...Views from mid-Atlantic
21 October 2006

Techs are out of the doldrums on Wall Street, so perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that it's getting like the old days of the net, when Netscape and Internet Explorer were in a kind of update war. Last week, we had Explorer 7 released, and next week, acccording to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, "Firefox 2.0, the foremost rival to Microsoft Corp's Internet Explorer browser, is set for release Tuesday afternoon, said its producer, the not-for-profit Mozilla Corp. The free 5-megabyte browser, available in 39 languages for Windows, Mac and Linux computers, will be downloadable from getfirefox.com, the Mountain View, California, company said."

It is, I acknowledge, stupid to see art in political terms, but one does, and that must be one of the many ways in which art imitates life. What makes me think of this is a review in the The New York Times. They headline it Life, Meet Art: Pinter's Last Stand. It's Harold Pinter playing Krapp in Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, and doing a magnificent job of it, apparently.

One assumes the headline refers to the fact that Pinter, like Krapp, is at the end of his life. But the Times can't help noting that "Last year Mr. Pinter's health forced him to deliver his Nobel acceptance speech in a video recording that showed him sitting in a wheelchair as he unburdened himself of a passionate tirade against American foreign policy, saying, 'The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them.' I know the paper would have been hard-pressed not to include that fact in its review, but given that it's the New York Times, I wonder whether some equivalence is being suggested between Pinter's fine performance and his politics.

Is that me being unduly suspicious? Is it the Times which, by its performance over the last few years, has invited such deep mistrust? My money's on the latter, of course!

(To give credit where it's due, though, Pinter's performance was obviously quite extraordinary: "The old man rose painfully as the performance ended. The applause built slowly from a single clap of hands to a tumult. Harold Pinter, playwright and actor, weakened by the years and by illness, had just performed Krapp's Last Tape, by his friend and fellow Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett.

("'It is beyond acting,' said Gillian Hanna, an actress in the audience at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theater Upstairs on Tuesday night. 'There is something about the coming together of this particular piece and this performance that took me somewhere else.'")

Author Terry Teachout, who is the Wall Street Journal's theatre critic observes that "Politics makes artists stupid."

"Take My Name Is Rachel Corrie, the one-woman play cobbled together from the diaries, emails and miscellaneous scribblings of the 23-year-old left-wing activist who was run over by an Israeli Army bulldozer in 2003 while protesting the demolition of a Palestinian house in the Gaza Strip. Co-written and directed by Alan Rickman, one of England's best actors, Rachel Corrie just opened off-Broadway after a successful London run. It's an ill-crafted piece of goopy give-peace-a-chance agitprop - yet it's being performed to cheers and tears before admiring crowds of theater-savvy New Yorkers who, like Mr. Rickman himself, ought to know better.

"So why don't they? Because Palestine is the new Cuba, a political cause whose invocation has the effect of instantaneously anesthetizing the upper brain functions of those who believe in it. Take Mr. Rickman, who evidently intended My Name Is Rachel Corrie to be a pro-Palestinian equivalent of The Diary of Anne Frank. Alas, wishful thinking is not the stuff of exciting theater. The script is disjointed to the point of incoherence, the staging crude and blatant, while Megan Dodds's performance as Rachel Corrie is frankly cartoonish...It is by far the worst political play I've covered..."

People of a certain age will remember Anna Russell, who the New York Times describes as "the prima donna of operatic parody". The newspaper reports that she has died in Australia at 94.

The Times recalled that she claimed "to have begun her career as 'leading soprano of the Ellis Island Opera Company', who said she learned to play the French horn from an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and who gave indelibly grating performances of a song she identified as Blotz’s Schlumpf to demonstrate what it is like to sing with 'no voice but great art'."

She was "a Margaret Dumont figure from the Marx Brothers movies who had decided to join their rambunctious dismantling of pretense. But the affection and knowledge of an insider accompanied the jest, leaving the art form intact - almost. Ms. Russell's was a career that could only have been a success at a time when classical music culture was near the center of popular awareness and public education."

20 October 2006

South Africa's Mail & Guardian claims "The arrest of controversial Dutch oil tycoon John Deuss has exposed a trail of questionable influence leading to South Africa's second highest office.

"The fortunes of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka's political adviser, Ayanda Nkuhlu, are intimately tied to those of Deuss, whose company has seconded him to Mlambo-Ngcuka's part-time service. Nkuhlu is in the anomalous position of representing the interests of state oil company PetroSA in a joint venture with Deuss's Transworld group; of also heading a local subsidiary of Transworld; and of being seconded by this subsidiary to advise Mlambo-Ngcuka, to whom he has been close for years. Nkuhlu this week denied he acted in Deuss's interest when he advised Mlambo-Ngcuka, even though Deuss paid the bill.

"Deuss has a colourful past, which includes busting the oil embargo for the apartheid regime. In 1985 the then-exiled ANC called him a 'criminal - engaged in this nefarious trade'. He staged a South African comeback four years ago when PetroSA and Transworld formed a joint venture, PetroWorld, to pursue international opportunities in oil and gas. PetroWorld has brought PetroSA little but trouble. Its projects have been disallowed or are on hold. And the Reserve Bank has fined PetroSA R12-million for entering the joint venture in violation of exchange control regulations."

Shockwaves from the United Nations Oil-for-Food scandal - the greatest fraud in history - are still being felt around the world. CNN says a senior executive of the French Total SA oil company is being investigated for his role in the affair. He is Total SA's head of exploration and production, Christophe de Margerie, who the company had picked to succeed Thierry Desmarest as chief executive. He "was put under formal investigation by a French judge on Thursday after being held in custody for 48 hours in Paris and then released, a company spokeswoman said on Friday."

And in Egypt, according to United Press International, Prosecutor General Abdel Majid Mahmoud Thursday said a legislator from the ruling National Democratic Party would be tried on charges of fraud in a bid to combat rampant corruption. "Imad al-Jalda was accused of bribing officials at the government's Petroleum Institution to acquire information about oil deposits and win investment concessions.

"Al-Jalda was stripped of his parliamentary immunity to stand for trial. His name figured on an Iraqi list of international officials who were accused of having received oil coupons from deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in exchange for services and trade deals under the UN-sponsored oil-for-food program."

One can't help noticing that these shockwaves are being felt everywhere but at the UN, where shockwaves most need to be felt if this kind of thing isn't to happen again.

The Guardian predicts that the pink plastic flamingo, long a symbol of the depths to which taste can fall, "is going the way of dodo. The plastic bird, a kitsch icon that has populated the front lawns of American homes since the 1950s, is about to become extinct. Union Products of Leominster, Massachusetts, which has made the birds since 1957, is going out of business.

"'The plant's pink flamingo will be an endangered species,' Dennis Plante, the company's president, said. The moulded plastic sculpture mounted on wire legs has been reviled and revered in equal measure. The bird lent its name to director John Waters's 1972 film examining bad taste."

I don't believe this story for a minute. You could call out the Marines to destroy pink flamingos everywhere and drop bombs anywhere they're made...it wouldn't make a lick of difference, because you can't keep bad taste down. There will always be pink flamingos, just as there will always be gnomes for the garden, and little flocks of plastic ducks to fly up your living room wall. And people to buy 'em, of course.

After embarrassing documents relating to a Canadian man mistakenly identified as a terrorist and turned over to the US were leaked to the Ottawa Citizen, the Mounties tried to identify the leak by accusing the reporter involved of criminality, in the hope that she would crack under the pressure. But, the Globe and Mail says, "An Ontario judge dealt a landmark blow for press freedom Thursday, striking down a secrecy law that was used to justify RCMP raids on a journalist they suspected of having received leaked material in the Maher Arar affair.

"Superior Court of Ontario Judge Lynn Ratushny said the Mounties used 'the spectre' of criminal charges against Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill to try to uncover her confidential sources and cast a chill over the entire media. By treating Ms. O'Neill as 'one of its investigative arms', the Mounties undermined the integrity of the judicial process, Judge Ratushny said."

I'm not sure what the paper means when it says the Judge "struck down" the law - judges in democracies aren't entitled to do that. She might have criticised the law in the course of finding that the RCMP was guilty of abusing the process the law set out, but it will be for Canada's lawmakers to decide whether the law should be "struck down".

Nonetheless, one of the journalist's defense team said yesterday's decision had significance, not only in Canada, but in other countries. "This decision has potential relevance not only to historical research, but for countries internationally who deal with control of information by their governments. Even if the judge had not found that there was an abuse of process, this would be an indictment of the excessive reach of the security mentality that followed 9/11. It should chasten any police force from looking at journalists as the subject of an investigation."

19 October 2006

New York Sun art critic Maureen Mullarkey writes a fine preview of Americans in Paris, a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition opening next week.

"Americans love nostalgia, Christopher Lasch wrote, because they experience it as entertainment. Americans in Paris is keyed to the sentiments of Americans who still cherish Adam Gopnik's question: 'Why am I happy in Paris in a way that I am not happy in Altoona?' Once, they backpacked to St. Germain-des-Pres for cafe philosophy and grand impressions; they raced to movable feasts in a deux chevaux, thrilled by Piaf and Charles Aznavour. Ah, yes, we remember it well.

"Civilizations, too, divert themselves with backward glances to golden moments of seemingly infinite promise. Between 1860 and 1900 - the years of Napoleon III's Second Empire and the Third Republic - Paris reigned as modernity's first and most beautiful city. More than the world's new art capital, it was, as Walter Benjamin dubbed it, 'capital of the nineteenth century'.

"American artists flocked there by the hundreds in the decades after the Civil War. Thomas Eakins, James McNeill Whistler, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, and John Singer Sargent were among the multitude of young artists who sought training and proving grounds in Paris. Familiar triumphs by these five front-runners anchor an exhibition of more than 100 oil paintings. Whistler's Symphony in White (1862) and Eakins's The Crucifixion (1880) are show-stoppers."

Gordon Brown's tax-happy Treasury is being blamed for a growing exodus of companies from London, once one of the world's leading financial centres, to low-tax, low-red tape regimes like Bermuda and Ireland. A delegation of business leaders sat down with him yesterday to explain to him what it means to cut off one's nose to spite one's face, and got him to make placating noises. The British trade publication, This is Money, reports that "Chancellor Gordon Brown offered an olive branch to the insurance industry by promising to review its tax burden. His concession sparked hopes of a wider rethink on corporation tax, amid disquiet that the growing amount the Treasury pockets is driving firms overseas.

"At a summit with 35 business leaders, Brown made a commitment to undertake a study with the Financial Services Authority into 'whether the regulatory regime might be lightened for insurance services."

The question is whether he meant what he said.

Publishers are always looking toward Christmas shoppers to give their profitability a boost, but this year seems unusually crowded, according to the New York Times: "Fall has always been the busy season in publishing, with its inevitable crush of titles scrambling for attention and a toehold in bookstores, but at no time in recent memory has there been such a traffic jam of big-name authors unleashing top-drawer books.

"Already, the October best-seller lists read like a Who's Who: Mitch Albom, Bob Woodward, Frank Rich, John Grisham, Michael Connelly, John le Carre, Cormac McCarthy, Charles Frazier and Janet Evanovich. In coming weeks, they are likely to be joined by literary rock stars like Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Richard Ford, Thomas Harris and Thomas Pynchon."

Literary rock star? Pynchon? That's like lumping Mozart in with Abba and the Bee Gees. I guess Julie Bosman, who wrote the piece, must be some sort of trainee.

18 October 2006

A new study provides experimental evidence that cosmic rays may be a major factor in causing the Earth's climate to change, according to a a Washington Times writer. Steven Milloy, who publishes JunkScience.com and is an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, claims: " Given the stakes in the current debate over global warming, the research may very well turn out to be one of the most important climate experiments of our time - if only the media would report the story.

"Ten years ago, Danish researchers Henrik Svensmark and Eigil Friis-Christensen first hypothesized that cosmic rays from space influence the Earth's climate by effecting cloud formation in the lower atmosphere. Their hypothesis was based on a strong correlation between levels of cosmic radiation and cloud cover - that is, the greater the cosmic radiation, the greater the cloud cover. Clouds cool the Earth's climate by reflecting about 20 percent of incoming solar radiation back into space.

"The hypothesis was potentially significant because during the 20th century, the influx of cosmic rays was reduced by a doubling of the Sun's magnetic field, which shields the Earth from cosmic rays. According to the hypothesis, then, less cosmic radiation would mean less cloud formation and, ultimately, warmer temperatures - precisely what was observed during the 20th century.

"If correct, the Svensmark hypothesis poses a serious challenge to the current global warming alarmism that attributes the 20th century's warmer temperatures to man-made emissions of greenhouse gases."

The London Times has a crack at working its way through the logic of the policies that allowed two people whose identity and crimes are protected by a cloak of secrecy, but who were connected in some way with terrorism, to walk away from British justice.

"The obsession with anonymity is meant to protect the suspects' human rights and to ensure that any future trial is not prejudiced. Judges insist that there should be no public discussion of this or of the charges and substance of other current terror trials - many mired in delays and legal wrangling - lest this prejudice juries. The principle is admirable; the practice is absurd. Details of the control order cases are freely available on the internet. So too is most of the information banned from publication about other terrorist suspects. Ignorance may be no excuse, but this is an excuse for ignorance.

"It is a basic principle of British law that justice should be seen to be done. This has become a casualty of terrorism. The only way out, ultimately, is to admit wiretapping evidence in court and to charge terrorist suspects or deport them."

Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, delivered the Hugo Young Memorial Lecture in London yesterday (it's named after the Guardian's senior political commentator, who died in September, 2003). There are excerpts and comments here. I'm no fan of the EU, so perhaps I'm biased, but I thought it was a pretty pathetic performance. He says, among other things of course, that the EU can take credit for making war between France and Germany "unimaginable". You might think that a pretty plonking claim, but you must allow for the fact that he's making an attempt to report progress in the light of the original aim of the organisation. That was to make creative efforts to safeguard world peace in the wake of the Second World War, a purpose which has been so overtaken by the half a century that lies between now and then that it is no longer modern history, no longer relevant.

He adds that "60 years of peace has meant that the image of Europe as a bastion against war is losing its resonance," which is a bit of an understatement in the light of the organisation's recent policies of dealing with the fires of violence by hosing them down with money and misplaced sympathy.

Barroso said that he felt a different name should be used to enact the institutional reforms set out in the failed European Constitution, which I suppose is one way of getting out from underneath the problem of their having been rejected in their original name in referenda in France and Holland.

And in one of those twiddly bits that politicians so love, he admits the organisation is without a real job in the 21st Century: "The EU needs a new core purpose. One which looks forward, recognises new realities, that draws inspiration from, but does not depend upon, the achievements of the past. Our purpose is staring us in the face. In 1950 the challenge was securing a lasting peace. Today it is climate change, growing competition from China and India. Mass migration. International terrorism. These challenges are shared by all Europeans, from London to Lisbon. They are challenges which no nation state can tackle successfully alone."

If you need reasons to think the Guardian may well be the world's best newspaper (despite its politics), then read its editorial today. It's a birthday tribute to Chuck Berry: "Even though only a handful of them have any chance of getting there, fans across the world are hoping that Chuck Berry will choose this evening to play one of his occasional Wednesday gigs at the Blueberry Hill in his native St Louis. For today is the brown-eyed handsome man's 80th birthday, a rare milestone in a musical world in which too many others have died before they got old."

Further comment probably surplus to requirements.

17 October 2006

The unconventional billionaire businessman, John Deuss, arrested by the Bermuda police on Friday in connection with a Dutch investigation of carousel fraud at his bank in Curacao, was released here yesterday on $10 million bail after he agreed to return to Holland voluntarily. The Bermuda Sun reports that two local friends of his, Sir John Swan and Ward Young, agreed to stand surety for him in the amount of $5 million each.

Both men are closely connected to the United Bermuda Party, which was in power here for 30 years and is now in opposition, but this does not contradict my assertion yesterday that Deuss is a financial backer of the governing Progressive Labour Party. The smart financier is sure to make it his busines to hedge his political bets, and in any event, my guess is that it would take a while to find someone in the PLP capable of putting up that kind of money.

It's going to be interesting to see how Deuss's friendship with the PLP holds up, now that the international spotlight is on him. He is a man the African National Congress once described as a criminal as a result of his breaking of the oil embargo against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Will the PLP be willing to risk its own reputation as a friend and supporter of such organisations as the ANC in order to keep up its relationship with Deuss?

Bermuda's Mid-Ocean News, known for its investigative reporting, published a long and thoroughly readable backgrounder on Deuss a little more than two years ago. It begins this way: "Bermuda-based oil magnate and Bermuda Commercial Bank chairman John Deuss, 60, has lived a life that is remarkable even among the rich and famous.

"Since his first car dealership business went bust, he has outwitted the Soviets, broken an oil embargo in South Africa, had his home firebombed by anti-apartheid protesters and helped clinch the world's largest oil deal. In the process, the Dutchman has made billions of dollars.

"In 1998 it appeared to many that he 'bought' the new Progressive Labour Party Government in Bermuda."

It must be hard to be a politician, hewing to your party's line and behaving as politicians feel a leader ought to behave, yet still retain that quality of vulnerability and genuineness that makes humans human. Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, seems to be one of those who can do it without effort. He has written a second book, The Audacity of Hope, reviewed here by the New York Times, which begins by stating the painfully obvious: "he is that rare politician who can actually write - and write movingly and genuinely about himself.

"His 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, written before Mr. Obama entered politics, provided a revealing, introspective account of his efforts to trace his family's tangled roots and his attempts to come to terms with his absent father, who left home when he was still a toddler. That book did an evocative job of conjuring the author's multicultural childhood: his father was from Kenya, his mother was from Kansas, and the young Mr. Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia...

"Mr. Obama's new book, The Audacity of Hope - the phrase comes from his 2004 Democratic Convention keynote address, which made him the party's rising young hope - is much more of a political document. Portions of the volume read like outtakes from a stump speech, and the bulk of it is devoted to laying out Mr. Obama's policy positions on a host of issues, from education to health care to the war in Iraq."

Sounds like the makings of a bid to be the first black President to me.

As he probably expected, Jack Straw's remarks about the anti-social nature of the veiled clothing some Muslim women wear have sparked an interesting debate in Britain. It seems to be having the effect of making Muslim society more three-dimensional than it was before. In the Guardian this morning, Muslim journalist Zaiba Malik, who had never worn the niqab (it's not required by Islam), decided to give it a try, and was shocked by the experience. At the National Portrait Gallery, she writes, "I suppose I was half expecting the cultured crowd to be too polite to stare. But I might as well be one of the exhibits. As I float from room to room, like some apparition, I ask myself if wearing orthodox garments forces me to adopt more orthodox views. I look at paintings of Queen Anne and Mary II. They are in extravagant ermines and taffetas and their ample bosoms are on display. I look at David Hockney's famous painting of Celia Birtwell, who is modestly dressed from head to toe. And all I can think is that if all women wore the niqab how sad and strange this place would be. I cannot even bear to look at my own shadow. Vain as it may sound, I miss seeing my own face, my own shape. I miss myself. Yet at the same time I feel completely naked."

Member of Parliament Denis McShane puts his shoulder to the wheel in this Telegraph article: "Islamist politics is now one of the most important issues for the future of democracy. Getting the right answers will define the world's future. All main parties, other than the odious BNP, rightly shun Islamophobia. British Muslims will be welcome at Eid parties in the Commons to celebrate the end of Ramadan. But we have to find answers to calls for censorship, to celebrations of jihadist terror, or a religiously ordained world view that denies equal rights for women or gays here and in Afghanistan."

It's nice to see, via the New York Times, that South America hasn't lost its ability to reason, after all. "Rafael Correa, the charismatic economist who garnered a surprisingly weak showing Sunday in the first round of voting for president, finds himself in a situation that has plagued leftists in other Latin American elections this year: defending his ties to President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

"Alvaro Noboa, a conservative banking and banana magnate, surged ahead by attacking Mr. Correa's admiration for Mr. Chavez and his advocacy of nationalistic economic proposals that seemed inspired by Mr. Chavez's policies. The two candidates are expected to compete in a runoff election on Nov. 26...The unexpected results in the election here, meanwhile, point to growing unease in some parts of Latin America with political projects whose ambitions coincide too closely with those of Mr. Chávez."

16 October 2006

There's no question that Israel has fallen into a post-war depression unlike any the country has suffered. Its much-vaunted Defence Force failed to win a war for the first time, its colourless leaders have been attacked for failing to lead properly at a time of crisis, its president is accused of rape and fraud...the list goes on. Author and columnist Hillel Halkin, who lives in Israel, says in Commentary magazine that Israel is emerging into a new reality. "Post-post-Zionism...could reverse post-Zionism's disenchanted appraisal of Zionism and come to view the latter for what it was: a culminating moment in Jewish history and one to be supremely proud of, without which the Jewish future would have ceased to be of any interest. It could make the case that Jewish nationhood and all that is implied by it -a small people's will to live, its determination to transmit its heritage, its upholding of the institutions of family and child-bearing that are necessary for such an enterprise - have significance not only for Jews. And it could, one hopes, stick by Zionism's ambition of making the Jews at home in the world. When all is said and done, there is no reason for them to be more abnormal than anyone else."

New York Sun staffer Seth Lipsky writes about a man he describes as "a Hebrew Huck Finn" - reporter Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg has just published a memoir, Prisoners: A Muslim & a Jew Across the Middle East Divide.

Lipsky writes that since the first time he met Goldberg, he has "emerged at the New York Times magazine and then the New Yorker, where he is now the Washington correspondent, as one of the finest journalists of his generation. He hired anti-aircraft gunners to escort him into Kurdistan, whence he filed the dispatch that Vice President Cheney held up on television to underscore the case for invading Iraq. Alone, by car and on foot, he nosed around the most dangerous of the Hezbollah-occupied zones in Lebanon. A dispatch he sent the Times from Africa so impressed the chairman of Dow Jones & Company, Peter Kann, himself a Pulitzer-prize winning foreign correspondent and master stylist, that he telephoned me to ask, 'Who is this guy?'"

It was the Observer which broke the story of multi-millionaire John Deuss's sanctions-busting supply of oil to South Africa back in 1984, so I guess it should be no surprise that its sister-newspaper, the Guardian, should want to keep tabs on the new scandal in which he is involved. He was arrested late on Friday here in Bermuda, where he has lived for many years, on an international warrant alleging he had been involved in a very modern crime - carousel fraud. This is committed when an individual or a company imports something and sells it on at a price that includes VAT, but then fails to pay the VAT to the Government to which it is owed. British Customs officials had discovered that every individual arrested and charged with the fraud in the UK in the previous two years had an account at the First Curacao International Bank (FCIB), which Deuss owns. Since raiding its headquarters and freezing its assets, investigators have discovered that about 2,500 British citizens suspected of carousel fraud hold accounts there.

"While Mr Deuss is not accused of being engaged in carousel fraud," the Guardian says, "he is wanted for questioning over accusations that some of FCIB's clients used the bank to launder the proceeds of their crimes."

It is a particularly interesting case in Bermuda, because Deuss is said to be the biggest financial backer of the Progressive Labour Party, which has been in power here since 1998. The PLP has itself been accused of shady business behaviour, but has insisted that as long as politicians do not stray into criminal behaviour, there can be no reason to suggest they might have behaved unethically.

A liquid that seals open wounds in seconds? It's a discovery that promises to mean as much for humanity as penicillin. The BBC covers the story.

15 October 2006

Back then, liberal newspapers like the Los Angeles Times didn't think much of the notion of a Republican Governator in office in Callyfornia. But this is now, and the Times has changed its tune. "After his historic election in the 2003 recall, followed by some early promise and a disappointing sophomore year, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a solid, pragmatic governor who has steered a moderate course for California. He deserves a sequel.

"In the last year, the Republican has formed relationships with legislative leaders that focused the usually fractious and often obstructive Democrats on a productive agenda. Together, they have given Californians a historic law to combat global warming, a prescription drug plan and a reasonable increase in the minimum wage. If he is reelected, the governor says, 'we're going to continue in a bipartisan way...'"

"The Times endorses Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor."

Arrogance and hypocrisy are sisters, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by this Telegraph piece: "The BBC has spent thousands of pounds of licence payers' money trying to block the release of a report which is believed to be highly critical of its Middle East coverage.

"The corporation is mounting a landmark High Court action to prevent the release of The Balen Report under the Freedom of Information Act, despite the fact that BBC reporters often use the Act to pursue their journalism. The action will increase suspicions that the report, which is believed to run to 20,000 words, includes evidence of anti-Israeli bias in news programming."

Robotry (I know, but it ought to be) moves inexorably forward. The Globe and Mail reports on Dr. Ishiguro's double. "Last June, Dr. Ishiguro's assistants pulled back a curtain before a handful of journalists to reveal an android that looked exactly like him, down to his oversized glasses and penchant for black clothing. It was sitting casually in a chair, one foot bobbing away, its eyes blinking and shoulders fidgeting in utterly human fashion. It slowly looked around the room before introducing itself in very polite Japanese.

"Dr. Ishiguro's robot twin is called Geminoid, and it's not just a jaw-dropping gimmick with lifelike twitches. 'The idea is tele-interaction,' its creator says. 'If I access the android through the Internet, I do not need to go to ATR any more.'

"Geminoid is actually an extremely sophisticated puppet. Dr. Ishiguro can remote-control it, Wizard of Oz-style, using a motion-capture system that transmits his upper-body and lip movements to 46 air actuators."

The person calling the shots in Hamas is not Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh or any other local leader in the West Bank or Gaza. It's the exiled Khaled Mashaal, the hard-line ideologue sheltered by Syria and funded by Iran. The Boston Herald says that Mashaal, speaking at a news conference in Damascus on Thursday, many miles from the chaos in Gaza, "Mashaal said again that Hamas will not recognize Israel."

In Gaza, reports the Toronto Globe and Mail, it's hard to survive. "The Gaza Strip is less a political entity now than a vast underworld slum, with each street controlled by a different faction or family.

"Mr. Kafarneh can't go to nearby Gaza City, he says, because the Kafarnehs, who are based in Beit Hanoun, are locked in a bloody honour feud with the Dugmash clan of Gaza City. Three Dugmashes have been killed so far in the fighting and the Kafarnehs are braced for the inevitable revenge-taking.

"'Because of this problem with the Dugmash family, I cannot leave my house,' Mr. Kafarneh says, sitting in a smoky, unlit room while his brother and son guard the door with Kalashnikov assault rifles. 'I cannot go to Gaza alone. I could only go with my weapons, six or seven of us together, armed with Kalashnikovs and [rocket-propelled grenades].'"

And in the future? More of the same, DEBKAfile thinks: "The military pacts Palestinian Hamas interior minister Said Siyam signed with his Iranian counterpart Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi in Tehran on Oct. 12 are designed to transform Hamas's military wing, the Ezz e-Din al Qassam, into a crack operational arm of the Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and Gaza into a second Lebanon.

"Syam was in Tehran for two days at the head of a 7-man delegation.

"DEBKAfile's Iranian sources report Tehran has committed to training Hamas's rapid deployment force of 6,500 men in Hizballah combat tactics, with the accent on missiles, especially the anti-tank variety which were used with devastating effect against Israeli tanks in the Lebanon War. The force will be sent over in batches for six-week courses at Revolutionary Guards installations in southern Iran. Iran will foot the $60 million bill for the training as well as for the top-notch weaponry."

The end was a lot quieter than the beginning: The Globe and Mail reports that "Dozens of Muslim scholars and chief muftis from numerous countries have accepted Pope Benedict XVI's statement of regret for his remarks on Islam and violence, the editor of a Muslim journal said Friday.

"The scholars have signed an open letter that will be delivered to a Vatican envoy in the hopes of engaging the pope in a dialogue to counter prejudice against Islam, said the Jordanian-based editor of Islamica Magazine, Sohail Nakhooda.

"Mr. Nakhooda said the leading clerics behind the letter were Sheik Habib Ali of the Taba Institute in the United Arab Emirates and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, the special adviser to Jordan's King Abdullah II."


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

Article Archive

2003 Index


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