...Views from mid-Atlantic
12 August 2006

Fouad Siniora, the prime minister of Lebanon, has emerged from the Mideast crisis with a greatly-enhanced reputation. Far from being the slow-thinking klutz one of the UN figures described him as earlier this week, he's emerged as a clever, subtle and astute player on the political scene, well able to swim in the endlessly complex waters of Lebanese government. Haaretz admiringly calls him 'The Man with a Three-track Mind'.

"He is a man of numbers and finance, who ran Rafik Hariri's business empire before becoming prime minister and served as a finance minister as well. Since the war erupted, Siniora is running his government on three tracks: He deals with Hezbollah through Beri, with the Lebanese public through Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, and with the world through Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, who spent the last week in France.

"In all three tracks this man, who broke down during the conference of Arab foreign ministers in Beirut this week, has managed to surprise everyone. His decision regarding stationing Lebanese army reserve soldiers to prove that his intentions are genuine, was a perfect move in negotiations."

Evangelical Christians in Kenya are busy trying to prove that religion may be, as advertised, one of mankind's biggest problems as it tries to grow and develop. Bishop Bonifes Adoyo, the head of Christ is the Answer Ministries, the largest Pentecostal church in Kenya, wants the national museum to stick its world-famous collection of hominid bones, which point to man's evolution from ape to human, into a back room so its implicit challenge to the seven-day Creation isn't quite so obvious. The Telegraph quotes him as having said: "'Our doctrine is not that we evolved from apes, and we have grave concerns that the museum wants to enhance the prominence of something presented as fact which is just one theory.'

"Bishop Adoyo said all the country's churches would unite to force the museum to change its focus when it reopens after 18 months of renovations in June next year. 'We will write to them, we will call them, we will make sure our people know about this and we will see what we can do to make our voice known,' he said."

The Wall Street Journal describes Norman Podhoretz, editor-in-chief of Commentary for the 35 years ending in 1995, as "a highly influential adventurer in the world of neoconservatism." He's not disturbed by that description. "Ideas shape events. They are the moving force in history," he notes.

The Journal says "The political odyssey of Norman Podhoretz began in the mid-1950s, when he made his mark as a literary critic and heir apparent of the leftward 'New York intellectuals'; veered sharply toward radicalism in the early '60s; and ultimately rejected the ascendant hard left for what we now recognize as neoconservatism. 'The issue was America,' he says. 'I was repelled, almost nauseated, by the rise of anti-Americanism on the left. The hatred of this country seemed to me not only wrong, it was disgusting...Everything the left was saying about America was wrong - everything - and wrong by 180 degrees.' He likens it to 'staging a black mass, with the cross inverted and Christ hanging by his feet.'

"'There was a heavy price to be paid for my acts of apostasy,' he says. Still: He retains an acute sense of longing for the intellectual community in which he grew up, a world - irretrievably lost - with no real equivalent today. It was a world that cared immensely about the life of the mind, and 'even though practically everything it held dear was wrong, the fact is that it was exhilarating - you had all these brilliant people who were interested in understanding what historical forces were at work in the world and how they were playing out.'

"It was perhaps that spirit, more than anything else, that Mr. Podhoretz and his cadre sowed in the conservative mind. The neoconservatives were not simply 'new conservatives,' swallowed whole by an established system and along for the ride, Jonahs in the belly of a whale; but, more exactly, they deepened and broadened the nature of conservatism by emphasizing larger questions and long views, all seriously considered. The neoconservative enterprise is still in motion, and - like the war on terror, like World War IV, like whatever one wants to call the present danger - it is not done yet."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez puzzled a lot of people with his friendship with Fidel Castro. In this gem of an article in the Guardian, he explains what it was about Castro that attracted him: "His devotion is to the word. His power is of seduction. He goes to seek out problems where they are. The impetus of inspiration is very much part of his style. Books reflect the breadth of his tastes very well. He stopped smoking to have the moral authority to combat tobacco addiction. He likes to prepare food recipes with a kind of scientific fervour. He keeps himself in excellent physical condition with various hours of gymnastics daily and frequent swimming. Invincible patience. Ironclad discipline. The force of his imagination stretches him to the unforeseen.

"Jose Marti is his foremost author and he has had the talent to incorporate Marti's thinking into the sanguine torrent of a Marxist revolution. The essence of his own thinking could lie in the certainty that in undertaking mass work it is fundamental to be concerned about individuals.

"That could explain his absolute confidence in direct contact. He has a language for each occasion and a distinct means of persuasion according to his interlocutors. He knows how to put himself at the level of each one, and possesses a vast and varied knowledge that allows him to move with facility in any media. One thing is definite: he is where he is, how he is and with whom he is.

"Fidel Castro is there to win. His attitude in the face of defeat, even in the most minimal actions of everyday life, would seem to obey a private logic: he does not even admit it, and does not have a minute's peace until he succeeds in inverting the terms and converting it into victory."

11 August 2006

The summer of 2006 is going to be remembered as the time when the struggle against terrorism reached a flashpoint, presenting the world with a crisis that poses the greatest threat to global stability since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The War on Terror is now being fought on seven fronts, as the Middle East journalist Youssef Ibrahim perceptively reminds us in the New York Sunthis morning. "Israel can no longer count on a peaceful future. The real aim of the jihadist Hezbollah and its masters in Iran and Syria was to revive the notion that the Jewish state can be militarily engaged - and that it can be made to bleed.

"That much has already been accomplished, as evidenced in Saudi, Kuwaiti, and Arab Gulf newspapers, which are now filled with editorials and letters to the editor calling for a 'united front' against Israel and open borders in states neighboring it, so that the jihadists can 'cross to the fight,' even though the governments of those oil-rich countries are far more concerned with Iran and Syria than they are with Israel...

"It is the nature of conflagrations to happen suddenly, and the connecting events outlined here are all matches lined up too close to the fire. Jihadists have the wind in their sails, and many of them are telling each other their moment has come."

Ibrahim wrote his article after reading one in the Washington Post yesterday (and reprinted in the New York Sun today) by Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to the UN. In it, Holbrooke argues that the sudden worsening of the situation requires a re-think of US tactics: "American policy has had the unintended, but entirely predictable, effect of pushing our enemies closer together. Throughout the region, Sunnis and Shiites have put aside their hatred of each other just long enough to join in shaking their fists - or doing worse - at America and Israel. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, our troops are coming under attack by both sides - Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents. If this continues, the American presence in Baghdad has no future.

"President Bush owes it to the nation, and especially the troops who risk their lives every day, to reexamine his policies. For starters, he should redeploy some American troops into the safer northern areas of Iraq to serve as a buffer between the increasingly agitated Turks and the restive, independence-minded Kurds. Given the new situation, such a redeployment to Kurdish areas and a phased drawdown elsewhere - with no final decision yet as to a full withdrawal from Iraq - is fully justified. At the same time, we should send more troops to Afghanistan, where the situation has deteriorated even as the Pentagon is reducing American troop levels - which is read in the region as a sign of declining American interest in Afghanistan."

The discovery in Britain of that plot to blow up airliners is prompting something of a rethink on the whole subject of the threat that terrorism poses. In the Times, Gerard Baker writes about the self-indulgent stupidity of those who cynically dismiss the threat as just another political ploy by George Bush to shore up his deteriorating support, or by Israel to justify their racist aggression: "In this internally pure worldview, the consistent theme is denial - denial of the reality of the mortal threat we face, denial of the reasons we face it. The villain for these people is not the jihadist, with his agenda of destroying our very way of life. It is, as it has always been, that malign continuum of institutions of our own authority that begins with the aggressive police officer and goes all the way up via the credulous media and craven officials to No 10 and the White House.

"...We should also remember that our continuing existence lies not just in inconvenient security measures and uncomfortably intrusive intelligence activities, but in a grand global strategy. Success requires, in addition to the tiresome banalities of long check-in queues and tighter limits on hand luggage, a commitment, whatever the costs, to eradicate the deep global political causes that threaten us.

"And for this it just won't do to claim it's all about bad US foreign policy. It is repetitive but necessary to point out that we didn't start this war when we invaded Iraq. The attacks on 9/11 were planned not only before we invaded, but during a time when the US was expending extraordinary effort to try to forge a lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. And if our actions have radicalised the jihadists we should remember that they are animated at least as much by our ridding Afghanistan of their spiritual brethren, the Taleban, as they are by whatever crimes the US may have committed in Baghdad.

"The same applies to Israel and Lebanon. Not only is the current war the direct result of Hezbollah's aggression, its deeper causes lie in the continued determination of Israel's enemies, increasingly emboldened by Tehran, to liquidate the Jewish state."

One of those newspapers whose columnists have been at the forefront of the cynical denial Baker talks about, seems - at least temporarily - to agree with him. The Guardian, (red-faced and choking back a growl of harrumphs, no doubt), editorialised this morning: "There are bound to be misguided attempts by some to dismiss the threat tackled yesterday as invented; the product of hysteria, or manipulation. The threat was and is real and the response to it was proper. But a serious response should recognise that scrutiny, debate and liberal principles are allies not enemies in fighting criminality."

Over on this side of the Atlantic, the Washington Times gets in a delicious little dig at New York's Grey Lady: "We shudder to think what would have happened in the coming days had the New York Times gotten hold of British or American airline antiterrorism investigations prior to yesterday's arrests. A successful attack would have cost the lives of hundreds, possibly thousands, of innocent passengers travelling from the United Kingdom to North American destinations. People would have been incinerated over the Atlantic Ocean by fanatical Islamist terrorists in an attack which Home Secretary John Reid rightly calls the biggest terrorist threat Britain has ever faced."

And if you're tempted to think Hezbollah is just a misunderstood collection of kids next door trying to do good in the world, you should read Rachel Ehrenfeld's (she's director of the American Center for Democracy and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger) Washington Times article on them. "By the mid-1980s, Shi'ite Hezbollah loyalists in Western Europe had quietly and effectively infiltrated local Muslim communities with the subversive aim of converting them to Ayatollah Khomeini's version of Islam, and of eventually gaining control over those communities. Countless legal and quasi-legal institutions - including religious, cultural and economic groups - were established to conceal these dormant Hezbollah networks; to finance their activities; to serve as a source for future recruitment of European-based terrorists; and to provide financial support for their attack.

"To maintain and expand its political-social activities in the Shi'ite community in Lebanon and elsewhere, Hezbollah needs large sums of money. The $100 million to $120 million it is said to receive annually from Iran, and the weapons and supplies from Tehran and Damascus, are just a drop in Hezbollah's bucket. Where did Hezbollah's funds come from?

"Hezbollah's support comes from both legitimate and illegal resources. The legitimate channel includes charitable organizations operating worldwide, donations from individuals and proceeds from legitimate business.

"Drug trafficking is a major money maker for Hezbollah, endorsed by a special fatwa by the mullahs. In addition to the production and trade of heroin in the Middle East and cocaine in and from South America, Hezbollah facilitates, for a fee, the trafficking of other drug smuggling networks. It cooperates, for example, with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia and the 'Abadan drug ring', a long-established Iranian drug network, allowing them to use the Hezbollah-controlled drug routes in Lebanon to transport heroin and opium from Iran and Afghanistan to Europe and North Africa.

"Hezbollah's other illegal resources include: money laundering, illegal arms trading and smuggling; counterfeiting and selling currency (US dollar - super notes) and goods (designer clothing and accessories); piracy of compact discs and DVDs; trafficking in humans; conducting elaborate import-export schemes with traders from India and Hong Kong to Ivory Coast, Belgium, and South and Central America. Hezbollah also extorts 'donations' from Shi'ites, especially Lebanese immigrants in South and North America under the threat of physical harm or death...

"The magnitude of Hezbollah's criminal operations serves not only to reap huge profits - estimated at $6 billion in 2001 - thus enabling it to buy its way to the Lebanese parliament and government, but also facilitates Hezbollah's infiltration into their targeted countries, weakening the countries' economies while furthering their terrorist agenda."

This will be a surprise to those who accepted the official line on Fidel Castro's illness, that he was recovering quickly, up from his bed and talking to visitors. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail and other newspapers that "his close friend and ally Fidel Castro is in a 'great battle for life'...'From here, let's pray to God for Fidel and his recovery, and he's fighting a great battle,' Mr. Chavez said in a televised speech."

But it's not only Uncle Fidel who's suffering the effects of old age. The Los Angeles Times says the Florida anti-Castro community is running out of mustard as well: "The community's once-monolithic political voice that dictated a hard-line U.S. policy on Cuba for four decades has fractured along generational lines and weakened as a national force. Militancy is out of fashion in this post-9/11 world, as evidenced not only by the recent sparsely attended demonstrations but by government cases against its last defiant practitioners."

10 August 2006

British Home Secretary John Reid says his Government's attempts to take action against terrorists have been put at risk by people who just don't understand what terrorism represents. On a day when the British security services rolled up a plot to blow a bunch of airliners full of innocent people out of the sky to advance the cause of terrorism, his remarks are a stark warning to those around the world who believe that if the West were only nicer to others, it would all go away. The Guardian says "The home secretary yesterday gave the thinktank Demos his strongest hint yet that a new round of anti-terror legislation is on the way this autumn by warning that traditional civil liberty arguments were not so much wrong as just made for another age."

The Washington Times is delivering a pretty robust scolding to BP for its mercenary sacrifice of pipeline maintenance in Alaska: "If BP were nearly as interested in performing routine maintenance in Alaska as it has been in cultivating an environmentally correct image around the world and hoarding tens of billions of dollars for 'employee share schemes' - its words - then there never would have been a 270,000-gallon oil spill in Alaska in March, the largest ever in the 30-year history of the North Slope. And BP this week would not have had to shut down the Prudhoe Bay oil field, which had been producing 400,000 barrels per day (about 8 percent of total U.S. oil production)."

London's Times is this morning running a perceptive evaluation of Cuba after 40-plus years of rule by Fidel Castro. "Is Cuba the socialist paradise its defenders make out? Far from it. Even on its own terms, Castro's regime ran aground long ago. The revolution was founded on principles of social justice, on equality between its citizens and the fulfilment of their basic needs. Above all, Cuba was to be independent of other powers. By those criteria, Castro has not performed well.

"Cubans complain bitterly that their meagre state rations are not enough to survive, forcing them to turn to the black market, to hustling tourists or to prostitution. Things have improved somewhat since the hungry years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, until then Cuba's principal benefactor. But now the country depends on the largesse of Hugo Chavez instead. The Venezuelan President props up the regime with more than $2 billion a year in deferred, forgiven or subsidised payments on oil or other exports.

"Even so, Cuba's infrastructure is in a pitiful state after five decades of economic mismanagement...Castro has clung on for so long in part because the US has provided him with so many propaganda weapons to rally Cubans to his side. Despite initial signs that he was falling into the same, time-honoured trap, President Bush has rightly declared that Cubans alone should decide their future - not Washington or the exiles in Miami. Whether or not he returns from hospital, Castro's illness represents the beginning of the end of his totalitarian regime. Left to their own devices, Cubans will move towards a more open society. Any outside inteference can only extend the old regime's life."

Thanks, Patrick.

09 August 2006

Lebanon's president, Fouad Siniora, gives voice to his country's horror at being torn to bits in weeks of pounding by Israel's military in an effectively-worded article in the Washinton Post this morning: "Lebanon's well-known achievements in 15 years of postwar development have been wiped out in a matter of days by Israel's deadly military might.

"For all this carnage and death, and on behalf of all Lebanese, we demand an international inquiry into Israel's criminal actions in Lebanon and insist that Israel pay compensation for its wanton destruction."

It is a startling and tragic comment on Lebanon's muddled politics, however, that not once in his piece does the word 'Hezbollah' appear.

London's Times has given voice to the opinion of many people - Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador should stop holding the peace and stability of Mexico to ransom over his failure to win the presidential election. "For the past ten days he has paralysed Mexico City with a mass sit-in to demand a total recount, including the 70 districts where his party never challenged the results. This would be just another means of extending his illegal campaign and giving it a legal gloss. In the same breath, he has said that he will never concede defeat.

"Last Saturday, when the Federal Electoral Tribunal announced a partial recount in a cross-sample of precincts that begins today, his supporters besieged its premises and he denounced its judges, people of unquestioned integrity, as 'rats' and 'traitors'. He has hounded members of his own party who dared to say that elections in their precincts were clean. Although the sit-ins have been peaceful so far, he has hinted that if justice does not give him victory, 'street justice' will take over. This is the politics of intimidation.

"The judges must not be intimidated. If the partial recount casts doubt on the result, it should be expanded. If not, they must stand their ground. This man has proved his willingness to put the nation's stability at risk. He has also proved that he is not qualified to be Mexico's leader."

For obvious reasons, the Israelis are very, very serious about doing their best when they have to go to war. There will undoubtedly be a commission of inquiry after these campaigns in Lebanon and Gaza are over, and while officials might be blind to that possibility early in a scrap, the time has now been reached when, in their actions, they have begun to take account of how they'll play at the inquiry. Haarets takes a look at how that's affecting Ehud Olmert: "In Olmert's view, the job of a prime minister is to set objectives and then approve or reject the army's recommendations. He insists that the IDF come up with several alternatives, and refused to accept operational ideas from outside the official pipeline.

"The problem with Olmert's remarks is that they sound like he is preparing for a possible post-war inquiry commission. After the Yom Kippur War, Golda Meir told the Agranat Commission that due to her lack of military experience, she was forced to take expert advice. The commission accepted her answer and did not hold her responsible for the failures of the war. Olmert's comments about his reliance on the recommendations of security officials brings up echoes of the past. But ultimately, even when Halutz and Peretz are advising him, Olmert bears the ultimate responsibility - and Wednesday, his ability to do so will be put to the test."

Meantime, the widespread feeling in Israel that the Israeli Defence Force has not been as successful in Southern Lebanon as it should have been, caused an odd change in senior personnel in the northern command yesterday. Haaretz reports that: "For the first time since the start of the fighting in Lebanon, a senior Israel Defense Forces commander is paying for the IDF's poor performance...Chief of Staff Dan Halutz named his deputy, General Moshe Kaplinsky, as his representative in the Northern Command on Tuesday. His new scope of authority has not been defined officially, but the move effectively leap-frogs Kaplinsky over GOC Northern Command Maj-Gen. Udi Adam as commander of the front...Adam said Tuesday night that he would not accept the new arrangement and would consider his options if he found that his authority had been curtailed."

Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council are using the right of private citizens to sue over environmental damage to raise money, accourding to the Wall Street Journal. "Most federal environmental statutes allow citizens to sue individuals or companies for violating the laws. Indeed, from 1993 to 2002, more than 75% of all environmental federal court decisions started as citizen suits, reports James May. Writing the Widener Law Review, he concludes that citizen suits are 'the engine that propels the field of environmental law.'

"But most of these suits are brought by environmental organizations, not individuals, and most of the filings don't end in a court decision; they end in settlements. From 1995-2002, there were 4,438 notices of intent to sue under four environmental statutes - 6.6 times more than actual federal court decisions in citizen suits. Presumably most of the others were settled."

08 August 2006

Claudia Rosett continues her unrelenting coverage of the perfidy of the United Nations in the National Review, by pointing out that if the organisation is unable to define what "terrorism" is, it can hardly pretend to be qualified to devise a ceasefire for Lebanon, "or any other part of the globe now threatened by Islamic terrorists."

"...I e-mailed the U.N. Secretary-General's office recently to ask: Does the UN consider Hezbollah a terrorist group? Back from one of Kofi Annan's spokesmen came the answer: 'The designation of terrorist would require a definition of what terrorism entails.'

"Let us note that in the case of Hezbollah, the group has entailed enough atrocities to have earned it the nickname, 'the A-Team of Terrorism', even before Hezbollah on July 12 launched its killing-kidnapping-and-rocket-firing assault on Israel. Hezbollah's prior record entails well over two decades of kidnappings, hijackings, suicide bombings, massacres, and collateral carnage worldwide, in countries including Lebanon, Israel, Spain, Denmark, Germany, France, and Argentina. Created by the totalitarian ayatollahs of Iran just after their 1979 Islamic revolution; trained and bankrolled by Iran; supported by Syria; seasoned in extortion and smuggling operations reaching as far as South America, Canada, and the US; open to alliances with other terrorist groups; peddling terrorist propaganda internationally on its Al-Manar TV station; dedicated to the destruction of Israel and seeking ultimately to supplant the workings of free societies with its Iran-spawned creed and practice of terror… Hezbollah among its butcheries to date has murdered more Americans than any other terrorist group except al Qaeda."

Lebanon's English-language Daily Star is running an Agence France Press report that quotes the German Foreign Minister as having said agreement has now been reached on a UN Security Council Resolution to end the fighting in Lebanon. He might be overstating things, but only a little, for there have been signals from many quarters this morning that agreement is close.

If it is approved, it is going to be an unusual approach for the Security Council, which normally likes to pretend its peace agreements are complete, in and of themselves, capable of fixing everything. That makes people feel good about them, but has it ever been true? I doubt it. This one's unusual nature takes into account what is perhaps more obvious in this conflict than it has been in many others: as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday, 'We're trying to deal with a problem that has been festering and brewing in Lebanon now for years and years and years. And so it's not going to be solved by one resolution.'"

The Wall Street Journal is sniffing at it a bit, this morning: "One oversight in the resolution is the failure to mention - or 'decry' in UN language - the use of civilians as targets or shields. This kind of 'enemy combatant' behavior is Hezbollah's stock-in-trade, and it would be useful to have the Security Council declare that there is no moral equivalence between such tactics and military operations that seek to minimize civilian casualties. Nonetheless, the resolution clearly identifies Hezbollah as the aggressor and points to the solution - the enforcement of prior Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for Hezbollah to disarm and for the Lebanese government to deploy its Army in the southern part of its own country."

On the other hand, the London Times likes it: "This incrementalism is a welcome change from the pretence, too often in evidence at the UN, that a Security Council resolution is a silver bullet. The Lebanese do not like it - as the French no doubt anticipated. Both France and America, working closely together as they consistently have done where Lebanon is concerned, are prepared to give the draft the odd nip and tuck, to demonstrate sympathy for Beirut's predicament. But the true nature of that predicament, as France well understands, is that Hezbollah is the proverbial cuckoo in the Lebanese nest. Lebanon has rediscovered itself as a nation; but it evidently is still incapable of functioning as a state.

"What Hezbollah rejects, the feeble Lebanese Government is powerless to endorse, however obvious it is that Lebanon needs a ceasefire far more urgently than it needs an Israeli withdrawal. This crisis has underlined how vulnerable Lebanon, which broke free only last year from Syrian occupation, still is to the machinations of Damascus and Tehran. The largely Shia Lebanese Army has neither the capacity, nor perhaps the will, to disarm the Hezbollah militias and destroy their stockpiles. An unaided attempt to do so would court the risk of civil war.

"To restore Lebanese sovereignty over the area between the Litani river and the border with Israel will require the muscular assistance of a strong French-led force, with a mandate to force Hezbollah to disarm. Such a force could take weeks to deploy. The Lebanese may not thank France for insisting on first things first. But it is the policy that answers best to their needs as is recognised by many of the nervous Arab governments in the region."

Others have different ideas. There is certainly a huge gap between Arab thinking about Lebanon, and other Mideast problems, and Western thinking. It is a gap which Arabs find infuriating. It isn't hard to sense the frustration in this article by Karim Makdisi, a professor at the American University in Beirut, published in the London Review of Books.

"It is clear that Israeli and American foreign policy officials have not learned the lessons of the past couple of decades: namely, that it is their policies - and not some cultural or religious backlash - that make resistance certain and foster support for resistance groups across the Arab world. Hizbullah was itself born out of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut that claimed more than 20,000 civilian lives and culminated in the massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Hizbullah grew in influence and effectiveness; its popularity peaked with the forced Israeli withdrawal. The current war will not only once again increase support for Hizbullah, it could turn Hassan Nasrallah into a hero almost on a par with Nasser."

George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, goes even further. It's all been part of a well-planned and well-oiled plot by Israel, in the making for years, to wipe out Hezbollah.

And on the subject of monbiottery, a conference of Seventh Day Adventists, struggling to reconcile their belief in the literal truth of the bible with the growing dominance of evolution, has been told that science is mistaken about dinosaurs. They were, indeed, created by God on the sixth day of creation a few thousand years ago. They were pretty much wiped out by the flood because most of them were too big to fit in the Ark, but any little ones that did get aboard were killed in some "climatic change" that followed the flood.

The Tennessean reports that "Two years ago, Seventh-day Adventists reaffirmed their belief that the 'seven days of the Creation account were literal 24-hour days forming a week identical in time to what we now experience as a week; and that the flood was global in nature.'

"At the same time, the denomination called upon all educators at about 1,000 Seventh-day Adventist schools in the United States, Canada and Bermuda to uphold and advocate the church's position while also educating children to "understand and assess competing philosophies of origins that dominate scientific discussion in the contemporary world."

"Dinosaurs, according to some Seventh-day Adventist theories, either never existed, their bones were scattered by Satan on earth to confuse people, or they were animals created by God but altered by Satan after the fall of the Garden of Eden."

This is a kind of throwback to the days of the British Empire, when young men of good background were sent, without experience, to govern sometimes very large populations, away out there. Young Rory Stewart, having walked across Afghanistan, was asked by the British Government to be the chief administrator of Maysan, a province in the marshlands of Iraq. The Christian Science Monitor says he's written a book about it, The Prince of the Marshes, which it praises as "a thoroughly readable book, its darker dimensions occasionally leavened by details such as the excellent cuisine produced by the Italian troops who even built their own pizza ovens. But in the end there is no escaping the conclusion that seems to have come too late to benefit any of the Westerners involved. Stewart summarizes, 'Occupation is not a science but a deep art that can only be learned through experience.'"

07 August 2006

Very few in the media did justice to the story of the Israeli raid last week on a hospital in Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. The Israelis claimed it was a hospital in name only, really functioning as a disguised Hizbollah office complex/barracks of some kind. The commando team which carried out the raid included a photographer who took footage of the empty building (and the shootout with four armed orderlies) which was released to the media. But as everyone was focused on the discovery of bodies in a bombed building in Qana, it was overshadowed.

Today, the Washington Times follows up: "Hezbollah militants continue to maintain a tight guard around a hospital they say is empty, days after Israeli commandos stormed it in a dramatic midnight raid into the heart of the militia's territory. The anxious attitude of two men standing guard in the parking lot when a reporter and photographer visited over the weekend simply added to the mystery surrounding Hezbollah's uses of the building and Israel's purpose in raiding it. 'You must not stay here,' said the younger one, who called himself only Ali. 'You cannot go inside. You must go.'"

The Indian Government has accepted the findings of an inquiry that "indicts former foreign minister K Natwar Singh (and his son) in the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, but gives a clean chit to the ruling Congress party," of which the two were members. IndianMuslims.Info, a non-aligned site headquartered in San Diego, says: "The probe findings in its entirety will be handed over to three agencies for further action, the government told parliament in its 'action taken report' on the findings of the Justice R.S. Pathak Inquiry Authority."

Some may not be familiar with the word chit, which is familiar to most Brits because of their history in India. It's a familiar word in that neck of the woods. Hindus use the word chitthi, and there's a Sanskrit word, chitra, which means more or less the same thing - both of them are tied to the concept of a certificate.

Know that old saw about exposing small cuts to the air to get them to heal faster? Forget it, says the New York Times, ruefully. "It's not often that a brief news item can totally upend our thinking on an issue. But that is what happened to us upon reading an inquiry into the claim that wounds heal better when exposed to air, as described in last Tuesday's Science Times.

"For years now, most of us have followed a time-honored ritual in treating the small cuts and bloody scrapes that a harsh world inflicts upon our tender skin. First, clean up the wound and stop the bleeding. Then, apply an antibiotic ointment to kill all the germs. Leave the wound uncovered so that it can heal in the open air. And no picking at the scab when it forms, no matter how bad it itches or how temptingly it raises its ugly crust. That, we were assured by our parents and school nurses, is the fastest and safest route to healing."

Turns out the best advice these days is that you should skip the antibiotic cream, cover the wound to protect it from the air and pick away at the scab when you can.

Thanks, Brenda.

"Hoons are the underclass of New Zealand. They are inarticulate and unkempt to a degree that would appal even a chav. (No Burberry caps for hoons; simply wearing shoes often takes too much sartorial effort.) But, in other respects, hoons are just like the underclass of any other modern Western country," according to Jaimie Whyte in the London Times.

"They often grow up without their fathers. The succession of 'uncles' who come through their home may beat or rape them. They attend school only because it is compulsory until sixteen, and leave having acquired neither an education nor any qualifications. They work in unskilled jobs, if they work at all. They have no interests and no ambitions, unless you count sex and intoxication (especially from marijuana, which grows like a weed in New Zealand). The sex leads to children, but rarely to marriage. They smoke, eat junk and die younger than the rest of us. And then their children do it all over again.

"It is in this subculture of listless depravity that women and children are so frequently murdered and abused. And it is because New Zealand has such a large underclass that its social statistics are so bad." Sounds familiar.

06 August 2006

Britain's Independent is running an almost-fascinating roundup this morning of 50 inventions that are going to change our lives in the 21st Century. I say almost because many of them, like EBay and Amazon, are a bit old to be considered truly 21st Century phenomena, and because the Independent, like much of the British press, hasn't grasped that part of its job is to be useful to consumers. They provide links to some of the ideas they include, but don't even bother to name others. I got four bloody big blisters walking the dog in new shoes without socks (it's hot) the other night, so I was delighted to learn of what the Independent called "Magic Plasters" (Brit for Bandaid), designed to heal blisters quickly.

Here's what they say about them: "It's the first hot day of the year and you decide to wear sandals to work. You are enjoying the sense of freedom and endless possibility presented by exposing your toes in public. You take a dozen or so steps and gradually become aware of a rubbing sensation. Within two more steps, you have a blister. You will spend the next few days debating whether to burst it or not but, whatever you decide, the outcome will be the same: you'll be left with a patch of hard skin, followed by an ugly purple mark, which may or may not have faded a year later when you will begin the whole charade again. Not any more. New blister plasters employ hydrocolloid technology, which is a fancy way of saying that they absorb moisture to form a gel which stops the skin over the blister from drying out and going hard. Leave the plaster on for a couple of days and the blister disappears as if by magic."

Great! So what're they called? Where can I get 'em? Hah! Answer came there none. Upper lips stiffened.

Israel's silence over the American/French UN resolution on a Lebanon ceasefire shouldn't be taken to mean disapproval. On the contrary, according to this Haaretz piece, Israel fears expressing its support "could influence support among Security Council members, who could demand a change in wording that may adversely affect Israel.

"On a less official level, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem expressed satisfaction with the draft and noted that Israel was very involved in its formulation. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz, conducted talks with the Americans and French from Jerusalem; Tal Becker, an advisor to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, flew to New York to take part in talks conducted at the UN.

"Why are sources in Jerusalem so pleased? First, because Hezbollah is held responsible for the outbreak of violence; second, because of the asymmetric attitude towards either side of the conflict. Hezbollah was called on to immediately release the two abducted Israel Defense Forces soldiers, while the release of Lebanese prisoners is mentioned with less urgency. The draft calls on the IDF to halt its assault, but states that Israel may defend itself, while Hezbollah is called to cease fire.

"The Israeli demand to impose an arms embargo on non-government forces in Lebanon was accepted, as was the demand to demilitarize the area south of the Litani River. Sources in Jerusalem were also pleased with the call for the deployment of an international force. Details regarding the force will be decided upon in a separate Security Council resolution. Sources in Jerusalem were less pleased with the indirect reference to the delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, a hint at an Israeli withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms area."

Israel did, however, have to back down over the composition of the multinational force to be deployed in southern Lebanon. "Israel has lifted its demand for the deployment of a new multinational force in southern Lebanon and agreed that UNIFIL, the United Nations force already in place, would oversee the cease-fire.

"In a draft text for a UN Security Council resolution on ending the crisis in Lebanon, agreed yesterday by the United States and France, it was concluded that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon would be replaced by a new force only after Israel and Lebanon reach agreement on the principles of a long-term accord. In the immediate future, UNIFIL will be reinforced with more troops in order to be able to carry out its new mandate."

A British television programme seems to have been so accurate in its literary criticism that three of their recommended six "Summer Reads" are at the top of the country's 50 bestsellers. Richard Madeley and his wife, Judy Finnigan, are the hosts of Channel 4's Richard & Judy. It's a programme made by a private company, Cactus TV, whose joint managing director, Amanda Ross, says she and her assistants sift through 500 novels each year to choose their six favourites. The Observer quotes Katie Bond, a director at the publishing company, Bloomsbury, as having said: "'They have found a way to make books work on television. A dream year for a publishing house is to get its books in the Booker short list and a book on the Richard & Judy 'Summer Reads'. In a short time they have overtaken every other literary prize, apart from the Booker.'

"Each of the books is 'road-tested' by a celebrity in a glamorous location, before Richard & Judy discusses it with a panel back in the studio. This is followed by members of the public offering their own verdicts on the books' content, and their appropriateness to accompany them on their summer holidays. Ross set up Cactus TV in 1994 with her husband, Simon Ross, brother of BBC broadcaster Jonathan. The company signed Richard and Judy in 2001 and today the show averages 2.2 million viewers."

The three books they tipped? Victoria Hislop's The Island; The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne, the nom de plume of Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland; and Dorothy Koomson's My Best Friend's Girl.

Rwanda, which had seemed almost to be sleepwalking its way to recovery from the nightmare genocide of 1994, has picked up the pace. It is turning its once almost-moribund coffee industry into a virtue. The New York Times says "By riding booming demand in the developed world for specialty brews - and, to a certain extent, by turning its own challenges to its advantage - Rwanda has made premium coffee-growing a national priority. That has not only brought in a trickle of money to a country with little else to trade, but provided a stage on which one-time blood enemies can reconcile their terrible history.

"'By improving the quality of their coffee, about 40,000 of Rwanda's 500,000 coffee farmers have at least doubled their incomes,' said Kevin J. Mullally, who runs the office of the United States Agency for International Development, or AID, in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. 'Coffee has played a crucial role in the positive changes in Rwanda.'

"Since 2001, AID has invested $10 million in helping Rwandans improve the quality of their coffee, mainly by providing farmers' cooperatives and small entrepreneurs with financing for washing stations and training in their use. The Rwanda government's goal is to make all coffee produced in the country specialty coffee by 2008."

Rwandan coffee is mild and subtle, but the flavours can go flat if it's overroasted. If you want to impress your neighbourhood coffee roaster with your inside knowledge of that arcane art, tell him not to let it go much over City.


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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