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The Daily Briefing 25/10/05
1 The children of Iraq
TDB has always felt that one of George Bush's justifications for remaining in Iraq - better that we fight them there than on the streets of our cities - was profoundly racist, particularly given that Iraq had no connection with Islamist terror groups prior to the invasion. The undeniable implication is that "their" cities, streets and lives are worth less than "ours", and are, therefore, a fit place to fight a war. And besides, we can so we do. And as Western commentators and talking heads (who tuck safely into their beds at night) discuss tactics, strategies and implications, so little by comparison is heard from and about daily life for Iraqis. In this article, Noam Levy looks primarily at the impact living in the most dangerous place on earth has on children and family life. "Across the capital, parents, teachers and others now speak of protecting children not just from bombs, but from the war games youngsters play on the streets and the prejudices stoked by the mounting sectarian violence. Adults wish they could heal the psychological scars of growing up in a place where every passing car could be lethal."
2 The cost of gold, computers and the brain drain
The link below is to a lengthy investigative piece on the environmental cost of gold mining. The NYTimes says the investigation was conducted over several months and included tours of gold mines in the American West, Latin America, Africa and Europe. "The price of gold is higher than it has been in 17 years - pushing $500 an ounce. But much of the gold left to be mined is microscopic and is being wrung from the earth at enormous environmental cost, often in some of the poorest corners of the world."
The Times also reports that the West is also causing "enormous environmental problems in some of the world's poorest places" by dumping its computers, sometimes in the name of aid. "According to the National Safety Council, more than 63 million computers in the United States will become obsolete in 2005. An average computer monitor can contain as much as eight pounds of lead, along with plastics laden with flame retardants and cadmium, all of which can be harmful to the environment and to humans."
At the same time, the West is plundering the poorest countries for their best and brightest, according to a World Bank report. "Poor countries across Africa, Central America and the Caribbean are losing sometimes staggering numbers of their college-educated workers to wealthy, industrialized democracies"
3 Democratic revolution in Sth America
TDB has been remiss in neglecting developments in Latin America in the past couple of months, and will look to remedy that. Here's a start, although it does pay to be wary of articles that have more passionate enthusiasm than sober analysis. Rebecca Solnit says "Latin America is on fire with revolutions that suggest how the world might change, for a change, for the better". "This is what is truly exciting about South America: the sense of populist movements and indigenous insurgencies feeling their way through the dark to the idea of what a just society might look like. Or perhaps what is most significant in this incendiary era, this continent on fire, is the passion and the power of the people who fight these battles for water, for justice, for a voice in their society."
4 The lonley Bush
In yesterday's debunking of a week-end editorial in The Australian, TDB noted that in pressing ahead with the invasion of Iraq, George Bush had broken with Washington's foreign policy establishment. The extent of the break, and the divisions it stirred up are becoming more apparent. On Friday, TDB linked to a speech given by former top aide to Colin Powell, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson who said that US foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal surrounding vice-president Dick Cheney. The NYTimes came late to the story (a day after The Washington Post), but days later it is still number three on the paper's "most emailed" stories list.
And something of a buzz is building up about a story in this week's New Yorker that is not yet available on line. TDB first saw this reference at the blog TPMCafe by Steve Clemons. The Australian has also cut and pasted an excerpt from it this morning.
While the full article isn't available, New Yorker is running an interview with the journalist who wrote it, Jeffrey Goldberg, who spoke at length with Brent Scowcroft, the national-security adviser under President George H. W. Bush. It appears Bush jnr broke not just with "realist" foreign policy experts, but with his father's advisers (and perhaps his father?) and with section of his own Republican party. Coming on top of all the other issues that have drawn criticism from a range of conservatives - big spending, big Government, Terri Schiavo, the Harriet Miers nomination - there is now the real potential for Bush to be even more politically isolated. Of course, he will still be able to count on the support of The Australian.
THE NEW YORKER
5Debating conservatism and Bush
Meanwhile, the conservative reassessment of George Bush goes on, and there are signs that some on the right fear it may have gone too far. NYTimes columnist David Brooks is one of the best and most influential conservative writers, and his reading of the situation, link below, would have come as a shock to many on his side of politics. He argues that Bush has not been the enemy of conservatism, but that he is the face of the new conservatism, a modern compassionate conservatism. It will be interesting to see how Brooks' ideas play out, and it is to be hoped that this is an honest reading of the situation and not mere Bush-boosting. (Because Brooks' columns are now pay-to-view, substantial excerpts only appear below. It can be read in full here.)
And Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online thinks that some conservatives are asking "Is he one of us?" in part through disappointment, and in part because they did not truly understand what sort of conservative Bush was. "I do think many conservatives are using their legitimate anger about Miers and Bush's overspending as an excuse to jump ship from a lame duck presidency at its low point. If Iraq were a huge success right now and if Bush had picked a conservative stalwart for the bench, how many conservatives would be suggesting Bush isn't one of us?"
Meanwhile the conservative Wall Street Journal is offering some advice as to how Bush can get his mojo back.
6 Britain's newspaper war
Everything you have ever wanted to know about Britain's newspapers, with a little about the US and the impact of the internet thrown in for good measure. TDB has covered much of what's in the Vanity Fair article below in bite sized bits, as events have unfolded. But this is a worthwhile pull together of the situation.
And the NYTimes reports that The Village Voice is to be sold. "The company that publishes The Village Voice and five other alternative newspapers is to announce today an agreement to be acquired by New Times Media, the largest publisher in the market. The deal would create a chain of 17 free weekly newspapers around the country with a combined circulation of 1.8 million."
MICHAEL WOLFF/VANITY FAIR
7 Remembering Susan Lydon
What an extraordinary man this David Horowitz is. From '60s radical to radical conservative and pro-Israel Islamophobe who sees a vast left-wing conspiracy dominating the US (it's so obvious really when you see that country's policies in action.)
And then he produces this wonderful obituary to Susan Lydon, best known for her late '60s essay, "The Politics of The Orgasm", for Rampart magazine. Despite the extraordinary twists and turns Lydon's life took (into places that would presumably make Horowitz uncomfortable), he writes with great humanity and acceptance. Horowitz is concerned that Lydon be remembered as the person she was, and not for one essay from one moment it time. At the same time, he takes us on a journey through the cultural upheaval that began in the 60's and lingers to this day. A great read.
DAVID HOROWITZ/FRONT PAGE MAGAZINE
8 The world's new bank manager
The world has a new central banker, which is in effect what the US Federal Reserve chair is (link below). "President Bush today nominated his chief economic adviser, Ben S. Bernanke, to replace Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve when Greenspan's term expires Jan. 31" The Post has this profile and reports that the markets appear happy. (Couldn't help noticing that phrase "nominated his chief economic adviser". Seems you have to be part of team Bush to get ahead in Washington.)
THE WASHINGTON POST
9 Songs of hate, and love, and Jesus
A selection of some of the things TDB has noticed along the way. ABC (US) reports (link below) on 13-year-old twins Lamb and Lynx Gaede who sing songs about white nationalism, and Rudolf Hess ("man of peace who wouldn't give up").
Dame Deirdre Hutton, the new chair of the Food Standards Agency thinks a generation has been lost to junk food. (The Times) "The fight against junk food and dealing with the growing obesity crisis is likely to take 30 years."
The same paper warns that over-indulgent parents are a danger to children.
And in what is the best read of this lot, 93-year-old Gertrude Harris is fighting to restore her father's reputation. Despite a good record during years of trench warfare in WWI, he was shot for refusing to "go over the top" one more time.
The Times also reports that Latin is all but dead, even in the Catholic Church that had kept it alive for centuries.
And in "the most startling public turnaround since Bob Dylan's "Slow Train Coming" announced that he'd been born again", Anne Rice has found Jesus. The next book from the author of "Interview With the Vampire" will be "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt".
10 Ten ways not to run a country
Jeff Hewitt has been hearing a lot about the 10 Commandments lately, so he decided to look them up to see what all the fuss was about. "The next one is "Thou shalt not kill." I'm sorry, but that just sounds like bleeding-heart bullcrud. We have a death penalty in this country, and it works. And how will you fight a war if you don't kill some people? I suppose the writer of these laws is one of these dreamers who thinks the world would be better if people picked posies and held hands all day. Enjoy your flower music, Sunshine, and call me back when you grow up and start paying your own bills."
11 Economics, journalism, corruption, and bad manners.
TUESDAY BOOKS: a selection by donn wood.
"Honestly, there were a lot of parts to this book that disturbed me because they rang so true and made me feel a bit like a fool." Colleen Mondor in Bookslut reviews 'PopCo' by Scarlett Thomas, and reports, ... "I only put this book down to eat and sleep. It captivated me, pure and simple." The review maintains that 'PopCo' is "... a history lesson, a modern fable, an adventure story, even a romance. And it involves buried treasure! More than anything though, it is a wonderfully, gorgeously, original piece of work. The world has never seen anyone like Alice Butler (Popco's heroine), and Scarlett Thomas has gone a long way towards crafting a one-of-a-kind piece of literature. I'm eager to see what else Thomas has in store for the world."
"Reading Mary Gaitskill is like having a flock of birds fly straight at your face: You register the beauty, but you still want to cover your eyes." This is the way Regina Marler begins her review in The New York Observer of 'Veronica' by Mary Gaitskill, an author who is "... notorious for offering up an uncomfortable combination of extravagant metaphor, dirty s*x and complicated relationships, but that's not actually her most distinctive quality. More striking is her radical honesty, an insistence on shading that makes it difficult to like any of her characters."
In The Guardian, Anthony Holden reviews "The Tyrannicide Brief" by Geoffrey Robertson, the story of John Cooke, the lawyer who successfully prosecuted Charles I, who was, as Sovereign, supposedly above the law. And what was Cooke's reward? ... "Eleven years later, come the Restoration, he was hanged, drawn and quartered for his pains." Now that seems too severe, even for a lawyer. Holden thinks that ... "Robertson has come up with that desperately rare thing: a subject worthy of biography who has never before been addressed and, to his huge advantage, in his field. The result is a work of literary advocacy as elegant, impassioned and original as any the author can ever have laid before a court."
'The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton' by Kathryn Hughes is reviewed by Lucy Lethbridge in Literary Review. "Hughes depicts the worlds of the Beetons with astonishing vividness and colour. And there were so many worlds, all colliding and jostling one another with characteristic nineteenth-century mercantile energy." Dickens and Darwin both make appearances in "... an accomplished and hugely readable book. Much more than a biography, it is like a version in prose of a magnificent Victorian narrative painting, packed full of the strange, swarming richness of life as well as the codes, rules and orders that attempted to contain it." And just to spoil you for choice, here's another opinion on the book from D J Taylor in The Independent.
After telling you last week how rare readable academic reviews are, I offer you another one. In Foreign Affairs, 'The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth' by Benjamin M. Friedman is reviewed by Joseph E. Stiglitz. As Mr. Stiglitz is University Professor of Economics at Columbia University, has served as Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers and Chief Economist of the World Bank, one presumes he might know something about the subject. "Unlike so many growth proponents, Friedman realizes that what matters is not simply growth; it is the policies that give rise to it. His work thus provides an important critique of those studies ... that correlate growth and poverty reduction or growth and integration into the global economy." While applauding the book overall, Stiglitz finds a few flaws in the arguments set out there, but states them clearly (and without malice), and the reviews ends with ... "Friedman's book is thus an important antidote to the populist antigrowth movement and also to those who say that the free market is all we need. It joins a growing chorus calling for a change in the direction of U.S. economic policy -- toward achieving growth that is stronger and more sustainable. Whether or not you agree with Friedman's particular policy prescriptions, this much is clear: this kind of reasoned analysis is precisely what is necessary to put the United States back on the right track." This is good stuff, interesting, enlightening, and well written.
"The first rule when concocting a conspiracy theory is not to make any claims that can be proved not to be true." This one's a bit offbeat. It's sort of a review, sort of a review of other reviews, and sort of an op-ed piece as well. Thomas Jones, in The London Review of Books, talks about conspiracy theories in relation to the works of Egyptian-born, Swiss-domiciled, English writer Bat Ye'or, since 1971 the author of many books on the Middle East, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, including 'Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilisations Collide', and her latest, 'Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis'. If you have no idea what 'dhimmi' or 'dhimmitude' is (I didn't), here's a link to the Wikipedia entry. (If you Google it you'll just get links to rather partisan sites such as Jihadwatch.) This piece is not very admiring of Ye'or's work, and even less so of some of her other reviewers for not challenging her ideas, finishing with ... "The second rule to bear in mind when putting together a conspiracy theory is that in order to hold water it needs to be circular, or rather spiral, so that any criticism can be sucked in and turned into evidence in its favour."
If you like your left-wing bias served up with wit and style, this will take you to ABC Radio National's 'Big Ideas' homepage, where you can find the links to the transcript or streaming audio of Lewis Lapham's address to The Sydney Writer's festival, which was broadcast on Sunday 16th. (I did say that last week was too full to fit everything in.) Lapham is an author, essayist, satirist; oh, and did I mention that except for 1982, he's been the editor of Harper's since 1976?
"MAO -The Unknown Story" by Jung Chang And Jon Halliday is reviewed in NYTimes Books Nicholas B. Kristof. Chang is also the author of the best-selling 'Wild Swans', and Kristof says that "... I expected (this book) to be similarly fat but slight. ... Yet this is a magisterial work." He does have a few quibbles though, including that ... "Mao comes across as such a villain that he never really becomes three-dimensional. As readers, we recoil from him but don't really understand him. He is presented as such a bumbling psychopath that it's hard to comprehend how he bested all his rivals to lead China and emerge as one of the most worshipped figures of the last century." Kristof, who with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for their coverage of China's Tiananmen Square democracy movement, concludes that ... "Mao's ruthlessness was a catastrophe at the time, brilliantly captured in this extraordinary book - and yet there's more to the story: Mao also helped lay the groundwork for the rebirth and rise of China after five centuries of slumber."
"It's a simple fact that children love a good scare -- without any real threat -- and a gross out as much as they do a ride on the ghost train or the roller coaster at the amusement park." Sue Bursztynski begins her review in January Magazine of "Sassycat" by Richard Harland. In appraising yet another example of the fine writing out there for kids, Bursztynski says of "Sassycat", ... "It's nice to read a children's horror tale which doesn't read as if it was written over a weekend, and which has a rich vein of humor running through it. This is fairly typical of Richard Harland, whose adult and young adult novels do generally have humor, no matter how scary -- or gross -- they are. Harland's feline heroine, despite learning and developing, is, after all, still a cat, something the author never forgets. Whatever heroics she performs to save her human, she is still going to be demanding breakfast and having a snooze the next day before chasing mice."
Q. What do you call a book featuring dispatches from My Lai, East Timor, Rwanda, Hiroshima and Dachau, written by, among many others, Robert Fisk, Ed Murrow and Jessica Mitford?
A. 'Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs' edited by John Pilger.
Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian thinks that ... "As a whole, this is the best collection of journalism you're going to read in a long, long time. It should also stand as an eloquent rebuke to those in the business who too easily swallow party lines or PR handouts. As Pilger says in his introduction to Milne's piece, it "almost rescues the honour of our craft"." (Take note, guys and girls at that national newspaper whose name just escapes me for the moment.) (link below)
In another crowded week, I chose this review by David J. Garrow in The Washington Post of 'Tulia - Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town' by Nate Blakeslee, because it's the story of how, for once, the good guys won. (Or at least the bad guys lost.) This book is partly about ... "Tom Coleman, an undercover white narcotics officer who claimed to have made more than 100 purchases of powdered cocaine during an 18-month period in 1998-99 from about 40 different residents of Tulia, a small and relatively poor town in the north Texas panhandle", and partly about the ultimately successful fight to free the mostly black defendants. Still, as Garrow says ... "Blakeslee's excellent and eminently readable book is a wonderful story of justice triumphant, but his vivid portrait of law enforcement gone wrong suggests that there are more Tulias than there are lawyers dedicated enough to expose them." Sure, but we can dream, can't we?
Finally, in Sunday Times Books, John Carey reviews 'Talk To The Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness Of Everyday Life (Or Six Good Reasons To Stay At Home And Bolt The Door)' by Lynne Truss (whose previous book, 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' was about punctuation, and was also a global multi-million seller). In the footsteps of 'Grumpy Old Men' and 'Grumpy Old Women' strides this polemic against modern bad manners. "She is aware, of course, of the tetchy figure she cuts, and acts up to it. Self-mockery keeps snatching the book back from the brink of diatribe." Carey finishes with ... "The basic claim of her book, that we are ruder than ever before, seems questionable. It is a fair bet that most rudeness throughout history has flowed from the upper classes to the lower, and has not even counted as rudeness - just the proper way to address inferiors. Admittedly, that does not make modern rudeness any easier to bear. She quotes Pascal, who said that all human misery comes from a single thing, which is not knowing enough to stay quietly in your room. Those who decide to heed his advice and seek seclusion could do worse than take this funny and buoyant but question-begging book with them."