Disrupt

disrupt

Disrupt
100 Lessons in Business Innovation
By James Bidwell
Nicholas Brealey Publishing – £20.00

In the fourth chapter of Disrupt – 100 Lessons in Business Innovation, there’s a drop-quote which reads: ”The BBC wants to create personalised media that feels natural to the audience and exciting for the storyteller as it scales for millions of individual members.”

Hmm, does this then account for the vast amount of badly written, shonky-shite on the BBC of late? The sort of television that is nigh impossible to watch, let alone have beamed into one’s living room? Personally I think it does, as when anything is overtly analysed – which is to say researched and horribly dissected to such a dense, mathematical degree, that all initial innocence has been horribly suffocated by a menagerie of marketing geeks – there’s no room for true invention.

Nor growth, which might partially explain why Eastenders – surely one of the most odious of television programmes in the history of television programmes – continues to both disrupt and pollute the airwaves.

In and of itself, none of the above ought be in the least surprising; especially when one considers the following (which follows on from the aforementioned quote in the chapter entitled ‘Entertainment’): ”The system also raises the question of the ethics of personal data. How much do we really want media companies to know about us, and at what point does personalised entertainment become, or rely on, a significant invasion of privacy? In the age of big data, with governments knowing ever more about us, it may seem like a more frivolous concern, but it is valuable to constantly keep a check on who is tracking, selling, sharing and applying our personal data, whether it be governments or TV channels.”

If nothing else, much of what James Bidwell has written within these 260 pages is reflective of an increasingly fragmented society.

A society ever more dictated to by B-I-G business, bad government and (perhaps the worst of the lot) soulless media moguls – the accumulation of which is what this cold and most unpleasant of books, fundamentally amounts to.

David Marx

Advertisements

Lonely Planet Denmark

den

Lonely Planet Denmark
(Seventh Edition)
Written by Carolyn Bain & Cristian Bonetto
£15.99

Denmark may be well renowned for having to pay some of the highest taxes anywhere – on average, around 45 percent – but along with said taxes, comes one of the finest qualities of life in the world. On average, full-time workers report devoting 66% of their days to ”personal care.”

Indeed, currently ranked third in the world (nearby Norway is first), the country appears to have cemented it’s position at or near the top of the global tree of fine living; which, in the ultimately B-I-G scheme of life, really is no mean feat. Or, to quote one of the editors of this overtly friendly travel guide, Carolyn Bain: ”Chart-topping contentment and quality of life, blockbuster dining and design, and a cheerful emphasis on hygge (cosiness) – explore (and envy) what makes Denmark tick.”

With Lonely Planet Denmark, it really couldn’t be easier to ascertain just what does make Denmark tick. Reason being, this book is cool and edgy, well designed, simple to navigate throughout and is written in such a way that you can’t help but want to travel to the country’s capital, Copenhagen, nigh immediately: ”Copenhagen is the coolest kid on the Nordic block. Edgier than Stockholm and worldlier than Oslo, the Danish capital gives Scandinavia the X factor. Just ask style bibles Monocle and Wallpaper magazines, which fawn over its industrial-chic bar, design and fashion scenes, and culinary revolution. This is where you’ll find New Nordic pioneer Noma, (once again) voted the world’s best restaurant in 2014, and one of 15 Michelin-starred restaurants in town – not bad for a city of 1.2 million.

Yet Copenhagen is more than just seasoned cocktails and geometric threads. A royal capital with almost nine centuries under its svelte belt, its equally well versed when it comes to world-class museums and storybook streetscapes. Its cobbled, bike-friendly streets are a hyggelig (cosy) concoction of sherbet-hued town houses, craft studios and candlelit cafes. Add to this its compact size, and you have what is possibly Europe’s most seamless urban experience.”

Sound like something of a cultural, dog’s under-carriage?

Like The Netherlands, another small nation in north-western Europe – who too, place a rather large emphasis on gezelligheid (cosiness) – Denmark does indeed drip with simply inviting sexy chic, along with a chilled vibration that needs to be exceedingly regularly embraced.

Hence, the equal abundance of Danish outdoor activities, as explained on page thirty: ”Although small (and very flat), Denmark has a great diversity for activities, from island-hopping cycling adventures to Lake District canoeing. The sea, never far away, offers fishing, sailing, windsurfing and beach-going, while the national parks and hiking trails offer walkers a chance to stretch their legs. And everywhere, the cycling opportunities are outstanding.”

Covering all the main regions of the country from obviously Copenhagen (a pull-out map is included) to Zealand to Bornholm to both Southern and Northern Jutland, these 309 pages – excluding Behind the Scenes, Index and Map Legend – is unquestionably up there with all helpful, concise and important travel guides. Along with sections on History, Food & Drink, Literature, Film & TV as well as Denmark Today and The Danish Lifestyle, Lonely Planet Denmark absolutely has to be packed alongside one’s toothbrush and credit card.

Especially if travelling to Denmark.

David Marx

Trouble In Mind

Trouble-In-MindCover-Clinton-Heylin

Trouble In Mind
Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened.
By Clinton Heylin
Route – £16.99

Gospel music is about the love of God. And commercial music is about the love of sex.

When people don’t get threatened and challenged…in some kind of way, they don’t get confronted, never have to make decisions, they never take a stand, they never grow. [Instead they] live their lives in a fish-tank, stay in the same old scene forever, die and never get a break or a chance to say goodbye. I have views contrary to all that. I think that this world is just a passing-through place and that the dead have eyes and that even the unborn can see, and I don’t care who knows it. [You] know, I can go off on tangents.

Regardless of wherever Bob Dylan happens to be; or wherever he’s been throughout his packed, fraught, colourful, inspired, confrontational, mesmerising and sometimes fractious career, there have always, always been interesting and highly compelling words bouncing around. Whether bouncing around his head, the vicinity, his latest recording(s) or within the all-round, general ether of Bob Dylan.

The above two quotes alone, are surely enough to trigger much debate amid part-time listeners as well as acute aficionados of the artist.

After all, is gospel music really about the love of God? Some would contest that gospel music is more about the love of life, as seen through the prism of God. And while a lot of (today’s) commercial music may indeed hinge upon the love of sex, such isn’t necessarily, always the case. The second quote meanwhile, is more dense than a book on the history of Chinese algebra. Just the last line (”[You] know, I can go off on tangents.”), is capable of triggering a trajectory of colossal, cryptic thought – from the hilarious to the understated to satirical confrontation.

And hey, up until now, this is just two quotes I have been writing about!

The particular period of Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened (the absolutely full-on religious stage of the late seventies and early eighties) is no exception to any other Dylan- whether past or present, in love or in pain; whether acoustic or electric, social or political.

To be sure, the songs Dylan wrote during his ”conversion to Evangelical Christianity,” are, as the author of this terrific book, Clinton Heylin, has since substantiated : ”[…] in person and in print, the consummate songwriter composed a body of work in the period 1979-81 which more than matches any commensurate era in his long and distinguished career – or, indeed, that of any other twentieth century popular artist.”

There again, the material in question, along with this truly exceptional publication, are about Dylan doing what he essentially does best: being himself; and who else to better assimilate and write about it, than Heylin? A fan, as well as perhaps the most knowledgable of writers on Dylan, who, according to The New York Times, is ”the only Dylanologist worth reading.”

Divided into three prime sections (‘Ain’t Gonna Go To Hell For Anybody,’ Watered-Down Love’ and ‘Outro’) these fourteen chapters make for more than compelling reading, which, as the author makes clear: ”There is more new information in this book than there is in any book published about Bob Dylan, ever, mine included.”

This is not only inspiring to know, but something almost every Dylan fan (or fanatic) will want to clearly, as well as fully investigate.

After all: ”Everything passes, everything changes.”

David Marx

Ordinary Jews

finkel

Ordinary Jews –
Choice and Survival during the Holocaust
By Evgeny Finkel
Princeton University Press – £24.95

Killings and seizures for forced labour began in mid-August 1941. Initially the Germans, assisted by Ukrainian and Lithuanian auxiliary troops and by the Belorussian police, seized males, who were then taken to the central square of the ghetto, beaten, and driven away to an unknown destination. None of them returned home. According to some sources, starting in late August women also were captured. About 5,000 people were caught and later executed during the August round-ups. The first large-scale massacre took place on November 7, 1941, the anniversary of the October Revolution. Ghetto inhabitants knew that something was brewing because skilled craftsmen, professionals and members of the Judenrat were moved to the ”Russian” part of the city on the evening of November 6th. Yet the scale of the killing shocked everyone. Local Jews, building on their historical experience, called it a ”pogrom.” The general assumption was that people would simply be thrown out of their apartments and probably beaten – no one imagined large-scale shootings in which thousands (10,000-12,000 is the estimated number) would perish.

         (‘Setting the Stage’)

Many made desperate attempts to escape when it was perceived as the last chance to survive, sometimes jumping off the trains carrying them to death camps. The vast majority perished, either hit by the moving trains, shot by German guards, betrayed, or killed by local Poles. In March of 1943, George Turlo, a non-Jew, took a train from Bialystok to Warsaw. ”During the first portion [of the journey],” he recalled, ”the train was stopping very often on the rail tracks, and a putrefied smell, stench, was coming from the outside. And I saw the German soldiers pouring the gasoline on some bodies along the track. And somebody told me this was the latest convoy from [the] Bialystok ghetto to…Treblinka. Only a few were lucky enough to survive the jump. Those who did had to navigate a hostile and unfamiliar terrain – physical, but more importantly also human and social. Gedaliyah Wender was ten years old when his father threw him and his sister out of a train bound to Treblinka; his mother jumped as well. His mother and sister were badly wounded in the jump, and it was clear they would not survive. In the last moments of her life the mother had to prepare her son for independent survival – she taught him how to say ”bread” and other essential words in Polish, because Gedaliyah had no knowledge of the language whatsoever.

          (‘Evasion’)

To say this is a mind-bogglingly tough read, would be something of an understatement.

To this day, I still find it nigh impossible to comprehend just how Europe’s Jewish population coped with what surely has to be one of the darkest (if not the darkest) periods in human history. As Adam Kirsch wrote in The New Yorker (April 6, 2015): ”[…] the Nazi concentration camp stands as the ultimate system of evil. The very names of of the camps – Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz – have the sound of malevolent incantation […] full of the kind of details that ordinarily appear only in Dantesque visions.”

Indeed, said visions aren’t worth thinking about.
They’re far too disturbing to come to (remote) terms with, even though Ordinary Jews – Choice and Survival during the Holocaust doesn’t so much focus on the Konzentrationlager (concentration camp) itself, but rather, that despicable penultimate place, the ghetto.

In focusing on the three Jewish ghettos of Minsk, Krakow and Bialystok, Evgeny Finkel brings to light the degree to which the Jewish response to Nazi genocide differed, depending on their experiences with pre-war polices that either ”promoted or discouraged their integration into non-Jewish society.” And like many books written on the subject, it’s the whole matter of fact mode of writing that in a way, is the most disturbing and distressing.

That’s not to say Finkel doesn’t care about his subject. Nothing could be further from the undeniable truth. He, along with his peers, clearly care very much.

It’s the sheer density of relentless suffering and the awful extent to which human nature can become so bestial and so ghastly (so quickly). Again, it doesn’t bear worth thinking about; which in turn, reiterates the issue as to why we choose to read about such horror(s) to begin with. If, as Kirsch writes: ”It is to merely to revel in the grotesque, then learning about this evil is itself a species of evil, a further exploitation of the dead.”

Like the eight chapters of this most sensitive of investigations, the actual execution of the reading itself is a tough call; yet Ordinary Jews is an ultimately important contribution toward the many writings on the subject of the Holocaust.

It’s complexity and deftness lies in Finkel’s telling, which, if truth be told, resonates with all the clarity of subdued beauty.

David Marx

Mayoral Collaboration Under Nazi Occupation in Belgium, The Netherlands and France, 1938-46

nico

Mayoral Collaboration Under Nazi Occupation in Belgium, The Netherlands and France, 1938-46
By Nico Wouters
Palgrave Macmillan – £63.00

One popular theory that has particular relevance for this book says that Belgian society was pervaded by a deep-rooted distrust of central governmental power, and this, in turn, led to a culture where there was a lower threshold for the evasion of certain central regulations.

                                                                                       (‘Local Democracies’)

Having worked somewhat collaboratively with Belgian citizens, I do have to say there is indeed ”a lower threshold for the evasion of certain central regulations” within the Belgian personality. It may in fact, be somewhat (inadvertently) endemic within the nation’s psyche, which, considering that the head of the European Union is situated in the Belgian capital of Brussels, could be construed as rather ironic.

Mightily so. Or is it?

As this overtly analytical book testifies in relation to Belgium – along with The Netherlands and France – during World War II: ”The problems of imposing central policies became explicit early on (food supply organisation in 1940, for example). Specific local Belgo-German agreements prevailed. Large cities became islands in themselves. A systemic lack of clarity about the legality of orders – but, even more importantly, the legitimacy of national public authority – was endemic. In this context, the Germans could implement a system of direct (local) rule early on” (Conclusion – ‘Local States’).

This mode of behaviour, or ability, might partially explain why the European Union – as Britain once knew it – fundamentally works.

Mightily so. Or does it?

Mayoral Collaboration Under Nazi Occupation in Belgium, The Netherlands and France, 1938-46, as its title might suggest, could be considered as an early template to how said nations essentially operate(d) during times of duress and economic distrust. Each of the three countries social forbearance is brought to bear amid these 330 pages (excluding Abbreviations, Bibliography and Index), while author Nico Wouters ensures it is literally done so by way of clear-cut-understanding.

An understanding, all the more enhanced by way of proper substantiation.

To be sure, there are numerous examples scatted throughout the book, although, for the sake of continuity, the following follows on from the above opening quote (found in the chapter, ‘Local Democracies’): ”Conversely, Dutch collective mentality was supposedly conditioned to display much greater obedience to central power and regulations. The Flemish historian Lode Wils argued that this Belgian attitude had been moulded by centuries of foreign occupation. The Dutch mentality, on the other hand, was founded in historic, socio-economic liberal traditions combined with an obedient strand of Protestant culture”

That Wouters is Academic Coordinator at the Brussels CegeSoma and Guest Professor at the History Department of Ghent University (in Belgium), it should come as no surprise that these eight chapters equate a thorough assimilation of the complexities of the historical task in hand, with a writing that is as concise as it is occasionally surprising (at the right time/s).

In having researched such variable issues as food supply, public order and safety, forced labour, the repression of resistance, the persecution of the Jews and post-war purges, this most readable of books redefines our knowledge of collaboration, resistance and accommodation during Nazi occupation (in France, Belgium and The Netherlands).

David Marx

Jabotinsky’s Children

jab

Jabotinsky’s Children –
Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism
By Daniel Kupfert Heller
Princeton University Press – £27.95

On a winter evening in 1932, Adolf Gourevitch, a young man from Kiev studying at the Sorbonne, joined Vladimir Jabotinsky and his son, Eri, at a cafe in Paris. As he sat down at the table, Jabotinsky announced that he would devote the evening to composing a new anthem for Betar. Jabotinsky had good reason to create a new hymn for his youth movement. By this point, Betar had more than forty thousand members worldwide and was quickly emerging as one of the most popular Jewish movements in Poland, where some thirty thousand Jews had joined its ranks. ‘The youth movement was also becoming one of the most controversial in the country – its’ rivals accusations that the group’s members were ”Jewish fascists’ who aspired to the same values as antisemites on the European Right only intensified with Betar’s growth. Writing an anthem provided Jabotinsky with an opportunity to offer a clear declaration of his movement’s goals and to finally put these claims to rest. He even promised Gourevitch that the poem would follow a mathematical logic. Jabotisnky wrote the following lines to open his first verse: ”Betar / from a pit of decay and dust / in blood and sweat / a new race will emerge / proud, noble and cruel.”

                                             (‘Obedient Children/Reckless Rebels’)

Reading the above quote from this book’s third chapter, does not only initiate one into thinking what took place in Poland a mere seven years later, but also what took place in the country’s capital Warszawa just last Saturday (November 11th). A day which marked the official celebration of the country’s ninety-ninth year of independence, which saw the best part of 60,000 right-wing protesters – from all over Poland – calling for ”an Islamic Holocaust.”

An ”Islamic Holocaust” no less, from countrymen, who know a thing or two about the meaning of genocide, and who, in their utmost heat of hearts, really ought to know better. The fact that the alternative American Right leader, Richard Spence, cancelled his plans to attend the march because he was deemed too extreme (by the Polish government), might go some way in substantiating a tad of Polish common sense. Although maybe not.

All things told, Jabotinsky’s Children – Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism, underlines the extent to which acute indoctrination is NEVER a good thing.

In and of itself, it has never qualified itself as a constructive mode of pristine behaviour, the absolute flip-side of which is surely evidenced in Poland’s more than brutal, heartbreakingly turbulent past. That Jabotinsky suggested that ”a new race will emerge,” one that was ”proud, noble and cruel,” isn’t that far removed from some of last Saturday’s chants of ”clean blood” and white Europe.”

So in a round-a-bout sort of way, this book really does shine something of an illuminating light on the spectre of ever increasing right-wing fundamentalism throughout Europe and the U.S. The latter especially, where Donald Trump openly promotes separatism and everything that is crass in human nature (a list far too long to mention here).

That Poland served as an inspiration and an incubator for the development of right-wing Zionist ideas, is herein brought to (unfortunate) bear, in all its myopic eventual mayhem. With reference to the inter-war years, the author Daniel Kupfert Heller writes: ”Poland […] was plagued by political corruption, factionalism, legislative gridlock, and violence. Tensions often ran high between Catholic Poles and the country’s minorities. The deep divisions pitting peasants against urban dwellers, socialists against conservatives, and liberals against radical nationalists only multiplied the staggering number of political parties clamouring for power” (Introduction – ‘Jews and the Right’).

Sound familiar?
One need look no further than current day Venezuela.
Or what took place in Zimbabwe yesterday.
Hell’s teeth, one need look no further than Downing Street.

These 254 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index) most definitely shoot from the hip. In so doing, they place particular perspective on the origins of right-wing Zionist beliefs – along with their continuing allure in today’s Israel. As such, Jabotinsky’s Children will undoubtedly trigger much debate, which, to varying degrees, can only be a good thing.

David Marx

 

Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East

maggie

Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East
By Azriel Bermant
Cambridge University Press – £22.95

Throughout my political life I have usually sought to avoid compromise, because it more often than not turns out to involve an abdication of principle. In international affairs, it is often also symptomatic of muddle and weakness. But over the years I have been forced to conclude that the Arab-Israeli conflict is an exception. Here a historic compromise is, indeed, necessary.

                                                                                    Margaret Thatcher

It does make one wonder where former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the all round architect of so-called Broken Britain, had the vivacious vim of audacity to think, let alone actually utter the word, ‘compromise.’

She is nevertheless, completely correct to use the word in relation to the appalling, on-going stalemate of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although so far as eradicating great swathes of the United Kingdom, by way of the unlawful/soul-destroying Miners Strike of 1984-5 is concerned, she remains the most unscrupulous of political vermin, to have ever traipsed the steps of Downing Street.

Suffice to say, said Miner’s Strike has very little to do with Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East, but just as Tony Blair has become increasingly tarnished over his handling of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War; for me personally, I cannot help but forever equate Thatcher with said strike and the total, total annihilation of (Britain’s) moral society.

With this in mind, let it be said that there was a most pronounced prism of cynicism which needed to be reigned in as I made my way through these twelve chapters of predominantly linear, literary diplomacy. Twelve chapters of coherent and very considered analysis of that which the title purports: an examination of the ‘Iron Lady’s Middle East policy throughout her tenure in office.

Something which, all things considered – her relationship with America and Ronald Reagan especially – wasn’t always quite as verbatim as expected. Her London constituency of Finchley may well have been predominantly Jewish, but Thatcher wasn’t always in agreement with Reagan’s foreign policy towards Israel.

A questionable modus operandi that Azriel Bermant touches on on numerous occasions throughout these 217 pages (excluding Figures, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index), not least in the book’s Introduction itself: ”Thatcher was instinctively sympathetic towards Israel, and she did attempt briefly to counter the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) position on the Middle East. However, there were also numerous occasions when she took the lead in supporting policies that caused considerable difficulties for the Israeli political leadership […]. This book therefore, challenges the exaggerated emphasis that has been placed on the differences between the FCO and 10 Downing Street on Middle East policy, and also questions the impact of partisan pressures on Thatcher’s policy towards the conflict.”

With an inexorable spotlight on her rather brazen approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book fundamentally questions claims that Thatcher sought to counter Foreign Office policy, by maintaining she was in (relative) close agreement with Whitehall on the unsurprisingly, on-going dissension.

As such, a little dry perhaps, but on the whole, Margaret Thatcher and the Middle East is concise and very much to the point.

David Marx