|...Views from mid-Atlantic|
03 February 2007
WH Auden is a dark man, as well as being an extraordinaily gifted one. I'm not really up for dark stuff this morning, so I'm focusing on the lightest quote I could find in this long, fascinating and well-worth-reading piece by James Fenton of the Guardian: "Auden once said to me: 'Every woman wants to play Hamlet, just as every man wants to play Lady Bracknell.' He often talked about Wilde, and clearly thought a lot about his fate. Ansen records him asking: 'Did you see The Importance of Being Earnest? It's an extraordinarily good play. It's about nothing at all, which is what makes it so good. Lady Windermere's Fan has some social references, which makes it not so good. But The Importance of Being Earnest isn't a bit dated. The trouble with Shaw's plays is that they're all brain and no body, which isn't good for the stage. There may not be any body in Earnest, but at least there are clothes. Obviously you have to see it - you can't just read it.' And in the next sentence he tells us that 'Lear won't do on the stage'. And in the one after that: 'Wilde, after all, isn't important as a writer - he couldn't write at all - but as a behaver.'"
Martin Kettle of the Guardian makes a hell of a good point: "If Scotland Yard can complete the complex and sensitive Litvinenko investigation in a little over two months, why is there as yet no end in sight to the police investigation into the loans-for-honours case which is now more than 10 months old and counting?"
The answer is, I think, that Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who is heading the honours enquiry, is running it like a man who is simultaneously writing his memoirs.
Terrific feature in the Guardian that has public figures confessing their guilty pleasures. There is a minimum of the kind of plonking nonsense you'd expect if the public figures quoted were of the normal run. There is one man who likes rap, which is a bit borderline, but John Berger compensates by managing to make bicycling sound almost the way I remember, long ago, de Saint Exupery made flying sound.
Here's a sample: Denis Healey, who is a very nice British politician (once described as the best Prime Minister Britain never had), confesses a fondness for French cabaret music: "Edith Piaf, of course, is the queen of the genre, but there are others: Yves Montand, Jean Sablon. The only one that came close to it in England is Vera Lynn. My favourite number is a Jacques Prevert song performed by Montand called Barbara. Rappelle-toi Barbara/N'oublie pas/Cette pluie sur la mer/Sur ton visage heureux. I heard it for the first time at the end of the war - I used to go to the cabaret cafes in Montmartre a lot back then. It's a song about the war, or about the emotions that people used to feel during the war: it's about being in love with someone you haven't even met. Songs like these are important: they keep you in touch with life. There is nothing remotely like it nowadays."
02 February 2007
A little Friday morning present for you: The Times Literary Supplement has just republished this strikingly pretty poem by Paul Muldoon.
The Son of the King of Moy
after the Irish
Met this child on the Roxborough
Estate. Noblesse, she said, Noblesse
Oblige. And her tiny nipples
Were bruise-bluish, wild raspberries.
Daniel Mitchell, former McKenna senior fellow in political economy at the Heritage Foundation, writes in the Washington Times that the International Monetary Fund has done a lousy job of studying flat tax reforms: "The IMF study actually reveals strong evidence that flat tax reforms have yielded Laffer Curve effects (The Laffer curve is used to illustrate the concept of the idea that governments can maximize tax revenue by setting tax rates at an optimum point). But the authors attempt to mislead readers by claiming that tax reform is successful only if the revenue feedback is at least 100 percent. Even more astonishing, they assume that this revenue feedback effect should happen within one year of reform. So even though taxable income climbed significantly in most flat-tax nations and income-tax revenue generally has exceeded expectations, readers are supposed to conclude that the flat tax is a failure.
"It's unclear why the IMF is hostile to pro-growth policy. Cynics point out that the international bureaucracy has an incentive to perpetuate poverty since that creates more pressure for a bigger IMF budget, but hopefully ignorance is the real reason.
"If nothing else, the IMF is a poor judge of global trends. The authors wrote that 'the question is not so much whether more countries will adopt a flat tax as whether those that have will move away from it.' This is a rather bizarre claim since Romania and Georgia adopted a flat tax last year, while Macedonia and Kyrgyzstan joined the flat tax club this year. Moreover, no nation with a flat tax has chosen to go back to a discriminatory tax regime. Even the new government in Slovakia, comprising socialists and nationalists, decided to preserve the flat tax rather than risk killing the goose that is laying golden eggs.
"It's unfortunate that socialist governments have a better understanding of tax reform than bureaucrats at the IMF."
He wrote a fine book, The Six-Day War, which I'm proud to have on my shelves. He's just written a new one, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present, which will soon sit on my shelves. The books make him an historian, but he is also a soldier - a major in the Israeli Defence Force. He's an American, and an Israeli at the same time. And he seems to have little difficulty in slipping into the appropriate role at the appropriate time. Forward includes an excellent profile of Michael Oren in its current issue.
"Now 52, Oren was born in New Jersey, the son of a career officer in the United States Army. After 10 years of living on kibbutzim on and off from the age of 15, he decided to make aliya in 1979 at the age of 24. He has, as he says, 'gone through all the things Israelis are supposed to do.' This is a bit of an understatement. Oren's accomplished academic career - receiving degrees from Columbia and Princeton universities, and now acting as senior fellow at a renowned conservative Israeli think tank, the Shalem Center - has been interspersed with periods of fulfilling his duties as an 'unabashed, unapologetic Zionist', as he calls himself.
Not long after immigrating, he saw combat as a paratrooper in the 1982 Lebanon War. During the Gulf War, he served as the Israeli liaison officer to the US Sixth Fleet. He was then an adviser to Yitzhak Rabin in the '90s and the director of the Department of Inter-Religious Affairs in Rabin's government. As recently as last summer, now with the rank of major in the Israel Defense Forces, he was head spokesman for the northern command in the war with Hezbollah, dodging Katyusha rockets as he escorted journalists around the Lebanese border. Asked if he would ever consider entering politics, he responds with enough exaggerated protest to indicate that the thought has crossed his mind (he says he has a recurring nightmare where he wakes up and is the prime minister of Israel).
"Tall and imposing with a shock of gray hair and a pointy nose that makes him look a bit like the comedian Steve Martin, Oren said that it strikes him as strange that he has not been cornered more often about how he reconciles his identity as an historian and a sometimes official of the Israeli government. 'I understand it's problematic,' he admitted. 'But there’s no alternative to it...'
"Even though he was critical of certain aspects of the way the war in Lebanon was waged this past summer, Oren said he remained quiet about his opinions while he was in uniform. He insists he would refuse orders if ever asked to lie. He saw his job less as propaganda than as telling 'the Israeli Army side of the story', even when he was aware that there was another equally valid side. Oren said that though he felt the war was being won militarily, he also thought it was being lost politically. “I never talked about losing it politically, but when I came home on leave I wrote two scathing articles, one for The Wall Street Journal and the other for The New Republic,' he said. 'Next day, I put on my uniform and that was it. I'm a soldier.'"
Well spotted, Brenda.
Gian Carlo Menotti, who organized music festivals in Spoleto, Italy, and the U.S. and helped bring opera to the masses with his repeatedly televised Christmas work Amahl and the Night Visitors, died Thursday at a hospital in Monaco. He was 95, according to the Los Angeles Times: "'He died pretty peacefully and without any pain,' his adopted son, Francis Menotti, told the Associated Press.
"Menotti was sought after worldwide as a director of operas composed by others, and he wrote his own, including two that earned Pulitzer Prizes. 'I wish I'd never started staging operas. It has taken so much time away from my composing,' he told The Times in 1987, when he directed Puccini's La Boheme at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. 'I have wasted so much of my time directing other people's work.'
"Nevertheless, Menotti's own compositions were also much in demand, and he had been called the most-often-performed living composer of opera."
The digital revolution has given a huge boost to one of the older and more traditional forms of electronic media - the radio.
Britain's Independent Newspaper says: "According to figures released yesterday, the digital age has created a new golden age of radio, with the number of listeners in Britain at a record high of more than 45 million every week.
"The figure for the last three months of 2006 is the highest since Radio Joint Audience Research (Rajar) began compiling records in 1992, and is attributed to growing numbers of people tuning in on the internet, digital television and mobile phones.
"Rajar said almost eight per cent of people aged 15 and above listen to the radio on their mobile phones, a 24 per cent increase over the same period of 2005. A quarter of 15- to 24-year-olds said they tuned in this way. Listening over the internet rose by 10 per cent and by nine per cent on digital television."
01 February 2007
The New Yorker explains Google's attempts to scan every book in the universe into their database.
"Every weekday, a truck pulls up to the Cecil H. Green Library, on the campus of Stanford University, and collects at least a thousand books, which are taken to an undisclosed location and scanned, page by page, into an enormous database being created by Google. The company is also retrieving books from libraries at several other leading universities, including Harvard and Oxford, as well as the New York Public Library. At the University of Michigan, Google's original partner in Google Book Search, tens of thousands of books are processed each week on the company's custom-made scanning equipment.
"Google intends to scan every book ever published, and to make the full texts searchable, in the same way that Web sites can be searched on the company's engine at google.com. At the books site, which is up and running in a beta (or testing) version, at books.google.com, you can enter a word or phrase - say, Ahab and whale - and the search returns a list of works in which the terms appear, in this case nearly eight hundred titles, including numerous editions of Herman Melville's novel. Clicking on Moby-Dick, or The Whale calls up Chapter 28, in which Ahab is introduced. You can scroll through the chapter, search for other terms that appear in the book, and compare it with other editions. Google won't say how many books are in its database, but the site's value as a research tool is apparent; on it you can find a history of Urdu newspapers, an 1892 edition of Jane Austen's letters, several guides to writing haiku, and a Harvard alumni directory from 1919.
"No one really knows how many books there are. The most volumes listed in any catalogue is thirty-two million, the number in WorldCat, a database of titles from more than twenty-five thousand libraries around the world. Google aims to scan at least that many. 'We think that we can do it all inside of ten years,' Marissa Mayer, a vice-president at Google who is in charge of the books project, said recently, at the company's headquarters, in Mountain View, California. 'It’s mind-boggling to me, how close it is. I think of Google Books as our moon shot.'"
Four years after the UN Security Council ordered the shutdown of the troubled oil-for-food program for Iraq, says Reuters news service, "some Iraqi officials still appear intent on using it for illegal gains...
"The United Nations has been trying to close down the $64 billion program since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which ousted Saddam Hussein from power. It stepped up its efforts after an outside investigation found evidence of mismanagement and corruption by UN officials, contractors and Saddam's government.
"But a few outstanding contract and payment disputes have kept the last remnants of the program alive, and the Security Council last year called on UN managers to resolve all outstanding issues so it could be ended definitively in 2007."
Some of the media are doing their darndest to come up with a Doomsday necklace to hang around the neck of the new, earlier daylight saving time regime...but I think this unconvincing Washington Post story demonstrates how difficult that is. "The change takes effect this year - on March 11 - and it has angered airlines, delighted candy makers and sent thousands of technicians scrambling to make sure countless automated systems switch their clocks at the right moment. Unless changed by one method or another, many systems will remain programmed to read the calendar and start daylight saving time on its old date in April, not its new one in March.
"It's one thing to arrive an hour late for church on the first day of daylight saving. It's another for a security system to log the wrong time of crucial events, for pilots to misunderstand their takeoff times or international communications components to stop synchronizing. But such scenarios are possible without the fix to vast numbers of the nation's technical systems."
It just doesn't wash. There may be large numbers of devices to be changed, if you let yourself get baffled by the big picture, but no matter how big that number, each one of those devices is in the charge of a competent someone, there's only one change to be made, and it's a dead simple one.
The Guardian's thinking that when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, a chain of events began which has caused a shift of the world's art centre to, of all places, Leipzig. "Pupils of the old painters of the GDR were free to interpret the new world as it was revealed to them. Neo Rauch, a recent graduate of the Art Academy in Leipzig, in the heavily industrial far east of the former East Germany, started painting large canvases that hovered somewhere between socialist realism and pop art.
"Rauch's best-known works are peopled by semi-surreal figures from the 1950s performing enigmatic tasks of physical labour, reminiscent of Soviet-era instruction manuals and illustrations. They quickly earned Rauch a reputation as the next great German painter, following an earlier generation that includes Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, Martin Kippenberger and Anselm Kiefer. The new Leipzig School - Rauch and some of his former pupils - became a collecting phenomenon: a Rauch painting called Losung (Password) sold at Sotheby's in London last June for £456,000. Leipzig - run-down, depressed, increasingly depopulated - has now acquired the art-world cachet of New York in the 1950s or London in the 1990s.
"The new Leipzig School has coalesced into what Joachim Pissarro of the Museum of Modern Art described to the New York Times as 'suddenly the hottest thing on earth'. Significantly, perhaps, having witnessed the failure of two bright new dawns - those of postwar communism and post-cold war capitalism - the Leipzig painters are seen as having an atmosphere of disillusionment in common; their work is imbued with a deep melancholy. They are also a reminder of bygone eras when most artists were painters, and most painters were men."
31 January 2007
John Fordham of the Guardian refers to Albert Ayler's sound as "singing from a black hole". To me, it's more like pointless squeaking from a black hole, but then there was a time, many years ago, when I didn't get Henry Threadgill in a biggish sort of a way. That changed fairly quickly.
There's a story about Ayler, that Fordham mentions, to the effect that the reason he drowned himself in the East River in 1970 was that he felt the survival of his mother and his kid brother required a sacrifice. Also a bit squeaky, I thought. Wasn't a goat good enough for him? However, there does seem to be a principle involved, so I've kept the jury out on Ayler.
Fordham was writing about My Name Is Albert Ayler, a film going on general release early in February from the Swedish director Kasper Collin.
"Collin's film," he says, "throws open a door on the tumultuous world of a unique 20th-century musician. And the nine CDs of the Holy Ghost box set - with essays by Ayler experts Val Wilmer and Baraka, postcards, brochures, pressed flowers and generally irresistible memorabilia - offers further explanations as to how that sometimes inhospitable, yet strangely beautiful world formed.
"A British writer and photographer, Wilmer interviewed Ayler extensively. She has seen Collin's documentary several times, and says: 'Every time, it brings tears to my eyes. It's not just because I knew him. I've taken people to it who knew nothing about Ayler, and they've felt the same. I never met anybody like him. He was a very spiritual person, but also very attractive and charming. You could see his real nature though. He was somewhere else.'"
Thomas Sowell's right - "The haste and vehemence with which scores of Duke University professors publicly took sides against the students in this case (the Duke Lacrosse Team players accused of rape) is just one sign of how deep the moral dry rot goes, in even our most prestigious institutions."
Writing in National Review, he says: "The larger tragedy is what this case revealed about the degeneration of our times and the hollowness of so many people in “responsible” positions in the media, in academia, and among those blacks so consumed by racial resentments and thirst for revenge that they are prepared to lash out at individuals who have done nothing to them and are guilty of no crime against anybody."
Sowell refers to a story by Charlotte Allen published in the Weekly Standard a couple of days ago: "Mike Nifong's handling of the case was clearly outrageous. But he would probably not have gone so far, indeed would not have dared to go so far, had he not been egged on by two other groups that rushed just as quickly to judge the three accused young men guilty of gross and racially motivated carnal violence. Despite the repeated attempts by the three to clear themselves, a substantial and vocal percentage - about one-fifth - of the Duke University arts and sciences faculty and nearly all of the mainstream print media in America quickly organized themselves into a hanging party. Throughout the spring of 2006 and indeed well into the late summer, Nifong had the nearly unanimous backing of this country's (and especially Duke's) intellectual elite as he explored his lurid theories of sexual predation and racist stonewalling.
"'They fed off each other,' said Steven Baldwin, a Duke chemistry professor who finally broke his faculty colleagues' own wall of silence on October 24, publishing a letter in the Duke student newspaper, the Chronicle, denouncing his fellow professors for what he called their 'shameful' treatment of Seligmann and Finnerty and rebuking the Duke administration for having 'disowned its lacrosse-playing student athletes.' In April, Duke president and English professor Richard Brodhead had abruptly suspended not only Seligmann and Finnerty but also the remainder of the Duke lacrosse season, plus a third player, Ryan McFadyen (also recently reinstated), who had nothing to do with the alleged assault but had made the mistake of sending an email to his teammates on the early morning of March 14 describing a plan to 'kill' and 'skin' some 'strippers' in his dorm room (like the 'cotton shirt' remark, this was another tasteless joke, parodying Bret Easton Ellis's novel American Psycho). That same day, April 5, Brodhead told the lacrosse team's coach, Michael Pressler, that he had until the end of the day to leave campus for good.
"'The faculty enabled Nifong,' Baldwin said in an interview. 'He could say, 'Here's a significant portion of the arts and sciences faculty who feel this way, so I can go after these kids because these faculty agree with me.' It was a mutual attitude.'"
30 January 2007
You can't say 'forget the book, read the review', but this New York Review of Books piece gets you close. It's Nobellist JM Coetzee reviewing Norman Mailer's new book, The Castle in the Forest, which is about Hitler's childhood.
In the end, Coetzee calls Mailer's book a "very considerable contribution to historical fiction", but his journey to that point is something special...a literary event in its own right, and worth savouring.
"According to his publishers, Mailer is planning a trilogy that will cover the whole of Hitler's earthly life. Mailer himself hints that the second volume will take us through the 1930s, and will center on Hitler's affair with his niece Angelika (Geli) Raubal. The affair with Geli happens already to have been covered by Ron Hansen in Hitler's Niece (1999), a novel that lists heavily under the weight of undigested historical research but contains one episode - on Hitler's (imagined) sexual proclivities - worthy of Mailer at his most scabrous.
"Mailer's second volume, if it comes to be written, will presumably take in not only Geli but also the years Hitler spent in pre-war Vienna, as well as his spell in the German army, when he underwent his political awakening. Nonetheless, the implication of The Castle in the Forest is that the malign kernel of the woe to be visited on the world was well developed by 1905, when Hitler was sixteen. If we are seeking the truth of Adolf Hitler, the poetic truth, Mailer would seem to say, the years from his conception and birth to the end of his schooling will provide material enough...
"'Most well-educated people,' writes Mailer through his unnamed mouthpiece, 'are ready to bridle at the notion of such an entity as the Devil...There need be no surprise, then, that the world has an impoverished understanding of Adolf Hitler's personality. Detestation, yes, but understanding of him, no - he is, after all, the most mysterious human being of the century.'
"The question When did evil enter Hitler's soul? thus has a most definite meaning to Mailer. His answer is At the instant of his conception, in much the same way that God, in Christian dogma, was present at, and entered into, the conception of Jesus. In Mailer's story, the devil had possession of Adolf Hitler from nine months before his birth in April 1889 until the day he died in 1945, to do his bidding in the world."
Naharnet News Desk says Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday called for the formation of a multi-faction 'national resistance' movement to liberate the Israeli-occupied Shabaa Farms.
"In an address marking the Ashoura Anniversary, Nasrallah told the crowd: 'I call for the creation of a national resistance to liberate the Shabaa farms...whoever was prevented by us from liberating Shabaa Farms should step forward to liberate and we'll be with him.'"
I'd say it was about time he tried to move on to a different topic of conversation.
People's Daily is stamping its editorial foot in frustration over the difficulties China faces in trying to bring the country's lost cultural treasures back home: "More than 10 million pieces of invaluable and marvellous Chinese historical and cultural treasures have been 'sunk into oblivion' in Europe, the United States, Japan, and Southeast Asian nations and regions after the Opium War of 1840, and about 1 million pieces of them are ranked as the first and second class categories of Chinese archaeological objects, according to the Chinese Archaeological Society.
"Meanwhile, relevant statistics from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization note that more than 200 museums in 47 countries boast a total of 1.64 million Chinese relics and over 10 times more Chinese antiques are being stored by ordinary people worldwide today.
"A national treasure recovery project, initiated and launched in July 2003, was aimed at rescuing 'lost' Chinese cultural relics and protect the country's national heritages. The cultural relics disappeared in unusual or extraordinary conditions will be retrieved in three ways, buying back, demanding their return, or donating.
"To date, buying back constitutes a conventional method. The return of 'Pig-head Bronze Statue' from the Yuan Min Yuan (or named the Winter Palace then) provides a very good, successful example. The Pig-head Bronze Statue had been vanished in the wreckage of the Yuan Min Yuan Palace by the Anglo-French troops in 1860 and slipped overseas afterward. Almost one and a half centuries later, in the spring of 2003, Chinese cultural relics experts traced it to an American private collector. Through repeated, patient consultations and negotiations between the two sides, the collector finally agreed to transfer it back to China. Upon learning the information, Mr. Stanley Ho, a tycoon from Macao made a donation of 7 million yuan (some 880,000 US dollars) in Sept. 2003 to the Special Fund to Rescue Cultural Relics Overseas to get it back."
Jay Nordlinger, music critic of the New York Sun, noticed some interesting stuff at the closing event of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: "Are you ready for a 20-year-old conductor? You ought to be, because he's ready for you.
"His name is Lionel Bringuier, and he conducted the Basel Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night. This was a closing event of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, held in Davos, high up in the Swiss Alps.
"The meeting is known for its kings, presidents, and prime ministers, its CEOs, 'social entrepreneurs,' and writers. But there is usually a small arts contingent, as there was this year. Valery Gergiev, the famed Russian conductor, was present, although he did not perform. He didn't conduct, that is; he performed on panels. Also, Michael Hersch was present. He is a young American composer of increasing reputation."
The Telegraph notices that we have just passed a small marker in our rush into the future: "Floppy, we hardly knew you. It was only in 1971 that the first commercial floppy disk went on sale; now PC World has decided to discontinue them. It's the end.
"So the floppy disk joins space hoppers, propelling pencils, the Stylophone, Robin starch, toasting forks, Party Sevens, gold top milk, Tizer, fly-buttons, blue twists of salt in packets of crisps, nylon shirts, Spangles, shove-halfpenny, Izal lavatory paper and the Pickwick, the Owl and the Waverley Pen.
"No, the future's not floppy. But, although a single memory stick can now hold 6,000 times the information on a floppy disk, we shall miss one glorious anomaly: floppy disks, despite their precise dimension of 9cm in diameter, were denominated all over the world according to imperial measure – 3.5in. That apart, the floppy disk has outlived its early promise and proved, well, a bit of a flop."
29 January 2007
Middle East expert Bernard Lewis says Islam could soon be the dominant force in a Europe which, in the name of political correctness, has abdicated the battle for cultural and religious control.
"The Muslims 'seem to be about to take over Europe,' Lewis said at a special briefing with the editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post. Asked what this meant for the continent's Jews, he responded, 'The outlook for the Jewish communities of Europe is dim.'
"Soon, he warned, the only pertinent question regarding Europe's future would be, 'Will it be an Islamized Europe or Europeanized Islam?' The growing sway of Islam in Europe was of particular concern given the rising support within the Islamic world for extremist and terrorist movements, said Lewis.
"Lewis, whose numerous books include the recent What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, and The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror, would set no timetable for this drastic shift in Europe, instead focusing on the process, which he said would be assisted by 'immigration and democracy'. Instead of fighting the threat, he elaborated, Europeans had given up."
One image of Albert Einstein that people carry in their heads is the gentle antiwar symbol whose fright-wigged visage smiled down from a thousand dorm rooms. The other is of Einstein the distracted genius too occupied with great thoughts to match his socks. In fact, according to Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time magazine and author of a forthcoming biography, Einstein in 1915 was 'awesomely human'.
The Los Angeles Times says: "The gem of this new collection, published by Caltech and Princeton University, is a treasure trove of personal letters that have been locked away for almost a century and are now shedding fresh light on the man and his work at this moment of transformation.
"Einstein's stepdaughter Margot donated 130 letters, written in German, from and to his closest friends and family members. Margot, who died in July 1986, had specified that they not be released to the public for 20 years after her death.
"These letters portray the greatest thinker of the 20th century at the height of his powers not as a triumphant genius but as a working man struggling to make ends meet while the world around him threatened to devolve into chaos."
British Home Secretary John Reid, writing in the Guardian after a staggering series of Home Office failures, predicts there's more to come. "If we weren't discovering more we wouldn't be reforming. Indeed I expect more problems. In each of the rooms of the Home Office are upcoming challenges like pay pressures, prison population pressures, counter-terror challenges and stubbornly high reoffending rates. There will also be problems I haven't discovered yet - and may well be unearthed by others. If we were not open about challenges as we discover them we would not be being serious about reform.
"Yet even the ground on which the Home Office is built - the Britain of the 21st century - is shifting. Mass migration, the information age and environmental change have changed the world. If we just fix the old structures we will not be prepared for challenges such as identity crime, people smuggling, and illegal migration. I was sent to the Home Office to do a job. Being home secretary is my biggest challenge. But it isn't mission impossible."
28 January 2007
Super-mean foxes? Merciless robot soldiers? They're among Popular Science's Scariest Ideas in Science (how close is that to the perfect weekend read?).
One I rather liked, as a retired person, was the 20-hour working day: "A new crop of 'wakefulness-promoting' drugs can improve alertness - with no real side effects. Last summer Darpa, the U.S. Department of Defense's advanced-research arm, tested the drug CX717 by exposing subjects to battle conditions for four consecutive 20-hour days. Sleeping only four daylight hours, they remained amped and alert. Meanwhile, prescription modafinil can keep civilians fresh for 48 hours. Its successor, armodafinil, poised for FDA approval, lasts even longer."
Wake me if there's anything I can do to help.
I may have spoken a little too soon when I said, yesterday, that last week was a bad one for the British Government. As the Telegraph suggests, this one promises to be even worse: "Detectives have discovered a hand-written note from Tony Blair among new evidence that has widened significantly the cash-for-honours investigation.
"It is the first time that the 'paper trail' uncovered by Scotland Yard has led directly to the Prime Minister. The note is understood to acknowledge the efforts of Labour's 12 secret lenders who provided 14 million pounds to help the party fight the 2005 election.
"The Prime Ministers's comments were among a batch of Downing Street papers obtained by detectives. He had written in ink on typed, internal government papers and initialled his views. Officers now believe that Downing Street intended to give working peerages to most of the lenders. Those in line included Sir Christopher Evans, the multi-millionaire entrepreneur, who is the only lender arrested as part of the 10-month inquiry."
Peter Beaumont, the foreign affairs editor of Britain's Observer, is quoting Western diplomats and sources close to the Iranian nuclear programme as saying "Iran's efforts to produce highly enriched uranium, the material used to make nuclear bombs, are in chaos and the country is still years from mastering the required technology...
"Despite Iran being presented as an urgent threat to nuclear non-proliferation and regional and world peace - in particular by an increasingly bellicose Israel and its closest ally, the US - a number of Western diplomats and technical experts close to the Iranian programme have told The Observer it is archaic, prone to breakdown and lacks the materials for industrial-scale production.
"The disclosures come as Iran has told the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that it plans to install a new 'cascade' of 3,000 high-speed centrifuges at its controversial underground facility at Natanz in central Iran next month. The centrifuges were supposed to have been installed almost a year ago and many experts are extremely doubtful that Iran has yet mastered the skills to install and run it. Instead, they argue, the 'installation' will more probably be about propaganda than reality."
Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, was chosen by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 best books of 2006. In today's Sunday Magazine, he argues that our preoccupation with eating what is good for us has slowly led to the disappearance of food from menus.
"It was in the 1980s that food began disappearing from the American supermarket, gradually to be replaced by 'nutrients', which are not the same thing. Where once the familiar names of recognizable comestibles - things like eggs or breakfast cereal or cookies - claimed pride of place on the brightly colored packages crowding the aisles, now new terms like 'fiber' and 'cholesterol' and 'saturated fat' rose to large-type prominence. More important than mere foods, the presence or absence of these invisible substances was now generally believed to confer health benefits on their eaters. Foods by comparison were coarse, old-fashioned and decidedly unscientific things - who could say what was in them, really? But nutrients - those chemical compounds and minerals in foods that nutritionists have deemed important to health - gleamed with the promise of scientific certainty; eat more of the right ones, fewer of the wrong, and you would live longer and avoid chronic diseases."
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
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