Friday, July 26, 2013

Zadie Smith returned to her roots to paint a portrait of northwest London in her fourth novel, NW, which charts the lives of four friends who grow up on a Willesden council estate.

She told the Guardian book club how the different styles of each section were an attempt to shock the reader, echoing the dislocations of moving between London neighbourhoods. She explained how Felix was inspired by Felicité in Gustave Flaubert’s Un Coeur Simple, and how she develops her fiction by finding a tone and pursuing it.

(Source: Guardian)

This month’s book club guest was the Booker-winning author Ian McEwan, who joined us to discuss his novel Sweet Tooth. It’s the story of a young woman who leaves university in 1970s to find herself swept into a chauvinistic world of espionage. McEwan explained how he uncovered the secrets of MI5, why he overlaid voices to create a mysteriously unpredictable narrator, and why the spy novel places a particular set of demands on a novelist.

(Source: Guardian)

Monday, February 25, 2013

More trouble under the Guardian’s big tent

Sharmine Narwani doesn’t seem to think there’s much wrong with the situation in Syria as it stands. Writing in The Guardian, Narwani stated (in brief):

Syria’s death toll leapt from 45,000 to 60,000 earlier this year, a figure gathered by a UN-sponsored project to integrate data from seven separate lists. The new numbers are routinely cited by politicians and media as fact, and used to call for foreign intervention in the conflict.

But Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), whose casualty data are part of this count, calls the UN’s effort “political” and the results “propaganda”.

…The problem is that, increasingly, death tolls are used as political tools to scene-set for western-backed “humanitarian interventions” in the Middle East and north Africa and – more broadly – against the kinds of negotiated political settlements that could actually reduce or stop the killing.

It’s time to stop headlining unreliable and easily politicised casualty counts, and use them only as one of several background measures of a conflict. It’s essential too that the media help us avoid such manipulation by asking questions about reported deaths: how were these deaths verified? Are they combatants? Who killed them? How do we know this? Who benefits from these deaths? Was this a violent death or one caused by displacement? How is it even possible to count all these dead in the midst of raging conflict?

This, from an Oxford scholar. Anyway, Armin Rosen then carefully explained why everything Narwani just said was incorrect and hypocritical. In part:

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Monday, January 21, 2013 Friday, November 16, 2012

Guardian’s Old-Is-New Cartoon Canard

For a cartoonist, how to say “Jews are controlling international affairs” without actually having to say it?

Well, the creation of Israel has made it very easy in this regard. Just replace ‘Jews’ with ‘the Israel lobby’ (or ‘Israel’ itself) and substitute ‘the United States’ or maybe ‘the United Nations’ for the usual ‘international government’ or ‘global finance’, and you’re good to go. And, if you can throw in an image of a prominent Israeli looming large over the scene, perhaps controlling world events as a puppeteer might work his instruments, even better.

The Guardian’s Steve Bell in today’s paper has done just that. His creation portrays an oversized, slightly hunched image of Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by a phalanx of rockets decked in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, standing at a lectern with his hands mastering two small dolls. On the left is William Hague, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary who has said that Hamas bears the “principle responsibility” for ending the violence in the region, and Tony Blair, the Middle East Peace Envoy for the Quartet, on the right.

Bell’s canard has been swiftly condemned. The Community Security Trust – the organisation responsible for the protection of the UK’s Jewish community – stated, “What is striking about Bell’s cartoon is that he seems to have reached for the ‘puppeteer’ trope to explain that fact that William Hague’s statement on the conflict was presumably not critical enough of Israel for his liking, as if this is the most plausible explanation for Hague’s view.” The Jewish Chronicle is reporting that the barrister Jeremy Brier has already lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, labelling the drawing “plainly anti-Semitic.”

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Monday, October 8, 2012

In Obama v Romney, Europe Just Wants a Vote

In between trashing London’s preparations for the Olympic Games, being criticised in Poland for being anti-union, and using the European welfare state as a whipping boy, Mitt Romney has done very little to endear himself to Europeans during the course of his campaign. It reaches a sort of nadir after the first debate when Romney used Spain’s economic difficulties, their awful recession and high unemployment, to attack President Obama. Nile Gardiner seemed to summarise Romney’s antipathy towards the continent when he described it as “falling apart and drowning in a sea of debt” – a good description, funnily enough, for how many Europeans view the United States.

Just as Republicans (including the vice-presidential candidate) view the social democratic model as something to be feared, European states have never sought to be more American in this regard. The peoples of Europe are quite content, for example, with the standard of healthcare and education in their respective countries – on which they spend less and receive better outcomes when compared the United States – as well the better pay and working conditions they enjoy, protected by strong labour laws such as the EU Social Chapter.

What Europeans do recognise, although they will never make it known, is the status of the United States in the world above and beyond the European Union, in spite of their comparable economic output and strength. The actions of the United States domestically impact upon Europe both politically and economically, but rarely do those living between the Atlantic and the Pacific notice any reaction. Europeans have to suffer this imbalance of power, which is why what they want above all is a vote in the presidential election.

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The shame of Srebrenica and history repeated

Unbeknownst to me, until now of course, back in July I had a letter published in The Guardian on the anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica. I choose to republish this now not only because one’s words should never go to waste, but because as the civil war in Syria continues the central point of the letter remains as timely as it did when it was first published:

This week marks the 17th anniversary of the beginning of the Srebrenica massacre, during which 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were slaughtered, and thousands of women were subjected to systemised rape and torture (Srebrenica: Britain’s guilt, 13 July). The war by Serbs and Croats on Bosnia’s Muslims, which saw the return of concentration camps and racially motivated genocide to European soil, resulted in the deaths of more than 30,000 Bosniak civilians deaths and the displacement of many more.

In watching with indifference as ethnic cleansing occurred in Bosnia, the west failed its first major test since the Holocaust, as the call to never again allow such atrocities to occur on our watch and with our knowledge fell victim to selective hearing. Now, as we witness a war in Syria where Bashar al-Assad is unable to distinguish civilian from militiaman, the consequence being the murder of more than 17,000 of his people and the flight of thousands to Turkey and Lebanon, I cannot help but conclude we are failing to learn from our past mistakes once more.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Julian Assange: When Rape Doesn’t Matter

It is a sign of just how low the international left has sunk since the loss of the Soviet Union and the attacks of September 11 that they are willing to defend genocidal dictators and alleged rapists, all in the name of vapid anti-Americanism. This reactionary faction has become so farcical that it now resembles parody, as a recent comment piece in The Guardian by Mark Weisbort pointedly demonstrates.

For the sake of clarity, Julian Assange is wanted by Swedish authorities on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. Assange has refused to go to Sweden to answer these suspicions, stating that the allegations are part of a smear campaign. Indeed, Assange has gone through the British courts up to and including the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom to avoid facing these serious allegations. When it became clear that he would have to leave the UK, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London seeking political asylum, arguing that if he were to fly to Sweden, the government there would extradite him to the United States on other charges.

You might not know any of this if you read Weisbort’s article, however. After all, it does not use the words ‘rape’ or ‘sex’ once. Rather, Weisbort argues that “the Swedish government has no legitimate reason to bring him to Sweden, this by itself is a form of persecution”. Rather, it can be inferred from Weisbort’s musings that these sexual molestation and rape allegations are mere fabrication, a cover for a wider plot to organise “a second extradition to the United States, and persecution here for his activities as a journalist”.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gore Vidal: From the Obituaries

Novelist, essayist, and political commentator, Gore Vidal passed away at his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening, the cause of death believed to be complications from pneumonia. He was someone who meant and continues to mean a great deal to me because of his contribution to American letters as well as the novelistic form through Julian, Myra Breckinridge, and Lincoln, yet from whom I was frequently forced to distance myself from politically during his final years which were not kind to him.

The Daily Telegraph:

There were few subjects for which he could not muster a bon mot, memorably dismissive phrase or cutting aside. Chat show hosts knew they could rely on him to be entertaining about almost anything – history, politics, art, journalism, theatre, sex, morals or celebrity. And for every problem, once diagnosed, Vidal had a simple remedy: “I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which cannot be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”

The breadth of his learning was impressive. Though he never attended university, his wide reading in Greek and Roman history showed in the allusions to the ancient world that peppered his novels on Washington, and in the parallels he liked to draw between political life in Classical times and in modern America. Indeed, Vidal combined the two worlds in his own life, spending much of his adult life in Italy, surveying the Aventine Hill from his flat in Rome, while writing about America.

The New York Times:

Perhaps without intending it, Mr. Vidal had set a pattern. In the years to come his greatest successes came with historical novels, especially what became known as his American Chronicles sextet: “Washington, D.C.,” “Burr” (1973), “1876” (1976), “Lincoln” (1984), “Hollywood” (1990) and “The Golden Age” (2000). He turned out to have a particular gift for this kind of writing. These novels were learned and scrupulously based on fact, but also witty and contemporary-feeling, full of gossip and shrewd asides. Harold Bloom wrote that Mr. Vidal’s imagination of American politics “is so powerful as to compel awe.” Writing in The Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt said, “Mr. Vidal gives us an interpretation of our early history that says in effect that all the old verities were never much to begin with.”

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney in Israel: Now We Know

Now we know that Mitt Romney did not really much care for the idea of not criticising the President, or contradicting the nation’s current foreign policy, when outside the United States. “Diplomatic distance that is public and critical emboldens Israel’s adversaries,” he proclaimed in a speech in Jerusalem on Sunday. In the same address, he referred to the city as “Israel’s capital”, in defiance of official U.S. policy on the matter.

Now we know, or rather we can confirm, that Romney has no ear for poetry or language, and lacks the ability to turn a phrase and convey real human emotions. During an address at a fundraising breakfast Monday morning that was supposed to convey his appreciation and even love for Israel, Romney said, “As I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognise the power of at least culture and a few other things”. I recognise the power of at least culture and a few other things. The trees are the right height. Its roads and houses are small.

Now we know there’s nothing Romney will not do to peel Jewish voters away from the Democrats, no matter how offensive his gesture. Jeffrey Goldberg described as “very vulgar” his decision to be photographed in prayer at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av – the day on which the First and Second Temples were destroyed, “one of the most solemn days on the Jewish calendar”. “I’m sure, by the way,” Goldberg added, that conservatives “would endorse an Obama campaign stop at Yad Vashem on the Holocaust Memorial Day”.

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