Saturday, 30 April 2011

Friday, 29 April 2011

A subversive creature

an animal caught in the act of attempting to undermine the public sense of reality

This drawing is an old one from the 19 February 1987 issue of In Dublin magazine, “An animal caught in the act of attempting to undermine the public sense of reality.”

In the news today, and somehow related in my mind, Royalist forces arrest zombie revolutionaries in Brockley, London. Francis Sedgemore has more links.

James Bloodworth pulls Thomas Paine down from the shelf, while Chris Dillow argues it could be worse. Myself, I find it worrying when adults act like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are real, and then can’t take a joke from zombies.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Monday, 25 April 2011

Blitz Wolf

Three little pigs, a big bad wolf, and a non-aggression pact, in Tex Avery‘s 1942 cartoon, Blitz Wolf, his first release for MGM after several years at Warner Brothers.

Blitz Wolf was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Disney’s Der Fuehrer’s Face, below. Both cartoons apply established style and content to the task, the Donald Duck short obviously drawing on Chaplin’s Modern Times as well as Disney’s own Dumbo, but I think Avery’s well practiced irreverence comes out best here.

In Blitz Wolf, the censored word in the background painting at 4:10 is “Japs”, visible in some lower quality YouTube uploads. There is of course no shortage of racist material in other cartoons of the period, from  Tex Avery, from other directors, from other studios, in war cartoons and other cartoons.

The Disney cartoon too is unworried by the device of colouring its caricature of Hirohito bright yellow, (or is it meant to be Prime Minister Tojo?) and you can find examples of dumb racist caricature in Disney animation as late as The Aristocats.

It’s interesting to compare the Disney caricature of Axis leaders with one by Arthur Szyk. The 1943 Szyk image, a cover painting for Collier’s is if anything more brutal, but without resorting to crude skin colour cliché. More on Szyk and the Emperor of Japan.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Remembrance in St. Petersburg

In the IHT, Alison Smale writes of the Piskarovskoye Memorial Cemetery, and its monument to the one million victims of the siege of Leningrad, and then goes on to tell of an exhibition at the Anna Akhmatova Museum on the Soviet-Finnish wars of 1939-40 and 1941-44, and of arguments that Stalin’s attack on Finland on June 25, 1941, with 85,000 Finns and 330,000 Russians killed, led directly to the siege of Leningrad.
Akhmatova, who knew nearby Finland from pre-1917 days when many St. Petersburg residents vacationed there, was one of the few European intellectuals to see Stalin’s attack on Finland in 1939 on a par with Hitler’s occupation of Paris or bombing of London.

In the permanent exhibit that chronicles her life, the Finns have installed pictures of these wars. On another floor, they built what looked like a Finnish apartment, peppering it with war images in unlikely places (the surface of dinner plates) to illustrate that memories of war never fade.
Read more.

In his book, The Soviet Invasion of Finland 1939-40, Carl Van Dyke writes that this war “convinced the Finnish government of the need to seek protection against the threat of another Soviet invasion by courting allies either in Scandinavia or Germany.”

He also describes how “the war revealed many deficiencies in the Red Army’s ability to conduct contemporary warfare, confirming the Red Army’s low status in relation to other European armed forces...”

Though Stalin had increased the size of the military prior to the war years, from 1934 on he’d introduced a series of organisational reforms in the Red Army to consolidate his own political power, culminating in a wave of repression in 1937-38 during which “36,761 army commanders and some 3,000 naval commanders had been dismissed, shot or imprisoned.”

From the book:
The absurdities and horrors of the first month of the war had given rise to jokes and humorous stories which ridiculed superior officers and commissars while indulging in self-deprecation. Eventually, a more benign expression of this humour found its way into the military press in the character of Pasha Brezhuntsov (‘The Liar’), who was a creation of the editorial board of the newspaper Boevaia krasnoarmeiskaia. In early February the editors began printing the fictional letters of Pasha the Liar, depicting a gossiping, undisciplined soldier incapable of shooting or skiing and unfamiliar with regulations, whose exploits poked fun at Soviet weaponry, military food, the excessive formality of military bureaucracy, and traffic-jams on the roads. These stories came to the attention of the Political Administration of the Leningrad Military District which condemned such humour as politically subversive and a mockery of the Red Army soldier.

A more politically sympathetic alternative was the cartoon character ‘Vasia Tërkin’ created by the military journalist A. Tvardovskii with the help of the artsts V. Briskin and V. Fomichev at the newspaper Na Strazhe Rodiny. Tvardovskii based his cartoon character on a truck driver he had met during the invasion of western Belorussia a few months before, embellishing him with traits of a folk hero. Tvardovskii’s intent was to portray the role model of a combat-ready soldier who combined cheerful, quick-witted but unpretentious humour with resourcefulness under fire ‘without undermining the sacred principles of military discipline’. ‘Vasia Tërkin’ was introduced to the reading public on 31 December 1939. (...) ‘Vasia Tërkin’ sought to co-opt the potential subversiveness of military humour (...)

Images and excerpts from The Soviet Invasion of Finland 1939-40, Copyright © 1997 Carl Van Dyke.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Am I Blue

Hoagy Carmichael and Lauren Bacall in Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not.

Below, another Hawks musical scene, Drum Boogie performed by Gene Krupa and Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire.

More Hawks music: How Little We Know, by Carmichael and Bacall again in To Have and Have Not, Sob Sob Sister, by Bacall in The Big Sleep, and Ann Dvorak sings and plays in Scarface.

You can also find songs from A Song is Born, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Rio Bravo too if you want, and Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk tune from Hatari in versions good, bad and indifferent, but not in this post. I’m no completist.

Earlier, John Dog sings Lauren Bacall.

Syria, Bahrain, and strategic interest.

On the White House blog, Obama’s statement about yesterday’s attacks on protesters by Syrian government forces, in which between 70 and 100 were killed. More on events there in EA World View’s posts from yesterday and today.

From ABC News Australia, Kingdom Undercover, a 24 minute film about the ongoing brutal suppression of dissent in Bahrain, by Trevor Bormann, via @weddady. An excerpt on the regime’s crackdown inside Salmaniya Hospital:
BORMANN: Inside masked and heavily armed soldiers roam the corridors. They have tight control of a place that became a central feature of the power struggle here.

They were nights of utter chaos as the injured arrived with supporters and family in tow, medical staff could barely cope with the sheer number of casualties. One doctor it seems revealed a little too much.

DR BASSEM DEIF: “Definitely live ammunition because the femur, the bone, is completely shattered”.

BORMANN: For his candid diagnosis – exposing the government’s use of live rounds – orthopaedic surgeon Bassem Deif was arrested – his family have not heard of him since. Six other doctors are in prison for apparently sympathising with protesters.
Later parts of the film provide evidence of indiscriminate attacks against villages by security forces.
BORMANN: The protest movement broken and dispersed, the Bahraini Royal family is now obliterating all of its opponents once and for all. In Shiite villages, internal security forces sweep through night and day, terrorising and taking men away to an uncertain fate.

They linger for no apparent reason but to menace and destroy property at random. Neighbours who cower in fear can still manage to record the event to feed to the outside world. This village leader asked us to obscure his identity and change his voice.

VILLAGE LEADER: “If they want to get some specific people, they come at night - say three… four o’clock - and then they know that people are in their houses and they attack their houses with a big group. And then they walk around and around the whole area and whenever they capture anybody they just knock him down, hit him badly with their shoes and their hands and then they try to steal their money”.

BORMANN: The security forces have free reign here. They target and intimidate mainly the young men of the village. Anyone identified in our story is very likely to be jailed but filming this man’s back was enough to tell his story. He’d been hit with a shotgun blast. It’s a painful and disfiguring wound.

MAN (Describing incident): He was sitting opposite my home... he was sitting outside... and they have... a policeman came and he shot him. He was just sitting outside at home. That’s it.

BORMANN: I was ushered to a house to meet other young men. They too had been shot in the back. It’s dangerous to be seen in a group anywhere in this neighbourhood. The injuries should have been treated in hospital but they know that’s where they can be found.
Film and transcript here.

From ModernityBlog, Bahrain ruling elite attack doctors, pointing to a report by The Independent, and giving some links on Britain’s history with Bahrain.

Also from Modernity, CNN on Bahrain, a report by Amber Lyon featuring Richard Sollom of Physicians for Human Rights, and Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch.

Richard Sollom describes abuses by Bahrain forces as horrific, widespread and systematic, and says that more than 30 doctors and medics have been arrested, and believes they are targeted because they are the ones who have “specific evidence of the atrocities by the Bahraini government.”

Joe Stork on international reaction to Bahrain: “I think it has definitely been put on the back burner, but I think it’s because of the involvement of Saudi Arabia, and the strategic importance that the United States, the UK, other governments, see with Bahrain. And I think that’s the reason they are being treated very much with kid gloves.”

Later in the video, he goes on to say, “We do know that the Obama administration has been raising these issues with Bahraini authorities behind the scenes.”

Elliot Abrams, Bahrain Heads for Disaster, via @abuaardvark. An excerpt:
It is difficult to understand why the King believes this path leads anywhere but exile in London for him and his family. Bahrain has a Shia majority (once estimated at 70 percent, but probably lower than that now due to a campaign of naturalization of foreign-born Sunnis, especially those who serve in the army and police). The current actions against the Shia community will embitter all its members and decapitate its moderate political, economic, religious, and moral leadership. Future compromises will be far more difficult, and are perhaps already impossible.
Read more.

White House blog posts on Bahrain.

The conventional Realist argument is that the alliance with the Bahrain government serves US and UK national interests, protecting oil supplies and countering Iranian influence. But as I argued earlier, an alliance can only be regarded as stable if it is based on an alignment of interests with all parties acting in their own national interest. Clearly the Bahrain government, by making an enemy of its own population, is not serving its own national interest.

Western interests in Bahrain lie in an alignment with the population of Bahrain. The perception, promoted by Iran, that the West is aligned with the interests of the Bahrain government against the interests of the population risks severe long term strategic damage to Western interests. Merely “raising these issues with Bahraini authorities behind the scenes” is not enough as this fuels the negative perception and further risks making an enemy of the population, as happened in Iran under the Shah.

Active public solidarity with the people of Bahrain is the only way to properly serve US and UK interests. A policy on Bahrain more clearly consistent with policy on Syria and Iran would also better serve the cause of democracy in those countries.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Here comes the sun

Frankie Gavin and De Dannan playing on the wireless. From the same show, If You Love Me, and more.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Fortress in ruins

On a Norfolk beach, a fortress made of shellfish, found in ruins of coastal defences built during the Second World War.

At The Arabist, This is/was Misurata, the ruins of Misrata today, video of life in Misratah during Ramadan 2010.

More video of the destruction of Misrata from YouTube user Hamzaz.

Comment at ModernityBlog, Break the siege of Misrata.

For news and links on Libya, follow,, and EA World View.

Recalling another siege, earlier this month at Café Turco, 6 of April: Remembering war in Sarajevo. An excerpt:
This week two historical dates were commemorated in Sarajevo: the day of the liberation of the city in the Second World War and the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo, in 1992.
The commemoration of both wars was simultaneous not only because of the coincidence of dates, but also because of the coincidence of places: both the memorial park of Vraca and the Jewish Cemetery were used as launching pads from which the Serb forces targeted the city. The connection between both wars is also made through the invocation of anti-fascism. Such approach, while establishing a connection between both wars, also allows to identify the nature of the recent war as a new episode of the confrontation between fascism and anti-fascism, and thus ‘de-ethnicise it’. But such connection is far from being consensual, and reflects the ideological divide existent in Bosnian society. Not everyone views the communist regime only through the perspective of an heroic anti-fascist struggle. Thus not everyone who went to the Mezarija in Kovaci went also to the Vijecna Vatra, and only people affiliated with SDP, the social democratic party, went to Tito and Valter’s statues.
Read more.

From last month, BBC Radio 4's series The Reunion on UNHCR Bosnia.

The guests are Tony Land, Chief of Operations for the UN refugee agency for much of the war; Larry Hollingworth, a logistics officer with UNHCR; Amira Sadicovic, worked as UNHCR's external relations officer; Kris Janowski, field-worker, Paddy Ashdown, and Misha Glenny.

At, Spomenik, Tito’s modernist monuments to the partisans of the Second World War, falling into ruin, via Lyb Solutions.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Realism Deficit 2: Walt and Friends

The previous post attempted to make an argument on a weakness in the Realist view of foreign affairs. As an illustration of that, here are some recent articles on Libya.

As part of a longer article, Is America Addicted to War?, self-described Realist Stephen M Walt writes:
. . as Alan Kuperman of the University of Texas and Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune have now shown, the claim that the United States had to act to prevent Libyan tyrant Muammar al-Qaddafi from slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Benghazi does not stand up to even casual scrutiny. Although everyone recognizes that Qaddafi is a brutal ruler, his forces did not conduct deliberate, large-scale massacres in any of the cities he has recaptured, and his violent threats to wreak vengeance on Benghazi were directed at those who continued to resist his rule, not at innocent bystanders.

The Alan J Kuperman piece linked to here, Five things the US should consider in Libya, is a perfect example of Realism’s reality deficit. Kuperman writes:
In Kosovo, a senior ethnic Albanian official, Dugi Gorani, confessed on BBC: “The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) of course realized that.”
This is a highly selective and misleading citation. Here’s more from the transcript the article links to:
With Racak, and with lots of others, the Serbs were playing into KLA hands. It will remain I would say an eternal dilemma whether the KLA initiated these battles in the civilian inhabited areas because it knew that the Serbs will retaliate on them. Personally I don't think so, but of course, it was a war.
Kuperman also cites a New York Times article as follows:
The New York Times reported that violence threatening Libya’s civilians was “provoked by rebels.”
But the article he links to details not just one incident in Zawiyah “arguably provoked by rebels” but also another in Zawiyah “described as a ‘massacre’ by rebel witnesses,” where Gaddafi forces “took aim at a group of unarmed protesters who attempted to march through the militia lines toward the capital.” The same article describes two events in Tripoli where unarmed protesters were shot.

There is of course lots more reporting from established news organisations available online to counter Kuperman's selective cherrypicking, and now we also have ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo saying he has evidence that Gaddafi had a plan authorising killing of protesters prepared even before unrest spread from Tunisia and Egypt.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Realism Deficit 1

Little humour here I’m sorry to say, as the following post is an attempt to lay out a simple and hopefully robust argument on idealism and Realism in international affairs.

The ‘Realist’ point of view on international relations, as I understand it (comments welcome), sees all international conflicts as being driven by competing national interests, and believes that idealism is a  diversion, a mask, an illusion obscuring this fundamental truth.

The Realist sees a risk that idealism can lead a government to act against the national interest, and is therefore hostile to any humanitarian intervention, and to human rights playing any serious role in deciding foreign policy.

More Amazon animals

An ocelot and a poison dart frog, by Bo.

Earlier: two toucans.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Massacre in Mazar-i-Sharif

In Dissent, Terry Glavin writes on the background to the killings of UN workers in Afghanistan, on Mazar-i-Sharif’s history of resistance to radicalism, on Iranian propaganda, and on Karzai’s collusion.

An excerpt:
Of all places in Afghanistan for a UN compound to be turned into a human abattoir, we’re supposed to be shocked that it would be in the contented little metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of the peaceful northern province of Balkh. We’re supposed to be astonished that the murderers of those seven UN workers arose from a frenzied mob at the head of a procession that started out at the city’s famous Blue Mosque.

We should not be surprised at all.

For centuries, Mazar’s glorious Shrine of Hazrat Ali was the journey’s end for Shia pilgrims from afar and an everyday refuge of gardens and esplanades for the local Sunni majority. The Blue Mosque, where everyone prays together, is a fountainhead of Sufi cosmopolitanism. It is a marvel of classic Islamic architecture built in the grand Timurid style on deep Zoroastrian foundations. This is no grim, radical madrassa.

Mazar has survived as a rebuke to the Islamist orthodoxies that have stultified civilized life from Persepolis to Peshawar. It is the epicenter of everything that jihadists hold to be heretical. During the late 1990s, the city put up an especially fierce resistance to Taliban tyranny. Since 2004 the province’s bare-knuckle governor, Atta Mohammed Noor, has cleaved to a law-and-order ferocity that terrifies the Taliban-friendly Pashtuns who form Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s base of power.

It was not in spite of these things but precisely because of them that about three years ago, Shia Khomeinists and Sunni Wahhabists teamed up in their efforts at subversion in Mazar. During my visits in the city last June, the smartest young Afghans I spoke with were worried that it was just a matter of time before these efforts would spill out in blood.
Read it all.

More background on Terry Glavin’s blog, here, here, and here.

Dion Nissenbaum and Maria Abi-Habib at the Wall Street Journal reconstruct events of the massacre.

C Christine Fair at Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel on Karzai’s role.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Aid and rescue ships

Following on from the previous post, has a video of a food aid ship from Qatar that arrived in Misratah on Saturday, and BBC News has more on the Turkish ship Ankara, and how it eventually reached Misratah under cover from 10 Turkish F-16 fighter jets and two navy frigates.

Added: another ship from Misratah arrives in Tunisia. Reuters reports:
An aid ship operated by charity Medecins Sans Frontieres docked in the Tunisian port of Sfax carrying 71 injured people from Misrata, many with bullet wounds and broken limbs and one whose face was completely disfigured by burns.

"You have to visit Misrata to see the massacre by Gaddafi," said Omar Boubaker, a 40-year-old engineer who was shot in the leg.

"Corpses in the street... the hospital overflowing. Doctors taking care of people in the street. There's no space left in the hospital," he said.
Read more. Video at

Also via, CNN journalists join a fishing trawler shipping aid from Malta to Misratah.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Making excuses

Via Poumista, a post by David Osler, Libya: revolution betrayed?, responding to Eammon McCann’s reminiscences in Socialist Worker of his meeting with Gaddafi in 1987, when McCann interviewed him for a Channel 4 documentary. I haven’t seen the film, but a print version of the interview was published by In Dublin magazine in February 1987.

It’s not an article I would recommend to the casual reader. Scholars of kitsch left anti-Western anti-imperialist politics may find it of interest, not for any novelty value but as a good example of its type. McCann’s main aim in the piece seems to have been to make excuses for Gaddafi’s transgressions, to diminish them as far as possible, despite necessarily acnowledging a few unavoidable facts as to the nature of Gaddafi’s rule, and further, to wherever possible call attention to the vices of Western leaders and Western media. A paragraph to illustrate the MO:
Amnesty International reckons the number of victims of Libyan terrorism at nineteen, fifteen of these being Libyans abroad ‘sentenced to death’ by the Revolutionary Committees. Yvonne Fletcher is among the four others. In the period in which these killings took place (1980 up to the present) US proxies in El Salvador and Guatemala killed an estimated 120,000 people.
19 against 120,000 makes for a conclusive argument, and let connection and context be damned. Here’s another choice bit, a quote from Gaddafi that goes unchallenged by McCann, describing Jewish American cabinet members as Israelis:
‘They have involved Israelis in their very government. I’m thinking here of Kissinger and Schultz. This is a great mistake. The American people should elect themselves a president who is qualified, and who will not involve Israelis.’
Enough of that. For anyone sufficiently curious, scans of the article are here: one, two, three, four, five, six.

From another article on kitsch anti-imperialists and the intervention debate linked to at Poumista, a line to cut out and keep:
At the end of the day, their posture comes down to opposition to whatever the main imperialist bourgeoisies are doing. No matter what. Much that they do, most of what they do, should indeed be opposed. But to equate our long term, rooted, class opposition to these powers with deep opposition to every specific thing they do is not to be independent of them, but to be their slavish mirror image.
That’s from Why we should not denounce intervention in Libya, by Sean Matgamna, posted at Shiraz Socialist.

Indeed we should not denounce it, but ask why it is still too little, and still too slow. Below is the Turkish ferry Ankara at Misratah port today, taking wounded on board to be treated in Turkey. The ship spent days several miles offshore because of shelling by Gaddafi forces. Apparently NATO forces advised the ship to stay offshore because it was unsafe to dock. What I don’t understand is why didn’t NATO forces escort the ship to ensure safe passage? The UN resolution that NATO are acting under is supposed to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.” Looking at this ship docking days late in the empty port of Misratah, NATO seems to be failing in its mission.

Update 4 April: BBC News reports that the ship Ankara has now sailed to Benghazi before going on to Cesme, Turkey:
Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, ordered the Ankara, a car ferry that had been turned into a makeshift hospital, into Misrata on Sunday after it had spend four days waiting for permission to dock.

The ship, which was also carrying medical supplies for doctors in Misrata, arrived under cover from 10 Turkish F-16 fighter jets and two navy frigates, Turkish consular official Ali Akin told the Reuters news agency.

With heavily armed Turkish police special forces standing by, the injured people were taken aboard and laid on mattresses on one of the car decks, above which saline drips were hung. Some were accompanied by their relatives.

Mr Akin said the ship had to leave early after a large crowd - including hundreds of Egyptians - pressed forward on the quayside hoping to escape.

The BBC's Jon Leyne, who went on board the Ankara, says many of the patients have extremely serious injuries, including some amputations.
Read more.