|...Views from mid-Atlantic|
14 October 2006
If you've begun to think about Christmas presents...check this Guardian piece out: "From Gnawa trance to pygmy chanting, Mark Ellingham ventured into uncharted territory to compile the new Rough Guide to World Music." Over on this side of the Atlantic, it's due to be released on October 30, and can be pre-ordered over at Amazon.
A couple of Maastricht University boffins have come up with a software program that art experts can use to say whether paintings are authentic or not. In fact, Authentic is its name. The Guardian reports that "Using high-resolution scans of paintings, Authentic software builds up a library of characteristics, such as brushstrokes, colours and type of canvas used, that form a 'fingerprint' for a particular artist. A painting can then be compared against this fingerprint to help experts decide whether it is a fake.
"Igor Berezhnoy of the University of Maastricht, who developed the software with colleague Eric Postma, said the technique was not designed to replace the opinions of art historians but as a tool that would help them with their work. 'We do not play art experts and we do not make decisions. We analyse, we give the data, the art experts make the final decision.'"
You might think the New York Times's Home and Garden Section an unlikely sort of place to find art critic Robert Hughes. And somehow, Hughes isn't the sort of man one would immediately associate with nesting, but such is human nature, I guess.
The piece has a kind of joyfully twee tone: "Mr. Hughes, the brilliant and acerbic art critic who wrote for Time magazine for 30 years and has published a dozen books, including The Fatal Shore, his best-selling history of his native Australia, was never one to pull a punch. Comparing the careers of J. Seward Johnson Jr. and Jeff Koons, he once said, was like debating the merits of dog excrement versus cat excrement - although Mr. Hughes would never use a word as flat and unevocative as excrement.
"He is a big man who has lived large, riding a motorcycle, attending New York parties with a cockatoo on his shoulder, deep-sea fishing. He is an accomplished carpenter: an early, romantic gift to his wife was a wooden jewelry box, which he planned to fill with jewels."
Here's an idea whose time, I think, has come. The New York Times says that although the idea flopped, first time round, "Some die-hards at Sony still believe that, properly designed, the e-book has a future. Their solution is the Sony Reader, a small, sleek, portable screen that will be introduced this month in some malls, at Borders bookstores and at sonystyle.com for $350.
"E-books may have flopped the first time around, but you can't deny that they offer some intriguing advantages. You can add dozens of them to your luggage without adding any more weight or bulk. You can adjust the type size. You can search the whole book in seconds, or insert an infinite number of bookmarks. No trees are destroyed to make e-books. And you can read during lunch without having to prop open your novel with a dangerously full can of soda."
13 October 2006
You'd have thought that the media would be like people, who can learn quickly from their experiences - once bitten, twice shy, sort of thing. But as the Washington Times points out: "Credit the newsmaking scientists at Johns Hopkins with this: They know a political opportunity when they see one. This latest Iraq war-death estimate - 655,000, four times higher than anyone else's - is released a few weeks before Election 2006, just like their last Lancet study, which appeared right before the 2004 election. Here we are again, watching science meet anti-war politics.
"...The study got generous coverage in The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. Why that happened is unclear, because the scientists - the lead author this time is Dr. Gilbert Burnham, last time Dr. Les Roberts - burned the media in 2004 by irresponsibly hyping a supposed death total of 100,000. The signs of politicization were clear enough: One author admitted to politically motivated timing. Lancet editor Richard Horton called the war 'grievously in error'.
"And sure enough, as Slate's Fred Kaplan showed, the study actually proved no such figure. Sampling Iraqis around the country by interview, the authors' survey really determined that the death toll in 2004 was somewhere between 8,000 and 194,000. As Mr. Kaplan put it: 'This isn't an estimate. It's a dart board.' Every other credible group or analyst put the number in the range of 15,000-30,000. The 100,000 estimate was nevertheless declared to be 'conservative' by these political scientists."
It's a sad experience, learning of an important writer only at his death. My friend Brenda, in England, has sent me a copy of a press release from the University of California at Berkeley, announcing the untimely death of one of its professors: "Nicholas Howe, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and a leading scholar of Anglo-Saxon England, died of complications from leukemia on Sept. 27 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland. He was 53.
"His works include The Old English Catalogue Poems: A Study in Poetic Form, and the influential Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England, which opened up new ways of looking at Old English literature and culture.
"Howe's new book, Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England: Essays in Cultural Geography, will be published by Yale University Press in 2007. Including his latest research on the writings of Bede, an English monk and author who lived 1,300 years ago; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ancient annals tracing the history of the Anglo-Saxons; and the epic poem Beowulf, it was the focus of his work during a year's Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002-2003...
"His most recently published book, Across an Inland Sea: Writing in Place from Buffalo to Berlin, combined a personal memoir and travel writing, and was illustrated by his own photographs. A Los Angeles Times reviewer observed that with this book, 'Howe joins a lineage of well-loved writers, from Henry James to Jan Morris and W.G. Sebald, who wrote about place as a state of mind.'"
Here's some better news. If you've never seen Jimmy Cliff's performance in the film, The Harder They Come, then you're missing a minor masterpiece, a little piece of cultural insight as important to Jamaica, in its way, as, say, James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was to the plight of tenant farmers in the southern US. Caribbean Net News says it's been saved from destruction and a new, better-than-ever version released: "When the original negative of 'The Harder They Come' was found to be disintegrating from a fungus, writer-director Perry Henzell decided to help restore his classic 1972 Jamaican musical.
"Henzell collaborated in the frame-by-frame restoration and hi-definition digital transfer of the film to DVD. If ever a soundtrack deserved to be heard in its original audio brilliance, it's this one. Even without its famous score, the film is a knockout. Jimmy Cliff, whose performance and music in the movie made him an international reggae icon, plays a poor street kid who comes to Kingston to record his music. He becomes an outlaw pop star through his dealings with corrupt cops, sleazy record-industry honchos and drug dealers."
Margaret Atwood, probably Canada's best-known author, has written a piece in the Guardian's books sectionabout Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist, who won the Nobel prize for literature this year. "It would be difficult to conceive of a more perfect winner for our catastrophic times. Just as Turkey stands at the crossroads of the Muslim East/Middle East and the European and North American west, so Pamuk's work inhabits the shifting ground of an increasingly dangerous cultural and religious overlap, where ideologies as well as personalities collide.
"It's no exaggeration to say that you have to read Pamuk if you want to begin to understand what's going on in people's hearts, minds and souls, not only in Turkey, but also in Britain, where the current Jack Straw headscarf controversy eerily mirrors the subject matter of Pamuk's recently-translated 1996 novel, Snow (in which we are reminded that Ataturk's ruthless modernisation campaign included a much-disputed banning of headscarves."
I haven't read any of this man's work, although I do have a copy of Snow somewhere, I think. Allowing for that, I must say it is a mark of the way things have changed where the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature is concerned, that Atwood's piece is exclusively about the politics of the choice, and not about the way it advances literature.
12 October 2006
The UN's new Human Rights watchdog group, says the Washington Post, in a rare display of political revulsion, is a "ludicrous diplomatic lynch mob": "Western human rights groups sought to focus the council's attention on Darfur, where genocide is occurring, and on Uzbekistan, where a dictator refuses to allow the investigation of a massacre by his security forces. Their efforts have been in vain. Instead, the council has treated itself to report after report on the alleged crimes of the Jewish state; in all, there were six official 'rapporteurs' on that subject in the latest session alone. One, Jean Ziegler, is supposed to report on 'the right to food'. But he, too, delivered a diatribe on Israeli 'crimes' in Lebanon.
"This ludicrous diplomatic lynch mob has been directed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which accounts for 17 governments on the 47-member council and counts on the support of like-minded dictatorships such as Cuba and China. Council rules allow an extraordinary session to be called at the behest of just one-third of the membership, making it easy for the Islamic association to orchestrate anti-Israel spectacles. Several Muslim governments that boast of a new commitment to democracy and human rights - including Jordan and Morocco - have readily joined in this wilful sabotage of those values."
Juan Williams, who is senior correspondent for NPR, and the author of several books, is taking a bit of a beating for his latest, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What we can do about it. Not for the title, which he should be taking a beating for, but for his conservative views on blacks. They call him the female Ann Coulter. In the Los Angeles Times, he writes: "It is easier to attack me than to deal with some hard facts. Here I go again, but let's look at the facts.
"One hard, unforgiving fact is that 70% of black children are born today to single mothers. This is at the heart of the breakdown of the black family, the cornerstone of black life for generations. Some of these children without two parents may turn out just fine, but most add stress to the lives of their grandparents, neighbors, police and teachers who have to take up the slack for absent or bad parents.
"It is easier to attack me than to deal with the hard fact of a dropout rate now at about 50% nationwide for black and Latino students. The average black student who gets a high school diploma today is reading and doing math at an eighth-grade level. Even with a diploma, that young person is ill-prepared to compete for entry-level jobs or for a college degree."
It's a good piece, which I thank Brenda for pointing out.
The Guardian says the Brits have to pay one of the fastest-growing tax bills in the developed world. "British people, along with Americans and Icelanders suffered the biggest rise in taxes last year, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development released yesterday.
"The report also showed that after a movement to a lower tax take in recent years, governments in three-quarters of the world's leading economies were now increasing their revenues. Rises were mainly coming through strong economic growth boosting income tax and corporation tax revenues, rather than higher tax rates - in many countries the rates of tax had been cut. Many had also expanded their tax base, by closing loopholes, bringing more taxpayers into the net and cracking down on evasion."
But Gordon Brown's Treasury has an explanation, the Guardian says. "Yesterday a Treasury spokesman defended this. 'As recognised by the OECD today, higher tax ratios are a result of stronger economic growth in the UK economy, not tax increases. Thanks to reforms introduced by this government, the UK economy continues to experience an unprecedented period of growth and stability, and the OECD recently described the UK as 'a paragon of stability'.'
"He said Britain's tax burden remained well below its peak of 39.1%, hit during the 1980s, and was below the average of countries in the European Union's 15 original members, before the 2004 enlargement, which is 39.7%."
The New York Times's writer, Sarah Lyall, does a lousy job of explaining what yesterday's British House of Lords ruling on libel means. She says: "Britain's highest court ruled Wednesday for the first time that journalists have the right to publish allegations about public figures, as long as their reporting is responsible and in the public interest."
Not so, there has always been a right under British libel law to publish allegations about public figures, and the requirement for the press to justify publication has always been lower than it would be if a private citizen were the person being reported upon.
What the Law Lords did was to make that requirement lower still, by shifting some of the burden of proof from the press to the complainant. British libel law in the past has favoured the complainant to the extent that public figures prefer their libel cases to be heard there, and not in countries like the US, because they have a better chance of winning.
The London Times has a more accurate story: "The British media won the freedom to publish allegations about public figures free from the threat of libel laws in a landmark House of Lords ruling today. In a ground-breaking unanimous judgment, the law lords ruled in favour of a public interest defence that brings English law more into line with the freedom enjoyed by the US media.
"In future, journalists will be free to publish material if they act responsibly and in the public interest and they will not be at risk of libel damages even if relevant allegations later prove to be untrue. The law lords, Britain's top judges, said that the media was entitled to publish defamatory allegations as part of its duty of neutral reporting of news, or if it believed them to be of substance and they raised matters of public interest."
11 October 2006
Parts of the Caribbean seem to be moving backwards - in time, at least. Caribbean Net News is reporting that the old scourge of piracy has been reborn off the coast of Surinam at the top of South America: "The Suriname police force and the navy will intensify patrols in Suriname's fishing grounds along the coast, a police official informed. During the past weeks, fishermen have reported at least seven armed robberies at sea by pirates.
"According to the victims the attacks took place along the entire coastal area stretching from the Potosibank in the west to Marowijne in the east.
"At least three masked gunmen speaking English and Surinamese with a Guyanese accent are said to be involved in the attacks. At gunpoint victims were ordered to hand over not only the outboard motors of their vessels, but also other valuables, fuel and the catch, including dried and raw fish."
And speaking of old scourges, a judge in the Bahamas has ordered up the cat-o'-nine-tails to deal with an attempted rape: "A man convicted of trying to rape an 83-year-old woman was sentenced to eight lashes with a cat-o'-nine-tails, a punishment used by the British Navy in the 18th century and reinstated in the Bahamas 15 years ago.
"Altulus Newbold, 34, was sentenced on Friday to 16 years in prison after being found guilty of burglary, attempted rape and causing harm. Justice Jon Isaacs ordered that he receive four lashes of the whip at the start of his sentence and four upon his release, but suspended the punishment for three weeks pending a possible appeal."
The Catholic Church seems to be moving from strength to strength under Pope Benedict. He is reviving a ceremony that, properly performed, is as beautiful as anything Bach wrote. The London Times explains: "The Pope is taking steps to revive the ancient tradition of the Latin Tridentine Mass in Catholic churches worldwide, according to sources in Rome.
"Pope Benedict XVI is understood to have signed a universal indult - or permission - for priests to celebrate again the Mass used throughout the Church for nearly 1,500 years. The indult could be published in the next few weeks, sources told The Times. Use of the Tridentine Mass, parts of which date from the time of St Gregory in the 6th century and which takes its name from the 16th-century Council of Trent, was restricted by most bishops after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65)."
I was wrong about that Irishman winning the Booker. Had Britgirl been a little quicker off the mark, she'd have pocketed the $10 I was waving about with such abandon.
The Guardian reports: "The Indian-born novelist Kiran Desai triumphed last night by winning the 50,000-pound Man Booker prize with her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss, a story replete with sadness over globalisation and with pleasure at the surviving intimacies of Indian village life.
"She beat the bookies, who put her fifth out of six in the award shortlist, rating her as a 5/1 outsider, compared with odds of 6-4 on Sarah Waters' The Night Watch, the favourite."
Her book contains this soon-to-be immortal line: "Help," Sai yelled. "Some Nepalese insurgents have stolen the hunting rifles." It was that that led me to discount her. It sounds as if it had been borrowed from one of those so-bad-they're-funny books of useless phrases in foreign languages - the 'mine is the suitcase with the green handles' school of travel literature. It wasn't obvious from the excerpt the Guardian chose that anti-globalisation was the message. Had I known that, she would have shot to the front of the pack.
The unspoken assumption, in the 1950s and 60s, was that once whites stopped discriminating against blacks, a kind of universal fairness would reign. It hasn't worked out that way - as this story in the New York Times suggests: "The Justice Department has chosen this no-stoplight, courthouse town buried in the eastern Mississippi prairie for an unusual civil rights test: the first federal lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act accusing blacks of suppressing the rights of whites.
"The action represents a sharp shift, and it has raised eyebrows outside the state. The government is charging blacks with voting fraud in a state whose violent rejection of blacks’ right to vote, over generations, helped give birth to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yet within Mississippi the case has provoked knowing nods rather than cries of outrage, even among liberal Democrats."
Here in Bermuda, certainly, the situation is sometimes made worse by the belief that racism is a white disease, and that by that definition, there cannot be such a thing as black racism.
10 October 2006
He's one of the most likeable men alive, and it was his 75th birthday last week. The Washington Post profiles him for the occasion: "The cleric is laughing. He laughs a lot. He can't help it. Desmond Tutu is tickled by his life, his faith, his God, so the giggles just bubble out, cresting sometimes in a hilariously showy cackle. The former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, the David to the old Goliath that was apartheid, Tutu can be seized with this joy at just about any time.
"He might be talking about weighty issues like the moral imperative, our inherent sense of right and wrong, and how 'everyone has an instinct for freedom because God has imbued each one of us with a gift of freedom,' and here comes that infectious giggle."
China's ability to concentrate on the visit of the new Japanese Prime Minister has been watered down, a bit, by the lunatic next door. But I haven't seen People's Daily use the word 'thaw' in connection with Japan before, so it must all have worked out well: "Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, concluded his visit to China on Monday, which was not only Abe's first foreign trip since he assumed the premiership, but also the first visit to China by a Japanese prime minister in the past five years.
"The two-day trip symbolized the thaw of the deadlocked China-Japan political relationship and opened the window of hope for improving relations between the two neighbors separated by a strip of water. The visit will have positive effects on the exchange and cooperation in politics, economy, diplomacy and culture between China and Japan."
Boffins have declared that walnuts are good for us. The Independent declares that after tests, "Scientists found that the walnuts and the olive oil helped to decrease the sudden onset of inflammation and oxidation in the arteries - processes that contribute to the hardening of arteries. However, the walnuts also helped to preserve the elasticity and flexibility of the arteries, regardless of cholesterol levels, which enabled the blood vessels to expand when needed to increase the flow of blood." Next week - why walnuts are bad for us.
Match your wits against that of the judges of the Booker Prize contest. The Guardian is running excerpts from short-listed books, and you get to choose which is the winner. Don't forget to take politics into account. I've got $10 that says the Irishman, Hyland, is going to take it. Anyone want to take that bet? First one to comment is on. Unless, of course, this is online gambling, in which case I'm only joking.
09 October 2006
Excellent, must-read review by columnist Robert Novak of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, written by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, published in the Weekly Standard. "The publication of Hubris is filled with irony for David Corn, Washington editor of the left-wing Nation magazine. He was present at the creation of the Valerie Plame 'scandal', which the enemies of George W. Bush hoped could bring down a president. Nobody was more responsible for bloating this episode. Yet Corn is coauthor of a book that has had the effect of killing the story.
"Thanks to Corn's intrepid coauthor, Newsweek investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, Hubris definitively revealed then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as my source that Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie, worked for the CIA and suggested her husband's mission to Africa. Armitage, an internal critic of the administration's Iraq policy, did not fit the left's theory of a conspiracy led by Karl Rove and 'Scooter' Libby to discredit Wilson as a war critic. Nor did it fit the overriding theme of Isikoff and Corn in depicting 'spin, scandal and the selling of the Iraq war.'
"As a result, Corn has been frantic - in the Nation, on his blog, and all over television - to depict an alternate course in which Rove, Libby, and Vice President Cheney attempted, by design and independently, to do what Armitage purportedly accomplished accidentally. The introduction of Hubris states that Armitage's statement to me was (according to the deputy secretary's colleagues) 'a slip-up by an inveterate gossip - but one that occurred alongside a concerted White House effort to undermine a critic of the war.' This, the authors continue, 'was a window into a much bigger scandal: the Bush administration's use of faulty intelligence and its fervent desire (after the [Iraq] invasion) to defend its prewar sales pitch.'
"This desperate attempt to resuscitate a dubious conspiracy theory falls flat, and undermines what seems to be the real reason for writing Hubris. While its reportorial tone gives the book a facade of objectivity, in fact it constitutes a broad assault on Bush, his administration, and his policies in the war against terrorism. That entails the retelling of manifold allegations of perfidy, so familiar that they grow tiresome. The book's only new element is what it reveals about the Plame case, and there they trumped their own ace by facilitating the source's exposure in advance of publication."
No less a person than the controversial former CEO of American International, Maurice Greenberg, has written an article in the New York Sun, endorsing Ban Ki-Boon as the new UN Secretary General: "Today the United Nations Security Council will choose a new secretary general in a vote. Count me among the few not to be surprised that South Korea's foreign minister, Ban Ki-Moon, has emerged as the consensus candidate. Given the critical missions the United Nations has taken on across the world - from providing humanitarian aid to maintaining the rule of law to dealing with a seemingly endless string of global crises - the selection of Mr. Annan's replacement is vitally important to both America and every member of the international community. The world body needs a leader of the highest quality, one who understands and appreciates the value of the UN and the noble ideals upon which it was originally conceived.
"Mr. Ban fits that description to a tee. A widely respected veteran of the international diplomatic corps, the Harvard-educated Mr. Ban happens to possess one quality offered by no other candidate for the job: He comes from a nation that almost certainly wouldn't exist without the intervention of the UN Just two days after North Korea invaded its southern neighbor in 1950, the UN approved deployment of an American-led international force to drive North Korea back across the 38th parallel. (At the time, the Soviets were boycotting the Security Council to protest the exclusion of the People's Republic of China from the UN, and so couldn't veto the measure)."
Meantime, Benny Avni of the Sun details Kofi Annan's attempts to fill some other posts at the UN. "Secretary-General Annan and his deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, are trying to enlist an old ally from Germany, Joschka Fischer, for a highly visible diplomatic mission to Lebanon. This awkward last-minute maneuver can only be seen as part of the race for deputy secretary-general and other key positions in Mr. Ban's United Nations.
"Although South Korea is in Asia, top General Assembly diplomats say its economy, the world's 13th largest, makes it a developed, 'northern' country. They want someone from the 'south' as Mr. Ban's deputy. Europeans diplomats, meanwhile, would like to see a can-do reformer from their own continent in the position."
Many people remember the murder of Bermuda's governor, Sir Richard Sharples, back in 1973. At the time, there were some pretty outrageous theories about who might have dunnit, involving international drug rings and that sort of thing. But in the end, it turned out to have been a pair of rather grubby local criminals, who were hanged in 1977.
There's always a disconnect between the official line on a crime like that one, and what floats around as 'known' by the public. With this crime, the disconnect was greater than usual. The community knew, although officials would not confirm, that members of the Black Beret Cadre, a local Black Panther wannabe group, were involved, and that at least two other people were involved, one of whom fled Bermuda in disguise, and now lives abroad. These facts were so well-known, and so hinted-at by the local press in one way or another, that when British Government files on the case were declassified, and a local newspaper, the Mid-Ocean News, was smart enough to begin publishing excerpts, the local reaction was little more than a collective yawn. Despite the fact that many members of the present Government were also members of the Black Beret Cadre in their youth, one local politician referred the stories in such a way as to suggest he hadn't bothered to read them closely enough to know what their source was.
A few years ago, a little-known British author, Mel Ayton, began taking an interest in the story. That disconnect I mentioned seemed to shock him deeply, and he formed the opinion that successive governments in Bermuda must have taken part in covering the whole business up. The truth is rather more banal - what kept the story from emerging was a combination of the small-mindedness of the local officials whose business the crime was, and an unreasonably anal fear of the laws of libel here in a general sense. Mr Ayton has written a book on the subject, which is reportedly now with a publisher, to whom he has, again reportedly, delegated a decision on whether to publish the name of the third man thought to have been present at the shooting (but apparently not the fourth). Meantime, he has published an article, entitled The Black Panthers: Their Dangerous Bermudian Legacy in George Mason University's History News Network, which is worth a look.
Ayton contributes to "The Bermuda Free Speech Forum" on Yahoo, a group which claims to be Bermuda's last bastion of free speech, but which is more like a bunch of good old boys who don't fully understand the relationship between opinions and facts. There, he is seen as a unique champion of the truth, whose book will have the impact of Moses's tablets. The local press, they believe, are gutless cyphers, happy to be silent under the thumb of whatever tyrants are in power in Bermuda at any given moment. Ayton himself has attacked the Royal Gazette for collaborating with those powers-that-be in keeping the story of the Sharples murder under wraps and for failing to use an article he wrote and sent to them for publication. What he and his fellow forum members don't seem to understand, though, is that the Mid-Ocean News has scooped him. He'll be lucky if there is any legally kosher, unpublished fact in his book by the time it's published.
The Guardian's architecture writer, Jonathan Glancey, talks to architect Zaha Hadid, whose office is in London, but who has only just finished her first building in Britain (in Scotland, to be accurate). "I don't design nice buildings," she told him. "I don't like them. I like architecture to have some raw, vital, earthy quality. You don't need to make concrete perfectly smooth or paint it or polish it. If you consider changes in the play of light on a building before it's built, you can vary the colour and feel of concrete by daylight alone.
"Some winters ago, I flew from New York to Chicago in the snow; at sunset, the landscape and cityscapes became no colours other than starkly contrasted black and white, while the rivers and lakes were blood red. Amazing. You wouldn't call that a nice landscape, but it had the quality of light and life I would love to get into our buildings."
08 October 2006
Coverage of the meeting between the Chinese president and the new Japanese Prime Minister is pretty sparse over on this side of the world. It was important, though. Relations between the two countries were considerably strained by Junichiro Koizumi's visits, during his time in office, to the Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to the memory of two-and-a-half million people who died fighting for the Emperor in wartime. The Chinese object because among those honoured by the Shinto shrine are many convicted Japanese war criminals, including 14 executed Class A war criminals.
Before he left for China, Koizumi's successor, Shinzo Abe, denied that any war criminals were honoured at the shrine. So when People's Daily reports that: "Chinese President Hu Jintao met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Great Hall of the People Sunday afternoon, soon after Abe's talks with Premier Wen Jiabao," we must presume there was a full and frank exchange of views.
"Shortly afterwards, top legislator Wu Bangguo will meet with Abe, who arrived here earlier Sunday and will fly to Seoul early Monday. Abe, who took office Sept. 26, is the first Japanese postwar prime minister who chose China as the destination of his first official overseas trip.
"Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao invited Abe to visit China on the premise that 'China and Japan reached a consensus on overcoming the political obstacle affecting bilateral relationship and promoting friendly and cooperative relationship,' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao."
Christie's in New York has just finished a three-day auction of Star Trek memorabilia - an auction of a collection no one will ever be able to assemble again - and Trekkies turn out to have more money than...well, than inhibitions. CNN.com's story is a little half-assed, like all radio and television stories, but the basics are there: "Trekkies set their phasers to bid this week, doling out about $7.1 million during a three-day auction of 'Star Trek' memorabilia at Rockefeller Center, Christie's auction house said Saturday. Christie's estimated the auction would bring in about $3 million, but the auction house apparently underestimated the Star Trek faithful."
I was once stuck on a train from Memphis to Los Angeles with scores of Trekkies headed for a conference there. That quite startling experience qualifies me to conclude that the Christie's people must hold themselves at something of a distance from the world to be capable of underestimating the attraction of such an auction.
Jack Straw's remarks about the anti-social aspects of wearing a veil are getting a mixed reception in Britain. This story in the Observer is headlined "Cabinet colleagues turn on Straw over Islamic veil row", but read the story and it turns out to be one and a half of his Cabinet colleagues. The rest are presumably smart enough to be laying back in the tide, as we say in these watery parts.
He did get unequivocal support from Simon Jenkins in the Sunday Times, who wrote: "What to a Londoner is an exotic sight on the other side of the street, in the Midlands or northwest is a declaration of apartheid. It announces a group of newcomers who will integrate legally but not culturally, commercially but not socially. They want nationality a la carte, not table d'hote.
"Those who claim such hospitality owe some duty of respect to their hosts, or at the very least cannot complain if the hosts object. An MP politely requesting a woman to lift her veil when asking him for help is hardly infringing some ethical code. I would request the same of a man in a mask or a hood. I do not go to Pakistan and refuse to remove my boots in a mosque or don a balaclava when addressing local women."
And I noticed in Aljazeera that "Daud Abdullah, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he understood Straw's views. He said: 'There are those who believe it is obligatory for the Muslim woman to cover her face. Others say she is not obliged to cover up. It's up to the woman to make the choice.'"
The life of a moderate Muslim isn't easy in a world dominated by the loud voices of extremists. This Los Angeles Times story looks at the life of Naser Khader, who is one of three Muslims members of the Danish parliament trying to "become a unifying voice; his politics spring from a childhood of trying to fit in and succeed. But his unapologetic political message, praised by secular Europeans, has irritated conservative Muslims...
"'Naser Khader is irrelevant to Muslims in this country,' said Ahmed abu Laban, an outspoken Islamic leader in Copenhagen. 'His role is to keep bombarding Muslims and Muslim values. He represents that strain of thought in Europe that's too cowardly to face legitimate Muslims. So they get people like Khader to act as a human shield and to spit in our face.'"
Thanks for pointing it out, Brenda.
The Observer sets out to do for British literature what the New York Times did for American literature a few months ago - find the best novel of the last 25 years. It's worth noting how very difficult that is in this age of globalisation. The winner of the Observer's poll is a South African, JM Coetzee, for his book, Disgrace. It's a book I couldn't finish, because although it was strikingly well-written, I found it so harrowing that I put it down and couldn't pick it up again.
Two authors appear twice in the top ten. Kazuo Ishiguro, who was born in Japan and emigrated to Britain as a child, is nominated for his third and fourth books, the superb Remains of the Day, and The Unconsoled. John McGahern, an Irish writer with whom I am not familiar, was nominated for two books written a decade apart - Amongst Women, published in 1990, and That They May Face the Rising Sun, published in 2001. McGahern died in March of this year.
Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
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