Nationalist Banality

August 20, 2014 at 6:34 am (comedy, history, Rosie B, scotland, theatre)

Well, I have had one of the worst evenings of my life in the theatre. It’s the Edinburgh Festival, and of course that is to be expected, but a bad night there is usually stumbling into a hopeful group of students doing the Medea on roller skates in a church hall performing to an audience of four. It is not going to the splendid Festival Theatre to see a play that has received pages of press coverage and is sold out.

This was James III: The True Mirror, the third part of a trilogy about the early Stewarts. James was a useless king who irritated his nobles by promoting favourites and neglecting business and was eventually killed- i.e. he was a little like Richard II and Edward II, and though you can’t expect any dramatist to use language like Shakespeare or Marlowe, you would think they could learn a bit about structure and tension and narrative drive. But instead of, say, alternating scenes of a frivolous king with the powerful plotters against him,, there were endless going-nowhere soap opera domesticities of him talking to his wife the Danish Queen Margaret (played by Sofie Gråbøl from The Killing, who made her likable) fighting over custody of the children, a whole meandering pointless mass of boneless characters, sweiry words and button pushing jokes  that got knowing laughs – eg – James to his missus – “all I got with you was Orkney and Shetland”. James III was presented as an anarchic guy pissing round, like Russell Brand and the play was as intellectually light-weight. 

The staging of a high wall with a tier of benches for the meetings of the Three Estates was rather grand and looked promising. Then it began. A red-haired laundry maid tells a bloke that she’s heard James the King is gorgeous. Then discovers she is in fact speaking to James. Squeaks from the maid, and his wife tells James that he’s been doing his man of the people act again. This was the first ten minutes, with dialogue so self-conscious, slack and banal I wanted to leave at that point. At the interval my friends and I discovered that we were all having a bad time, and what the hell was everyone laughing about? But we hung on to the end, and that’s when we got to the worst part of all – cringe-making, boag-inducing awful – a final speech from Queen Margaret who has become regent and tells the Scots lords (who rhubarb aye, aye) that she is a rational Dane from a rational country and they are heaps of manure, but aren’t they a lovable lot, and Scotland could be a nation again, and never fear for the future – in short a party political broadcast for the Yes side of the referendum. Oh how the audience loved it- tell us we are rogues with a bad attitude but lovable and we’ll lap this like Irn Bru.

James_3_poster_notitleV2

There are other shows dealing with this matter of Scotland, all pro-independence, which is to be expected as Yesses are full of vision and enthusiasm and poetry, while Noes are grumpy. I did stumble on a comedian, Erich McElroy The British Referendum. He’s an engaging American guy, a naturalised Brit, who is evidently put out and a little puzzled that his newly adopted country could lose one third of its land mass. With some easy laughs comparing British talking head politicking and American raw gun-shooting advertisements, he did get a few digs in the referendum’s vitriol, with pictures of what a nationalistic country looks like (ie an American flag-lined street). And facetiously warned Scotland that the USA could have interesting designs on an oil-rich country with no defences. There were a few Noes in the small audience, relieved that someone was speaking to them.

 

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The Shifty vs the Shirty

August 7, 2014 at 9:35 am (Rosie B, scotland)

Well, the debate between Salmond and Darling has been covered everywhere, with the consensus that Darling did pretty well and Salmond badly. There’s too much to link to but Reuters summed it up:-

In Scotland, pro-independence leader flunks TV debate

Some of what he did was downright embarrassing, such as reading out cuttings of silly jokes from the No campaigners about how Scotland will be driving on the right and repeating the rusty old catch phrase of more pandas than Tories in Scotland. He looked like the father of the bride who had written his speech in the hired limo.

Darling had him pinned down and wriggling on the currency question, until the audience booed.

Darling: “Any 8-year-old can tell you the flag of the country, the capital of a country, and its currency. Now I presume the flag’s the Saltire, I assume our capital will still be Edinburgh, but you can’t tell us what currency we’ll have. What’s an 8-year-old going to make of that?”

Salmond: “Aw, I can’t … Alistair, we’ll keep the pound because it belongs to Scotland as much as it belongs to England. It’s our pound as well as your pound.”

He recovered and did his visionary thing. But spin it as they could, he made a bad night for the Yessers. Their twitter feeds were subdued, their Facebook feeds silent. Many of them aren’t SNP and Salmond supporters. The official Nats are the road to the rainbow nation of diversity, vibrancy, equality that will be an independent Scotland but they expected Salmond to do a decent job at giving dry old Darling a rhetorical send off. However Darling performed like an Edinburgh lawyer at a Burns night, where a bit of passion is deemed to be appropriate.

The next day the Yessers were solving the currency question by linking to articles which drew parallels with Ireland post independence or the Isle of Man now. To which the only answer is, if you can think of an alternative to currency union, why can’t Salmond, who the same people vaunt as a clever economist. More, why can’t he express an alternative, instead of holding to the line that rUK must do what he says they must.

Salmond says that there will be a currency union and Westminster can’t stop him, since it’s Scotland’s pound as well as England’s. However, this is what the lawyers say:-

We welcome the statement, published on the Lawyers for Yes website last month and written by its steering committee member Brandon Malone that “the politico-legal reality is that the rest of the UK will be accepted as the continuing state”; that “it is therefore true to say that the public institutions of the UK would become the public institutions of the rUK”; and that “the Bank of England is a UK body and the pound is the UK’s currency, and as ‘institutions’ of the UK they would stay with the UK”.

This is what the UK Government and No campaigners have been saying for months, but it has still not been accepted as the legal reality by the Scottish Government, which dismisses it as mere “assertion”. We call on the SNP and Yes Scotland finally now to be candid with Scottish voters on what the implica­tions of a Yes vote would be:

1. Scotland would become a new state and the rUK would be a continuing state;

2. The UK’s public institutions would become those of the rUK;

3. This includes the Bank of England and the currency, as well the UK’s extensive network of consular and international representation.

Bella Caledonia sees this inability to answer a fundamental question of how an independent Scotland would operate as a cunning plan by Salmond not to commit himself in a game of bluff and risk, when there are a variety of options.

He didn’t look like the master of bluff though or express these options in simple terms at the debate – just blustered on about currency unions. And people don’t like thinking their economic future relies on moves in a game of chess or poker.

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I’ve heard it said from both those for and against an iScotland that the SNP leadership do not in fact want independence. They have reasonable careers in a devolved Scotland with the luxury of blaming things that go wrong on Westminster. They have had plenty of time to prepare the practical questions of how an independent Scotland would operate and yet treat questions on this as bullying and scare-mongering. They are in a cleft stick, at one time reassuring the more conservative voters that familiarities like the currency and the monarchy will stay less the same, while offering the vision of a free, equal, independent Scotland to their idealistic followers. The two don’t join up.

The door-chapping Yessers picked themselves up and have vowed to get back to their grassroots campaigning. Fair play to them for their willingness to do hard political graft. I only wish it was in a better cause.

Update:- good piece here about the SNP’s post-modern idea of an independent state.

“the Nationalists’ version of independence became what has sometimes been described as ‘post-modern statehood’.  I’m not sure how satisfactory this term is but I take it to represent an awareness that in the late 20th century and into the early 21st, you don’t get to be ‘independent’ after the pattern of states formed in the 19th century but rather the choice has become what kind of interdependence you want.  The Nationalists embraced the idea of inter-European dependency even more enthusiastically with the introduction of the EMU.  ..  Why look to Westminster to represent the interests of Scotland in Europe when it could do that directly?  Disengagement was made simultaneously safer and apparently more outward-looking.  Membership of the EMU would free Scotland from the ‘millstone’ of Sterling membership and access to European markets would be secured by the treaties of the European Union.
 
Naturally, after the Euro-crisis membership of the EMU is impossible to sell to the Scottish electorate, even if Salmond thought it was a good idea, which he probably doesn’t.  This is the background – and the explanation – to the mess that Salmond and Yes Scotland have got themselves into over the currency issue.  The Nationalists are still arguing for ‘post-modern statehood’ but the problem for them is that what they are now arguing for is ‘independence within the UK’.  Both versions of post-modern independence required the agreement of other parties (something the Nationalists never seemed to have grasped) but the new position has two additional problems.  One is that it the continuity-UK currency union has no precedent, whereas EMU obviously did.  The other is that Salmond and the Yes Scotland camp have taken an extraordinarily belligerent attitude to the successor state with which they hope to make mutually-agreeable monetary and fiscal arrangements, which they never did with Brussels in their ‘Independence in Europe’ phase.  Discussion of how any such currency union might work is entirely superfluous when you have the leader of the Yes campaign who thinks it’s a reasonable proposition that 55 million people in one country are obliged to enter an international monetary arrangement because it is the‘sovereign will’ of another country of 5 million that they should do so.”

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Flippant Nihilist

August 4, 2014 at 8:40 pm (anti-semitism, fascism, Orwell, Rosie B, Uncategorized)

I only know Alexander Cockburn as an editor of the creepy Counterpunch, and his airy dismissals  of anyone who thought Israel Shamir a dodgy piece of work. 

There’s a fascinating account of him by Paul Berman.

Cockburn is reminiscent of Christopher Hitchens – the English journalist who lives in America and writes stylishly about American and international affairs. The political framework may be leftwards, the cultural references English literature, quoted with ease to point the moral and adorn the tale.

Berman does explain why Cockburn was so indifferent about Israel Shamir’s vile antisemitism:-

How systematically the man had gone after Israel, and how reluctant he was to say a word of criticism about the Soviet Union or the Islamic Republic of Iran or the terrorism of the anti-Zionists. Newfield took note of Cockburn’s hostility to Natan Sharansky, who in those days was a persecuted Jewish dissident in the Soviet Union. 

… In his column he took to sniping in my direction, not always wittily, which other people in the Voice newsroom attributed to his distaste for the Jewish concerns that sometimes cropped up in my writings. He accused me of “pandering” to the Jews by writing about Holocaust denial and Noam Chomsky (a rich theme)

Cockburn shared the Israel (or “Zionism”) obsession of the anti-imperialist Left:-

he does attribute 9/11 to “recent Israeli rampages in the Occupied Territories”

Alexander Cockburn woshipped his father, Claud Cockburn, who had lived an adventurous life where history was happening and who in the Spanish Civil War had the mouths of high-ranking Soviet officials in his ear.

Claud Cockburn was, in spite of appearances, a fine man who would never have turned over names to the Soviet police in Spain. But then, proud of his father, Alexander includes within the Wreck a brief memoir by Claud of his Spanish experiences, which leaves the impression that, in regard to the Soviet police activities, Claud was not a reluctant participant. About his friend Guy Burgess and the other Cambridge spies, Claud remarks that idealistic motives were at work, and these were “sensitive and informed” young men. Claud cites his own “experience in the field of espionage, or rather, counter-espionage.” He was “a section leader of the counter-espionage department of the Spanish Republican government dealing with Anglo-Saxon personalities,” which does sound like a job dedicated to informing the police. “

Berman believes that Claud Cockburn was a dark inspiration for George Orwell:-

I have always supposed that, when Orwell laid out the principles of totalitarianism in Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of his inspirations was Claud Cockburn, British correspondent: a cheerful example of a man willing to say everything and its opposite in the interest of a totalitarian state, committed to the renunciation of truth, to the hatred of free-thinkers, to the cause of persecution, and to the cult of obedience.

In Orwell’s portrait, the totalitarian mentality was never a matter of ideology gone awry, nor a matter of lower-class resentments. The mentality was a contempt for everyday morality and human considerations. It was a flippant nihilism, attached to no cause or principle at all, apart from love of tyranny. And, to be sure, no sooner did the Spanish anti-fascists go down to defeat than Claud Cockburn turned on a dime and set about composing justifications for Stalin’s pact with Hitler.

You could think this was a total damning of Alexander Cockburn. But Berman pays due attention to his elegant style and his love of anecdote, which at the end made me think I’d enjoy at least flicking through words of the co-editor of Counterpunch – though his constant jeering (in which he sounds like Hunter S Thompson), would get tedious after a while.

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Hopes dashed

June 22, 2014 at 12:11 pm (Rosie B)

Two things last week on the poignancy of happy expectations being crushed.

1. The last scene of Henry IV Part II. I saw the Royal Shakespeare’s Company version beamed live at the cinema, with Antony Sher playing Falstaff. It’s a melancholy play anyway, about sickness and mortality, but Falstaff takes on a new lease of life on hearing that his glamorous young friend, the Prince of Wales, has finally become king. Then comes the procession. and Falstaff greets the new Henry V-

FALSTAFF.
My king! my Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!
KING.
I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;

Antonyshert

Falstaff and Prince Hal in happier times

Antony Sher took a long while to turn round to show his face, so the audience had time to dread the disappointment in it.

The second was this cartoon of the Set Text welcoming its readers:-

Settext

English academics on Twitter found their hearts breaking when they saw this.

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JK Rowling and the Nasty Nationalists

June 15, 2014 at 9:04 am (misogyny, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Rosie B, scotland, sectarianism, sexism, thuggery)

feature image number one

JK Rowling has donated £1 million to the Better Together campaign. Rowling is a long-standing Labour supporter

By Rosie Bell (via Facebook):

When J K Rowling wrote best-selling children’s books that even children who didn’t read, would read, she was a force for betterment.

When she showed that a writer could hit the jackpot she was a creatives’ beacon of hope.

When she insisted that the popular film adaptations or her books should not be Hollywoodised she was a patriot.

When she recalled her own years of being a single mother dependent on welfare payments and reiterated her support for Labour she was a good socialist.

When she donated considerable sums to clinics treating multiple sclerosis and campaigned for research on the disease because of her own mother’s illness she was a heart-string puller.

I think Scots may have even been a wee bit proud that this unassuming woman of considerable achievement chose to live in Edinburgh. At least one coffee house has put up a plaque noting that she used to hang out there.

But now she is a bitch; a whore; a traitor; a Tory; a deluded wee hen, all with added sweiry words. Oh, and English as well.

All because she wrote a sane, reasoned article on why she thought Scotland should not go independent and contributed some money to a campaign she believed in.

No wonder I hate this referendum.

Update:

Since Game of Thrones has come up in the comments thread, here’s a video which covers both Game of Thrones and Edinburgh:-

 

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Cool jihadism

April 21, 2014 at 9:56 pm (islamism, Rosie B, Syria, wankers)

Recently George Monbiot compared the foreign jihadists in Syria to the International Brigade in Spain.

What was said about the International Brigade – that every one of them who came back wrote a book?

If they didn’t write books, they certainly read them via the Left Book Club. They were serious minded comrades who led a rough life in Spain in devotion to their cause

If their modern counterpart are the likes who join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) then intellectual standards have slipped.

“their discourse is notably different from that of their fellow mujahideen from Muslim countries. Although these Western fighters, like their counterparts, focus a great deal on death and on their desire for martyrdom and the accompanying rewards of the akhira (hereafter), many of them also seem keen on enjoying life in the dunya (i.e. in this world) until martyrdom arrives. Many of the Westerners speak of jihad as “fun,” stressing the thrills of life on the front (gunfights, jeep rides, etc), as well as the availability of leisure activity and the access to many aspects of modern life. They also emphasize the perks of jihad and taking war booty – good eating and free use of appropriated luxury accommodations and cars – and all this without having to give up the gadgets and even the same snack foods that they enjoyed back home.

In fact, the jihad fighters from the West bring with them the lifestyle and youth culture with which they grew up. This is expressed particularly in their references to rap culture – such as the violence-steeped music of rapper Tupac Shakur (one jihadi even created and shared a humorous montage showing the non-Muslim Tupac with a cross on his chest “hanging out” with Osama bin Laden) – or references to violent video games like “Call of Duty.” These influences, which are flagrantly alien to traditional Islamic culture, appear repeatedly in their discourse. These fighters do not perceive their duty as requiring them to abandon all aspects of the lifestyle to which they are accustomed.

Furthermore, in contrast to jihad in the Islamic tradition, which is a religious duty carried out solely to express devotion to Allah and the Muslim community, many of these young jihad fighters from the West are making it personal, focusing on their own actions and glorifying their own role in it – as can be seen from the selfies, Instagram photos, and the like that they share and circulate. Their heavy use of Photoshop and other software to enhance images is another practice borrowed from Western Internet culture, as is their writing, with its abbreviations and alternative spellings punctuated by exclamation marks. This combination of Islamic and Western aspects has the effect of making their da’wa more accessible and appealing to young people living in the West.”

Jihad accessories

Jihad accessories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fortunately these fascist dickheads are burning their passports, so with any luck they won’t come back to the place where these were issued.

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Cycling in Cities

April 4, 2014 at 9:14 am (Cities, Cycling, Rosie B)

Entertaining video giving stats on cycling in cities

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Making it cool, making it normal

April 1, 2014 at 8:59 am (Cities, Cycling, Rosie B)

The well-heeled urbanite, in tailored threads, bicycles with pleasure through the traffic-clogged streets of Jakarta. Meet Monocle Man.

Monocle Man is the hip sophisticate who reads the magazine Monocle.

a magazine that is in general focused on a particular brand of well-heeled global urbanism, the go-to source for articles on  . .. such new-urbanist obsessions as bicycling (“Kenji Hall goes for a little bike ride — in the middle of traffic-clogged Jakarta with the city’s governor, a Spanish MotoGP world champion and the ambassador of Denmark”),

I’m glad to hear that bicycling is a new-urbanist obsession. Of course in some countries like Denmark and Holland it’s merely how you get about but in Britain it would be good news if it became the same sophisticated activity that it was in the 1890s, when titled ladies pedalled about London and the beau monde showed off their cycling gear in the Bois de Boulogne.

Au_Bois_De_Boulogne_Vanity_Fair_1897-06-03
Fashionable ladies in the Bois de Boulogne, Vanity Fair, 1897

Those rich folk turned to automobiles but poorer people picked up second-hand  and then cheap mass produced bicycles. Cars, in Britain, were for the elite. When they began to be owned by the general public, they were also used differently from how they are today – for excursions and holidays, not for day to day transport. You got to your work on foot, by bicycle and by public transport while cars did not become the habitual way of getting to work until the 1960s.  The film Made in Dagenham, about a strike in 1968, showed the factory workers arriving by bicycle. In 10 years time it would be by car.

Madeindegenham
Made in Dagenham

So part of cycling campaigning is to make cycling normal urban transport  and not a lifestyle choice.  The Guardian, for instance, has good articles about cycling but they are in the Life and Style or politics  section of the website, not Transport.

I heard a talk by Professor Colin Pooley co-author of Promoting Walking and Cycling;  New perspectives on sustainable travel.  A study was undertaken in four different towns/cities,  (Leeds Leicester, Worcester and Lancaster) among various communities on how people made their choices of transport for short urban journeys. The summary of the key findings can be found in Understanding Walking and Cycling.

The authors demonstrated that, even in areas of England where ‘utility cycling’ is relatively common, most cyclists still perceive themselves to be part of a marginalised group; this compares starkly with studies in Europe that have revealed the extent to which cyclist believe they are confirming to a societal norm.

While attitudes to walking and cycling . . are mostly positive or neutral many people who would like to engage in more active travel fail to do so because of:-

1. Concerns about the safety of the physical environment – for cyclists that is traffic, for pedestrians, scary streets
2. Difficulty of fitting walking and cycling into complex routines
3. Walking and cycling are “abnormal”

Certainly cycling is seen as a desirable activity. Why else would Google put up this image for Mother’s Day.

Mothers-day-6490543638970368-hp

Capes? Have they never heard of Isadora Duncan or watched The Incredibles?

But although bicycles are seen as a carefree family occupation – look at the advertisements for Center Parcs, for instance – they are not used as ordinary urban transport.

The key message that comes from this research is that at present in Britain using the car for short trips in urban areas is convenient, habitual and normal. . . Alternatives to the car – especially cycling and walking – are perceived to take too much effort, need planning and equipment that causes hassles, and may be risky and uncomfortable. They also run the risk of being perceived by other as eccentric or odd.

Common remarks from those interviewed by the study:-

“It’s not a cool thing for a girl to be on a bike”

“People assume that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t drive.”

There were various suggestions for remaking cities and towns for walking and cycling:,-

1. Fully segregated cycle routes on all arterial and other busy roads
2. Making pedestrian routes more welcoming (widening pavements, removing street furniture, better lighting, keeping them clear of ice and fallen leaves)
3. Restricting traffic speed on non-segregated residential roads;
4. “Strict liability” so that pedestrians or cyclists injured in an accident involving a motor vehicle do not have to prove fault in seeking compensation;
5. Urban design that makes eg shopping centres convenient for cyclists and pedestrians.

There are a range of bodies that could effect these changes from central government to private businesses.

Professor Cooley was speaking to a converted audience, i.e. 150 cycling members of the public and sympathetic councillors.  To us he made three important points:-

1. A good urban policy is against the use of cars, not the ownership of them.
2. It should not be assumed that it is sufficient to change attitudes and make people more environmentally aware. It is necessary also to make the changes that enable people to translate these values into actions.
3.  Do not base policies about walking and cycling on the views and experiences of existing committed cyclists and pedestrians. They are a minority who have, against all the odds, successfully negotiated a hostile urban environment to incorporate walking and cycling into their everyday routines. It is necessary to talk. . .to non-walkers and non-cyclists, potential cyclists and walkers, former cyclists and walkers . . to encourage them to make more use of these transport modes.

The Leader of Edinburgh City Council, Andrew Burns, also spoke. Edinburgh has achieved 4% to 8% work rides within 8 years, with a target of 15% by 2020.  Councillor Burns cited Munich and Cologne as cities that have made progress in cycling. The utopias are Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

Bikecultureincopenhagen

Cyclists, Copenhagen

Edinburgh has a strong campaigning group, Spokes, and a sympathetic council, and so has achieved better cycling than the average in the UK, in spite of its chilly, windy climate, hilliness and (the council falls down here) pot-holed road surfaces. On some of the cycle paths at peak hour it’s like the M8 for traffic flow.  So it can be done.  But it needs political will.

However, to finish with another quote from Professor Cooley (paraphrased):-

“The politicians report that the electorate will not accept changes that will make it easier to walk and cycle, yet speak directly to the electorate and they are happy with these changes.”

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Bunkering down with Julian Assange

February 22, 2014 at 7:04 pm (anti-semitism, Free Speech, Rosie B)

Andrew O’Hagan tells a fascinating story of what it was like to ghost write Julian Assange’s autobiography.  He did this under contract with Canongate Books, a hip publisher based in Edinburgh.

O’Hagan has got hold of a character who could be one of fiction’s great monsters with a toddler’s grasp of other people’s motives and rights.  Assange holed up talking without interruption for 3 hours at a time is strongly reminiscent of Hitler in his table talk and his lashings out at everyone as he sits in one of his bunkers (Ellingham Hall, the Ecuadorian Embassy) has been portrayed in Downfall.  He has real enemies and he has imaginary ones as well.  The many people who fall out with him do so because of envy or malice.

His paranoia has its comic side:-

He appeared to like the notion that he was being pursued and the tendency was only complicated by the fact that there were real pursuers. But the pursuit was never as grave as he wanted it to be. He stuck to his Cold War tropes, where one didn’t deliver a package, but made a ‘drop off’. One day, we were due to meet some of the WikiLeaks staff at a farmhouse out towards Lowestoft. We went in my car. Julian was especially edgy that afternoon, feeling perhaps that the walls were closing in, as we bumped down one of those flat roads covered in muck left by tractors’ tyres. ‘Quick, quick,’ he said, ‘go left. We’re being followed!’ I looked in the rear-view mirror and could see a white Mondeo with a wire sticking out the back.

‘Don’t be daft, Julian,’ I said. ‘That’s a taxi.’

‘No. Listen to me. It’s surveillance. We’re being followed. Quickly go left.’ Just by comical chance, as I was rocking a Sweeney-style handbrake turn, the car behind us suddenly stopped at a farmhouse gate and a little boy jumped out and ran up the path. I looked at the clock as we rolled off in a cloud of dust. It said 3.48.

‘That was a kid being delivered home from school,’ I said. ‘You’re mental.’

There are some good moments with Assange, the expert hacker and courageous activist:-

At the time of the Egyptian uprising, Mubarak tried to close down the country’s mobile phone network, a service that came through Canada. Julian and his gang hacked into Nortel and fought against Mubarak’s official hackers to reverse the process. The revolution continued and Julian was satisfied, sitting back in our remote kitchen eating chocolates.

That is why I didn’t walk out. The story was just too large. What Julian lacked in efficiency or professionalism he made up for in courage. What he lacked in carefulness he made up for in impact.

But on the whole the Wikileaks endeavour suffered from that symptom of the internet age, the short attention span, the hook, the click-bait and the Twitter storm of petty feuds:-

He’s not a details guy. None of them is. What they love is the big picture and the general fight. They love the noise and the glamour, the history, the spectacle, but not the fine print. That is why they released so many cables so quickly: for impact. And there’s a good argument to support that. But, even today, three years later, the cables have never had the dedicated attention they deserve. They made a splash and then were left languishing. I always hoped someone would do a serious editing job, ordering them country by country, contextualising each one, providing a proper introduction, detailing each injustice and each breach, but Julian wanted the next splash and, even more, he wanted to scrap with each critic he found on the internet. As for the book, he kept putting it off.

Assange makes a virtue of scientific journalism, where readers take the raw data and process it for themselves.  But of course we can’t do that any more than we can make our laptops from oil, metals and silicon.  We need context and background information to gauge whether a piece of information is significant or trivial.

I thought, if Julian was serious and strategic, that WikiLeaks should not only bale stuff out onto the web, but should then facilitate the editing and presenting of that work in a way that was of permanent historical value. Perry Anderson of Verso Books had the same thought, and I put it to Julian that the WikiLeaks Map of the World should be a series which provided for a proper academic study of what the biggest security leaks in history had revealed, with expert commentary, notes, essays and introductions. It would provide the organisation with a lasting, grown-up legacy, a powerful, orderly continuation of its initial work.

Julian came to lunch at my flat in Belsize Park. Tariq Ali came and so did Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor of the London Review, as well as an American editor for Verso called Tom Mertes. Anderson’s idea was that Verso would publish a series of books, or one book in which each chapter showed how the US cables released by WikiLeaks had changed the political position of a particular country. A writer who knew, say, Italy, would introduce the chapter and the same would be done for every country and it would be very meticulous and well-made. Julian gave a big speech at the beginning, the middle and the end. He clearly liked Tariq but had no sense of him as someone who knew a lot more about the world than he did. Although the idea for the book had come from Verso, Julian preferred to give a lecture about how most academics were corrupted by their institutions.

…. . Anyone else would have jumped at the chance of the Verso project but as Julian drove off in a taxi I knew he would never call Tariq about this or lay any of the groundwork they’d agreed. Julian was already more concerned about claiming the idea for himself, an idea that he would never see to fruition. The meeting had called for responsible action, when what Julian loved was irresponsible reaction.

Everyone has one rule for themselves and another for  the rest of the world but Assange takes this to the nth degree:-

Julian was getting a lot of flak in the press for making Wiki-employees sign contracts threatening them with a £12 million lawsuit if they disclosed anything about the organisation. It was clear he didn’t see the problem. He has a notion that WikiLeaks floats above other organisations and their rules. He can’t understand why any public body should keep a secret but insists that his own organisation enforce its secrecy with lawsuits. Every time he mentioned legal action against the Guardian or the New York Times, and he did this a lot, I would roll my eyes, but he didn’t see the contradiction. He was increasingly lodged in a jungle of his own making and I told Jamie it was like trying to write a book with Mr Kurtz.

He was in a state of panic at all times that things might get out. But he manages people so poorly, and is such a slave to what he’s not good at, that he forgets he might be making bombs set to explode in his own face. I am sure this is what happens in many of his scrapes: he runs on a high-octane belief in his own rectitude and wisdom, only to find later that other people had their own views – of what is sound journalism or agreeable sex – and the idea that he might be complicit in his own mess baffles him.

He has the common tendency to fight far more bitterly with those who share his world view than those who outright reject it:-

the Guardian was an enemy because he’d ‘given’ them something and they hadn’t toed the line, whereas the Daily Mail was almost respected for finding him entirely abominable. The Guardian tried to soothe him – its editor, Alan Rusbridger, showed concern for his position, as did the then deputy, Ian Katz, and others – but he talked about its journalists in savage terms. The Guardian felt strongly that the secret material ought to be redacted to protect informants or bystanders named in it, and Julian was inconsistent about that. I never believed he wanted to endanger such people, but he chose to interpret the Guardian’s concern as ‘cowardice’.

He’s full of repugnant sexism and anti-Semitsm:-

They certainly had transcripts of our interviews, sittings in which he’d uttered, late at night, many casual libels, many sexist or anti-Semitic remarks, and where he spoke freely about every aspect of his life.

As well as wasting time to a heart-breaking degree, those who engage with Assange find themselves out of goodwill and out of pocket. Canongate tried to salvage the autobiography and published what they could.

Canongate Books, the Edinburgh-based publisher, has blamed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s “failure to deliver” the book he was contracted to produce for plunging into operating loss.

Accounts, which have just become available from Companies House, reveal Canongate tumbled to an operating loss of £368,467 in 2011, from a profit of £1.08 million at this level in 2010. Canongate acknowledged this was its worst performance “in many years”.

For Andrew O’Hagan it hasn’t all been a minus.  He came out with a great story to tell, and that’s enough pay off for any writer.

(H/T – HJ)

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Pushing back the tide

February 15, 2014 at 9:18 am (environment, Rosie B)

European and UK policies towards land management increase the likelihood of flooding, according to George Monbiot:-

The story begins with a group of visionary farmers at Pontbren, in the headwaters of Britain’s longest river, the Severn. In the 1990s they realised that the usual hill-farming strategy – loading the land with more and bigger sheep, grubbing up the trees and hedges, digging more drains – wasn’t working. It made no economic sense, the animals had nowhere to shelter, and the farmers were breaking their backs to wreck their own land.

So they devised something beautiful. They began planting shelter belts of trees along the contours. They stopped draining the wettest ground and built ponds to catch the water instead. They cut and chipped some of the wood they grew to make bedding for their animals, which meant that they no longer spent a fortune buying straw. Then they used the composted bedding, in a perfect closed loop, to cultivate more trees.

One day a government consultant was walking over their fields during a rainstorm. He noticed something that fascinated him. The water flashing off the land suddenly disappeared when it reached the belts of trees the farmers had planted. This prompted a major research programme, which produced the following astonishing results: water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass. The roots of the trees provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground. The soil there becomes a sponge, a reservoir which sucks up water and then releases it slowly. In the pastures, by contrast, the small sharp hooves of the sheep puddle the ground, making it almost impermeable, a hard pan off which the rain gushes.

One of the research papers estimates that – even though only 5% of the Pontbren land has been reforested – if all the farmers in the catchment did the same thing, flooding peaks downstream would be reduced by about 29%. Full reforestation would reduce the peaks by about 50%. For the residents of Shrewsbury, Gloucester and the other towns ravaged by endless Severn floods, that means – more or less – problem solved.

Somerset

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