...Views from mid-Atlantic
02 December 2006

I've mentioned the New Zealand writer, Susan Mazur, before, in the context of her articles on John Deuss. I think I've said I was a little nervous about them because she seemed to write from the standpoint of a strong admiration for him, one that made me a little uncomfortable. She has published another long article about him in New Zealand's Scoop, much of which seems to have been derived from interviews with two former editors of his magazine, Chief Executive.

"The hush hush nature of the John Deuss investigation related to VAT-skimming deposits at his offshore First Curacao International Bank gives the impression that deeper politics are at play.

"And with the media having reduced Deuss to a balance sheet over the financial tangle - even the usually respectable Guardian newspaper sinking into the Big Muddy with a story attributing Deuss's childhood scars to firebombing by anti-apartheid activists - I decided to contact two former editors of Deuss's Chief Executive magazine for their perspective on the man.

"John Deuss, a Dutch national, is being held without charge in The Netherlands, voluntarily answering questions for the last month about the FCIB matter. His magazine, Chief Executive, whose first issue appeared in 1976, somewhat resembled the glossy Aramco World. And the magazine's staff shared offices in New York's fashionable Olympic Towers with Deuss's JOC Oil Company, later called Transworld Oil.

"Deuss was editor-in-chief/publisher, CEO and chairman of the board. The book reached a 'limited list of 25,000 distinguished world leaders' and some of the same people were profiled. Lavish full-page ads were dropped in from Gulf Oil, McDermott, Bell Telephone, Canadair, MedAfrica Cargo, the Arab African Intrernational Bank and Paris's Hotel George V."

Perry Henzell, the Jamaican director whose independent film The Harder They Come became a landmark cult hit that introduced reggae music to an international audience in the early 1970s, has died of cancer at the age of 70. The LA Times says Henzell died a day before the Jamaican premiere of his first feature movie in more than 30 years, No Place Like Home, at the Flashpoint Film Festival in Negril.

"The Harder They Come, which was the first Jamaican-produced feature film, starred reggae star Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe 'Ivan' Martin, a country boy who heads to Kingston, Jamaica, to seek fame as a singer. After being taken advantage of by a record producer who pays him only $20 for recording his first song, Martin turns to a life of crime in the world of marijuana dealing and winds up a cop-killing folk hero, whose notoriety ironically sends his record to the top of the Jamaican charts.

"The low-budget movie, which Henzell produced, directed and co-wrote, was known as one of the top college campus attractions of its era. It played frequently at midnight shows at theaters across the country, including running a reported six years at a theater in Cambridge, Mass.

"The soundtrack album on Island Records, which was released simultaneously with the movie, featured four songs by Cliff, along with songs by Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker and other artists. As The Harder They Come began reaching theaters in 1973, Bob Marley's breakthrough international album, Catch a Fire, was released by Island Records."

Yesterday, I posted something about the ugly behaviour of Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, towards Trevor Phillips, the British Human Rights Commission head. Livingstone objects to Phillips's unusual, thought-provoking ideas about discrimination. Today, the Independent is carrying a profile of him, which is worth reading: "Failure is not something of which anyone could accuse Trevor Phillips, who is to be the first head of the new Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, which will cover the entire range of anti-discrimination, from gender, sexual orientation, disability and other minority interests to, eventually, race.

"He was born in London, in 1953, to Guyanese parents, the last of seven children. His father was a British Railways clerk, his mother a seamstress. The family of nine lived in a two-bedroom house in Finsbury Park until Phillips' parents moved to New York in the 1960s to improve their quality of life. Considering the city an unfit place for children, they sent Trevor to a school in Guyana - an 'Edwardian' experience, he later said, of old-fashioned discipline, uniforms, detentions, tough lessons and corporal punishment. When he returned to London it was to study chemistry at Imperial College...

"Phillips entered public life as a student radical. With his big hair and beard, he presented an image of Black Panther supremacy combined with socialism. He opposed National Front marches, led sit-ins, and was elected the first black president of the National Union of Students. Among his student associates where Peter Mandelson, who went on to become the architect of New Labour, and Charles Clarke, later Education Secretary. The radical trio went to Cuba and condemned the Soviet Union as reactionary - though even then, one contemporary recalls, Phillips was a smooth operator who behind the scenes would rather seek 'consensus than conflict'."

01 December 2006

Victor Davis Hanson, writing in the National Review, tries to sketch out the new intellectual geography of US opinion on Iraq: "The new majority school of thought - often described as the more nuanced and more sophisticated - seems to conclude that the 'global war on terror' (if that's even what it ever really was) is insidiously winding down to a police matter. Billions spent in lives and treasure in Iraq did not make us any safer; the passing of time, the dissipation of passions, and increased vigilance did.

"We haven't had another 9/11. Al Qaeda is probably scattered. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are exhibiting the usual, generic Middle East insanity that is largely beyond our own powers of remedy. Rogue states in the region will ultimately be dealt with, as in the pre-Bush II past, by a sort of containment - whether through retaliatory and punitive air strikes, foreign aid concessions, shuttle diplomacy, no-fly zones, or embargoes and boycotts."

On the other hand, "We really are in a global war. Its dimensions are hard to conceptualize since our enemies, while aided and abetted by sympathetic Middle Eastern dictatorships, claim no national affinity. Indeed, the terrorists deliberately mask the role of their patrons. The latter, given understandable fears of the overwhelming conventional power of the United States military, deny culpability.

"In an age of globalization and miniaturized weapons of mass destruction, it is even more difficult to convince Western publics that they may well face peril from state-sponsored terrorists every bit as great as what the Wehrmacht, Imperial Japan, or the Red Army once posed."

Red Ken Livingstone, London's yob-in-chief, has been involved in a nasty, public spat this week with Trevor Phillips, head of Britain's Commission for Racial Equality. Phillips comes at racial matters from a sometimes surprising direction, something that old-time barricade-manners like Livingstone find hard to cope with.

The Mayor refused to attend a conference the CRE held this week, saying: "In reality it is clear that the content of the convention, as indicated by your intended workshops, such as Rivers of Blood: Did Enoch Powell get it right? or Plural cities: Opportunity or Timebomb?, are there to grab alarmist headlines rather than develop meaningful discourse. This would be consistent with the course that you have pursued over the last few years in which the emphasis has been on putting out factually false information, such as that Britain's communities are becoming more separate, rather than addressing the real issues of racism and discrimination."

There may be something personal in it - the two men are reported to have fallen out when Mr Phillips rejected Mr Livingstone's offer to be his running mate at the 2000 Mayoral elections.

Writing in the Telegraph, British author George Walden gets it about right in his comments on the disagreement: "Appalled at having to confront such truths, and at not being the main man, Ken Livingstone boycotted the conference. Does his absence portend a schism in the anti-racist movement? We must hope so, not so as to blunt its impact, but to make it more effective. Watching Livingstone (never call him Ken: it elevates him to national treasure status) deliver his increasingly neurotic pronouncements on race and immigration, or consorting with atavistic imams, does nothing to persuade the country to be alert to discrimination; it brings the entire anti-racist movement into disrepute.

"The reason Phillips commands a growing audience is that he is a modern-minded, intelligent man, whose words reflect what everyone - migrants included - see around them.

"There are three sides in the immigration debate. The racists, overt or crypto, who feed irrational fears; the old Left, typified by Livingstone, who, like their opponents, see everything through inflamed, race-conscious eyes, and have a vested interest in perpetuating old battles; and the new realists, like Phillips, who recognise the paradox that multi-culturalism means segregation, and that a consensus is developing amongst natives and newcomers in favour of limits on immigration...

"The trouble is that, so delicate is the situation the British have got themselves into - a white society on eggshells - that neither Government nor Opposition dares tell the country the fix it is in. That is the measure of Phillips's importance. It is an unnerving situation when ministers have to pretend that things are other than they are, for fear of provoking terrorist violence, and when the Conservative Party, once the place people looked to for home truths, has become little more than a machine for dispensing smarmy ingratiation to the lower orders."

Anyone with any doubts about the situation's delicacy should read the many comments at the end of Walden's piece.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page deputy editor, Daniel Henninger, takes a look beneath the surface of the Pope's recent visit to Turkey, in a perceptive piece published today: "We all know how a few months ago at the University of Regensburg, Benedict made himself a central player in the post-9/11 era by quoting the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. Not much noted at the time was Benedict's second quotation from Manuel II: 'God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably [emphasis added] is contrary to God's nature.' Benedict's lecture at Regensburg mentioned 'reason' and 'rationality' repeatedly. He went so far as to claim that the 'rapprochement' between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry (reason) was 'of decisive importance' for world history. 'This convergence,' said Benedict, 'created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.'

Very simply, he is talking about and defending what we call 'the West'--both the place and the classically liberal idea, which radical Islam wants to blow up. Just as John Paul championed the jailed or hiding dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, Benedict is seeking similar protections for persecuted Christian minorities--indeed all minorities--across the Islamic world. Starting in Turkey...

I think the pope is right that the West is engaged in a decisive intellectual competition with the ideas of radical Islam. This won't end with the battle for Baghdad. Will scientific agnosticism defend the West against militant Islam? With what? In Europe, its intellectuals can barely mount an argued defense against internal threats. Externally, as in Afghanistan, they won't even fight.

The New York Sun says more or less the same thing: "Much of the focus on Benedict's visit to Turkey has been on the conflict between Islam and Christianity. The focus is natural given the Islamic protests that greeted the pope in Anatolia and also given the reaction to the pontiff's remarks at Regensburg cautioning Muslims about the relation between their religion and violence. A nun was killed as part of the angry Muslim reaction. The violent outbursts against the pope's words shocked the world and only underscored the truth of what he spoke, though the leader of a billion Catholics was more than gracious in trying to explain that he meant not provocation but dialogue."

What neither paper focuses on is the way the Pope has taken point for Christianity. It's a sad comment on waning vigour in the Anglican community that the Archbishop of Canterbury is still trying to come to grips with issues, like women in the priesthood, that the rest of the world got beyond in the last century. A man with a voice, but nothing to say, as he was described by one writer.

30 November 2006

Cute story in the San Francisco Chronicle that might help with Christmas present dilemmas:

"My name is Stacy, and I'm a gadget-holic.

"I've roamed the aisles of Bed, Bath & Beyond looking for a fix. I've filled my cabinets and closets with fondue pots, chafing dishes, bagel slicers and lemonade machines. When I ran out of cupboard space, I remodeled my garage to accommodate more. That's where I keep my snow cone maker, chocolate fountain, industrial-size coffee urn, cake and cupcake carriers, a wine chiller and a cooler that plugs into a car lighter.

"I had an outside kitchen built so I could store a second blender just for making margaritas; grill pans and vegetable baskets for the barbecue; a collection of corn holders; and an outdoor refrigerator. Then, I got a Weber Chill - a beverage cooler that's powered by electricity, not ice."

There's a handy list of the latest gadgets at the end, but I can add two little bits to this reporter's testimony. First, I spotted what must be the ultimate in gadgetry on the web a day or two ago - a gasoline-powered blender for mixing cocktails at tailgate parties. It occurred to me that that might be handy for gentlemen living in my neck of the woods who fish from rowboats. But I guess I'd better get a rowboat first.

Second, during my exile from Bermuda (while the accursed local telephone company took two weeks to fix a downed line between my house and the nearest telephone pole), the New York Times published a small piece about a re-usable, heat-safe, dishwasher-safe, arthritis-friendly silicone cord for lacing up chicken and turkey cavities. Is that a winner, or what? Abandoning breakfast, I made my way briskly down to The Broadway Panhandler and was lucky enough to get the very last one in stock. Haven't had an opportunity to use it yet. Sewing fingers are twitching.

My name is Gavin, and I...

There is a certain amount of confusion over whether insurance mogul Hank Greenberg has, as suggested by the New York Post, "begun buying huge blocks of New York Times stock to break the Sulzberger family's stranglehold on the media empire."

The Post said its sources "confirmed that the famously combative Greenberg has been buying hundreds of thousands of Times shares, but did not disclose the exact number or the size of the stake he wants to own. Greenberg has both the assets - Forbes estimated his net worth at $3.2 billion - and the temperament to jump into a fight over the future of the stumbling newspaper giant."

Yesterday, New York Times stock surged $1.73 to $24.76 on the report. However, after regular trading ended, a Greenberg spokesman told the LA Times (to which Greenberg has also been linked recently), that his boss "owned fewer than 100,000 shares and had 'no present intention of significantly increasing' his stake." The stock fell to $23.70 in after-hours trading.

Hezbollah-led opposition groups in Lebanon are planning mass protests to begin on Friday in central Beirut with the aim of bringing down the current government. Hassan Nasrallah has been on television there, calling for people to turn out, but to keep the demonstrations peaceful.

Anybody interested in the strange and convoluted nature of Lebanon's politics might be interested in this piece by Michael Young of the Daily Star, writing about opposition calls for protest before a date was set.

Sample: "The Christian community is divided - never unusual - but it's difficult to see why. The standard-issue Aounist is not so very different than the typical Lebanese Forces enthusiast. What keeps them apart are mainly the mutual antipathy of their leaders and their history of antagonism - but also a tendentious reading of that history. Whether it is (Michel) Aoun or (Samir) Geagea, both men have burnished a populist image, oftentimes verging on the demagogical. Divisiveness is their bread and butter.

"However, for all the ambiguity that Geagea evokes because of his militia past, a past Aounists understandably cite in expressing their distaste for the Lebanese Forces, he is on the right side of the central issue affecting Lebanon today: defense of the country's sovereignty against Iran and Syria. Aoun, in his visceral hatred of a Hariri system that contributed to his exile and isolation, finds himself on the wrong side - on the side of those who would bring down the Siniora government to help press Iran's offensive against the United States in the region, and who would protect the regime in Damascus from the Hariri tribunal."

A few days ago, I published the New York Times's list of the 100 best books of 2006, a seasonal precursor to their list of the 10 best of the year. That list is going to be published in the paper's weekend book review of December 10, but I guess as a service to their bookselling advertisers, it went up on the Times website overnight. It seems slightly dull. I've read only one of their selections - The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which was nicely written, but...well, dull.

29 November 2006

Britain's attempts to crack down on the "carousel fraud" that saw banker John Deuss arrested and escorted from Bermuda to the Netherlands by that country's authorities, seem to have suffered a bit of a setback at the hands of the EU. The Guardian explains: "The government's attempts to stop multi-billion pound losses to the Treasury through so-called 'carousel' fraud suffered a blow yesterday when France and its allies blocked proposals to change the way VAT is levied on goods targeted by the gangs.

"Britain wants to levy VAT on goods such as computer chips, mobile phones and personal digital assistants only on the final customer at the end of the supply chain, rather than throughout the process, to prevent fraudsters reclaiming multiple refunds - a mechanism known as 'reverse charging'...

"The way the EU levies VAT is at the root of carousel fraud since it allows for VAT to be refunded each time goods cross a border. Fraudsters import goods - usually mobile phones or computer chips - free of VAT, and then sell them on with the VAT added but do not hand it over to Revenue & Customs. They often operate with other fraudsters, repeatedly re-exporting and re-importing the same goods and reclaiming the VAT each time. These carousels are turned dozens of times.

"Losses to the UK have spiralled into the billions in the past couple of years as fraudsters have developed ways of spinning 'virtual' carousels of trades with nothing more than a laptop computer and compliant offshore banks.

"But fraudulent activity in the UK has tumbled in the past few months after Dutch authorities closed a Curacao bank, allegedly facilitating bogus trades and being used by every single carousel fraudster in Britain. The bank is owned by legendary oil trader John Deuss, now in Dutch custody while authorities investigate him on charges of money laundering."

I can't resist the temptation to point out that I told you so: The New York Sun reports that "an expert adviser to the Baker-Hamilton commission expects the 10-person panel to recommend that the Bush administration pressure Israel to make concessions in a gambit to entice Syria and Iran to a regional conference on Iraq.

"The assessment was shared in a confidential memorandum — obtained yesterday by The New York Sun — to expert advisers to the commission from a former CIA station chief for Saudi Arabia, Raymond Close. Mr. Close is a member of the expert group advising the commission and was a strong advocate throughout the panel's deliberations for renewed American diplomacy with Iran and Syria. In the memo, Mr. Close shares his 'personal predictions and expectations' for what the Iraq Study Group will recommend in its final report next month.

"Mr. Close writes that he expects the study group to urge President Bush to convene a regional conference 'to enlist the support of neighboring states in establishing stability in Iraq.' Among the participants in the regional conference should be 'all principal states of the region,' including Iran, Syria, and Israel. The inclusion of Israel, according to Mr. Close, is crucial because it will provide the only leverage by which Iran and Syria can be enticed to help stabilize Iraq.

"'To have any realistic chance of success, I believe that the process would have to start with the announcement of a major initiative, promoted and vigorously supported by the United States, to reach a comprehensive resolution to the Israel-Arab crisis through a process of reasonable compromise and accommodation between Israel and its Arab neighbors,' he writes."

Louise Arbour's UN Human Rights Council - the body that emerged from UN attempts to reform its grotesquely deformed predecessor - is under fire for behaving grotesquely. The the Anti-Defamation League's director "condemned as an 'overwhelming failure' efforts to reform and replace the UN Commission on Human Rights - an organization widely criticized for concentrating its efforts on condemnations of Israel - calling its replacement a political tool of its Arab and Muslim majority.

"The ADL said the new UN Human Rights Council has 'ignored the world's worst human rights atrocities and instead has pursued Israel for political gain.' The 47-member council, which earlier this year replaced the discredited Human Rights Commission, has been severely criticized by some countries, including the United States, for moving four times to condemn Israel but not taking up human rights violations in Myanmar, North Korea or Sudan." Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, and other independent organizations have also expressed disappointment with the council recently.

The second person to criticise the body yesterday was rather less likely a player.
Benny Avni of the New York Sun reports that Kofi Annan himself took a swipe at them: "Obviously not everyone is entirely happy with the way they have started," Mr. Annan said. "Since the beginning of their work, they have focused almost entirely on Israel, and there are other crisis situations, like Sudan, where they have not been able to say a word."

Meantime, writing in the National Review, Claudia Rosett praises the Cole Report on Australia's involvement in the Oil-for-Food scandal, just published: "In the AWB case, where thanks to Australia we now have the details, it seems likely that the UN could have alerted the world in a snap, had its officials chosen to do so. The UN's own World Food Program deals in large quantities of wheat, and was among the UN agencies directly involved in Iraq. For UN insiders, the padded prices for Australian wheat - or billions worth of other staple items traded in world markets - should have been easy to spot with, say, a few well-placed phone calls to WFP offices in Rome. More importantly, had the UN simply disclosed to the public the terms of Saddam's contracts, it would have been easy for outsiders to spot specific pricing scams, especially on commodities heavily traded in competitive world markets, such as wheat.

"Lest this seem a problem solely of the past, it bears noting that UN secrecy goes well beyond Oil-for-Food. Even now, the U.N. keeps secret many of the germane terms of its global business in procurement contracts, through which it spends billions of taxpayer dollars every year on everything from printer paper to peacekeeper rations. This secrecy paved the way for another UN scandal, the bribery saga still unfolding in the U.N. procurement division - in which one UN staffer pleaded guilty in 2005, in US federal court, and two more have since been indicted (both have pleaded not guilty).

"Going back to the Cole report, what also stands out is how very rare it is among the UN's 192 member states to see such a healthy public airing of UN-related business. The Volcker committee alleged last year that at least 2,200 companies from at least 66 countries had paid illicit kickbacks to Saddam under Oil-for-Food. But Volcker explored only a few cases. The rest he disposed of in his final report, in October, 2005, by tipping out annexes providing only the scantiest information to the public. The Volcker committee then left it to the discretion of UN member states to pursue any further inquiries - doling out additional country-specific information secretly and solely upon request of the relevant national authorities."

28 November 2006

Is the left really holier than the rest of us? Apparently not at all, according to Thomas Sowell, writing in the National Review: "Those on the left proclaimed their moral superiority in the 18th century and they continue to proclaim it in the 21st century. What is remarkable is how long it took for anyone to put that belief to the test - and how completely it failed that test.

"The two visions are different in another way. The vision of the left exalts the young especially as idealists while the more conservative vision warns against the narrowness and shallowness of the inexperienced. This study found young liberals to make the least charitable contributions of all, whether in money, time or blood. Idealism in words is not idealism in deeds."

The shame, the shame!

Correctly or not, China's reputation for tolerating religion derives from its thoroughly hostile treatment of the Falun Gong sect. But as the country reinterprets its Marxist underpinnings, it has actually come well away from the absolute intolerance of the Mao era. Just how difficult a process it has been can be seen in the awkward, careful language of this People's Daily report, entitled Religion and its role in social harmony: "Social harmony is the intrinsic quality of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It's everyone's responsibility to promote harmony, and a harmonious society is enjoyed by all. Then, can the masses of religious believers be turned into an active force to build a harmonious society, and can religions become a positive factor to spur social harmony? It is essential to give scope to the role of religions in promoting social harmony, as explicitly proposed by 'the Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on a number of questions concerning the Construction of a Socialist Harmonious Society'.

"People's recognition of religion and its social role represents a process of underscoring different focuses with a continuous, in-depth cognition in different historical eras and under varied historical conditions: Karl Marx) and Friedrich Engels), both founding fathers of the scientific socialism, laid stresses to expose the role of religions used by the exploiting class to enslave the working people and lull their fighting will, to safeguard the system of exploitation. Shortly after the founding of new China in October 1949, the CPC made it clear that 'religious believers constitute a force that could be united with', and explicitly incorporated the phrase of 'freedom in religious belief' into the Chinese Constitution then and, by the early days of China's reform and opening-up in the late 1970s, CPC affirmed 'great progress made in the religious circle,' and advocated for unity and cooperation politically and mutual respect in religious belief.

"The CPC's relations with the masses of religious believers were clarified as the extreme close one relating to each other as blood and muscle at the National Religious Work Conference in 2001 and, the Sixth Plenary Session of the 16th CPC Central Committee held recently proposed 'bringing into play the positive role of the religion in promoting social harmony.' This is a scientific thesis and the fundamental principled policy instead of a common slogan or an expediency, and it is also the basis for the theory of knowledge and the foundation for a scientific methodology."

Two new books continue to fuel a debate over whether any purpose is served by loading children up with homework. The New York Sun reports that "The country's top homework scholar, Duke University's Harris Cooper, author of The Battle over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents\, analyzed nearly 200 studies and concluded that homework does not measurably improve academic achievement for children in grade school. He also found that for high school students in particular, performance diminished after two hours of homework.

"'Kids are not vending machines,' Mr. Kohn said. 'You don't put in more homework and have more learning come out the other end. Your instincts might tell you otherwise, but the research is overwhelmingly conclusive.' It might not be clear what sweeping educational policies will best serve the majority of American children. But it is decidedly clear that children being raised in the privileged world of private, competitive schools are being overworked each night, especially in the early grades, when there is hardly any proof of any academic benefit."

27 November 2006

It has been qite a weekend in the Middle East. Israel and the Palestinians agreeing a ceasefire in Gaza (though not yet in the West Bank) was bombshell enough, but Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday that for the right kind of peace with the Palestinians, he'd be prepared to release even long-term prisoners, and "quit large swathes of the West Bank, ease checkpoints and release frozen funds to Palestinians."

"We will agree to leave large territories and dismantle settlements that we established," he said to Haaretz. "We will be willing to do this in exchange for real peace."

He's moving well out of line with the IDF and many others in Israel, but these are extraordinary times. The catalyst is undoubtedly a George Bush initiative...an offer to moderate the US stand on Israel in exchange for the help of Arab countries in settling the conflict in Iraq. That's what Dick Cheney was doing in Saudi Arabia, that's the reason for the Jordan meeting between Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. That's the reason King Abdullah made his weekend remarks about Israel being the key to problems in the whole of the Middle East, and his remarks, published this morning, about the need for dramatic change to bring about Middle East solutions. I'm betting we'll be hearing about a US/Arab countries summit before the week's out.

Poor old Mr Olmert's just trying to stay a little ahead of the game.

Youssef Ibrahim, who is a senior and respected American reporter,born in Egypt, says Iraq has become the front line of a much larger war, now, one that concerns the much-delayed reformation of Islam. In the New York Sun, he says the West has gone past debates on staying the course there:

"Once upon a time, I berated American troops for entering a mosque wearing boots. But it is clear after this Thanksgiving weekend - when Iraqi Shiite Muslims grabbed Iraqi Sunni Muslims inside a mosque, doused them with gasoline, and burned them alive - that we are way past boots, past the American occupation of Iraq, and past debates on staying the course.

"Iraq is now in the throes of a far larger war, among Muslims and within the faith. It would be wise for third parties to get out of the way of such a clash.

"The origins of the conflict go all the way back to the big seventh-century Muslim split, which stemmed from a disagreement over the line of succession to the Prophet Muhammad and produced the differing Shiite and Sunni sects.

"But over the centuries, more baggage and a myriad of issues, factions, and schools of thought have attached themselves to this conflict. Now the time has come to settle who, exactly, speaks for the world's 1.1 billion Muslims."

It's entirely possible that the Russian state had Alexander Litvinenko killed in London. But so far, there is no evidence, apart from Litvinenko's deathbed allegations, that that is what happened. This rather uncooperative fact doesn't seem to bother some people, however, including Peter Hain, who is a British Cabinet Minister and, until he opened his silly mouth, I think, a candidate to become the Labour Party's Deputy Leader.

The prize for loudest mouth on the lynch mob, however, belongs to David Satter, who the Wall Street Journal describes as "affiliated with the Hoover Institution, the Hudson Institute and Johns Hopkins". He's got a book to sell - Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State, which explains the evangelical quality of his claims, but doesn't say much for the vigour of the Journal's standards.

Satter deoesn't have any evidence, either. He relies on the power of guilt by association - because Russia has killed people in the past, it must have been the killer this time. He says: "In the wake of Litvinenko's death, the West must insist on cooperation from the FSB in finding his killers. If that is not forthcoming, it should be assumed that the murder of Litvinenko was ordered by the Russian regime.

"Under those circumstances, not only should Russia be expelled from the G-8 but the whole structure of mutual consultation and cooperation would need to be re-evaluated. This is not just a matter of refusing to trivialize a murder. It is also a vital political obligation. Russians of all types are watching to see whether the West will simply swallow this crime or finally react to the rampant criminalization of Russian society. There are forces in Russia that want the country to be part of the West. But to back them, we need to demonstrate that we have moral values that we defend. To do less would be to abandon Russia to the forces of nihilism and obscurantism."


The Telegraph published an interesting summary of the various theories attached to the Litvinenko poisoning this morning, and ventures that the Kremlin's denial makes sense: "He was simply too unimportant, a small-time fantasist it was easier to put up with than to bump off, they say.

"The idea Putin would order his death - particularly this drawn-out, agonising death guaranteed to attract world-wide attention - and risk an international furore is seen as preposterous. Such a slow and public assassination could only play into the hands of those who wished to compromise Russia in the world arena."

Messrs Vladimir Bukovsky and Pavel Stroilov don't have a book to sell, unless you want to read a pamphlet called EUSSR: The Soviet Roots of European Integration. But they have a riddle to write about - did Ted Kennedy cooperate with the Russians for political gain during the Cold War? Writing in the National Review, they say: "Serious questions about Kennedy's role in the Cold War have been asked more than once before. From time to time, some bits of his mysterious story are revealed - only to demonstrate that much more of it still remains in darkness.

"Now it happens again, with professor Paul Kengor quoting from a top-secret KGB report about their contacts with Kennedy, in his new book The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. The document, first released in the Sunday Times by Tim Sebastian in 1992, reveals how Kennedy secretly offered the KGB to work together to undermine President Reagan. This proposal was conveyed to the Soviets by former senator John Tunney in 1983.

"That was not the only time when Tunney got involved in Kennedy's games with Moscow. Another top-secret KGB report, published in 1992 in Russian Izvestia newspaper, says that in 1978 Kennedy 'requested the assistance of the KGB to establish a relationship' between a firm owned by Tunney and the Soviets. The KGB report recommended the CPSU Central Committee to agree, because Tunney's firm was already connected to one David Karr, a KGB agent in France (See, for example: Ted Kennedy was a 'Collaborationist', by Herbert Romerstein. Human Events, December 8, 2003).

"More secrets about Kennedy's collaboration with Moscow became known after the famous defector Vasiliy Mitrokhin smuggled his invaluable archive of secret KGB documents to the West. In 2002, he publicized some of them in The KGB in Afghanistan working paper, published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In 1980 Kennedy attacked President Carter over the latter's tough opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As Mitrokhin reveals, the senator had evidently coordinated that with Moscow several weeks before - through Tunney and Egon Bahr, West Germany's top Social Democrat who often had secret contacts with the KGB.

"Then in 1983, according to the notorious KGB document quoted by Sebastian and now by Kengor, Tunney conveyed another secret message from Kennedy to the Soviet leader, communicating to Andropov the senator's willingness, 'in the interest of world peace', to take some joint measures against 'the militaristic policies of Ronald Reagan'. When the KGB received this information, they classified it at the highest possible level - not only as 'top secret', but also as 'of special importance' and a 'special file'. It was immediately reported to Andropov, but left him unimpressed. So the intrusive senator was rebuffed for a while."

26 November 2006

Here's a story I think we're likely to hear more about: The Art Newspaper claims that in 1945, the American war reporter, Patricia Lochridge Hartwell, was allowed to take a painting from a warehouse full of art then controlled by US forces in southern Germany. The picture she took was Cupid complaining to Venus, by Cranach the Elder. It was probably seized by the Nazis from a Jewish owner and is then likely to have passed into the collection of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring. In 1945 it was impounded by US soldiers.

Ms Hartwell sold it to the National Gallery in London in 1962. The Gallery is now trying to identify the pre-war owner of the painting.

After reading this extraordinary comment by Michael Ondaatje about the Canadian author Mavis Gallant's work, I'm making a pledge to myself to correct the sad fact that I've never read a single book she's written. Toronto's Globa dnd Mail quotes Ondaatje as having said: "I thought it would be easy to select a passage by Mavis to read. But for the last few days I've discovered that what is wonderful on the page, delicious with intricacy, can be difficult to read out loud. The speed of alteration, how every paragraph changes the colour of the previous one, makes it almost impossible to find a passage that doesn't mean something very different a page later. One jazz musician, trying to describe Louis Armstrong's quickness, could only do so by putting on Potato Head Blues, and asking the camera to film the shift of his eyes."

The newspaper's reporter, Simon Houpt, comments "In person, too, Gallant is like quicksilver, sly and fast and unpredictable. Her age, bearing and high literary reputation peg her as reserved. But she has an actor's delight in public performance and is a dead-on mimic for the accents sprinkled through some of her stories and her anecdotes. (Sixty years after working in a Montreal newsroom, she can still bark like a city editor: 'Gallant, where the hell were ya?') She carries into every encounter a reputation of ruthlessness, of one who doesn't suffer fools at all - gladly or otherwise. But she chuckles at the idea that she could intimidate anyone and comes off as open and generous. When an interview scheduled for 30 minutes - 'she tires easily,' warned the publicist for The New York Review of Books, which had co-produced the Symphony Space evening - runs overtime, Gallant insists she is fine and proceeds to chat for another hour, until she must leave for dinner."

There is a pronounced difference between the US and Britain - indeed, all of Europe - in the way news of advances in genetically-modified food is received. In the US, the introduction of seeds which will produce wheat with lost-over-centuries protein and minerals bred back it is a ho-hum affair that gets the slightly grudging treatment newspapers are prone to giving good news. In Europe, it would be treated as if the genetic work had been conducted by the anti-Christ and his closest cronies, and would be condemned out of hand by frothing, hysterical greenies.

"Through many centuries of domestication by farmers and plant breeders, the wheat found in today's breads lost some of the vital protein and minerals, such as iron and zinc, that the genes in the ancient wild seeds carried. After cloning the major gene for those nutrients from current wild wheat, the UC Davis scientists have bred them back into new wheat strains without the need for more controversial genetic engineering.

"Now they are ready to distribute the seeds freely to farmers everywhere through international public seed agencies - India, China, Argentina and Canada have already launched projects to make the new wheat available. A report on this venture in genetics is being published in the journal Science...by an international research team at Davis, at the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service in Albany and at the University of Haifa in Israel."

Once upon a time, but sadly no longer, stylish fighters were quite common in boxing. Willie Pep, who died last week, was a standout. An LA Times obituary says: "Pep is considered one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time. His greatest strength was his ability to avoid the punching power of opponents through dancing feet, blurring speed and a smooth command of the ring.

"Nicknamed 'Will o' the Wisp,' Pep turned defense into an art form. To this day, whenever the value of defense is questioned in terms of scoring a fight, someone is likely to say, 'Willie Pep once won a round without throwing a punch.'

"Pep won a lot of rounds. And a lot of fights. His career mark is 230-11-1 with 65 knockouts, the 230 victories believed to be an all-time record. Pep won his first 63 fights, lost one and then won 72 more with one draw, giving him a mark of 135-1-1 during that stretch, unfathomable today."


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
The US Supreme Court's First Terrorism Decisions
Useful Yiddish
Yukio Mishima's Death

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