Category Archives: Books

Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale sales boosted by fear of Trump

Reuters reports:

Margaret Atwood has said worries about women’s issues after the US election have made her book The Handmaid’s Tale the latest dystopian novel to shoot back up bestseller lists.

The book, about a theocratic dictatorship in the US where women are forced to bear children for the ruling class, topped Amazon’s bestseller list earlier this week, and still ranks in the top 10.

In an interview during Cuba’s international book fair, Atwood said sales of The Handmaid’s Tale were also boosted by a trailer during the Super Bowl for its new televised adaptation by video streaming site Hulu.

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The man who declared the ‘end of history’ fears for democracy’s future

Ishaan Tharoor reports for The Washington Post:

Francis Fukuyama, an acclaimed American political philosopher, entered the global imagination at the end of the Cold War when he prophesied the “end of history” — a belief that, after the fall of communism, free-market liberal democracy had won out and would become the world’s “final form of human government.” Now, at a moment when liberal democracy seems to be in crisis across the West, Fukuyama, too, wonders about its future.

“Twenty five years ago, I didn’t have a sense or a theory about how democracies can go backward,” said Fukuyama in a phone interview. “And I think they clearly can.”

Fukuyama’s initial argument (which I’ve greatly over-simplified) framed the international zeitgeist for the past two decades. Globalization was the vehicle by which liberalism would spread across the globe. The rule of law and institutions would supplant power politics and tribal divisions. Supranational bodies like the European Union seemed to embody those ideals.

But if the havoc of the Great Recession and the growing clout of authoritarian states like China and Russia hadn’t already upset the story, Brexit and the election of President Trump last year certainly did.

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Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth and Morality

Open Culture writes:

At least when I was in grade school, we learned the very basics of how the Third Reich came to power in the early 1930s. Paramilitary gangs terrorizing the opposition, the incompetence and opportunism of German conservatives, the Reichstag Fire. And we learned about the critical importance of propaganda, the deliberate misinforming of the public in order to sway opinions en masse and achieve popular support (or at least the appearance of it). While Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels purged Jewish and leftist artists and writers, he built a massive media infrastructure that played, writes PBS, “probably the most important role in creating an atmosphere in Germany that made it possible for the Nazis to commit terrible atrocities against Jews, homosexuals, and other minorities.”

How did the minority party of Hitler and Goebbels take over and break the will of the German people so thoroughly that they would allow and participate in mass murder? Post-war scholars of totalitarianism like Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt asked that question over and over, for several decades afterward. Their earliest studies on the subject looked at two sides of the equation. Adorno contributed to a massive volume of social psychology called The Authoritarian Personality, which studied individuals predisposed to the appeals of totalitarianism. He invented what he called the F-Scale (“F” for “fascism”), one of several measures he used to theorize the Authoritarian Personality Type.

Arendt, on the other hand, looked closely at the regimes of Hitler and Stalin and their functionaries, at the ideology of scientific racism, and at the mechanism of propaganda in fostering “a curiously varying mixture of gullibility and cynicism with which each member… is expected to react to the changing lying statements of the leaders.” So she wrote in her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism, going on to elaborate that this “mixture of gullibility and cynicism… is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements”

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Literary Agents: Rethinking the Legacy of Writers Who Worked With the CIA

Patrick Iber writes for New Republic:

Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet who defected to the West in 1951, was struck by the ostentatiousness of American cultural programs: “You could smell big money from a mile away.” The era’s finest little magazines, titles like Partisan Review and The Paris Review, published enduring fiction, poetry, and essays. The writings of Clement Greenberg and Lionel Trilling set the high-water mark for art and literary criticism. Richard Wright wrote the mournful poem that would provide the title for Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 best-seller, Between the World and Me. The artists who waged the radical political battles of the 1930s emerged in the 1950s as cultural institutions, achieving a prominence—even a celebrity—that has eluded subsequent generations.

Plenty of observers, however, suspected that the free market of ideas had been corrupted. World tours, fancy conferences, prestigious bylines and book contracts were bestowed on artists who hewed to political positions favored by the establishment, rather than on the most talented. In 1966, The New York Times confirmed suspicions that the CIA was pumping money into “civil society” organizations: unions, international organizations of students and women, groups of artists and intellectuals. The agency had produced the popular cartoon version of George Orwell’s anticommunist classic Animal Farmin 1954. It flew the Boston Symphony Orchestra on a European tour in 1952, to counter prejudices of the United States as uncultured and unsophisticated. It promoted the work of abstract expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock because their artistic style would have been considered degenerate in both Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The propriety of such largesse, both for the CIA and its beneficiaries, has been hotly debated ever since. Jason Epstein, the celebrated book editor, was quick to point out that CIA involvement undermined the very conditions for free thought, in which “doubts about established orthodoxies” were supposed to be “taken to be the beginning of all inquiry.” But Gloria Steinem, who worked with the CIA in the 1950s and ’60s, “was happy to find some liberals in government in those days,” arguing that the agency was “nonviolent and honorable.” Milosz, too, agreed that the “liberal conspiracy,” as he called it, “was necessary and justified.” It was, he allowed, “the sole counterweight to the propaganda on which the Soviets expended astronomical sums.”

Today’s intellectuals approach their labors in a very different set of circumstances. The struggle for academic patronage and the strained conditions of nearly all media properties have led to fewer jobs and fewer venues for substantial writing; the possibility of leading a public-facing life of the mind now seems vanishingly small, which only heightens nostalgia for the golden age of the 1950s. Yet the shadow of the CIA lurks behind the achievements of that time. The free play of ideas—the very thing that was supposed to distinguish the United States from the Soviet Union in the first place—turned out to be, at least in part, a carefully constructed illusion. What if the prominence of midcentury intellectuals, the sense that they were engaged in important political and artistic projects, is inseparable from the fact that they were useful to America’s Cold War empire?

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Capitalism Is Collapsing, and There Is Nothing Rising to Replace It

Crawford Kilianwrites for The Tyee/AlterNet:

Some anonymous wise person once observed that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. But Wolfgang Streeck, a 70-year-old German sociologist and director emeritus of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, thinks capitalism’s end is inevitable and fast approaching. He has no idea what, if anything, will replace it.

This is the premise of his latest book, How Will Capitalism End?, which goes well beyond Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Piketty thinks capitalism is getting back into the saddle after being ruined in two world wars. Streeck thinks capitalism is its own worst enemy and has effectively cut itself off from all hope of rescue by destroying all its potential rescuers.

“The end of capitalism,” he writes in the introduction, “can then be imagined as a death from a thousand cuts… No effective opposition being left, and no practicable successor model waiting in the wings of history, capitalism’s accumulation of defects, alongside its accumulation of capital, may be seen… as an entirely endogenous dynamic of self-destruction.”

According to Streeck, salvation doesn’t lie in going back to Marx, or social democracy, or any other system, because there is no salvation at all. “What comes after capitalism in its final crisis, now under way, is, I suggest, not socialism or some other defined social order, but a lasting interregnum — no new world system equilibrium… but a prolonged period of social entropy or disorder.”

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We Live in a World Where White Supremacists Get Lucrative Book Deals

Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani writes for Think Progress:

Breitbart technology editor Milo Yiannopoulos signed a $250,000 book deal with Threshold Editions, an imprint of publishing house Simon & Schuster, the Hollywood Reporter announced on Thursday. People are not pleased.

The book deal gives Yiannopoulos a new platform to amplify his hateful rhetoric and contribute to misogyny and white supremacy. Yiannopoulos rose to prominence as an editor at Breitbart, which former Editor-at-Large Ben Shapiro called “the alt-right go-to website… pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”

Yiannopoulos first rose to fame in 2014 due to his prominent role in GamerGate, an incident targeting women in the tech industry with harassment and rape and death threats — causing some to literally flee their homes. At the time, Yiannopoulos called on people to fight (or harass) what he described as “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers…terrorizing the entire community.”

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Project Censored: Top 25 Stories of the Year

Project Censored wrote in October:

Censored 2017 coverHow do we at Project Censored identify and evaluate independent news stories, and how do we know that the Top 25 stories that we bring forward each year are not only relevant and significant, but also trustworthy? The answer is that each candidate news story undergoes rigorous review, which takes place in multiple stages during each annual cycle. Although adapted to take advantage of both the Project’s expanding affiliates program and current technologies, the vetting process is quite similar to the one Project Censored founder Carl Jensen established forty years ago.

Candidate stories are initially identified by Project Censored professors and students, or are nominated by members of the general public, who bring them to the Project’s attention through our website. (Follow this link for information on how to nominate a story.) Together, faculty and students vet each candidate story in terms of its importance, timeliness, quality of sources, and corporate news coverage. If it fails on any one of these criteria, the story is not included.

Once Project Censored receives the candidate story, we undertake a second round of judgment, using the same criteria and updating the review to include any subsequent, competing corporate coverage. Stories that pass this round of review get posted on our website as Validated Independent News stories (VINs).

In early spring, we present all VINs in the current cycle to the faculty and students at all of our affiliate campuses, and to our national and international panel of judges, who cast votes to winnow the candidate stories from several hundred to twenty-five.

Once the Top 25 list has been determined, Project Censored student interns begin another intensive review of each story using LexisNexis and ProQuest databases. Additional faculty and students contribute to this final stage of review.

The Top 25 finalists are then sent to our panel of judges, who vote to rank them in numerical order. At the same time, these experts—including media studies professors, professional journalists, and a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, among others—offer their insights on the stories’ strengths and weaknesses.

Thus, by the time a story appears in the pages of Censored, it has undergone at least five distinct rounds of review and evaluation.

Although the stories that Project Censored brings forward may be socially and politically controversial—and sometimes even psychologically challenging—we are confident that each is the result of serious journalistic effort, and therefore deserves greater public attention.

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Hannah Arendt on Loneliness as the Common Ground for Terror and How Tyrannical Regimes Use Isolation as a Weapon of Oppression

Maria Popova writes for Brain Pickings:

Hannah Arendt on Loneliness as the Common Ground for Terror and How Tyrannical Regimes Use Isolation as a Weapon of Oppression“Loneliness is personal, and it is also political,” Olivia Laing wrote in The Lonely City, one of the finest books of the year. Half a century earlier, Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906–December 4, 1975) examined those peculiar parallel dimensions of loneliness as a profoundly personal anguish and an indispensable currency of our political life in her intellectual debut, the incisive and astonishingly timely 1951 classic The Origins of Totalitarianism (public library).

Arendt paints loneliness as “the common ground for terror” and explores its function as both the chief weapon and the chief damage of oppressive political regimes. Exactly twenty years before her piercing treatise on lying in politics, she writes:

Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical form ruins all relationships between men, so the self-compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men* as well as the reality around them; for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity of both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

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Who Owns Russia? Interview with Karen Dawisha

John Batchelor speaks to Karen Dawisha, author of Putin’s Kleptocracy, about the rise of Vladimir Putin and those he has surrounded himself with. (John Batchelor Show)

‘The Image’ in the Age of Pseudo-Reality

Megan Garber writes for The Atlantic:

[…] P. T. Barnum was one of the original creators and commercializers of the pseudo-event, the vaguely real-but-also-not-real thing that, the historian Daniel Boorstin argues, has been the fundamental fact of American culture since the days of Barnum himself. Or, at least, in the years between those days and the days of the mid-20th century. Boorstin’s book on the matter, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, was first published in 1962; it was, in its time, a blistering indictment of newspapers and television and Hollywood and the habit they all had of turning mortals into gods. (The indictment was so blistering that, when the book’s publication date found Boorstin abroad for a longstanding lecture engagement, a reviewer suggested that perhaps the author had simply decided to flee the country that he had so recklessly libeled.)

Boorstin, in The Image, coined not just the term “pseudo-event,” but also the epithetic descriptions “famous for being famous” and “well-known for well-knownness”; he was, it would turn out, an extremely reluctant herald of postmodernism. While The Image may have arrived on the scene, chronologically, before the comings of Twitter and Kimye and an understanding of “reality” as a genre as much as a truth, the book also managed to predict them—so neatly that it reads, in 2016, not just as prescience, but as prophesy.

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America’s Misadventures in the Greater Middle East

Stephen Kinzer reviews two recent books on America’s role in the Middle East for The Future Freedom Foundation:

New Bitmap ImageFew forces in American public life are as powerful as the one that pulls people in Washington into the foreign policy mainstream. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, the press, think tanks — all seem ready and indeed eager to be sucked into the deadening consensus that prevents the United States from adapting its foreign policies to a changing world. They treat original thinking as the germ of a frightful plague. Those who offer new ideas are stigmatized as — in John McCain’s wonderful phrase — “wacko birds.”

To make one’s way in the American foreign-policy world, it is essential to work from what Barack Obama has called the “playbook.” Accepting hoary assumptions is required. Among them are: the world is locked in an eternal struggle between good and evil; the United States leads the forces of good; people around the world are half-formed Americans eager for U.S. guidance; and this guidance often requires the use or threat of military force, since evil cannot be confronted any other way. Challenging those assumptions is a career-killer.

A few brave souls dare to dissent. As we sink into what seems like endless war, especially in the Islamic world, a small group of experienced national-security experts has emerged to urge a different path. These veterans do not agree that the United States must base its foreign policy on confrontation, threats, sanctions, bombing campaigns, invasions and occupations. Instead they offer a “less is more” alternative that could lead to a more peaceful world and advance American security interests. Given the climate in Washington, there is little prospect that their advice will be heeded. Americans cannot complain, however, that no one has plotted a path that could take them out of the Middle East and away from militarism.

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The Awful Diseases on the Way

Annie Sparrow writes in her review of Pandemic by Sonia Shah for The New York Review of Books:

Pandemics—the uncontrolled spread of highly contagious diseases across countries and continents—are a modern phenomenon. The word itself, a neologism from Greek words for “all” and “people,” has been used only since the mid-nineteenth century. Epidemics—localized outbreaks of diseases—have always been part of human history, but pandemics require a minimum density of population and an effective means of transport. Since “Spanish” flu burst from the trenches of World War I in 1918, infecting 20 percent of the world’s population and killing upward of 50 million people, fears of a similar pandemic have preoccupied public health practitioners, politicians, and philanthropists. World War II, in which the German army deliberately caused malaria epidemics and the Japanese experimented with anthrax and plague as biological weapons, created new fears.

In response, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), founded in 1946 to control malaria domestically, launched its Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1951 to defend against possible biological warfare, an odd emphasis given the uncontrolled polio epidemics raging in the 1940s and 1950s in the United States and Europe. But in the world of public health, the latest threat often takes precedence over the most prevalent.

According to the doctor, writer, and philanthropist Larry Brilliant, “outbreaks are inevitable, pandemics are optional.” Brilliant, a well-known expert on global health, ought to know, since he has had much to do with smallpox eradication. Smallpox, arguably the worst disease in human history, caused half a billion deaths during the twentieth century alone. The strain called Variola major—the most lethal cause—killed one third of all infected and permanently scarred all survivors. In 1975, Rahima Banu, a two-year-old Bangladeshi girl, became the last case of V. major smallpox. Two years later, Ali, a twenty-three-year-old hospital cook in Somalia, became the last case of V. minor. Rahima and Ali survived. Smallpox did not.

Forty years later, smallpox is still the only disease affecting humans ever to have been eradicated. (Rinderpest, a virus affecting cows—literally “cattle plague”—was eradicated in 2011.) There is optimism that polio and guinea worm may soon follow. Meanwhile, dozens of new infectious diseases have emerged, including the pathogens behind the twenty-first-century “pan-epidemics”—a term coined by Dr. Daniel Lucey to describe SARS, avian flu, swine flu, MERS, Ebola, and now Zika.

The fear, fascination, and financial incentives that these new diseases create divert attention and resources from ancient diseases like cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis, which infect and kill far more people. Ebola has caused relatively few deaths, while TBinfects 9.6 million people each year and kills 1.5 million, and malaria infects more than 200 million, killing nearly half a million. (Ali, smallpox’s last survivor, later succumbed to malaria.)

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda in monkeys bitten by forest mosquitoes. In recent years, monkeys have sought food outside the forests, and Zika virus has diversified: its carriers now include Aedes aegypti, a tough mosquito with a preference for human blood and urban environments, and it has spread to the Americas.A. aegypti also carries dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile virus, but it is the evolving pan-epidemic of catastrophic birth defects that makes Zika particularly terrifying. In Brazil there have been 1,271 confirmed cases of microcephaly—babies born with severely stunted brains, blindness, and other congenital defects. Cases identified in Colombia, French Polynesia, Panama, Martinique, and Cabo Verde provide advance notice of the likely scale of the damage being wreaked.

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Barrett Brown: I Do Not Care to Finish Reading This Mediocre Kissinger Biography by Niall Ferguson

Barrett Brown writes for The Intercept:

I’d made it 375 pages into Niall Ferguson’s newish first volume of a planned two-volume life of Henry Kissinger before receiving in the mail a copy of Greg Grandin’s review of the same, in which the author of last year’s excellent Kissinger’s Shadow sums up Ferguson’s tome as follows: “The irony is that it has been Kissinger’s sharpest critics who have most appreciated his acute sense of self, who have treated him, however disapprovingly, as a fully dimensional individual with a churning, complex psyche. In contrast, Ferguson, tone deaf to Kissinger’s darker notes, condemns him to a literary fate worse than anything that Hitchens could have meted out: Kissinger, in this book, is boring.”

This is about as true a thing as has ever been written about any other thing, so much so that I feel both morally and professionally justified in simply abandoning this charmless book unfinished despite having promised to review it at the end of my last column (I would have figured out some other convenient justification for this regardless, but it’s always good to be able to show your work). Nor am I being insulting to Ferguson simply because I disagree with the pro-Kissinger stance he’s taken as the fellow’s authorized biographer and ideological admirer; two years ago I reviewed Kissinger’s own 1,200-page memoir, White House Years, which, though likewise betraying something of a pro-Kissinger stance, was also undeniably compelling and well-written. And while Kissinger is clever enough that one often needs to sort through a great deal of raw material in order to do a proper job of making fun of him, with Ferguson the threshold is somewhat … lower. Here, then, is my review of Ferguson’s 33-page introduction to Kissinger 1923-1968: The Idealist.

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Umberto Eco: The Professor Who Knew Everything

Pepe Escobar writes for Sputnik:

Once upon a time in the Italian Renaissance, serious scholars regarded polymath Pico della Mirandola as “the last man who knows everything”. In our post-modern wasteland, Il Professore (“the professor”) Umberto Eco (1932-2016) was arguably the last neo-Renaissance man to know everything.

Philosopher, semiologist, master of epic erudition, medieval aesthetic specialist, fiction and non-fiction writer, Eco oscillated gleefully between the roles of “Apocalyptic and Integrated” — the title of one of his seminal books (1964). His trademark touch was a delightfully erudite synthesis of tragic optimism — as if he was the supreme erudite dreamer.

Not only he wrote numerous, priceless essays on aesthetics, linguistics and philosophy, and criticized in depth the global mediascape; he was also a best-selling fiction author, from The Name of the Rose (1980) — 14 million copies sold — to Foucault’s Pendulum (1988).

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What Sex Means For World Peace

Valerie M. Hudson wrote for Foreign Policy in 2012:

In the academic field of security studies, realpolitik dominates. Those who adhere to this worldview are committed to accepting empirical evidence when it is placed before their eyes, to see the world as it “really” is and not as it ideally should be. As Walter Lippmann wrote, “We must not substitute for the world as it is an imaginary world.”

Well, here is some robust empirical evidence that we cannot ignore: Using the largest extant database on the status of women in the world today, which I created with three colleagues, we found that there is a strong and highly significant link between state security and women’s security. In fact, the very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated. What’s more, democracies with higher levels of violence against women are as insecure and unstable as nondemocracies.

Our findings, detailed in our new book out this month, Sex and World Peace, echo those of other scholars, who have found that the larger the gender gap between the treatment of men and women in a society, the more likely a country is to be involved in intra- and interstate conflict, to be the first to resort to force in such conflicts, and to resort to higher levels of violence. On issues of national health, economic growth, corruption, and social welfare, the best predictors are also those that reflect the situation of women. What happens to women affects the security, stability, prosperity, bellicosity, corruption, health, regime type, and (yes) the power of the state. The days when one could claim that the situation of women had nothing to do with matters of national or international security are, frankly, over. The empirical results to the contrary are just too numerous and too robust to ignore.

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The First Cold War: The Environmental Lessons of the Little Ice Age

Deborah R. Coen reviews Global Crisis: War, Climate Change, and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century by Geoffrey Parker for Foreign Affairs:

Reflecting on the “misery and misfortune” he had witnessed during the Thirty Years’ War, Caspar Preis, a German farmer, was sure that “no one living in a better age would believe it.” From 1618 to 1648, the population of Germany fell by as much as 40 percent. Roughly four million people were killed in the wars between Catholic and Protestant princes; many others died of starvation or disease; still others fled their homes in search of safety. The misery was worst in the 1640s, when summer frosts and storms wiped out crops and soldiers nearly froze to death. Towns were ruined, currencies depreciated, and people made meals of grass. As Denmark, Sweden, and France were drawn into the conflict, it looked as if all of Europe had fallen into civil war. Indeed, wars and revolutions were spreading chaos well beyond the view of a German peasant, throughout the British Isles and Russia, even in faraway China and the lands of the Ottoman Empire.

Historians have long debated whether these widespread upheavals were simply what passed for normal life in the premodern world or in fact constituted a decisive historical turning point: a “general crisis” that swept away an older order and cleared the ground for the emergence of modern states, economies, and systems of thought. From the start of this debate in the 1930s, scholars kept one eye on the present, using their research to reflect on the geopolitical and economic crises of the twentieth century. Now, the military historian Geoffrey Parker brings this history to bear on the environmental crisis of the twenty-first century.

In Global Crisis: War, Climate Change, and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century, Parker uncovers the environmental factors behind the seventeenth century’s earthshaking events, from the English Civil Wars, to the collapse of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, to the Manchu conquest of China. The immediate cause of state breakdown in each case was often an impulsive decision by a shortsighted prince. But that, in Parker’s terms, was merely the “tipping point.” What brought each state to the brink of catastrophe, he argues, was instead a global environmental phenomenon: the Little Ice Age.

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What Orwell Can Teach Us About the Language of Terror and War

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury (2002-12), writes for The Guardian:

The main point in all this is that creating a language that cannot be checked by or against any recognisable reality is the ultimate mark of power. What Merton characterises as “double-talk, tautology, ambiguous cliche, self-righteous and doctrinaire pomposity and pseudoscientific jargon” is not just an aesthetic problem: it renders dialogue impossible; and rendering dialogue impossible is the desired goal for those who want to exercise absolute power. Merton was deeply struck by the accounts of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and by Hannah Arendt’s discussions of the “banality” of evil. The staggeringly trivial and contentlessremarks of Eichmann at his trial and before his execution ought to frighten us, says Merton, because they are the utterance of the void: the speech of a man accustomed to power without the need to communicate or learn or imagine anything. And that is why Merton insists that knowing how to write is essential to honest political engagement.

In an essay on Camus, whom he, like Orwell, admired greatly, Merton says that the writer’s task “is not suddenly to burst out into the dazzle of utter unadulterated truth but laboriously to reshape an accurate and honest language that will permit communication … instead of multiplying a Babel of esoteric and technical tongues”. Against the language of power, which seeks to establish aperfect self-referentiality, the writer opposes a language of “laborious” honesty. Instead of public speech being the long echo of absolute and unchallengeable definitions supplied by authority – definitions that tell you once and for all how to understand the world’s phenomena – the good writer attempts to speak in a way that is open to the potential challenge of a reality she or he does not own and control. When the military commander speaks of destroying a village to save it, the writer’s job is to speak of the specific lives ended in agony. When the agents of Islamist terror call suicide bombers “martyrs”, the writer’s job is to direct attention to the baby, the Muslim grandmother, the Jewish aid worker, the young architect, the Christian nurse or taxi driver whose death has been triumphantly scooped up into the glory of the killer’s self-inflicted death. When, as it was a few months ago, the talk is of hordes and swarms of aliens invading our shores, the writer’s task is to focus on the corpse of a four-year-old boy on the shore; to the great credit of many in the British media, there were writers (and cartoonists and photographers, too) who rose to that task.

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The Machiavelli of Maryland: Adviser to presidents, prime ministers – and the Dalai Lama

Thomas Meaney reports for The Guardian:

People contact Edward Luttwak with unusual requests. The prime minister of Kazakhstan wants to find a way to remove ethnic Russians from a city on his northern border; a major Asian government wants a plan to train its new intelligence services; an Italian chemical company wants help settling an asbestos lawsuit with a local commune; a citizens’ group in Tonga wants to scare away Japanese dolphin poachers from its shores; the London Review of Books wants a piece on the Armenian genocide; a woman is having a custody battle over her children in Washington DC – can Luttwak “reason” with her husband? And that is just in the last 12 months.

Luttwak is a self-proclaimed “grand strategist”, who makes a healthy living dispensing his insights around the globe. He believes that the guiding principles of the market are antithetical to what he calls “the logic of strategy”, which usually involves doing the least efficient thing possible in order to gain the upper hand over your enemy by confusing them. If your tank battalion has the choice of a good highway or a bad road, take the bad road, says Luttwak. If you can divide your fighter squadrons onto two aircraft carriers instead of one, then waste the fuel and do it. And if two of your enemies are squaring off in Syria, sit back and toast your good fortune.

Luttwak believes that the logic of strategy contains truths that apply to all times and places. His books and articles have devoted followings among academics, journalists, businessmen, military officers and prime ministers. His 1987 book Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace is a set text at universities and military academies across the world. His official – and unofficial – advisory work for the US government has been praised by generals and secretaries of state. He is a familiar figure at government ministries, in the pages of leading journals and on Italian television.

But his work is not limited to armchair theorising. Readers who have been treated to Luttwak’s counterintuitive provocations on the op-ed page of the New York Times might be surprised to know that he considers writing an extra-curricular activity. For the past 30 years, Luttwak has run his own strategic consultancy – a sort of one-man security firm – that provides bespoke “solutions” to some very intractable problems. In his long career, Luttwak has been asked by the president of Mexico to help eliminate a street gang that was burning tourist buses in the city of Mexicali; the Dalai Lama has consulted him about relations with China, European governments have hired him to root out al-Qaida operatives, and the US army has commissioned him to update its counterinsurgency manual. He earns around $1m a year from his “jobs”. “It’s always important to get paid,” he likes to insist. “It protects you from the liberal problem of good intentions and from being called an intriguer.”

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Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist?

Sheldon Wolin and Inverted Totalitarianism

Chris Hedges writes for Truthdig:

Sheldon Wolin, our most important contemporary political theorist, died Oct. 21 at the age of 93. In his books “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” and “Politics and Vision,” a massive survey of Western political thought that his former student Cornel West calls “magisterial,” Wolin lays bare the realities of our bankrupt democracy, the causes behind the decline of American empire and the rise of a new and terrifying configuration of corporate power he calls “inverted totalitarianism.”

Wendy Brown, a political science professor at UC Berkeley and another former student of Wolin’s, said in an email to me: “Resisting the monopolies on left theory by Marxism and on democratic theory by liberalism, Wolin developed a distinctive—even distinctively American—analysis of the political present and of radical democratic possibilities. He was especially prescient in theorizing the heavy statism forging what we now call neoliberalism, and in revealing the novel fusions of economic with political power that he took to be poisoning democracy at its root.”

Wolin throughout his scholarship charted the devolution of American democracy and in his last book, “Democracy Incorporated,” details our peculiar form of corporate totalitarianism. “One cannot point to any national institution[s] that can accurately be described as democratic,” he writes in that book, “surely not in the highly managed, money-saturated elections, the lobby-infested Congress, the imperial presidency, the class-biased judicial and penal system, or, least of all, the media.”

Inverted totalitarianism is different from classical forms of totalitarianism. It does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader but in the faceless anonymity of the corporate state. Our inverted totalitarianism pays outward fealty to the facade of electoral politics, the Constitution, civil liberties, freedom of the press, the independence of the judiciary, and the iconography, traditions and language of American patriotism, but it has effectively seized all of the mechanisms of power to render the citizen impotent.

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David Betz on ‘Carnage & Connectivity: Landmarks in the Decline of Conventional Military Power’

Afshin Rattansi talks to David Betz from the War Studies department at King’s College London and the author of Carnage & Connectivity: Landmarks in the Decline of Conventional Military Power. Betz suggests that the reasons for UK and US failure to win most modern wars could be due to technology. (Going Underground)

George H.W. Bush criticises ‘iron-ass’ Cheney and ‘arrogant’ Rumsfeld in new book

A New Biography Traces the Pathology of Allen Dulles and His Appalling Cabal

Jon Schwarz writes for The Intercept:

As I read The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, a new book by Salon founder David Talbot, I couldn’t help thinking of an obscure corner of 1970s history: the Safari Club.

Dulles — the Princeton man and white shoe corporate lawyer who served as CIA director from 1953 to 1961, still the longest tenure in agency history — died in 1969 before the Safari Club was conceived. And nothing about it appears in The Devil’s ChessboardBut to understand the Safari Club is to understand Allen Dulles and his milieu.

Any normal person would likely hear the Safari Club saga as a frightening story of totally unaccountable power. But if there’s one thing to take away from The Devil’s Chessboard, it’s this: Allen Dulles would have seen it differently — as an inspiring tale of hope and redemption.

Because what the Safari Club demonstrates is that Dulles’ entire spooky world is beyond the reach of American democracy. Even the most energetic post-World War II attempt to rein it in was in the end as effective as trying to lasso mist. And today we’ve largely returned to the balance of power Dulles set up in the 1950s. As Jay Rockefeller said in 2007 when he was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, “Don’t you understand the way intelligence works? Do you think that because I’m chairman of the Intelligence Committee that I just say ‘I want it, give it to me’? They control it. All of it. All of it. All the time.”

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Pistol-Packing Hillary: Who We Are Dealing With

John Halle writes for CounterPunch:

hillaryhenwoodBy choosing Sarah Sole’s portrait of a pistol-packing Hillary Clinton to announce the publication of Doug Henwood’s exposé My Turn  the marketing department at OR Press showed that they know their business.

What could have been a pro forma announcement became an event in its own right as pearl clutching Clinton supporters quickly formed a protective phalanx. For the Nation’s Joan Walsh, the image was “disgusting”, for Peter
Daou it was “deplorable”.  Sitcom maven and erstwhile Obama speech writer Jon Lovett found it “gross”, James Fallows “campy and preposterous”.  Others, among them Rebecca Traister and Amanda Marcotte, tried to defuse it with lame one liners referencing the book’s likely audience of “left dude bros”.

Of course, none of them made even a token attempt to engage with actual substance of the image.

And for good reason: the best portraits capture the truth and that’s what Sole’s portrait does.  The undeniable truth is that Hillary Clinton’s routine support of military intervention has led to countless deaths, albeit orders of magnitude greater than a two bit thug brandishing a Saturday night special could ever hope to claim.

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My Turn: Critics attack ‘disgusting’ anti-Hillary book cover, but the artist supports ‘sexy’ Clinton

Brendan James reports for International Business Times:

Hillary Cover“Gross,” “disgusting,” “deplorable” and sexist. Those are just a few of the words being hurled at the cover of a forthcoming book by author Doug Henwood, who attacks Hillary Clinton not from the right, but from the left. The Nation’s Joan Walsh, former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett and a slew of Clinton fans howled Thursday at the debut of Henwood’s cover, a jarring image of the former U.S. secretary of state in a red dress, pointing a gun at the viewer with a cold, dead-eyed stare.

“I keep hearing it’s unfair to think that some of the male Clinton haters on the left might have issues with women,” quipped Salon’s Amanda Marcotte with a wink, after seeing the cover.

There’s one wrench in that theory, however: The artist who painted the image is not only a woman, but a diehard Hillary Clinton supporter.

“I love Hillary Clinton, I support Hillary Clinton, I very much want her to be president. I will certainly vote for her,” said Sarah Sole, who created the painting, in an interview with International Business Times.

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The Wikileaks Files: Two Recent Interviews With Julian Assange

9781781688748-max_221The first interview is conducted by Paul Mason, who normally provides good material for Channel 4 News but here transforms into a typical establishment hack. The second interview is conducted by the host of RT’s Going Underground Afshin Rattansi and is more sympathetic to Assange. Both interviews offer an interesting contrast. Issues covered include extradition, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, the Arab Spring, the Islamic State, attempts to overthrow the Syrian government, U.S. foreign policy, the “special relationship” between Britain and America, the role of “free markets” and the new book The Wikileaks Files.

PostCapitalism: The end of capitalism has begun

Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews), author of PostCapitalism, writes for The Guardian:

The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.

Instead over the past 25 years it has been the left’s project that has collapsed. The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity; the hugely expanded workforce of the world looks like a “proletariat”, but no longer thinks or behaves as it once did.

If you lived through all this, and disliked capitalism, it was traumatic. But in the process technology has created a new route out, which the remnants of the old left – and all other forces influenced by it – have either to embrace or die. Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.

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Jon Ronson’s Appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience

Jon Ronson is a writer and documentary filmmaker. His works include Them: Adventures with ExtremistsThe Men Who Stare at Goats, and his latest book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. (Joe Rogan Experience)

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four top teachers’ list of books that “every student should read before leaving secondary school”

Robert Kellaway reports for the Daily Express:

Pile of books George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is at the top of teachers’ list of books “every student should read before leaving secondary school”.

The 100 novels have been chosen by 500 teachers for the National Association for the Teaching of English and the TES magazine.

Second place goes to Harper Lee’s class To Kill A Mocking Bird, while Orwell again takes third spot with Animal Farm.

The Harry Potter series of books by JK Rowling was ranked in sixth place.

Orwell’s son Richard Blair, patron of the Orwell Society, said his father’s novels were “as fresh today as when they were written all those years ago”.

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Richard Nixon and the National Security State

Tom Engelhardt writes in his superb introduction to Tim Weiner’s piece on Richard Nixon:

Let me give you a reason that’s anything but historical for reading Tim Weiner’s remarkable new book, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon. Mind you, with the last of the secret Nixon White House tapes finally made public some 40 years after the first of them were turned over to courts, prosecutors, and Congress, this will undoubtedly be the ultimate book on that president’s reign of illegality.

Still, think about the illegal break-in (or black-bag job) at the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist committed by a group of Nixon White House operatives dubbed “the Plumbers”; the breaking into and bugging of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate office complex; the bugging, using warrantless wiretaps, of the phones of administration aides and prominent media figures distrusted by the president and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger; the slush funds Nixon and his cronies created for his reelection campaign; the favors, including ambassadorships, they sold for “donations” to secure a second term in office; the privatized crew of contractors they hired to do their dirty work; the endemic lying, deceit, and ever more elaborate cover-ups of illegalities at home and of extra-constitutional acts in other countries, including secret bombing campaigns, as well as an attempt to use the CIA to quash an FBI investigation of White House activities on “national security grounds.” Put it all together and you have something like a White House-centered, first-draft version of the way the national security state works quite “legally” in the twenty-first century.

As a bonus, you also get a preview of the kinds of money machinations that, with the backing of the Supreme Court four decades later, would produce our present 1% democracy. The secret political funds Nixon and his cronies finagled from the wealthy outside the law have now been translated into perfectly legal billionaire-funded super PACs that do everything from launching candidate ad blitzes to running ground campaigns for election 2016.

Read Weiner’s new book — he’s also the author of a classic history of the CIA and anotheron the FBI — and it turns out that the president who resigned from office in disgrace in August 1974 provided a blueprint for the world that Washington would construct after the 9/11 attacks. If Weiner’s vision of Nixon is on the mark, then we never got rid of him. We still live in a Nixonian world. And if you need proof of that, just think about his infamous urge to listen in on and tape everyone. Does that sound faintly familiar?’

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