...Views from mid-Atlantic
04 November 2006

This is a bit of a ponderous National Review piece, but it's worth boring down to this anecdote: "In an obituary that ran in November of 2003, the Times's Douglas Martin, a longtime metro-beat vet, reported that a prominent Harlem photographer had a twin brother to whom he was so close that when the brother died of testicular cancer in 1993, the photographer had his own testicles removed in solidarity with his sibling. An ensuing correction acknowledged, however, that the first brother had died of prostate cancer and, in fact, the photographer had not had his testicles removed in response. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz called it the Correction of the Month."

One of Europe's leading road engineers (a man who has obviously never visited New York City), says most traffic lights should be torn up as they make roads less safe, according to the Telegraph in London. Hans Monderman, a traffic planner involved in a Brussels-backed project known as Shared Space, said that taking lights away helped motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to co-exist more happily and safely.

"Residents of the northern Dutch town of Drachten have already been used as guinea-pigs in an experiment which has seen nearly all the traffic lights stripped from their streets. Only three of the 15 sets in the town of 50,000 remain and they will be gone within a couple of years.

"The project is the brainchild of Mr Monderman, and the town has seen some remarkable results. There used to be a road death every three years but there have been none since the traffic light removal started seven years ago. There have been a few small collisions, but these are almost to be encouraged, Mr Monderman explained. 'We want small accidents, in order to prevent serious ones in which people get hurt,' he said yesterday."

After years of an online presence about as careless and haphazard as online presences get, Bermuda's daily paper has begun to push subscriptions to an electronic version. As nearly as one can make out, the company is intending to keep on with its free web pages - and presumably their catch-as-catch-can presentation - but sell the electronic version on the basis that it is an exact copy of the paper, ads and all. Bermudians, especially those involved with international business, travel a lot, so this idea does fill a need. As long as the organisation can deliver the product on time and bug free, it should increase its revenue. But it is going to be a modest, short-term success, I think, which will cost the paper in the longer term, because the rest of the newspaper world is going in a different direction, and at some stage the Royal Gazette will have to catch up.

Most newspapers understand that their readers are in a state of transition from print to net that will last for years, and most of them are content to use their print operations to subsidise their net operations as they develop the relatively new science of electronic newspapers. New science though it may be, it is old enough to have thrown up at least one clear rule - print and net require substantially different techniques.

Frances Stead Sellers is one of the editors of the Washington Post. In the current version of American Journalism Review, she asks whether American newspapers can learn lessons from what UK newspapers are doing. One of those she talks to is Alan Rusbridge, the editor of the Guardian, who I think has the clearest view of what he is doing.

"These days," Sellers writes, "he is in the business of selling news rather than newspapers, and he is experimenting with doing so not only in print, but online, on podcasts, on mobile phones - indeed, on whatever technology looks as if it may ultimately make commercial sense. The paper has a circulation of some 380,000, but its Web site, Guardian Unlimited, which won the international Webby Award for the best newspaper site this year, has more than 13 million unique visitors each month and has begun making a modest but real seven-figure profit.

"Rusbridger sees Kelner's viewspaper (Simon Kelner, editor of the Independent) as reneging on journalism's most fundamental responsibilities. 'Anyone can do views,' he says. 'Anybody can strike postures. Only we can do news.' And he has opened a lively debate here about journalistic values in general and about the Guardian's values in particular, which are published in a booklet titled Living our Values: Social ethical and environmental audit 2005 that is posted online and displayed in the newspaper's lobby where visitors can't miss it.

"If all this sounds self-consciously virtuous (and a trifle hypocritical from a newspaper whose notoriously smart-aleck features section tried to influence the 2004 US presidential election by encouraging independent voters in one swing county to support Democratic hopeful John Kerry), there is no mistaking the business strategy behind it. While he shies away from the term 'newspaper of record', Rusbridger explains that his goal for the Guardian is to win readers the old-fashioned way, by providing trustworthy, well-reported news along with smart comment and analysis. And the louder the other dailies shout, he says, the more opportunity there is for the Guardian to distinguish itself by lowering its voice.

"He sketches a diagram to illustrate his point. It shows the Guardian's chief competitors - the Independent and the Times - moving downmarket and further to the political extremes, leaving a space for the Guardian to fill by moving up and to the center, shedding its reputation as the leftist paper 'for the muesli-eating, sandal-wearing, public-sector employed set' while remaining 'liberal, progressive [and] internationalist'. He's committed to coverage that will continue to reflect the paper's traditional left-of-center, environmentally conscious values, but wants to present it in a way that won't alienate conservative readers; he's aiming for a kind of honesty that reflects both sides of a given debate but hinges on readers knowing where the paper is coming from."

03 November 2006

Forbes.com quotes a senior UN official, a day after a senior UN official was indicted on bribery charges, as having said an investigation into corruption at Turtle Bay was 'at full throttle'.

"'The dominoes are beginning to fall,' undersecretary-general for management Christopher Burnham told the Associated Press. 'Anyone with information about corruption anywhere in the UN needs to come forward now before the dominoes reach them,' he added. Burnham, who has been instrumental in pressing investigations into corruption especially in UN procurement activities, said the corruption probe goes beyond the procurement department.

"'This investigation is as serious as a heart attack and is at full throttle,' he said."


Stanley Crouch has always been a bit of an intellectual wild man, but he loses me completely with this New York Daily News column in which he says Barack Obama isn't black enough to be considered properly black: "Obama is being greeted with the same kind of public affection that Colin Powell had when he seemed ready to knock Bill Clinton out of the Oval Office. For many reasons, most of them personal, Powell did not become the first black American to be a serious presidential contender.

"I doubt Obama will share Powell's fate, but if he throws his hat in the ring, he will have to run as the son of a white woman and an African immigrant. If we then end up with him as our first black President, he will have come into the White House through a side door - which might, at this point, be the only one that's open."

John Keegan, who writes on military matters for the Telegraph on that side of the Atlantic (and, today, simultaneously for the New York Sun), says: "There will soon be another war in the Middle East, this time a renewal of the conflict between the Israel Defence Force and Hizbollah. The conflict is inevitable and unavoidable. It will come about because Israel cannot tolerate the rebuilding of Hizbollah's fortified zone in south Lebanon, from which last year it launched its missile bombardment of northern Israel.

"Hizbollah has now reconstructed the fortified zone and is replenishing its stocks of missiles there. Hamas is also creating a fortified zone in the Gaza Strip and building up its stocks of missiles. Israel, therefore, faces missile attack on two fronts. When the Israel general staff decides the threat has become intolerable, it will strike.

"What happened in south Lebanon earlier this year has been widely misunderstood, largely because the anti-Israel bias in the international media led to the situation being misreported as an Israeli defeat. It was no such thing. It was certainly an Israeli setback, but the idea that the IDF had suddenly lost its historic superiority over its Arab enemies and that they had acquired military qualities that had hitherto eluded them was quite false. Hizbollah suffered heavy losses in the fighting, perhaps as many as 1,000 killed out of its strength of up to 5,000 and it is only just now recovering.

"What allowed Hizbollah to appear successful was its occupation of the bunker-and-tunnel system that it had constructed since June 2000, when the IDF gave up its presence in south Lebanon, which it had occupied since 1982."

Hizbollah had plenty of help from Israel. There was the civilian prime minister who wasn't taking advice. There was a Defence Minister whose experience of tactics was learned on the field of labour battles. And now we learn of the back room boys in Israel's intelligence services who had obviously risen to ranks well above their ability to function sensibly. Haaretz tells that story: "Senior Northern Command and Division 91 officers were not privy to essential intelligence information regarding Hezbollah's deployment prior to the second Lebanon War.

"The intelligence, which was available to the Israel Defense Forces, included accurate information about the locations of Hezbollah bunkers and positions, as well as the internal structure of such positions. The officers were aware that such information existed, but were prevented by the Intelligence Directorate's Committee on Source Security, claiming that the information was secret. Military Intelligence decided that the information would only be made available in the event of a war.

"Officers' demands to gain access to information on routine security preparations that could counter Hezbollah raids inside the border fence were also rejected, and led to repeated and heated arguments among various units."

I don't know how long her ruling will stick, but a Spanish judge named Paz Aldecoa has struck a blow for common sense this week, by ruling that a person who downloads music for personal use could not be punished or branded a criminal under Spanish law. The Guardian quotes her as having said: "That would imply criminalising socially admitted and widely practised behaviour where the aim is not to gain wealth illegally but to obtain private copies."

"'If the purpose of the copy is not to gain wealth there is no way that it can be considered illegal,' Victor Domingo, head of the Spanish internet user's association, Internautas, told the ABC newspaper yesterday. 'It would be a lot different if someone downloaded in order to sell on.'"

I've never quite been sure about William Styron...he was a talented writer, for sure, but he seemed to me just a little too slick to be taken entirely seriously. I confess, though, that my reading of him was highly coloured by an early book called Set This House on Fire, which I thought was self-indulgent and trivial.

The very talented Michicko Kakutani of the New York Times is younger than I am, and better able to see Styron's work as a whole, without prejudice. In this New York Times piece she says "At a time when many of his contemporaries were documenting the domestic travails of middle-class suburban life, or excavating the geological layers of their own psyches, William Styron - who died of pneumonia Wednesday at 81 - was boldly tackling the big, unwieldy themes of crime and punishment and redemption, and creating big-boned dramatic narratives set against the great conflagrations of history: slavery in The Confessions of Nat Turner and the Nazi death camps in Sophie's Choice."

Thanks for the nudge, Brenda.

02 November 2006

A UN official at the center of the Turtle Bay procurement scandals, Sanjaya Bahel, was arrested yesterday in New York by federal authorities on charges of misconduct, according to the New York Sun. "Bahel is accused of using his position at the procurement department to benefit two companies, including the Indian government-owned Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd. He is expected to be arraigned today in federal court. A representative of the two companies, Nishahn Kohli, was also arrested yesterday in Miami.

"Bahel, 55, 'allegedly sold his influence as a UN procurement official,' the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael Garcia, said in a statement. 'He favored Nishahn Kohli's companies in obtaining and maintaining valuable UN contracts, and he personally profited as a result.' According to the federal indictment, Bahel granted special access to Kohli's companies, allowing him to secure UN contracts worth more than $50 million for TCIL and $12 million for the other company he represented, Thunderbird. In return, Bahel received a Midtown condominium owned by Kohli, which Bahel's family first rented at a discount, then later purchased for a price 'substantially below' its market value."

Writing in the Wall Street Journal this morning, Bjorn Lomborg says that English report on the cost of climate change, written by the British economist, Sir Nicholas Stern, is faulty.

"The report on climate change by Nicholas Stern and the UK government has sparked publicity and scary headlines around the world. Much attention has been devoted to Mr. Stern's core argument that the price of inaction would be extraordinary and the cost of action modest.

"Unfortunately, this claim falls apart when one actually reads the 700-page tome. Despite using many good references, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is selective and its conclusion flawed. Its fear-mongering arguments have been sensationalized, which is ultimately only likely to make the world worse off.

"The review correctly points out that climate change is a real problem, and that it is caused by human greenhouse-gas emissions. Little else is right, however, and the report seems hastily put-together, with many sloppy errors...The review is also one-sided, focusing almost exclusively on carbon-emission cuts as the solution to the problem of climate change. Mr. Stern sees increasing hurricane damage in the U.S. as a powerful argument for carbon controls. However, hurricane damage is increasing predominantly because there are more people with more goods to be damaged, settling in ever more risky habitats. Even if global warming does significantly increase the power of hurricanes, it is estimated that 95% to 98% of the increased damage will be due to demographics. The review acknowledges that simple initiatives like bracing and securing roof trusses and walls can cheaply reduce damage by more than 80%; yet its policy recommendations on expensive carbon reductions promise to cut the damages by 1% to 2% at best. That is a bad deal."

Want to know why bees are such law-abiding creatures? The Telegraph reports that scientists have found that "the insect groups with the most effective policing - the killing of worker-laid eggs by other workers or the mother queen - had the lowest proportion of workers laying eggs. Prof Francis Ratnieks, of the Laboratory of Entomology at the University of Leuven in Belgium, whose work is published today in the journal Nature, said: 'Our results show that in modern-day insect societies it is mainly social sanctions that reduce the numbers of workers that act selfishly. They provide evidence for something that has proved notoriously hard to demonstrate in human society: that better law enforcement can lead to fewer individuals acting antisocially.'"

Since I posted yesterday about the inappropriateness of his remark, I should note today that John Kerry apologised for implying that US troops in Iraq are stupid - the New York Times reports that he said: "I personally apologize to any service member, family member or American who was offended." That's pretty clear, and marks a change from the way he dealt with similar controversy two years ago, so maybe he's getting better at politics.

Speaking of knuckle-draggers, a Moroccan man has won first prize in an Iranian contest for the best cartoon about the Holocaust. Haaretz reports that the exhibit's curator said the contest would be an annual event. "Actually, we will continue until the destruction of Israel," he said.

01 November 2006

It was because John Kerry behaved like a pompous, self-destructive jackass two years ago that George Bush had such an easy time of reelection. And he seems determined to repeat the performance this time around. The Washington Times gets its boot in: "When you get right down to it, the thoughtless foot-in-mouth disease of Sen John Kerry is a strain unique to him. The senator gives elitism a bad name.

"'Education', Mr. Kerry told a rally this week for Phil Angelides, the Democratic candidate for governor of California, 'if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.'

"In a press conference to explain himself yesterday, Mr. Kerry rejected calls by the White House and Sen John McCain to apologize to the American soldiers in Iraq. Instead, he repeated his litany of criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the war, accusing Republicans of a political trick to exploit his remarks. He called his remarks 'a botched joke'. Some joke. Some botch.

"We have news for Mr. Kerry, beyond conveying our assessment that this arrogant, incredibly elitist and defeatist and altogether reprehensible statement reminds us why he isn't president and never will be: Patriotism and selflessness are why young Americans readily put themselves in harm's way for their country's sake. This C student is just plain wrong on the facts."


The American commentariat seems to know no other subject this week than the upcoming mid-term elections. I've been avoiding it, because it's a sort of treacly bog of a story. I'm linking to this story in the Wall Street Journal, however, because in the wake of an internal ruling party election in Bermuda last week, I've been thinking about the important role personality plays in black politics. This seems to me to be what is at work in Maryland, although the Republican Journal claims that it is as a result of the Democrats' "far from stellar' record in the state.

The Journal says: "This week Maryland Republican Michael Steele won a surprising set of endorsements. Five black Democrats on the Prince George's County Council now support Mr. Steele for US Senate. They join a growing list of prominent African-Americans, including recording artist Russell Simmons, who are backing the GOP's candidate in a strongly Democratic state.

"What's happening in Maryland could have broader implications for both parties nationwide. Mr. Steele, who is black, is running a hard-charging campaign that is forcing the Democratic Party to confront its record on serving the black community. And the party's record is far from stellar. The updraft Mr. Steele is now feeling - he trails Democrat Ben Cardin, but remains within striking distance - is pent up frustration African-Americans feel toward their elected officials. And that updraft could put Mr. Steel over the top."

Several newspapers are reporting this morning that an unpublished sonnet that Sylvia Plath wrote while she was a college student has been discovered, and is to be published on the net today. One of them, the Toronto Globe and Mail, says it was written while Plath was "pondering themes in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby." It's called Ennui, and was written in Plath's senior year, and was discovered in the archives of Indiana University by Anna Journey, a graduate student in creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth University.

It's to be published sometime today at this site - Blackbird, a literary magazine which is a joint venture of the Department of English at Journey's alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, and New Virginia Review, Inc. It's a nice little magazine. I didn't have the time to read exhaustively, but I did enjoy this piece, called Red Guitar No. 2: Larkin's Eggs, written by poet Ron Smith, which is about using poetry to dull the sharp edges of 9/11.

31 October 2006

Scooter Libby's trial isn't until January of next year, but pre-trial legal manoeuvring is in full swing. The New York Sun reports this morning that: "Prosecutors are asking a federal judge to preclude lawyers for a former White House aide facing trial for lying and obstruction of justice, I. Lewis Libby, from telling jurors that the government failed to charge Mr. Libby or anyone else in connection with the event that triggered the probe, the disclosure of the identity of a veteran CIA officer in 2003.

"Meanwhile, defense attorneys are seeking to prevent jurors from learning about any damage caused by the leak about the CIA operative, Valerie Plame. The defense also wants to keep the jury in the dark about the 85-day incarceration of a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, after she was cited for contempt for refusing to testify about her contacts with Mr. Libby, who was then chief of staff to Vice President Cheney.

"The legal maneuvering came as the two sides faced a deadline yesterday to file motions aimed at restricting evidence or arguments to be presented at Mr. Libby's trial, which is set for January."

Israel Air Force warplanes flew at low altitude over Beirut, its southern suburbs and large areas of south Lebanon today. Haaretz notes that the flights are a violation of the Security Council Resolution that ended the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in August. No one from the Israeli military has so far tried to explain to the press what the point was, but a good guess is that it is pure frustration about Hezbollah's rapid and unchecked rearming.

The Telegraph is reporting in London this morning that the rearming is going on under the noses of the UN peacekeeping force: "...The Shia group is rearming and rebuilding tunnels and trenches destroyed by the Israeli army during this summer's 34-day war. Locals in Bint Jbeil, a town which saw fierce fighting, told yesterday how Hizbollah was using the major reconstruction efforts to rebuild their security infrastructure.

"'They are working extremely fast,' said one, who did not want to be named. 'Militants in Shia strongholds have interconnected tunnels and bunkers under their houses. These are being rebuilt under cover of the reconstruction work.' He said cables and telecommunications equipment had been installed and the number of trucks delivering aid and supplies made it easy to disguise weapons smuggling."

Beirut's Shiite Dahya district, two months after its military centers were flattened in the Lebanon war, is now a closed military zone where entry is closely guarded by Hizballah operatives.

In New York, the New York Sun is reporting that John Bolton is alleging that "Lebanese politicians, fearing Syrian retaliation, have failed to disclose information about the illegal flow of arms to Hezbollah."

"Bolton spoke to reporters yesterday after a closed-door UN Security Council briefing on the implementation of UN resolutions on Lebanon, which call for an arms embargo on all Lebanese militias. Lebanese politicians, as well as the new European-led UN Interim Force in Lebanon, have been hesitant to confront Hezbollah and prevent from being rearmed.

"Defense Minister Amir Peretz of Israel said last week that the flow of arms to the Islamist terrorist group has intensified recently, but Secretary-General Annan's special envoy to oversee the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, Terje Roed-Larsen, told the council yesterday that he could not say whether more weapons have been smuggled to Hezbollah." What else would he say?

His Dark Materials is a trilogy of fantasies written by the British author Philip Pullman. If you were a journalist looking to make a facile comparison, not caring about the trivialising effect you're having, you'd say that the series is deeper than Harry Potter and Star Wars, but not as deep as the Lord of the Rings.

If you were a book collector, you'd say this is highly collectible stuff, purchase of the first editions being most certainly of that order that requires bank loans, assuming you can find the damned things, which are as rare as Maltese falcons.

Anyway, the point of all this is that the first of the trilogy, The Golden Compass, (it was called that for the American market...its real name is Northern Lights) is now being filmed in Britain, as the London Times is reporting in a piece that reads suspiciously as if it were written by a studio flack: "It has had three directors and two screenwriters, and taken four years to get off the ground, but His Dark Materials, the eagerly awaited fantasy film based on the book trilogy by Philip Pullman, is finally being made.

"Fans of the books were offered the proof yesterday, when Hollywood released the first still from The Golden Compass, the first of the films based on the bestselling books.

"The shoot is due to continue in Britain until the end of January, and the film is not likely to open before December next year, but the still gives fans the first glimpse of Nicole Kidman, the Oscar-winning actress, as the glamorous but manipulative Mrs Coulter, and Dakota Blue Richards, a 12-year-old unknown from Sussex, as Lyra Belacqua, the fiercely independent heroine of the books."

It's Hallowe'en tonight...get yourself in the mood by taking this suitably silly Guardian quiz. It's multiple choice, so you can guess your way through it. I got six out of ten...one of my failures was guessing where real vampires assembly on this evening. Give you a clue...it's not a pub in Camden.

30 October 2006

Sorry about this. Blogger has been having severe problems publishing blogs for a couple of days, now. They say they've fixed it. That isn't the truth, but it's Blogger's way of dealing with problems.

Of the three outstanding gentlemen who are the authors of this fine New York Times commentary, you may know least about Kjell Magne Bondevik. He is a Norwegian Lutheran minister, Norway's longest-serving Prime Minister since World War II and currently the President of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights. The other two are Vaclav Havel and Elie Wiesel, who I'm sure need no introduction.

The trio are warning that "While the focus in recent weeks has been on North Korea's nuclear test, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the government there is also responsible for one of the most egregious human-rights and humanitarian disasters in the world today.

"For more than a decade, many in the international community have argued that to focus on the suffering of the North Korean people would risk driving the country away from discussions over its nuclear program.

"But with his recent actions, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, has shown that this approach neither stopped the development of his nuclear program nor helped North Koreans. It is time, therefore, for a renewed international effort to ameliorate the crisis facing the country's citizens."

They're reminding us that among other things, "North Korea allowed perhaps one million - and possibly many more - of its own citizens to die during the famine in the 1990s."

Nice when a newspaper knows what it wants to say, and gets on with it. This is the Telegraph, on the subject of John Prescott: "...There is no way of putting this kindly - the man is a belligerent oaf who embarrasses us whenever he represents us. He should go, not for this slip-up, but because, in his limpet-like attachment to office and refusal to take responsibility for his mistakes, he embodies the worst characteristics of this ministry."

Britgirl has pulled me up for missing this Guardian piece about the woman for whom Ted Hughes left Sylvia Plath. Her name is Assia Wevill, born Gutman. Like Plath, she committed suicide.

She is the subject of Dreamers, one of the poems in The Birthday Letters.

Who was this Lilith of abortions
Touching the hair of your children
With tiger-painted nails?
She sat there in her soot-wet mascara,
In flame-orange silks, in gold bracelets,
Slightly filthy with erotic mystery -
A German
Russian Israeli with the gaze of a demon
Between curtains of black Mongolian hair.

The Birthday Letters are addressed to Plath, and as the author of this piece, Peter Porter, who is also a poet, a contemporary of Hughes and Plath, points out, "That Hughes should use one suicidal woman to excuse himself to another is extraordinary."

Britgirl is right, I did miss Porter's review, but in truth I think that if I had seen it, I might have ignored it, because I recoil from the subject. Sylvia Plath's suicide is the Bermuda Triangle of poetry, a tragic event which seems to have the power to pull people who were concerned with it, or who now concern themselves with it, down into a kind of pit of negativity. If you read this review, you'll see that Peter Porter is no exception.

Porter is reviewing a new book called A Lover of Unreason, written about Assia by two Israelis, Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev. Porter comments that "Nothing that puts Hughes in a poor light is not supported by his own words. Assia's most scarifying observations are directed at herself; their agony is a via dolorosa of love's exchanges with revulsion."

Nuff said.

It's a tossup whether this article belongs on the art pages, or the travel pages, but it is fascinating, nonetheless. To celebrate the Guardian's new arts blog, critic Jonathan Jones lists the 20 masterpieces you should see in situ before you die.

A scholar translating verse from Latin to English is not the likeliest of political figures, but then, in an interview with the New York Times, anything's possible. Robert Fagles' translation of The Aeneid into English is being published this week. "'I usually try not to ride the horse of relevance very hard,' Mr. Fagles said recently at his home near Princeton University, from which he recently retired, after teaching comparative literature for more than 40 years. 'My feeling is that if something is timeless, then it will also be timely.' But he went on to say that The Aeneid did speak to the contemporary situation. It's a poem about empire, he explained, and was commissioned by the emperor Augustus to celebrate the spread of Roman civilization.

"'To begin with, it's a cautionary tale,' Mr. Fagles said. 'About the terrible ills that attend empire - its war-making capacity, the loss of blood and treasure both. But it's all done in the name of the rule of law, which you'd have a hard time ascribing to what we're doing in the Middle East today.

"'It's also a tale of exhortation. It says that if you depart from the civilized, then you become a murderer. The price of empire is very steep, but Virgil shows how it is to be earned, if it's to be earned at all. The poem can be read as an exhortation for us to behave ourselves, which is a horse of relevance that ought to be ridden.'

"The publication of this Aeneid is the end of an epic journey of sorts for Mr. Fagles, now 73, who before turning to Virgil translated first The Iliad and then The Odyssey. He is one of very few translators to make it through all three of the great classical epics, and to his surprise, he has become famous in the process. Both his Iliad, which came out in 1990, and his Odyssey, appearing in 1996, were unexpected best sellers, and his publisher has similar expectations for The Aeneid, in bookstores on Thursday."

Fagles' are the best translations of the Odyssey and the Iliad. His spare and accessible English gives them an elegance that no one else seems to have been able to achieve.

29 October 2006

I'm not sure that Theodore Dalrymple and Victor Davis Hansen were whittled from the same block of wood, but they're giving voice to related concerns about the effects of radical Islam on Western society. In City Journal, Dalrymple has written a thoroughly skilful and intelligent review of a new book by the writer Ian Buruma: "Ian Buruma seems uniquely placed to explain the Dutch situation to the rest of the world. He is a prolific writer who lived the first half of his life in Holland. Completely fluent in Dutch, he knows his country's history but has also lived in many other nations and therefore can see his own with an outsider's, as well as an insider's, eye. Above all, he focuses on the influence of recent history, and how it is taught and remembered, upon present politics. For example, he wrote a book comparing the ways in which Germany and Japan (both of whose languages he speaks) have dealt with their war records."

Buruma's book is called Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance, and has been available in the US for a couple of months. "Buruma does not disguise from us the unattractive side of a modern and extremely liberal western society such as Holland’s. Returning to live a few months in Amsterdam, he stays in a house in the famous, or infamous, red-light district:

The virtually naked 'window prostitutes', from all the poor countries in the world, pose in their dimly lit rooms along the canal, in old houses decorated with gracefully carved seventeenth- and eighteenth-century gables and neon signs offering live sex shows. It is easier in that part of town to buy a large electric dildo than a newspaper.

"This is not attractive, to say the least; and it is hardly surprising that some reflective young men, with the normal frustrations of youth as well as the difficulties of being not fully at ease in either society, Dutch or Moroccan, turn to a doctrine that seems to them to solve all social and personal problems at once and gives them besides a powerful sense of mission and purpose.

"Buruma is quite clear about the absurdity of Islamism as a doctrine. Its intellectual nullity is patent. He lets Islamists and their sympathizers speak for themselves, and perhaps the most startling moment comes when one of his interlocutors, by no means the most stupid, objects to the slaying of Van Gogh because it was done during Ramadan."

Hansen is being rather more direct about Islam. In the Washington Times, he writes: "The most frightening aspect of the present war is how easily our premodern enemies from the Middle East have brought a stunned postmodern world back into the Dark Ages.

"Students of history are sickened when they read of the long-ago, gruesome practice of beheading. How brutal were those societies that chopped off the heads of Cicero, Sir Thomas More and Marie Antoinette. And how lucky we thought we were to have evolved from such elemental barbarity.

"Twenty-four hundred years ago, Socrates was executed for unpopular speech. The 18th-century European Enlightenment gave people freedom to express views formerly censored by clerics and the state. Just imagine what life was like once upon a time when no one could write music, compose fiction or paint without court or church approval?

"Over 400 years before the birth of Christ, ancient Greek literary characters, from Lysistrata to Antigone, reflected the struggle for sexual equality. The subsequent notion that women could vote, divorce, dress or marry as they pleased was a millennia-long struggle. The astonishing fact is not just that millions of women worldwide in 2006 are still veiled from head-to-toe, trapped in arranged marriages, subject to polygamy, honor killings and forced circumcision, or lack the right to vote or appear alone in public. What is more baffling is that in the West, liberal Europeans are often wary of protecting female citizens from the excesses of Shariah law - sometimes even fearful of asking women to unveil their faces for purposes of simple identification and official conversation."

Tom Waits has a new, apparently quite important album, Orphans, coming out on both sides of the Atlantic next month (you can pre-order it through Amazon). I'm a complete sucker for Waits, both as singer and as character, so here's an Observer Magazine pieceserved up, like fresh bread, this morning: "For six albums on Asylum Records, from his aforementioned debut in 1973 to 1980's Heartattack and Vine, Waits was the gravel-voiced, beer-stained bard of the barstool, a latter-day beatnik with a bad liver and a broken heart, whose fans were few and far between, but utterly devoted. And, boy, did he pay his dues.

"'I opened for Frank Zappa, for John Prine, Martha and the Vandellas, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee,' he says now, sighing at the memory of those never-ending tours, the Godforsaken juke joints and the bounced cheques. 'I even opened for Buffalo Bob. Got to take it where you find it.'"

Also next month, Ted Hughes (I guess it must be his estate) is publishing a new book, called Selected Translations, also on both sides of the Atlantic, but not available for pre-order from Amazon, because...well, poets are mere poets. The Times Literary Supplement has published a small handful of examples, one a translation from French, one from Spanish, one from Italian and one from Portuguese. The example I'm giving is taken from a poem called The Interrupted Concert, from the Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, whose work I know quite well.

In the old inn of the village
The sad music is over
And the most ancient star
Has doused its look.

The wind has lain down in the caverns
Of the dark mountain
And a single poplar - the Pythagoras
Of the blank plain -
Lifts its hundred year old hand
And strikes the moon.

Nice...except that word "look", which is a little puzzling.

They've been working on this new weapon for years, so they had the neat historical comparisons all ready for the press: "Not since that time nearly twenty-two hundred years ago, when Archimedes reflected the sun's rays to set the Roman fleet on fire off Syracuse, has the world seen a weapon that puts fresh meaning into the phrase 'in real time'." The Reuters news agency reports: "The so-called Airborne Laser has been developed at a cost so far of about $3.5 billion with the aim of destroying, at the speed of light, all classes of ballistic missiles shortly after their launch. If successful in flight testing and deployed, it would become part of an emerging U.S. anti-missile shield that also includes land- and sea-based interceptor missiles."

But, "Philip Coyle, the Pentagon's chief weapons tester under former President Bill Clinton and now at the private Center for Defense Information, said in an e-mail reply to Reuters that its real effectiveness appeared doubtful.

"'If a laser can be developed with enough power to penetrate the atmosphere and still be lethal once it reaches a target, an enemy would only need to put a reflective coating on the outside of its missiles to bounce off the laser beam, making it harmless,' he said."


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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Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
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Aworks :: "new" american classical music
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Day by Day by Chris Muir
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