Monday, 29 December 2008

These love letters could so easily be misunderstood

Above: Rocket mail and other futurisms at Hairy Green Eyeball.

On the recent response to misunderstood missives, Norman Geras and Terry Glavin on proportionality, and Terry again on responses to the response. See also Noga on who’s in charge, and via Harry’s Place prior to the current response, some victims not to be forgotten.

Tom Tom

In Lebanon’s Winter Wonderland, sat-nav is not recommended.

Related in Amsterdam, sat-nav or live-nav?

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Words for killing

In response to Peter Tatchell’s question about the legitimacy of assasinating mass-murdering dictators, Mugabe in particular, Norm has a few words to say, and Johnny Guitar up North has many more. Both of them reproduce this quote from Tatchell’s piece:
Assassinating Adolf Hitler in 1933 probably would have been morally justified to prevent a greater evil – the Holocaust and second world war. But even then, I would see the act of killing Hitler as wrong – albeit the lesser of two evils.
Norm sees Hitler in 1933 as a poor comparison to Mugabe in 2008, where in the case of Mugabe such devastating results of his actions are already known, though not the full results as the disaster is ongoing. On Mugabe he makes the elementary case that the right to self-defence applies.

Johnny Guitar views the question as totally pointless, doubting whether killing Hitler would have prevented the horrors to come, but sees Tatchell’s answer as useful “to illustrate just how completely absurd and immoral the pacifist argument actually is.”

I agree with JG that daydreams of assassinating Mugabe are a distraction from serious debate on how to remove his regime from power, but the question of whether political assassination can ever be justified is important outside of that context. To leave the question hanging in the air seems dangerous when so many people are prepared to portray certain democratic leaders as being on the same level as dictators or terrorists.

My starting point on this is that maintaining and expanding democracy and the rule of law is the most effective way of preventing the rise to power of mass-murderers. From there I think an answer on shooting Hitler can be narrowed down as follows: Assassinating Hitler in the first two months of 1933 would have been murder. A democracy was still in existence. There was still recourse to law. To resort to murder would have been a destabilising attack on democracy and the rule of law.

But in the second half of 1933 it would have been possible to make a reasonable argument that assassinating Hitler was justifiable. There was no longer a democracy in Germany, Hitler presented a clear threat to life and liberty for a large number of the population, and they had no recourse to any system of law independent of the dictatorship.

As to where and when and how such an argument could have been made, that’s another set of questions, leading back to a piece of history I stumbled across when writing my post on Danish cartoonists during the Nazi occupation.

Stikkerens skæbne (The Informer’s Fate), underground drawing by Gustav Østerberg, 1944, reproduced in Besættelse. Tegninger 1940-45 by Gustav Østerberg, Samlerens Forlag, 1945.
In the latter period of the occupation, informers were a serious threat to the Danish Resistance. In the Autumn of 1943 the Danish Liberation Council (Frihedsrådet), made up of representatives from the major resistance groups, agreed unanimously that it was necessary to “liquidate” informers, that the Resistance couldn’t continue unless action was taken.

The Liberation Council first considered the possibility of setting up a secret court to try a case before carrying out a liquidation. But this idea was dropped, partly because there wasn’t time for such a procedure if there was a danger that an informer might go to the Gestapo with dangerous information, and partly because liquidations were not to be seen as punishments, but as defensive actions by the Resistance.

In Copenhagen, two large Resistance groups, Holger Danske and BOPA were responsible for most killings of those believed to be informers. In Jutland most liquidations were carried out by specialist groups that could be called in by local Resistance members when they believed they had discovered an informer.

At first liquidations took place as a rule only after careful investigation, and after permission was granted from someone higher in the Resistance movement. But as the fight with the occupation forces intensified and the numbers of liquidations increased, it became more common for groups to decide on their own initiative to carry out a killing. About 400 were killed in all. Some mistakes were made. Nevertheless practically all those killed had in one way or another sided with the Nazis.

The German occupation forces responded with revenge killings, beginning with the murder of the outspoken playwright and priest Kaj Munk on January 4th 1944. Over 100 Danes were victims of these revenge killings. The revenge killings were part of a wider Nazi policy of using terror in response to the Resistance, rather than police work. This policy was adopted on the direct orders of Hitler, and was predominantly carried out by Danish collaborators.

In August 1944, the Folk og Frihed (People and Freedom) underground journal published an article arguing that
“in the Danish society founded on law which must be rebuilt, everyone who has killed another person stands responsible for their actions, and it will therefore be necessary to hold a police investigation or legal inquiry every case,”
“without a doubt good Danes who have taken it upon themselves to eradicate informers will on their own initiative report themselves [after the war] and account for their actions. The necessity of this will be obvious, because neither the case nor those concerned can bear that such a thing be kept secret, and because there must be confidence that possible or alleged abuse will be uncovered and punished.”
Turning to what the result of a legal inquiry would be for killers of informers, the Folk og Frihed article asserted that “it is a given that a healthy and intrinsic sense of justice will demand that they be acquitted,” but questioned how would these cases would actually stand in law. Danish law regarding self-defence was outlined, or rather what in Danish is called nødværge, or emergency-defence.
“Emergency-defence is dealt with by Paragraph 13 of the Penal Code, which ‘Actions taken in emergency-defence are penalty-free, in so far as they have been necessary to oppose or avert an underway or impending unjust attack, and do not exceed, what with regard to the dangerousness of the attack, the attacker’s person, and the rights of the party under attack, is justifiable.’ ”
So for emergency-defence to apply, the action must have been both necessary and justifiable. This applied to the killing of an informer, it was argued.
“This is necessary, that is to say there is no gentler means than the killing of informers by which to prevent their informing, which would regularly would result in to person informed on being killed; the law does not demand, that the threatened attack should be directed against the one carrying out the act of emergency defence. [...] Furthermore, as it is the life of the informed upon that is at risk, then the killing of the informer does not exceed what is justifiable. Finally it can be emphasised that informing naturally is an ‘unjust attack’.

The concept of an emergency-defence attack rests on the consideration that the exclusive right of the State to punish must bear the qualification that the private person has a right to attend to the defence of their own or others’ rights, where the State’s assigned law enforcers cannot take charge. This fundamental point of view, which recurs in the law of all civilised states, is also applicable to a high degree in the existing situation.

It is also normally emphasised as something characteristic of an emergency-defence situation that it must be of such a character that in itself normally leaves no doubt as to the attack’s illegality. The Penal Code has in mind on the whole a reaction to an acute attack situation. This is what has raised some doubt as to how widely the emergency-defence point of view kan be applied to the killings of informers, which seldom are carried out in direct connection with the act of informing. However this cannot be conclusive. The words of the Penal Law are fulfilled, in that they only require an ‘impending unjust attack’, and that the attack is ‘impending’.”
The article follows the main argument on emergency-defence with a brief consideration of how the existence of a state of war might supplement such an argument, and closes with mention of the constitutional power of the crown to grant amnesty should the argument fail.

In October of 1944 Folk og Frihed published one of the best known underground books of the occupation, Der brænder en Ild (A Fire Burns). The book was re-issued after the war in a legal version with all of the contributors names added.

Amongst them was author Martin A. Hansen, whose contribution, Dialog om Drab og Ansvar (Dialogue on Killing and Responsibility), imagined Socrates in dialogue with his friend Simias defending the killing of informers.

In 1953 he commented on his defence as follows:
“If anyone were to read Dialogue on Killing and Responsibility, they would perhaps not feel so much the troubles of distant nights. On the other hand they would surely notice, that the Dialogue foresees something of the fate of those who were the instrument, the killers. Bad times might come for them. And they did come. The reader would further notice that the Dialogue is seriously mistaken on another point. It declares that these judgements and liquidations would, after the war, be voluntarily set before Danish courts, so as to lay the burden of these emergency-defence measures upon the shoulders of the people by means of a legal act. In this I was completely mistaken.”

An indication that this is how it would happen was in those times a condition one had to make, the only condition I saw myself justified in setting out, before tackling this problem of external origin. For other reasons one couldn’t evade it, once one was on board and approved action. I did however receive the requested indication: decisions would be re-examined later. I don’t know from whom the message came, and I haven’t attempted to trace it. There were also many who believed that was how it should be. It didn’t happen. That was a mistake.”
Photo from Martin A. Hansen - Fra Krigens Aar til Døden by Ole Wivel, Gyldendal 1969, (source).
After the liberation, Hansen learned that at least two of the fallen amongst the Resistance had joined the fight having been convinced of its legitimacy by his writing. As for those killed as informers, he is described in an essay by Kasper Anthoni as having retained a personal self-imposed guilt for some of killings carried out by the Resistance. In notes from his diaries, published in the literary magazine Heretica in 1953 under the title July 44, he expresses the horror that arose in him when he acknowledged that the words in the Dialogue had been used as a direct justification for killing:
“In forming a nakedly honest justification for the liquidation of informers, the justifier must make himself perfectly clear, who he is and what he is doing. He hands a tool on to others who are going to use it. Ideally they are, surely, just as obliged to themselves take a position and look the dangers in the eye. But several will of course do it via him, that is why he has been given the job. They keep to his reasoning. And which one it is that can’t avoid responsibility is easy to see.”

Danske Stikkere paa Dagmarhus
From the underground newspaper De frie Danske (The Free Danes), April 1944, photographs of informers.
In August 1945 the Social Democrat member of parliament Professor Hartvig Frisch said in a radio broadcast that the killings of informers by the Resistance was murder. Though he had a long record of anti-fascist beliefs, his 1933 book Plague on Europe being banned under the Nazi occupation, he had in 1943 also condemned acts of sabotage by the Resistance as terrorism. His argument on the killings of informers was that they were strategically unwise “as the Germans had all of the resources of power, and one could foresee that the result would be a whole explosion of murders of quite random and innocent people.” Further he argued that the effect had been to “brutalize a large part of Danish Youth. One can’t go up to a man and give him six shots in the face, when he opens the door, without it leaving a mark mentally.” He maintained the killings were unnecessary, pointing to Norway where they were avoided.

The resistance group Holger Danske replied with a press release, pointing to parliamentarian Hartvig Frisch’s “distinctly passive position, both personally and in his pronouncements throughout all of the period of fighting.” They made three points:
“1. All of the Resistance Movement have in the period of fighting been in agreement that informer-liquidations can only be seen from the point of view of emergency-defence.

2. To all from the highest leadership to the common saboteur, the informer was an extremely serious personal threat, and it was often simply and literally a question of life or death, as to whether the informer was rendered harmless.

3. Holger Danske wish to point out that even though we were soldiers in the Resistance Movement, who by free will showed discipline and did our duty, there has on our side never been any doubt that the informer-liquidations were practically and morally well-founded, and we will stand in full solidarity with the members of the Liberation Council, whose policy on liquidations the Social Democratic parliamentarian now attacks so strongly.”
Hartvig Frisch lost his seat in parliament as a result of his comments, but was re-elected later and served as education minister.

There are a number of comparisons I’d like to make between the killing of informers by the Danish Resistance and other situations, at other times, in other places, but I’ll save them for a follow-up post as this is already rather long.

Declaration of ignorance: My knowledge on the topic is not any deeper than what you see here, and my sources for the above are all online, albeit mostly in Danish. The translations at least are my own.

My main source for general information on informer-liquidations was an article by historian Bjørn Pedersen written for an educational website run by the 5th of May Committee (connected with the Danish Resistance Veterans organisation), in co-operation with the Danish Ministry of Education, with some further detail from The Museum of Danish Resistance, part of the National Museum of Denmark.

My source on Folk og Frihed and Martin A. Hansen was first of all the Danish Royal Library’s online exhibit of underground publications from the time of Nazi occupation, and secondly the essay by Kasper Anthoni, I sort/hvid og farver: Alvor og humor i efterkrigstidens kortprosa, as well as excerpts from an article by David Bugge, Digterens janushoved, published in Transfiguration vol. 3:2.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Don’t cry for . . .

 . . . Harold Pinter, writes Marko Attila Hoare. Also Harry’s Place, and Oliver Kamm, twice.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Have a Nescafé Christmas

Hey kids, we get to eat this Christmas! Below you can see what this drawing was used for.

There’s more Christmas cheer in a new song from John Dog, Uncle Eddie has fun with Christmas curmudgeons, and the Telegraph has photos from last year’s celebrations in Helmand, via the SWJ.

Finally, with only a week left to the end of the UN mandate authorising foreign troops in Iraq and the full assumption of sovereignty by the democratic government of Iraq, in short victory for Iraq,  Scrooge gets to write a miserable Christmas editorial for the New York Times.

The only thing worse than the editorial is the sack of miserly comments in response. Meanwhile Mick Hartley posts an excerpt from a commentary by Michael Young of Lebanon’s Daily Star on Arab attitudes to Iraq and America: The Pervasive Desire to See Bush Fail in Iraq. He could just as well be describing leader writers and readers of the Gray Lady.

Happy Christmas! 

The drawing as it appeared in a TV ad, directed by Charlie Paul for Itch Film.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Dirty pool

Following on from my extravagant claim of responsibility for toppling a taoiseach, let’s turn to the tale of cartoonist Thomas Nast and the downfall of 19th century New York politician William Tweed, a piece of history treasured by political cartoonists everywhere. I first read of it in a book by Jerry Robinson, The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art, from 1974. He tells the story as follows:
Thomas Nast, still in his early twenties, gained his reputation as a cartoonist in Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War. His later series, which destroyed the Tammany Ring and Boss Tweed, included the most powerful political cartoons ever executed. “Stop them damn pictures!” Tweed cried upon seeing Nast’s latest “I don’t care so much what papers write about me. My constituents can’t read. But, damn it, they can see pictures!” Nast turned down Tweed’s offer of one-half million dollars “study art in Europe” and continued his scathing ridicule. Ultimately, it was Tweed who fled to Europe, and in an ironic twist of fate, a Spanish official recognized Tweed from Nast’s caricature in Harper’s Weekly and Tweed was arrested and extradited. Tweed’s baggage was found to contain a complete set of Nast’s cartoons, except for the one which sent him to jail.
However now it seems that some are casting doubt on this account. I’m just another fool with internet access and a few books on the shelf, and not in a position to divine the truth of it. I’d like the legend to be true, but as a past practitioner of political cartooning, I will admit that it is not a form of journalism heavily dependent on truth, nor one always rich in nuance. It’s not usually, if ever, about comprehending complex detail. It’s about conflict, and is regularly every bit as low down dirty as political attack advertising or tabloid headline writing.

To return to the example of my Haughey cartoon, there the choice of target was wholly justified. However the line of attack by the cartoon was not necessarily in line with reality. Be warned, a cartoonist will use not any, but every weapon to hand.

An old drawing from In Dublin magazine, late 1980s.

Guardian op-ed on Afghanistan

“We are losing in Afghanistan the Americans just don’t get it Our Brave Boys are dying we can never win in Afghanistan don’t you know this is just like 1842 why are the Americans so stupid the surge in Iraq didn’t work we’re doomed to fail in Afghanistan you can never defeat the Pashtun our cynicism proves we’re smarter than the Americans HP Flashman the End.” 
No further subscription required.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Failing to understand Somalia

Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal says Matthew Yglesias is criticising the Bush administration for the wrong reasons on Somalia, and goes on to give better reasons, all here.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Charlie Haughey: My Part in his Downfall

There were a number of substantial articles and blog posts marking the death last week of Conor Cruise O’Brien, including ones from Oliver Kamm, from Normblog, and from Harry’s Place, twice.

My own contribution here is narrow and narcissistic, concerning the above cartoon drawn a month shy of my twentieth birthday to illustrate an opinion piece by Conor Cruise O’Brien.

My first drawings for the Irish Independent had appeared just a few days earlier. I had got my foot in the door just as an election was called, and was to work solely on political caricatures for the editor who was dealing with election analysis and opinion. It looked like I was going to be busy for the duration.

The paper was in a grand building not unlike an old school, and the room I was working in had sub-editors at two rows of desks with the election editor at a big desk at the top of the room, like a teacher with his pupils.

For the Conor Cruise O’Brien piece I was briefed by one of the sub-editors, asking for the notorious billboard in the background, and Haughey “with his hand just coming up like this.” Lest it be too subtle, I added the two crows.

When my work was done and it was passed up to ‘Teacher’, “#@X%! You’ve made him into Hitler!” But it was close to deadline so off downstairs to the platemakers it went. These were the old hot metal days, with writers, editors, compositors, platemakers and presses all under the same roof.

Strangely enough, after it was published, though I kept coming in and producing drawings, only a couple more appeared in the paper. Several were left unpublished. ‘Teacher’ was no longer so enthusiastic about his new discovery. And payment was slow in coming.

The election came, Fianna Fail won, but were denied a majority and had to make deals with independent TDs. And still I kept returning to the paper trying to get payment. On one occasion when I was talking to ‘Teacher’, one of his sub-editors suggested I should feel grateful just for the experience of having worked for the paper. On another occasion ‘Teacher’ escorted me as far as the door of the accounts department, pushed me in the door and fled. The man in accounts declared himself ignorant of my case. Eventually I extracted about half the money I was due, shortly before leaving for an extended stay in Denmark.

Some time later I heard from a friend of mine, a more established cartoonist, of a conversation he’d had with ‘Teacher’ in the Olympia Theatre, a popular spot for late night drinking on the weekend. The man from The Independent asked to hear if there were any talented new cartoonists in town, and my friend mentioned me. “Oh #@X%! I’ve just shafted him!” was the response. It seems that the morning the Conor Cruise O’Brien piece ran, phones were ringing. The Fianna Fail camp were most upset, not so much by the article, but by the drawing. The way I heard it, when the Editor in Chief questioned ‘Teacher’ he blamed me to protect his sub-editor, and to protect himself I suppose.

But of course they were too late - the drawing had done its work, and a mere five years later Haughey fell from power. Some may prefer to complicate the history with other details, but really that’s all you need to know.

Below is another swipe at Haughey, from the cover of The Crack a couple of years later. This was the sole issue of that title. It was numbered issue two so that nobody could say that we never got past issue one.

Update 24 December: I’ve written a sort of follow up post to this, and also here’s another post on Conor Cruise O’Brien that I found interesting, from Johnny Guitar.

The Moorehawke Trilogy

Big congratulations to Celine!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

A shadow

This little painting is at a very early stage. The blue lines are a result of using carbon paper to transfer the sketch onto watercolour paper. Then a coat of acrylic medium on top of that, and then the first sketch of colour in Liquitex acrylic.

Friday, 12 December 2008

If it’s model ships you’re after . . .

 . . . here in London it might occur to you to look in The National Maritime Museum, but I recommend trying the Science Museum first.

They have a fabulous collection of models of all kinds of commercial and military ships, including this one, the steam yacht Solway, which I found particularly useful.

I was just finishing the above painting when I stumbled upon the Titanic board game below - and I had thought I was being callous when painting those sailors in the water! More details of this game and others on Isn’t Life Terrible.

As I type, a big box of my paintings is on a boat to Finland. Am I worried? Hmm. Anyway, here are a few more of the models in the Science Museum.

Brother, can you spare me some U235?

In the New York Times earlier this week, a review of three books on nuclear proliferation, with a handy chart. Via A second Hand Conjecture.

In the current issue of The New Yorker, a dedicated hobbyist builds his own replica of Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Has he got it right? There’s just one element needed to find out if it works.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Copenhagen, August 1939

A postcard of Christiansborg Palace, sent to England in August of 1939.

That’s the third Christiansborg Palace. Below is a view of the first palace, which partially burned down in 1794. The second burned down in 1884.

This image is from Architektur und Kunstgewerbe des Auslandes, Zweiter Band: Alt-Dänemark, Delphin-Verlag, München 1922.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Carrotty and sticketty

We need this, but in a really big way, because imagining this is too much to bear.

Stop all your swabbing

This one is finished. An earlier state of this painting here. Next, polishing the anchor.

Update: Ooops, not quite! I forgot the blue lines on their uniforms.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Understanding Pearl Harbor

The Guardian descends into grotesque self-caricature.

Update, more at Harry’s Place, Pacific War, Americans to Blame.

And from Oliver Kamm, Misunderstanding Pearl Harbor.

Related, earlier at Harry’s Place, Why Read The Guardian?

EagleSpeak has a story of some little-remembered casualties of December 7th 1941, the crew of the merchant ship SS Cynthia Olson.

On the consequences of Pearl Harbor for a very particular group of Americans, see a recent post on Cartoon Brew, Japanese-American Animation Artists of the Golden Age, by Amid Amidi. An excerpt:
Another female Japanese artist of note, Gyo Fujikawa, who had worked at Disney in the early-1940s, managed to escape internment. This excerpt from her LA Times obituary explains why:

It was Disney who Fujikawa said changed the way she handled bigots during World War II. Unlike her parents and younger brother, she escaped internment because she was living in New York; only Japanese residing on the West Coast were sent to the camps. But Fujikawa traveled frequently, and when people became suspicious of her, she often told them she was really Anna May Wong, the Chinese American actress. According to her nephew, Fujikawa took secret delight in this masquerade.

But when she told Disney that she often lied about her heritage, he exploded. “Damn it! Why should you say that? You’re an American citizen,” he said.

“From that moment on,” Fujikawa recounted recently, “that’s exactly what I did tell them.” 
The rest of Amid’s well-researched post is here

Friday, 5 December 2008

Walloping waves

This wave makes my own one seem like a splash in the bathtub. Taken from I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets, a collection of comics by Fletcher Hanks. It reminds me of Philip Guston’s Paw painting. For more waves like big mitts, have a look at this Betty Boop cartoon:

Springtime for Islamists

I am still capable of being surprised. There’s an opinion piece by one John S Burnett in the New York Times today arguing that the US should allow the Islamic Courts Union to regain power in Somalia as a means of combating piracy.
If there is movement to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, then there should be some effort to talk to the fundamentalists in Somalia. If the Islamists were permitted to form a viable, functioning and effective government, this shattered land might be able to return to the community of nations — and supertankers will be able to deliver oil to the United States without fear of getting hijacked.
So to stop pirates who don’t kill very many people but are a commercial nuisance, the US should support the installation of a Taliban-like government. Great for the people of Somalia, great for security in Africa and the world, bloody genius from the realists, oh yes.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Afghanistan and the historic mission of the left

I highly recommend this - Terry Glavin writes in Democratiya on Afghanistan, Canada, the UN, Nato, the US and Obama. A sample:
But now that the conflict in Iraq is rapidly winding down in ways that defy the grim forecasts of anti-war polemicists, the United States, particularly, is intent upon ramping up its efforts in Afghanistan. The war for 'hearts and minds' should be ramped up, too, but the main battles in that war aren't being fought in the mud-walled compounds of bleak Afghan deserts. They're unfolding in the rich countries of the world, where it is already fashionable in liberal-left circles to write off Afghanistan as an irredeemably misbegotten place, a folly, and a lost cause.

This is not a war any of us can afford to lose, and it is a disgrace that it has to be fought within the left, but that's what we're stuck with. The central struggle in Afghanistan is not the war with 'the Taliban.' It is a struggle against poverty, illiteracy, and slavery. It's a struggle against an Islamic variation of all the totalitarian, xenophobic, obscurantist and misogynist currents that it has been the historic mission of the left to fight and to defeat.
The rest is here.

For those who’ve not yet found it, Terry Glavin’s blog is here.


hamlet suspenders
Hamlet suspenders, packaging design by Danish artist Valdemar Andersen. The image comes from a wonderful book about Mr Andersen’s son, Ib Andersen, also an artist, who worked as an illustrator for newspapersbooksposters, packaging, and money

asta nielsen hamlet
Here is Danish actress and international star Asta Nielsen as Hamlet in the German film from 1920. The still is from issue no. 1 of the Penguin Film Review, published in 1946. Below, another picture of Die Asta from issue no. 2 of that pocket periodical. That one is from The Girl without a Country, made in Denmark in 1913, according to Penguin, but the IMDB says Germany 1912.

I haven’t seen either of these films, but some years ago I did see Afgrunden, or The Abyss, the Danish film that launched her career in 1910. She was formidable.

asta nielsen
I was tempted to also scan the drawing of Elsinore/Helsingør Castle from Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World, but enough is enough. The picture is also included in Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever. Hamlet does not appear.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

You say that like it was a bad thing!

Roland has been reading Counterpunch:
There is not a single, solid anti-war voice in the upper echelons of the Obama foreign policy apparatus.
Very reassuring.

On another point, I’ve heard people here in London talk about Obama’s election in terms of a victory over American racism, because of course we all know how racist the United Former Colonies in America are, seeing as how they kept slavery going eighteen years longer than the Empire. Well, The Times reports today on the brutal treatment of Obama’s Kenyan grandfather by British forces in 1949 during the campaign for Kenyan independence. It makes grim reading.

It starts quickly and then slows down

Hmmm . . .

Update: Oops, forgot to make this enlargeable, but now it is.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Greens and fascists

An earlier post concerned the question as to why the same person would feel comfortable in the Green Party and in the racist BNP. Here’s a possible clue: the Green Party leader Caroline Lucas on the root causes of the terrorist attack in Mumbai. First among them in her eyes is, can you guess?

Related, by Bob from Brockley, Fascism watch (South) London.

And Harry’s Place on Mumbai, Details.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Nothing to read here . . .

. . . try Harry’s Place instead, on one law for all (more on this from Flesh is Grass), on Mumbai through anti-imperialist eyes, (more on this from Martin in the Margins), and on Sean Penn.

Taxis are an interest of mine. Azarmehr is unimpressed by a recent BBC report on women cab drivers in Tehran, and Terry Glavin writes about some American women who see the Iranian police as a friendly taxi service for Westerners.

Stretching the net wider, Uncle Eddie considers what it takes to be a police sketch artist.

The most recent post from Golden Age Comic Book Stories is a selection of vintage magazine covers. Curiously no comics included, but it’s a diverse example of the riches to be found on this blog.

Typophile has a discussion on typefaces suitable for schoolbooks, which links to an earlier thread on type for kids. In both a number of contributors argue against a simplistic patronising approach. All of which reminds me of a post from Hairy Green Eyeball last month featuring a schoolbook worthy of René Magritte.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

A li’l sturm & drang on a sattiday nite

Between this and that I even got some more painting done today. An earlier look at this here.

On the attacks in Mumbai

Martin in the Margins: Mumbai and the theology of death.

Your Friend in the North: Waz de Joos wot dun it.

Comprehensive news and analysis links at the SWJ, 27th, 28th, and 29th November.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Peggy by Peggy

She’s in the garden, holding party decorations. The yellow dots are unfinished flowers.

Getting closer

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Are Pirates the Problem, or the Solution?

There are very few people dying from piracy. The areas that are being governed by the pirate companies are functioning and less violent than areas where piracy does not exist, indeed pirate cities are thriving. The pirates are not only commercial in nature, but they are enemies of the Islamic extremists that represent the enemy of the United States. It sounds crazy to say, but the pirates are essentially the secular, liberal capitalists of Somalia, and the United States would prefer to deal WITH not AGAINST those types of people. Know your history, the Europeans preferred dealing with the Brashaws of the Barbary states than the alternative, the Islamic militant armies. We are essentially allowing the pirates to build themselves as regional Brashaws of Somalia with the ransom money from piracy, while the Islamists who remain violent are struggling for funding.

Related, Neo-neocon on the unforseen consequences of the US withdrawal from Somalia under Clinton, of which more in this 2002 New Yorker article by Lawrence Wright, The Man Behind Bin Laden:
In 1993, bin Laden dispatched Mohamed Atef to Somalia to look for ways of attacking the American military forces that were participating in an international famine-relief effort. Bin Laden gloried in the fact that his men had trained the Somali militiamen who shot down two American helicopters in the ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident, in October of that year, prompting President Clinton to withdraw all American soldiers from the country. “Based on the reports we received from our brothers in Somalia,” bin Laden said, “we learned that they saw the weakness, frailty, and cowardice of U.S. troops. Only eighteen U.S. troops were killed. Nonetheless, they fled in the heart of darkness.” 
Earlier post on Somalia and pirates here.

The above illustration is a sketch for my current Dutch book project.

Playing Genocide

At Café Turco: History as written by other people, on Srebrenica and a gross misrepresentation of history in the drama film Resolution 819.

Related, in the New York Times: Never Forget. You’re Reminded, A.O. Scott on film dramatisations of the Holocaust.

Also on dramatising horrors of recent history, two earlier posts on this blog: Narcissus at the movies, on Hiroshima mon amour, and Narcissus at the movies 2, on The Lives of Others.

So, what software do you use?

Careful, it’s still wet.

Get a bucket

This comes just before the other one.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Christmas comes early for the SWJ

Today at Politico: Gates agrees to stay on under Obama. Via the Small Wars Journal, who have been making the case for this for some time.

Small Wars Journal, June 13th 2008

Time, June 18th 2008

The Caucus, NY Times blog, October 2nd 2008

Washington Post, October 12th 2008

Wall Street Journal, October 30th 2008

The Wall Street Journal, November 21 2008

- - - - -
Related: More on Obama and the Hawks, from Roland at But I am a Liberal.

The t-shirts they are a-changin’

Recently I had to run an errand down to the t-shirt factory over Kentish Town tube station here in London. The place was in full swing mass-producing I (heart) BO shirts, with the face of the US president elect in the heart. Unprecedented.

Above, John Campbell has some fun with new t-shirt fashions. Click on the strip for the full version. Via Journalista.

Strip copyright © John Campbell

Monday, 24 November 2008

Irish Video Times

From 1987, Ireland’s Only Video Monthly it says on the cover. On page twenty the headline: Will Super VHS be where ‘all formats end’?

These are drawings for issues two and three. I’m not certain there was ever an issue four. 

Normblog goes tabloid

Not quite, but in a change just as radical and disturbing, this morning’s edition departs from the long established Normblog house style and features photographs inserted in the text! Visible on the page! Not safely tucked away behind a clickable link, but actually interrupting the previously pure flow of words! Some are even in colour. Surely the Normblog tabloid edition cannot be far behind. Appropriately enough the topic of the post is the grotesquely ugly, unwelcoming, unloved Euston Station, and its fine neoclassical predecessor, demolished in 1961. What a falling off, and all that.

Above is an image of another lost masterpiece from the heyday of British railway station building, taken from The Wonder Book of Railways, published sometime in the 1920s by Ward, Lock & Co., Limited, London and Melbourne.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Friday, 21 November 2008

Somali pirates hijack front page

pirate ship
Yesterday, the International Herald Tribune, probably the most sober daily available at my corner shop, gave most of its front page over to the pirates and their booty. But if you’re worried about murderous threats in those waters then people smugglers seem worse. Another hazard on a lawless coast is illegal dumping.

What the pirates do underline once again is that problems in failed states don’t stay within failed states. It may be possible to contain a hostile government in control of its own territory, but it’s impossible to contain a failed state.

Detailed pirate coverage can be found at EagleSpeak.

Illustration: sketch for the book in progress.

Against a false choice

It has become quite fashionable to say there is no military solution: in Iraq “the solution in Iraq is political, it is not military,” in Afghanistan “there can be no military solution to this conflict only a political one,” and in the Democratic Republic of Congo “there is only a solution to this by discussion and not by military means.” So it was some small relief to read the words, “this is not about political settlement or humanitarian aid or military protection: it is about all three.” 

Whether action follows is another matter - three thousand more peacekeepers doesn’t quite sound like the whole world rolling into action.

The comparative explanations of the geographic scale of the problem have been varied. Congo is as big as Europe. But the eastern region currently in crisis is about the size of Sierra Leone, implying that 3,000 of the right troops might be more than enough, if only without blue helmets. Or it’s twice as big as Belgium, which given Belgium’s political problems makes it potentially the size of two times two, that is to say four little countries.

If you want a reason not to act, then the bigger the better, maybe. Or more sensibly one might think it’s better to act while the problem is contained within two Belgiums, rather than wait once more for the all-of-Europe-sized disaster.

And it doesn’t need to stop there. I’m reminded of this map.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Noisy nights in Galway and London

My old friend Ray, formerly front man for legendary Galway band The Kathleens, now performs solo in London under the name John Dog. Have a listen.

Above, sketch for a CD cover. The final version was a little different.

Flying to Finland

sadie the air mail pilot
In Finnish my darling flying cat is called Siiri Peloton Postilentäjä. From January 14th until March 15th 2009 the Post Museum in Helsinki will be exhibiting 24 original paintings of her adventures. The pictures are boxed and ready to go. I’m holding my breath -

air mail suomi finland 1938

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Jiri Trnka

Of the animation blogs in the mix listed on the right, Michael Sporn’s is perhaps my favourite, generous with knowledge and imagery, and broad in scope. Earlier this week he had a post on Jiri Trnka, the latest in a series on the Czech artist and animator, mainly of puppet films.

For anyone coming here for the politics, I recommend looking at Trnka’s work, and beginning at the end. His final film, The Hand, was released in the lead up to the Prague Spring, and banned after the tanks came in. You can watch it online here. It’s also available on DVD with his wonderful feature of The Emperor’s Nightingale.

Michael Sporn’s earlier posts on Jiri Trnka: Trnka ArtBuyoutThe Hand, Merry Circus, Trnka in Graphis.

And here’s an Animation World Magazine article on Trnka.

Also of interest, the DVD Cartoons for Victory contains a 1945 drawn cartoon by Trnka, Springman and the SS

Fascists and the environment

The best way to fight racist parties like the BNP is to get out and vote for somebody else, anybody else. Well, maybe not anybody.

At Harry’s Place: Black Shirt! Brown Shirt! Green Shirt?

It seems the BNP membership list includes a Green Party election candidate from 2001 and 2005. More on the list from BBC News.

How will the Greens deal with this? Getting rid of one cuckoo from the nest is the easy part. Asking why a neo-fascist might feel comfortable running as a Green Party candidate could be more difficult.

Update 2: Your Friend in the North has some words to say on the list leak, while Francis is tuned in to that BBC report.

Follow up post: Greens and fascists.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Ethnic riot?

It brought to mind a riot of colour, exciting music, handweaving, pottery. Actually it’s about racists rioting. The racist rioters don’t seem to be part of an ethnic minority, though they are targeting one. The actual riot seems to just involve the racists and the police, not the targeted ethnic minority, so might not racist riot have been clearer?

Sunday, 16 November 2008

A fashionable and persistent falsehood

Terry Glavin opens at a newspaper and reads:
“Today, the blunt reality and central problem in Afghanistan is that most of its people believe they were better off under the Taliban than they are under President Hamid Karzai.”
His response:
This is the opposite of the truth, and on a matter of such critical importance - what the Afghan masses actually think - it is an inexcusable error. I am now aware of 14 public opinion polls and focus group surveys conducted in Afghanistan that refute this fashionable and persistent falsehood, which has been making the rounds from almost the morning after the Taliban were routed from Kabul in 2001.
Bloody newspapers.

Also on Afghanistan, I expect Terry would get a laugh out of this in light of his own experience.

My TV Drama

My TV Drama

by Dan Turèll

I have always wanted to make a TV drama
There will be just two characters
I can see them now

They’ll be a relatively younger couple
who are sitting by the fireplace after lunch
it’s all the same which social group they belong to
they could well be academics
or they might just as well work in a bank
and have a weakness for Pavarotti that’s quite alright
it just has to be a relatively younger couple by a fireplace
they have rented a summerhouse and there is a fireplace
and they want to light a fire
they don’t have too much open authentic old-fashioned acoustic fire in the air-conditioned back home
they have all day long experienced such violent forces of nature as Sun and Sea
so now they want to experience Fire
and then it is that it won’t light

They pile log upon log
but the fire doesn’t catch hold
they take turns to find new possibilities
and new explanations and new methods
but it will not work
and gradually the irritation rises

everyone hates being unable to do what they want
they don’t necessarily begin to argue
it doesn’t have to be like that
but there hangs an irritation about the place
and it could at any time explode

And so it is that to get the fire to catch he grabs a newspaper
he throws in the newspaper
the flame rises
now it’s there
but soon it dies away again
so another newspaper is needed, quickly
and then one more
and then there is only one newspaper left, in with it
and that was today’s
so she asks if that was necessary
‘that was the new one’
and he sees only the fire and the flame that rises
and it’s as if it isn’t his own voice he hears
when he says: ‘but there’s never anything in those newspapers’
and he knows well it was him who absolutely wanted to get the newspaper this morning
but suddenly it becomes clear to him that he likes to see it burn
he likes to see these murders and muggings and share prices
and commodity prices and book reviews and car ads
just burn, nice and slow
it’s exactly as though he gets a just revenge
it’s as though he becomes a little younger with every scrap of paper that burns up
a little lighter in his body
he gets the desire to burn the business correspondence
that he took with to the summerhouse because ‘there’s always something’
and he fetches it and throws it on the fire
and he smiles at her
and at the fire
and she rises suddenly and fetches the novel she’s reading
and throws it on the fire
she will never know how it ends
but she knows there is something else that is ending

And so they burn
and they burn
I don’t know how long they’ll burn
in reality it would in any case take an evening
they burn their identities and their old letters
all their days peel off them as though burnt out
and all the while they laugh and they laugh
quite astonished
for the first time high
on emptiness -

My translation from the Danish original,
Mit TV-drama by Dan Turèll.
Copyright © the estate of Dan Turèll.
Photos from the family album, a house in Denmark, 1968.

Comics by Bo

Copyright © Bo 2008

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Afghanistan: “It’s still winnable, but only just.”

David Kilcullen interviewed by George Packer of The New Yorker.

From January it’s Obama’s war. Not the time to run, or break promises, but time to commit to victory.

Of personal interest: Denmark also has forces in Afghanistan, about 650 soldiers. In the last six months public support for the deployment has dropped from 53% to 46%.

Denmark’s four helicopters are coming home from Afghanistan this month for a two year break. Because the helicopters are not armoured and have to fly high, and are not powerful enough for heavier equipment, their infrared cameras are only half as effective as those used by British forces.

Earlier this year Danish Defence Ministry officials turned down a NATO request to send fighter jets to Afghanistan, without informing the Danish Defence Minister of the request. Danish forces in Afghanistan are unable to get air support on dangerous patrols in 30 to 40 percent of cases, according to First Lieutenant and Forward Air Controller Kenn Christensen.

I was born in NATO member Denmark, but my family moved to neutral Ireland when I was three and I have dual citizenship. At age 19 I  lived for a while in Denmark, and was eligible for national service, but got myself excused as I had grown up in Ireland.

This was 1986, in the last years of the Cold War. At the time I felt more Irish than Danish, and I believed neutrality was a good thing. On that last point I was very wrong. There is nothing good in neutrality when faced with evil. I can’t help regretting the path not taken.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


Here. More powerful than anything you’ll find on my blog.

Charlie Bone 3

The third of the French Charlie Bone books arrived today. As ever it’s available from Amazon France. Above is the cover, and below the original art without text.