...Views from mid-Atlantic
09 December 2006

Most people who write obituaries understand that the time for taking issue with the deceased's beliefs and ideas has passed, and a time for assessing his or, in this case, her quality as a human being has arrived. Many, many of the media are carrying comment today on the death of Jeane Kirkpatrick, the formidable US Ambassador to the United Nations during Ronald Reagan's first four years as president. She was a very substantial human being, and those who are old enough to remember her at work will think, when her name is mentioned, of a woman of unusual intellect who, as the Wall Street Journal put it, made American interests clear with "an articulate, no-nonsense bluntness that makes Mr. Bolton sound like Little Bo-Peep by comparison."

In its piece, the Washington Post notes that "With her closely cropped gray hair, utilitarian clothes and blunt speaking style, the public Jeane Kirkpatrick seemed humorless and austere. 'Raised eyebrows give her an expression of sustained skepticism, as if she lives on the verge of some crucial debate the rest of us do not hear,' James Conaway observed in a 1981 Washington Post Magazine article.

"Friends of Kirkpatrick's told Conaway that she was much more charming in private; Peter Arnold, a former colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, said she had a remarkable sense of humor. Her great passion, she once said, was listening to the pianist Glenn Gould play Bach."

William F. Buckley Jr. wrote away back in 1984 about her exacting relationship with the English language, an article which the National Review republished today.

And even in Britain, where her opposition to the Falklands invasion gave people cause to dislike her, the Times was prepared to give her her due: "...She provided the intellectual foundations for a policy which aimed to confront Soviet expansionism and restore US preeminence in world affairs...

"Many of her fellow ambassadors found her abrasive and uncompromising, but for others she was a refreshingly cold blast through the cynical corridors of the UN, attacking hypocrisy and the double standards of the Third World. She was a formidable figure with cropped hair, a jutting lower lip and a growl in her voice."

She was a Democrat for most of her life, in the days when it was possible to be a Democrat and a conservative at the same time, but the increasing sway of those she called San Francisco Democrats finally became too much for her, and she became a Republican.

That was a sin for which the New York Times, apparently, is not prepared to forgive her, even in death. In its obituary, seemingly written by someone unfamiliar with the woman or the times in which she had a part on the world stage, the Times described her in its first paragraph as "a beacon of neoconservative thought who helped guide American military, diplomatic and covert action from 1981 to 1985", and cobbled together an account that makes her sound as if it were really Joseph Stalin who was Little Bo-Peep beside her.

It is an ugly and unnecessary thing to have done, but one that will dimish the Times, not Jeane Kirkpatrick.

An important footnote to the history of the demise of South Africa's apartheid regime was published in Bermuda's Mid-Ocean News yesterday: "Bermuda played host to top secret meetings between South Africa's National Party and the then-banned African National Congress (ANC), which paved the way to further negotiations leading to the end of Apartheid, it has been revealed.

"The meetings between leading Afrikaner establishment members and ANC leaders, including current President Thabo Mbeki, took place under a media blackout at Lantana Cottage Colony in Somerset in March 1989 and again in April 1990...

"After more than 17 years, these highly confidential reports were released to The Mid-Ocean News, following the recent death of former South African President, PW Botha, and the announcement that he had been instrumental in organising the secret meetings less than five months before he resigned as state president. In his regular internet column, ANC Today, President Thabo Mbeki stated that Mr. Botha's agreement to the talks was seen as an indication that the 'Botha government was ready to talk directly to the ANC'."

It's just a pity that how and where the story broke isn't made clearer.

Since the subject of opera seems to be in the Pondblog air at the moment, I should note that Franco Zeffirelli has reemerged triumphantly to the world of Italian opera after a 14-year hiatus caused by a disagreement over leadership at La Scala: "The opening night at La Scala is not just Italy's premier cultural event, but one of immense social and even political importance. The Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, were both there...

"His glittering production of Verdi's Aïda was clapped and cheered for 13 minutes after the curtain came down. Roses rained on to the stage. Headlines in yesterday's press proclaimed it one of the best received productions at the Milan opera house in recent years...

"Zeffirelli's production was strictly traditional opera: lavish, theatrical, and free of the sort of contemporary reinterpretations, especially by 'British and German directors' that he condemned after the final curtain. It was a world away from the spare, arcane offerings of Muti (Riccardo, the La Scala musical director with whom Zeffirelli had a disagreement) in his last years at La Scala. The crowd lapped it up. There were calls of 'bravo' after the break, even before the curtain went up on the third act."

The Colorado State University hurricane expert, Dr William Gray, yesterday published his forecast of the extent of hurricane activity in the North Atlantic in 2007. His is much like that of the British group Tropical Storm Risk, subject of the post below. The Houston Chronicle has the story.

08 December 2006

The first prediction of hurricane frequency in the North Atlantic for 2007 is out, and it's not good, unless you live in the South Atlantic. The Sarasota Herald Tribune says: "The British long-range hurricane forecasting group Tropical Storm Risk is predicting a return to greater numbers of storms, following the unexpectedly benign season that just passed.

"Led by Mark Saunders, a University College of London professor and TSR founder, the scientists said they expect 16 named storms and nine hurricanes. Four of those hurricanes are expected to be intense, meaning Category 3 or stronger, with wind speeds in excess of 110 mph. It expects two hurricanes to hit U.S. soil; none did this year.

"TSR issues its earliest forecasts because its benefactors - members of the insurance and re-insurance industries - have a first round of rate setting in January.

"Another prominent forecasting team, the William Gray group at Colorado State University, issues its first forecast for the 2007 season today."

A visit to the TSR site, however, reveals that the group's prediction for 2006 was very like this one for 2007 - "The TSR (Tropical Storm Risk) extended range forecast for Atlantic hurricane activity in 2006 anticipates yet another active season. Based on current and projected climate signals, Atlantic basin and US landfalling tropical cyclone activity are forecast to be 60% above the norm in 2006. There is a high (~80%) likelihood that activity will be in the top one-third of years historically."


A consensus of opinion on the Iraq Study Group's report is forming rapidly, and it isn't positive. In Britain, the Guardian is blunt about it. The Times is a little more circumspect, and focuses on the implications for Tony Blair, but does see the report as "flawed". In the US, the Washington Post reported that although Senators praised the panel's "stark assessment" of conditions in Iraq, they "questioned the practicality of its recommendations."

In Isarel, an almost-timid Ehud Olmert, who must surely see Israel's name on the both the Bush and the Baker wall, was reported by the Los Angeles Times to have disagreed with assertions by the Iraq Study Group that tie the fate of efforts to stabilize Iraq to progress in resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Behind the scenes, apparently, the Israelis were furious about one detail of the wording of the report which, taken together with something said by the new Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, in his Senate confirmation hearing, they thought showed an ominous collusion between the two men. DEBKAfile explains: Robert Gates's reference to an Israeli nuclear weapon was synchronized with Baker's exclusion of Israel from a Mid East conference.

"The pair is pursuing a new policy line which sacrifices the traditional US-Israeli alliance for the sake of wooing Iran, Syria and Iraq's neighbors for help in Iraq. During his senate hearings, Gates confirmed - and indirectly justified - Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon by declaring that the Islamic Republic Iran wants the power of deterrence against 'the nuclear countries surrounding them – Pakistan in the east, Russia in the north, Israel in the west and the United States in the Persian Gulf.'

"Israeli vice premier Shimon Peres said Israel, backed by the US, has for decades pursued a policy of nuclear ambiguity as a powerful deterrence 'against enemies bent on its destruction, while threatening no other country itself.'"

DEBKAfile alleges that Gates did not consult, or even inform Israel before his disclosure, which violates a confidence long-held between the two governments.

The Canadian government is getting aboard the Crack Down on Tax Havens train, and Bermuda's one of the countries in their sights. The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that "'The federal government [should] eliminate the use of tax havens in an effort to ensure that all corporations, businesses and individuals pay their fair share of taxes,' the House of Commons finance committee said yesterday in a report making suggestions on what should be in the 2007 budget.

"The recommendation puts more pressure on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who's already said that Ottawa is scrutinizing offshore tax havens and 'significant tax avoidance' by some Canadians. At last count, Statistics Canada estimated Canadians have stashed $88-billion out of the country."

Like the EU, Canada seems not to have sussed that globalisation means they must compete for businesses with other countries, and one of the factors to be taken into account in measuring their competitiveness is the harshness, or otherwise, of their tax regime.

07 December 2006

It was amusing this morning to be able to spot a note of caution being sounded by commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, in the wake of the publication of the report of the Iraq Study Group. That caution will have been caused by suddenly coming face to face with the unpleasantness of the choices available.

My sense is that the specific recommendations of the report are probably less important than the opportunity its publication provides for a policy re-think, with a minimum of political acrimony. Nonetheless, the focus of most commentators must be on the report's recommendations, and I think they will be disappointed. You could say the recommendations of a bi-partisan group are anyway likely to be too careful to have much practical effect. But in this case, their impracticality will have been double-underlined by the fact that the report was commissioned at a time when the situation on the ground was far less serious than it is now. Some of the proposals will have been made to sound craven and out-of-place by the simple passage of time.

Indeed, some of them sound like articles of surrender, the Washington Times says in its editorial this morning: "As is often the case when highly distinguished people of varying political persuasions get together in an effort to reach consensus, the end result is a watered-down document that will do little to help the president or congressional policy-makers come up with a more effective strategy in the war. Much of the report consists of ominous but familiar quotes from terrorist luminaries like al Qaeda's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and restatements of the obvious (for example, 'SCIRI has close ties with Iran; 'the Iran border with Iraq is porous'; and 'The United States should work closely with Iraq's leaders to support the achievement of specific objectives - or milestones - on national reconciliation, security, and governance'). In other places, the panel makes sensible-sounding, noncontroversial proposals for reforming U.S. assistance programs for Iraq and building a functioning Iraqi judicial system and oil industry.

"But in critical areas, the report goes in precisely the wrong direction. For example, it calls on Washington to 'engage directly with Iran and Syria' in order to 'obtain their commitment to constructive polices toward Iraq and other regional issues.' After noting the obvious - that engaging Iran is 'problematic' - it calls for a diplomatic campaign to persuade Tehran to join an 'Iraq International Support Group' to help resolve Iraq's 'political, diplomatic and security problems.' If Iran refused to help, the panel warns darkly, then its rejectionist attitude could 'lead to its isolation.' More likely, such a campaign would embolden Tehran, which would see such a move for what it really is: an act of desperation.

"The panel's suggestions that Washington should also broker agreements with Syria to stop arms shipments into Iraq and help persuade Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist are completely detached from reality. Some of the major recommendations in the report read like articles of surrender."

Bill Bennett agrees, although his National Review piece is less tactful: "For a report to identify the outside agitators (which happen to also be the worst terrorist-sponsoring states in the world - Iran & Syria) as 'provid[ing] arms, financial support, and training for Shiite militias within Iraq,' i.e., fomenting war, and then say we should negotiate and offer incentives to those countries is simply too much to bear. Insult is added to injury with the absurdity that Iran and Syria then become members of something called the Iraq Support Group. Committeeism simply got out of control here...

"This is the triumph of the therapeutic, where bipartisanship - a hug across the aisle - has become a higher value than justice. The crisis of the house divided has been inverted; we no longer are worried about the crisis but the House, the moral, the good, and the just take a backseat to collegiality. Does history really give a hoot about bipartisanship? Who cares whether they are getting along? The task is to do the right thing, especially in war. But, when relativism is the highest value, agreement becomes the highest goal, regardless of right and wrong...

"Perhaps the most systemic problem with the report is it didn't tell us how to win; it answered how to get out. The commissioners answered the wrong question, but it was the one they wanted to answer.

"In all my time in Washington I've never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority. Self-congratulatory. Full of itself. Horrible."

The New York Sun shows its particularly New York mettle this morning, by giving as much prominence (on its web site, anyway) to the booing of Placido Domingo for a substandard performance at the Met as to the Iraq Study Group's report. (Mind you, this is opera we're talking about.)

The occasion was a much anticipated performance of La Boheme: "The house had been sold out for months, and considerable scalping activity was going on across the street. Anyone who was anyone in the critical world was in attendance...

"Ms. Netrebko (soprano Anna) was splendid throughout, her Donde lieta usci from Act III producing paroxysms of applause. And this woman really knows how to die. Her voice, enduringly strong even on her deathbed, simply became more and more gentle as her seconds ticked away. Not weaker, not softer, not wobbly, just more gentle until it suddenly stopped and her clenched fist opened and fell. Masterful.

"So why the booing during such a wonderful effort? Mr. Domingo's conducting had been the weakest link in the initial performance, and this evening brought his faults to the fore. During Act I, Ms. Netrebko let loose in the Mi chiamano Mimi section, expanding and elongating her phrases to their most delicious and emotionally intense lengths. She did not so much intone these phrases as caress them. In order to fully realize her artistic vision, she allowed each phrase to develop organically, unhurriedly, employing tasteful rubato and holding high notes expertly and impressively. But Mr. Domingo trudged along inattentively at metronomic speed, running noticeably ahead of his diva. As a singer himself, Mr. Domingo should be especially sensitive to poetic and expressive license, but he certainly was deaf to it this night. Ms. Netrebko, however, refused to bend, continuing to fashion her complex and beautifully spun web of gold until Mr. Domingo finally seemed to awaken and allow his orchestra to follow her. By the end of the aria, it was clear the profound leadership was coming not from the pit but from the stage.

"And thus the booing. When Mr. Domingo came out for his bow at the beginning of Act Three, the lusty response from the upper reaches of the house was raucously negative. Visibly shaken, he turned to give his first downbeat."

Joseph Epstein is what you might call a major writer of minor books - Snobbery: The American Version, among others - which are amusing and erudite without being pedantic. He is a great defender of decent English, and was once editor of the American Scholar. In the Wall Street Journal this morning, he is celebrating the accomplishments of a kindred spirit, Robert Hartwell Fiske, "who runs an online monthly journal called the Vocabula Review (www.vocabula.com), which, as Mr. Fiske writes, 'battles nonstandard, careless English and embraces clear, expressive English,' and hopes to encourage its readers to do likewise. Vocabula means 'words' in Latin, and words are the name of Mr. Fiske's game. Read the Vocabula Review, and you will be convinced that the battle ought to be yours, too...

"Behind Mr. Fiske's continuing project is the idea that without careful language there can be no clear thought. Politicians, advertising copywriters, swindlers of differing styles and ambitions know this well and put it to their own devious uses. The rest of us too easily tend to forget this central truth. All words and phrases, to fall back on what I hope isn't a plebeian sentiment, are guilty until proved innocent."

I was a subscriber to Vocabula until recently, and can add my voice to Epstein's - it is a fine journal, a resolute and capable voice in the fight against poor writing. My only difficulty is that some of those who write for it sound as if they are the literary equivalent of those silly sausages who want to be first to stand for hymns in church. I'd like them better if they carried pistols and did their singing in saloons.

06 December 2006

Phil Gunson is a writer and journalist who has more than 25 years' experience covering Latin America. Since 1999 he has lived and worked in Venezuela, writing mainly for the Economist, Newsweek and the Miami Herald. In this openDemocracy article, he talks about the myths that are growing up around the lunatic Hugo Chavez, and explains why people should be concerned. "The act of naming," he says, "is not innocent. 'Words', said Venezuelan social psychologist Luisana Gomez recently, 'require things to become what we call them.'

"...Much of the responsibility (for the myths) lies with those foreign writers and journalists who have openly sided with the government of Hugo Chavez, whilst regularly blasting his critics for their alleged bias, or worse. They argue that Chavez must be given credit - and even imitated - for his 'revolutionary' programme on behalf of the poor. Yet their unwillingness to analyse the evidence with intellectual honesty is of little service to the masses they claim to sympathise with.

"Those who dissent are deemed to do so because they favour inequality, despise the poor and sympathise with United States foreign policy. The possibility that one might hold none of these positions, and yet still disagree with Chavez's methods, is ruled out."

A pair of experts on matters Middle Eastern - Louis Rene Beres, who has counseled various government agencies in Washington and Jerusalem and served as chairman of Project Daniel under former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Clare M. Lopez, who lectures on the Mideast and counterterrorism issues after serving 20 years as a CIA operations officer - track a burgeoning relationship between al Qaeda and the Palestinians in a this Washington Times article.

"Al Qaeda now operates secretly in the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and openly in Gaza at the express invitation of Hamas. Relations with Fatah have deteriorated since Mr. Arafat first imported Hezbollah fighters to assist with terror attacks against Israel. Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards have, in turn, helped to train a variety of Middle Eastern terrorists. Early on, Mr. Arafat had gathered together a diverse collection of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, Popular Front-General Command and various Iraqi military intelligence units (Palestinian terrorists had always been extremely close to Saddam Hussein, even sending Palestinian Liberation Army units to help torture Kuwaitis in 1991). Also included were the pro-Iraqi Arab Liberation Front, and, since April 2002, al Qaeda. Significantly, this same crosscut of Islamist terrorist groups presently exists in the United States - although here they function 'only' as fund-raising, propaganda, recruitment and sleeper-cell operatives.

"Al Qaeda's hatred of the United States has very little to do with American support for Israel. If Israel ceased to exist, its enmity for this country would continue unabated. This is because the United States is seen as the superpower leader of liberal democracy, wielding the ability to check al Qaeda's dream of a new global Caliphate. The unforgivable 'sin' of American ties to 'apostates and criminals' who rule in such Muslim countries as Egypt, the Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia elicits the same implacable wrath as American support for Israel because both linkages weave a network of opposition to al Qaeda expansion..."

"Joint Palestinian-al Qaeda teams are planning coordinated mega-terror strikes against Israel and America. Simultaneously, a fight is taking shape among the major ideological factions of radical Islam. It follows that both Israel and the United States should immediately cease any and all assistance to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority. Above all, it is time for Washington to stop sending American tax dollars to support archenemies of the United States."

I know I keep telling this story, and I apologise if you've heard it before, but... There was a full-page ad in the New York Times some years ago, I can't remember what was being sold, but the hook, allowing for defects in my memory, was this: "If aliens are smart enough to travel the universe, how come they keep kidnapping the dumbest people on earth?" The perfect question! I'm sure they know already, but if the aliens need any more specimens, there are a couple of events, current and choice, that they ought to be interested in.

The Guardian has details of one: "Iran announced yesterday details of a conference questioning whether the Holocaust really happened, prompted by an international outcry a year ago when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis as 'myth' fabricated to justify Israel. The foreign ministry said 'intellectuals and researchers' from 30 countries - including Britain - would attend Studying the Holocaust: An international view, in Tehran on Monday and Tuesday.

And a little closer to home, according to the New York Sun: "A professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Ward Churchill - who ignited a national furor with his description of some of the World Trade Center employees killed on September 11, 2001, as 'little Eichmanns' - is scheduled to speak Monday in New York at the New School.

"At the invitation of the New School's Women of Color student group, which is funding the event from the university's student fees, Mr. Churchill will give a talk entitled 'Sterilizing History: The Fabrication of Innocent Americans,' in which he will discuss what he says are ongoing efforts to erase the history of native cultures. Mr. Churchill is a self-described American Indian - though his ancestry has recently been called into question - and his academic work has largely focused on America's treatment of indigenous peoples and political dissidents."

05 December 2006

Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, does an awful lot of well-meant, but surely impractical finger-wagging in this Washington Times piece. He falls into the trap of assuming those involved, who have in the past demonstrated over and over again their failure to face facts, will accept his word that this is what they "should" do: "Modern Israel, dealing with the religious claim of zealot Israeli settlers on Palestinian lands, and which denies another nation the right to statehood on its own land, must confront its own demons. The metaphysical stake must be replaced by political and demographic realities. A historic negotiated compromise that results in a viable state of Palestine on land occupied in 1967, with mutually agreed borders and with Arab Jerusalem as its capital, is an Israeli imperative as it is a Palestinian need. It is Israel's best guarantee to survive the new existential strategic threats and the ultimate guarantee for security and peace for both nations.

"And for Palestinians to achieve their freedom and viable state, they must repudiate Hamas' regression to the olden days of rejection of Israel's pre-1967 borders. They also must come to terms with the reality of Israel and with the fact that while refugees have rights that must be fully redressed - national rights, individual rights, property rights and even the right to an apology - 4 or 5 million Palestinian refugees are not going back to live in Israel.

"Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are sufficiently powerful to achieve all their aims. Only a joint venture, with Israelis and Americans working respectfully with empowered Palestinian partners, rather than clients or agents, can end this national conflict. A strategic, coordinated effort, which marshals security, economic and political resources, including serious contributions from moderate Arabs and European, must be employed. The United States, as the general partner, is the essential power that can make this joint venture a reality.

"The president of the United States is the only one who can lead a regional coalition to challenge and check the regional superpower. This coalition must put the Palestine-Israel conflict on a course toward resolution. The states that can navigate together the region's road to stability and modernity should count Palestine as their partner."

I'm betting this new anti-riot weapon is never used, even though it's been approved for use in Iraq. It'll stop a riot in its tracks, but it depends on radiation, and it leaves marks. Wired News has the story. "According to documents obtained for Wired News under federal sunshine laws, the Air Force's Active Denial System, or ADS, has been certified safe after lengthy tests by military scientists in the lab and in war games.

"The ADS shoots a beam of millimeters waves, which are longer in wavelength than x-rays but shorter than microwaves - 94 GHz (= 3 mm wavelength) compared to 2.45 GHz (= 12 cm wavelength) in a standard microwave oven.

"The longer waves are thought to limit the effects of the radiation. If used properly, ADS will produce no lasting adverse affects, the military argues."

Jonathan Jones seems to have expanded his list of artworks that must be seen live and direct...I think there were ten the last time, now there are 50. Nonetheless, it's a fascinating topic. In his
Guardian article
, he says: "Here it is - after a fascinating debate that revealed how deeply you feel about art, our definitive list of 50 works that demand to be seen at least once in a lifetime. Those of you who have contributed lists and single recommendations displayed a magnificent seriousness about art: you are interested in it so much more than who won the Turner Prize.

"You crave the absolute and the supreme, and are prepared to go a long way in search of it - from Tikal in Guatemala to Constable country. A few artists make it onto almost everyone's list: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Picasso - with Michelangelo the artist who inspires the greatest awe. 'My head believes Darwin; my heart trusts Michelangelo,' said one blogger."

"The wacky world Roz Chast has created in her cartoons is a parallel universe to ours, utterly recognizable in all its banalities and weirdnesses, but slightly askew, The New York Timessays, "as if our current 2000-something reality had been transported back to the 1950's TV land of Leave it to Beaver - a place where phones still have dials and television sets still have rabbit ears, a place where women still wear blouses with Peter Pan collars, and men still wear their pants too high on their waists.

"It's Manhattan and Brooklyn re-imagined by someone channeling the Simpsons, Steven Wright and Talking Heads; the New York suburbs as seen by the love child of Gilda Radner and Woody Allen."

The Times is reviewing Chast's new book, Theories of Everything, which has to be a Christmas winner this year. "In 'A Note on the Author' at the end of this book, Ms. Chast gives us a portrait of herself at nine, sitting on her bed, reading the Merck Manual and various books about scurvy, lockjaw and other terrible diseases. Which doubtless explains her youthful enthusiasm for the work of Addams and his ghostly presence in some of these cartoons. In retrospect she has transformed her hypochondriacal dyspepsia into cartoons that not only chronicle her own fears, worries and anxieties but that also show us how we - or at least some New Yorkers and suburbanites - live today."

Praise to the Times, by the way, for supplying an ample number of clickable Chast cartoons in its web presentation. Guardian, and others, take note.

04 December 2006

Britain and the United Arab Emirates will sign a treaty this week which, it is hoped, will make significant advances in the government's crackdown on VAT carousel fraud, which is draining billions of pounds from the UK's public finances, according to this Guardian piece.

"John Reid, the home secretary, and the UAE's justice minister, Mohammed Nukhaira al-Dhaheri, will sign the mutual legal assistance and extradition treaty on Wednesday as the chancellor, Gordon Brown, discloses in his pre-budget report the official estimate of losses from the fraud for the last fiscal year...

"Last year's losses would have been more than enough to build and equip a dozen big hospitals or 300 secondary schools. John Deuss, a multi-millionaire Dutch oil tycoon, was recently arrested and charged in connection with international carousel fraud. He is to face trial in the Netherlands."

Odd thing for the Guardian to say - Deuss went to the Netherlands voluntarily to help the police there with their investigation. So far, he has not been charged with anything, and therefore can't be said to be facing trial.

The Plain English Campaign in Britain, which aims to make a public spectacle of those who mangle English, has awarded Germaine Greer a Golden Bull award for including this sentence in a Guardian column: "The first attribute of the art object is that it creates a discontinuity between itself and the unsynthesised manifold."

She's pleading not guilty: "Most reasonably educated Guardian readers would, I faintly hope, have recognised the phrase 'unsynthesised manifold' as an English version of a basic concept in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment, first published in English in 1790 and familiarised in Britain by the work of Coleridge and just about anybody else who writes about aesthetic theory. The expression endures because in more than 200 years no one has found a better way of rendering the idea, although its content continues to evolve with changes in our understanding of brain function and the mechanics of perception."

I think she should have pleaded guilty with an explanation. Kant (and , for that matter, aesthetic theory) is a little off the track beaten by 'reasonably educated' readers these days. She really should have explained the phrase. Nonetheless, Kant's unsynthesised whatnot is worth knowing about: "The 'unsynthesised manifold' is, in the original sense, everything that is out there, regardless of whether we perceive it or not. As we can't sensibly talk about matters of which we are unaware, we can use the expression more usefully to describe the endless flood of undifferentiated sensory data we accumulate throughout our waking hours. Our conscious and subconscious attempts at organising this stuff and getting it to make a kind of sense are attempts at synthesis. Because of the way the brain routinely edits and translates the raw data, what we perceive is not reality itself but a model of reality as encoded by our individual software, even before we start trying consciously to make sense of it. Most of what we perceive evades conceptualisation, and is neither dreamed nor recollected, though sometimes we can fish it out under hypnosis."

Claire Messud? Did someone say Claire Messud? "The strangest thing happened to Claire Messud on September 17. Her fourth work of fiction, a just-released hardcover novel called The Emperor's Children, grabbed the number-five position on the hugely important New York Times bestseller list for fiction, then proceeded to stay on the list for another four weeks.

Not that Messud didn't deserve to be there, according to Toronto's Globe and Mail. "At 39, this former Torontonian has an international reputation as one of the finest stylists of contemporary English prose - a stature attested to by the various laudatory reviews, citations and nominations (Man Booker Prize long list, two-time PEN/Faulkner Prize finalist, New York Times Notable Book et al.) she's enjoyed since her 1995 debut, When the World Was Steady.

"But until The Emperor's Children, Messud's per-book sales had been in the low four digits. With The Emperor's Children, however, the tally nudged into the 50,000 to 60,000 copies realm -- a phenomenon she described as 'completely unexpected and very exciting' during a recent visit to Toronto.

"For Messud fans, the phenomenon was unexpected, too, but pleasantly so. The Emperor's Children is exceedingly well-written and compulsively readable, at once satirical and serious, and shouldn't there be a place for such virtues in a world populated by Danielle Steels and James Pattersons?"

03 December 2006

A Dutch reader, a writer and blogger from Amsterdam, Henk Willem Smits, points me to a story in his Bizniz.blog that says oil tycoon John Deuss is selling his yacht, Fleurtje, which is often at anchor in St George's Harbour. (That story, and others on the blog about Deuss, are in Dutch, but even if you don't know the language, you'll catch the drift. At the end of the story about the yacht, you'll find a link to a .pdf file which is Henk's long profile of Deuss, published in Nieuve Revu. You can babelfish it if you want an infuriatingly approximate translation.)

Quite why Deuss would want to sell the yacht now is a mystery (if you're in the market, it's "een kleine 15 miljoen dollar", which I translate as "a mere $15 million"). I doubt he needs the money, and he doesn't seem the kind of guy to sell it because he's anticipating spending time away from the sea, so perhaps he's just not getting the kind of use out of Fleurtje that he (and certain of his friends) once did.

The international yacht broker, Edmiston, is handling the sale. The broker describes Fleurtje as "one of the finest three masted schooners afloat", and says the price, to be precise, is $14.75 million.

Thanks, Henk.

New York doesn't exactly have a corner on writing Broadway musicals, and yet it's such a New York thing, isn't it? So when Betty Comden, half the team of Comden and (Adolph) Green died a few days ago, New York changed gear from city to town-in-mourning. And as if it were a town-still-in-mourning, you know that just about every New Yorker is going to read this morning's New York Times story about Adolph Green's daughter, Amanda, who is also in the song-writing business, and will hope that she makes it in the biggest possible way.

According to the theatre producer Jeffrey Seller, she just might: "Before Amanda I had never heard the pop-rock style so witty," he added. "She just has an ingenious take on things."

"The 'ingenious take'", said the Times, "brought to mind another lyricist - Ms. Green's father, Adolph, who died in 2002. Mr. Green and Betty Comden, who died on Thanksgiving, supplied the words to classic shows like On the Town, Wonderful Town and Bells Are Ringing.

"'If you look at some of Adolph's work, he was a lyricist writing contemporary musicals about life in New York City,' Mr. Seller said. 'And High Fidelity is a contemporary musical about what it's like to live in New York City."

The UN is being plagued by fresh reports of sexual misbehaviour among its peacekeepers, this time in Haiti and Liberia. Caribbean Net News reports: "The United Nations said it would hold a conference in New York next week on the issue of sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers following new allegations of such abuses in Liberia and Haiti.

"'We take all these cases extremely seriously,' UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in response to queries about a BBC probe that found allegations of child prostitution and rape involving the UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti and Liberia...

"Dujarric commented on allegations by a 16-year-old Haitian girl, reported by the BBC, that she was raped by a Brazilian soldier serving in the 9,000-strong UN mission in Haiti known as Minustah."

Inspired, perhaps, by the damage done to the US Government recently by leaks, People's Daily in Peking has issued a warning that could never have come from Washington. "Cong Bing, vice director of the NAPSS (the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets), said China's Criminal Law and Law on Guarding State Secrets prohibited the release, discussion and dissemination of state secrets through bulletin board systems, online chat rooms and Internet newsgroups.

"The theft or purchase of state secrets and their provision to institutions, organizations and people outside the country was illegal, he warned. The public had a duty to report the discovery of leaks of state secrets and to return classified documents to the relevant departments if they acquired them, he said."

No mention of a penalty for transgression, but I would be surprised if it didn't involve sending relatives a bill for the bullet.


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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Day by Day by Chris Muir
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