...Views from mid-Atlantic
27 January 2007

Is Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, the economic giant people say he is? Alex Alexiev, the vice president for research at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, thinks he's a bit of a birdbrain. Writing in The Washington Times, he claims Brown's recent pledge to make Britain "a key hub for facilitating Islamic finance" and to turn London into "a major enabling and structuring center for global Islamic finance" is embarrassing codswallop.

"The apparent cluelessness of an otherwise economically literate person like Gordon Brown, regarding 'Islamic finance' is a case in point. To put it simply, there could no more be 'Islamic finance' or 'Islamic economics' than Christian physics or Buddhist biology. It is a completely bogus concept based on a misinterpretation of Quranic teaching and designed to advance radical Islam.

"It has everything to do with Islamic, indeed, Islamist, desiderata and very little with finance. The guiding principle of Islamic finance is built around the ostensible Quranic prohibition of charging interest. Except that the Quran bans usury, not interest. As the leading authority on the subject, Professor Timur Kuran, explains in his devastating critique of Islamic finance, 'What the Quran bans unambiguously is the pre-Islamic Arabian institution of 'riba', whereby a borrower saw his debt double following a default and redouble if he defaulted again.'

"And so, having foresworn interest, without which banking is virtually impossible, Islamic finance is little more than a hoax perpetrated on its clients through a series of deceitful ruses that amount to interest just the same."

The British Government has not had a good week. This London Times article explains: "John Reid endured a miserable end to the week today as the Home Office was hit by a succession of blows, this time on asylum and youth justice, adding to the pressure that has built up over the prison overcrowding crisis.

"The main crisis of the week, that of prison overcrowding, showed no signs of relenting this morning when the Government was to forced to deny putting pressure on judges to give non-custodial sentences because there is no room for more prisoners.

"Figures released by the Home Office today showed that there are only 383 places remaining out of the 80,114 available for prisoners in England and Wales. Mr Reid said yesterday that he was negotiating for the use of an RAF base and the purchase of two prison ships to ease the crisis.

"Hundreds of offenders who are supposed to be in permanent jails are currently being held in police stations and yesterday Judge John Rogers, QC, senior judge on the North Wales circuit, told a man found guilty of possessing child pornography that he was not going to give him a prison sentence because he had to consider 'the current sentencing climate'...

"Then the head of youth justice for England and Wales revealed that he was leaving his job and parted with a stinging attack on the Government's targets for prosecuting low-level crime, saying the criminal justice system was being 'swamped' with young people."

As soon as one crisis dies down a little, another springs up to take its place, like this one covered by the Telegraph today: "Home Secretary John Reid is facing more embarrassment after it was disclosed that his department had failed to enforce overseas travel banning orders imposed by the courts on 147 convicted drug traffickers.

"The beleaguered minister, who is at loggerheads with the judiciary over his plea for them only to jail the most dangerous and persistent offenders, will come under pressure to explain how the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) - an executive arm of the Home Office - made the error."

The Telegraph thinks Tony Blair should get himself off the scene, toot sweet.
"The past year has been the worst in his career: the police have been in Downing Street investigating corruption; his Cabinet has turned against him; his approval ratings, as we report today, are down to a record low of 21 per cent; and the machinery of the state is spluttering and smoking.

"That criminals should now be escaping incarceration because prisons are full illustrates in perfect miniature why this Government is falling apart. As Home secretary, Michael Howard had embarked on a huge prison-building programme, reasoning - correctly - that the incapacitation of villains was the surest way to cut crime. On taking office, Labour discontinued his policy and, in consequence, now finds itself damned by the procrastination of its early years.

"We see precisely the same story when it comes to welfare reform, nuclear power, the state pension age or road-building. Decisions that were shirked after 1997 now come hammering at the door for resolution."

26 January 2007

The Iraq-obsessed US media are missing a dimension of the new US policy on targeting Iranians that has great potential for raising sparks elsewhere in the Middle East. The new policy actually affects five 'theaters of interest', designed to target Iranian interests all around the region, including one that may affect the balance of power in Lebanon. The Washington Post says: "The White House has authorized a widening of what is known inside the intelligence community as the 'Blue Game Matrix' - a list of approved operations that can be carried out against the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.

"And U.S. officials are preparing international sanctions against Tehran for holding several dozen al-Qaeda fighters who fled across the Afghan border in late 2001. They plan more aggressive moves to disrupt Tehran's funding of the radical Palestinian group Hamas and to undermine Iranian interests among Shiites in western Afghanistan...

"'Our goal is to change the dynamic with the Iranians, to change the way the Iranians perceive us and perceive themselves. They need to understand that they cannot be a party to endangering US soldiers' lives and American interests, as they have before. That is going to end,' said one US official.

But there are serious differences within the US Government about the wisdom of a strategy that invites Iranian retaliation in the middle of the crisis-ridden Iraq campaign. One intelligence official told the Post: "This has little to do with Iraq. It's all about pushing Iran's buttons. It is purely political." The official expressed similar views about other new efforts aimed at Iran, suggesting that the United States is escalating toward an unnecessary conflict to shift attention away from Iraq and to blame Iran for the United States' increasing inability to stanch the violence there.

The New York Sun has more on the debate in the US Government, part of which has to do with "the extent to which operatives directed by Iran's security services have penetrated the Iraqi government.

"Several lists containing names of suspected moles have been circulating in the intelligence community since December, according to one American diplomat and two American intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. But the names of the suspected Iranian agents themselves are the focus of a heated dispute.

"This debate, among others concerning Iran's influence and control of Iraqi government institutions, is one key factor holding up the publication of a consensus intelligence finding on Iraq known as a National Intelligence Estimate. The dispute over Iranian power in Iraq's Interior Ministry, national military, customs office, Health Ministry, and Defense Ministry will determine how President Bush's troop surge is implemented, one intelligence official said. 'This could lead to disbanding whole units of the Iraqi military and affect how we embed our guys in their units,' the official said. 'If it's true, if some of this is true, it's very bad. But we don't know yet.'"

There is certainly no question that the Iranians have been playing an aggressive anti-US game in Iraq for some time. DEBKAfile has a piece on some of the allegations against them: "US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad and State department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US would soon present evidence of Iran's hand in the violence besetting Iraq...McCormack spoke of 'solid evidence' that Iranian agents sent by the Iranian government are working with individuals and groups in Iraq" that would soon be made public.

Among the pieces of information in the DEBKAfile report is this one: "A second US raid in Irbil uncovered a stockpile of Iranian weapons. It consisted of 40 tons of explosives, shoulder-borne anti-air missiles, anti-tank missiles, hundreds of automatic rifles and a pile of ordnance made in Iran....

"Inventories of the weapons and ammo supplied the Medhi Army in Baghdad and Kirkuk by Iran in the last two months were detailed on computer hard disks. Maps showed the locations of anti-air missile positions for shooting down American helicopters."

The Washington Times adds its voice to those who want Sandy Berger polygraphed over the extent of his thefts from the National Archive. Columnist R. Emmett Tyrrell writes: "There have been many distinguished former government officials who lived to write their version of the history they participated in. Sandy Berger is the rare government official who has lived to erase history. A polygraph test might reveal how much history he erased.

"Mr. Berger's lawyer, a veteran Clinton smog artist, Lanny Breuer, insists there is no 'evidence' his client did anything wrong. That is classic Clinton obfuscation. Mr. Berger was caught stealing classified documents from the National Archives. For a former national security adviser to do such a thing is without precedent. It now has been revealed that the Archives had not catalogued the materials it gave him. There is no precedent on the public record for that, either.

"Mr. Berger is also a proven liar. All this constitutes 'evidence' Mr. Berger has done something very wrong. A lie detector test may give us a sense of how much wrong he did. Moreover, taking the test was part of Mr. Berger's 2005 agreement. He should live up to his agreement and take the test. The Justice Department should enforce the rule of law and make him take the test.

"Yet as we have seen since the 1990s, there is a peculiar double standard in the country. One very lax and capricious rule obtains for the Clintons and their servitors, and another duly exacting rule for the rest of us. Former State Department Foreign Service officer Donald Keyser (sentenced a few days ago to a year in prison for taking secret documents home with him and lying about his relationship with a Taiwanese intelligence officer) is numbered among the rest of us. He was a top adviser to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. So off to the hoosegow with him. He is disgraced and Mr. Berger is standing gloriously among us in his stockinged feet."

The weather in California's wine-growing regions is good for vintners...maybe too good. the Los Angeles Times suggests that since ideal weather for grapes is close to too hot: "Slight climate changes could be enough to push them over that edge.

"Meanwhile, in European wine regions that have struggled to ripen grapes for centuries, global warming is a cause for celebration. Each year in the last decade seems to have brought another 'vintage of the century'.

"No question, says London-based wine critic Jancis Robinson, global warming is changing wines. 'Dry German wines now are seriously delicious. English wines and Canadian wines have benefited.' On the other hand, she says, wines from warmer regions including Spain and Australia are suffering the rise in temperature.

"'With wine, we can taste climate change,' says Gregory V. Jones, a climatologist at Southern Oregon University who is a leading researcher in the burgeoning field of wine-region climate studies and the son of an Oregon vintner. 'You can honestly argue that Bordeaux is better off today. They can now consistently ripen their grapes.'"

Alan Dershowitz regrets that Jimmy Carter's speech at Brandeis University this week was held under such stifling circumstances, and asks a key question. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, he says: "It should have been a real debate. Instead, it was a one-way dialogue with pre-screened questions and no rebuttals. Had Carter allowed the dialogue he says he wants to provoke, we all could have learned something...

"I favored a compromise peace based on the offer by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000/2001. Carter, however, defends Yasser Arafat's refusal to accept these generous terms, or to make a counteroffer. In fact, Carter never mentions in his book that the Palestinians could have had a state in 1938, 1948, 1967 and on several other occasions. Their leaders cared more about destroying Israel than they did about creating Palestine.

"That is the core of the conflict. It is Palestinian terror, not Israeli policy, which prevents peace. Carter chooses to believe Arafat's story over that of Clinton, Barak and Saudi Prince Bandar, who called Arafat's refusal a 'crime'. Why?

"We know from Carter's biographer, Douglas Brinkley, that Carter and Arafat strategized together about how to improve the image of the PLO. It is highly likely, therefore, that Arafat sought Carter's advice on whether to accept or reject the Clinton/Barak offer.

"Did Carter advise Arafat to walk away from a Palestinian state? Did he contribute to the new intifada, which claimed thousands of lives on both sides? That is an important question-one I would have asked Carter had I been given the chance."

25 January 2007

The US military has launched a special operations task force to break up Iranian influence in Iraq, according to what US News and World Report calls 'US News sources'. "The special operations mission, known as Task Force 16, was created late last year to target Iranians trafficking arms and training Shiite militia forces. The operation is modeled on Task Force 15, a clandestine cadre of Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force soldiers, and CIA operatives with a mission to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives and Baathist insurgents in Iraq. Task Force 15 killed al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, last June.

"The new classified directive is part of an escalation of military countermeasures against Iran, authorized by President Bush, to strike back at what military officials describe as a widespread web of Iranian influence in Iraq that includes providing weapons, training, and money to Shiite militias."

This guy's got a book to sell, so he's feeding on the scandalous side of the Blackwater story. His Los Angeles Times story is headlined 'Our mercenaries in Iraq'. It's written by Jeremy Scahill, a fellow at the Nation Institute and the author of the forthcoming Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

They are, he says, "highly trained mercenaries deployed to Iraq by a secretive private military company based in North Carolina - Blackwater USA.

"Blackwater began in 1996 with a private military training camp "to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing...Today, its contacts run from deep inside the military and intelligence agencies to the upper echelons of the White House. It has secured a status as the elite Praetorian Guard for the global war on terror, with the largest private military base in the world, a fleet of 20 aircraft and 20,000 soldiers at the ready.

"From Iraq and Afghanistan to the hurricane-ravaged streets of New Orleans to meetings with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about responding to disasters in California, Blackwater now envisions itself as the FedEx of defense and homeland security operations. Such power in the hands of one company, run by a neo-crusader bankroller of the president, embodies the 'military-industrial complex' President Eisenhower warned against in 1961.

"Further privatizing the country's war machine - or inventing new back doors for military expansion with fancy names like the Civilian Reserve Corps - will represent a devastating blow to the future of American democracy."

I'm sure there are cliches out there he hasn't used...but not for want of trying. What he doesn't explain in his story, though, is that because this is the type of conflict in which there is no front line, no safe rear area, there are a ton of civilians working in Iraq who need protection from the bad guys.

It really would be a scandal if some private contractor working on, say, Baghdad's electricity grid, got a section of active-duty marines as bodyguards. Then there'd be a fuss.

So firms like Blackwater, whose principal business is providing security, suddenly grow by leaps and bounds. Naturally, they use people with military-type experience. There are American security companies, there are similar Brit security companies, there are French security companies...etc, etc. When there's a scrap somewhere, qualified people who don't mind taking risks jump on the bandwagon, and make a ton of money. When it's peaceful, they go looking for money somewhere else, and the companies shrink in size until nobody notices them any more. That's been the way of things since bow and arrow days.

Thanks for the tip, Brenda.

Tom Ze is a Brazilian musician and composer heavily influenced by the early music of the northeastern part of Brazil, the Nordeste as it's called. Interviewed by the New York Times about a new collection of music, recorded in the field the better part of a century ago, which has just been published, he said: "It gives me chills just to think of the similarities between American blues and the music of the northeast. It's like Mother Africa ended up with grandsons in Alabama and Pernambuco."

The Times says the six-CD set, called Musica Tradicional do Norte e Nordeste 1938, "consists of more than seven hours of music, drawn from the 1,299 tracks by 80 performers, totaling nearly 34 hours, that the folklore team recorded in five states in northern and northeastern Brazil during the first half of 1938.

"Early in 1938, Mário de Andrade, the municipal secretary of culture here, dispatched a four-member Folklore Research Mission to the northeastern hinterlands of Brazil on a similar mission. His intention was to record as much music as possible as quickly as possible, before encroaching influences like radio and cinema began transforming the region's distinctive culture.

"Traveling by truck, horse and donkey, they recorded whoever and whatever seemed to be interesting: piano carriers, cowboys, beggars, voodoo priests, quarry workers, fishermen, dance troupes and even children at play."

24 January 2007

The Justice Department is being urged by House Republicans to give Sandy Berger a lie detector test. The Washington Times quotes them as having said, in a letter: "'This may be the only way for anyone to know whether Mr. Berger denied the 9/11 commission and the public the complete account of the Clinton administration's actions or inactions during the lead-up to the terrorist attacks on the United States.'

The Times says that "...During sentencing, Mr. Berger agreed to a polygraph examination as part of a plea deal, but Justice never administered the test, according to two Justice officials closely connected to the case - John Dion, chief of the counterespionage section, and Bruce Swartz, deputy assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division...

"Lanny Breuer, Mr. Berger's attorney, has said the matter was thoroughly investigated by the Justice Department for more than two years and effectively closed for more than a year. He said the report's conclusions were based on 'pure conjecture'.

"'Sandy Berger made a mistake. But he has admitted that mistake, fully cooperated with the government's investigation, paid his debt to society, and moved on. It's time for the new congressional minority to do the same.'"

The New York Sun suggests, a tad sarcastically, that "Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Schumer, big backers of the idea that the United Nations is good for New York, might set aside some time in April for the Supreme Court hearing in the case against the city the nine have just decided to review.

"The case is being brought by India and Mongolia over $18 million in taxes the city says it is owed in connection with non-tax-exempt uses to which their UN missions are being put. The two countries are asserting not simply that they don't owe the city taxes but that no court has the jurisdiction to rule on any lawsuit that the city brings against them. Or, to put it more broadly, the People's Republic of Mongolia is trying to jeopardize the authority of New York City to sue any foreign country over local taxes.

"Now it is true that the properties used by foreign missions to the United Nations. are generally exempt from taxation. But the exemption lasts only so long as a property is being used for diplomatic purposes or to house an ambassador. According to the city's tax assessors, Mongolia and India are using most of their buildings' square footage for other purposes. According to the city, the top 20 floors of the 26-floor Indian Mission at East 43rd Street are home to 16 diplomatic employees and their families, including a driver and security guards. A similar arrangement can be found at the Mongolian Mission at East 77th Street.

"The Supreme Court will not be deciding whether Mongolia and India must pay those taxes. It will be deciding whether local courts even have jurisdiction to hear such tax cases against foreign countries. Both Mongolia and India claim that they are protected against the city's tax collectors. That argument didn't find a receptive audience before the riders of the 2nd United States appeals circuit. The 'guiding principle,' its three-judge panel decided, is that 'when owning property here, a foreign state must follow the same rules as everyone else.'"

Hezbollah-led protesters called off a nationwide strike that touched off the worst violence yet in the pro-Iranian group's campaign to topple the US-backed prime minister, according to the Washington Post. "Three people were killed and dozens wounded Tuesday as government supporters and their adversaries battled each other around street barricades with stone-throwing and in some cases gunfire."

But don't get the impression that that's it. Hezbollah leader Nasrallah is obviously prepared to do it again, when it suits him, because using violence is the only way he's going to win his campaign to topple the government.

Ex-President Jimmy Carter appeared at Brandeis University yesterday, although some kind of deal was made to avoid questions after his speech from people like Alan Dershowitz, who had threatened to let him have it with both barrels. According to this New York Times piece, Carter was well received: "In his first major public speech about his controversial book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, former President Jimmy Carter told an audience at Brandeis University on Tuesday that he stood by the book and its title, that he apologized for what he called an 'improper and stupid' sentence in the book and that he had been disturbed by accusations that he was anti-Semitic.

"'This is the first time that I've ever been called a liar and a bigot and an anti-Semite and a coward and a plagiarist,' Mr. Carter told the crowd of about 1,700 at Brandeis, a nonsectarian university founded by American Jews, where about half the students are Jewish. 'This is hurting me.'

"After Mr. Carter left, Mr. Dershowitz spoke in the same gymnasium, saying that the former president oversimplified the situation and that his conciliatory and sensible-sounding speech at Brandeis belied his words in some other interviews.

"'There are two different Jimmy Carters,' Mr. Dershowitz said. 'You heard the Brandeis Jimmy Carter today, and he was terrific. I support almost everything he said. But if you listen to the Al Jazeera Jimmy Carter, you'll hear a very different perspective.'"

In National Review, Claudia Rosett has done a little timely digging into the affairs of the Carter Center, and wonders if he might not have written the book he did write in order to gruntle his financial backers. "In recent weeks, a number of articles have noted that Carter's anti-Israeli views coincide with those of some of the center's prime financial backers, including the government of Saudi Arabia and the foundation of Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, whose offer of $10 million to New York City just after Sept. 11 was rejected by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani because it came wrapped in the suggestion that America rethink its support of Israel.

"Other big donors listed in the Carter Center's annual reports include the Sultanate of Oman and the sultan himself; the government of the United Arab Emirates; and a brother of Osama bin Laden, Bakr BinLadin, 'for the Saudi BinLadin Group'. Of lesser heft, but still large, are contributions from assorted development funds of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, as well as of OPEC, whose membership includes oil-rich Arab states, Nigeria (whose government is also a big donor to the Carter Center), and Venezuela (whose anti-American strongman Hugo Chavez benefited in a 2004 election from the highly controversial monitoring efforts of the Carter Center).

"A recent editorial in Investor's Business Daily, headlined 'Jimmy Carter's Li'l Ol' Stink Tank,' listed a number of 'founders' of the Carter Center. The names were drawn from the annual reports, and included 'the king of Saudi Arabia, BCCI scandal banker Agha Hasan Abedi, and Arafat pal Hasib Sabbagh.' And, writing last month in the Washington Times, terror-funding expert Rachel Ehrenfeld described links going back to the 1970s between the Carter family peanut business and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, whose Pakistani founder helped bankroll the Carter Center at least until BCCI went belly-up in 1991, busted as a global criminal enterprise."

23 January 2007

That madman Hugo Chavez has decided not to change his country's name to the Socialist Republic of Venezuela, leaving it as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, according to Caribbean Net News. He's making a lot of other changes, though, as Richard W. Rahn, director general of the Center for Global Economic Growth, wrote yesterday in the Washington Times. The South American publication Petroleumworld reprinted the article today: "If Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez deliberately intended to sabotage his nation's economy, he would be hard-pressed to do anything different from what he is now doing to his country.

"It has been widely reported that Mr. Chavez has been increasingly taking control of the oil, telecommunications and energy sectors, as well as the media. What has not been reported is the full extent of the corruption in Venezuela and how this ultimately will destroy the economy.

"The financial scandal taking place is far bigger than Enron, and may ultimately even exceed the U.N. 'oil-for-food' scandal, the biggest financial disgrace of all time. Venezuela has had a rapidly growing economy for the last few years, due to high oil prices, but the house of cards is about to collapse. The former Venezuelan representative to Transparency International, Gustavo Coronel, has documented how much of this corruption has taken place in a report published by the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

"Forty years ago, Venezuela had become a functioning democracy and was experiencing solid economic growth, but beginning in the mid-1970s corruption increased. Partially as a result, Hugo Chavez was elected president in December 1998 on an anti-corruption platform. In the years since, Mr. Chavez has been dismantling the independent political institutions and sharply reducing transparency. He has also stripped the Central Bank of its independence and misappropriated much of its reserves. Some of the funds have been used to buy billions of dollars of Argentine bonds, to buy influence in Argentina. That country has not been able to sell bonds in the international markets since its 2001 default because Argentina still has not come to an agreement with its private creditors, despite having extensive and growing foreign exchange reserves."

Hezbollah made good on its promise to disrupt Lebanon yesterday, blocking roads and the airport in Beirut with burning tyres. When the army tried to intervene, they were confronted by rioting crowds. As darkness fell, 60 people were reported to have been hurt, 12 by gunfire, the rest in scuffles. The London Times has the latest, although the report it refers to of one pro-government supporter having been killed may not to have been correct.

This strike is going to be critical for Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah. His peaceful occupation of the huge main square in Beirut did not have the desired effect of forcing the Siniora government from power, as the Times confirms. It was obvious some time ago that if he stuck to that alone as a way of putting pressure on the government, he would fail. Meantime, a lot of his supporters have lost sympathy for him. He's counting on winning back their help to prevent the government from governing by keeping Lebanon paralysed. So far, most of the shooting seems to be coming from his side. If the army can keep its head, and if Siniora and Co can keep their supporters in check, I'd be surprised if Nasrallah can keep it going for very long.

Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, used a rare public speech last night to accuse the BBC of "a kind of cultural Marxism" that is harming political debate and failing to represent the views of millions of licence fee payers. The Guardian's report quotes him as having said "the BBC's tendency towards institutionally biased left-leaning views, part of what he dubbed 'the subsidariat' of newspapers and broadcasters that do not turn in a profit, was a factor in feeding political apathy.

"Delivering the Hugh Cudlipp lecture, Dacre said the BBC was not only expansionist, but guilty of subscribing to a singular world view. 'BBC journalism is reflected through a left-wing prism that affects everything - the choice of stories, the way they are angled, the choice of the interviews, the interviewees and, most pertinently, the way those interviewees are treated,' he said."

22 January 2007

Defence spending in Britain hasn't been this low since the 1930s, the Telegraph says. NATO figures show that Britain is spending a smaller share of its national wealth on defence than countries like Greece, or Bulgaria, or Turkey.

"Ministers have ordered defence chiefs to stop the leaks about equipment shortages and cutbacks to front line capability which are hitting morale. The leaks have also infuriated the Chancellor Gordon Brown, who is being blamed for the squeeze as he prepares to take over as Prime Minister...

"Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, said: 'To drop to this level of our national wealth seems absolutely crazy. We have a smaller navy than the French and our ships are being mothballed. What a triumph for new Labour.'"

I've been watching to see how People's Daily would deal with its government's use of a missile to destroy one of its satellites. There have been four issues since it happened, and not a word has appeared. Are they ashamed?

The Wall Street Journal is full of praise for the new UN Secretary-General this morning. "Ban Ki Moon has been on the job for less than a month, but with a 26-word announcement Friday he did more to reform that international body than anything ever attempted by predecessor Kofi Annan.

"'The Secretary-General will call for an urgent, system wide and external inquiry into all activities done around the globe by the UN funds and programs.' So said Mr. Ban's spokesman after the Secretary-General met with Ad Melkert, associate administrator of the United Nations Development Program. The key word here is 'external'. Concerns about corruption in the UN's Oil for Food program bubbled for years before Mr. Annan finally agreed to set up the independent Volcker Commission.

"The proximate cause for Friday's meeting between Messrs. Ban and Melkert, and for Mr. Ban's clean-house announcement, was Melanie Kirkpatrick's op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal on Friday detailing irregularities in the UNDP's programs in North Korea and citing U.S. concerns that tens of millions of dollars in hard currency have been funneled to dictator Kim Jong Il...

"We also couldn't help but notice the second-day story by the Washington Post's Colum Lynch, whose reporting is known to speak for the UN bureaucracy. He said some in the UN consider the US questions to be an attempt to discredit Mark Malloch Brown, who ran UNDP from before becoming Mr. Annan's chief of staff. We hadn't mentioned Mr. Malloch Brown in our Friday editorial, but now that Mr. Lynch does we agree his tenure at UNDP should also be looked at."

I fell, a few weeks ago, for one of those 'she sounds like Billie Holiday' lines, bought the album and found that that particular singer (I'm naming no names) sounded like what she was - a wholesome young woman who sings pretty well, but whose idea of strange fruit hasn't got much beyond babysham and boys.

So let's start on Norah Jones by saying there are no Billie Holiday claims - she is herself, but if you like people who can sing like angels, and who are without airs of any kind, that's quite enough. This worth-reading New York Times feature explains:

"At Marion's Marquee Lounge she wore no makeup and had no entourage: only her boyfriend and songwriting collaborator, Lee Alexander, with whom she traded grins through the evening. They had rushed over after a long day of rehearsals to hear the night's opening act: Jason Crigler, a guitarist and singer-songwriter recovering from a 2004 brain aneurysm. Ms. Jones had headlined a benefit concert for his medical expenses, and she watched his set with sisterly concern and increasing relief.

"Between sets she pointed out the other musicians in the room, offering praise and updates on their albums in progress. While she's by far the best-known musician from this circuit, she’s still immersed in it. Here she was just another working musician among peers, the exact opposite of a diva. She has little interest in high-profile celebrity, and the tabloids generally ignore her. 'I think I just never interested people that way in the beginning,' she said. 'I don't think I'm that boring, but I think, to an outsider 'OK, she's in a stable relationship, she's not a drug addict. She wears clothes, she wears underwear.'

"She shrugged. 'There's no facade,' she said. 'I wish there was sometimes'...

"Drawn to jazz, she majored in piano at the pioneering jazz studies department of the University of North Texas before dropping out and heading to New York City. 'I used to be a jazz snob, believe it or not,' she said. 'I sort of turned my nose up at anything more commercial.' She soaked up music theory and developed a limpid touch on piano, though not the sheer velocity of musicians she admires. 'I'm not lazy, but I've never been a lock-myself-in-the-practice-room kind of girl,' she said. 'I don't have chops. I can't play fast.'

"In New York she found herself at the intersection of two social and musical scenes: jazz musicians, who were fond of musical complexities and structural experiments, and singer-songwriters, aiming for concision and elegance. She regained respect for the basic three-chord songs of country, soul and folk.

"I'm admitting it: I don't make jazz really anymore, but I'm very heavily influenced by it,' she said. 'I had to reprogram myself. That's why I started writing more on guitar in the beginning, because I only knew three chords, and it was easier, it just made my life simpler. And on the piano it took me a long time to realize I could play a triad' - an unembellished major or minor chord - 'and it doesn't have to sound really simple. I finally learned how to do it.'"

21 January 2007

The Sunday Times's reporter Bryan Appleyard is asking whether books are headed for extinction as a result of Internet advances. He writes about the "strange, complex and frequently obscure war that is being fought over the digitisation of the great libraries of the world. The details of this war may seem baffling, but there is nothing baffling about what is at stake. Intellectual property - intangibles like ideas, knowledge and information - is, in the globalised world, the most valuable of all assets. China may be booming on the basis of manufacturing, but, overwhelmingly, it makes things invented and designed in the West or Japan. Intellectual property is the big difference between the developing and developed worlds.

"But intellectual property rights and the internet are uneasy bedfellows. Google's stated mission is 'to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful'. The words 'universally accessible' carry the implicit threat that nobody can actually own or earn revenue from any information since it will all be just out there."

I think people are getting a bit carried away - Google and others are trapping information, which is only half of the equation. What's done with the information is the other half, and it is currently under no threat at all. You couldn't read a book under copyright on Google, even if you wanted to. The form of books may change in the future, but they will remain the primary method of storing argument (for lack of a better word) and the information that supports it, and for the delivery of reward to those who write, publish, sell and collect them. They are the simplest way of doing all that, and simple always wins.

Thanks for the tip, Patrick.

A disturbing Weekly Standard story accuses Yasser Arafat of the murder of a couple of American diplomats - and the American Government of covering it up: "Twenty years before he joined Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin in Washington for that famous handshake - and then became Clinton's most frequent foreign guest at the White House - Yasser Arafat planned and directed the murder of an American ambassador and his deputy chief of mission. From the first moment of the deadly operation, which took place in Khartoum on March 1, 1973, the State Department possessed direct evidence of Arafat's responsibility, yet neither the State Department nor any other government agency made public its knowledge. Indeed, as recently as the summer of 2002, the State Department denied that such evidence existed. Across seven administrations, the State Department hewed to silence and denial.

"Until last spring. In June 2006, the department's Office of the Historian quietly posted an authoritative summary of the events dated June 1973. The source of the summary is not given, but the CIA had previously produced it in redacted form in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Prepared by the CIA on the basis of intercepted communications, it baldly states: 'The Khartoum operation was planned and carried out with the full knowledge and personal approval of Yasser Arafat.'"

It's like a catamaran jiggered up to look like a spider, but the real difference in this avant-garde San Francisco yacht is that it's wiggly. Its designer, Ugo Conti, an engineer and inventor, calls it WAM-V - a Wave Adaptive Modular Vessel. There are pictures of it on the Chronicle's website: "Conti, a wiry man with a gray Van Dyke beard, thinning hair and a pony tail, said the idea for the WAM-V technology had come to him gradually, over many years of sailing. 'I liked flexible boats,' he said, 'so I decided to push it to the limit. It is very much experimental. You have to be crazy and old to do this. When you are old, you can risk more. You have nothing to lose."

Proteus, as the prototype is called, has twin hulls, like a catamaran, connected to each other and a control cabin by four metal legs. The legs ride on titanium springs - like shock absorbers - that allow the WAM-V to adjust to the surface of the water - to flex like knees.


Art in Bermuda
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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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