Sunday, 31 December 2017
Saturday, 23 December 2017
Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Thursday, 23 November 2017
A long read, and a powerful and intelligent one. Of course, we know the story, and we know the ending "this man Hitler, they say he is dangerous". But the milieu (an actors' troupe in Vienna in WWII) is interesting, and the characters subtly and compellingly drawn. I found it quite mesmerising, and am not sure why Gainham is not read any more. (She lived most of her life in Austria, and died there in 1999. This book was published in 1967, to great acclaim at the time, and is a love song to Vienna as perhaps a native Viennese could never write it). She is wonderful on place and atmosphere - the claustrophobic Vienna apartment; a village church in the Tyrol as war is declared and the sound of the boots of the "young men at the back of the church ... it was for them the prayers were meant, the young who would be sacrificed". One character says, in what could be the book's slogan, "There is nothing we can do, except survive."
Sunday, 12 November 2017
Monday, 21 August 2017
|the Trung sisters, heroines of the Vietnamese revolution c 940 AD. Note the elephant.|
It’s interesting how utterly chaotic and corrupt the various governments installed in Saigon were, and not all of them were installed by the US. South Vietnam at this time was rapidly becoming a failed state, and while this wasn’t the fault of the US, they weren’t helping either.
Karnow is clear that “the Vietcong” (a South Vietnamese nickname intended to be derogatory) were not, as many in the West believed they were, an indigenous insurgent population. In fact they were a trained militia funded and directed from Hanoi, and via them from the USSR and China. But, Karnow notes, North Vietnam, after the start of the Rolling Thunder operation, did not have its cities carpet-bombed as Dresden and Tokyo were in World War II. You only have to visit Hanoi, as I did in April this year, to see that Hanoi still looks very much like the French colonial city it once was.
Sunday, 30 July 2017
Lind even tries to rehabilitate the reputation of LBJ by saying he was undermined by RFK and his associates, who went as far as to meet the KGB (this apparently was revealed in Soviet archives) to indicate to them that RFK was at one with JFK, unlike LBJ, and would be the USSR's friend if he became President.
Lind explains the change in the Democratic Party (away from interventionism and towards isolationism) by the core constituencies of the party ceasing to be much Southern or Catholic and becoming Greater New England Protestant, Jewish, and black. He makes comparisons, again and again, for example to the assassination of President Park of South Korea in 1979, which he says would have put a stop to then-active attempts at Korean reunification if it had happened in 1972. But it didn't, so it didn't. He especially compares, again and again, the situation facing LBJ in 1965-6 with that facing President Clinton in Yugoslavia in 1999. It's fair, but as a device gets a bit tedious after a while.
Far from stating that the US bombing of Cambodia, always intended to disrupt the passage of materiel through Cambodia from Sihanoukville, and the effective occupation of the ports of eastern Cambodia by the North Vietnamese, Lind says "the banning by the US Congress of further US air support for the Lon Nol regime ensured victory for Pol Pot and his followers." That, and Sihanouk immediately declaring for the Khmer Rouge and urging all Cambodians to join them. Also, "the Khmer Rouge owed their victory to the North Vietnamese military." He rejects the position of Cambodia scholars such as Ben Kiernan, namely that the US bombing of Cambodia somehow drove the Cambodian peasantry collectively insane and spawned the Khmer Rouge. He goes as far as to argue that Sihanouk, by allowing the passage of weapons and materiel through Cambodia to the North Vietnamese from the port of Sihanoukville "became a co-combatant" in the Vietnam War in the mid-60s.
"The only two presidents to have waged major wars in defiance of the US Constitution have been Harry S. Truman (in Korea) and Bill Clinton (Kosovo).
On the Clinton presidency's foreign policy and adventures, not a glorious episode in anyone's estimation, he goes further too. President Clinton's publicly ruling out the use of ground troops in Serbia to prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was "the single greatest act of incompetence ever committed by an American commander-in-chief." He's probably right about that, though it all came right in the end (sort of). As he says: "fortunately; the capitulation of Serbia averted what might have been a disaster for the United States."
For some reason he quotes Churchill on Dunkirk "We must be careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory." He uses this quote to introduce a section on history's verdict on Vietnam. Whatever, the old boy's quotes certainly have stood the test of time.
"The Vietnam War was neither a mistake nor a betrayal nor a crime. It was a military defeat." I now agree with him that it was not a mistake. But disastrous mistakes were made in the execution of it, and also of course in its presentation.
A non-conventional perspective on the war, and a highly commendable contribution to the history of that conflict, still very much in living memory.
Sunday, 23 July 2017
In other news, it was nice to get a mention in the House this week when the Labour MP for Reading
East, Matt Rodda, made his maiden speech. It was very sensible and mentioned Reading and housing a lot. Jolly good for him.
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Sunday, 11 June 2017
So, Tony Page, a councillor for approximately 103 years, currently deputy leader of the council, was chosen to issue the customary counterblast to Labour victory in Reading East. He did this by attacking Rob Wilson. Well, I am not going to join him in that. If you get re-elected, twice in Wilson's case, when you just scrape in the first time because the voters are not sure about you, it means you have earned those votes by gaining the trust and confidence of the voters. Hey, Tony? Well, you wouldn't know. You were the Labour candidate in 2005, the compromise candidate who could get support from party members to deselect that pesky Jane Griffiths who keeps winning elections and NOT DOING AS SHE IS TOLD and NOT BEING THE CREATURE OF READING BOROUGH COUNCIL. Well, the Reading East electorate disagreed that year, and chose Rob Wilson. Who is, of course (says Tony Page), a bad person, because he too refused to be the creature of Reading Borough Council. You can read the "story" here. It is in the Reading Chronicle, so it must be true. See this:
Pic Reading Evening Post (so it must be true). Cllr Page continued:
I have every confidence that Mr Rodda will work closely with the council and he has already made that clear."
"Having an MP in Reading who will work with the council as opposed to undermining them is very important."
Is that a threat, Tony? It reads very much like one.
And where, in all this, is the delight and excitement at the election of a Labour MP - because after all it was the election of Labour MPs that denied Theresa May the mandate she hoped for in her snap election? You may well ask. The Observer does, in a big piece today, where they quote Cllrs Tony Jones (whom I do not wish to undermine at this stage) and, you guessed it, Jan Gavin - both of whom fail to enthuse about the election of Matt Rodda. You can read the piece here.
Well, Matt, you do not need them. Great news that you have been elected. A fresh new voice for "Reading, Woodley and Caversham". I wish you all the best, in every way. Step over the tired, corrupt clique of old people on Reading Borough Council and go forward to the future. The scores and scores of mostly young people who campaigned for you want you to do that, and I know you will.
Friday, 9 June 2017
Wednesday, 7 June 2017
Small, Helen. The Long Life (p. 115). OUP Oxford. Édition du Kindle.
Sunday, 28 May 2017
I read this because she lives/has lived in Lebanon for many years and has written on the Middle East, so I thought a political thriller by someone like that might be interesting. How wrong I was. Clunky cliched writing, no sense of atmosphere or place, a love story that was embarrassingly unreconstructed (Boring Good Girl v. Sultry Man-Eater Bad Girl), and no disguise at all for the anti-Israel tract it actually is. Apparently Israel killed the Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, she says, despite there being no evidence of or motive for this. Oh and Hezbollah, despite their Nazi salutes and gay-killing, are Not So Bad Really. Disgraceful.
Sunday, 21 May 2017
Sunday, 14 May 2017
|Very beautiful writing. I like historical fiction, and I liked the characters, but the character tropes - the blind girl, the good German, the precious jewel, are a bit of a cliche, are they not? It made me cry a lot because it was so beautiful, but all the time I felt manipulated, and was actually relieved when it was over. But I still recommend it, because it is compelling, and others may not respond as I did. I loved some of the themes - the voice going out on the radio explaining light, the model houses, the women. The little snails.The key, the bakery, and the smell of the sea. And how can a chapter even be called The Blade And The Whelk? Ah well, there it is. You can read my notes and highlights from Goodreads here too, I think - this is a new feature.|
But back in 1995 Ben was sent on his way with good wishes and the belief that he would soon find a parliamentary seat which would suit his talent and ambitions. It hasn't happened, and I have no idea why. I have not followed Ben's career in recent years, though I had heard that he was a councillor in London. Quite a long time ago then Swindon Labour MP Julia Drown, who described herself as a friend of Ben Coleman's, said to me she had not thought, although she liked Ben, that he was the right candidate for Reading East. I got the impression that she thought he didn't have the common touch in sufficient measure, but I could have misunderstood. Whatever.
I am indebted to the eagle-eyed Harry Phibbs for his recent alert to a speech made by Ben Coleman in October 2016, apparently following an account by a fellow councillor of harassment that councillor had experienced outside a synagogue. In that speech Ben Coleman was highly critical of the anti-extremism Prevent strategy, introduced by the last Labour government (how long ago it seems!) and still in place today. He followed criticism by fellow councillor and now parliamentary candidate Alan De'Ath of Prevent as "Islamophobic", and also used the following words:
“Sometimes people in the Jewish community think they are the only Jew in the village."
For good measure he then said that concerns about anti-semitism in the Labour Party were “overblown”.
Well, I don't know. This stuff undoubtedly goes down well with those around JC. But with the electorate?
Tuesday, 11 April 2017
It is an interesting and counter-intuitive piece of historical writing. Morris indicates that casual violence has reduced over history, and that this is because societies become more stable as they become more prosperous, and that they only become more prosperous once they have been subdued - by war. And that this has always happened, and probably always will. A fascinating read. He is not afraid of big ideas, or of uncomfortable ones; and that is always a good thing.
Sunday, 9 April 2017
Rather fun on political hatreds, too. There have always been politicians who simply hate each other. Of whichever politician it was said "He is his own worst enemy" and of whichever politician it was said that he replied "Not while I'm alive, he isn't" - well, that has been around down the ages, and still is today. In this he gives the lie to the Stoics, of whom Cicero, it seems, was a fan. I certainly am. Epictetus, my hero.
Thursday, 6 April 2017
I remember a line from 'The Golden Notebook', the seminal political feminist novel by the late Doris Lessing, a great influence on me when I was young, where a woman in East Germany informs a (German) visitor from the West that " they [the West] have no consumer goods". She leaves, and he tells his (non-German) companion "That used to be an intelligent woman". So what is it that makes a consequence of the acquisition of ideological conviction a loss of the ability to think or argue rationally?
I was told by someone who when very young was tempted by the far-left political groupings of the 1980s in the UK that he was told by an activist, when there was a steep rise in the price of gold, that this would result in " armed workers' militias on factory gates". Er, no it wouldn't, my interlocutor knew. But the activist who told him so genuinely believed it. So this is not new. Doris Lessing was writing in the 1950s about communist activists and ideologues in the eastern bloc that she actually knew. The 1980s political activist really said that about the workers' militias (in Thatcher's Britain!), and really believed it. The "pro-Palestinian" ideologue condemning Israel for the Dead Sea meant what she said. None of these people are trying to fool anyone. They believe they know the truth, and they want others to know it too.
Is it possible to combat this? Has it ever been? I only ask.
Tuesday, 4 April 2017
Then, suddenly, we decided to sell the apartment, to make ourselves free. No sooner had we made that decision than significant other (this was in 2015) got a job in Cambodia. Someone, somewhere, was putting a rocket underneath us and saying, get up, move on, change your lives. So we did. To cut a long story short, sig other has been working in Cambodia since 2015, the apartment was sold in January 2016, and I took sabbatical from Strasbourg and joined him in Phnom Penh in October 2016. I even got a teaching job there, so not requiring another income to support me in Cambodia. Providential or what?
Living in tropical South-East Asia, for the first time in my life at age 62, learning Khmer, teaching. Sig other teaching, developing academically by studying for a Master's, which I had thought he should do a long time ago but only now is he galvanised to do it. Both of us doing things we thought we couldn't do, or would never do. My personal possessions and our household goods savagely culled. Sig other is a hoarder and will not cull his, so has a storage unit in Strasbourg all to himself, which is another story, and he will be the one to end it. We live the expat life in Phnom Penh, an easy city to live in. Teachers are not rich, but life is good. Mostly.
Both of us have been picked up roughly and set down in another part of the world to do different things. Where will it all end? We don't know. I thought I was having a gap year at 62, and sig other thought he was taking a job in Cambodia to get Asia experience to help him to develop his work in his field in the UK. But it isn't quite like that. There's more to it than that.
None of this comes free. I have no home, and no real legal identity any more. I miss my family. I hope some of them will visit. I'll be seeing most of them this summer, and expect to be teaching for six weeks in darkest Uxbridge, which will help to finance a summer in the UK. Then - well, anything could happen.
Monday, 3 April 2017
As soon as the UK formally leaves the EU Spain can close its land border with Gibraltar and also blockade it by sea. The UK would then have to respond in some way, in the interest of the British people of Gibraltar, who have as we know chosen to remain British whenever their opinion has been asked. However, that does not mean war. One Spanish soldier's boot across the border, or one shot fired into Gibraltar from a Spanish gun, would however oblige the UK to retaliate on behalf of its citizens. As Michael Howard said yesterday, Theresa May as prime minister would have no choice. This is simply how it is. Spain knows this very well. Why has Spain never tried to take back Gibraltar (ceded to Britain in perpetuity by the Treaty of Utrecht) by force before? And what happened when another state occupied a British territory, 35 years ago this week? Some of us remember the Falklands.
I make no remark on the merits of all this, or indeed of the Treaty of Utrecht. Bismarck I think it was who coined the term Realpolitik.
Sunday, 2 April 2017
At a certain point around the year 2000 Darcus Howe began to cooperate and work with Blue Sky, an arts and cultural organisation based in Reading. I had some concerns about this organisation, not especially about its activities as such but about the transparency of its funding, and relayed those concerns, not publicly but to Reading Borough Council, which supported Blue Sky at times and in various ways at the time. I had no issue at all with the work Darcus Howe was doing with them.
For context, there was a shooting in 2002 from outside a Reading nightclub, The Matrix (since closed) which put a member of club staff in hospital for months. Following this, Blue Sky hosted a debate on guns, in Reading, presided over or spoken at by Darcus Howe, to which I was invited as the then constituency MP. I accepted the invitation but subsequently had to give apologies, for reasons I cannot now remember but which had nothing to do with the merits of the event. Another Reading MP, Martin Salter, got wind of the event and did attend. This was his first recorded interest in any issues of interest to Reading's black communities, despite the fact that the vast majority of those communities lived in his constituency of Reading West, which is not where the shooting took place. Mr Salter had a word with Darcus Howe, whose next New Statesman column informed his readers that I had refused to attend the event as I disapproved of Blue Sky and its work on guns and race. Darcus Howe went on effectively to call me a racist. You will not find the article on the New Statesman website, not surprisingly. However, once I had contacted libel lawyers Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners Darcus Howe published this column, which ended thus:
Further to last week's column, I wish to make it clear that Jane Griffiths MP did not express reservations about Blue Sky Arts's guns debate in Reading. On the contrary, Ms Griffiths accepted an invitation to attend. I apologise to her for my error.
An apology and costs.
I happened to meet Darcus Howe at Labour Party Conference later that year, and he treated the matter with dignity and humour. I just wanted to place that on record.
Saturday, 1 April 2017
This is readable and engagingly written, which is more than can be said of all, or even most, political memoirs. It's also less self-serving than most of them are. At times I was a little exasperated that she was so down on herself. Yes, she was sacked from the front bench, but most government ministers get fired in the end, either by the prime minister or by the electorate. She did it all for the cause of women, and has been utterly honest about that throughout, which again is more than can be said for most politicians. She is of the same generation as me - I am four years younger - and she is a better and more dedicated feminist and politician than I have ever been. Harriet I salute you.
She writes: "the reality is that an MP who gets in with the help of people higher up in the party is not as good an MP as someone who's fought their own way in. You'll never be up to the task of standing up for your constituents if you can't stand on your own two feet to get selected." And on all-woman shortlists: "it was definitely one of those things when the end justifies the means". In later years, as she herself has aged, she has begun to take up the cause of older women, and notes, interestingly; that "often, as older women, we are invisible even to ourselves". The younger front-bench women are much more noticeable, not just to the media but to their own colleagues, than the older ones even though the younger ones are in a minority.
I would say to any young woman who is considering going into politics, read this book. Harriet Harman was clearly mercilessly and misogynistically bullied throughout her career, and this is quite likely to happen to you too. But Harriet Harman has been instrumental in some of the cultural changes that make life better now for women in politics. We push this boulder up the hill, and at times it falls back on us and threatens to crush us, but with each new heave it gets a little further up that hill.
No one said it would be easy. But it has always been easier for men.