The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Arundhati Roy on Telling the Truth of the Atrocities in Kashmir Through Fiction
Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh speak with acclaimed Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy about Kashmir, which has been one of the most militarised zones in the world. According to Roy, it’s also a territory that’s nearly impossible to capture in nonfiction writing. which she has attempted to do in in her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. You can view the full one hour interview here. Roy also contributed to the book, Kashmir: The Case for Freedom. (Democracy Now!)
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak with journalist and author Naomi Klein about her book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. (Democracy Now!)
Why does President Trump behave in the dangerous and seemingly self-destructive ways he does?
Three decades ago, I spent nearly a year hanging around Trump to write his first book, “The Art of the Deal,” and got to know him very well. I spent hundreds of hours listening to him, watching him in action and interviewing him about his life. To me, none of what he has said or done over the past four months as president comes as a surprise. The way he has behaved over the past week — firing FBI Director James B. Comey, undercutting his own aides as they tried to explain the decision and disclosing sensitive information to Russian officials — is also entirely predictable.
Early on, I recognized that Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.
In February of this year, a novel from 1985, by a Canadian author now 77, shot right to the top of the bestsellers lists. Though popular for decades, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s chilling vision of a near-future dystopia in what was once New England—where a toxic environment, a cruel theocracy, and a plague of infertility have turned a sector of women into enslaved concubines—suddenly seemed all too timely. It was then that a trailer for the book’s upcoming TV adaptation aired during the Super Bowl, just a couple of weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated and a nationwide spread of marches for women’s rights turned into the largest protest in American history.
Atwood did not seem upset by the sudden renewal of interest in the single most enduring work of her back catalogue, despite the fact that she’s still churning out book after book today. “How could I be?” she said on a recent morning in Washington, D.C., in the historic Hay-Adams hotel not even a block away from the White House. “But on the other hand, the circumstances that have given rise to it having this sudden uptick are quite frightening. If I had a choice of two things—book not popular, circumstances not arise, or book popular, due to certain circumstances—I would of course pick the first one. But those were not my choices.”
Right alongside her book on the current bestseller lists is another prescient dystopian vision, George Orwell’s 1984—which happened to be the year that Atwood started writing The Handmaid’s Tale on legal pads and a beat-up typewriter in West Berlin, punctuated by echoing reminders of the East German Air Force. It was not her first experience with political unrest. Born in 1939, which, as Atwood is wont to remind, “takes me all the way through World War II,” she seems to consider her “deep background in dystopias,” accumulated both in history books at Harvard and on the ground in places like Afghanistan, tantamount to her destiny.
[…] If the television show based on the Margaret Atwood dystopia feels like propaganda, with its depiction of women raped, mutilated, and forced into shapeless cloaks and bonnets in the new American theocracy named Gilead, then it shouldn’t be a surprise viewers are responding to it as such.
There are dozens of thinkpieces claiming this show is all too real and relevant; Atwood herself called it “a documentary” of Trump’s America. Sarah Jones at The New Republic went so far as to compare Gilead to contemporary Texas and Indiana. Women are in peril. We must do something.
If this propaganda is not being used to sell us a war, we should be interested in what it is selling us instead. That so many women are willing to compare their own political situation living under a democratically elected president with no overwhelming religious ideology (or any other kind, for that matter, except for maybe the ideology of greed and chaos), with the characters’ position as sexual slaves and baby incubators for the ruling class, shows that it is always satisfying to position yourself as the oppressed bravely struggling against oppression.
The text and the thinkpieces make it clear who our enemies are: conservatives and Christians. (It shouldn’t be a surprise The New Republic piece was headlined “The Handmaid’s Tale is a Warning to Conservative Women.”)
[…] Shattered is sourced almost entirely to figures inside the Clinton campaign who were and are deeply loyal to Clinton. Yet those sources tell of a campaign that spent nearly two years paralyzed by simple existential questions: Why are we running? What do we stand for?
If you’re wondering what might be the point of rehashing this now, the responsibility for opposing Donald Trump going forward still rests with the (mostly anonymous) voices described in this book.
What Allen and Parnes captured in Shattered was a far more revealing portrait of the Democratic Party intelligentsia than, say, the WikiLeaks dumps. And while the book is profoundly unflattering to Hillary Clinton, the problem it describes really has nothing to do with Secretary Clinton.
The real protagonist of this book is a Washington political establishment that has lost the ability to explain itself or its motives to people outside the Beltway.
In fact, it shines through in the book that the voters’ need to understand why this or that person is running for office is viewed in Washington as little more than an annoying problem.
In the Clinton run, that problem became such a millstone around the neck of the campaign that staffers began to flirt with the idea of sharing the uninspiring truth with voters. Stumped for months by how to explain why their candidate wanted to be president, Clinton staffers began toying with the idea of seeing how “Because it’s her turn” might fly as a public rallying cry.
- Why Hillary Clinton Really Lost
- Clinton camp revelations prompt mole-hunt
- 7 Takeaways From a New Book on the Clinton Campaign
- ‘Shattered’ Charts Hillary Clinton’s Course Into the Iceberg
- Hillary Clinton only has herself to blame for her 2016 loss
- Clinton staffers toyed with using ‘because it’s her turn’ as a campaign rallying cry
- Clinton’s campaign failed because she took the “Team of Rivals” concept too far
- New book reveals what Bernie Sanders really thought of Clinton’s campaign message
- Hillary Clinton ‘Refused to Prepare’ For Populism, Insiders Reveal
- Clinton aides deny infighting captured in ‘Shattered’ book
“Everything can be taken from a man,” Viktor Frankl wrote in his timeless treatise on the human search for meaning, “but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” And yet, as Adrienne Rich observed in her sublime meditation on writing, capitalism, and freedom, “in the vocabulary kidnapped from liberatory politics, no word has been so pimped as freedom.” How, then, are we to choose our own way amid a capitalist society that continually commodifies our liberty?
The peculiar manner in which personal and political freedom magnetize each other is what James Baldwin (August 2, 1924–December 1, 1987) explores in a piece titled “Notes for a Hypothetical Novel,” originally delivered as an address at the 1960 Esquire symposium on the writer’s role in society and later included in his altogether spectacular essay collection Nobody Knows My Name.
Freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be. One hasn’t got to have an enormous military machine in order to be un-free when it’s simpler to be asleep, when it’s simpler to be apathetic, when it’s simpler, in fact, not to want to be free, to think that something else is more important.
“To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men,” the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote in her 1914 anthem against silence — an incantation which fomented biologist and writer Rachel Carson’s courage to speak inconvenient truth to power as she catalyzed the environmental movement. “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you,” Audre Lorde admonished on the cusp of another cultural revolution in her influential 1984 treatise on transforming silence into redemptive action. “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech shortly after Lorde’s landmark essay was published.
No silence is larger, both in age and in scope, nor more demanding of breaking, than the silencing of women’s voices — a millennia-old assault on the integrity of more than half of humankind.
Let me make one thing clear here: We — all of us, of any gender — may have different answers to the questions feminism raises. But if we refuse to engage with the questions themselves, we are culpable not only of cowardice but of complicity in humanity’s oldest cultural crime.
How to dismantle that complicity and transmute it into courage is what Rebecca Solnit explores in an extraordinary essay titled “Silence Is Broken,” found in The Mother of All Questions — a sweeping collection of essays Solnit describes as “a tour through carnage, a celebration of liberation and solidarity, insight and empathy, and an investigation of the terms and tools with which we might explore all these things.”
Readers of tabloid papers have smaller vocabularies than people who do not read newspapers, suggests a study.
The University of London’s Institute of Education compared vocabulary test scores and reading habits of 9,400 British people born in 1970.
The researchers analysed data collected at the ages of 10, 16 and 42.
As well as the tabloids finding, they said childhood reading for fun boosted vocabulary throughout life, while highbrow fiction helped adults further.
The research team drew on the 1970 British Cohort Study, which collects information on a group of people from England, Scotland and Wales who were born in the same week.
The soldiers who landed in Normandy on D-Day were greeted as liberators, but by the time American G.I.’s were headed back home in late 1945, many French citizens viewed them in a very different light.
In the port city of Le Havre, the mayor was bombarded with letters from angry residents complaining about drunkenness, jeep accidents, sexual assault — “a regime of terror,” as one put it, “imposed by bandits in uniform.”
This isn’t the “greatest generation” as it has come to be depicted in popular histories. But in “What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American G.I. in World War II France,” the historian Mary Louise Roberts draws on French archives, American military records, wartime propaganda and other sources to advance a provocative argument: The liberation of France was “sold” to soldiers not as a battle for freedom but as an erotic adventure among oversexed Frenchwomen, stirring up a “tsunami of male lust” that a battered and mistrustful population often saw as a second assault on its sovereignty and dignity.
“I could not believe what I was reading,” Ms. Roberts, a professor of French history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, recalled of the moment she came across the citizen complaints in an obscure archive in Le Havre. “I took out my little camera and began photographing the pages. I did not go to the bathroom for eight hours.”
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.
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.
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”
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?
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.”
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.”
How 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.
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.
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)
[…] 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.
Few 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.
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.
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.
- Kissinger 1923-1968: The Idealist by Niall Ferguson (Book Review)
- Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton’s Tutor in War and Peace
- Hillary Clinton reviews Henry Kissinger’s ‘World Order’
- Congressional Report: Covert Action in Chile, 1963-1973
- Nixon, Kissinger, and the Madman Strategy during Vietnam War
- Kissinger: The illegal we do immediately; unconstitutional takes longer
- The Trials of Henry Kissinger (Documentary)
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).
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.
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.
- Pentagon prepares for century of climate emergencies and oil wars
- The Anthropocene Myth
- The Earth stands on the brink of its sixth mass extinction and the fault is ours
- Carbon Colonialism: How the Fight Against Climate Change Is Displacing Africans
- The Crisis of Civilization (Documentary)
- The Crisis of the European Mind: 1680-1715 (Book)
- Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600–1850 (Book)
- The Great Divergence – Wikipedia
- Little Ice Age – Wikipedia
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.
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.”