Friday, May 28, 2004
No, they haven't dragged me off to the gulag - I was just in one of those extended, unmotivated moods. And the reason for that is not serious, and not important either. Toss in a little of my own natural procrastinatory inclinations and the sheer volume of things that I have an opinion about these days, the phenomenal amount of inspiring and just plain brilliant stuff I've been tripping over on the web and just have to read..... well, you get the picture.
It's a darn good thing I'm not a journalist, with like, deadlines and stuff.
THAI POLITICAL PRIMER
This is just one of the things going on in Thailand these days, and you can sort of take it as a microcosm of the way things work here. Thai politics has always been pretty weird - even weirder and wackier than the old BC political farces of the WAC Bennett days, if such a thing is possible. I must admit that since Mr. Thaksin came to power, I've sort of lost interest, mainly out of discouragement after a period of excitement in watching the hopeful beginnings of a country embracing democracy, rejecting dictatorship once and for all.
So these days I surely couldn't rattle off the names of the major players like I could back in the days when it was certain figures siding with a military dictator, others struggling on principle for the people-driven movement for reform and democracy, and so on. That was life and death stuff where ideals and blood were on the line. Things are much more mundane now. For the first time in Thai history, the country is ruled by a single party government with a clear majority in parliament. Until this latest period, whenever there actually was an elected government, it was forced by the extremely multi-party nature of electoral results, to have been formed with substantial horse trading to create a coalition which typically consisted of at least 6-8 separate political parties.
Now we have one powerful party owned by the richest "tycoon" (a euphemism for a certain ethnic minority / economic elite), which has purchased most of the other parties making coalitions redundant, and named itself "Thais Love Thais". The venerable old Democratic Party is the principled... oops, principal opposition. The Prime Minister has a habit of indulging in rash decisions and insertion of feet into mouth, not to mention gimmicks like buying English football clubs with public money. He was almost disqualified from office before having a chance to assume his position, due to having played a sneaky shell-game with his immense wealth and corporate holdings. In a scene reminiscent of the Bush election Supreme Court ruling, he squeeked through by one vote of the Constitional Court. His wife is also rich, ambitious, and not above a little financial hanky panky as well.
So the stage is set for our latest installment of "This is Thailand". The government has been enduring a censure debate in parliament, a regular occurrence akin to our own parliamentary "non confidence motion". However, wait til you get a load of this one - and believe me, I'm sure Paul Martin would wish he could just make ADSCAM go away this easy. Then he could have called his election months ago as he planned. But I digress. I will try to make this easier by using first names only, since Thai family names have a minimum of 19 letters or 7 syllables, and are thus likely to make you dizzy.
Firstly, the opposition wanted to censure Deputy PM Suchart, about things which took place when he was previously Finance Minister. The Speaker of the House ruled that this was quite impossible, since he is no longer Finance Minister, and the problem is no longer his responsibility. So naturally, the opposition turned its attention to the current Finance Minister Somkid. Mr. Speaker of course gagged them again, since clearly the targeted incidents occurred when Mr. Somkid was not Finance Minister. The incident in question, incidentally, was a Finance Ministry decision which allowed the Prime Minister's wife to buy a nice plot of land put to auction by another government agency for an allegedly and ridiculously low price. And thus everyone finally clicks to the reason that the Prime Minister keeps reshuffling his cabinet. If he keeps doing that, all his ministers will remain permanently off limits to censure debates and criticism of any kind. Nobody's responsible for anything!
The Speaker, who of course is entirely impartial in true parliamentary tradition, after making his controversial ruling on the matter, generously told the opposition to get stuffed... er I mean he told them to take their complaints to the Constitutional Court if they were not satisfied. Which is of course the same Constitutional Court which ruled following the last election, that putting some 10-billion Baht worth of shares in the accounts of one's servants is an honest mistake, and should not preclude one from becoming leader of the land. To put that into perspective, that is one-third of a billion Canadian dollars.
The Prime Minister himself took time out from his busy schedule to comment on the issue. He contemptuously (hey, The Nation's editorial writer's choice of word, not mine) answered the charges of having effectively put all his ministers off limits to criticism, by describing the characterisation as "silly", and went on to say that he had "better things to do." Yes indeed, I'd say that would be a safe bet. The question of the day is, do the Thai people have "better things to do" with their money and votes, and do they continue to buy this stuff about "Thais Loving Thais".
YOU'RE SAYING THAT THE UN IS "BENT"?
That was the bite-sized quote seized upon by the infuriatingly aggressive BBC Hardtalk interviewer, Tim Sebastian to introduce today's occupant of his hot seat. I do realise that's his job, as he plays - some might say overplays - his role as "devil's advocate", regardless of whom he interviews. To my mind, he too often crosses the line from his all too obvious endeavour to play the tough guy, to frankly being just downright rude and obnoxious. And I don't deny that my annoyance on any given day is related to who happens to be the target of his ire, and of course this is a good reminder of my own bias. I'm far less likely to shout "Ahh Sebastian, shut up!" at the television, if he is beating up on Ted Kennedy or Pat Buchanan than if it was Joe Lieberman or Victor Davis Hanson. And while I haven't seen any of these four examples actually occur, I chose them to make a point. Just so nobody gets the idea that it's a favouritism based on the obsolete left / right scale or the nearly as irrelevant liberal / conservative (small letters, not party names, of course) divide.
But when snarky old Tim takes it out on people with obvious integrity of a non-partisan nature, like today's guest Claude Hankes-Drielsma, it comes across as simply gratuitious aggression for no reason than to keep up his reputation as a tough, non nonsense interviewer. Totally unnecessary. Mr. Hankes-Drielsma has been mentioned here before, and quoted in regards to the UN - Iraq oil for "food" scam. He heads up the Iraqi Governing Council's own current investigation into the affair - remember, the IGC is the body which uncovered and revealed the scandal to the public in the first place (through one of the many new independent Iraqi newspapers, al Mada). It was apparent that this man has long experience with that part of the world, and had some very illuminating things to say about Ahmed Chalabi, the well publicised legal moves against Chalabi in Jordan, and Jordan's longstanding dependence on Saddam Hussein during his time in power. Despite the fact that an independent audit is ongoing into the accounts now in possession of the IGC, Hankes-Drielsma has made public statements about what is known about the scandal so far.
Sebastian hammered him for being rash and irresponsible, and besmirching the sparkling clean reputation of the UN. This was basically his single, and repeated, issue to bash the poor fellow with - until switching to tar him with the Chalabi brush. Even though his commission serves the entire IGC, and has unanimous support from all IGC members, he had to endure being accused of being some sort of lap dog of the dastardly Chalabi for a vendetta against the UN! However he kept his cool, explained calmly and patiently what the actual situation is between his commission and the UN's own investigation, relationship to the IGC, his opinion of Chalabi and many other issues.
I came away from the session with some good confidence in this guy, though it's good to know that there are several other investigations also progressing. He had long ago asked Kofi Anan to impliment the UN's own investigation into what he could then already see had the potential to be the most massive kickback scandal since the earth cooled, but no dice. He had hoped the UN would take the high ground, but Kofi apparently didn't think this was such a great offer. The UN has been dragging its heels on this from day one, the man in charge of the project has been ordered to go into virtual hiding, and the UN investigation was finally agreed to with extreme reluctance. Yet the biggest bureaucracy the world has ever known is given benefit of the doubt to an almost ridiculously comical extent, critics of the UN are assumed to have hidden agendas for disreputable interests - meaning Chalabi or, even worse, the United States. All this while there is not a shred of indication that the accusers of scandal are wrong, and a ton of evidence already shows what a horrible tangle of corruption, double dealing, and cooperation with a mass murdering regime was going on within a UN "humanitarian" program.
AND THAT REMINDS ME....
While that is all fresh in mind, it struck me the other day what a remarkable difference is shown in the media's attitude between the UN corruption scandal and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Both are sub-stories of the Iraq issue, which certainly continues to be the major attention getter in the universe right now. And while the media dribbles out a little more of the prison stuff every week, ensuring it stays on top billing each day, enabling many of them to pound on it every five minutes, the fact is that they did not break this story or even advance it in any real way with all the publicity.
The fact is that the bureaucracy in question - the US military - instituted a serious and full investigation into the affair the day after it was reported to them in January. And who reported it, blew the whistle? Not the media, but rather a US military serviceman. Who told the public about this at the time? Not the media, although that was their job to do so. Those CENTCOM guys that nobody seems to pay attention to anymore, announced all this at their daily briefings. With all the world's media reps in the room taking notes, asking questions, and somehow not noticing that they were being told of investigations into abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US personnel. They were told about officers having been already relieved of duty, and that charges would be coming in the near future.
Then something like 5 weeks later they again told the media scribblers that preliminary investigations showed that abuses had certainly taken place, charges were being laid, courts martial would definitely happen, and full investigations were ongoing. If we didn't hear about any of this, it's because the media didn't think it was very important! But until now, nobody has had the gumption to say the investigations were half hearted or that the military dragged its feet or tried to protect its own members from penalty. Nobody can say that, because it can plainly be shown to be false. General Taguba has earned praise from all quarters for his thorough work on his report and blunt spoken public testimony on what happened and why. Still more people have been relieved of duty and more courts martial proceedings have been announced. The public watchdogs didn't give a darn about any of this until the pictures fell into their laps. America gets called every name in the book, even compared unfavourably to the mass murderer Saddam, when they actually did everything we should be expecting them to do in dealing with the mess.
Yes, we can say the mess shouldn't exist in the first place. And that is right of course. But messes do happen, and if we're truthful about the world, we must expect that they will continue to happen. The point is what comes after the mess - is there hiding, denial, stonewalling, destroy the evidence etc.? Or is there admission, apology, openness, adherence to procedure and justice, etc.? I know well where the cynicism comes from. Distrust is the default mode in the culture now, and that's probably still a good idea. What Watergate did in the government field, and the Three Mile Island crisis did in the industrial corporate field, still form important bases for perception. I remember well how angry I was at that suit on TV, explaining how everything at the Three Mile Island plant was fully under control, nothing to worry about, go back to sleep. And long before that, still a teenager but a faithful watcher of the daily Senate Watergate hearings as Richard Nixon's dirty tricks were laid on the table. Was all that work and commitment to fix what was broken, all for nothing?
Nobody is claiming it was all fixed of course, and so distrust as the default is still a good idea. But if they get called all the same names whether their response to a mess is proper or improper, where is the incentive to do the right thing? What does it say about the priorities of the public watchdogs in the media, when they harp on an issue (even to the point that their excitement blinds them to basic journalistic ethics in favour of titillating but fake photos) that is already being dealt with properly and transparently? At the same time, they virtually ignore another scandal where the authority in question has been behaving rather more like the old Nixon White House, with possible protection of criminal wrongdoers, evasiveness, denial and all the rest. Is there any doubt that had Haliburton been a beneficiary of Saddam's corrupt kickback scheme, that we wouldn't be hearing about that every five minutes? Instead, it was only powerful figures and corporations from countries like Russia and France who opposed the overthrow of the tyrant who was so generous with them, and officials in the UN itself. Transpose "US" and "UN" in some of these issues, and see how improbable they will then sound.
America makes a mess and deals with it in an honest an open way - and it's still evil. The UN makes a mess which was massively more widespread, which caused hardship for millions and enrichment for a few tyrant lovers, deals with its exposure with obstruction and denial - and gets a free ride.
It's almost a farce, except that after realising how some (many?) of the American media people apparently hate their country and pray for its defeat, it just isn't funny anymore. The sentiments of that reporter in the story I linked to a while ago, who felt that thousands more Iraqi deaths would make the quagmire a reality, leading to America's shameful defeat and withdrawal, total failure for the whole project, which could just be enough to ensure Bush's defeat at the polls, and thus making it all worthwhile - I fear are not so rare. Somebody did an examination lately, of all the mistakes that were made in a wide range of selected media - from things that were mis-reported in the course of a story's development and later corrected (which is normal) right up to things that were just flat out false (like the fake rape pictures). This kind of stuff happens, that's just the nature of news reporting to some extent. But when you find that all the errors were on the side of making Bush/Coalition/US military look bad, and none of the mistakes went the other way, then it just defies the law of averages.
I've sometimes wondered exactly when the Muslim woman's headscarf started to be adopted in the Islamic communities of South East Asia. Obviously Islam has been here for centuries, but in old photos one doesn't see women wearing them. In Malaysia it's quite ubiquitous, and I think probably a dress requirement in banks and government offices. Commonly seen in the southern Thai provinces also, but certainly not required of Muslim girls and women. In Indonesia I would say it's less common still, where women are apparently free of pressure to wear it, free to choose for themselves, and most choose not to wear it. There may be certain areas or towns where they are under some degree of pressure to cover their hair, but I don't think I've ever been in a place where every woman complied with this. In Indonesia the hijab is called "jilbab".
So it was very interesting for me to read this article by Amir Taheri, a well known Iranian writer on Islam and the Middle East, in which he uncovers the origin of this so-called "Islamic dress code." The article is from last year, during the period when the French parliament was deciding whether, and how far, to restrict religious dress. In many other countries, the issue has been the basis of religious discrimination civil suits, and all sorts of protest and commotion. It seems like not a single one of these women knows why they wear the hijab, and I can only imagine their shock and horror if they were ever to be told. And here's a scenario: if they happened to be out in the street, shaking fists and shouting support for Yasser Arafat when a companion would tell them the actual origin of this little scarf thing and its connection with Arafat's militia.... I'd certainly love to see some of the reactions.
All these and other cases are based on the claim that the controversial headgear is an essential part of the Muslim faith and that attempts at banning it constitute an attack on Islam.One particularly valuable thought which was expressed in this article and certainly transcends the hijab issue, is the distinction Mr. Taheri makes between Islam and Islamism. In pointing out the irony of militant Islamists demanding of the "Zionist-Crusader" courts of Europe and America to decide what is Islamic, he reminds the judges and juries that they "are dealing not with Islam, which is a religious faith, but with Islamism, which is a political doctrine." Now there's a statement which could stand to be carved in a few prominent places along the Common.
That claim is totally false. The headgear in question has nothing to do with Islam as a religion. It is not sanctioned anywhere in the Koran, the fundamental text of Islam, or the hadith (traditions) attributed to the Prophet.
This headgear was invented in the early 1970s by Mussa Sadr, an Iranian mullah who had won the leadership of the Lebanese Shiite community.
In an interview in 1975 in Beirut, Sadr told this writer that the hijab he had invented was inspired by the headgear of Lebanese Catholic nuns, itself inspired by that of Christian women in classical Western paintings. (A casual visit to the National Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, or the Louvres in Paris, would reveal the original of the neo-Islamist hijab in numerous paintings depicting Virgin Mary and other female figures from the Old and New Testament.)
Sadr's idea was that, by wearing the headgear, Shiite women would be clearly marked out, and thus spared sexual harassment, and rape, by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian gunmen who at the time controlled southern Lebanon.
Sadr's neo-hijab made its first appearance in Iran in 1977 as a symbol of Islamist-Marxist opposition to the Shah's regime. When the mullahs seized power in Tehran in 1979, the number of women wearing the hijab exploded into tens of thousands.
In 1981, Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic, announced that "scientific research had shown that women's hair emitted rays that drove men insane" (sic). To protect the public, the new Islamist regime passed a law in 1982 making the hijab mandatory for females aged above six, regardless of religious faith. Violating the hijab code was made punishable by 100 lashes of the cane and six months imprisonment.
BET YA DIDN'T HEAR ABOUT THIS ON CBC/CNN/CBS/BBC
There's a brand new, modern Shia university near Hilla, south of Baghdad. See if this doesn't sound like something we should be supporting:
Through a radical program to educate young religious leaders Qazwini [the university's founder] and his students want to make Islam synonymous with tolerance, human-rights and democracy, while they have little time for the Shia establishment led by Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf whose they feel offer little guidance for dealing with contemporary life... "Some religious people who want to represent Islam want to return us to the Middle Ages," says one of the students. "Islam must deal with the issues of contemporary society. They should focus on today's issues such as globalisation, democracy and modern life."If that sounds vaguely intriguing, or if you might be thinking, "Gee, I wonder why I never heard anything about that," then surf thyself over to this latest roundup of good news. And if that whets your appetite for more, be sure to check out the previous week's equally extensive and link-rich listing of positive stories from the former Regime of Fear.
ABU HAMZA AND MOQTADA
It's very nice to hear that the radical Muslim cleric is now under arrest and possibly to be extradited to the US. For those who don't know him, this is the guy who preached at the infamous Finsbury Mosque in London until he was evicted by some kind of community religous board, whereupon he continued his hateful preaching out in the street every Friday. The Egyptian-born fanatic is known for his outrageous statements of praise and celebration following the September 11 attacks, and later that the latest space shuttle explosion was the work of God due to the fact that there was a Jew on board - just for two off the top of my head. The UK government had stripped him of his citizenship for other reasons, which he was appealing and which would have dragged out until next year. An absolutely vile individual, one who I absolutely did not mind old Tim Sebastian giving a hard time on his Hard Talk. The extradition is apparently based on a hostage taking incident in Yemen in which people were killed. Send the bum to the US and have them drape women's flowered undies over his head, that's what I say. Or worse, yeah let's go for worse.
Then there's the young whippersnapper Moqtada. Now he is pleading for a deal in Najaf - let his non-Najafi fighters leave the city, don't prosecute him for murdering another Shia cleric, and some other stuff. I don't know if the Coalition will agree to it all, but it seems like he wants out. After all this time, every day the BBC has been telling me that the al Mahdi Army was in virtual control of all those cities - Najaf, Kut, Karbala and more - and neglecting to tell me that the people of Najaf had been organising killer squads to kick him out and assassinate his fighters. I heard about that weeks ago, and in fact several days ago I read that Moqtada's goons had completely left Karbala without so much as a bye your leave. Gone, left, and Karbala people were understandably relieved about it. Yet the good old Beeb, only yesterday referred breathlessly to it as "the holy city of Karbala which remains firmly devoted to the rebel cleric...", etc. etc. Which doesn't surprise me anymore because I'm getting sick and tired of seeing Caroline Hawley every two hours day after day, standing in exactly the same place on the roof of her hotel telling the world what everyone in town thinks and exactly what is going on. I have serious doubts that she ever moves beyond her room, the hotel dining room, the patio by the pool, and the rooftop camera shot.
IS IT REALLY THIS FAR GONE WITH CANADIAN MEDIA?
Well as I hear the other day, it finally happened. It had to happen sometime, and apparently Paul Martin feels that things can only get worse if he waits. Canada goes to the polls. I'm sure hoping for a safe and terror free campaign. That might sound like alarmist claptrap, and I very much hope that it will still sound that way at the end of June. I watched the briefing today by the US FBI director and Attorney General, courtesy of the Asiasat 2 which also blesses me with weekend C-SPAN. I don't think this stuff ought to be taken lightly - when they get increased "chatter" coming in from around the world about a new terrorist "project", it may well be pointing to something actually in progress. What amazes me is some of the skeptical response to it. Just a few weeks ago I listened to the shameful posturing on the 911 committee, badgering people about "Why didn't you do more, why didn't you go public with this and that, you didn't do enough to warn the country, you could have stopped it, blah blah blah." Now they're telling us when there are indicators, albeit non-specific but definite indicators that something could very well be up, and they get jumped on for being "alarmist" and "blowing it out of proportion". I'm sure Sen. Kennedy and his type have by now launched diatribes about using fear for political advantage or something. Pathetic hypocrites.
Anyway it was interesting to know that one of the seven individuals shown by Mueller today as some people we should all be watching out for, was one Canadian citizen. I couldn't tell from his name what his origin might be, but there you go. I refer the gentle readers to last Wednesday's posting here, and the article AL QAEDA SAYS CANADA DESERVES BOMBING. They were very pleased with themselves after the clear effect they had on the Spanish election, and I just bet they'd love to have another go. Just don't rule it out as alarmist claptrap, that's all I'm saying. And if it still sounds that way at the end of next month, and I sound like a fool for saying so, then I'll be a happy fool and won't care one bit.
Here's a humourous thing I found yesterday - this is the part my headline refers to. In The Shotgun this week, Kate McMillan writes:
Getting reaction from Harper after Martin's election call, the press is hitting all the talking points from the Liberal Smear Handbook, paraphrasing -
"Mr. Harper, is it true you would lower taxes to levels below the US?"
"How do we know we can trust you?"
"Is it true that you would want Canada to be more like the US?
"Mr. Harper, is it true that you would put all the gays in jail and make everyone go to weekly prayer metings, take away the right of women to vote, ban abortion, make Newfoundland get a job, start work camps for Muslims and institute the draft to send troops to the Chimp Bush's moron quagmire in Iraq?
Ok. So nobody asked the last question. But they will.
AUTHORS GO TO WAR
This is a short article by (I think he is) an Englishman who writes a very thought provoking blog, as well as articles for some newspapers over there. His name is Oliver Kamm, describes himself as "left leaning" and certainly knows his "left" politics, and supports the efforts to democratise Iraq. There are a surprising number of such people around, as I've found following blogger links from place to place. Sheesh, and all this time I was wondering if I was the only one! (though like I said before, I really dislike this "left - right" business)
Especially nice is the catching out of John Pilger (which reminds me, I had some stuff to say about Michael Moore with some good links... well, save it for next time). Pilger is another one I used to respect, and I can't believe how idiotic he sounds today. I wonder if anyone told him about the opinion piece Jose Ramos Horta wrote for WSJ (which I linked you to a while back). For those who might not know him, Pilger was big on the East Timor issue, that was big part of his schtick. Ahem, I shouldn't be cynical and I thank him for his efforts. However, I would have loved to see how far his jaw probably dropped when he learned that the tireless, roving East Timorese minister at large for all those years actually continues to support the overthrow of tyrants and the freeing of a people - thus placing himself in opposition to Mr. Pilger. Anyway enough of that now, Onward Authors!
Authors go to war, but should have stayed at home
This is a slightly longer version of an article that appeared in The Times on 10 May.
In 1937 the poet Nancy Cunard circulated a questionnaire among 150 writers soliciting their views on the Spanish Civil War. The collected responses were published. Similar volumes, with a different cast of writers, appeared after the wars in Vietnam and the Falklands. The fourth in the series, comprising contemporary responses to two wars twelve years apart, is Authors Take Sides on Iraq and the Gulf War (eds. Jean Moorcroft Wilson and Cecil Woolf, Cecil Woolf Publishers, 2004).
The obvious question is: why? In the Spanish War, literary opinion exhibited a politically variegated but otherwise consistent obtuseness. The occasional apologist for clerical fascism was outweighed by the more numerous evangelists for a supposedly indigenous Republican cause that had long since been supplanted by Stalin (and that the western democracies thus had good reason not to support). Almost all overestimated the war's importance for the democracies' later struggles against totalitarianism.
The notion of the artist as moral witness against his society has only grown since then. If the authors who take sides on the successive Gulf wars collectively do anything worthwhile, it will be unintentionally to undermine it.
A few - Isaiah Berlin in 1991; John Keegan last year - write authoritatively of the intractability of politics and the periodic need to defend civilised values by force. John Sweeney, later to expose in his BBC reports the fraudulence of Saddam's anti-sanctions propaganda, writes aptly in April 1991 of his despair at Saddam's being left to attack the Iraqi Kurds.
Of the rest, most are exercised by the iniquities of the US and British governments, and less so by those of the genocidal tyrant belatedly removed by the same governments. The resulting short essays display a passionate intensity inversely related to the amount of thought invested in their composition.
John Pilger, who maintained a decade's outrage at the imposition of (porous and ineffective) sanctions on Iraq, advocates in 1991 a course apparently selected on the criterion that it was not then the preferred, or only, course favoured by the United States: "I was for using sanctions against Iraq." For what the literary critic Lionel Trilling termed 'the adversary culture', the elasticity of the range of possible political stances is almost infinite. It is bounded only by the prospect of having to admit that sometimes US foreign policy is right and progressive.
Others prefer expostulation ("yet another monstrous assertion of American power and British subservience" - Harold Pinter), question-begging ("I deplore US imperialism" - Brigid Brophy's contribution in its entirety), laboured sarcasm ("could it just be that there is something a teeny weeny bit wrong with that famous US constitution?" - Richard Dawkins), self-congratulation ("I did all in my power to oppose this action" - Sara Paretsky) and rhetorical chaos ("far too many [television correspondents] were killed" - Jilly Cooper, who does not say what the right number of journalistic fatalities would have been).
The tone alternates between anger and fatuity ("I believe that war never solves anything" - Kathleen Raine, in a statement saved from demonstrable falsehood by being transmuted into a description of her psychological state and thereby rendered invulnerable to refutation). The worst contributions exhibit the self-referential quality typical of adolescence and undignified outside it. Claire Rayner, who specialises in flattering the insecurities of the emotionally impoverished, tells us more than anyone would wish to know about her constitution: "I suffered ... a collection of symptoms of physical disorder that reflected the distress going on in my mind."
It is a truism that writers are entitled to their political opinions. Few have anything interesting to say. Almost none has the perspicacity of an Orwell, Koestler or Malraux. But they ought at least to know how to structure an argument and engage the imaginative sympathy of the reader. These authors, in insisting that war "was really an assault upon our native intelligence" (Studs Terkel), demonstrate only the excess of that native variety over the acquired kind.