How The Hell Did This Happen?

How The Hell Did This Happen?

The US Election of 2016

By P.J. O’Rourke

Grove Press – £14.99

We the people of the United States, in order to dissolve what unity we have, establish injustice, insecure domestic idiocy, provide for the common offence, promote the general despair, and secure enmity toward ourselves by our posterity, do ordain and establish this obnoxious political spectacle, the election of 2016.

              (‘Preamble’)

Donald Trump is a flying monkey. Except that what the flying monkeys have to say – ‘’oreoreoreo’’ – makes more sense than Trumps’ pronouncements. Better the she-ape of neo-Marxism than the flying monkey’s king on his 757, going to and fro in the earth, with gold-plated seat belt buckles, talking nativist, isolationist, bigoted, rude, vulgar, and obscene crap.

              (‘I Endorse Hillary’)

The war is not between Republicans and Democrats or between conservatives and progressives. The war is between the frightened and what they fear. It is being fought by the people who perceive themselves as controlling nothing. They are besieging the people they perceive as controlling everything. We are in the midst of a Perception Insurrection, or, depending on how you perceive it, a Loser Mutiny.

              (‘The Revolt Against the Elites’)

‘’An essential take on the stranger-than-fiction (and stranger-than-fact) 2016 presidential election from a quintessential voice on American politics and culture.’’ Indeed, P.J. O’Rourke is responsible for a number of exceedingly readable and amusing books – Modern Manners, Republican Party Reptile and Parliament of Whores to name but three – with these 213 pages (excluding Author’s Note, the aforementioned Preamble and Acknowledgements) being absolutely no exception.

And with this being another election year in the US, now could not be a better time to read and absorb this book in preparation – as if any were needed.

As is usually the case with O’Rourke’s writing, it is possible to flick through How The Hell Did This Happen? The US Election of 2016 and stop on any page at random, and be bequeathed something very bemusing, readable, gritty, funny and, unfortunately for many, many millions of  Americans, true: ‘’The American government is of the people, by the people, for the people. And these days America is peopled by 320 million Donald Trumps. Donald Trump is representative of all that we hold dear: money. Or, rather, he is representative of greed for money. We common folk may not be able to match Trump’s piggy bank, but even the most high-minded and charitable among us can match his piggishness.

The Clinton Foundation accepted a $500,000 donation from the government of Algeria.

To cite, Amnesty International’s 2014/2015 report on Algeria:

Women faced discrimination… and remained inadequately protected against violence… Impunity prevailed for perpetrators of gross human rights abuses… and acts of torture.

And the other thing we hold dear is us. We, ourselves. In this era of the great and cherished self, admiration for which has become so fundamental to Americanism that self-esteem is taught in our schools, we can all match Trumps’ opinion of his own worth […]’’ (‘The Abominable Showman’).

I recently watched American children berating Trump and his vile antics on Facebook, which, in a round-a-bout way, substantiates why this book needs to be read – even if just for Trumps’ inexorable childish antics. A mode of highly inappropriate behaviour that not only beggars belief, but, from a trickle-down perspective, has become increasingly more influential and infectious within the US.

One need only listen to the thousands of Americans who just last week, equated the wearing of a mask with communism…

There again, as O’Rourke shares with us herein: ‘’Donald Trump got most of his campaigning done on the cheap by making a public spectacle of himself. He set his pants on fire knowing that reporters and camera crews would have to cover the blaze.’’

Nothing short of essential, courageous, and brilliant.

David Marx

 

Boom Cities

Boom Cities –

Architect-Planners & The Politics of Radical Urban Renewal in 1960s Britain

By Otto Saumarez Smith

Oxford University Press – £65.00

Renewal at the centre is vital and has a special claim above the claims of all other parts of the city. The city centre is the public home of the community, a place worth coming to, a daily meeting place, and a place to receive guests; a place too, where a wide range of people are encouraged to live; one designed for great civic occasions, for personal recreation, fun and adventure.

                  (‘Planning for Affluence’)

Looking at the way politicians thought about architectural production may not provide us with any particularly profound insights into buildings themselves, but it can nevertheless help us to understand not just something about the history of taste but about the way modernist architecture was able to articulate ideas about British identity, the future, and about Britain’s relationship with the world.

                    (‘The Trajectory of Central-Area Redevelopment’)

Controversial, free-thinking, risqué and the sort of book which needs to be updated at an exceedingly alarming rate, Boom Cities – Architect-Planners & The Politics of Radical Urban Renewal in 1960s Britain is best be described as an ultra-invigorating read; especially if the perplexed planning of my deplorable hometown of town of Swindon is anything to go by.

With investigation at its forefront, these 173 pages (excluding Introduction, Bibliography, and Index), are stellar in that they inform and question at the same time, although Otto Saumarez Smith (now there’s a name) vehemently asks the right questions. All of which are clearly informed.

As well as concerned and controversial – both of which can only be a good thing.

Thus, making for a most informed and stimulating read: ‘’The rebuilding of British city centres during the 1960s is arguably among the single most dramatic moments in British urban history. It is certainly one of the most controversial. This moment drastically affected the built form of urban Britain, including places ranging from traditional cathedral cities through to the decaying towns of the Industrial Revolution. Instead of focusing on the experience of any single city, or attempting to make a survey of all cities affected, this book instead uncovers both the planning philosophy and the political, cultural, and legislative background that created the conditions for these processes to occur across the country’’ (Introduction).

Indeed, from Bolton to Northampton, West Ham to Liverpool, Boom Cities traverses the country in its entirety, whilst on the way, revealing the good, the bad, and the sometimes immensely ugly role (and varying results) of the architect.

A most terrific book that should, in all honesty, have been written years ago.

David Marx

Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan

Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan

A. Harrell, R. Bartlett, S. Butler & J. Hecht

Lonely Planet – £15.99

Few Mexican destinations can dazzle you with ancient Maya ruins, azure Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters and colonial cities all in one fell swoop. Actually, there’s only one – the Yucatan.

             (‘Welcome to Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan’)

I first came to this part of Mexico, well, the island of Cozumel to be exact, over twenty years ago; and to say it has changed somewhat, would be something of an understatement. Not necessarily in a bad way mind, but tourists to the island have clearly increased beyond reckoning.

Thanks in part, to the popularity of the cruise industry.

When I initially came, I stayed at a sea-front hotel, wined, and supremely dined in the local bars and restaurants, as well as caught a ferry to the Mexican mainland to visit the magnificent place that is Tulum. This time round, I was myself, working on a cruise ship; so was merely on the island for an unspeakably short amount of time. But what immediately struck me upon disembarkation, was the veritable onslaught of tourist shops – primarily selling tat and (literally thousands of different) T-shirts.

Not a bad thing perhaps, but I do have to say, said tat has invariably replaced a lot of the island’s aforesaid innocence and quaint charm.

All-the-more reason then, to be sufficiently well armed with all the information one is going to need, in-order to re-discover what Cozumel – along with Cancun and the Yucatan in general – has to offer.

Far away from the madding crowd.

Lonely Planet’s Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan provides the traveller, as well as the curious reader, with everything one will essentially need to know to get the most of out of their visit. From culture, fun and history, through to beaches, nightlife, transportation and of course, Chichen Itza: ‘’Ever since Chichen Itza was named one of the new seven wonders of the world, for better or worse, it has become the Yucatan’s hottest bucket-list item. The massive El Castillo pyramid, Chichen Itza’s most iconic structure, will knock your socks off, especially at vernal and autumnal equinoxes, when morning and afternoon sunlight cast a shadow of a feathered serpent on the staircase. While Chichen Itza is wonderful, other ruins are too. Each has its own distinct idiosyncrasy and often (unlike this one) you’ll have the place to yourself’’ (‘Top 16’).

Along with a pull-out regional map and some startling, colour photographs at the outset, Cancun, Cozumel & The Yucatan covers all eight regions of the area (Yucatan State & the Maya Heartland, Cancun & Around, Isla Mujeres, Riviera Maya, Isla Cozumel, Costa Maya & Southern Caribbean Coast, Campeche and Chiapas & Tabasco) with equal amounts of informative finesse and chutzpah. My elongated soft spot for Cozumel being no exception: ‘’Fascinating for its dual personality, Cozumel offers an odd mix – quietly authentic neighbourhoods, existing alongside tourist-friendly playgrounds. Leaving the tourist area behind, you’ll find garages that still have shrines to the Virgin and a spirited Caribbean energy in the air. And, of course, there are epic experiences to be had, such as diving at some of the best reefs in the world.’’

Indeed, you would be hard pressed for a more beguiling and fascinating holiday, and I haven’t even mentioned the word tequila (along with its cousin, mezcal). So if you’re going, be sure to pack this terrific travel guide alongside your passport and sun-lotion.

David Marx

Culture War

Culture War

Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism

By Alexander Adams

Societas/Imprint Academic – £14.95

A religious extremist can never be satisfied because he lives in a perpetual state of discontent and anger. He abhors doubt and seeks to eradicate it.

                      (‘On Islamism and the Arts’)

Identity politics is to its very core collectivist, racist and dehumanising.

                        (‘On Identity Politics’)

The road to atrocity is collectivist action motivated by the victim narrative directed towards utopian idealism.

                         (‘On Identity Politics’)

Even given the subject matter, this is not an easy book to read.

Dense, didactic, and rather relentless when it comes to being full on, its 148 pages (excluding an Introduction, Foreword, Appendix I & II and Notes), Alexander Adams appears to argue his case from many angles at once.

While obviously very committed to what he believes to be true and ultimately wishes to pass on, Culture War – Art, Identity Politics and Cultural Entryism is both admirable and (on occasion) tiring: ‘’Identarian propaganda, quota programming and diversity hiring will be noticed by consumers and will generate resistance. When it becomes clear to consumers that political motivations trump artistic ones, general consumers will react negatively. They will criticise the product and boycott it and related products. There will be resistance towards the agenda of creators. There will be attendant cynicism – as is seen in cases of affirmative action in the USA […]’’ (‘On Cultural Entryism & Social-Justice Activism’).

To say I adore reading would be a profound understatement, but I found myself having to inadvertently read this in a few sittings; mainly because one has to wade through a very considerable amount of material before stumbling on a) what is relevant to the (everyday) reader and b) what fundamentally makes sense in relation to what Adams is endeavouring to convey.

Just one such instance being following: ‘’[…] language itself is a power tool of power. It defines how people express themselves and how expression is possible. With such ideas current, the Identarian finds widespread sympathy when he or she describes language as a means of suppression. When speech is not equivalent to violence but deemed actually to be violence – that is, it does actual measurable harm to the victim – then social pressure and, later, legislative force become legitimate means necessary to combat ‘’hate speech’’’’ (‘On Identity Politics’).

Is this not something that the American President, Donald Trump has subscribed to since he (and his vile menagerie of cronies) has been in the White House?

Indeed, such writing does make the utmost sense, and is powerful enough to remain within the conscience for a while, although the essence of its actual meaning can and has oft been put forward in far more persuasive and appreciable manner. For some reason, some of Bob Dylan’s work comes to mind. But then we are talking of genius, as well as that of a writer.

There again, according to Michael Daley, the Director of ArtWatch UK: ‘’Alexander Adams’ Culture War will stiffen the fibres of those not yet conditioned to capitulate at the sight of each successive wave of self-advancing cultural grievance-mongering. For all others this courageous young artist/scholar’s compilation of eviscerating essays will have arrived too late.’’

Perhaps, but for me, most of the subject herein transcends time.

David Marx  

Hitler’s Collaborators

Hitler’s Collaborators

By Philip Morgan

Oxford University Press – £20.00

Nazism, as an ideology and totalitarian system of rule, was regarded as being so ‘evil’ that it had to be resisted.

                        (Introduction)

After the Wannsee conference in January 1942, Eichmann went into full bureaucratic mode. The ‘final solution’ became logistics, planning, and execution, the embodiment of what Hannah Arendt memorably called ‘the banality of evil’ after observing Eichmann at his trial in Israel in 1961. It is important to grasp this. Genocide was no longer a matter of special police squads murdering Jews in the wake of German armies invading the Soviet Union, but an impersonal bureaucratic process.

                        (‘The Deportation of Jews, 1942-1944’)

So far as the first of the above two quotes go, Nazism had indeed needed to be resisted.

How could it but not?

But fast forward eighty or so years, and we are bombarded throughout much of the English-speaking world with images of fully grown men, rioting amid the streets of central London and downtown Washington, openly giving the Nazi salute in front of police officers and television cameras.

As if doing so, was some sort of unbeknown, welcome redemption.

As if their myopically jingoistic behaviour were a saviour unto others.

On both counts, it is blatantly not.

What it is, is disrespectful and downright disgraceful (and if ever an understatement was pronounced, this is surely one of them). Then we arrive at the second of the above two quotations, where the impersonality of bureaucracy lurks beneath, as well as within the elongated, ever-festering sore known as mob-like-collaboration. A cowardly mode of Tommie Robinson induced/promoted sort of behaviour; not exactly that far removed from some of those who so openly extolled collaboration within the pages of this book.

Just one ghastly example being Vichy’s secretary general for Police, Rene Bousquet, who, among others, clearly bowed down to the thinking: ‘’Maintaining the collaborating relationship was almost a mutually beneficial end in itself. What certainly sustained or facilitated collaboration in these early years of occupation was the shared sense of German current and future military domination, based on the near-certainty that Nazi Germany would win the war’’ (‘Collaboration against the Grain of Occupation, 1942-1944’).

A nigh clear-cut explanation for Bousquet’s collaboration then – vile as it obviously was.

Unlike the despicable hordes of right-wing oiks who descended on the streets of London two weekends ago, in some sort of spurious defence of Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square. The very same he, who vowed to fight the Nazis on the lading strips and on the beaches etc. Hmm…

They might be well advised to read, if they actually can read that is, this altogether meticulous and exceedingly well-researched book by Philp Morgan, Senior Fellow at the University of Hull (whose previous books include: Italian Fascism, 1919-1945, Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945 and The Fall of Mussolini: Italy, the Italians and the Second World War).

Moreover, Hitler’s Collaborators’ inexorably casts a whole different light on a whole different scenario in relation to that of today’s tattoo infested ideology, not to mention the author’s previous focus on the Italian peninsula: ‘’The basic point still stands. In occupied Eastern Europe, the Nazis were not interested in collaboration, did not need it, and relied on coerced change in order to realize their ideological goal of a racial empire […]. By comparison, in occupied Northern and Western Europe, existing states and nations were made up, in some cases, of those the Nazis regarded as ‘Germanic’ peoples rather than, in the Nazi outlook, racially inferior Slavs, and were, more or less, and in some form or another, left standing. This opened up the possibility of collaboration from the start’’ (Introduction).

Clearly written from a most well-informed standpoint and without any hint of bias whatsoever, these 334 pages (excluding Abbreviations, Notes, Select Bibliography, Picture Acknowledgements and Index) almost sparkle with knowledge and kudos.

Such is the premise from which I should imagine Morgan embarked upon writing.

In conclusion, I’d like to share the following: ‘’A Norwegian woman from a small village near Narvik in northern Norway gave birth in November 1945 to a child conceived during a late occupation affair with a German army sergeant, and took the child to Sweden to escape the fate of the woman in Chartres (France). ‘Norway’s gift to Sweden,’ the Abba singer Frida Lyngstad met her German father for the first time in Stockholm, in 1977.’’

David Marx

George Orwell On Screen

George Orwell On Screen –

Adaptations, Documentaries and Docudramas on Film and Television

By David Ryan

McFarland & Company – $39.95

The national anthem, too, was very important ”and here I discovered another thing. All left-wing totalitarian national anthems are written in the minor key and all the right-wing ones written in the major key. This is a golden rule and it kind of dribbles into the idea that left-wing oppression is about guilt – guilt happens in the minor key – and right-wing oppression is about violence. Inner violence against outer violence, mostly.

(Michael Radford – ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’)

Even though it is very depressing, there is something vivid about Orwell’s imagination.

(Michael Radford – ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’)

Were it not for the linearity of this altogether fine book being jam-packed with delightful bits of new information on the late-great George Orwell, its 222 pages (which include some cool photos) would essentially be nothing more than a nod to and within the regal realm of cinema. Along with the many assorted trajectories thereof: ‘’Those who come for an Orwell fix may stay for an oblique record of a decline in television production standards, and commitment to quality drama on both sides of the Atlantic. All this, plus Richard Burton and some farting rats’’ (Introduction).

Having read a number of essays and books on Orwell, I do have to say this is something of a new, if not novel approach; wherein the literal sanctity of his writing is primarily projected through the prism of relative film(s).

What’s more, given the enormity and power of (t)his writing, it might go without saying that many of these cinematic interpretations vary betwixt the dry and didactic, as well as the exciting and occasionally esoteric: ‘’Completing 1984 was the last creative act in a life foreshortened by stress, injury, a working life plagued by poverty and a tendency towards bohemian self-harm, black tea and chain smoking. Despite chronic ill-health and a relatively late start as a writer, Orwell’s output before his death at 46 was monumental, amounting to a waist-high stack of reviews, essays, letters, radio scripts and novels.’’

Indeed, such was most definitely the case, which prompts me to say that I am more than pleased that David Ryan’s George Orwell On Screen – Adaptations, Documentaries and Docudramas on Film and Television more than touches on Orwell’s humanity; bearing in mind he was only human after all – as the above continues with: ‘’A coddled and healthy author in an age of easy, computerized rewrites would be hard pressed to produce so much and so much of great quality, insight, bleak humour and passionate humanity. Orwell’s late nights and self-inflicted privations speak of an obsessional streak, and his startling commitment to the human project – fighting for the republic in Spain, endlessly helping young authors and needy cases, polemicizing on behalf of the powerless – has allowed some to find in him the qualities of a tall and whispering secular saint.’’

Here. Here.

Given that there are any number of films one could fundamentally focus on herein, I have opted for 1984, as not only does it still resonate loud and clear today, it also includes one of my-all-time favourite British actors, Richard Burton: ‘’[…] Then we offered it to Marlon Brando. We didn’t have a lot of money – we had $80,000 to pay for the main character, which seems like a lot of money but it wasn’t to those kind of guys, particularly as Marlon Brando’s agent said: ‘Do you realize that Mr. Brando does not get out of bed for less than a million dollars a day?’ To which Simon Perry, bless his heart, my producer, said: ‘Oh, he’s given up serious acting then?’ So that was the end of Marlon Brando. Then we finally, finally, in desperation, thought of offering it to Richard Burton. This wasn’t because he wasn’t a good actor, it’s because he was a notorious drunk. Nobody would trust him, nobody would insure him, nobody would do anything and anyway, he lived in Haiti. Later he claimed he lived there because it was the only place where nobody would recognise him. Whatever he said, you had to take with a pinch of salt.’’

It is just such idiosyncratically inviting nuggets that account for George Orwell On Screen being a tantalising, yet wholly inspired read.

Although I do feel compelled to conclude with a quote from Michael Radford, who, in relation to 1984, said the following: ‘’Orwell’s portrait of a government that manufactures their own facts, demands total obedience and demonizes foreign enemies has never been timelier’’ (‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’).

Sounds eerily apt, doesn’t it Mr. Johnson?

David Marx

Crisis Of Conscience

Crisis of Conscience –

Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud

By Tom Muellert

Atlantic Books – £25.00

A time comes when silence is betrayal.

(Martin Luther King Jr – ‘Beyond Vietnam’)

Resolved, that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds of misdemeanours committed by officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.

                                    (US Congress, 1777)

This book fundamentally forces us to embrace and confront fundamental questions about the balance between free speech and state secrecy, along with that between individual morality and corporate power.

Really big stuff in other words, which, when one considers we currently have two of the worst leaders ever known to humankind at the helm of the English speaking world (the overtly terrible Donald Trump in the US and the equally ghastly Boris Johnson in UK), would rightly suggest Crisis of Conscience – Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud could not be more timely.

Not to mention appropriate, as nigh most of its 537 pages (excluding Notes and Index) traverse a-number-of repercussions for which said two may not be solely responsible, but most certainly did/do not help.

For instance, in chapter Three’s ‘The Money Dance,’ the gospel according to one Arvin Lewis, vice-president of Patient Business and Financial Services at Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach, Florida, openly subscribes to the following:

The only thing better than cash is lots of it.

The system is a beast and it is always hungry (for cash)

We do not have any problems that cash can’t fix.

Regardless of what the bank commercial says, I did want to grow up to be a money man.

Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get, and I just want some cash.

Clearly, a despicable disciple of the most-ghastly belief and persuasion; each of the seven chapters herein contain an abundance of just such ideological imbalance and greed induced rhetoric. In and of itself, this goes some way in substantiating what David Hume professed in The Natural History of Religion in 1757: ”The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.

This is something, which if you really care to think about it is where great swathes of today’s US finds itself, as touched upon in the book’s final chapter (‘The Banana Republic Wasn’t Built in A Day’): ‘’Yet in Trump’s America – in our America over the last quarter century […] behaviour has routinely been justified with pragmatic talk of free markets, deregulation, costs and benefits, and of running government like a business. We’ve dubbed our homegrown oligarchs billionaires, and now name buildings and libraries after them, let them secrete their wealth in offshore tax havens, allow them to pay politicians unlimited funds to buy access and push through the fiscal ‘reforms’ and government downsizing they cherish, to buy sports teams for which they build new stadiums with tax payer money, complete with sky boxes from which they can look down upon the taxpaying multitudes. And many of us revere these homegrown oligarchs as paragons of the American Dream.’’

Throughout Crisis of Conscience, Tom Mueller fully investigates the rise of whistleblowing amid a series of controversial cases, as drawn from the many worlds of healthcare and other businesses throughout both Wall Street and Washington. By drawing on in-depth interviews with more than two-hundred so-called whistle-blowers and the trailblazing lawyers who prepared them for battle (along with government watchdogs and politicians, cognitive scientists and intelligence analysts); Mueller essentially determines what inspires some to speak out and others to remain complicit in their silence.

In fact, we come to realize that whistle-blowers per se ‘’are the freethinking, outspoken citizens whom we must emulate if democracy is to survive.’’

So, to describe Crisis of Conscience as very tough and as such, very brave (and American), would not be too far off the mark. It is indeed as written in Kirkus Reviews: ‘’Engrossingly examines the ethics, mechanics, and reverberations of whistleblowing of all kinds, emphasizing how bitterly controversial the practice remains, posing a clash between group loyalty and individual conscience… Superb reporting on brave people who decided, ‘’It would have been criminal for me not to act.’’’’

David Marx