...Views from mid-Atlantic
16 December 2006

Brad Leithauser is a poet (his new book of poems, Curves and Angles, has just appeared, and the New York Times included his Darlington's Fall: A Novel in Verse, in its list of notable books for 2002), who teaches English at Mount Holyoke College. He is also a very professional critic, as this New York Times review will demonstrate. It concerns Robert Fagles' new translation of the Aeneid, and it is head and shoulders better than any other review I've looked at - a pleasure to read.

I confess I didn't at first look at this piece because I thought there was a possibility I would admire it. I looked because I figured no one reviewing this book for the New York Times would get away without mentioning that Virgil's epic about Empire serves as a metaphor for current US foreign policy in the Middle East (tissue-thin though that assertion might be), and I wanted to see how Leithauser had done it. The answer is that he did it at the very end of his review, and so gracefully that the absence of apt-ness is almost not noticeable.

"The Aeneid contains two significant passages of prophetic outreach, when the present vanishes away and neighboring centuries reveal themselves like sunlit valleys in a clearing fog. The first arises when Aeneas, visiting his father in the Underworld, beholds the ramifying glories of Rome's coming empire. The second occurs when Vulcan forges him a shield on which centuries of triumph are chronicled:

He knows nothing of these events but takes
in their likeness, lifting onto his shoulders
the fame and fates of all his children's

"Virgil also looks backward, reminding us how the Trojans and their city, gleaming on the dawn-struck outskirts of Asia, eventually came to dust. And how even the victorious Greeks came to dust. But Rome - he assures his readers - will never fade.

"Virgil was wrong, and it's one of the most gorgeous ironies of the Aeneid that while it celebrates the political - the founding of an empire, by the young and potent and brave - as the summit of human achievement, its greater and more durable feat lies elsewhere. The triumph is ultimately literary, of course, and also collective - since it belongs in part to those white-haired translators who have brought such well-seasoned judgments to a timeless tale. Theirs is the prevailing army, among whose ranks Robert Fagles emerges as a new and noble standard-bearer."

It's an odd choice for an article running a week or so before Christmas, but I guess the New York Times figures it has fish to fry. It asked a number of writers to recommend books about war.

It's thin on Brits. Basil Liddell Hart isn't mentioned, and neither is John Keegan. On the other hand, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind is recommended.

Interesting observation from Victor Davis Hansen, writing about the Middle East in National Review: "The surprise is no longer that the cretin Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls for the destruction of Israel, but only that his serial threats have still not become banal. In any language, there can be only so many synonyms and idioms for 'wipe out' and 'vanish', yet Ahmadinejad always finds some fresh way to express his fundamental desire."

And on the reasons for the kind of ugly hostility towards Israel that Ahmadinejad personifies, Hansen says "It is not 'stolen' land, or 'Zionist' killings, or Jewish 'aggression' that gnaws at the Arab Street. And the solution is therefore not to be found in short-term Israeli land-concessions, but only in the now caricatured and apparently waning policy of supporting democratic reform inside the Middle East.


"The real problem is that Israeli success ,and the resulting sense of failure in the surrounding Arab world, fuels much of the rabid hatred. Many of us have been writing exactly that for years and have been dubbed novices - and worse - who don't understand the complex undercurrents of the Middle East. In January 2004, for example, I suggested in passing the following on these pages:

"Instead, [Israel] stoked the fury arising from Arabs' sense of weakness and self-contempt. In the world of the Palestinian lobster bucket, Israel's great sin is not bellicosity or aggression, but succeeding beyond the wildest dreams of its neighbors. How humiliating it must be to be incapable of even muttering the word 'Israel' (hence the need for 'Zionist entity'), but nevertheless preferring an Israeli to a Palestinian ID card."

That may apply to people of Ahmadinejad's age, but a young Muslim emigrant has a slightly different take on why a younger generation in the Middle East seems so open to the moonbatty Ahmadinejad gospel. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, he says: "Western leaders today who say they are shocked by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conference this week denying the Holocaust need to wake up to (this reality:) For the majority of Muslims in the world, the Holocaust is not a major historical event that they deny. We simply do not know it ever happened because we were never informed of it."

And (it was inevitable) Bret Stephens says, in the Wall Street Journal, that society is to blame: "Moral denunciation is what reasonable people do - what they must do - when a regime that avows the future extermination of six million Jews in Israel denies the past extermination of six million Jews in Europe. But let's be frank: Global polite society has been blazing its own merry trail toward this occasion for decades."

15 December 2006

Ten US lawmakers, believed to be the largest legislative group to visit communist-ruled Cuba, were to depart for Havana today for weekend talks with Cuban officials, according to Caribbean Net News."

"Raul Castro has reached out to the United States more actively than his brother in the past four months, calling for negotiations." This unofficial delegation is in response to those calls. But officially, the United States so far has said it is not interested in negotiating until there is a political opening.

"Wednesday, the top US diplomat for Latin America indicated that the United States had yet to find a reformer in the communist Cuban government, but did not flatly rule out dialogue with Havana in a context of political opening. 'We have not been able to detect there the emergence of any political figure that could be reformist,' said Tom Shannon, the State Department's top diplomat for Latin America.

"'Once (Fidel Castro) goes, the successor government is going to have to chart out some kind of path into the future. There are no clear signals of what that path is going to be,' Shannon added, noting: 'We don't see any significant possibility of change of any kind until Fidel is gone.'"

In Britain, where the Prime Minister has just been interviewed by the Police in Downing Street, one gets the sense that this honours for cash scandal, no matter how it turns out, is just about to descend into a slough of low farce. In the Times this morning, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, who is president of the International Political Science Association research committee on political finance and political corruption, says the real villain of the piece is Britain's Electoral Commission, which he describes as incompetent.

"It has neglected vital problems of defective voter registration and electoral fraud. It has inadequately inspected campaign accounts of parliamentary candidates. It has been forced to admit that it even does not know the overall incomes and expenditures of the main parties. Above all, its leaders have allowed the political parties to bear all the blame for its failings.

"The 'loans for lordships' saga has led to parties, politicians and donors pilloried and threatened with prosecution. Yet, there is compelling evidence that one of the two potential charges is groundless. If the police uncover any explicit deal to promise peerages for party donations, this deserves to be charged under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925.

"However, if the charge - as some insiders predict as more likely - is that parties have not declared loans at below-commercial terms as required by the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000, it would be wrong to prosecute. The main parties merely followed the woolly non-advice about the requirements of the new Act given before the 2005 general election by the Electoral Commission."

There's nothing quite like a hoax on a grand scale...it's like hitting a kind of existential reload button. In Belgium, where the national consciousness has desperately needed updating for some time, perhaps since they got involved in a nascent EU, the Telegraph reports there has been a furore over a fake television broadcast that the king and queen had fled the country and an independent Flanders had been declared.

The Guardian is burbling in admiration: "The consternation in Belgium is great. On Wednesday, a French-language TV channel interrupted a programme about the future of the country to announce that the Flemish parliament had declared independence from the rest of Belgium. There were, it was reported, joyful scenes in the Flemish city of Antwerp. A Brussels tram, it said, had been blocked as it tried to enter the newly independent state of Flanders. King Albert II had fled, possibly to Kinshasa...

"The Flanders spoof joins a mostly distinguished line of hoaxes perpetrated by the media: Father Ronald Knox's BBC report in 1926 that rioters had toppled Big Ben and lynched a minister, the New York Sun's discovery of life on the moon, and Brass Eye's 'cake' documentary. A good hoax is too precious a thing to be thrown away on April 1, and the outraged should bear in mind that a successful one reveals more about the hoaxed than the perpetrator. RTBF, which has apologised, wanted to shake up the debate about Belgium's fragile unity.

"It was a memorable piece of impertinence."

An inventor named Philip Kithil thinks he's going to be able to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, almost universally blamed for global warming, with some plankton and lengths of plastic tubing. And next year, he's going to be testing his idea in the sea off Bermuda.

According to the Guardian, "Mr Kithil, an economist by training, hit on the idea of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by exploiting the behaviour of a barrel-shaped type of plankton called salps, which feed on algae and excrete dense pellets of carbon that sink to the ocean floor.

"His invention is a 1,000 metre long, 1.5 metre wide plastic tube that sits near the surface of the ocean, pumping cold, nutrient-rich water from the deep to the surface. The nutrients encourage algae to bloom in the shallower parts of the water, using up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When there is a plentiful source of this food, salp numbers can grow quickly, locking up the carbon in their excretions.

"The pumps, which are still at the experimental stage, will face their biggest test off the coast of Bermuda next year when 25 will be tethered together and scientists will measure their biological and chemical impacts."

14 December 2006

Think Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's reference to an Israeli nuclear weapon was a slip of the tongue, as many people would have it? Think again. The Washington Times carries an intelligent article explaining why Israel is dumping its long-time policy of ambiguity over its nuclear capability: "Israel's strategic doctrine must aim at strengthening nuclear deterrence. It can meet this objective only by convincing enemy states that a first-strike upon Israel will always be irrational. This means communicating to enemy states that the costs of such a strike will always exceed the benefits. Hence, Israel's strategic doctrine must always convince prospective attackers that their intended victim has both the willingness and the capacity to retaliate with nuclear weapons.

"If an enemy state considering an attack upon Israel were unconvinced about either or both of these components of nuclear deterrence, it could choose to strike first. This would depend in part upon the particular value it placed upon the expected consequences of such an attack.

"Regarding capacity: Even if Israel were to maintain a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons, it is necessary that enemy states believe these weapons to be distinctly usable. This means that if a first-strike attack were believed capable of sufficiently destroying Israel's atomic arsenal and pertinent infrastructures, that country's nuclear deterrent could be immobilized. Even if Israel's nuclear weapons could not be destroyed by an enemy first-strike, enemy misperceptions or misjudgments about Israeli vulnerability could still bring about the catastrophic failure of Israeli nuclear deterrence.

"To the extent that Israel's doctrine actually identifies nuanced and graduated forms of reprisal, more disclosure could contribute to Israeli nuclear deterrence. Without such disclosure, Israel's enemies will be kept guessing about the Jewish state's probable responses, a condition of protracted uncertainty that could serve Israel's survival for a while longer, but - at one time or another - could come apart.

"Prime Minister Olmert's public comment on Israel's nuclear capacity was a good first-step to enhanced nuclear deterrence. But it was only a good beginning."

Kofi Annan, reacting to the article in The Washington Times that Pondblog linked to yesterday, has asked UN investigators to look into its claims of fraud, favoritism and intimidation inside the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The Times reports that: "The DESA division, responsible for promoting accountability and good governance in member states, has used contributions from the Italian government to fund duplicative programs and unnecessary consultants, many of which benefit Italy or its nationals...

"The story also said the department had made unusual use of contractors and taken relevant information off its Web site after reporters began asking questions. It said DESA staffers have complained about intimidation.

"'The secretary-general's office has asked [the Office of Internal Oversight Services] to look into allegations raised this morning in the press,' said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Mr. Annan. He refused to specify which areas Mr. Annan is concerned about.

"On Monday evening, the US Mission to the United Nations transmitted a letter to the UN's chief internal inspector, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, asking OIOS to look into contracting improprieties and reports that staff had been intimidated in an effort to halt leaks. US officials also have received information that officials within DESA's in-house human resources department have been destroying documents related to contracts issued by the department in recent years."

The New York Times would have us believe that the furore over ex-President Jimmy Carter's new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, is chiefly over the use of that word 'apartheid' in its title. That's not true, what people are objecting to is that a man who once led the most powerful nation in the world has so distorted the facts in order to make his point that he has put himself on the level of a cheap propagandist like filmmaker Michael Moore. As this San Francisco Chronicle article explains, the book is so skewed that lawyer and writer Alan Dershowitz, in a scathing review, wrote that "Mr. Carter's book is so filled with simple mistakes of fact and deliberate omissions that were it a brief filed in a court of law, it would be struck and its author sanctioned for misleading the court."

Carter's friend and colleague Dr. Kenneth W. Stein, a well-known Middle East scholar, and until recently a fellow of Emory University's Carter Center, resigned his position because of strenuous objections to the content of Carter's book. "In an e-mail message regarding his resignation, Stein described the book as 'replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.'

"The copied materials involve two maps from former US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross's book The Missing Peace. In an appearance on Fox News, Ross confirmed that the maps originated with his book, and he objected not only to the lack of attribution but also to Carter's inaccurate presentation of the historical facts involved...

"Top-ranking Democrats have also disavowed Carter's work. Both Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi issued statements on Carter's book, distancing themselves and the Democratic Party from his divisive rhetoric...

"The late Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan summed it up when he said of Carter in 1980, 'Unable to distinguish between our friends and our enemies, he has essentially adopted our enemies' view of the world.'"

Martin Nodell, creator of the original Green Lantern, died on December 9. My New York artist friend, Colin Kerr, who keeps me and Pondblog readers current on matters concerning comic books and superheros, put together this little piece about Green Lantern:

"He is not to be confused with the hero's more recent science fiction-oriented incarnation; the original Green Lantern's powers were mystical in origin. Nodedll was inspired by Greek mythology and Wagner's Ring Cycle as well as a mysterious sight he happened to see on a subway ride from Manhattan to his Brooklyn home in 1940, someone waving a lantern in the darkness of the tunnel.

"'I picked out the name from the train man on the tracks who was waving a lantern, going from red to green...Green meant go and I decided that was it...'

"Nodell's hero was a survivor of a train wreck who finds in the debris an ancient Chinese Lantern forged from the metal of a green meteorite. From this, he creates a ring that gives him strange powers. The only catch is that he must recharge his ring in the flames of the lantern every 24 hours to maintain them.

"By contrast, the Green Lantern more familiar to baby boomers was a product of the early 1960s and the Space Race. His ring was a creation of alien technology; its only weakness the color yellow.

"Nodell left comic books in 1950 to go into advertising and was later part of the design team that came up with the Pillsbury Doughboy."

The LA Times has more about Martin Nodell's life.

13 December 2006

Is the US on the verge of loosening (albeit only slightly) its restrictions on contact with Cuba? Caribbean Net News is reporting that "The US Congress will pass legislation next year to ease restrictions on family travel and financial transfers to Cuba." They're quoting Representative William Delahunt, co-chair of a congressional group seeking to loosen the US embargo.

"Rules limiting US residents with Cuban relatives to one visit every three years are 'cruel' and will be overturned next year, Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Tuesday at the New York-based Council of the Americas, a policy research organisation. Delahunt, a member of the House International Relations Committee, said Congress will also loosen restrictions on remittances to the island. Remittances are generally limited to $300 per Cuban household in a three-month period, according to rules listed on the US State Department's Web site. The money must be sent through State Department-certified institutions."

Claudia Rosett imagines the farewell speech Kofi Annan should have given, in another fine National Review piece. Sample: "We all know it is laughable that I, of all people, should lecture anyone on good governance and accountability. I apologize. Before I try that stunt again, I will release, immediately, the personal financial 'disclosure' form that for months I refused even to file in-house, and have flatly refused to disclose to the public. I also concede that it was a gross conflict of interest that I accepted a $500,000 personal prize this past February from the ruler of Dubai, via a jury stacked with my own UN colleagues and appointees. Belatedly, I have finally understood that it is not solely a matter of giving up the purse when the press finally discovers I have given a fancy job to one of the prize jurors. There is also the principle that a sitting UN secretary-general should not be open to accepting large sums of cash."

In the same publication, UN critic Anne Bayevsky wonders when the US is going to realise how far out-of-control the UN has spun. "The only immediate question to be asked after the secretary-general vented his spleen upon leaving office Monday is: Do Americans, and the Bush administration, finally get it? After all, this White House was directly responsible for keeping Kofi Annan in office after the gigantic Oil-for-Food scandal could easily have taken him down. It was similarly responsible for allowing Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency - the other high-ranking UN official fighting vociferously against sanctions on Iran - a third term.

"What will it take for this administration to recognize the UN has become the enemy of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law? And every minute wasted there pretending the Security Council is serious about stopping the gravest threat to humankind today - an Iranian nuclear weapon - takes us a step closer to the permanent destruction of our way of life."

Meantime, the Washington Times reports that "A UN office charged with promoting accountability has for years been steering millions of dollars in contributions from the Italian government toward projects that enrich Italian nationals but offer little of real value, according to former and current staff members.

"The contributions have been used to hire unneeded consultants and establish international programs, often in Italy, say the staffers employed in the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

"The US Mission to the United Nations has asked the UN watchdog agency to investigate the awarding of contracts by DESA and reports of retaliation against staff members. It is also seeking to have documents seized before they can be destroyed, according to internal US communications. Some sensitive financial data disappeared from the DESA web site last week after a reporter began making inquiries."

Another great tradition has fallen by the wayside on the great march forward. The chronicles the slow death: of the Nishijin kimono in Japan: "Since 794, when the imperial court arrived illustriously in the new capital of Kyoto, Nishijin has clothed emperors and shoguns, princesses and geisha, prime ministers and mistresses. It survived fires and floods, the post-World War II American occupation and, for decades more, fickle tastes. Twenty-five years ago, production of Nishijin kimonos and obi - elaborate kimono sashes - was thriving, with highflying Tokyo businessmen purchasing $25,000 kimonos for wives and lovers like so many boxes of roses.

"But today, as a result of globalization and rapidly changing demographics, the kimono business has collapsed, its future in question. Sales are expected to sink to an all-time low this year, even as Japan has emerged from recession to experience its longest economic boom since World War II.

"The prosperity has come with an altered set of cultural values. This is a country of manga comics and glittering animation. The rising moguls driving the new economy are more likely to buy muscled chrome from one of Tokyo's expanding list of Ferrari dealerships than drop their spoils on Kyoto silk."

It's really a tribal thing, a fight between the Germanic countries of Europe, and the Latin countries. The French are leading the Latin charge - French trade minister Christine Lagarde, according to the Telegraph blamed France's really grim trade figures "on the tight policies of the European Central Bank, which has raised interest rates six times in a year to 3.5%. The rate rises are the key factor pushing up the euro.

"We sold one less Airbus, we haven't sold any satellites, and we have not sold any ships. Frankly, the battle against inflation has been won. It's high time the ECB began thinking about growth," she said. Her comments came as French leaders of all stripes stepped up attacks on the bank, accusing it of 'monetary masochism'. The euro has risen 11% against the US dollar and most Asian currencies this year, and 20% against the Japanese yen.

"French premier Dominique de Villepin called on EU states this week to reassert national control over their economies and set proper limits on the powers of the ECB. 'We must clarify matters in exchange rate policy, which means taking back our sovereignty.'"

In an editorial, the Telegraph comments: "What was once seen as a giant step towards 'ever-closer union', as prescribed by the Treaty of Rome, is becoming an intolerable straitjacket. Common sense would suggest loosening the sleeves, but it may well be ignored as each of the camps cries foul. Britain found itself in a similar quandary before it left the ERM in 1992. For the eurozone members, there is, unfortunately, no immediate way out."

12 December 2006

Former Czech president Vaclav Havel has again spoken out against Fidel Castro's government in Cuba, uring tourists to shun the place as a holiday destination. Caribbean Net News quotes him as having said "I cannot go to Cuba to lounge on the beach and pretend not to notice anything while there are dozens of political prisoners behind bars...we must not allow ourselves to be deluded that nothing bad is happening in Cuba. A lot of bad is happening in that country."

Havel's message was aired at a conference organised by Polish Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former president Lech Walesa, aimed at showing solidarity with dissidents in Cuba.

The Chinese think we're getting their dragon wrong, and they're trying, not for the first time, to set us right. People's Daily says we think of the beast as "a gigantic, evil demon with a colossus but dull body in dark grey color with a pair of huge wings to devour humans and beasts."

But the dragon they have in mind is a sort of composite creature, made up of "nine glad-tiding totems, including a deer's horn, a camel's head, a pair of large lobster-type eyes, a snake-shape body, a hawk's claws, a tiger's palms, and big ears of oxen covered with scales of carps scattered all over the body. It is an auspicious sign and a guarantee of propitious winds and rains for a good yield year."

They're not sure what they're going to do about it, but it looks as if abandoning the dragon altogether isn't on the cards. Ninety percent of people who participated in an online survey want their happy dragon kept as a symbol of China.

Although Arab countries other than Iran have been keeping pretty quiet about Iran's nuclear ambitions, that may be changing. Leaders of six Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, ordered a feasibility study of a joint atomic energy program Sunday at the conclusion of a two-day summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh, according to the Washington Times. The oil-rich countries, all predominantly Sunni Arab states, made it clear that their declaration was intended to prod the West into stopping Shi'ite Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

What seems to have made up their minds to go public is the Sunni-Shi'ite fighting in Iraq, which is spilling over into the region, with elements in Saudi Arabia and Iran offering financial and other backing to competing Iraqi factions.

Israeli officials have welcomed the decision, citing it as evidence that the region's Sunni Arab governments are becoming more open in their opposition to Iran. "While historically hostile," says the Times, "to any step that could lead to an 'Islamic' nuclear bomb, Israelis are weighing that risk against the possibility of an implicit alliance with neighboring Sunni Arab states that share their concerns about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Shi'ite Iran."

IBM has launched a new weather service called Deep Thunder, according to Technology Review, "that can predict the rain, the wind, and temperature conditions down to a one-kilometer resolution. In time, IBM researchers say they should even be able to nail the resolution down to individual streets.

There's more information at this website, and an example of what it produces at this one, once you've clicked through.

"The idea is to provide weather-sensitive businesses in metropolitan areas with information that's more accurate than what government agencies are capable of providing," a researcher at IBM's TJ Watson Research Center, in Yorktown Heights, NY, told Technology Review.

11 December 2006

Covering the news from Lebanon is particularly difficult for a couple of reasons - the press there is slow, their coverage is sometimes difficult to read because of the very convoluted nature of politics there, and because robust truth-telling is not a tradition in that part of the world. This story is a case in point. Naharnet , (it's a news outlet I'm not familiar with, so whether it has a political bias or not I can't say) reports that "Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has agreed to an Arab League plan to get Lebanon out of its fueling political deadlock, a day after hundreds of thousands of protestors flooded Beirut in a Hizbullah-led rally to press the ouster of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government." It's easy to think of this persuasion of Mr Nasrallah as good news, but if you have a cynical turn of mind, what you suspect is that Mr Nasrallah needed no persuasion, that this is what the whole Hezbollah protest was leading to - the return of Syria to dominance in Lebanese politics.

Naharnet quotes Mustafa Ismail, the envoy of Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, as having told told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television - from Damascus - on Sunday that he had received Nasrallah's "agreement in principle" to the proposals and said he was returning to Beirut on Monday.

In Haaretz, which is not known for its admiration for Syria, but which a news outlet much more in the Western tradition, "Ismail said that Syria, which wants to see a new Lebanese national unity government, was fundamental to the success of the Arab initiative.

"'Syria is pivotal. I have explained to Moualem (the Syrian foreign minister) the efforts we have made so far to control the deterioration in Lebanon and stressed the importance of realizing that there will be no victors or losers,' Ismail said."

"The Sudanese envoy will hold talks on the Arab League proposals with Lebanese leaders later on Monday, following a show of force by the Hezbollah-led opposition. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa will join him on Tuesday."

So it seems that the man who really needs persuasion is not Nasrallah at all, but Mr Siniora (Saniora's an acceptable alternate spelling), besieged in his Parliament buildings next to the huge open area where the protesters are encamped. I doubt he'll like the idea.

The Hezbollah way with the truth is the subject of a Wall Street Journal this morning, using "a remarkable report by retired Lieutenant Colonel Reuven Erlich of Israel's Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center."

"Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has accused Israel's military of 'indiscriminate warfare' and 'a disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians.' Mr. Erlich demolishes that claim, and in the process shows the asymmetric strategy of Islamist radicals.

"The most persuasive evidence here is photographic, so we urge readers to access the report itself on the Web site of the American Jewish Congress (ajcongress.org). Hezbollah's headquarters in Aita al-Shaab, for instance, sits in the heart of the village. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's office and home are in a densely built neighborhood of Beirut. In the town of Qana - site of an Israeli bombing on July 30 that killed 28 and that Hezbollah's apologists were quick to label a 'massacre' - an arms warehouse can be seen adjacent to a mosque. There are photographs of rockets in the back seats of cars, missile launchers adjacent to farm houses, storage bunkers hidden beneath homes. There is also a trove of before-and-after photography demonstrating the precision of most Israeli bombing.

"The report also shows how the use of civilian cover was explicitly part of Hezbollah's strategy. '[The organization's operatives] live in their houses, in their schools, in their churches, in their fields, in their farms and in their factories,' said Mr. Nasrallah in a TV interview on May 27, several weeks before the war. 'You can't destroy them in the same way you would destroy an army.'

"Exactly what Mr. Nasrallah means is illustrated in the testimonials of the captured fighters. Asked why Hezbollah would risk the destruction of civilian areas by firing from them, Mr. Suleiman replied that while in theory private homes belonged to 'the residents of the village...in essence they belong to Hezbollah.'"

Despite Fidel Castro's illness...or perhaps because of it...it seems to be business as usual in the human rights field in Cuba. Caribbean Net News says: "More than 200 Cuban government supporters attacked 15 human rights activists on International Human Rights Day on Sunday, manhandling the demonstrators as they drove them from a Havana park.

"'Fidel, Fidel' and 'Raul, Raul,' the mob shouted as it swarmed the dissidents before their protest could begin, breaking up the group and shoving and dragging the activists for a few blocks. One protester's shirt was ripped off and he was threatened with a beating. 'One of us suffered a fractured arm and almost everyone was hit,' march organizer Dr. Darcy Ferrer, said in a telephone interview. 'We do not know if anyone was detained as we still haven't heard from six or seven people,' he said.

"The attack took place in view of foreign journalists, who were also the target of angry shouts by the crowd, and appeared to signal that acting president Raul Castro has no intention of softening his ailing brother Fidel's no-tolerance policy toward political opposition to the Communist state." The Cubans would have been anxious to ensure the release of dissident Hector Palacios from prison last week for health reasons wasn't misinterpreted.

This is an excerpt from a speech Kofi Annan will make later today, his last on American soil, apparently. The Washington Post is carrying the truncated version as an op-ed it this morning: "How can states hold each other to account? Only through multilateral institutions. So my final lesson is that those institutions must be organized in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and the weak some influence over the actions of the rich and the strong.

"Developing countries should have a stronger voice in international financial institutions, whose decisions can mean life or death for their people. New permanent or long-term members should be added to the UN Security Council, whose current membership reflects the reality of 1945, not of today.

"No less important, all the Security Council's members must accept the responsibility that comes with their privilege. The council is not a stage for acting out national interests. It is the management committee of our fledgling global security system.

"More than ever, Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system. Experience has shown, time and again, that the system works poorly when the United States remains aloof but it functions much better when there is farsighted US leadership. That gives American leaders of today and tomorrow a great responsibility. The American people must see that they live up to it."

Some in the media are saying the speech will be stronger than this excerpt suggests - this USA
piece says "In a farewell speech on US soil today, retiring United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan plans to deliver a tough critique of President Bush's policies. He will accuse the administration of trying to secure the United States from terrorism in part by dominating other nations through force, committing what he termed human rights abuses and taking military action without broad international support. Though Annan has long been a critic of the war in Iraq and other Bush foreign policies, the planned speech is among his toughest and is unusual for a U.N. secretary-general concluding his tenure.

"Annan's remarks, provided to USA TODAY by his office, list principles for international relations, among them 'respect for human rights and the rule of law.'"

Many of the British media are today carrying a story about a short-form version of English, globish, that is the invention (sort of) of a Frenchman. The story broke a week ago, with a longish feature in the Observer, which seems to have needed to simmer a bit before it caught people's attention. "Today, possibly as a consequence of 9/11, the planet has arrived at what we might call the Globish revolution, a globalisation of Anglo-American culture as much as language in which 'some kind of English' has become a universal global currency. By some calculations, indeed, as many as a billion people, nearly a sixth of mankind, now use English as either a first or, more prevalently, second language. This used to be known as 'offshore English'. Globish, 'the international dialect of the third millennium', is a more apt description...

"Globish is not 'pidgin' or 'broken' English but it is highly simplified and unidiomatic...in Globish you could never say, 'This erstwhile buddy of yours is a weird duck who will probably put the kibosh on all our good deeds.' That might make sense in Acacia Avenue but it will not play in Buenos Aires or Zurich. In Globish you would express this as: 'Your old friend is too strange. He would ruin all our efforts.' Globish...is 'decaffeinated English, or English-lite'."

Well-spotted, Brenda.

10 December 2006

A heartfelt amen to this story! It's from the Guardian: "I'm getting on. No time for messing around with the likes of Prokofiev or Trollope any more. The artists I have most time for now are those who have pushed the boundaries most bravely and inventively; who have made their chosen genre into something unanticipated, and who have done it so completely that, in your delighted amazement, you just scratch your head and say: 'Well, yeah, sure,' as if it had been the most natural thing in the world.

"So I like what Thomas Carlyle did to historical writing, what Jackson Pollock did to painting, what Wallace Stevens did to poetry. It's not absurd to put Tom Waits, America's most eloquent poet-songwriter, in that company. Enough of Dylan already. Not that there's anything wrong with Dylan, but he's provoked volumes of heavyweight analytical bloviation second only to Freud, whereas people on both sides of the Atlantic have barely begun to give the singular Tom Waits his proper due."

China and Japan have made up, and that's now not just Pondblog speculation, it's official. People's Daily says: "With Japanese new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to China, the year of 2006 witnessed a new starting point for the development of China-Japan relations.

"Abe paid an official visit to China from Oct. 8 to 9, based on a consensus reached between China and Japan on overcoming the political obstacle to the bilateral relationship and promoting the sound development of bilateral friendly and cooperative relationship.

Experts described Abe's visit as the thaw of the deadlocked China-Japan political relationship and thought it opened the window of hope for improving relations between the two neighbors."

BBC4 is going to screen an adaptation of what Evelyn Waugh and I are agreed is the funniest book ever written - George and Weedon Grossmight's Diary of a Nobody. The Independent says Mr Pooter, "a self-delusional city clerk with lofty social aspirations, is to be screened by BBC4 as part of its Edwardian series in the Spring." About time. Since the second-funniest book ever written, Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Scwhweik, was published in 1921, it's been made into a movie several times, adapted for the theatre several times and turned into an opera once that I know of.

The Financial Times has just published a fine round-up of action taken...or not...in the wake of the Volcker report on the UN Oil-for-Food scandal.

"Slightly more than a year after a United Nations inquiry discovered a staggering level of graft by officials and corporations worldwide in buying cheap oil and selling goods to Iraq experts warn the great majority of alleged perpetrators are escaping scot-free."

In a sidebar, the FT speculates that "State prosecutors are dragging their feet investigating corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food programme...

"Mark Pieth, a Switzerland-based lawyer who wrote the report with Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, told the Financial Times that prosecutors in many countries were too career-minded, too unwilling to enter new legal terrain 'and sometimes simply lazy'.

"In spite of high-profile investigations in Australia, France and elsewhere, few cases have led to charges being laid in the 13 months since the report was published. Mr Pieth said he was 'astonished' the report's conclusions had not led to organisational changes in the UN, which was accused of mishandling the oil-for-food programme."

Get it while it's hot. FT links cease to work in three days, and this story was published first on Friday.

Meantime, the UN is facing fresh allegations of bureaucratic incompetence, according to the Sunday Telegraph, after the disclosure that renovation costs for its vast New York headquarters have rocketed to nearly $2 billion.

"The projected bill for the scheme, which includes updating the 1950s building and a makeover for the Secretary General's New York residence, has risen by nearly two-thirds from an original 2002 estimate of $1,170 million to $1,900 million.

"Kofi Annan, the departing Secretary General, presented a confidential progress report at a closed-doors meeting of the UN General Assembly last week, of which The Sunday Telegraph has obtained details."


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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