Juan Cole on Trump’s bizarre, stupid and dangerous UN speech

September 20, 2017 at 9:01 am (Asshole, Iran, jerk, nationalism, North Korea, perversity, plutocrats, populism, posted by JD, Saudi Arabia, Trump, UN, United States, war)

Trump blasts Iran for backing Syria, ignores Russia, praises Saudis

By (at Informed Comment) Sep. 20, 2017

Trump more or less threatened to wipe out the 25 million people of North Korea in his speech at the UN.

Then he turned to the Middle East, where he again pledged to undermine the Iranian nuclear deal.

In other words, he put forward a plan to turn Iran into North Korea as a geopolitical problem.

The speech was a weird amalgam of white nationalism and Neoconservatism. It abandoned the isolationism of the former and eschewed the idealism of the latter.

Concerning Iran, Trump said:

“The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy. It has turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos. The longest-suffering victims of Iran’s leaders are, in fact, its own people.”

I swear, I thought Trump was talking about his own administration there for a second. He’s the one, not Iran, who called Nazis very fine people and blamed Heather Heyer for being run over by one of Trump’s supporters. I have been critical of the Iranian regime’s human rights record, as well, but Trump doesn’t have a leg to stand on here.

“Rather than use its resources to improve Iranian lives, its oil profits go to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbors. This wealth, which rightly belongs to Iran’s people, also goes to shore up Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship, fuel Yemen’s civil war, and undermine peace throughout the entire Middle East.”

Hizbullah was formed to get Israel back out of Lebanon. Israel committed a naked act of aggression against little Lebanon in 1982, invading and shelling Beirut indiscriminately. The Israeli army then occupied 10% of Lebanese territory, in the south of the country. The far right Likud party has sticky fingers, and it had no intention of ever leaving. Hizbullah fought a low intensity guerrilla war to get the Israelis to withdraw, which they finally did in 1999. Israel still occupies the Shebaa Farms area that belongs to Lebanon.

The Yemen civil war wasn’t fueled by Iran but by a Saudi air campaign against the government of the north of the country. The Houthis were unwise to make their coup in early 2015 against the interim government, but it was the Saudis who bombed targets from 30,000 feet and with little local knowledge. Iran may have facilitate some training for a handful of Zaydi fighters, but it doesn’t give them very much money. The conflict is indigenous and has its origin in Yemen resentment of Saudi attempts to spread money around and convert people out of Zaydism and into the ultra-rigid Wahhabi form of Islam.

As for Hizbullah backing Bashar al-Assad in Syria, so does Trump’s buddy Vladimir Putin, to whom Trump said Syria should be turned over. In other words, Hizbullah’s position on Syria isn’t much different from that of Trump.

It is very odd that you would blame the survival of the al-Assad regime on Iran alone and not bring up Russia. Russia has spent way more in Syria than Iran and has used its Aerospace Forces for intensive bombing over 2 years, a much bigger military impact than Iran’s. And Trump himself keeps saying Arabs need strongmen to rule them.

“We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program. (Applause.) The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it — believe me.”

Let’s see. In the Joint Plan of Collective Action, Iran gave up:

1. –its planned heavy water reactor at Arak, concreting it in and abandoning it. Heavy water reactors can be used to gather enough fissile material over time so that you might be able to make a nuclear bomb. That pathway is gone.

2. –all but 6000 of its centrifuges, which aren’t enough to enrich enough uranium on a short timetable to make a bomb

3. –its stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.5%. It needs to be enriched to 95% for a proper bomb, but that is easier if you start part of the way there. That stockpile has been recast in a form such that it cannot be used to make a bomb.

4 — its objections to being intensively monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is now under the most stringent inspection regime in history. (Israel refused inspections and then made several hundred nuclear warheads and so did India and Pakistan and Russia and the US. Trump doesn’t condemn the actual proliferators, only Iran, which does not have a nuke).

Iran basically gave up the deterrent effect of being able to construct a nuclear weapon in time to stop an invasion. The United States has invaded 3 neighbors of Iran, so it isn’t an idle fear.

What did Iran get in return? The GOP Congress tightened sanctions, and has scared off a lot of European investors.

Iran got bupkes.

This deal is not between the US and Iran but between Iran and the UN Security Council plus Germany (representing the EU). The deal has deeply disadvantaged Iran and has not affected the US at all. In fact the US has already reneged on the spirit of it.

If what Trump is saying is that Iran was left with some elements of what is called ‘nuclear latency’– the knowledge of how to make a bomb, then that is correct. But the only way to wipe out Iranian nuclear latency would be to invade it and occupy it and put in a puppet government.

And that is what Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad Bin Salman want Trump to do. We have to see if he is so foolish.

Iran is 2.5 times as populous as Iran and 3 times bigger geographically, and the Iraq War did not go well for the US.

“The Iranian regime’s support for terror is in stark contrast to the recent commitments of many of its neighbors to fight terrorism and halt its financing.

In Saudi Arabia early last year, I was greatly honored to address the leaders of more than 50 Arab and Muslim nations. We agreed that all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and the Islamist extremism that inspires them. ”

As or Saudi Arabia being the good guy, give me a break. They were backing anti-minority fanatics like Jaysh al-isalm who wanted to ethnically cleanse all Syrian non-Salafis (i.e. almost everyone). They had recognized the Taliban in the 1990s. They spread around an intolerant form of Islam that forbids Muslims to so much as have a friendly meal with Christians and Jews.

Trump’s remarks were apocalyptically stupid.


Related video:

France 24: “Donald Trump at the UN: The Iran Deal is “an embarrassment to the United States”

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Morning Star in another fine mess over EU and workers’ rights

August 31, 2016 at 5:18 pm (CPB, Europe, law, perversity, posted by JD, publications, stalinism, workers)

Compare and contrast:

1/ Morning Star editorial Feb 26 2016:

The EU has done nothing to strengthen Britain’s social or equality legislation. Holiday pay, equal pay legislation, advancement of anti-racist and gay rights were all fought for and won by workers in struggle. To claim otherwise is a mendacious insult to the history of our movement and class.


2/ Morning Star front page Aug 30 2016:


Unions challenge May to live up to post-Brexit pledges

by Conrad Landin
Industrial Reporter
THERESA MAY risks a “betrayal of British workers” if she does not save employment rights when Britain leaves the EU, unions warned last night.
New research by the House of Commons library shows that rights to annual leave, protection against unfair dismissal and equal rights for agency workers could fall away on a technicality if the government does not intervene.
The European Communities Act 1972, which will need to be repealed prior to Brexit, allows Brussels employment law to take primacy over Westminster Acts and become British law.
Regulations protecting young people and ensuring paid time off for health and safety reps could also fall by the wayside.
Ms May promised to put the Tories “completely, absolutely, unequivocally at the service of working people” when she was announced as the leader last month.
But her parliamentary record includes staunch support for anti-union laws and leading the opposition to the Equality Act in the Commons.
Shopworkers’ union Usdaw general secretary John Hannett said: “The Prime Minister came to office talking a good game about standing up for working people. She now has to walk the walk — and the first part of that should be guaranteeing that every single right for workers delivered by the European Union will stay in place.
“Anything less would be a betrayal of British workers, especially given the promises that were made on employment rights by members of the Vote Leave campaign. Every worker and trade unionist in Britain urgently needs clarity on this vital issue.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna (pictured left with Ms May), who commissioned the Commons library research, has written to Ms May calling for the government to enact primary legislation guaranteeing the affected workplace rights.
He is also calling for an audit of decisions made by the Court of Justice of the European Union, followed by a government commitment to maintaining the additional rights that have been derived from legal judgements.
Mr Umunna told Ms May: “You have said repeatedly that ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ But you must now begin to set out what this means.
“You owe it to the working people of Britain to make clear that the pledges made by your Cabinet colleagues to retain EU legislation on workers’ rights will be delivered.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Britain voted decisively to leave the EU and this government will deliver the people’s verdict. In every step we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people.
“We don’t need to be part of the EU to have strong protections for workers’ rights.”

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Peter Wilby: “Paris will … disturb most Europeans more than 9/11”

November 20, 2015 at 3:39 pm (Asshole, fascism, France, intellectuals, islamism, Jim D, murder, New Statesman, perversity, relativism)

Above: 9/11 commemoration, Paris 2011

Peter Wilby, writing in his First Thoughts column in the present edition of the New Statesman:

“In the wake of mass murder, comparisons may seem otiose and probably also distasteful.  But the atrocities in Paris will, I suspect, disturb most Europeans more than the 9/11 atrocities in the US, even though the casualties were many fewer. It is not just that Paris is closer than New York and Washington DC. The 2001 attacks were on symbols of US global capitalism and military hegemony. The victims were mostly people working in them. This did not in any way excuse the gang of criminals who carried out the attacks. But is was possible, at least, to comprehend what may have been going through their twisted minds and the minds of those who sponsored and assisted them.

“The Paris attacks were different. France, to be sure, is a nuclear-armed capitalist state willing to flex its military muscles according to principles that are not always clear to outsiders. But this was not an attack on its political, military or financial centres. It was on people of various ethnicities and nationalities on a Friday night out, watching football, enjoying a concert, eating, drinking and chatting in restaurants and bars in a city that is famed (admittedly not always justly) for romance, enlightenment and culture. That is what makes these attacks so shocking…”

So it is “possible …to comprehend” the mass killing of cleaners, office workers and (yes) financiers in the Twin Towers (and the many civilian workers in the Pentagon) because of where they worked – but not the deaths of “people of various ethnicities and nationalities” (so the 9/11 victims were all white Americans?) seeking “romance, enlightenment and culture” (concepts alien to the 9/11 victims, of course) in Paris?

Later on in his piece Wilby states that it is wrong to resort to “glib attempts to explain what drives men to kill indiscriminately.” Yet he seems to be able to “explain” 9/11. So perhaps, according to Wilby, Paris was “indiscriminate” but not New York or Washington?

The editorial of the  New Statesman of 17 September, 2001 appeared to blame Americans themselves for the 9/11 attacks — for “preferring George Bush to Al Gore and both to Ralph Nader”: the editor of the New Statesman at the time was one Peter Wilby.

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The most laughable, preposterous and irrelevant left-wing faction fight … ever

January 29, 2014 at 9:21 pm (Beyond parody, comedy, ex-SWP, fantasy, gloating, good honest filth, James P. Cannon, jerk, Jim D, middle class, perversity, political groups, Pornography, Racism, strange situations, surrealism, wankers)

I was going to put a question-mark at the end of that headline, but on reflection decided not to. I think we can be unequivocal about this.

When I was a callow young Trotskyist and James P. Cannon fan, older, more experienced comrades told me that Cannon’s organisation, the American SWP (no relation to the Brit group of the same name) had gone off the rails very badly in the 1950’s, when Cannon began to take a back seat and handed the reins over to lesser figures like Joseph Hansen. Evidence of this petty bourgeois degeneration, I was told, was a ludicrous faction fight over the question of women’s cosmetics that threatened to tear the SWP apart. In the end, good ol’ James P. came out of semi-retirement to bang heads together and tell Hansen and the comrades to get a grip and stop arguing about such irrelevant nonsense. Anyway, that’s how I remember being told about it.

As you can imagine, I never (until now) took the trouble to investigate the matter in any detail, but if you’re interested, quite a good account is given here, and you can even read some of the contemporaneous internal documents here, if you scroll down to No. A-23, October 1954. On the other hand, like myself when I was first told about the Great Cosmetics Faction Fight (GCFF), you may feel that life’s too short…

The point being, that I’ve always carried round in the back of my mind a vague recollection of the GCFF as a prime example of petty bourgeois leftist irrelevance, and probably the most ridiculous and laughable left-group factional dispute of all time.

Until now.

The recent row within the International Socialist Network, resulting in the resignations of some of its most prominent members, makes the SWP’s GCFF look quite down to earth and sensible. If you ever wanted an example of why serious, socialist-inclined working class people all too often regard the far left as a bunch of irrelevant, posturing tossers, this is it. Don’t ask me what it’s all about, or what “race play” is. Comrade Coatesy gives some helpful background here and here. More detail for the serious connoisseur (aka “more discerning customer” wink, wink, reaching under the counter) here and here.

I’ll simply add, for now, that this preposterous business does appear to be genuine (rather than, as some might reasonably suspect, an exercise in sitautionist performance art and/or anti-left political satire) and is also one of those rather pleasing situations in which no-one in their right mind cares who wins: both sides are unspeakably awful self-righteous jerks. Actually, the ISN majority strike me as, if anything, even worse than Seymour, Miéville and their friend “Magpie” – if that’s possible. Still, it’s hard not to endulge in just a little schadenfreude at the discomfiture of Richard “Partially Contingent” Seymour, a character who’s made a minor career out of sub-Althussarian pretentiousness and “anathematising” others on the left for their real or imagined transgressions against “intersectionality“, and now falls victim to it himself.

Those who live by intersectionality, die by intersectionality.

Or, as Seymour himself put it in his seminal postgraduate thesis  Patriarchy and the capitalist state:

“My suggestion is that as an analytic, patriarchy must be treated as one type of the more general phenomena of gender projects which in certain conjunctures form gender formations. What is a gender formation? I am drawing a direct analogy with Omi and Winant’s conception of racial formations, which comprises “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed … historically situated projects in which human bodies and social structures are represented and organized.” This is connected “to the evolution of hegemony, the way in which society is organized and ruled,” in the sense that racial projects are linked up with wider repertoires of hegemonic practices, either enabling or disrupting the formation of broad ruling or resistant alliances. A gender formation would thus be a ’sociohistorical process’ in which gender categories are ‘created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed’ through the interplay and struggle of rival gender projects. From my perspective, this has the advantage of grasping the relational, partially contingent and partially representational nature of gendered forms of power, and providing a means by which patriarchy can indeed be grasped in relation to historical materialism.”

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Mandela and the Camerons: caption competition

December 12, 2013 at 12:37 am (comedy, David Cameron, perversity, posted by JD, strange situations, Tory scum)

From Robbie Helston Lea-Trengrouse’s Facebook pages…

Well done Ian Merricks: any further suggestions (within the limits of reasonable taste) welcome:

When Nelson Mandela tried to hide from the Camerons (via @RudolphUcker)

Ian Merricks “If you take a life assurance policy with us today Mr Mandela you’ll receive a stylish Parker pen…”

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What is the GMB playing at?

September 4, 2013 at 6:58 pm (Jim D, labour party, perversity, reformism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Kenny: slimming down his affiliation

The GMB’s decision to cut its affiliation to Labour from 420,000 members to 50,000 (and thus its funding for the party from £1.2 million to £150,000) is a genuine mystery – especially as Paul Kenny and the rest of the GMB leadership are presently (and very uncharacteristically) incommunicado.

Is this a “clever” negotiating ploy, sending a message to Miliband: press ahead with your proposals (ie union members to “opt in” rather than “out” of Labour Party affiliation) and this is what you’ll get?

On the other hand, all that Kenny’s done is implement Miliband’s proposals before they’ve even been properly discussed and voted on. Not very good tactics, I’d say – especially as there’s been no GMB campaign against Miliband’s plans and no consultation with GMB members. The figure of 50,000 seems to be based on an entirely speculative estimate that this is the number of members who would choose to “opt in.”

By the way, don’t bother looking on Kenny acolyte Nooman’s blog for any explanation. All “Gizza’job” Nooman has done today is reproduce the GMB Central Executive Council’s statement sans comment or explanation.

Meanwhile, over at UNITE, the United Left group (which has a majority on the union’s Executive Council) has passed a near-unanimous resolution calling on the EC to defend the Labour/Trade Union link and resist any proposals that undermine the principle of collective affiliation to Labour. Though Len McCluskey isn’t named in the resolution, in effect it’s calling upon him to reverse his publicly-expressed support for Miliband’s proposals.

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Jim Godbolt: a jazz character ‘from the pages of Dickens’

January 28, 2013 at 11:14 am (jazz, Jim D, music, perversity, surrealism)

“Thin and tense, his head with its pointed features crouching between his shoulders as though emerging from its burrow into a dangerous world, his eyes as cold and watchful as those of a pike in the reeds. Around this thin, heron-like figure a whole comic tradition of disaster then descended” – George Melly on Jim Godbolt

Above: Godbolt (2nd right) with old jazz cronies including Coleridge Goode (far left)

I know that as a general rule obituaries are not supposed to be amusing, but I have to admit to having chuckled at the Telegraph‘s send-off for Jim Godbolt, the jazz writer, jazz historian and one-time agent/manager for some leading British jazz bands. Godbolt was a legendary curmudgeon who, one suspects, rather played up to his reputation – at least in his later years. The piece notes that one of Godbolt’s ventures was, for a while, writing obituaries for the Telegraph: I wonder if it’s possible that he wrote, and then ‘banked,’ this one himself..?

Jim Godbolt, who has died aged 90, devoted 70 years to jazz as a band manager, booking agent, journalist and historian.

Though he played no instrument and periodically found himself forced to take work in other fields, he was always ready to serve the music he loved in any capacity and for little money. But an ungracious manner, beginning with the way he snapped “Jim Godbolt” down the telephone, did not win him friends, although there were times when he could inspire a certain astonished affection.

Every time he was ignored, slighted or sworn at, the offence was carefully remembered, to be grimly repeated in his memoir, ‘All This and 10%’. There were the regular misspellings of his name — as Goodolt, Godlio, Godolt, Goabit or Goldblatt — and the occasion on which he was told that he was not paranoid, as paranoia would have meant him imagining that people were trying to avoid him. It was not his imagination.

George Melly left a striking description of Godbolt: “Thin and tense, his head with its pointed features crouching between his shoulders as though emerging from its burrow into a dangerous world, his eyes as cold and watchful as those of a pike in the reeds. Around this thin, heron-like figure a whole comic tradition of disaster then descended.”

Godbolt was under no illusions about his charms. When the libel lawyer nervously reading ‘All This’ wanted to eliminate a reference to a Len Bloggs, “a snarling anti-social inverted snob with a chip on his shoulder” , Godbolt pointed out that it was a portrait of himself.

James Godbolt was born in Wandsworth, south London, on October 5 1922. He went to Central School, Sidcup, where he failed to distinguish himself, then became an office boy with the stockbrokers Evans Gordon and Sandeman Clark. At 18 he left to earn £5 a week as a timekeeper on a building site and joined the No 1 Rhythm Club at Sidcup, Kent, before being called up by the Royal Navy to serve in armed trawlers in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

On leave in Cape Town, his appetite for jazz was further whetted when he bought 150 records from a hardware shop at one shilling each. He returned home to become manager of George Webb’s Dixielanders, which aspired to the authentic New Orleans style.

When the band collapsed with the withdrawal of the key members Humphrey Lyttelton and Wally Fawkes, Godbolt became a salesman for a signwriting firm, then an agricultural worker. Next he edited Jazz Illustrated, notable for its misprints before it folded after eight issues.

Although jazz at that time was rent by a bitter civil war between “trad” and modernist players, Godbolt steered clear of faction. He became a booker for the modernist Johnny Dankworth Seven and the traditionalist Graeme Bell Australian Jazz Band; protected the American guitarist Lonnie Johnson from fans on one provincial tour, and on another tried to keep the trombonist Dickie Wells sober. He also took on the management of the chaotic, hard-drinking Mick Mulligan band, worked for Lyttelton, toured Sweden with Bruce Turner’s Jump Band and ran a jazz club above the Six Bells at Chelsea. An enthusiastic cricketer, he was a member of The Ravers, which claimed to be the world’s only jazzmen’s cricket XI.

When pop music took centre stage in the 1960s, Godbolt was making his mark as agent/manager of The Swinging Blue Jeans during the period of their hit Hippy Hippy Shake. He managed to conceal his lack of enthusiasm for the new music when interviewed by Melody Maker, but when he went on to work for a large booking organisation his heart was not in it.

Taking a flat five floors up in a building without a lift near Hampstead Heath, he started out as a freelance journalist to earn the slimmest pickings. Eventually he was forced to work as a cleaner at the Savoy hotel and as an electricity meter reader, which left him with an aversion to dogs.

When his memoir was published in 1976, it sold only 400 copies. But two subsequent editions fared better, and Godbolt the author found himself in demand to review books and appear on radio programmes. Ever his own worst enemy, however, he was indignant to discover that those interviewed on Woman’s Hour were not paid; indeed, he was so indignant that he ended up being neither interviewed nor paid.

Another offer was writing obituaries for The Daily Telegraph. He became a frequent contributor, and could produce facts that could never be found elsewhere. Some members of the obituaries desk, however, were exasperated at being asked to sort out his prose and put up with his surly replies to queries. One of his more unusual submissions was two versions of the band leader Cab Calloway; one in standard English, the other in hepcat’s argot. Eventually an argument about the editing of his obituary of his brother, who kept a pub, led to the appointment of a more obliging wordsmith.

Goldbolt also wrote a two-volume History of Jazz in Britain (1984 and 1986), which addressed not only musicians but also critics, promoters, discographers and fans . When a second edition was published in 2005 it was accompanied by a four-disc set of 100 numbers culled from his personal collection. Godbolt’s last work, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Farrago (2007), drew on his recollections of editing the magazine Jazz at Ronnie Scott’s, which he had produced at the saxophonist’s club in Gerrard Street for 26 years.

Jim Godbolt knew that he possessed an unrivalled knowledge of British jazz. Those who knew him, however, will remember him as a character who could have stepped from the pages of Dickens.

He was unmarried.

Jim Godbolt, born October 5 1922, died January 10 2013

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Hitchcock and ‘The Girl’: a dark, sad story

December 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm (Art and design, BBC, cinema, deviants, film, Jim D, misogyny, perversity, sexism, women)

“Blonds make the best victims” – A. Hitchcock

First things first: last night’s BBC 2/HBO film The Girl was absolutely superb – by far the best new work to be seen on Brit TV over the Christmas season. If you missed it, make sure you catch up via iplayer or whatever, asap.

Briefly, this was the story of Alfred Hitchcock’s choice of the previously unknown Tippi Hedren to star in The Birds (his follow-up to Psycho) and his obsession with her, culminating in a campaign of bullying and intimidation when she rejected his blundering advances. Finally, Hitchcock sabotaged her career by refusing to either release her from her contract or to use her in any more films, apart from the rather unpleasant Marnie.

His behaviour, these days, would be considered completely unacceptable and probably place him beyond the pale in the eyes of polite society.*

Once again we are confronted with the old conundrum: to what extent is it possible to separate a great artist from the more unpleasant aspects of his (and, it would seem, it is usually “his” rather than “her”) personality? As an admirer of  Philip Larkin I have difficulty coming to terms with evidence of his misogyny and racism, just as admirers of Eliot and Pound have (or should have) difficulty with the fascist sympathies of those two, and Picasso enthusiasts ought to be at least concerned by his Stalin-worship (which lasted into the 1950s). As for unacceptable sexual practices, the superb sculptor and designer Eric Gill probably leads the field, though I’ve no doubt there have been plenty of other major artists with similarly hideous sexual proclivities. Benjamin Britten‘s interest in adolsescent boys has long been the subject of speculation, though in fairness it should be stated that there has never been any evidence that he engaged in paedophilia.

Anyway, The Girl, based as it was upon Tippi Hedren’s own accounts (in interviews) of what happened, pulled no punches and made no effort to excuse or explain-away Hitchcock’s behaviour. But, thanks to a masterful performance by Toby Jones, we feel pity as well as disgust. Hitchcock was, by his own description, a fat, ugly walrus of a man who had only ever had sex with his wife (for whom the term “long suffering” scarcely suffices) and, now in his sixties, was impotent anyway. According to Jones’ portrayal, he appears to have felt that Hedren simply owed him a tumble for having made her a star.

The question that The Girl poses but doesn’t answer, is to what extent Hitchcock’s sexual obessions contributed to the dark, ambiguous power of his best work.

As well as Jones’ extraordinary portrayal, Sienna Miller gives a strong (in every sense of the word) performance as Tippi Hedren and Imelda Staunton deserves a mention for her profoundly sad Alma Hitchcock.

* On the other hand, the rapist and paedophile Roman Polanski as recently as 2009, could count on the support and sympathy of leading celebs and “intellectuals” throughout the world.

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John Gray: fifty shades of shite

December 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm (atheism, history, humanism, intellectuals, Jim D, New Statesman, perversity, philosophy, relativism, religion, secularism)

“Again, nothing infuriates the current crop of evangelical atheists more than the suggestion that militant unbelief has many of the attributes of religion. Yet, in asserting  that the rejection of theism could produce a better world, they are denying the clear evidence of history, which shows the pursuit of uniformity in word-view to to be itself the cause of conflict. Whether held by the religious or by enemies of religion, the idea that universal conversion to (or from) any belief system could vastly improve the human ot is an act of faith. Illustrationg Nietzsche’s observations about the tonic properties of false beliefs, these atheists are seeking existential consolation just as much as religious observers” John Gray in the New Statesman, 30/11/12)

Here at Shiraz, we’ve previously had occasion to identify him as probably the most profoundly reactionary writer in respectable, mainstream journalism today. Gray can be difficult to follow precisely because his writing is vague, evasive and often illogical. In the New Statesman article from which the quote at the top of this piece is taken, for instance, it is difficult to discern even what he understands by the word “toleration” (as opposed, for instance, to “indifference”) and why he seems to think that irrational beliefs are a positively good thing. His repeated approving references to Nietzsche do, however, provide a telling clue.

Like Nietzsche, Gray despises humanity in general, and enlightenment humanism in particular. I’m not sure whether Gray would share his hero’s dismissal of democracy (“liberal” / “bourgeois” or otherwise) in favour of the artistocratic ideal of the  Übermensch. Gray certainly seems attracted to Nietzsche’s emphasis (present from the first in in Die Geburt der Tragödie) on the unconscious, voluntaristsic ‘Dionysian’ side of human nature, as opposed to the rational ‘Apollonian’ side. Also, like Nietzsche, Gray is in fact an atheist, but seems to regard this as being entirely unconnected to any rational belief system, and simply a personal judgement that the ignorant masses cannot be expected to understand.

Gray’s contempt for humanism (and humanity) was well expressed in an earlier piece he wrote for the New Statesman:

“The idea that humankind has a special place in the scheme of things persists among secular thinkers. They tell us that human beings emerged by chance and insist that ‘humanity’ can inject purpose into the world. But, in a strictly naturalistic philosophy, the human species has no purpose. There are only human beings, with their conflicting impulses and goals. Using science, human beings are transforming the planet. But ‘humanity’ cannot use its growing knowledge to improve the world, for humanity does not exist.” John Gray, ‘Humanity doesn’t exist’, New Statesman (10/02/11)

I’m not arguing, by the way that Gray’s views shouldn”t be published, or are unworthy of debate. I would question, however, what such an enemy of the Enlightement is doing as lead book reviewer in a publication whose strap-line is “Enlightened Thinking for a change.”

By the way, Nietzsche’s thinking contains an essential contradiction (explained by  Antony Flew, thus): “Of course, Nietzsche goes on to use his views about the essentially ‘falsifying’ nature of language, and therefore of rational thought, to give theoretical backing to his favourite belief in the superior veracity of action and ‘will’. But here the central paradox in Nietzsche’s theory of knowledge emerges: he cannot himself, in all consistency, take that theory too seriously.”

Or as a letter to the New Statesman in response to Gray’s article, put it: “It is amusing to read yet again a rational man, John Gray on this occasion (‘Giant Leaps for mankind’, 30 November), arguing rationally for how very irrational we all are.”


Ophelia (“Butterflies and Wheels’) Benson on Gray, here

Salman Rushdie deals with another relativist, pseudo-intellectual enemy of Enlightement values, here.

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Hitchens on ‘Vidal Loco’

August 1, 2012 at 8:21 am (conspiracy theories, intellectuals, Jim D, libertarianism, literature, perversity, terror, Troothers, United States)

Gore Vidal, essayist, novelist, political commentator, contrarian and patrician socialite, has died.


Above: portrait taken in 1978 of Gore Vidal for the Los Angeles Times.

Here’s what his one-time friend and admirer Christopher Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair in February 2010 (later included in Hitchens’ last book, Arguably).  As will become apparent, Hitchens had long since fallen out with Vidal, mainly over the latter’s increasingly deranged and conspiracy-driven view of the world after 9/11. It is far from being a fully-rounded picture but – frankly – by 2010 Vidal thoroughly deserved such a demolition job. Enjoy:

What has happened to Gore Vidal, the witty, tough-minded subversive of American letters, the 20th century’s only possible answer to Oscar Wilde? After 9/11, the author laments, Vidal’s writings took a graceless lurch toward the crackpot, surpassing even the wilder-eyed efforts of Michael Moore and Oliver Stone, and providing a miserable coda to his brilliant run.

More than a decade ago, I sat on a panel in New York to review the life and work of Oscar Wilde. My fellow panelist was that heroic old queen Quentin Crisp, perhaps the only man ever to have made a success of the part of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Inevitably there arose the question: Is there an Oscar Wilde for our own day? The moderator proposed Gore Vidal, and, really, once that name had been mentioned, there didn’t seem to be any obvious rival.

Like Wilde, Gore Vidal combined tough-mindedness with subversive wit (The Importance of Being Earnest is actually a very mordant satire on Victorian England) and had the rare gift of being amusing about serious things as well as serious about amusing ones. Like Wilde, he was able to combine radical political opinions with a lifestyle that was anything but solemn. And also like Wilde, he was almost never “off”: his private talk was as entertaining and shocking as his more prepared public appearances. Admirers of both men, and of their polymorphous perversity, could happily debate whether either of them was better at fiction or in the essay form.

I was fortunate enough to know Gore a bit in those days. The price of knowing him was exposure to some of his less adorable traits, which included his pachydermatous memory for the least slight or grudge and a very, very minor tendency to bring up the Jewish question in contexts where it didn’t quite belong. One was made aware, too, that he suspected Franklin Roosevelt of playing a dark hand in bringing on Pearl Harbor and still nurtured an admiration in his breast for the dashing Charles Lindbergh, leader of the American isolationist right in the 1930s. But these tics and eccentricities, which I did criticize in print, seemed more or less under control, and meanwhile he kept on saying things one wished one had said oneself. Of a certain mushy spiritual writer named Idries Shah: “These books are a great deal harder to read than they were to write.” Of a paragraph by Herman Wouk: “This is not at all bad, except as prose.” He once said to me of the late Teddy Kennedy, who was then in his low period of red-faced, engorged, and abandoned boyo-hood, that he exhibited “all the charm of three hundred pounds of condemned veal.” Who but Gore could begin a discussion by saying that the three most dispiriting words in the English language were “Joyce Carol Oates”? In an interview, he told me that his life’s work was “making sentences.” It would have been more acute to say that he made a career out of pronouncing them.

However, if it’s true even to any degree that we were all changed by September 11, 2001, it’s probably truer of Vidal that it made him more the way he already was, and accentuated a crackpot strain that gradually asserted itself as dominant. If you look at his writings from that time, thrown together in a couple of cheap paperbacks entitled Dreaming War and Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, you will find the more crass notions of Michael Moore or Oliver Stone being expressed in language that falls some distance short of the Wildean ideal. “Meanwhile, Media was assigned its familiar task of inciting public opinion against Osama bin Laden, still not the proven mastermind.” To that “sentence,” abysmal as it is in so many ways, Vidal put his name in November 2002. A small anthology of half-argued and half-written shock pieces either insinuated or asserted that the administration had known in advance of the attacks on New York and Washington and was seeking a pretext to build a long-desired pipeline across Afghanistan. (Not much sign of that, incidentally, not that the luckless Afghans mightn’t welcome it.) For academic authority in this Grassy Knoll enterprise, Vidal relied heavily on the man he thought had produced “the best, most balanced report” on 9/11, a certain Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, whose book The War on Freedom had been brought to us by what Vidal called “a small but reputable homeland publisher.” Mr. Ahmed on inspection proved to be a risible individual wedded to half-baked conspiracy-mongering, his “Institute” a one-room sideshow in the English seaside town of Brighton, and his publisher an outfit called “Media Monitors Network” in association with “Tree of Life,” whose now-deceased Web site used to offer advice on the ever awkward question of self-publishing. And to think that there was once a time when Gore Vidal could summon Lincoln to the pages of a novel or dispute points of strategy with Henry Cabot Lodge …

It became more and more difficult to speak to Vidal after this (and less fun too), but then I noticed something about his last volume of memoirs, Point to Point Navigation, which brought his life story up to 2006. Though it contained a good ration of abuse directed at Bush and Cheney, it didn’t make even a gesture to the wild-eyed and croaking stuff that Mr. Ahmed had been purveying. This meant one of two things: either Vidal didn’t believe it any longer or he wasn’t prepared to put such sorry, silly, sinister stuff in a volume published by Doubleday, read by his literary and intellectual peers, and dedicated to the late Barbara Epstein. The second interpretation, while slightly contemptible, would be better than nothing and certainly a good deal better than the first.

But I have now just finished reading a long interview conducted by Johann Hari of the London Independent (Hari being a fairly consecrated admirer of his) in which Vidal decides to go slumming again and to indulge the lowest in himself and in his followers. He openly says that the Bush administration was “probably” in on the 9/11 attacks, a criminal complicity that would “certainly fit them to a T”; that Timothy McVeigh was “a noble boy,” no more murderous than Generals Patton and Eisenhower; and that “Roosevelt saw to it that we got that war” by inciting the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. Coming a bit more up-to-date, Vidal says that the whole American experiment can now be described as “a failure”; the country will soon take its place “somewhere between Brazil and Argentina, where it belongs”; President Obama will be buried in the wreckage—broken by “the madhouse”—after the United States has been humiliated in Afghanistan and the Chinese emerge supreme. We shall then be “the Yellow Man’s burden,” and Beijing will “have us running the coolie cars, or whatever it is they have in the way of transport.” Asian subjects never seem to bring out the finest in Vidal: he used to say it was Japan that was dominating the world economy, and that in the face of that other peril “there is now only one way out. The time has come for the United States to make common cause with the Soviet Union.” That was in 1986—not perhaps the ideal year to have proposed an embrace of Moscow, and certainly not as good a year as 1942, when Franklin Roosevelt did join forces with the U.S.S.R., against Japan and Nazi Germany, in a war that Vidal never ceases to say was (a) America’s fault and (b) not worth fighting.

Rounding off his interview, an obviously shocked Mr. Hari tried for a change of pace and asked Vidal if he felt like saying anything about his recently deceased rivals, John Updike, William F. Buckley Jr., and Norman Mailer. He didn’t manage to complete his question before being interrupted. “Updike was nothing. Buckley was nothing with a flair for publicity. Mailer was a flawed publicist, too, but at least there were signs every now and then of a working brain.” One sadly notices, as with the foregoing barking and effusions, the utter want of any grace or generosity, as well as the entire absence of any wit or profundity. Sarcastic, tired flippancy has stolen the place of the first, and lugubrious resentment has deposed the second. Oh, just in closing, then, since Vidal was in London, did he have a word to say about England? “This isn’t a country, it’s an American aircraft carrier.” Good grief.

For some years now, the old boy’s stock-in-trade has been that of the last Roman: the stoic eminence who with unclouded eyes foresees the coming end of the noble republic. Such an act doesn’t require a toga, but it does demand a bit of dignity. Vidal’s phrasings sometimes used to have a certain rotundity and extravagance, but now he has descended straight to the cheap, and even to the counterfeit. What business does this patrician have in the gutter markets, where paranoids jabber and the coinage is debased by every sort of vulgarity?

If Vidal ever reads this, I suppose I know what he will say. Asked about our differences a short while ago at a public meeting in New York, he replied, “You know, he identified himself for many years as the heir to me. And unfortunately for him, I didn’t die. I just kept going on and on and on.” (One report of the event said that this not-so-rapier-like reply had the audience in “stitches”: Vidal in his decline has fans like David Letterman’s, who laugh in all the wrong places lest they suspect themselves of not having a good time.) But his first sentence precisely inverts the truth. Many years ago he wrote to me unprompted—I have the correspondence—and freely offered to nominate me as his living successor, dauphin, or, as the Italians put it, delfino. He very kindly inscribed a number of his own books to me in this way, and I asked him for permission to use his original letter on the jacket of one of mine. I stopped making use of the endorsement after 9/11, as he well knows. I have no wish to commit literary patricide, or to assassinate Vidal’s character—a character which appears, in any case, to have committed suicide.

I don’t in the least mind his clumsy and nasty attempt to re-write his history with me, but I find I do object to the crank-revisionist and denialist history he is now peddling about everything else, as well as to the awful, spiteful, miserable way—“going on and on and on,” indeed—in which he has finished up by doing it. Oscar Wilde was never mean-spirited, and never became an Ancient Mariner, either.

[NB: for a more charitable view, here’s the New York Times obit – JD]


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