Trenchant Lemmings
"Arrive in a clown car, bursting with anger."
Robert Weaver
Sydney, Australia
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The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
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.

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.)
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):
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.'

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.
See also his recentish pieces on Pakistan from the London Review of Books, October and December 2007.

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."...

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, 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.
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.

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.

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.
More fun - and shorter - is Jeff Sparrow's review of Jenny Hocking's biography of Frank Hardy:
[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.

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