain of command while in Vietnam, the vast majority of officers who served with him, the attending physician to his alleged wounds, and his longest-serving crew member. They have raised legitimate questions.' This Swiftie concludes that the questions can be answered if Mr. Kerry allows 'a release of his military record by the execution of the Form 180, permitting the media to look closely at the truth behind Kerry's fiction.'

"The fact that John Kerry has not allowed these records to be opened to the general media is suspicious, no? The fact that he continues to make his military record an issue is still more evidence that a delusional man can be a funny man."

Benny Avni of the New York Sun covers the third day of testimony in a New York court in the case against Korean fixer Tongsun Park: "A Korean businessman, Tongsun Park, hinted that he needed $10 million from Saddam Hussein so he could 'take care' of Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, a court heard yesterday. Mr. Boutros-Ghali told Mr. Park he wanted to 'neutralize' a top U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq and that he was relying on his 'Iraqi friends' to aid his mid-1990s bid for reelection, according to testimony.

"The new details emerged yesterday at the US District Court in Lower Manhattan, where Mr. Park, 71, is standing trial for acting as an unregistered agent for a foreign government. The star witness, for the third day, was the Iraqi-American businessman Samir Vincent, who pleaded guilty last year to similar charges.

"The testimony included tales of large sums of cash that Mr. Vincent smuggled to New York from Baghdad. The stories were so riveting that even John Gotti Jr.'s interest was piqued when he overheard observers rehashing the testimony in the court cafeteria, where the alleged Mafia heir was awaiting trial."

Those interested in this and related stories will be delighted to learn that Claudia Rosett is blogging the trial. Rosett's Notebook on National Review Online is here for the reading.

And if that isn't enough to give UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan a headache, the fact that James Bone, the Times reporter he called "an overgrown public schoolboy" for asking him embarrassing questions, is also blogging on the UN from London, should do the trick.

This Jerusalem Post story seems to have suffered a bit in translation: "Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak demanded from his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad to deport the Syrian-based Hamas leadership unless it agrees to release kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, Palestinian sources said on Friday. The demand was made in the context of a compromise that Egypt was attempting to draft between the Israel and Hamas, whose Damascus leader, Khaled Mashaal was demanding that thousands of Palestinian detainees, held in Israeli prisons, be released. Mubarak warned Mashaal that his position was leading the Palestinians to disaster, Israel Radio reported."

Reading around, what it seems to mean is that Hamas in Gaza has agreed that Cpl Gilad should be released, on condition that a small number of prisoners be released from Israeli jails to allow it to save face. Khaled Mashaal, comfortable in his Syrian fastness, won't agree. So President Mubarek is trying to change his mind by putting the Syrian government on the spot with this deportation demand. Syria doesn't exactly need more trouble on its plate at the moment. Mashaal's continued presence under these circumstances could be made sufficiently embarrassing to them to put his exile there, if not his life, in danger.

The Wall Street Journal has explained the circumstances of its decision to publish the financial transactions monitoring story in an editorial this morning. They are, it is at pains to point out, very different from the circumstances of the New York Times's decision to publish. The Journal says that if it had been in the NYT's shoes, it probably would have decided against publication.

Nonetheless, the Journal does recall that the Times's publication of the leak does have historical echoes: "In all of this, Mr. Sulzberger and the Times are reminiscent of a publisher from an earlier era, Colonel Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune. In the 1930s and into World War II, the Tribune was implacable in its opposition to FDR and his conduct of the war. During the war itself, his newspaper also exposed secrets, including one story after the victory at Midway in 1942 that essentially disclosed that the U.S. had broken Japanese codes. The government considered, but decided against, prosecuting McCormick's paper under the Espionage Act of 1917."

The Journal points to what to me seems blindingly obvious: "That was a wise decision, and not only because it would have drawn more attention to the Tribune 'scoop'. Once a government starts indicting reporters for publishing stories, there will be no drawing any lines against such prosecutions, and we will be well down the road to an Official Secrets Act that will let government dictate coverage."

The US Government's dilemma is this: If it wants newspapers to obey different rules on publication during wartime, it needs to change the rules. But changing the rules means an absolutely crippling hack at democracy's ankles. So...

29 June 2006

You never know what this kind of 23rd-hour story means, but Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz has told the Israeli media that "a surprising diplomatic breakthrough may be possible" in the kidnapping of a young Israeli soldier. This is the Jerusalem Post version of the story.

UPDATE: Haaretz says that at Egypt's request, "An Israel Defense Forces military offensive scheduled to be launched Thursday evening in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun has been put off for the moment. The move was decided upon after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz held consultations Thursday with security officials."

Claudia Rosett's working the Tongsun Park trial in New York. In an article in the the National Review, she writes: "Whatever the outcome for Park, his trial - expected to last about three weeks - looks likely to provide an unprecedented view into the workings of UN backroom politics. Not least, this comes as a timely warning to beware whatever might be going on today in any back channels the UN might have opened with nuclear-happy, sanctions-threatened, oil-rich Iran...

"The biggest eye-opener in the trial so far is the hob-nobbing Iraqi agent, Samir Vincent, 65-years-old, with a shock of silver-gray hair, who on Tuesday took the stand. Born in Baghdad, Vincent became a naturalized U.S. citizen around 1971. Having done substantial business with Iraq over the years, including under Oil-for-Food, he was arrested in January 2005 on federal charges including engaging in prohibited financial transactions with the government of Iraq, and acting as an unregistered agent of Iraq. He pleaded guilty before the same judge now presiding over the Park trial, Denny Chin, and became a cooperating witness."

One of the gems Vincent came up with on the stand yesterday was a link between Iraq and the Kennedy clan. Benny Avni of the New York Sun reports: "A scion of the Kennedy administration, Theodore Sorensen, was retained by an agent for Saddam Hussein and wrote, in 1993, a United Nations resolution that later became a blueprint for the scandal-ridden oil-for-food program, a federal court heard yesterday.

"An Iraqi-American businessman, Samir Vincent, who has pleaded guilty to acting as an unregistered agent for Iraq, shed new details about his involvement with Mr. Sorensen, who is one of the most revered members of President Kennedy's inner circle."

Poor old Basho - once the finest poet in Japan, lately reduced to a trace of his former self! The London Times reports that: "Basho, often dubbed the 'father of haiku', is idolised by the Japanese. His works are drummed into every schoolchild, his deft observation of the natural world emulated by millions of haiku enthusiasts."

"A publishing company sought recently to exploit that enthusiasm by creating Enpitsu de Oku no Hosomichi (Tracing the Narrow Road to the Deep North with a Pencil) - a book that has tracing paper between each page so that readers too can copy Basho's poems as a form of meditation. The book has sold nearly a million copies, and the effect on the pencil market has been explosive. Japanese have been flocking to stationery shops, and pencil sales have soared by about 3.5 million a month."

The Times gives rather a poor couple of examples of Basho's work. I think this is a better one: He was an elderly man when he made his journey on The Narrow Road to the Deep North, but his Zen Buddhism allowed the gravity and knowledge of his age to coexist with the spontaneity and wonder of a child. During his journey on the Narrow Road, he visited a shrine to see the helmet of a famous 12th Century samurai who, at the age of 73, dyed his white hair so that he wouldn't be prevented from fighting in a famous battle (where he was killed). Of the experience of seeing the helmet, Basho wrote this:

I am awe-struck
To hear a cricket singing
Underneath the dark cavity
Of an old helmet

Peggy Noonan has a little pot pourri of opinions in the Wall Street Journal this morning. I link to it not for what she says about Hillary Clinton, or flag-burning, or Barbara Walters, but because she does a little reflecting on the way the New York Times has fallen from grace of late. "It's still important. But it's not what it was. Once it was such a force that it controlled the intellectual climate. Now it's just part of it..."

Like so many, she believes the the Times made the wrong decision when it published details of the surveillance of money transfers. "Based on the evidence that has become public so far, the Journal, like the Times, and the Los Angeles Times, seems to me to have made the wrong call. But to me it is the New York Times, of all papers involved, that has most forgotten the mission. The mission is to get the story, break through the forest to get to a clear space called news, and also be a citizen. It's not to be a certain kind of citizen, and insist everyone else be that kind of citizen, and also now and then break a story."

It's a clever way of putting it, but it fails, because in the end, she's dead wrong. I believe that only a journalist who doesn't fully understand the profession would have failed to make the same call as the Times did. Anger should be directed at the person who leaked the story, not the people who published it.

The Guardian's David McKie discovers Brownie by accident, and calls him the "Byron of the jazz trumpet", which is a little clunky, but nice of him. "Sometimes an accidental juxtaposition can tell you as much as a learned treatise. On Saturday night Radio 3 transmitted the last of six half-hour biographical programmes that were part of its commemoration of the great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, who, had he lived, would have been 80 this year. Those who switched on to hear it might also have caught the end of the previous programme, the week's edition of Jazz Record Requests - a Charlie Parker tune called Donna Lee, joyously and rampagingly played by another great trumpeter, Clifford Brown. Three hours of tribute for Davis: just a few minutes for Brown - which reflects, I suppose, where they rate in the great jazz pantheon. But then, where Miles lived to 65, the sound of Clifford Brown was stilled 50 years ago this past Monday, when he was just 25." I don't know about this ranking business...I'd be surprised if anyone disagreed with the notion that despite the disparity in years and output, only Miles was better than Clifford Brown.

28 June 2006

A dodgy past? That nice Mr Murtha? Why, I can hardly believe it! But the Washington Times says: "Last week, we mentioned his involvement in the Abscam scandal 25 years ago, when the Pennsylvania Democrat escaped prosecution while still being identified as an 'unindicted co-conspirator'. That apparently led to the House Ethics Committee's special counsel in the case, E. Barrett Prettyman, resigning in protest. Although Mr. Prettyman never said one led to the other, he did tell Roll Call a decade later that to make that assumption would be 'a logical conclusion'."

And if that's not enough, get this: "Once a Los Angeles Times story about Mr. Murtha's appropriations panel's deliverance of $20 million to his brother's defense firm began to gain traction last year, suddenly Mr. Murtha, who voted for the Iraq war, reinvented himself as an antiwar partisan.

"Now Mr. Murtha has discovered that extremism can be successfully traded for power - a bribe of a different sort. We wonder if Democrats, however, especially their public-relations people, aren't regretting having pushed television networks to air that extremism for all Americans to hear."

The New York Sun covered opening statements in the Tongsun Park Oil-for-Food scandal case in New York yesterday. According to the prosecution, Park had strong connections to such UN luminaries as former secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali and the Canadian oil tycoon and environmentalist Maurice Strong. He sold his links to the world organization to Saddam Hussein's government for 'cash by the bagful', as a federal prosecutor put it to the New York jury.

"Park received 'for his work' $2.5 million, as well as promises of much more cash...(he) deposited the cash in a club he owned in Washington, DC; at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, and in a joint venture with Mr. Strong, who at the time was Secretary-General Annan's top adviser on reforming the United Nations.

"What did Saddam get in return for the millions he gave for access to Boutros-Ghali? By late 1996, the 'Iraqis got their multibillion-dollar exception to the U.N. sanctions: the so-called oil-for-food program.'"

Superman reviews are beginning to fall, like more or less sooty snowflakes, onto the pages of newspapers all over the world - a bonanza for those of us who like comics, or movies, or who are simply odd...or maybe all those things.

Manohla Dargis of the New York Times wasn't impressed: "Given how securely Lois remains out of the romantic picture in Superman Returns, now saddled with both a kid and a fiance (James Marsden), it's no surprise that some have speculated that Superman is gay. The speculation speaks more to our social panic than anything in the film, which, much like the overwhelming majority of American action movies produced since the 1980's, mostly involves what academics call homosocial relations. In other words, when it comes to Hollywood, boys will be boys and play with their toys, whether they're sleeping with one another or not, leaving women to weep, worry and wait to be rescued."

It's a good review. But it isn't as good as Anthony Lane's in The New Yorker: "Every time another Marvel or DC product is dusted off, lavished with computer programs, and pumped up into a motion-picture event, we hear the same inflated claims: this superhero is different; we will uncover this man's art and that man's scope; we will show you what makes them tick, or levitate, or spin. Even Ang Lee fell prey, rummaging around for the soul of the Incredible Hulk, until it became clear that the poor old minty monster didn't have one.

"The fact is that the only first-rate work to have fed off comic books was done by Roy Lichtenstein forty years ago, and the only comic-book movies to show any lasting swagger, like Spider-Man and its sequel, have hewed to the Lichtenstein line and mimicked the briskness and fluorescence of the painted surface. I have listened to Batman moan about how he will never fit in, and to countless mutants voice the same complaint, and, frankly, I don't give a damn.

"The ethical duties of Superman leave me cold; I just want to watch him catch a falling car."

Any money says Lane will have dipped into the New Yorker's archives before he wrote his piece, to read what the empress of movie critics, Pauline Kael, had to say about the 1979 Christopher Reeve version: "The narrative immediacy of comic strips is what has such a magical effect on kids. The plot is socked to them, with exclamation points. And we go to Superman hoping for that kind of disreputable energy. But it isn't there, and you can feel the anticipatory elation in the theatre draining out."

It's a little sad, this fact that reviewers seem to have thought more or less the same things about Superman movies and about the concept of making a movie out of a comic book character since...well, since the ink dried on the first Pow!

Or have they?

Here's a gem of a take which probably couldn't have been written in any other newspaper in any other city in the world but in the Times, in Los Angeles. The headline is pure, unadulterated genius - Look! Up in the Hair! It's Super-mane!

It is, as suggested, a look at the hairstyles of Supermen from Brandon Routh's in 2006 back to that of the first comic version in 1938. On Routh, the Times says:

"Hairstyle influence: A more natural look. Clark Kent's classic, wavy, blue-black hair has been replaced by a softer brown coif, though the crime-fighting spit curl stays firmly in place.

"Styling method: Could Superman be using a curling iron? 'Some people get those natural curls around the hairline, or the nape, but really, this look is a fantasy,' Dean says. 'It's odd.'

"Not odd. Super."

And if a focus on hair somehow lacks the subtlety you're looking for in such a riff, try Woody Allen on diet - in the New Yorker, of course. "On a recent trip to Heidelberg to procure some rare nineteenth-century duelling scars, I happened upon just such a treasure. Who would have thought that Friedrich Nietzsche's Diet Book existed? While its authenticity might appear to be a soupcon dicey to the niggling, most who have studied the work agree that no other Western thinker has come so close to reconciling Plato with Pritikin...

"Steak or sausages
Hash-brown potatoes
Lobster thermidor
Ice cream with whipped cream or layer cake

"This is a meal for the Superman. Let those who are riddled with angst over high triglycerides and trans fats eat to please their pastor or nutritionist, but the Superman knows that marbleized meat and creamy cheeses with rich desserts and, oh, yes, lots of fried stuff is what Dionysus would eat - if it weren't for his reflux problem."


27 June 2006

A polling expert, Steven E. Schier, the Congdon Professor of Political Science at Carleton College, gives us some critical information about the circumstances in which polling works as advertised, and the circumstances in which it is an instrument for manipulation. In the Washington Times, he writes: "Conflict, scandal and bad news get an inordinate amount of attention from the media and their pollsters. In-depth coverage of public policy and government management is deemed unsexy by reporters and editors and thus gets little attention in the media or in its polls.

"So a wide variety of questions vital to the quality of American governance gets insufficient attention from the mainstream media. What federal programs work well or poorly? How well are Congress and the president actually managing national government? These unanswered questions result less from ideological bias than from polling routines that support the institutional power of the mainstream media and its coverage habits. By manipulating the public to endorse its agenda choices through polls, the mainstream media retains its power and vital national questions go unexamined."

What a sorry mess the Palestinians have made of the opportunity the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza presented. It doesn't matter what happens with the two kidnapped Israelis (a young civilian was apparently seized as well as the IDF corporal) - the incident has destroyed that opportunity and cast in stone an ugliness between the two sides that, before, was amorphous and capable of change.

Haaretz describes the current state of play on the ground: "...The head of Hamas's political bureau, Khaled Meshal, appears to be unwilling to release Shalit, mediators involved in efforts to secure the soldier's release told Haaretz on Monday night. The mediators said that Meshal, who is believed to have been behind the directive to carry out the attack, has yet to express willingness to release Shalit.

"Nevertheless, talks with the Hamas leadership both inside and outside the territories were continuing, the mediators said, adding that they were optimistic Meshal would change his position. Meshal's 'not positive' attitude is not totally negative, the mediators said. 'Meshal does not want a deterioration in the Gaza Strip either,' a mediator said."

Concurrently, the Israeli intelligence apparatus will be desperately trying to work up an opportunity to rescue the young men. If they see no way to do it, the chances of escaping this crisis without serious unpleasantness will be close to nil.

Poor old Tony Blair! When your luck goes bad, it seems the gods themselves conspire to make it worse. Today, he had an oped in the Guardian, full of the kind of crap politicians like to talk: "It is the best of times, but is it also the worst? Had anyone offered any Labour activist 10 years ago what we have since achieved in government they would have taken it without a second thought: nine years of economic growth, the best employment record in the G7, public services improving, people less likely to be victims of crime than at any time in recent history, huge cuts in child and pensioner poverty, a leading place in the international effort on development and climate change, and the delivery of long-held Labour ambitions, from devolution to the minimum wage." He wants to remake this and rebuild that, and suddenly everything will be fine again.

Enter the god of pissed-off old friends, and the god of angry doctors.

I posted a review of Quai Branly only yesterday, but my favourite writer on architecture, Nicolai Ouroussoff, has a piece in the New York Times this morning which I find impossible to resist. If you want to know why he's my favourite, you have only to compare the two reviews. Ourousoff is simply brilliant, and it won't take you much more than a couple of paragraphs to see why. Of Quai Branly: "...once you give yourself over to the experience, you may find it the greatest monument to French popular culture since the Pompidou.

"Mr. Nouvel (the architect, Jean) is best known for technologically refined architecture that distorts the way we perceive the world around us. His 1994 Cartier Foundation building on Boulevard Raspail is a hypnotic reworking of the conventional glass box, a play of transparent and reflective surfaces that dissolves into the city around it.

"At Quai Branly, however, Mr. Nouvel did not want to impose Western technological values on a building devoted to non-Western art. Nor did he want to create a parody of tribal architecture.

"'The building could not be an affirmation of the triumph of Western architecture,' he said, gazing down on his creation from the top of the Eiffel Tower on a recent afternoon. 'If you understand the rules,' he said, the mystery is lost."

26 June 2006

The Middle East, once again, is at crisis point. The Washington Times comments: "Yesterday's events, in which members of Hamas and a group known as the Popular Resistance Committees attacked a military base in Southern Israel, killing two Israeli soldiers and kidnapping a third, represents a dangerous escalation in the conflict between Israel and the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Israeli troops tanks moved into Gaza for the first time since last summer's withdrawal, and the government is threatening harsh reprisals against the PA if the abducted soldier is not returned alive."

The good news is that the Israelis aren't likely to cross the border if there is any chance that doing so will endanger the life of the young corporal involved. The bad news is that the likelihood that he will be kept safe in the turmoil of Palestinian politics is poor.

It can be taken that the PRC was acting for Hamas when it attacked the Iraeli border post. The Times says "More recently, the PRC formed a strategic alliance with Hamas, and instructed its cadres to support Hamas-backed candidates in January's Palestinian elections. The PRC is virulently anti-Semitic: Like Hamas, it issues official declarations referring to Israel as a 'satanic entity' that must be destroyed,' and its propaganda missives refer to Jews as 'the sons of monkeys and pigs.' Hamas has found it useful to 'outsource' terror to the PRC, particularly the near-daily firing of rockets into southern Israel."

John Bolton described the battle lines during a congressional hearing last week: 'On one side are a group of 50 nations, including the US, who are pushing an ambitious reform agenda, and whose combined contributions happen to total more than 86.7% of the UN budget. On the other side are over 120 nations who contribute 12% of the budget, and are blocking these reforms.'

But as Benny Avni of the New York Sun reports, the US is backing away from its bellicose stand. "The UN body dealing with budgets and management, known as the Fifth Committee, last month voted down the proposed management reforms, but the failure to change did not result in immediate spending penalties. On Friday, that same Fifth Committee decided to postpone for a few days its decision on whether to lift the budget cap. On Wednesday, when the ultimatum runs out, spending restrictions are expected to be postponed even longer. For all intents and purposes, they will be removed entirely."

The first American trial of a major figure in the Oil-for-Food scandal gets under way today in New York. Tongsun Park, a South Korean businessman, was involved in the 'Koreagate' bribery scandal in Washington in the 1970s, although in pre-trial hearings, the judge ruled that evidence of that isn't relevant to the present charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent for Saddam's Iraq. On the other hand, as the London Times reports, he did rule that links between Park and Boutros Boutros Ghali, the former UN Secretary-General, are relevant.

The opening of France's new museum of primitive art was greeted by a chorus from the choir of the politically correct in France, who tried to make a case that it should not exist because calling it 'primitive' diminishes the world from which it came. It's a statement that fails almost everywhere it intersects with reality, however, and the chorus has died away. Now, a more serious brand of critic is having a go.

Jonathan Glancey, architecture and design editor of the Guardian says it works, and works well. "The gallery is Jacques Chirac's equivalent to Francois Mitterrand's 'Grands Projets' of the 1980s and 90s. It is a museum, he believes, that disaffected young immigrant Parisians will come to appreciate and even love. According to Le Monde, and a large number of commentators, the museum is the best thing Chirac has ever championed in Paris...Low-lying and half-hidden by fast-growing foliage, the Musee du Quai Branly is...'a building nestled in the landscape and awaiting discovery, intended to serve as a home to these different forms of arts rather than as an example of western architecture'...

"The Musee du Quai Branly has a banal name designed to match its superficially low-key ambition. In fact, the name has been the subject of much deliberation, following the political and cultural controversy generated by the gallery. The museum is meant as a subtle challenge to the very French idea that all great art is, well, French - or at least must meet with official French approval. 'It is the first time in a long time," says the museum's president, Stephane Martin, 'that a museum has been asked to talk about things other than national cultural identity'...

(Architect Jean) "Nouvel's aim in the 11-year project was to 'create a territory with several buildings rather than a single architectural monument'. Inside this territory are some 300,000 captivating objects, including carved African masks, feather headdresses from the Amazon, ambitious silver earrings from the Middle East, exquisite musical instruments and truly inspirational wooden sculpture from 11th-century Mali...(it) should encourage visitors from all over the world to see what they have been brought up to call 'primitive art' as something special in its own right, not as a creative tool for Picasso and other European artists, but as an art sans fin."

It's a statement from the office of John Negroponte, US Director of National Intelligence: "What has been announced is accurate, that there have been hundreds of canisters or weapons of various types found that either currently have sarin in them or had sarin in them, and sarin is dangerous. And it's dangerous to our forces...They are weapons of mass destruction. They are harmful to human beings. And they have been found...And they are still being found and discovered."

The Wall Street Journal comments this morning: "On Wednesday, at our request, the director of national intelligence declassified six 'key points' from a National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) report on the recovery of chemical munitions in Iraq. The summary was only a small snapshot of the entire report, but even so, it brings new information to the American people. 'Since 2003,' the summary states, 'Coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent,' which remains 'hazardous and potentially lethal'. So there are WMDs in Iraq, and they could kill Americans there or all over the world.

"This latest information should not be new. It should have been brought to public attention by officials in the intelligence community. Instead, it had to be pried out of them."

25 June 2006

There's nothing quite as serene as one of those long, confident lines in a Modigliani...but therein lies a backstory, as Deirdre Fernand writes in the Sunday Times. "Beautiful as his paintings are, his work has often been obscured by the shocking facts of his life, which appear like scenes from a splatter movie. As Simonetta Fraquelli, the curator of the show, says, Modigliani sounds like the 'Pete Doherty of the art world', the bad boy who immersed himself in drink and drugs. Not content with hashish and cocaine, he also drank a potent form of absinthe known as mominette, made from potatoes. Highly hallucinogenic and toxic, it is now illegal. He downed it like Ribena.

"He was so sexually appealing that, although he treated women badly, his charm always lured them back for more. After one vicious argument he threw one of them through a window. Another he cut with glass, scarring her for life. And two days after his premature death, his heavily pregnant girlfriend threw herself out of a window, killing herself and their unborn child.

"As a myth-maker and promoter of the live-hard, die-young-and-leave-a-beautiful-corpse way of life, Modi was without peer. Like Van Gogh, to whom his life has been compared, he died poor and unknown. Only after his death did the cult begin and his work soar in value. Not one but two of his lovers committed suicide after his death, contributing to the idea of him as a cursed artist. He loved it that his nickname, Modi, rhymed with the French for cursed, maudit. He shares his last resting place in Pere-Lachaise, the world's most fashionable cemetery, with Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison."

Modigliani and His Models is opening at the Royal Academy in London on July 8, and will run until October 15.

To someone who lives in this country, at this particular time, it sounds almost like an impossible dream - a black man who gets where he wants to go without having stashed half a dozen race cards up his sleeve in case of need. The Independent profiles Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, born in Jamaica, raised in Birmingham and now a farmer and a Tory candidate for Parliament in Devon.

"The locals assumed I was a property developer. They couldn't see why anybody in their right mind would want to live in a depressed part of the country and work in farming. The best thing I did was employ locals, I gave quite a lot of them work; these people have generations of experience and you'd be mad not to tap into it.

"I never experienced racism, but some people had strong views about me. I say what I think and I'm pretty tough. They had a manana approach: I want things done now and I don't care who I upset. I'm sure there were a few people muttering "black bastard" under their breath. But mostly they were intrigued. Being black in this country has been a burden ever since we arrived. But there is more prejudice in the city than in rural communities - at least in mine...

"I was so lucky to have people who looked after me, and that has been the greatest motivation in everything I've done. When I ran my marketing company, I always employed people who were gagging for a break, like I had been. They might not have had the right qualifications, but they were determined. The greatest gift you can give someone is opportunity. That's why I decided to start the scholarship for young black people who had been failed by the cities. I wanted kids who were as difficult as I was, who needed some tough love and discipline."

Jacob Weisberg, you may remember, is the guy who has recently been making his living by making fun of Dubya. He's the Bushisms guy, the guy who says "If Bush isn't exactly the moron he sounds, his synaptic misfirings offer a plausible proxy for the idiocy of his presidency." That's taken from an excerpt from the foreword to his new book, run by Slate Magazine. It's a view a whole herd of people find easy to share.

Writing in the National Review on the occasion of Slate's publishing The Best of Slate on its 10th Anniversary, however, William F Buckley says the idiocy is all theirs. "On the matter of the president's uttering sentences that are garbled, Weisberg can't be argued with...Weisberg doesn't take on the question of Bush being accepted at Yale, and achieving enough credits to graduate. It requires skills not generally associated with idiocy to maneuver so as to win the nomination of a national political party, and then an election; not once, but twice.

"Mr. Weisberg's premise - that to do this does not require intelligence, thoughtful planning, and marginal lucidity - has one wondering, but not about deficiencies in Bush. There manifestly aren't such in Weisberg in the matter of articulateness, so you find yourself playing with the derivations of it all. 1) You can't be stupid and become president. 2) You can be articulate and be stupid."

Soccer is the perfect game for the post-modern world, says the Weekly Standard. "It's the quintessential expression of the nihilism that prevails in many cultures, which doubtlessly accounts for its wild popularity in Europe. Soccer is truly Seinfeldesque, a game about nothing, sport as sensation.

"Most soccer matches end in scoreless ties (or nil, nil in soccer parlance), 1-1 deadlocks or 1-0 victories. A final score of 2-1 is regarded as a veritable outburst of offense, an avalanche of goal scoring that leaves exhausted fans shaking their heads and pining for the old days when teams knew how to play strong defense. A score of 2-0 is said to be a crushing victory (or defeat) of Carthaginian proportions rendering national shame and humiliation and potentially resulting in coup d'etat, or even war.

"In truth, soccer could be played without using a ball at
all, and few would notice the difference. The game consists of 22 men running up and down a grassy field for 90 minutes with little happening as fans scream wildly. When the ball actually approaches one of the goals, the fans reach fever pitch and the cheering becomes a deafening roar.

"Of course, these infrequent occurrences in which the soccer ball approaches the end zone - where goaltenders wile away their time perusing magazines, trimming their fingernails or inspecting blades of grass - rarely result in a shot on goal. Most often the ball ends up high over the goal, missing everything by 20 or 30 feet. These 'near misses' typically send the fans into paroxysms; TV announcers scream themselves hoarse. Then the players mill about the field for another 20 or 30 minutes or so and the goaltenders return to their musings before the ball returns, like Halley's comet in its far-flung orbit, for another pass in the general vicinity of the goal."


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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