...Views from mid-Atlantic
22 July 2006

Here's a brace of Victor Davis Hansen pieces on the Lebanon War, the first from the Washington Times. "...An exasperated West is running out of choices in the Middle East. For years, the Arab world clamored for the Israel 'problem' to be solved. Then peace and security would at last supposedly reshape the Middle East. The Western nations understood the 'problem' as being Israeli retention of lands it had captured in Sinai, the West Bank, Gaza, Syria and Lebanon after defeating a series of Arab forces bent on destroying the Jewish state.

"But after the Israeli departure from Sinai, Gaza and Lebanon and billions of dollars in US aid to Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians, there is still not much progress toward peace. Past Israeli magnanimity was seen as weakness. Now its reasoned diplomacy has earned another round of kidnapping, ransom and rocket attacks.

"Finally, the world is accepting that the Middle East problem was never about so-called occupied land - but only about the existence of Israel itself. Hezbollah and Hamas, and those in their midst who tolerate them (or vote for them), didn't so much want Israel out of Lebanon and Gaza as pushed into the Mediterranean altogether. And since there will be no second Holocaust, the Israelis may well soon transform a perennial terrorist war they can't easily win into a conventional aerial one against a terrorist-sponsoring Syria that they can."

This one's from the National Review: "Iran and Syria feel the noose tightening around their necks - especially the ring of democracies in nearby Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, and perhaps Lebanon. Even the toothless UN finally is forced to focus on Iranian nukes and Syrian murder plots. And neither Syria can overturn the Lebanese government nor can Iran the Iraqi democracy. Instead, both are afraid that their rhetoric may soon earn some hard bombing, since their 'air defenses' are hardly defenses at all.

"So they tell Hamas and Hezbollah to tap their missile caches, kidnap a few soldiers, and generally try to turn the world's attention to the collateral damage inflicted on 'refugees' by a stirred-up Zionist enemy.

"For their part, the terrorist killers hope to kidnap, ransom, and send off missiles, and then, when caught and hit, play the usual victim card of racism, colonialism, Zionism, and about every other -ism that they think will win a bailout from some guilt-ridden, terrorist-frightened, Jew-hating, or otherwise oil-hungry Western nation. The only difference from the usual scripted Middle East war is that this time, privately at least, most of the West, and perhaps some in the Arab world as well, want Israel to wipe out Hezbollah, and perhaps hit Syria or Iran. The terrorists and their sponsors know this, and rage accordingly when their military impotence is revealed to a global audience - especially after no reprieve is forthcoming to save their 'pride' and 'honor'."

I'm not given to posting coverage of trivial little sissies, but Jose Luis Rodrigues Zapatero may not be as trivial as first advertised. The Times says: "Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a Socialist who has cut corporate taxes and a charmer whose presentational and glad-handing skills are so pronounced that his opponents insist that he is the embodiment of Spanish spin without substance.

"Yet this almost accidental prime minister, elected three days after the Madrid bombings, has emerged in the past two years as a surprisingly powerful leader...He is one of a generation of European politicians of the Left who has drawn inspiration from the electoral successes of Tony Blair, but foreign policy differences have put distance between them. Sr Zapatero's first political act was to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq and the disagreements have proliferated as quickly as issues have arisen...Both his language and his frenetic legislative activity have infuriated conservatives, who had expected to win the 2004 election and remain convinced that the explosions which took 192 lives just before the election were too sophisticated to have been the work of a motley collection of Islamic extremists, and so must have been, in some unspecified way, the handiwork of Eta.

"The conspiracy theory debate rumbles on in the Spanish press, but there is little doubt that Sr Zapatero's policies have been popular - his approval rating stands at about 60 per cent and his main opponent is languishing at less than half that level."

Of all the seriously good writers of the last 50 years, Thomas Pynchon is the goodest...also the most reclusive and, from the standpoint of the rueful book collector with finite means, the most reluctant to sign books. The news (from the Guardian) that he's publishing another book in the US on December 6 - Against the Day - is certainly influencing my travel plans. His publisher says he's not doing a tour, of course, but one must be on the alert for any hint of a personal appearance. Pynchon isn't given to short books, and this thing's going to run to at least 900 pages, apparently, the sort of thing that would keep the front door of the Vatican open in a hurricane.

With Pynchon, you never quite know what's true and what's not (like B Traven nearly a century ago). I believed he really was Wanda Tynasky (these are the Google results) for the longest time, but now...well, probably not, is the current verdict. Pynchon is supposed to have written this description of the book himself...maybe: "Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after world war I, this novel moves from the labour troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

"With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred."

I'll take half a dozen.

21 July 2006

Fouad Ajami, a 2006 Bradley Prize recipient and director of the Middle East Studies Program at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, says in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that Hassan Nasrallah is the villain of the piece in Lebanon. "It did not seem to matter to Nasrallah that the ground that would burn in Lebanon would in the main be Shiite land in the south. Nor was it of great concern to he who lives on the subsidies of the Iranian theocrats that the ordinary Lebanese would pay for his adventure. The cruel and cynical hope was that Nasrallah's rivals would be bullied into submission and false solidarity, and that the man himself would emerge as the master of the game of Lebanon's politics...

"No one can say with confidence how this crisis will play out. There are limits on what Israel can do in Lebanon. The Israelis will not be pulled deeper into Lebanon and its villages and urban alleyways, and Israel can't be expected to disarm Hezbollah or to find its missiles in Lebanon's crannies. Finding the political way out, and working out a decent security arrangement on the border, will require a serious international effort and active American diplomacy. International peacekeeping forces have had a bad name, and they often deserve it. But they may be inevitable on Lebanon's border with Israel; they may be needed to buy time for the Lebanese government to come into full sovereignty over its soil.

"The Europeans claim a special affinity for Lebanon, a country of the eastern Mediterranean. This is their chance to help redeem that land, and to come to its rescue by strengthening its national army and its bureaucratic institutions. We have already seen order's enemies play their hand. We now await the forces of order and rescue, and by all appearances a long, big struggle is playing out in Lebanon. This is from the Book of Habakkuk: 'The violence done to Lebanon shall overwhelm you' (2:17). The struggles of the mighty forces of the region yet again converge on a small country that has seen more than its share of history's heartbreak and history's follies."

Columbus...he of the ocean blue...was a bit of a bastard, apparently. The Independent says documents unearthed in a Spanish archive show "Columbus and his brothers Bartolme and Diego as tyrants who ruled through summary justice. They also forbade natives from baptism so they could be used as slaves. Varela said the documents showed Columbus's 'immense greed'. He was eventually arrested, tried and dismissed as viceroy of Santo Domingo and governor of the Indies."

Talk about paranoia! The BBC says that bloggers who say their writings are a form of journalism are in the minority, despite the hype, two surveys reveal. What hype? You'd think, from the way this, and other stories are worded, that there's some kind of council of bloggers out there trying to pretend the punditocracy is much bigger than it is. But the only hype there has been has come from journalists trying to excuse their mistakes by making people believe they're under threat from numberless loose cannons.

20 July 2006

Alex Ross, the The New Yorker's gifted music critic, has written a must-read meditation on Wolfgang Amadè Mozart. To prepare, he spent three months listening to the Philips deluxe, complete Mozart edition. It's 180 CDs. "During a slow week last winter, I transferred it to an iPod and discovered that Mozart requires 9.77 gigabytes."

"Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, as he usually spelled his name, was a small man with a plain, pockmarked face, whose most striking feature was a pair of intense blue-gray eyes. When he was in a convivial mood, his gaze was said to be warm, even seductive. But he often gave the impression of being not entirely present, as if his mind were caught up in an invisible event. Portraits suggest a man aware of his separation from the world. In one, he wears a hard, distant look; in another, his face glows with sadness. In several pictures, his left eye droops a little, perhaps from fatigue. 'As touchy as gunpowder', one friend called him. Nonetheless, he was generally well liked.

"He was born in the archbishopric of Salzburg in 1756, and he died in the imperial capital of Vienna in 1791. He was an urban creature, and had almost nothing to say about the charms of nature. A product of the artisan classes - his ancestors were bookbinders, weavers, and masons - he adopted aristocratic fashions, going around Vienna in a gold-trimmed hat and a red coat with mother-of-pearl buttons. He was physically restless, quick-witted, sociable, flirtatious, and obscene; one of the more provocative items in his catalogue is a canon for six voices entitled Leck mich im Arsch (K. 231/382c). He frittered away money, not least on expensive apartments. He achieved considerable success, although not as much as he knew he deserved. If audiences were occasionally perplexed by his creations, listeners in high places recognized his worth. Emperor Joseph II was a fan of Mozart's work, and, in 1787, to prevent 'so rare a genius' from going abroad, he gave the composer a well-paying position that required little more than the writing of dances. In a letter to his father, Leopold, Mozart had warned that 'the Viennese gentry, and in particular the Emperor, must not imagine that I am on this earth solely for the sake of Vienna.'"

Alex Ross, incidentally, blogs about music, at this site.

I don't know E S Turner's books, but if his London Times obituaty is anything to go by, I would have enjoyed them: "Journalist, novelist, social historian and the author of countless contributions to publications ranging from Punch to the Times Literary Supplement, E S Turner was still writing right up to his death at 96.

"'Browsing in old Meccano handbooks, back copies of the Children's Newspaper, old hymnals and catalogues, cuttings from the publications on which I worked, ships' newspapers brought back from the North Atlantic' - thus Turner once described the magpie intelligence behind the thousands of articles that he hammered out on a manual typewriter, augmented in recent years with quantities of Tipp-Ex, which had a habit of adhering to other items in the vicinity.

"He regarded his work with a certain good-humoured modesty; he once conceded: 'It may be presumptuous of a layman, who has never dissected a leg, certified a lunatic, remodelled a bust or been called out at two in the morning to sniff the breath of an abusive alderman, to write a book about doctors.' In fact, Turner's life brought him a wide experience of mankind and an eye for that quirkiness - at all levels of society - which animates his books."

Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres says in an interview in Haaretz this morning that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah "has revealed himself to be a political fool of the first order."

"Speaking to Haaretz about the current crisis in Lebanon, Peres said: 'Nobody has managed to isolate the Arab issue and destroy Lebanon like he has. He will continue, and there is no one to stop him. Nasrallah has 'made skeletons of the Arab world, and made it a laughing stock,' Peres added."

And right on cue, according to the New York Sun, "One of Saudi Arabia's leading Wahhabi sheiks, Abdullah bin Jabreen has issued a strongly worded religious edict, or fatwa, declaring it unlawful to support, join or pray for Hezbollah, the Shiite militias lobbing missiles into northern Israel. The day after Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers on July 12, Sheik Hamid al-Ali issued an informal statement titled 'The Sharia position on what is going on.' In it, the Kuwaiti based cleric condemned the imperial ambitions of Iran regarding Hezbollah's cross border raid."

Claudia Rosett's published a wrap-up of the Tongsun Park trial in the Wall Street Journal this morning. "While the United Nations frames its next response to crisis in the Middle East, its last grand venture in that region - Oil for Food - has finally resulted in a guilty verdict in open court. Last Thursday, a high-rolling, globe-trotting South Korean businessman named Tongsun Park was convicted in the Southern District of New York of conspiracy to launder money and act as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

"Mr. Park's case is much entwined with the executive floor of the UN. For years, he enjoyed extraordinary access to its top officials, complete (at least at one stage) with a UN grounds pass. Prosecutors argued that he used this foothold to help Saddam corrupt the 1996-2003 Oil for Food program from the start, the aim being to undermine the UN sanctions and ultimately remove them altogether. In return, Mr. Park got at least $2.5 million from Iraq, with a promise of millions more to come."

And in the Los Angeles Times, Jonah Goldberg is talking about the UN's failure: "...It would be one thing if the UN actually, you know, worked. But the problem is that the history of the UN is a history of unrelenting failure. Oh, not in immunizing kids and feeding starving people. The UN gets a passing grade there, though certainly not an A.

"No, the failure comes in precisely the arena that supposedly justifies the UN's existence: global peace and security. And that's where the delusion comes in. The folks at United Nations Plaza have proved themselves to be either well-intentioned incompetents or cagey, crapulent kleptocrats. The list of their biggest failures is spelled out in blood: Somalia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo (where peacekeepers reportedly raped the local girls), Iraq (where the UN bugged out after a bombing in 2003), Darfur and, in what was supposed to be the model for UN peacekeeping, East Timor, which, after seven years of exemplary UN stewardship, recently became the ideal location to film a reality-show version of 'Mad Max.'

"Second only to keeping the peace, the U.N. was founded to protect human rights. So what does it say that groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch long considered the UN Commission on Human Rights, or UNCHR, to be a protective shield for torturers and tyrants? In The Future of the United Nations, an elegant sledgehammer of a book, Joshua Muravchik offers some useful tables showing that the world's worst offenders on human rights were more likely to be members of the UNCHR than to be condemned by it. Last March, after years of such embarrassment, the UN finally moved to abolish the commission, creating instead the UN Human Rights Council, which is supposed to do a better job at keeping the worst abusers at bay. Fingers crossed, everybody."

Thanks for the tip, Brenda.

19 July 2006

How do you like the idea of paying taxes to Kofi Annan and his mob? "The U.N. crowd has proposed an international tax on aviation fuel, a tax on airline tickets, taxes on international currency transactions, carbon use taxes, including a 4.8-cent tax on each gallon of gasoline, and other taxes on an extensive range of transactions, goods and services."

Hezbollah may have seriously miscalculated how Israel would react when the Lebanese terror group entered Israel and kidnapped two soldiers, according to an editorial in the Washington Times. "Israel's response to the kidnapping of its servicemen was not the limited response to provocations that Hezbollah has been used to for more than 20 years. Instead, Mr. Olmert launched a military campaign: to cripple Hezbollah as a fighting force; to enable the government of Lebanon to exercise its sovereign responsibilities by extending the authority of the Lebanese army to its southern border; to create an enforceable system of disarmament, ensuring that Hezbollah and other armed groups cannot possess rockets and missiles that could target Israel from Lebanon; and to create a mechanism that would prevent Iran and Syria from replacing the substantial quantities of Hezbollah weaponry that Israel is in the process of destroying."

The Times failed to mention that if Hezbollah miscalculated, then so did its backers, Iran and Syria. And if the three of them were surprised by the Israeli reaction, they must have been staggered by the reaction of the rest of the world, which has become, over time, increasingly turned off by terrorist groups which have proven, over and over again, that they can live up to and exceed even the worst claims about their propensity for violence and duplicity. The hopes of those who thought such groups would be transformed and civilised by involvement in the political process have been dashed, pretty thoroughly.

As a result, the G8 was quite remarkably of one mind, all of a sudden. And as another article in today's Washington Times points out: "In a remarkable week, nothing was more remarkable than the following announcement (reported, but not sufficiently, by the American media) from the government of Saudi Arabia:

"'Viewing with deep concern the bloody, painful events currently taking place in Palestine and Lebanon, the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] would like to clearly announce that a difference should be drawn between legitimate resistance and uncalculated adventures carried out by elements inside [Lebanon] and those behind them [i.e. Iran and Syria] without consultation with the legitimate authority in their state and without consultation or coordination with Arab countries, thus creating a gravely dangerous situation exposing all Arab countries and their achievement to destruction with those countries having no say...'

"But for Saudi Arabia to condemn Muslim attacks on Israel - and in the middle of an Israeli-Muslim war no less - is profound evidence of how much the world is changing in the face of rising Islamist radicalism in general and expanding Iranian hegemonic objectives in particular."

The world outside Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Palestine, has agreed, tacitly, that Israel should be allowed to continue to try to uproot Hamas and Hezbollah for a little while longer (and perhaps a little longer than that if push comes to shove). If Israel's strategy seems a little difficult to understand, and their claims to have destroyed half of Hisbollah's infrastructure hard to stack up against the way they have been relying on their air force, consider what kind of work they must be doing, out of the glare of publicity. Logic would suggest that they must be working hard to destroy Hezbollah's very considerable physical infrastructure in the southern part of Lebanon, near the border with Israel.

In addition, this is from DEBKAfile this morning: "Israeli spokesmen speak only of small ground crossings into the south and air strikes against several war material trucks crossing in from Syria. However, according to DEBKAfile's military sources, those ground incursions extend to central and eastern Lebanon as well as the south, targeting Hizballah strongholds and launching sites, and include several cross-border raids into Syria in pursuit of fleeing Hizballah terrorists and for the interception of incoming groups. Weapons convoys destined for Hizballah are also being struck on the Syrian side of the border. To conceal the extent of their losses, Hizballah has instructed its people not to hold burials."

The New York Observer tries to figure out why there was so little coverage of the trial of Korean fixer Tongsun Park: "The story had everything: secret agents, political intrigue, personal betrayal and cash. Lots and lots of cash.

"Yet, for all that, a remarkable trial that ended last week in a Manhattan courtroom - a proceeding that implicated figures in the highest echelons of international politics - was barely mentioned in the major American press. If it weren't for the journalistic wing of the conservative movement, outlets like the National Review Online and The New York Sun, it might not have been covered at all.

"Take the events of last Thursday, for example. After two weeks of testimony, a jury took only a few hours to convict a South Korean national, Tongsun Park, of acting as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The conspiracy of which he was a part ran for 10 years, ending in late 2002, and helped one of the world's worst regimes maintain its grip on power.

"But The New York Times did not assign a reporter to his trial, its total coverage amounting to a brief wire report on the day following Mr. Park's conviction. Of the other major national dailies, The Washington Post ran a single news-brief item, the Los Angeles Times not a word. Given the stakes and what the Park trial clearly demonstrated about the seamier side of the UN - it hardly made sense."

In its obituary, the Independent describes Raja Rao as "India's most significant novelist writing in the English language today...With his ascetic and rather beautiful features, so that even in old age he retained a princely visage that was part-Hamlet and part-Krishna, the slightly built Raja Rao looked every inch a metaphysical and poetic novelist. He was the last of the quartet of writers, the others being Mulk Raj Anand, Nirad Chaudhuri and R.K. Narayan, who made English into a major literary language in the subcontinent. They all lived to great ages (Raja Rao was 97 when he died in Austin, Texas a few days ago), but they were never close to each other."

"Measuring the World has proved nothing less than a literary sensation. Since it was published last September, the novel has sold more than 600,000 copies in Germany, knocking JK Rowling and Dan Brown off the top of the best-seller list. The Guardian says "The book, which also features a senile Immanuel Kant, is the most successful German novel since Patrick Susskind's Perfume two decades ago.

"It hasn't just delighted the readers. It has also enthralled Germany's famously grudging critics, who have swooningly praised the novel and hailed its author - 31-year-old Daniel Kehlmann - as a literary wunderkind."

18 July 2006

This is a thoroughly worthwhile article in the Weekly Standard by Irwin M. Stelzer, the director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute. His subject is the extent to which globalisation is putting pressure on the world's legal systems to take account of one another: "Globalization is about more than cheap sneakers and Indian call centers. It is about pressures forcing the legal systems of every nation to take account, somehow, of what is going on in the rest of the world."

Oliver Kamm, one of Britain's best bloggers, thinks Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, ought to resign. In an opinion piece in the London Times, he says: "I am, as it happens, a strong supporter of 'regime change' in Afghanistan and Iraq, and of Tony Blair's foreign policies generally. I have little problem with supposedly draconian restrictions on civil liberties that reflect a rebalancing of the system of law against a real terrorist danger. In the case of Israel's war on Islamist militancy, I believe targeting terrorist leaders for assassination is, in the absence of an effective supranational system of law enforcement, defensible if it deters future terrorist acts.

"But these policies need to be allied with a recognition of the extreme fallibility of human judgment, and an ostentatious willingness to acknowledge culpability and make possible restitution for it. From the outset of the de Menezes inquiry - literally from the day of Mr de Menezes's death - the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, has given an unmistakable impression of a lack of seriousness. Sir Ian wrote to the Home Office immediately after the killing to say he would not allow access to Stockwell station for IPCC staff.

"It is not a witch-hunt, but a response to a man lacking a sense of public duty, to demand that restitution to the de Menezes family start with Sir Ian's dismissal."

In an editorial, the Times gets close to, but falls just short of endorsing that view: "Sir Ian will no doubt be relieved at the lawyers' inability to frame charges of criminal negligence. He should feel, nevertheless, a huge moral weight on his shoulders. There remain very real questions about the conduct of senior police officers in this affair. A fine will not wash on its own, nor will more apologies. The police must be held accountable for their actions. Every day that passes with more confusing twists in this saga, and more delays in reaching an honourable conclusion, only causes more damage."

I don't know why the Commissioner didn't resign long ago, well before 7/7. It was apparent shortly after he took over in October, 2004, that he wasn't up to the job. CBS-News once nominated him for the "Donald Rumsfeld prize for verbal blundering". Among other things, he was caught secretly tape recording conversations with other officials, such as the Attorney General.

This is a pleasant little yarn in the Toronto Globe and Mail about an electrical engineer who refused to believe the conventional wisdom that the blue-flowered lavender of Provence wouldn't grow in the harsh climate of his native Quebec. You can guess how the story ends.

"It is said that those who linger too long in a field of lavender become lavender. M (Pierre) Pellerin swears this has happened to him.

"'I sweat lavender, I eat lavender,' he says, his blue eyes lighting up.

"'I am lavender.'"

The normally liberal Los Angeles Times is in no doubt about who is to blame for the mess in the Middle East. In an editorial entitled Make No Mistake About It, the editors say: "Responsibility for the escalating carnage in Lebanon and northern Israel lies with one side, and one side only. And that is Hezbollah, the Islamist militant party, along with its Syrian and Iranian backers. Reasonable minds can differ on the strategic wisdom of the Israeli response, but there can be no doubt about the blame for the mounting death toll on both sides of the border.

"The international community has not been sufficiently forthright about this. A statement issued Sunday by the Group of 8 leaders meeting in Russia acknowledged that the crisis was triggered by cross-border raids on Israel by Hamas in Gaza and by Hezbollah in Lebanon. But reflecting Russian and French concerns, the statement shied away from pointing the finger at Damascus and Tehran. Instead, it merely condemned 'the extremist elements and those that support them.'"

17 July 2006

Peter Schjeldahl is one of the most gifted writers about art alive. In the New Yorker this week, he's written a piece about the significance of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, the Gustav Klimt painting that "last month, fetched a showboat price: $135 million, the most on record for a work of art. The cosmetics magnate and collector Ronald S. Lauder bought it for the Neue Galerie, the spruce little museum of Austrian and German modern art at Fifth Avenue and Eighty-sixth Street which he co-founded in 2001 with the late dealer Serge Sabarsky.

"Adele is now on display there, along with four other Klimts, among them Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912), which are owned by Adele's seller, the estate of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. An Austrian Jewish sugar industrialist and Adele's husband, he fled the country after the Anschluss, in 1938; his belongings were seized by the Nazis. (Adele had died in 1925, of meningitis; Ferdinand died in 1945.)

"The works hung in the Austrian Gallery of the Belvedere Palace, in Vienna, while, year after year, lawyers wrangled over ambiguous wills; an Austrian arbitration panel awarded the paintings to the heirs early this year. Adele, a 25-year-old socialite and patroness in 1907, was probably one of the priapic Klimt's many lovers, though perhaps not for long: the gold- and silver-leafed hieratic portrait is piercingly erotic; its brushy, more Expressionist 1912 sequel is not.

"Klimt was working in the Indian summer of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the period of Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities - an efflorescence, soon to be ruined, of pell-mell modernization, careering idealism, incendiary genius (Freud, Mahler, Wittgenstein), and, among the rich and cultivated, zealous decadence. It's all there in Adele: the painting is exquisite and brazen, compelling and brittle, too self-conscious to be experienced as altogether beautiful but transcendent in its cunning way."

Youssef M. Ibrahim is an Egyptian-born American journalist who was, for 24 years, a senior Middle East regional correspondent for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He's written a bitter attack in the New York Sun on fundamentalist Islam in the wake of the new Middle East Crisis. "...We, the silent Arab majority, do not believe that writers, secular or otherwise, should be killed or banned for expressing their views. Or that the rest of our creative elite - from moviemakers to playwrights, actors, painters, sculptors, and fashion models - should be vetted by Neanderthal Muslim imams who have never read a book in their dim, miserable lives.

"Nor do we believe that little men with head wraps and disheveled beards can run amok in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq making decisions on our behalf, dragging us to war whenever they please, confiscating our rights to be adults, and flogging us for not praying five times a day or even for not believing in God.

"More important, we are not silent any longer.

"Rarely have I seen such an uprising, indeed an intifada, against those little turbaned, bearded men across the Muslim landscape as the one that took place last week. The leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, received a resounding 'no' to pulling 350 million Arabs into a war with Israel on his clerical coattails.

"The collective 'nyet' was spoken by presidents, emirs, and kings at the highest level of government in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, and at the Arab League's meeting of 22 foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday. But it was even louder from pundits and ordinary people.

"Perhaps the most remarkable and unexpected reaction came from Saudi Arabia, whose foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, said bluntly and publicly that Hezbollah's decision to cross the Lebanese border, attack Israel, and kidnap its soldiers has left the Shiite group on its own to face Israel. The unspoken message here was, 'We hope they blow you away.'"

Blogs are making fun of Senator Ted Stevens's apparent ignorance of the Internet, revealed in a speech to a Senate Committee last week. I'm not so sure he oughtn't to be declared a national treasure. After all, how many can there be whose ignorance is quite as profound as his? Anchorage's Daily News quotes him as having said: "The Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes.

"And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled. And if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material...

"I, just the other day, got - an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially."

Some of the main fundraisers for the terror group suspected of masterminding the Bombay train bombings are operating from Britain, according to Indian intelligence officials. London's Times quote these officials as having accused Britain "of failing to act against a number of wealthy businessmen, who they claim are using bogus charities to funnel up to �8 million a year to Kashmiri militants groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, which remains the main suspect for orchestrating the synchronised bombings that killed 182 people.

"Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, raised the terror link with Tony Blair at the G8 summit in St Petersburg...reminding him that India handed over a detailed dossier three years ago identifying 14 men living in Britain and was assured the suspects would be investigated.

"Since then nothing has been done, and the money still coming from Britain helps to pay for the terrorist camps where we believe the bombers were trained and this atrocity was planned," a senior Indian security official said."

16 July 2006

A Los Angeles Times columnist takes on the notion that new forms of communication are killing off the traditional media: "Some journalists are worried that the profession is dying, but this is classic newsroom alarmism. As long as there is a popular hunger for truth - a constant of human society, last I checked - there will be work for people who want to dig it up. Witness the best of the bloggers, who have not only proved themselves adept fact-checkers but become tip sheets for the mainstream media. The dinosaur media have even started hiring them.

"As for the new transparency, it's simply forcing us scribes to do what other powerful people have always had to do in this country: defend and answer for our actions. Ten years ago, the editor of the New York Times, certainly one of the most influential members of our society, was unknown to most Americans. Today, he's on television and the websites, justifying a bold story he decided to publish against the government's wishes, a story many Americans apparently feel shouldn't have been published. It's a brutal fight, but a meaningful one that is forcing us all to confront the role of the media in the age of terrorism. In a democracy, I don't see how anyone can call this bad news."

Good tip...thanks, Brenda.

One of the worries of people in Israel about the country's actions in this present crisis is that Ehud Olmert, a-typically, is a civilian, with no experience of making military judgements and decisions at a high level. His Defence Minister, Amir Peretz, is in the same boat. There has been a little comment about it in Israel's newspapers, but the Israelis seem to understand that it's the last thing they should be making a big fuss about at a time like this. The Defence editor of Britain's Telegraph, on the other hand, speculated this morning that Olmert's lack of experience, in the circumstances, is dangerous (I'm not linking to it because it didn't seem a particularly good piece).

In Israel this morning, there is one sign of the gloves coming off a little, though. Ex-Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, who was extremely good at that job, and who was disappointed not to be given it again when Olmert put his Cabinet together, gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post in which he commented on Defence matters: "Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz declared on Sunday afternoon that the rocket which hit the train station in Haifa and killed eight was maunfactured by Syria.

"'The metal from the missile shows that it was made in Syria...We know that over the last few years, Syria has transferred ammunition to Hizbullah and that is what they used today,' he said after touring the site of the attack.

'Hizbullah is al-Qaeda and Nasrallah is bin Laden' and we have to fight them accordingly, he declared. Mofaz said the goals of the IDF's campaign were to push Hizbullah back from the border, impair its capabilities and get back the captured soldiers. He encouraged Lebanese President Fuad Siniora to bring the army to the south.

"He also expressed approval of the IDF's strategy thus far."

Even if his comments were positive, one Cabinet Minister comments on another's business at his peril. There is a possibility, I suppose, that the Israeli Cabinet wanted to claim the rocket was Syrian, but only unofficially, and so asked Mofaz to do it, but that seems pretty far fetched. We'll soon see if and how Amir Peretz reacts.

The British people have been making a tremendous fuss during the last few days about the extradition of three bankers to the US to answer changes of fraud connected to the Enron scandal. It was almost as if the country believed no Briton, and especially not these three completely innocent and lovely chaps, should be allowed to become involved in that dreadful American legal system. But now that the deed has been done, as it were, and details of their offence have begun to emerge, more sensible voices have the stage.

Will Hutton, for example, is a Guardian business columnist: "Last week three bankers - the NatWest Three - became almost national heroes, resisting the long arm of American law which required them to face trial in the US over an alleged offence related to the Enron scandal. The extradition treaty under which they were being removed from Britain had not even been ratified by the Americans, it was said; the burden of proof there was lower; and not even their own British bank was pressing charges. The plane left Gatwick for Houston carrying these tribunes of liberty to a manacled future; businessmen demonstrated; there was a special debate in the House of Commons. A delegation is to be sent to Washington to press the Americans to ratify the treaty.

"You have to blink at the craziness. Only towards the end of the week did sanity emerge. The affidavit from the FBI agent in the bail hearings disclosed the email exchanges between the three, and the extent of their involvement in a series of offshore transactions apparently set up to throw up personal profits. 'We're going to get rich,' wrote one. The NatWest Three declare their innocence in the transactions, but there are questions to answer.

"It is unusual for the British to witness fraud being taken seriously so long after the event and with such intent by the prosecuting authorities. This is the rule of law at work. The principle is surely right? If any government believes that British nationals may have been party to fraud against organisations under their jurisdiction then it should collaborate to see justice done. And if we don't want to prosecute, then we must stand aside and let others do it. The principle at stake is justice - and whether we want to ring-fence the City of London so that, in effect, anything goes."

Simon Jenkins writes in the Sunday Times: "The hiccup in the treaty is that it gave America special treatment because its constitution protects its citizens from summary arrest without good cause proven in court. This means that while an American court can merely demand, with documentation, a person's extradition from Britain, it will hold hearings into requests for extradition from America.

"Defenders of the NatWest Three - a bizarre coalition of City figures, Tory MPs, anti-Americans and liberals - are incensed by this manifest asymmetry. They see it as a licence for the ever-lengthening arm of American regulators to trawl the world for anyone who might have breached their laws. They point out that almost all international finance now touches America, and extradition abroad is not just another trial but interim punishment without prior hearing. While financiers may summon publicists, win bail and be guaranteed a fair trial, others may enjoy no such privilege and suffer long periods of hardship away from home when possibly innocent...

"Britain should revoke and renegotiate the 2003 treaty to allow a judge to determine the place of a trans-national trial and to require some preliminary hearing to take place before extradition. This is yet another Blair law passed in emotion and haste and regretted at leisure. But such a law was passed and is in place. Even if it were revoked it would not be much help to the NatWest Three.

"They were playing in a globalised market and must accept globalised justice, which in the matter of Enron means American justice. They must take the rough with the smooth and consider themselves lucky they were not charged with terrorism."

A team from Britain's Observer tries to pick 50 albums, each one of which changed the direction of music when it was released. There'll be lots of quibbles, I imagine, but I thought they did a pretty fair job. "It was agonising, having to pick only 50. Why did we include NWA, but not Public Enemy? Probably because their influence was more pervasive. Why Fairport Convention and not The Incredible String Band? Because we had to plump for the single most influential album in British folk rock. And why no Rolling Stones? Because, brilliant though they are, they picked up an established musical idiom and ran with it rather than inventing something entirely new."

The link above is the team's commentary. Their list is here.


Art in Bermuda
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Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
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Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
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OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
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On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
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The Epic of Gilgamesh
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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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