The Lure of the Dreaming Spires

What the foreign papers are saying.
May 18 2000 11:30 PM

The Lure of the Dreaming Spires

On unconvincing evidence, the Times of London claimed Thursday that President Clinton "is taken with the idea" of returning to Oxford University as a teacher after he leaves office. Oxford is, of course, where Clinton went as a Rhodes scholar and, to quote Maureen Dowd, "didn't inhale, didn't get drafted and didn't get a degree." The Times' Washington correspondent, Damian Whitworth, trapped him on the floor of the Pepsi Arena in Albany, N.Y., after his wife, Hillary, was formally given the Democratic nomination for the Senate race in New York. "[T]he subject was delicately raised of what he planned to do next and whether he had considered returning to the academic life in Oxford," he wrote. " 'Have they asked me? I'd like to go back,' he said emphatically. In a teaching post? He furrowed his brow and laughed. 'I don't know if I'd have time to teach. You know, I went back in 1994 and they gave me an honorary degree. That was one of my most wonderful days. One of those beautiful English summer days.' "

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This meaningless banter led the Times' front page under the headline "Clinton dreams of a return to Oxford's spires" and prompted a frivolous editorial urging the university not to squander the opportunity and to "exploit the full range of his experience." It said, "A man who once informed a Grand Jury that whether or not he had committed perjury depended on the meaning of the word 'is' would surely be the very saviour of any philosophy faculty. Mr Clinton's intimate knowledge of the latest DNA testing techniques should be harnessed to the chemistry department. A new course on the technicalities of impeachment could work wonders for the Oxford law course. The gender studies sub-faculty would, though, be best appeased if the amount of hands-on student tuition offered by Mr Clinton were kept to a minimum." The Times, however, extracted a half-serious comment from Byron E. Shafer, the Andrew Mellon Professor of Politics at Oxford, who said that the university's Rothermere American Institute wished to concentrate on the "evolution of public life in the United States, and who could be more central to that theme than the most recent President Emeritus."

An editorial Thursday in the Manila Times noted that "Filipinos are [alternately] feeling embarrassed and proud over the authorship of the 'love bug' virus," and it welcomed a proposal by President Joseph Estrada that the Philippines "become a key center for developing anti-virus software." Pride won over embarrassment in the editorial. "Filipino genius in cyber technology has often been taken for granted," it said. "The fact is that, quietly, a new group of Filipino workers—computer specialists—has become a major presence in Silicon Valley and computer centers in the United States." While the "love bug" represented "the dark side of the Filipino genius in computer technology," the country's "lode of … creative power" needs to be mined.

India is also proud of its prowess in information technology, but the Hindu Thursday attacked a clause in the Indian government's IT bill "that empowers police searches of any public place without a warrant." The paper said in an editorial, "What was supposed to be a piece of legislation to facilitate electronic commerce has turned out to be extremely controversial because of the natural inclination of authority to monitor and control the lives of its citizens." It welcomed the bill's central purpose, which is "to amend laws that are more than a century old and are unsuitable for the Internet era because they recognise the legal validity of only ink and paper," but it questioned the wisdom of its provision for a ten-fold increase in the punishment for spreading computer viruses. "Considering that most creators of viruses and Internet hackers are usually teenagers who are excited by the prospect of demonstrating their talent in writing software code, huge fines may not be as good a deterrent as education on the damage that computer viruses inflict on individuals and businesses." 

Both the Financial Times of London and the Wall Street Journal Europe led Thursday on the first major casualty among Internet companies in Europe, the liquidation of Boo.com, an online sportswear retailer, after its backers refused to go on funding heavy losses. The FT noted in an editorial that Boo.com raised about $120 million a year ago from backers (who included Benetton and Goldman Sachs) and said that it was "one of the most ambitious of Europe's internet start-ups, with plans to sell in 18 countries." Its demise, the paper said, shows that "the promised land of profitability may … be too distant for many of the new companies to reach, even when the markets are growing extraordinarily fast."

The Times of India claimed Thursday that "million marches," such as the Million Mom March in Washington, D.C., for greater gun control, which have become "quite the rage" in the United States, are in fact a form of protest imported from India. "Envisioned, produced and directed by Mahatma Gandhi, the protest march was honed into such a potent poor man's weapon that it forced the British to leave India," it said in an editorial. Huge protest marches had been "enthusiastically encouraged" by the U.S. government because they "provide the country with a moral high ground from where it can preach the virtues of democratic governance. These million marches are, of course, also popular with the American people who demonstrate an innate fascination for all things gargantuan—from Big Macs, over-size clothes, skyscrapers, suspension bridges, roller coasters, giant basketball stars, WWF wrestlers to just about everything else that can stretch the mould."

Le Monde of Paris led its front page Thursday with Britain's decision to award $8 billion worth of defense contracts to European industry despite strong pressure from Bill Clinton for it to buy American. The paper welcomed the decision in an editorial, as did the FT, which said the British order for Meteor air-to-air missiles and Airbus transport aircraft "has given a powerful boost to European industry." It said that this "makes it almost certain that Airbus, already about to build the A3XX superjumbo, will get enough orders to produce its first military model, the A400M airlifter."

The main story Thursday in the Italian papers was a surprising decision by Health Minister Umberto Veronesi to legislate a ban on smoking in all public and private places accessible to the public, including universities, schools, factories, barracks, shops, bars, restaurants, and offices. The columnist Furio Colombo noted in La Repubblica of Rome what a shock this will be to a country in which no-smoking rules are never obeyed. Apart from in cinemas and churches, Italians smoke everywhere, he wrote. "I have seen stretcher bearers smoking. I have seen people smoking over coffins. The driver who is filling his tank at the gas station and spilling gas on to the ground continues to keep his cigarette alight, and this is a normal occurrence."  

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