June 17, 2008
Being the trivial fellow I am, the parts of Greg Grandin's recent article on the Monroe Doctrine to which I choose to draw attention are as follows:
...National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger quipped that Latin America is a "dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica." But Kissinger also made that same joke about Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand...I remember when Mort Sahl toured Australia in the 80s he joked that Reagan saw New Zealand "as a dagger pointing at Antarctica" but I didn't realise he'd been ripping off the man whose receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize marked the death of satire*. New Zealand was rather in America's bad books at the time as the new government of David Lange had made good on Labor's promise to ban nuclear warships from NZ ports. As Lange said at the Oxford Union debate: "What's happened is that a government has done exactly what it said it would do if it was elected - and of course this is terribly destabilising."
Douglas Feith, former Pentagon undersecretary, suggested that, after 9/11, the U.S. hold off invading Afghanistan and instead bomb Paraguay, which has a large Shi'ite community, just to "surprise" the Sunni al-Qaeda.Mr Grandin oversells the stupidity of that just a tad. According to the Newsweek link the supposed justification for hitting Paraguay was the idea that Hezbollah had a training camp there. Coz Shi'ite/Sunni, Hezbollah/Al Qaeda - wot's the diff, right? If only there was a sobriquet that did justice to Mr Feith's extraordinary intellectual gifts.**■ ■ ■This intriguingly Orwellian aspect of Benedict Anderson's excellent survey of the history and legacy of "Haji Mohammed" Suharto caught my eye:
[T]he introduction of a new spelling system for the national language, [was] inaugurated in 1972–73. Officially, this policy was justified as a way to open up a common print market with Malaysia. But the real motive behind it was to mark a decisive break between what was written under the dictatorship and everything written before it. One had only to read the title of a book or pamphlet to know whether it was splendidly modern, or a derisory residue of Sukarnoism, constitutionalism, the revolution, or the colonial period. Any interest in old-orthography materials was automatically suspicious. The change was sufficiently great that youngsters could easily be persuaded that ‘old’ printed materials were too hard to decipher, and so not to be bothered with. ■ ■ ■From The Av Club's two-part interview with Harlan Ellison:
The effective result was a sort of historical erasure, such that the younger generation’s knowledge of their country’s history came largely from the regime’s own publications, especially textbooks. Needless to say, the decades of anti-colonial activity against the Dutch largely disappeared. The revolution was renamed the War of Independence, in which only soldiers played significant roles. The post-revolutionary period of constitutional democracy was abruptly dismissed as the creation of civilian politicians, aping Western rather than Indonesian ways. All this had some comical aspects. For example, the brave but hopeless Communist rebellion against the Dutch colonial regime in 1926–27 was described as the first of a series of treasonable Communist conspiracies culminating in October 1, 1965.
In the decade after Suharto’s fall, some tentative rewriting of textbooks has occurred, but in general inertia prevails. Many once-banned books have been republished (anachronistically, in the Suharto spelling), but the market for these books is basically limited to students and intellectuals. The general ignorance of the past is probably greater than at any time in the last century.
What is it W.S. Merwin said? "The story of each stone leads back to a mountain." Which is a great quote, and it's as true for the film as it is for anything. If you take me, he said humbly, as the mountain, and you take it all the way back, the stone is Jack Wheeldon and his buddies beating the crap out of me on the playground at Lathrop grade school in Painesville. On the other hand, I went out on the road, and I hung out with people who society would have called desperate characters, or bums, or lost causes. These were men—and very, very occasionally women, but mostly men—who could have taken terrible advantage of me! I was a little kid, and green as grass, and they could have done that. But everybody was kind to me. Everybody was helpful to me. Everybody gave me their wisdom. You're riding in a boxcar, and a guy says, "Hey kid, don't dangle your legs out. When it hits the grade, that door's gonna slam shut and take your legs off at the knee." Well, Jesus Christ, who the hell ever thought of that? And I saw guys on the road with stumps, and I thought about that. If anything would damp the anger, it would be good grace visited on me by total strangers like that.■ ■ ■Here's an article about the prospects in Iraq for those who prefer their analysis to come with a non-threatening Establishment gloss. Everyone else can continue reading Patrick Cockburn and Nir Rosen. I like how the history in this extract shows a similar morphology to other accounts of the causes for the swamp we find ourselves in now - in order to frustrate third world nationalism and democracy, colonial regimes succoured those elements that are now the problem - although in Iraq it is the tribes more than the Islamic Religious Right.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, ruling powers in the Middle East have slowly and haltingly labored to bring tribal populations into the fold, with mixed success. Where tribes and tribalism have remained powerful, the state has remained weak. The Ottomans attempted forced sedentarization of the tribes, weakening tribal authorities by disrupting settlement patterns and replacing tribal sheiks with smaller cadres of favored leaders who became conduits for patronage. The colonial powers after World War I faced a different problem: the threat of nationalist urban elites opposed to foreign rule. In an effort to counter defiant urban leaders, they empowered rural tribes on the periphery. In Iraq, the British armed the tribes so that the sheiks could maintain order in the countryside and balance the capabilities of the nominal local governments operating under League of Nations mandates. Thus, the tribal system that Ottoman rule sought to dismantle was revitalized by British imperial policy, and the power of the nominal Iraqi government was systematically vitiated. In 1933, Iraq's King Faisal lamented, "In this kingdom, there are more than 100,000 rifles, whereas the government has only 15,000."Despite my sneering, it's a very good overview of the problems that may arise from the occupation's recent policy of arming Sunni tribal militias subsequent to their falling out with regional AQ clones, although Mr Simon's suggestions to improve the situation may require a major rethink now that Iraqis are reacting to the US government's heavy-handed methods of coercing a new Status of Forces Agreement from Maliki, one likely to severely undermine Iraqi sovereignity for the long term.
* Sahl steals from Kissinger; I steal from Tom Lehrer.
** EDIT: Wow, my memory is just terrible.
June 10, 2008
Then I'll Begin...
Still working through the pile. Some highlights...
Gotz Aly again, writing on the Historians' Dispute, the 1986 debate about how to place the Holocaust in the context of European history:
Twenty years after the Historikerstreit, more than 16 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the time is ripe for a comprehensive new understanding of the age of violent nationalism, of the twentieth century's politics of ethnic segregation, expropriation and extermination. But contrary to Nolte's obsession, such attempts should not begin with the October Revolution in Russia, because that only leads to the historically optimistic illusion that the repugnant aspects of the twentieth century can be reduced to the major totalitarian dictatorships and that they can be cleanly distinguished from all that we now view as progress and success.A lot of what's left in the pile is from the New Left Review, but I did finish Tariq Ali's overview of the situation in Afghanistan (this one's actually recent):
For example, it was in fact Republican France that invented the selection criteria later used as the basis for the so-called "Deutsche Volksliste" (German ethnic list) in the areas of Poland annexed by Germany. In 1919, the population of the reclaimed Alsace region were sorted into four groups: full, three-quarter and half French, and Germans. On this basis, Alsatians were accorded full, limited or zero civil rights. In the case of those belonging to Group IV (the Germans), the French authorities ordered expulsion over the Rhine bridge. This was followed in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne, negotiated under the leadership of France and England, as the first major case of ethnic homogenization anchored in international law. It ended the Greco-Turkish War with the forced exchange of sections of the population.
The post-war order established by the Potsdam Conference of 1945 was merely an updating of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 along national lines, tacitly including the results of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. In 1946, Chancellor Willy Brandt commented on the victorious powers' expulsion policy under the headline "Hitler's Spirit Lives On". In 1947/48, it was the ceding British colonial power in India which set in motion the process of population transfer based on religious criteria between the Indian Union and what was to become Pakistan. In south-eastern Europe, too, twelve million people were uprooted by a resettlement project devised by British strategists and codenamed "Operation Balkans". And the parallels continue. Without additional details, no one could say where and under which circumstances the following twentieth-century story told by a survivor took place: "The man in uniform ordered us to follow him to the station. My elderly father died on the way there, one of my five children froze to death during the journey." (It was in 1940 during the Sovietization of eastern Poland.)
Karzai was duly installed in December 2001, but intimacy with US intelligence networks failed to translate into authority or legitimacy at home. Karzai harboured no illusions about his popularity in the country. He knew his biological and political life was heavily dependent on the occupation and demanded a bodyguard of US Marines or American mercenaries, rather than a security detail from his own ethnic Pashtun base. There were at least three coup attempts against him in 2002–03 by his Northern Alliance allies; these were fought off by the ISAF, which was largely tied down in assuring Karzai’s security — while also providing a vivid illustration of where his support lay. A quick-fix presidential contest organized at great expense by Western PR firms in October 2004 — just in time for the US elections — failed to bolster support for the puppet president inside the country. Karzai’s habit of parachuting his relatives and protégés into provincial governor or police chief jobs has driven many local communities into alliance with the Taliban, as the main anti-government force. In Zabul, Helmand and elsewhere, all the insurgents had to do was 'approach the victims of the pro-Karzai strongmen and promise them protection and support. Attempts by local elders to seek protection in Kabul routinely ended nowhere, as the wrongdoers enjoyed either direct us support or Karzai’s sympathy.'See also his recentish pieces on Pakistan from the London Review of Books, October and December 2007.
Nor is it any secret that Karzai’s younger brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, has now become one of the richest drug barons in the country. At a meeting with Pakistan’s president in 2005, when Karzai was bleating about Pakistan’s inability to stop cross-border smuggling, Musharraf suggested that perhaps Karzai should set an example by bringing his sibling under control...
[N]ever have such gaping inequalities featured on this scale before. Little of the supposed $19 billion 'aid and reconstruction' money has reached the majority of Afghans. The mains electricity supply is worse now than five years ago, and while the rich can use private generators to power their air conditioners, hot-water heaters, computers and satellite TVs, average Kabulis 'suffered a summer without fans and face a winter without heaters.' As a result, hundreds of shelterless Afghans are literally freezing to death each winter.
Then there are the NGOs who descended on the country like locusts after the occupation. As one observer reports:
A reputed 10,000 NGO staff have turned Kabul into the Klondike during the gold rush, building office blocks, driving up rents, cruising about in armoured jeeps and spending stupefying sums of other people’s money, essentially on themselves. They take orders only from some distant agency, but then the same goes for the American army, NATO, the UN, the EU and the supposedly sovereign Afghan government.Even supporters of the occupation have lost patience with these bodies, and some of the most successful candidates in the 2005 National Assembly elections made an attack on them a centre-piece of their campaigns. Worse, according to one us specialist, 'their well-funded activities highlighted the poverty and ineffectiveness of the civil administration and discredited its local representatives in the eyes of the local populace.' Unsurprisingly, NGO employees began to be targeted by the insurgents, including in the north, and had to hire mercenary protection.
Also from the LRB, here's something if you feel like getting angry - Gareth Peirce's "Was It Like This for the Irish?":
Several years ago Tony Blair attempted to deport an Egyptian human rights lawyer who had been the victim of truly terrible torture in his own country: Blair argued that an assurance from Egypt of the man’s safety would suffice. Unusually, during a court challenge to the legality of his detention, private memoranda between Blair and the Home Office were made public. Across a note from the Home Office expressing concern that even hard assurances given by Egypt were unlikely to provide real protection against torture and execution, Blair had scribbled: ‘Get them back.’ Beside the passage about the assurances he wrote: ‘This is a bit much. Why do we need all these things?’ The man succeeded in his court challenge, but today, on the basis of secret information provided by Egypt, he is the subject of a UN Assets Freezing Order managed by the Treasury. He has no assets, no income and no work, and can be given neither money nor ‘benefit’ without a licence. ‘Benefit’ includes eating the meals his wife cooks. She requires a licence to cook them, and is obliged to account for every penny spent by the household. She speaks little English and is disabled, so is compelled to pass the obligation onto their children, who have to submit monthly accounts to the Treasury of every apple bought from the market, every bus fare to school. Failure to do so constitutes a criminal and imprisonable offence. A few weeks ago in the House of Lords, Lord Hoffman expressed horror at ‘the meanness and squalor’ of a regime ‘that monitored who had what for breakfast’. The number of such cases now multiplies daily. They have nothing at all to do with national security, they only succeed, as they are intended to, in sapping morale; they have everything to do with reinforcing the growing belief of the suspect community that it is expected to eradicate its opinions, its identity and many of the core precepts of its religion.Tony Blair has recently founded the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, "to promote faith as a force for good, improve awareness between religions and tackle poverty and war". Isn't that yummy!
Nothing if not topical I now link to this article from 2006, brought to my attention by a commenter* at alicublog, about the US media's bizarre pundit industry:
Mr. Kedrosky, 40, has learned to take clear positions. Many of his fellow B-listers have "too many hands," he says. "They're always saying, 'On the one hand, on the other hand.'" As he sees it, punditry is "like pounding a volleyball back and forth. You just have to remember which side of the net you're on. If you all stand on the same side, you don't have a game."...It's stuff like this that makes me wonder if our media systems are not so much crying out for reform as lying splayed, twisted and broken in front of us, their liquid, puppy-dog eyes pleading for a coup de grace.
Many minor leaguers take a methodical approach to getting recognized. They don't just stand on the patio of the "Today" show, shouting pithy remarks at Al Roker, hoping to be discovered. Instead, they invest in promoting themselves and honing their skills.
This year, more than 1,000 people paid between $760 and $1,995 to buy ads in the Washington-based "Yearbook of Experts," which TV bookers turn to for guests. In New York, the Learning Annex, an adult-education program, hired a former producer from CNN and a BET Radio Network producer to teach would-be pundits such skills as "how to design an irresistible hook" and "how to build up your profile."
In Racine, Wis., Don Crowther runs 101PublicRelations.com, a company that sells audio CD seminars priced from $39.95 to $79.95. Mr. Crowther says tens of thousands of people have bought his pundit-related products, with titles such as "How to Get Booked on 'The View.'"
He advises wannabe pundits to get face time and experience on local newscasts first, and to woo station decision-makers. One tip: "Send three-dozen doughnuts to the newsroom with a card that says, 'Thanks for considering me for your upcoming shows.'" Do such blatant ploys work on jaded news professionals? "They tend to roll their eyes," Mr. Crowther says. "But they eat it and they remember you."
Others suggest befriending A-listers, so they will recommend you to bookers if they're unable to make an appearance.
And another from Overland - Malcolm Knox's lecture about the state of the Australian novel. I found a lot of this to be wrong-headed - it's interesting to compare it with the Myers piece, particularly when Knox upbraids the "middle-brow reader" for thinking "if a book is challenging her concentration then that's the author's fault", advocates judging authors on the quality of their sentences, and praises Cormac McCarthy. The stuff about book marketing is very interesting, however, if a tad depressing:
The idea of segmentation, of internal competition, is perfectly suited to an environment where this quarter’s, this year’s returns are paramount. But even corporations that are more developed along these lines, more mature in the ruthless arts, know that you still need your sales division to cross-subsidise your research and development. Like many late adopters, it seems that publishers are falling over themselves to throw out babies with the bathwater, in the race for a better return to feed the giant maw of their global parent this quarter, this half, this year. I would liken a literary novelist’s first three or four books to the R & D phase. Publishers disagree. More fun - and shorter - is Jeff Sparrow's review of Jenny Hocking's biography of Frank Hardy:
Newspapers – and this is the point I am trying to reach – are no different. Where I work, at John Fairfax, the idea used to be that the classifieds would cross-subsidise the opinion page. The big-selling Saturday paper, with its car and house ads, would cross-subsidise the lower-selling Friday and Monday papers. The purpose of a new lifestyle section, a magnet for advertisers even if its content was light in substance, was to keep afloat the parts of the paper that people actually read, such as news and, yes, book reviews.
But this has changed. Now, every day and every section must fend for itself. This is fine for the Saturday motoring section. Not so good for the books pages. HarperCollins and Readings Bookshop aren’t as big advertisers as Ford and Toyota, believe it or not. And if you’re part of the advertising sales staff who really run the newspaper, what would you rather sell? A $10,000 glossy ad to Holden, which you can do in five minutes, or a $250 ad to a second-hand bookstore, which might take you a week in cajolery and coercion, if not outright begging?
It used to be understood that the Holden ad in the magazine would pay for the book review pages – but no more. And this is why we at the Sydney Morning Herald now have our book reviews wrapped inside a section promoting new theatre shows, new movies, new restaurants, new homewares. Because the advertisers rule, and books must seek homewares display ads for shelter and succour.
[She] delights in the incongruities of his later years, such as his spectacularly unlikely affair with the Greek singer Nana Mouskouri or his 1986 arrest during a reading in a pub for unpaid parking fines. On that occasion, a group of drinkers rescued him from the divvy van, with Doc Neeson from the oz-rock band The Angels opening the door and saying, ‘Step out, comrade!’ While the Tactical Response Group tried to quell the developing riot, two working-class legends enjoyed a quiet beer in the back bar.* Ah, apparently it was atrios, here.
June 09, 2008
Jeez, Talk About Yer Generation Gap...
Sez New Scientist
Circumcision and other forms of male genital mutilation have always been a puzzle. The ritual mutilations can leave the man vulnerable to infection and even death. So why do some societies insist on such a risky ritual for their men?Are we sitting comfortably?
There may be an evolutionary explanation, according to Christopher Wilson, of Cornell University in New York, US. It could function to reduce a young man's potential to father a child with an older man's wife, he says...
In some forms of mutilation, the handicap to sperm competition is obvious. There is subincision, for example, where cuts are made to the base of the penis. This causes sperm to be ejaculated from the base rather than the end, and is performed in several Aboriginal Australian societies, says Wilson.
In some African and Micronesian cultures, young men have one of their testicles crushed.
June 02, 2008
The Age manages to find some good arguments for Australian troops to remain in Iraq:
A flag-lowering ceremony overnight at the Tallil air base, 300 kilometres south of Baghdad, marked the moment Australia handed over its operational role to the Americans...Feel free to forward them to your favourite neo-con.
Not everyone is pleased the Australian troops are leaving.
"We are against … American forces in the area because they are using weapons while the Australians didn't do anything harmful against the people all the time they were in the province," said teacher Hassan Mohsin, 32.
"I think the return of the Americans to the city will cause many problems. They will make many arrests," said shopkeeper Abdullah Muzhir.
Can't Post... Reading
(And not what I should be reading, neither.)
Democracy and deference*, by Mark Slouka, in Harper's:
In general, the Brits act as though the government is their business and they have every right to meddle in it. Americans, by and large, display no such self-assurance. To the contrary, we seem to believe, deep in our hearts, that the business of government is beyond our provenance. What accounts for the difference? My wife, whose family hails in part from England, has a theory: unlike us, the Brits don’t confuse their royalty with their civil servants, because they have both, clearly labeled. Acknowledging the universal desire to defer, they channel that desire, wisely, into the place where it can do the least harm, a kind of political sump.The only sensible argument for monarchy I have ever read.
[* Not sure if that link works. Harper's appears to be down but it might be temporary.]
(Only recently noticed) A Reader's Manifesto, by B. R. Myers, in the Atlantic Monthly:
The flat, laborious wordiness signals that this is avant-garde stuff, to miss the point of which would put us on the level of the morons who booed Le Sacre du Printemps. But what is the point? Is the passage meant to be banal, in order to trap philistines into complaining about it, thereby leaving the cognoscenti to relish the irony on some postmodern level? Or is there really some hidden significance to all this time-zone business? The point, as Auster's fans will tell you, is that there can be no clear answers to such questions; fiction like City of Glass urges us to embrace the intriguing ambiguities that fall outside the framework of the conventional novel. All interpretations of the above passage are allowed, even encouraged—except, of course, for the most obvious one: that Auster is simply wasting our time.What Else is New?, by Steven Shapin, in The New Yorker, a review of, among others, The Shock of the Old by David Edgerton:
The tendency to exaggerate the impact of technological innovation follows from an artifact of historical consciousness. When we cannot conceive what life would be like without e-mail, say, we correctly note the pervasiveness of the new technology, but we may incorrectly assume that the things we now do through e-mail could not have been done in other ways... The Library in the New Age, by Robert Darnton, in The New York Review of Books:
In 1897, to move mail around the city, Manhattan started to equip itself with an island-wide system of underground pneumatic tubes, which soon extended from 125th Street as far as the Brooklyn General Post Office. Through the nineteenth century, the pneumatic tube had developed roughly in step with the telegraph and then the telephone. For a long time, indeed, pneumatic tubes seemed promising—perhaps they could shunt people around as well as mail—although, ultimately, it was the telegraph and the telephone that flourished, becoming the ancestors of the electronic communication systems we use today. Yet, had there been a century of continuous improvement, who knows what benefits a dense and speedy system of message tubes might have brought? A man working on Eighty-sixth Street could send a scribbled note, chocolates, and a pair of earrings to his girlfriend on Wall Street. To have left your wallet at home could be a mistake remedied in seconds. It’s a safe guess, anyway, that, while aware of a distant past containing such figures as postmen and delivery boys, we would be unable to imagine life without the pneumatic tube.
A study of news during the American Revolution by a graduate student of mine, Will Slauter, provides an example. Will followed accounts of Washington's defeat at the Battle of Brandywine as it was refracted in the American and European press. In the eighteenth century, news normally took the form of isolated paragraphs rather than "stories" as we know them now, and newspapers lifted most of their paragraphs from each other, adding new material picked up from gossips in coffeehouses or ship captains returning from voyages. A loyalist New York newspaper printed the first news of Brandywine with a letter from Washington informing Congress that he had been forced to retreat before the British forces under General William Howe...Rehabilitating Rachel Carson, by John Quiggin and Tim Lambert, in Prospect Magazine (my extract probably comes from the longer version):
Londoners had learned to mistrust their newspapers, which frequently distorted the news as they lifted paragraphs from each other. That the original paragraph came from a loyalist American paper made it suspect to the reading public. Its roundabout route made it look even more doubtful, for why would Washington announce his own defeat, while Howe had not yet claimed victory in a dispatch sent directly from Philadelphia, near the scene of the action?...
Le Courrier de l'Europe, a French newspaper produced in London, printed a translated digest of the English reports with a note warning that they probably were false. This version of the event passed through a dozen French papers produced in the Low Countries, the Rhineland, Switzerland, and France itself. By the time it arrived in Versailles, the news of Washington's defeat had been completely discounted. The comte de Vergennes, France's foreign minister, therefore continued to favor military intervention on the side of the Americans.
In the 1990s, however the situation changed radically, first for tobacco and then for DDT. The tobacco industry was faced with the prospect of bans on smoking in public places driven primarily by concerns about the health effects of passive smoking. Realising that such restrictions would prompt large numbers of smokers to quit, the industry sought, once again, to cast doubt on the scientific research. Given its bad, and well-deserved reputation, it was evident that a campaign focused on tobacco alone was doomed to failure. So the industry tried a different tack, an across-the-board attack on what it called “junk science” about environmental and health hazards. Its primary vehicle was The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), a body set up by PR firm APCO in the early 1990s and secretly funded by Philip Morris...Killing by the numbers, by Mark Benjamin & Chris Weaver, in Salon:
TASSC had an advisory board ... but the real work was done by an activist named Steven Milloy... TASSC and its website junkscience.com attacked the environmental movement across the board, on everything from food safety to the risks of asbestos. The result was that advocacy pieces dismissing the scientific evidence on the health dangers of passive smoking, for which Phillip Morris was paying, appeared to be just part of the general campaign against “junk science”.
One of the issues Milloy took up with a good deal of vigor was DDT, where he teamed up with J. Gordon Edwards... Edwards' attacks on Rachel Carson moved from the LaRouchite fringes of the political spectrum to become part of the orthodoxy of mainstream Republicanism. By the late 1990s, the tobacco industry's fight against restrictions on passive smoking was clearly headed for failure. Milloy switched his primary focus to climate change. He collected money from Exxon and other fossil fuel companies. This switch only made DDT more useful as a rhetorical stick with which to beat environmentalists.
At worst, the rules explicitly allowed the killing of unarmed Iraqis under certain circumstances, a particularly dicey concept given an enemy that does not wear a uniform and hides among civilians. Specifically, the snipers were allowed to shoot unarmed people running away from explosions or firefights. The chain of command was particularly frustrated by insurgents fleeing after attacks from roadside bombs, called improvised explosive devices. The notes from Army agents who later investigated the shootings said the battalion leaders, Balcavage and Knight, worried that the snipers had "let a lot of guys go after IED explosions." The snipers called these fleeing, sometimes unarmed Iraqis "squirters." Of course, it's not unusual for innocent people to run from explosions.Selling the War with Iran, by Nir Rosen, in The Washington Note:
The truth is, most allegations about Iran's role in Iraq and the region are unfounded or dishonest. Iran was responsible for ending the recent fighting in Basra and calming the situation after Iraqi parliamentarians who backed Prime Minister Maliki approached it. The Iranians, never close to Muqtada or his family, were so annoyed with Muqtada and his presence that they reportedly ordered him out of Iran where he had been living in virtual house arrest anyway since arriving six months earlier. Iranian officials and the state media clearly supported Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi government against what they described as "illegal armed groups" in the recent conflict in Basra, which is not surprising given that their main proxy in Iraq, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council dominates the Iraqi state and is Maliki's main backer.In the Guardian, With friends like these - David Edgar on professional turncoatery:
Hard enough to be fooled by the party; even harder to accept that you deluded yourself into believing that the poor are, by virtue of their poverty, uniquely saintly or strong. No surprise that this realisation turns into a sense of personal betrayal, which turns outwards into blame. One obvious result of this is the tendency of ex-radicals to become very conservative indeed, a tendency satirised by Edmund Wilson in his quip about John Dos Passos: "On account of Soviet knavery / He favours restoring slavery". Dos Passos was not the only American Marxist to pole-vault the cold-war liberal centre and land in the arms of William F Buckley's high conservative National Review. Initially claiming that he still believed in the end of working-class emancipation, former Trotskyite Max Eastman quickly turned on "mush-headed liberals" who "bellyache" about civil rights; for former beat critic and latter neoconservative Podhoretz, homosexuality was a death wish and feminism a plague.See also this glorious beatdown on Mamet from Michael J. Smith at the usual suspects:
Above all, the reality that neocons felt mugged by was the moral inadequacy of the poor. Kristol's manifesto On the Democratic Idea in America blamed the free market for encouraging unreasonable appetites in the working class; as Robert Nesbit put it, "to allay every fresh discontent, to assuage every social pain, and to gratify every fresh expectation".
But mad as he is at the Times, and NPR, Mamet is mostly mad at the Jews. All around him, his landsmen, being intelligent people, are marrying the girls and guys they like, without regard to race or religion. And more and more often, they are declining to buy literal or figurative Israel bonds. They are coming to be Jews in much the same way their neighbors are Unitarians or yogis or yachtsmen. That is to say, their Jewishness belongs to the personal sphere. It is not a sign of radical demarcation from the world around them. They have for the most part no interest in being Hebrew-speaking Amish. And this drives Mamet crazy.Storming Heaven - Tariq Ali on 1968:
The Jews Mamet depicts in his book are downright anti-Semites, full of self-hate and slavishly eager to please Gentiles. But unless Mamet knows a very different class of Jews from those I know, this is sheer fantasy. Why is Mamet indulging in it?
If David Mamet were an institution, it would be easier to understand. Shtetl institutions wouldn't exist without the shtetl, and so those institutions, and the people who staff them, have an interest in keeping the shtetl walls high and strong.
France finally exploded in May-June of that year, making it an uncommonly memorable and beautiful summer. We were preparing the first issue of The Black Dwarf as Paris erupted on 10 May. Jean-Jaques Lebel, our tear-gassed Paris correspondent was ringing in reports every few hours. He told us:The BBC also has a nice story on official paranoia surrounding the October 1968 demonstration in London. Papers on the March demonstration are, forty years later, too sensitive to release, ho ho.
'A well-known French football commentator is sent to the Latin Quarter to cover the nights events and reported: "Now the CRS [riot police] are charging, they're storming the barricade - oh my God! There's a battle raging. The students are counter-attacking, you can hear the noise - the CRS are retreating. Now they're regrouping, getting ready to charge again. The inhabitants are throwing things from their windows at the CRS - oh! The police are retaliating, shooting grenades into the windows of apartments…" The producer interrupts: "This can't be true, the CRS don't do things like that!"
"I'm telling you what I'm seeing.." his voice goes dead. They have cut him off.'
The police fail to take back the Latin Quarter now renamed the Heroic Vietnam Quarter. Three days later a million people occupied the streets of Paris demanding an end to rottenness and plastering the walls with slogans: Defend the Collective Imagination, Beneath the Cobblestones the Beach, When the finger points at the moon the IDIOT looks at the finger, Commodities are the Opium of the People, Revolution is the Ecstasy of History.
The Dark Knight - The Rise of the "Real" Barack Obama, by Wajahat Ali (one piece amongst the ream of stuff I've waded through about "Bittergate" and the Reverend Wright press-fiasco. Are white people fucked in the head or what?*):
When Obama refused to passionately and angrily distance himself from Wright, CNN commentators labeled him soft, passive, and unassertive. During the Pennsylvania primaries, when Obama took the offensive and ignited the critical, and many say "negative," campaigning against Clinton, he was accused of losing his "Cool Hand Luke" aura and Zen calm and was instead "lashing out" under the strain of critical inquiry after failing to deliver the decisive "knockout blow" during the crucial final stretch. When Obama talked about "transcendence" and "moving forward" as a means of bridging the racial divide, his authentic Blackness came under review by doubting spectators because he sounded too conciliatory. However, as of this week, due to Wright's most recent comments, Obama was urged to abandon reconciliation, and instead "passionately denounce" his former Pastor as to not appear both too soft or too radical.Chalmers Johnson reviews Soldiers of Reason - The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire by Alex Abella:
In 1951, there were a total of 32 SAC bases in Europe and Asia, all located close to the borders of the Soviet Union. Wohlstetter's team discovered that they were, for all intents and purposes, undefended - the bombers parked out in the open, without fortified hangars - and that SAC's radar defenses could easily be circumvented by low-flying Soviet bombers. RAND calculated that the USSR would need "only" 120 tactical nuclear bombs of 40 kilotons each to destroy up to 85% of SAC's European-based fleet. LeMay, who had long favored a preemptive attack on the Soviet Union, claimed he did not care. He reasoned that the loss of his bombers would only mean that - even in the wake of a devastating nuclear attack - they could be replaced with newer, more modern aircraft. He also believed that the appropriate retaliatory strategy for the United States involved what he called a "Sunday punch," massive retaliation using all available American nuclear weapons. According to Abella, SAC planners proposed annihilating three-quarters of the population in each of 188 Russian cities. Total casualties would be in excess of 77 million people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe alone.Woohoo! Thomas Frank got a regular gig! [Don't you love the way the WSJ's online site is apparently designed to crash Firefox? It's the product placement of the future!]:
But suppose we read on, and we find the news item about the hedge fund managers who made $2 billion and $3 billion last year, or the story about the vaporizing of our home equity. Suppose we become a little . . . bitter about this. What do our pundits and politicians tell us then?Cf Joe Bageant and Dave Lindorff.
That there is no place for such sentiment in the Party of the People. That "bitterness" is an ugly and inadmissible emotion. That "divisiveness" is a thing to be shunned at all costs.
Conservatism, on the other hand, has no problem with bitterness; as the champion strategist Howard Phillips said almost three decades ago, the movement's job is to "organize discontent." And organize they have. They have welcomed it, they have flattered it, they have invited it in with millions of treason-screaming direct-mail letters, they have given it a nice warm home on angry radio shows situated up and down the AM dial. There is not only bitterness out there; there is a bitterness industry.
Various historical pieces: Gertrude Bell and the Birth of Iraq by Chris Calder; Churchill for Dummies by Michael Lind; The origins of shock and awe by Preethi Sirimanne von den Driesch; an article on The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, see positive reviews and negative; Ben Kiernan and Taylor Owen on the bombing of Cambodia; Richard J. Evans reviews Gotz Aly's Hitler's Beneficiaries; and Gustav Seibt's obituary for Raul Hilberg:
Hilberg understood that murdering a swathe of the population consisting of several millions of people scattered over an entire continent required not a group of demoniacal sadists but an army of bureaucrats on the staff of administrative bodies, registrars to control identification, police for segregation, railway officials for transport and paramilitary organisations to whom groups of victims would eventually be assigned for the actual business of extermination. And so to begin with, Hilberg did not study the memoirs of the few survivors, but turned his attentions to the copious amounts of material on the perpetrators. Hilberg famously interpretated a piece of writing which is familiar to everyone: the train timetable. Here the word Jew never once appears, only an ominous 'L' which signalised that the transport carriages that were so tightly packed on the outward journey would be 'leer' or empty on returning. This 'L' contains the precise amount of explicitness allowed - and guaranteed - by the bureaucratic form of expression.I was in Dymocks flipping through Andrew Roberts' A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 recently, disturbing other browsers with my dark laughter, so I might as well link to Johann Hari's savaging of that other neo-imperialist unhistorian Niall Ferguson, Britain's answer to Keith Windschuttle**, which I read, possible reread, a few weeks ago, though it goes back a few years.
Or look at how Ferguson describes the British Empire's conscious policy of mass starvation of Indians in the 1870s and 1890s. In reality, severe natural climate disruption hit India, and there was massive crop failure. The British viceroy - Lord Lytton, appointed because he was Queen Victoria's favourite poet - declared that grain shipments to London must continue, by force if necessary. The institutions that Ferguson presents as Britain's glorious gift to India - the railways and telegraph lines - were in fact used more efficiently to steal and ship out India's food, so Londoners could enjoy them over breakfast. Some gift.And the follow-ups from Hari and Andrew Murray.
And even this was not enough. Lytton went further and declared all relief efforts illegal. The result? One journalist noted that the train lines of India were strewn with "bony remnants of human beings" begging for grain. "Their very eyeballs were gone ... Their fleshless jaws and skulls were supported on necks like those of plucked chickens. Their bodies - they had none; only the framework was left." Some 29 million innocent people died, a crime worthy of Stalin and Mao.
But where does this figure on Ferguson's balance sheet? He dedicates a few dry lines to it. To give some sense of perspective, he gives almost as much space to describing a statue of the Prince of Wales that was made out of butter. He then minimises the crime, chiding anybody who compares it to Nazism ("the intention was not murderous") and demanding to know "would Indians have been better off under the Moghuls?" (Yes, actually.)
Etc, etc, and reams of stuff on Iran, Iraq, the sub-prime crisis and the rest of the ongoing fiasco we call current events. This winds me back to the last occasion I attempted to write an actual post, a deconstructing of Obama's ludicrously overpraised "race" speech, which I abandoned under the usual delusion that the zeitgeist would have moved on to more sensible things before I finished. Ha bloody ha.
Edit: Dang. I completely forgot this extraordinary piece from 2001 by Chris Hedges, "A Gaza Diary", also originally from Harper's.
Before we leave, we visit the office of Dr. Mahmoud al-Madhoun, the hospital's director. He hands us plastic bags filled with bullet fragments he has taken out of his patients. All have the dates, the types of wounds, and the names of the victims printed neatly on the outside. Of the 1,206 killed and wounded, he says, 655 were under the age of eighteen. He cannot understand why soldiers would fire at children.I like his old stuff better than his new stuff.
"In thirty years of practice," he says, "I have never treated a patient who died after being hit by a rock."
* I myself am not so much white as glow-in-the-dark.
** Australia's answer to David Irving