book

Playing For The Lost Bhoys 3

Some of my ramblings have been included in a new book chronicling the football season just finished from a very Celtic perspective.

Half of the proceeds from the Book will go to the Kano foundation.

The book is available in both print and eBook formats and the foreword is written by 3 time world snooker champion John Higgins.

As they say on the lostbhoys site themselves

This year 50% of the profits will be going to the fantastic Kano Foundation who do wonderful work in taking large groups of kids to Celtic Park to sample the match-day experience. Book 3 follows on from our last two books that benefitted the Good Child Foundation (Thai Tims) and the Celtic Graves Society. I’m often asked what about the other 50%? Well we cover any small hosting costs etc then last year we gave the rest of ‘our half’ of the profits to Football Aid. Nobody at LostBhoys takes a penny out of these publications personally.

Other books with my stuff here.

The Newbie Game

My long promised book about Korea and what it is like spending a year there (following on from the one I did about Nepal) is continuing at a decent speed.

I thought I’d put a little excerpt here…

THE NEWBIE GAME – DIDN’T WORK WITH ME

When a new westerner arrived and presented themselves in the pub, the big joke was to tell them that there was a party and that they must take a taxi to it. They would then be told to ask the driver to take them to Pyongyang.

This one didn’t work with me, but you would be surprised how many people actually fall for it.

It also usually left behind a fairly angry taxi driver.

Review – Radical Therapies – by Philip Challinor

Philip Challinor blogs under the name The Curmudgeon. If you have visited that site you will know that a quick wit, combined with his great mix of sometimes arcane and sometimes garbled newpoliticmanagementspeak result in some sublime moments.

Radical Therapies is one of his several advances into longer format writing and while it doesn’t really use the funny jargonese it combines insight with a dark imagination to make 3 memorable stories.

The first story, The Little Doctor, is the story of a war criminal told from the point of view of the war criminal. You might think this is somewhat unusual but if you do I would remind that Bush and Blair have recently published memoirs and talked (or in the case of one of them, tried to talk) about their roles in the imperial ventures of our time.

At first it seems like the war in question could be current or marginally in the future. As it progresses, the character’s names serve to give the story the parallel world feel that the story needs to make its point; they could all be from anywhere or from nowhere. Similarly, not putting the story in any place we can put our finger on gives the impression that it could be everywhere. The winners or losers could be any state.

Without any kind of anchor for the reader (where is it? when is it?), in the opening pages it takes a little careful reading at the start but very quickly it becomes a page-turner.

The war criminal is in prison and awaiting his execution and recounts events leading up to his current situation. This is interspersed with his dealings with the prison guards and various functionaries representing the victorious powers in the war.

“Why should you be [put on trial] ?” said the Warden. “As I told you, the position is quite clear. Everyone knows what went on in that place, the … the researches you carried out; it was all thoroughly documented, and most of the documentation has survived. There is no doubt as to your actions or the actions of your colleagues – the Anthill business, for instance, and Project Fiat. It only remains to pronounce judgement.”

“I see,” I said.

“I suppose,” he said with a slight, ironical smile, “I suppose to you that sounds like nothing more than victor’s justice.”

“I wasn’t aware that there was any other kind.”

The researches in question were various cloning and DNA experiments carried out at a facility originally designed to solve a food crisis. Originally well-intentioned (if ethically dubious) scientific work is subsumed by the events going on around it and radically altered in its scope. The scientists themselves are more perturbed by the interruption to them doing the work they want to than moral concerns about the work they must now do.

There is also a historical element in the conclusion of The Little Doctor but I will leave that for you to find out.

The second and third stories (Needles, Pins and Doctor Proth and The House of Stairs) make a good job of actually making hospital drama interesting. That said, they are unlike any other hospital dramas you are likely to read.

Both Needles, Pins and Doctor Proth and The House of Stairs are like the worst imaginings between wake and sleep. The former features a man shackled in a bizarre fashion, always unsure of whether he is being cured or tortured. The doctor that he doesn’t know whether to trust or hate flits in and out along with the “nurse-thing”. A surprising beginning finishes with a surprising end. All through it the question “should I be laughing at this?” is swimming in the background.

The final story, The House of Stairs isn’t quite so much like a horror scene as Needles, Pins and Doctor Proth but again, it is eerie and atmospheric and takes place in a fantastic imagined world. It vaguely reminded me of Lanark by Alasdair Gray and also of THX-1138 and I hope he won’t hate me for saying that. The surreality of the setting is dragged back to more corporeal concerns by the action.

An escape from a maze (or in this case a labyrinthine institution) is made much more terrifying if you don’t know how you got in there, or if an exit even exists.

You can buy it here.

NO INNOCENT BYSTANDERS

OK. THIS IS PROBABLY THE START OF THE REVIEW

The songs in the making of this review were…

Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, K. 622 – Mozart
Concerto in A ‘per eco in lontano’ – Vivaldi
Totally wired – The fall
Please be cruel – the Inspiral Carpets
I’m Free – The Who [I don’t really like that one but I was concentrating]
Fall – Devandra Banhart
Exit music for a film -Radiohead
This Charming Man -The Smiths
O’Sullivans March – The Chieftains
Il Gorilla – Fabrizio De Andre
Mars, the bringer of war – Gustav Holst
What makes you cry? – The Proclaimers
Your children aren’t special – Bill Hicks
From Fairy Ring Champion to False Pegasus – The Dials
How Long (Betcha’ Got A Chick On The Side) – The Pointer Sisters

NO INNOCENT BYSTANDERS (Riding Shotgun in the Land of Denial) – by Mickey Z

ADDITIONAL ASIDE NUMBER 1 – One can be ‘overwhelmed’ or ‘underwhelmed’ but have you have ever heard of anyone actually being ‘whelmed’? I think I remember something PG Wodehouse said about that, but I might be wrong. You can look it up, I’m busy.

I have been struggling what to say in reviewing this book.

For a start it is the first book that said it has a section inspired by me, usually people don’t tell me they were inspired by me. They say something like ‘Shut up’ or ‘Ok, you are right but you don’t have to be such a prick about it’.

So I was struggling but then I remembered watching the author on youtube and being somewhat amused at when he asked a crowd of supposed radicals to join with him and take a ‘non-conformist pledge’ or ‘non-conformist oath of allegiance’ or something like that. It seemed like a fair few of the audience fell for it.

Then it suddenly became clear to me. For the purposes of this review I have to be contrary.
THIS IS PROBABLY THE START OF THE REVIEW

Therefore, in the true spirit of revolt, I am reviewing the vegan, martial-arts expert, teetotal [I didn’t check that one], avid New Yorker author while I have been drinking, alone, in a house in the country, and have just eaten some very nice fish.

Q.Why am I doing this?

A. Because the style of the book is so strange that rather than explain it, I have just decided to ape it in this review.

This house in the country has a problem with mosquitoes. I have killed somewhere in the region of 14 of them today. In turn, somewhere in the region of 50 of them fed royally off me last night. I know that because when I killed them my blood sort of spurted out of them. There were no cows, sheep or assorted other large mammals around, so it must have been mine. At this particular moment with all my skin itching and more of the bastards buzzing around my ears waiting for a fresh meal I don’t have too much sympathy for the massacred. And I know I am getting it again tonight.

Of course, the traditional ways of dealing with the mozzies in ancient [a highly subjective term] times would have been covering yourself in mud or something if you happened to be out and about, or sitting by the fire if you were sitting still.

Both of those are things that won’t happen in our current society, or are at least highly unusual, and frowned upon.

So are a lot of the things that Mickey Z said in this book.

Like the mosquitoes I massacred, thousands of people are massacred every day – and to most people it means nothing. Unlike the mosquitoes I massacred, most of those people did nothing to me or to you. We are actually ingenious at finding ways to ignore that fact. Mickey Z  in this book has found an ingenious way to confront our collective disingenuity.

So I agree with the thrust of the book but what sparked this spirit of revolt in me against the flow of the book was Mozart. You see, he came on the random thing on my music player. I will make a list about that later, then I will put it somewhere in the review. I know some people on the left that would abuse me for bourgeois mentality or some such drivel, for just having Mozart’s music.

I don’t think Mickey Z would. I also think he would probably abuse some of the idiots that think like that, in a funny way of course. Just as none of the mosquitoes in my room are safe, there are no sacred cows on the left or right in this book. Maybe that is why he talks about killing Michael Moore and saving Condoleeza Rice.

Mickey Z Sez – Once upon a time I was eating lunch in a Virginia beach diner with a bunch of friends when we heard a deafening roar.

“What was that?” I bellowed.

Our waitress smiled and proudly replied: “That’s an F-14… the sound of freedom.”

OK, I AM NOT STARTING THIS REVIEW NOW

In our almost entirely commoditised world we think we can have everything immediately. The supermarket is always open, the tap can always be turned on. This book manages to give a sense of the immediacy of some the problems we are currently facing. The author brings our problems home by mixing some simple yet brutal statistics with looking at every day behaviour in the light of those statistics.

A story with a fat little boy eating a big mac in the back of an SUV is a few pages away from the fact that some rivers are now full of Prozac. A story about looking at breasts in a gym is near a story about someone being beaten to death in Guantanamo Bay. The effect is like flicking channels on a TV that is happily free from corporate propaganda. The information imparted is brutal but I would still much rather watch this kind of TV.

ADDITIONAL ASIDE NUMBER 2 – A lot of Scottish people take pride that John Logie Baird, a Scotsman, invented the TV. Personally, I think we should start apologizing…I’ll start… sorry world!

Also, Henry Rollins is between Carl Sagan and Adolf Eichmann, which I imagine is not a place he ever thought he would find himself.

As well as a sense of immediacy there is something like a sense of ‘finity’. Is ‘finity’ even a word? ‘Finiteness’ is, but spell check doesn’t seem to think ‘finity’ is, nor does dictionary.com, which is funny because we all know ‘infinity’ is a word. ‘Finity’ is probably a word we should start using given the current state of things.

Michael Greenwell sez – You can overfeed all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time but you can’t overfeed all of the people all of the time.

ADDITIONAL ASIDE NUMBER 3 – There are a few words like that…only negatives, no positive example. Have a think about it.

Even the title of the book should make you think. And yet, I imagine that there will be a few people who will read this book and still not connect it to themselves. So removed from physical reality have many people become that you could write a book called “-Insert Name Here ……………….. – It is all your fault” and some people wouldn’t get it.

Harold Pinter Sez – To maintain…power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.

I think this book could help a few people get the interest back, particularly the kind of people that would take a non-conformist pledge.

Mickey Z sez – I believe all this talk about “preserving our way of life” gets to the heart of the matter. “Our” way of life is precisely the issue.

I suggest you read it.

ADDITIONAL ASIDE  NUMBER 4 – The thing I did that inspired a section of the book was a film I made a few years ago about animal extinctions. You can watch it on youtube or if you prefer you can download a much higher quality copy.

THE SEVEN DEADLY SPINS

“Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities” – Voltaire

There have been quite a few pseudo-social science books out lately – effectively polemics with footnotes. A book like this, where the material has to be written in such a way as to fit the title, can’t lay claim to the sort of analysis that you (might) find in a social science textbookseven – despite the extensive referencing. Then again, why should it? The majority of people do not read textbooks. It’s a book and the only qualification should be if it’s a good book and it makes a point or not. This is a good book.

It’s written chronologically but does not begin with a particular date or war and then carry on to the next conflict. The first deadly spin is what we would expect to find official sources saying before or at the beginning of hostilities and the last deadly spin is what happens after the battle – it doesn’t really matter which conflict it is. The main thrust of the book is to illustrate that the same swindles, misrepresentations and downright lies have been used for hundreds of years. The episodic style of news reporting means that dissenting voices can also fall into this trap and would do well to try and avoid it. Napoleon said that it is not necessary to falsify the news, merely to delay to bad news until it no longer matters. If those who object to certain actions or reports are forced into a cycle of action and reaction then the bigger picture gets lost.

Too often wars, events or spins are reported as single issues. What Mickey Z is saying (correctly) is that the same spins are consistently used but given an update or changed to suit wherever the fighting is taking place. He has written this book to illustrate that governments have been crying wolf for years and yet most of us still fall for it.

If events are put in a clearer historical context issues could be better illuminated. As David Barsamian says “What the media do nationally is to create an amnesiac-like feeling – there’s no context for actions, there’s no background; there’s no history. Things just happen”.

Of all the criticisms of the mainstream media’s reporting of Iraq one of the most consistent complaints was the lack of background and context in the reports (e.g. who put Saddam in power, gave him weapons etc etc). The resources of the major media allow them to put forth viewpoints pervasively and persuasively. Objectors are then forced into reaction on minor issues. There is not always time to put things into a larger context. If the dissenters win on a particular issue then the next spin is always prepared and ready to go. First it was WMD’s and that was exposed so then it moved to WMD programmes, that didn’t work so then it was to remove Saddam and so on.

Mickey Z has put context and background into the spin surrounding these wars. In Iraq ‘Bad intelligence’ is the excuse after the fact. Compare this to the ‘bomber gap’ under Eisenhower – subsequently it was discovered that the gap was heavily in favour of the US. The excuse given a few years later was bad intelligence. A few years on and it was the missile gap under Kennedy. Roughly the same ‘problem’, exactly the same excuse. The Gulf of Tonkin incident was subsequently revealed to have rested on ‘bad intelligence’. If we analyse a single piece of spin, counter-spin or commentary about Iraq or any other war we only see one lie or misrepresentation and then the reaction to it (if we are looking).

Here are four lines from various journalists and officials that are quoted in the book. I have removed names, dates and places and it becomes almost impossible to tell which war is being discussed.

  1. The story of the crucial role of US and European business in saving and establishing the ——- dictatorship in ——- has remained relatively unknown to the general public in spite of the voluminous documentation.

  1. Behind the marines came legions of US businesses, ready not only to sell their goods but also [..]drill oil wells, and stake out mining claims.

  1. Our soldiers here and there resort to terrible measures with the natives. Captains and lieutenants are sometimes judges, sheriffs and executioners. ‘I don’t want any more prisoners sent into ——–’ was the verbal order [..] three months ago. It is now the custom to avenge the death of an American soldier by burning to the ground all the houses, and killing right and left the natives who are only suspects.

  1. The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and I worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.

Although I have picked some of these so as to be deliberately misleading it may come as a surprise that number one is referring to “establishing the Leninist dictatorship in Russia”. Two is referring to a range of conflicts in Latin America, three is about the Philippines (Manila is the missing word) and four, although it could be a look into the future when/if John Bolton gets the UN job, is referring to the massacres in East Timor.

For someone who has studied the propaganda system this book will not provide many massive new insights but it will provide some interesting examples, after all, there are so many around that one cannot possibly know them all. One such is the attempt to discredit Indonesian President Sukarno (not to be confused with General Suharto) by making a realistic mask with his features and hiring a porn actor to play him fooling around with a supposed Soviet mistress. Although this never got past the planning stage it is illustrative of the sort of full on media assault that tends to run concurrently with military and/or covert operations: there would be no point in making such a film if you didn’t already know you had a compliant media ready to publicise the propaganda and take your side.

It’s a good introduction for people who do not know too much about these issues and it’s a good refresher course with some funny bits for those who think they do. I like the idea of arguing back not on the supposed morality or otherwise of any given operation but by simply saying “they have said this before and this is what really happened”. This may be worth bearing in mind if Scott Ritter’s assertions that something is going to happen in Iran soon are correct. This is Mickey Z’s fifth book and I am going to have a look at the others.

http://www.mickeyz.net/

50 AMERICAN REVOLUTIONS YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW

50 American Revolutions You Are Not Supposed to Know – By Mickey Z




“The seventh inning stretch required fans to stand in honour of the ‘men and women in uniform’ who fight to ‘preserve our way of life.’ Fifty thousand removed their free caps, watched a digitised flag wave on the big screen, and held the [sponsors] patch over their cholesterol-laden hearts while belting out ‘God Bless America,’ collectively choosing to ignore the blood being spilled to keep the world safe for petroleum.” – Mickey Z

Billie holiday singing a song may not be what everyone has in mind when they hear the word revolution but individual acts of conscience and bravery are often at the root of major changes in social order and attitude.[1.]

This book is essentially a compendium of some of the finest moments in anti-establishment US history and some occasions when the establishment actually did something worthwhile (this was only a few of the 50). Some of the seminal moments of Feminism (probably shouldn’t use the word ‘seminal’ in relation to Feminism but if I said ‘ovulatory moments’ it could still end up in a sticky mess!) Comedy, Music, Anarchism and Socialism are included in the book and some other things besides, notably Marlon Brando and Kathleen Hepburn’s underwear. Some of these stories, like Muhammad Ali refusing the draft or the ‘ Battle in Seattle’ are familiar but there are many that most probably won’t know.

However, it is not the American History element that I find most interesting in this book (probably because I am not American). It is the personal acts of resistance and courage of the people in it, sometimes individual and sometimes collective, that is most impressive. It also shows how small acts by individuals can have huge consequences, in the US or anywhere else. Whether by laying down their lives, singing a song or even wearing and then not wearing trousers (don’t get the wrong idea – this part has nothing to do with seminal moments) the people in Mickey Z’s book challenged power and orthodoxy – which is why we are not supposed to know about them.

I like the idea of American teenagers reading this book and going to their history teachers and demanding to know why some of this stuff isn’t being studied in class. Or, in this country, demanding to know why we are brought up to learn what a marvellous hero and orator Winston Churchill was and don’t hear about his enormous military failures at Gallipoli and of him giving his authorisation to a plan to gas bomb villages of civilians or, as it was put, ‘recalcitrant Arabs’ in order to inspire a ‘lively terror.’

The same ‘memory hole’ system applies in both countries. Stories like the 50 included here, although not exactly suppressed or forgotten, are often de-emphasised as we instead learn about out glorious war leaders and statues are erected to mass murderers only for other mass murderers to come and tear them down again.

In addition to the 50 examples there is a timeline running through the book that lists many other important milestones of American resistance. It would be a good beginning for people who want to find out more about US history but can’t face reading all of the Zinn book yet (but they should do that eventually).

The author states that I guess what I’m looking for here is to reach an audience I’ve never reached before…and provoke them to think and rediscover critical analysis. I don’t claim to cover any new ground here…it’s just a refresher course/wake-up call for a heavily conditioned society (and myself, too).

The ‘heroes’ we hear about in schools are typically people who did something brave in the service of the state. This book about people doing something brave to challenge the perceived wisdom or change rather than uphold the existing order provides many interesting examples new and old of what Mickey Z puts at the beginning of his introduction…

“We have two American flags always: one for the rich and one for the poor. When the rich fly, it means that things are under control; when the poor fly, it means danger, revolution, anarchy.” – Henry Miller

There is at least one story that anyone can find inspiring in here (most likely many stories) and if you read this book and feel infused with a little revolutionary spirit but are wondering where to begin then Orwell had a good starting point…

“In times of universal deceit telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”

PATRIOTISM

As a postscript to this review I would like to talk about patriotism and ‘national interest’ for a moment.

“Naturally the common people don’t want war… But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” – Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg Trials

Different sets of people within any nation are bound to have interests and/or ideals that are in some way opposite at some point in time. That is a logical result of taking an area of land – land has no special interests – and saying that all the people in that land have similar interests from now on. Patriotism is a form of loyalty toward an artificial construction and therefore will contain artificiality within it. Like nation states, it can be created, its power transferred and its borders redefined.

The argument usually given to counter this line of questioning is that there is an agreed set of ground rules and patriotism is a form of loyalty to what those rules ‘stand for’. However, those things that there is a majority agreement on will tend to be those things that make national interest irrelevant e.g. don’t kill people. If this is true within artificial human made borders then it has to be true out with those borders also.

We must also ask, in nations that have populations that are diverse in beliefs, interests (economic and cultural) and in geography, who can accurately define what the ‘national interest’ actually is? Generally speaking, the ability to define and to alter what is ‘officially’ patriotic or what is the ‘in the national interest’ will tend to lie with those who have the power to disseminate their beliefs most pervasively.

Looking from afar, patriotism seems to be a (if not the) major theme in US political discourse and is deemed to be one of the highest of virtues. Left and Right both claim that they are the real patriots. Fox News presenters follow the President’s lead and start wearing flags on their lapels. In response to this on many progressive websites and in films of demonstrations in the US you see protestors with signs such as ‘Dissent is patriotic’ or ‘Think: its patriotic’ and so on. There is no mention of the idea that patriotism, as Dr. Johnson said, is ‘the last refuge of scoundrels.’ I t sometimes appears that the argument has been reduced to people arguing about who is more patriotic rather than about who is correct. The idea seems to be that if its right – it must be patriotic and if it’s patriotic it must be right and this is fundamentally flawed at its point of origin.

Its worth remembering that the modern nation state is an invention of the 18th century and that since then there hasn’t been one of them that doesn’t have a lot to answer for (internally and externally). That is not to say that alternatives will be better, just that a nation is an artificial, transient human construction and should be treated as such. The cave, the village and the empire have all been assumed at some point in time to be the ‘natural’ boundaries for human political activities. I don’t know if people will move to self-governing villages or some world government idea will prevail. All that is certain is that natural boundaries as they exist right now, for better or worse, will not be forever. It seems absurd to base arguments about what is right and wrong and contain them within the realms of a falsehood (the myth of a unified and everlasting nation). If we do that, all our solutions will be falsehoods.

It’s lazy to of me to continually quote Chomsky but I heard a lecture in which he raised a point about the idea of something being ‘un-American’. He explains that this is a concept you only see in totalitarian societies. Therefore you would have had terms approximating to ‘un-Soviet’ or ‘un-Nazi’ but go to Sweden and see if they are accusing each other of being ‘un-Swedish’. He suggests that they would find the concept laughable – and I hope he’s right.

Most of the heroes in this book were people who acted from a sense of injustice, mostly from something that had happened to the individual mentioned or something they have seen with their own eyes and not, to use Howard Zinn’s phrase, people acting from “[a] learned sense of moral proportion.” Their actions still have an inspirational message for the majority of people anywhere in the world because they were fighting a battle against oppression (the book mentions that when Muhammad Ali refused the draft there were demonstrations in support in Karachi, Guyana and Cairo). This is not the case for state appointed heroes, as a military hero in one country will invariably be known as a butcher in another.

The mainstream media, the schools, and the universities attempt to instill a loyalty to the state. We learn that there is room for disagreement but only within the agreed boundaries. Individual errors are criticised but the system that allows those errors to occur (and recur) is not up for discussion. I can see that the American left are being forced to argue on grounds of patriotism as they are being attacked in the way that Goering mentions but I wonder if in trying to ‘reclaim patriotism’ they are not reinvigorating one of the forces that holds them back and therefore fighting on someone else’s battleground.
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1. See a Democracy Now! Special about it here http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/06/14/1350253&mode=thread&tid=25