...Views from mid-Atlantic
08 February 2007

Technical difficulties with Blogger, my host, have meant that my home page and archives are no longer easily accessible. Although others seem to have had the same problem, Blogger shows no interest in fixing it.

Crisis! I could migrate Pondblog to another host but, frankly, I'm getting bored with blogging. Quite apart from anything else, it takes a four-hour chunk out of every day - time, I think, that I could put to better use.

So, with some reluctance (becasuse I did enjoy it enormously), I am going to retire Pondblog. I'd like to thank those who encouraged me to get involved in blogging in the first place, those who have commented on what I have written and those who have suggested stories that might be included. I should particularly mention Brenda, in England, whose many suggestions have been much appreciated.

So long...and thanks for the ride.

07 February 2007

I don't suppose it will have much effect on the outcome of the trial, because Scooter Libby is charged with lying to a grand jury, but it certainly adds to the weight of questions about the behaviour of Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson. The National Review points out that "The accepted version of events is that Vice President Dick Cheney got things started when he asked for information about possible Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium in Africa.

"After that request, CIA employee Valerie Plame Wilson suggested sending her husband to look into the question, and after that, the CIA flew Joseph Wilson to Niger to investigate.

"But...new documents suggest that Mrs. Wilson suggested her husband for the trip before the vice president made his request. In other words, Joseph Wilson's visit to Niger, which everyone believes was undertaken at the behest of the vice president, was actually in the works before Dick Cheney asked his now-famous question. And if that is true, our current understanding of the chronology of events is wrong."

I didn't post anything about it at the time, but it is a very delicious little scandal of the Outposts-of-Empire type. There was a big parade in Granada on Saturday to mark the opening of a stadium paid for by the kind Republic of China. Lofty Chinese gentlemen were present. Come time to play the Chinese national anthem, and the Granada Police Band, bless their cotton socks and whiskers, played the Taiwanese National Anthem.

As you might imagine, a dry wind from the east began to blow.

Now the hapless Bandmaster, according to Caribbean Net News, has been relieved of his responsibilities, and the Deputy Commissioner is "spearheading" an investigation.


I think some Mideast observers may not understand quite what the significance of this story is. The New York Sun says: "The United Nations is seeking to stay clear of Lebanese politics as it sets up an international court in Beirut to prosecute the suspected killers of a former prime minister, but Lebanon's pro-Syrian president says the tribunal will incite political unrest and lead to violence.

"A February 5 letter to Secretary-General Ban from President Lahoud, seen by The New York Sun yesterday, shows clearly that Syria's allies in Lebanon are set to fight the proposed international tribunal, which could further isolate and discredit the Syrian government.

"In a significant step toward establishing the international tribunal — designed to try suspects in the assassination of a former prime minister, Rafik Hariri — the United Nations's top legal counsel, Nicolas Michel, yesterday signed an agreement with the government of Prime Minister Siniora.

"The United Nations will not 'allow itself to be used as a political tool' in negotiating the establishment of the tribunal, Mr. Michel told reporters."

Confused? Don't blame you.

What has happened is that the Government of Prime Minister Siniora has finally summoned up the courage to sign an agreement with the UN to set up an international tribunal in Beirut to investigate the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

The office of President of Lebanon is, in the odd post-Civil War construction of that government, symbolic. Mr Lahoud doesn't, as the title President might suggest to an American, run the Government. He is, however, Syria's main man in Lebanon, and what he gets to run is his mouth. Which he is now doing, because this tribunal makes Syria uncomfortable, as well it should.

Closing John Deuss's First Curacao International Bank has dealt "a hammer blow" to the alleged crime of carousel fraud, according to the UK Paymaster General, and losses in revenue as a result of it have since fallen by 90%. The Guardian's Business section carries those comments in a story suggesting that "customs officers arrested 10 people after raids across Britain and Europe and said they had frozen dozens of bank accounts in Dubai.

"Revenue & Customs said the arrests followed a five-year investigation into a systematic attack on the VAT system which is thought to have cost the taxpayer a quarter of a billion pounds. Ten men were being questioned in police stations in London last night after raids in south Wales, the West Midlands, Cheshire and Buckinghamshire. Four European warrants were issued for arrests in France and Spain...

"Carousel fraud occurs when someone imports small expensive items such as computer chips or mobile phones free of VAT, sells them on with the VAT added but pockets the VAT and disappears. The goods often pass through a chain of companies and are re-exported with the VAT reclaimed. They are then re-imported and spun round the so-called carousel again."

06 February 2007

Byron York of National Review points to the soft underbelly (well, one part of it, anyway)of the Scooter Libby trial: "Whatever Judge Reggie Walton rules, the argument has exposed the underlying dilemma in the case, one that arose on the very first day of the trial, when Walton gave the jury this instruction: 'No evidence will be presented to you with regard to Valerie Plame Wilson's status. That is because what her actual status was, or whether any damage would result from disclosure of her status, are totally irrelevant to your decision of guilt or innocence. You must not consider these matters in your deliberations or speculate or guess about them.'

"Of course, Mrs. Wilson is the woman at the center of the CIA-leak affair. The case began with the allegation that the Bush White House illegally leaked her identity in an effort to get back at her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for his high-profile criticism of the administration’s case for war in Iraq. Everything in the investigation grew from that seed, and ultimately Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, was charged with lying to investigators who were trying to determine who had leaked Mrs. Wilson's job status. And yet, in his instructions, Judge Walton told jurors that they were not to consider - not even to think about - Mrs. Wilson's job status."

Syria is in the throes of one of its biggest crackdowns on dissidents in many years, according to an article in today's Guardian. "As many as 12 reformers and writers have been arrested this month in a new show of strength by the regime.

"It is a far cry from the mood a few months ago, when the Syrian regime was under considerable international pressure and faced the possibility of being unseated by a high-profile UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The investigation continues - the UN team is due to issue its latest report in mid-June - but the latest arrests suggest the Syrian government is much more confident about its position than it has been for some time.

"The arrests began early in the new year, when several dissidents were called in for questioning after attending opposition conferences abroad. Then, earlier this month, around 500 political activists, reformers and intellectuals signed a new Beirut-Damascus declaration, in which they criticised the Syrian government and said Syria should mend its relations with Lebanon and grant the Lebanese real independence from Syrian tutelage. They called for democracy in both countries and a proper investigation into the murder of Hariri. The investigation is still sensitive because a preliminary UN assessment has blamed Syrian intelligence for the killing. Four pro-Syrian Lebanese security chiefs are already in jail charged in connection with the massive car bomb that killed Hariri and 20 others on the seafront in Beirut."

05 February 2007

The Telegraph's curmudgeonly book guy, AN Wilson, is pretty conservative about who he praises. He complained recently, for example, that Seamus Heaney's "greatness is taken for granted by certain metropolitan pundits," despite never having "actually written anything to justify the reputation." But he may have a weak spot.

"That there was an old world that has now passed away, a heroic world, snatches of which we hear only in half-comprehended song, is an ever-present awareness in the works of JRR Tolkien. He is the only modern writer of what might be termed fantasy-literature who conveys this sense – which we find in Virgil and is also present in the Beowulf poet - of a heroic past that is slipping out of memory.

"As a Germanic philologist, he expounded the old Icelandic Eddaic verses that recount the doings and death, for example, of Atli or Attila the Hun: he died in 453, was celebrated in song for 500 years, and immortalised in Atlakvitha some time before the Viking settlement of Iceland in 985. Or those mythic beings, the dwarves, preserved in the Voluspa, a mythology of the North, perhaps written down in the 11th century, but keeping alive much older memories of, among others, 'Veigr, Gandalfr, Vindalfr, Thrainn...' - that is, the Potion-elf and the Sprite-elf...

"Tolkien soaked up all this stuff through his imaginative pores, just as he made it his pastime to learn the older languages of northern Europe - Irish, Welsh, Norse, Old English, Gothic. The fragmentary nature of these language survivals, especially Gothic, is itself something that, if meditated on intelligently, could only produce a Tolkienian world perspective. You feel all the time that something has been lost - it has been lost partly through the passage of time, partly through human malice and wickedness. Language and poetry alone keep its half-memory echoing."

Grand. No mere metropolitan pundit he.

There is still a debate on global warming, despite claims to the contrary. The Wall Street Journal says the most recent report, the the fourth assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "should be understood as one more contribution to the warming debate, not some definitive last word that justifies radical policy change. It can be hard to keep one's head when everyone else is predicting the Apocalypse, but that's all the more reason to keep cool and focus on the actual science."

The real news out of that report, the Journal says, may be how far it has backpedalled on some of the claims of the previous assessments.

04 February 2007

When the London Times publishes an editorial entitled Time to go, Tony, it's as well to believe that these are his last few days at Downing Street.

"The prime minister is damaged goods and whatever happens in the remaining weeks of his premiership, he will remain so. He is damaging the Labour party by his continued presence and, more importantly, he is damaging British politics. As a democrat and a patriot, he must recognise that, as he must recognise that the task of his successor will be to clean up British politics and restore its reputation. The sooner that task begins, the better."

Charles Moore is the author of a Telegraph piece published yesterday that explains Mr Blair's fall from grace in the eyes of the British people as well as any I've seen: "The Government that began looking the most moral has ended up looking the least; and that is not an accident. In its beginning was its end.

"Mr Blair reminds me of those medieval heretics, the Cathars. Their leaders were known as parfaits. Believing that they were already chosen by God for salvation, they could do no wrong, and were therefore not bound by the rules that bound everyone else.

"Tony the parfait thus thinks 'sleaze' in Parliament is a very terrible thing, and passes strict laws to control it, yet in practice exempts himself from them since he, by definition, cannot be sleazy. He must feel genuinely wounded that he is now, as they say, helping the police with their inquiries. By his very being, he believes, he cannot be guilty."

Norman Mailer's publicity machine is trotting him out all over the place at the moment, since his new book, The Castle in the Forest, has been on the shelves for a couple of weeks. Robert McCrum of The Observer has a piece in today's issue: Norman Mailer says people are 'going to have a shit fit' over his new novel, The Castle in the Forest, about the childhood of Adolph Hitler, narrated by a devil, inhabiting the body of an SS officer, Dieter.

"'At a given point,' he says, 'you snicker to yourself and you say, "Oh, they're going to be livid."' The writer seems unfazed by this inevitability. 'It's impossible not to identify to some small degree with the protagonist [Hitler], so the book is going to be offensive to a lot of Jews. They won't like it. The right wing will hate it. God not all-powerful? Not all-loving? I expect there'll be considerable resistance,' he goes on with glee. 'And a lot of radicals are not going to like it, because most radicals believe that to talk about God and the Devil is retrogressive.' Add up the Jews, the fundamentalists, the radicals and what he calls 'the Acumenarians', an especially low form of critical life in Mailer's world, and he's just about to alienate most of America. So why does he do it?

"That's a question people have been asking about Norman Mailer for more than half a century. Probably, we are still as far as ever from an answer. But in the process of a prolonged and often raucous public self-examination, Mailer has become a contemporary figure of myth, a great American icon who is venerated and reviled but impossible to ignore."

And Brenda from Britain sent me a link to another, this one in the Los Angeles Times. It's a first person piece from the man himself, with a headline that may be the best thing about it.

"What I've said about [The Castle in the Forest] is that I wanted to hit the longest ball, I wanted to hit it out of the yard. But I do think this book goes further in what it has to say than any other book I've ever written. And it has - what's the phrase I'm looking for - it has more profoundly disturbing ideas in it than any book I've written."

What's the phrase I'm looking for?

It's a question one hates to hear asked, but Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle figures it's time: Is Tom Cruise the Messiah?

Take it away, Mr Morford.

"What if the astonishing proclamation made by top gooberhead Scientologist (and official Friend of Tom) David Miscavige is urgent and accurate and Tom Cruise really is that happy cult's personal Jesus, a true deity who may not be recognized in this lifetime for his divine contributions but who, in the future, will be 'worshipped like Jesus' for what he has done for humankind and therefore we have all been looking at Jerry McGuire and Days of Thunder and MI:III exactly wrong?

"Can you imagine? No? Me neither. Here, try this bottle of Ambien and this forced ingestion of 3,000 powdered copies of Us Weekly and this enthusiastic partial lobotomy. There. Can you imagine now? Excellent."

Whitney Balliett, one of the most skilful and graceful writers about jazz, has died at his home in New York City at the age of 80. He wrote for the New Yorker for four decades. The Los Angeles Times recalls that "Balliett began writing a regular jazz column for the New Yorker in 1957. To convey the essence of music and musicians, he avoided technical terms. He considered himself an 'impressionist' when he wrote about musicians because music is fleeting, so 'transparent and bodiless.' In his observations, he created portraits of entertainers in action.

"Jazz critic and poet Philip Larkin described Balliett as 'a writer who brings jazz journalism to the verge of poetry.'

"Whitney Lyon Balliett, the son of a businessman, was born April 17, 1926, in Manhattan. While attending the private Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, he began what he called his 'erratic noncareer as a drummer' after hearing a jam session on a Sunday afternoon at Jimmy Ryan's club on New York's West Side.

"One of Balliett's most-anthologized pieces was his 1962 profile of clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, titled Even His Feet Look Sad."

"As for Russell's music, Balliett wrote: 'No jazz musician has ever played with the same daring and nakedness and intuition. His solos didn't always arrive at their original destination. He took wild improvisational chances and when he found himself above the abyss, he simply turned in another direction, invariably hitting firm ground. His singular tone was never at rest…. Above all, he sounded cranky and querulous, but that was camouflage, for he was the most plaintive and lyrical of players.'"


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
The US Supreme Court's First Terrorism Decisions
Useful Yiddish
Yukio Mishima's Death

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