|...Views from mid-Atlantic|
06 January 2007
Naharnet News Desk reports that the presidents of France and the United States and Germany's Chancellor are agreed that the key to a settlement in the ongoing political crisis gripping Lebanon is the formation of an international tribunal to try suspects of the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri.
Speaking after a meeting yesterday with Angela Merkel in Washington, President George Bush said the answer in resolving Lebanon's impasse was to move 'as fast as possible' with the Special International Tribunal for Lebanon.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah held talks on Lebanon's political crisis with a senior Hezbollah leader in his first such contact with the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim group, Haaretz reports. Saudi Arabia, like its ally the United States, has been critical of Hezbollah since its guerrillas sparked a 34-day war with Israel, and will have been urging the group to cool their jets before they set the country on fire.
The leaders making these comments might have had, at the back of their minds, Hezbollah's threat to expand protest in the Lebanon conflict next week, to try to topple the Lebanese government by paralyzing the country.
"'The opposition is putting the final touches to the second phase of its campaign. Things will start moving next week,' said an opposition politician."
The Telegraph follows up its scoop of yesterday about proposed cuts in the Royal Navy by revealing, though another leaked document, that not only are many, many sailors going to lose their jobs, but promotion in higher ranks is going to be frozen until 2012. "If the warship cuts go ahead, 1,500 sailors will probably lose their jobs in a service that has already been reduced to 36,000 personnel in recent years. It has also been proposed that the 2,900 sailors of the Royal Navy Reserve, which provides a backbone in many specialist areas, will be cut by as much as 20 per cent. There are going to be reductions too in the 1,000 sailors in the Full Time Reserve Service who are asked back to do specific jobs to fill gaps.
"The leaked memo, from Vice-Admiral Adrian Johns, the Second Sea Lord, said: "In order to rebalance in favour of the front line we are focusing on officers of Lieutenant Commander and above. I anticipate a temporary reduction in promotion numbers primarily in the officer cadre for the period 2008 to 2010 and recovering to present levels in 2012."
I had a boss once who could dictate letters at conversation speed, in better English than he normally used. He said it was just a knack that was easy to acquire. I acquired another knack - typing quickly - and never needed to dictate. But this fascinating New York Times article makes me wish I'd given it a try: "...Speech recognition is really a memory," author Richard Powers writes. "Speak the thing into being: as dreams go, that's as old as they get. Once, all stories existed only in speech, and no technology caused more upheaval than the written word. In the Phaedrus, Socrates - who talked a whole lot but never, apparently, wrote a word - uncorks at length about how writing damages memory, obscures authority and even alters meaning. But we have his warning only through Plato's suspect transcript.
"For most of history, most reading was done out loud. Augustine remarks with surprise that Bishop Ambrose could read without moving his tongue. Our passage into silent text came late and slow, and poets have resisted it all the way. From Homer to hip-hop, the hum is what counts. Blind Milton chanted Paradise Lost to his daughters. Of his 159-line Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth said, 'I began it upon leaving Tintern...and concluded...after a ramble of four or five days...Not a line of it was altered, and not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol.' Wallace Stevens used to compose while walking to work, then dictate the results to his secretary, before proceeding to his official correspondence as vice president of the Hartford insurance company."
05 January 2007
Supporters of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora have charged that the Syrian Social National Party, seven of whose members were arrested a few days ago, are being used as an "executive tool" by Syrian military intelligence to carry out terrorist attacks. Naharnet News Desk called the arrests by Lebanese security forces the uncovering of "a dangerous terrorist network."
When the seven officials were arrested in Kourah province, in the north of Lebanon, large quantities of explosives, detonators and timers were seized from hideouts operated by the party.
Naharnet is also reporting this morning that security forces have arrested four more men, including a Syrian, in a northern town.
Details are a little hazy, but the four are said to have been in Shekka for some time, looking for work.
Caribbean Net News reports that the US has begun to plan in detail for coping with a refugee problem it believes may be triggered by the death of Fidel Castro. "The US Coast Guard and other agencies are stepping up planning for handling a possible surge in Cubans seeking refuge in the US once communist leader Fidel Castro dies, according to officials involved in the effort.
"More than 250 people from federal agencies participated in an organisational dry run of the interdiction plan known as Operation Vigilant Sentry on December 12 and 13, Coast Guard spokesman Lieutenant Commander Chris O'Neil said in an interview. A full-scale exercise is set for March.
"President George W. Bush's administration is concerned that Castro's death, and possible political instability in the island nation afterward, might produce a flotilla of refugees in the waters between Cuba and Florida, as in 1980 when 125,000 Cubans overwhelmed the Coast Guard."
Viola Herms Drath is a member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and recipient of the 2005 William J. Flynn Initiative for Peace Award for her seminal work promoting German unification. Her Washington Times piece on the background to the US visit of German chancellor Angela Merkel is a little stiff, but still a fine piece of work: "Mrs. Merkel has kept her country's unlikely grand coalition together, calls for the recovery of Europe's economic dynamism as the basis of its social system, growth, employment and competitiveness. She also addresses the necessity of a common policy to combat illegal migration and illegal workers and better secured borders to prevent illegal immigration.
"Long-ranging drafts for a coherent foreign policy are enhanced by plans of military cooperation with the perspective of a functional common European defense system and the urgency of strengthening Europe's small and mobile autonomous fighting units readied for action in regional crisis situations.
"Together, Mrs. Merkel's EU reform initiatives have but one aim: to pull a Europe, plagued by self-doubt and immigration fatigue together and shape it into one strong and prosperous union to be reckoned with. Once united in its approach to economic growth and social issues the expanded EU, sharing 20 percent of global trade, should be able to assume its global responsibilities and whether we like it or not become an indispensable partner."
London's Daily Telegraph seems to have uncovered plans to cut the British Navy by half, and senior naval officers have said they will turn Britain's once-proud Navy into nothing more than a coastal defence force.
"The Government has admitted that 13 unnamed warships are in a state of reduced readiness, putting them around 18 months away from active service. Today The Daily Telegraph can name a further six destroyers and frigates that are being proposed for cuts.
"A need to cut the defence budget by 250 million pounds this year to meet spending requirements has forced ministers to look at drastic measures. MoD sources have admitted it is possible that the Royal Navy will discontinue one of its major commitments around the world at a time when Sir Jonathon Band, the First Sea Lord, has said more ships are needed to protect the high seas against terrorism and piracy.
"News of further cuts to what was once the world's most formidable fleet comes as critics say failings across the Services are becoming increasingly apparent. More details are emerging of the near-squalor that soldiers are forced to tolerate in barracks when they return from six months of dangerous overseas operations. Questions have also been raised about the poor pay for troops and equipment failures which continue to dog operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In an editorial, the Telegraph comments that there are three reasons the country must take this sort of drastic step - lack of money, the Government's habit of spending defence money unwisely, and "the Euro-centric nature of our defence. During the second half of the 20th century, Britain's strategic thinking was focused, unusually, on the defence of western Europe. The end of the Cold War should have released Britain to pursue its more usual vocation as an island nation with interests in every continent. But, as so often, our top brass is gearing up for the last war.
"Instead of tailoring our procurement and alliances to suit our needs, we took what we happened already to have - Nato - and pressed it into roles for which it was not designed. The truth is that, as our horizons widen, the Royal Navy should be assuming a pre-eminence it has not enjoyed for 50 years. We should be building more ships than ever, including unmanned vessels. Instead, we choose to engage in the madness of mothballing the few we have left."
04 January 2007
One of those Syrian Social National Party members arrested in Lebanon a few days ago has been talking, apparently. Naharnet News Desk reports that he was reported to have "'testified' to interrogators that his party superior and parliament member Assad Hardan ordered him to detonate an explosive charge at a restaurant hosting a rally organized by the rival Phalange party.
"The Daily al-Mustaqbal quoted Jailed SSNP member Tony Mansour as saying the bombing operation was to be carried out at a restaurant in the northern Koura province on Jan. 15, 2005, where the Phalange Party was to organize a rally attended by ex-President Amin Gemayel and his son, Pierre, who was killed last Nov. 21 by unidentified gunmen who opened fire at his car in east Beirut's suburb of New Jdaideh.
"The failed attempt was to be carried out just 29 days before the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri by blowing up his motorcade in Beirut.
"Mansour, who was arrested along with six other SSNP members in a major police bust at their hideouts in Koura last month, told investigators that after the Phalange Party set the date for its rally, Hardan ordered him to 'obstruct' the event."
The New York Sun's Benny Avni, their man in Turtle Bay, isn't so impressed by the new secretary general's first personnel decisions: "Secretary-General Ban, who has promised to tame the UN bureaucracy, yesterday looked instead like someone who is being tamed by the UN apparatus.
"In appointing a Briton close to Prime Minister Blair, John Holmes, to coordinate human affairs at the United Nations and a Mexican, Alicia Barcena, to head the UN management team, Mr. Ban seemed unable to break away from old traditions."
The minimum wage is far from the panacea people claim it is, but it's one of those ideas that, once in people's heads, stays in. (Like not splitting infinitives, or thinking fulsome means substantial, for example.) In the Washington Post, George F. Will reminds us of the minimum wage's history. "Today, raising the federal minimum wage is a bad idea whose time has come, for two reasons, the first of which is that some Democrats have an evidently incurable disease - New Deal Nostalgia. Witness Nancy Pelosi's '100 hours' agenda, a genuflection to FDR's 100 Days. Perhaps this nostalgia resonates with the 5 percent of Americans who remember the 1930s...
"Ronald Blackwell, the AFL-CIO's chief economist, tells the New York Times that state minimum-wage differences entice companies to shift jobs to lower-wage states. So: States' rights are bad, after all, at least concerning - let's use liberalism's highest encomium - diversity of economic policies.
"The problem is that demand for almost everything is elastic: When the price of something goes up, demand for it goes down. Obviously were the minimum wage to jump to, say, $15 an hour, that would cause significant unemployment among persons just reaching for the bottom rung of the ladder of upward mobility. But suppose those scholars are correct who say that when the minimum wage is low and is increased slowly - proposed legislation would take it to $7.25 in three steps - the negative impact on employment is negligible...
"President Bush has endorsed raising the hourly minimum from $5.15 to $7.25 by the spring of 2009. The Democratic Congress will favor that, and he may reason that vetoing this minor episode of moral grandstanding would not be worth the predictable uproar - Washington uproar often is inversely proportional to the importance of the occasion for it. Besides, there would be something disproportionate about the president vetoing this feel-good bit of legislative fluff after not vetoing the absurdly expensive 2002 farm bill, or the 2005 highway bill larded with 6,371 earmarks or the anti-constitutional McCain-Feingold speech-rationing bill."
Microsoft's new Vista operating system will include a built-in backup facility when it comes on the market for general public consumption later this month, as will Apple's new OS. But if you would trust the company which put a backup facility in Windows 95 (was it?), then neglected to give you a way of retrieving the damn things in subsequent iterations, then I think you need your head read.
If you want an alternative that's rapidly pricing itself into the market, try online backups. The New York Times has a timely, skimming-the-surface sort of guide.
It's a bit of a whine, but my goodness, it's a good one, and as true as the day is long. Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston writes: "For Israelis, the year 2006 ended four days after it began.
"It ended when Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef of Hadassah hospital first walked out to announce that Ariel Sharon had suffered what he called a significant cerebral incident.
"So began a day, a month, in the end, a year of held breath.
"Ariel Sharon, the man whom half of us always loved to hate, and whom the other half always hated to love, the one indispensable man in a country where everyone is treated as eminently disposable, is lost to us forever.
"We cannot bring ourselves to admit that we are lost without him. But, for a year now, we have proven just that...
"The best that the current prime minister can manage, is to act like the shyster lawyer representing the prime minister. The best that the defense minister can manage, is to act like the shop steward for the Defense Ministry employees' union..."
03 January 2007
The New York Sun reports that the documents being carried by Iranians arrested in Iraq last month are pretty damning.
"An American intelligence official said the new material, which has been authenticated within the intelligence community, confirms 'that Iran is working closely with both the Shiite militias and Sunni Jihadist groups.' The source was careful to stress that the Iranian plans do not extend to cooperation with Baathist groups fighting the government in Baghdad, and said the documents rather show how the Quds Force - the arm of Iran's revolutionary guard that supports Shiite Hezbollah, Sunni Hamas, and Shiite death squads - is working with individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunna.
"Another American official who has seen the summaries of the reporting affiliated with the arrests said it comprised a 'smoking gun'. 'We found plans for attacks, phone numbers affiliated with Sunni bad guys, a lot of things that filled in the blanks on what these guys are up to,' the official said."
Here we go again. I acknowledge that it is difficult to control troops who are a long way from home, and who have not enough to do, but it sometimes seems the UN isn't even bothering to try. The Telegraph seems to have beaten the rest of the world on this story: "Members of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in southern Sudan are facing allegations of raping and abusing children as young as 12, The Daily Telegraph reported today.
"The abuse allegedly began two years ago when the UN mission in southern Sudan moved in to help rebuild the region after a 23-year civil war. The UN has up to 10,000 military personnel in the region, of all nationalities and the allegations involve peacekeepers, military police and civilian staff.
"The first indications of sexual exploitation emerged within months of the UN force’s arrival and The Daily Telegraph has seen a draft of an internal report compiled by the UN children’s agency Unicef in July 2005 detailing the problem."
In an editorial, the Telegraphs comments: "The reason that the UN so often behaves badly is, paradoxically, because so many people wish it well. Because the organisation embodies the loftiest of ideals – peace among nations – it tends to receive the automatic benefit of the doubt. We are so fond of the theoretical UN that we rarely drag our gaze down to the actual one. The UN has therefore fallen out of the habit of having to explain itself and, in consequence, become flabby, immobilist and often sleazy."
02 January 2007
Bridget Johnson ain't exactly happy with the UN's resolution condemning the killing of journalists - in the National Review Online, she writes: "I've always despised symbolic-but-wholly-useless resolutions. Who can forget when the Berkeley City Council passed a post-9/11 resolution condemning any impending U.S. retaliatory attack, and another one this past April calling for the impeachments of President Bush and Dick Cheney (action also taken by loopy city councils in Arcata, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco). Such moves make for proud progressive back-patting fodder, but nothing else.
"To be honest, my disdain for useless resolutions is personal - going back to my days as a reporter covering city-council meetings, mindlessly doodling as my eyes glazed over at the endless stream of plaques being presented, resolutions calling on the citizenry to be nice to otters or to not throw engine oil down the garbage disposal. Council members sometimes offer an inspirational sound bite; otherwise, they tend to look just as bored as the press as the city resolved to recognize the vast societal benefits offered by National Basketweaving Day."
I covered an inquest, many years ago, and left my notebook on the reporters' desk when those in the court had to leave to allow the jury to consider its verdict (well, things get done on shoestrings in the tropics). When court resumed, the tiny-brained jackasses on the jury had destroyed some of my notes and doodled over the rest. They giggled about it when their foreman was telling the magistrate what their verdict was.
In those days, coroner's juries were pretty much always the same bunch of sad drunks in suits the cops (often just as sad and just as drunk) always got together, because I guess they made a kind of common cause.
Lebanon's leading diviner Michel Hayek, whose prophecies in previous years achieved 50-percent accuracy, according to Naharnet's News Desk, predicts "a brilliant future" for Lebanon in 2007.
"Hayek, who had predicted the tragic deaths of ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, MP-Journalist Gebran Tueni and Britain's Lady Diana, said: "Lebanon will enjoy a long period of prosperity and construction."
In order to get to that, though, Hayek says Lebanon's going to have to go through a series of 38 painful events, including these:
1. The setting up of the Special International Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of Hariri.
2. The arrest of culprits entrusted with an attempt to assassinate Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and his wife MP Strida Geagea.
3. An incident in the vicinity of Lebanon's Central Bank.
4. An important event at Beirut port.
5. Blood (shed) at a university in Lebanon.
6. Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Druze chieftain Walid Jumblat "in the same picture."
7. A legislator from the Chouf mountains in danger (that has to be Jumblat, again).
8. A series of light earthquakes hit several districts of Lebanon.
9. Attack on two clergymen from different sects.
The Los Angeles Times had a pretty good run of New Year's wishes, as opposed to predictions, last year - of 36, they got five, and two others were partially realised. This year, they've published slightly fewer than 36 - I'm not sure whether that means the world's a better place, and the Times avoids the issue. They range from hoping for an Iraqi government that will crack down on radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr and others linked to death squads in that country, to wishing that Bob Woodward would report something within three days of learning it.
This is a feature in the San Francisco Chronicle that ought to help people keep their feet on the ground in 2007: "Stonework is one of the earliest arts, harking back to the pyramids and the 5,000-year-old dry stack walls of Great Britain. In the modern-day Bay Area, stonework has become increasingly popular, says Lou Truesdell, president of American Soil and Stone Products. Stonework's growing popularity is because of a greater availability of stones, increased interest in home beautification and new technologies that make cutting and fitting stone easier and cheaper. At the same time, some masons say, the craft is endangered by building codes that require concrete and steel, thus rendering structural stonework obsolete. And the same technologies that are making stonework easier are also threatening to end true craftsmanship.
"The Bay Area, however, does have stonemasons who are determined to ensure that what they build today will be the Stonehenges of tomorrow.
"'We find the right material for the job, and the design comes partly from that,' Gonzalez says. Gonzalez specializes in dry stone walls - built without mortar, held together by friction and gravity. Dry walls, masons agree, are the basis for all stonework, structurally, aesthetically - even morally. How does morality figure in?
"To Gonzalez and others, form and function are one. Using stone structurally is being true to the stone and to the function it plays as a structural element. Using it as a facade, or to make it appear that it is structural when it is not, is thus immoral. For Gonzalez, the best walls are 'working walls', held together and given strength by the stones themselves.
"'The goal is to be technically sound,' he says. 'The beauty comes of that. You use the shape the rock gives you in the most economical manner that makes a good wall. You get that interplay of balance, friction and gravity.'"
31 December 2006
Retired Marine Lt Col James G Zumwalt says the enemy's assessments of its progress are as important as our own. In The Washington Times, he writes: "An old joke tells of an opposing team failing to show up for a football game against an ethnic team that is so bad, even without an opponent on the field, it takes several plays to cross the goal. A similar situation seems to exist in the Middle East: Even if Israel disappeared, the Arab and Muslim populations would still be driven by the hatred, distrust and intolerance of the past, making the goal of peace impossible.
"More Muslims have been killed by fellow Muslims than by Israelis. Thus, few problems of the Arab world realistically are linked to Israel. Just look to Sudan, the Iran-Iraq war, the massacres in Algeria, the invasion of Kuwait, the murder of thousands of Syrians by Hafez Assad (father of the current Syrian leader) at El Hamma, use of gas against Yemen by Egypt in the 1960s, the brutality of the Taliban against the people of Afghanistan, etc.
"The CIA is to report on a simulated exercise to determine how the Iraq war will affect the global jihadist movement. That report will warn that a US defeat will embolden al Qaeda to expand its terrorist ranks and pick new strategic targets in its global war effort. Clearly, any option short of victory, while bringing short-term benefit, will bring long-term disaster.
"In deciding whether to move forward in Iraq, we must listen to the right voices to determine how the war is really going. Ironically, this may be one of the rare times we should listen to the voice of al Qaeda."
Have the Israelis and Hamas struck a deal on the release of one of the Israeli soldiers held hostage? Haaretz reports that the Palestinians say they have.
Foreign Policy lists The Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2006 - significant stories overlooked because they lacked a kind of news flash point.
Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
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 Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
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
Yukio Mishima's Death
Contact the Pondblogger
About Last Night
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Arts and Letters Daily
Aworks :: "new" american classical music
Cup of Chicha
Day by Day by Chris Muir
Little Green Footballs
Michael J Totten
Reflections in d minor
Roger L Simon
Talking Points Memo
The Volokh Conspiracy
A Bermuda Blog
A Limey in Bermuda
Politics.bm: A Mostly Bermuda Weblog
The Bermuda Sun
The Mid-Ocean News
The Royal Gazette
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