David T. recently linked to some enormously depressing comments by Al-Jazeera Editor-in-Chief, Ahmed Sheikh, who seemed to be arguing that just about every problem in the Middle East is the fault of the Israelis. That couldn't be further from the view of one of the Arab world's leading intellectuals, the poet, Adonis. MEMRI flags up a rare dose of straight talking:
"There can be no living culture in the world if you cannot criticize its foundations - the religion...
"If I look at the Arabs, with all their resources and great capacities, and I compare what they have achieved over the past century with what others have achieved in that period, I would have to say that we Arabs are in a phase of extinction, in the sense that we have no creative presence in the world."
Interviewer: "Are we on the brink of extinction, or are we already extinct?"
Adonis: "We have become extinct. We have the quantity. We have the masses of people, but a people becomes extinct when it no longer has a creative capacity, and the capacity to change its world."
Could this be a glimmer of hope? Crossroads Arabia notices a positive development in the Saudi media - a good news story about American Jews.
Not only does his name rhyme with "Osama" (shock, horror), his casual no-tie dress sense reminds some people of the equally laid-back President Ahmadinejad. While I assume Jeff Greenfield had his tongue firmly in his cheek in that report, it just goes to show how obsessive we've become about every irrelevant detail.
Stop press: one of the Plank's commenters uncovers even more dirt:
...Obama published an autobiographical work while in his mid 30s full of reflections on race and race relations. You know who else did that? Ever hear of "Mein Kampf"?!?!
UPDATE: George Will explains why Obama should run in 2008:
He has, in Hillary Clinton, the optimal opponent. The contrast is stark: He is soothing; she is not. Many Democrats who are desperate to win are queasy about depending on her. For a nation with jangled nerves, and repelled by political snarling, he offers a tone of sweet reasonableness.
I don't want to spoil Norm's enjoyment of the Test series, but Simon Hughes sees worrying times ahead for Australian cricket. Call it the English disease, if you like:
It starts at the top. After the Australian victory in Adelaide, I sat outside the dressing rooms waiting to interview Ponting. He emerged after a while, having been delayed by a congratulatory call from the Prime Minister. This was typical of John Howard, fawning all over star sportsmen and pronouncing on all things cricket, while the national economy disappears down the swanny. Meanwhile in education, his government has so far been unable to stifle the burgeoning disquiet about declining levels of PE at school or silence the nannying clamour in this law-obsessed country that cricket is dangerous. And teachers over-burdened with admin are increasingly reluctant to spend after-school hours supervising games...
As with England, the running of junior cricket in Australia is increasingly in the domain of the volunteers, those parents (and grandparents) who unfailingly give up their evenings and weekends and holidays to coach and umpire and ferry the kids to matches. Except that in some states they are not picking up the slack like they were. In Perth, for instance, where I played grade cricket 20 years ago, there has been a steady decline in the amount of colts cricket as fathers work longer hours and children fall into the grip of computer games. Since the2005 Ashes, there has been a slight surge of interest, but it just camouflages a general trend.
Depressing, yes? But there's worse to come.
...The Americanisation of Australia is happening fast. Junk food and obesity are increasingly prevalent, their effects visible during the lunch intervals at the Adelaide Oval. Groups of 10-year-olds trotted out on the grass to play kwik cricket. I was taken aback by the lumbering physiques of some of them. Ten years ago you'd have seen any number of stylish batsmen, sprightly bowlers with athletic actions and natural throwing arms, and Shane Warne's Spin Set (containing a manual and two easy-to-grip balls) was the top-selling Christmas present. This year it's the latest Nintendo game.
"Audiences nowadays are so used to being spoon-fed the most simplistic material, they don't recognize good comedy anymore. You can read them stasimon after stasimon of the funniest chanted poetry ever, and they still sit there like so much stone statuary at the Oracle of Delphi." Washed-up old timer Aristophanes takes a swing at the young generation in an exclusive, byond-the-grave interview with The Onion. [Via The Playgoer] Wait till he hears that Charlotte Church picked up the Best Newcomer prize at that grim gathering, the British Comedy Awards.
One observer noted in April 1918 that in the preceding five months no one had been sentenced for looting, robbery, or murder, except by execution squads and lynching mobs. He wondered where all the criminals had disappeared to, given that the old courts had had to work around the clock. The answer, of course, was that Russia had turned into a lawless society. In April 1918, the novelist Leonid Andreev described what this meant to the average citizen:
"We live in unusual conditions, still comprehensible to a biologist who studies the life of moulds and fungi, but inadmissible for the psycho-sociologist. There is no law, there is no authority, the entire social order is defenceless... Who protects us? Why are we still alive, unrobbed, not evicted from our homes? The old authority is gone; a band of unknown Red Guards occupies the neighbourhood railroad station, learns how to shoot... carries out searches for food and weapons and issues "permits" for travel to the city. There is no telephone and no telegraph.Who protects us? What remains of reason? Chance that no one has noticed us... Finally, some general human cultural experiences, sometimes simple, unconscious habits: walking on the right side of the road, saying "good day" on meeting someone, tipping one's own hat, not the other person's. The music has long stopped, and we, like dancers, continue rhythmically to shuffle ourfeet and sway to the inaudible melody of law."
An excellent item on Newsnight about how well-meaning officials undermine integration by funding translation services. Sometimes the debate about multiculturalism can be maddeningly vague. Mark Easton's report was frank and hard-headed:
Islington's NHS primary care trust in London is providing a Turkish woman who has lived in the UK for five years with one-to-one sessions to help her stop smoking translated into her own language.
Speaking through a translator, a Bangladeshi woman who has lived in the UK for 22 years and does not speak English questioned this spending. She said: "When you are trying to help us you are actually harming. Even before we ask, all we have to do is say hello, they are here with their interpreters. We just sit here doing nothing and we don't need to speak in English at all.
Refreshing to hear human rights lawyer Zia Haider Rahman make a passionate case for encouraging people to learn English. He gave New Labour minister Phil Woolas such a hard time that El Paxo was reduced to the role of bemused onlooker.