April 11, 2014

QotD: Romantic views of death in battle

Filed under: History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

And we ourselves? Let us not have too much hope. The chances are that, if we go to war, eager to leap superbly at the cannon’s mouth, we’ll be finished on the way by an ingrowing toenail or by being run over by an army truck driven by a former Greek bus-boy and loaded with imitation Swiss cheeses made in Oneida, N. Y. And that if we die in our beds, it will be of measles or albuminuria.

The aforesaid Crile, in one of his smaller books, A Mechanistic View of War and Peace, has a good deal to say about death in war, and in particular, about the disparity between the glorious and inspiring passing imagined by the young soldier and the messy finish that is normally in store for him. He shows two pictures of war, the one ideal and the other real. The former is the familiar print, “The Spirit of ’76,” with the three patriots springing grandly to the attack, one of them with a neat and romantic bandage around his head apparently, to judge by his liveliness, to cover a wound no worse than an average bee-sting. The latter picture is what the movie folks call a close-up of a French soldier who was struck just below the mouth by a German one-pounder shell a soldier suddenly converted into the hideous simulacrum of a cruller. What one notices especially is the curious expression upon what remains of his face an expression of the utmost surprise and indignation. No doubt he marched off to the front firmly convinced that, if he died at all, it would be at the climax of some heroic charge, up to his knees in blood and with his bayonet run clear through a Bavarian at least four feet in diameter. He imagined the clean bullet through the heart, the stately last gesture, the final words: “Therese! Sophie! Olympe! Marie! Suzette! Odette! Denise! Julie! … France!” Go to the book and see what he got … Dr. Crile, whose experience of war has soured him against it, argues that the best way to abolish it would be to prohibit such romantic prints as “The Spirit of ’76″ and substitute therefore a series of actual photographs of dead and wounded men. The plan is plainly of merit. But it would be expensive. Imagine a war getting on its legs before the conversion of the populace had become complete. Think of the huge herds of spy-chasers, letter-openers, pacifist-hounds, burlesons and other such operators that it would take to track down and confiscate all those pictures!

H.L. Mencken, “Exeunt Omnes”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.

April 6, 2014

QotD: “[T]he effete dissipated welfare addicted gender quota apportioned peoples of Europe”

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:47

Even if the USA picked up its toys and went home in a huff, which they won’t I might add, more’s the pity for the hapless US taxpayer, the effete dissipated welfare addicted gender quota apportioned peoples of Europe that dwell so prominently in the imaginations of Real Men From Texas (or wherever), are actually quite capable of keeping the Russian Hordes, in their rust covered jalopies with siphoned fuel tanks, from sweeping across the steppes and threatening to once again park themselves somewhere near the Fulda Gap, presumably out of nostalgia for a place with half decent food. Russia… big dick, but no shoes.

I have often said the difference between British and American arrogance is the Brits think they run the world, the Americans think they are the world. Yet somehow the world will bumble along even if either don’t get involved with spanking Putin. The US should just fixate the collective paranoia on China because that actually is something of a Good Old Fashioned Looming Threat, of the kind much loved by people like Boeing and Lockheed.

Perry de Havilland, “Russia… lets keep a sense of proportion”, Samizdata, 2014-04-06

March 31, 2014

A guide to interpreting official Chinese TV phrases

Filed under: China, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:28

The WSJ‘s China Real Time column heartily approves of the guide to CCTV (China Central Television) posted by The World of Chinese:

… it’s a very handy guide to interpreting CCTV’s newspeak on the Network News at seven o’clock (Xinwen Lianbo新闻联播). It describes how CCTV sets the tone on the key issues of the day — every day, rain or shine — and in a nutshell some of their key observations are:

  • Your remote will be rendered useless and there is no place to hide. Central, provincial, city and local channels are all required to broadcast the program
  • Unplugging the TV won’t help as the same message awaits you on websites and newspapers the following day
  • No issue is too small when it comes to practicing the core values of socialism

For readers who are studying Chinese, the post also offers handy examples of the program’s particular phraseology — a sparse and wooden collection of stock formulations all too familiar to some of CRT’s more grizzled correspondents. A few of our favorites: “The two sides carried out an affable and friendly discussion” (双方进行了亲切友好的会谈), “[Insert country here] reaffirms that it objects to any forces threatening to undermine Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity” ( ___ 重申,反对任何破坏中国国 家主权和领土完整的势力), “The Chinese side highly praised the [insert country here] government’s efforts to always adhere to the one-China policy. (中方高度赞赏 ___ 政府始终坚持一个中国政策的立场)

To further the understanding of the uninitiated, we offer a few observations of our own:

  • The chairman always tops the news no matter how irrelevant his activities were that day
  • Nobody makes unimportant speeches
  • Nobody ever says what was in the important speeches
  • Long handshakes with unrecognizable visiting dignitaries always make interesting TV
  • China’s position is always reasonable
  • The world outside China’s borders is a frightening miasma of natural disasters, political crises and economic ruin.

To understand that last bullet point, you only have to watch a few minutes of MSNBC or Fox News.

March 29, 2014

A Conservative reading of Canadian history

Filed under: Cancon, History, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:33

David Akin notes that Stephen Harper’s self-appointed task — to change the narrative from a Liberal view of Canada to a Conservative one — is still underway. He points to a recent speech by John Baird as proof:

Both his fans and his critics agree on one thing about Stephen Harper. He wants to transform the country, so Canadians will come to see his Conservatives and not the Liberals as the natural governing party.

By the election of 2015, he will have done much in that regard.

But to make that work endure, the Conservatives need history on their side. They need a narrative of Canada in which Conservative Party values are integral to the story. Voters who buy this history will then turn to Conservative leaders as the default choice in this century the way Canadians turned to Liberal leaders by default in the last century.


“As I reflect on Diefenbaker’s legacy,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said this week, “I realise that our past makes me optimistic about our future. What we can offer the world is more important, not less. More relevant, not less. I think that it is fair to say our country has defied the low expectations of ‘middle power’. We have defied it with the ambition of leading rather than following.”

Baird’s 2,000-word speech was a neat encapsulation of this Conservative view of our history. There was a brief mention of Dief’s Bill of Rights, but much talk about how the Chief stood up to Soviet communism, just as Harper is standing up to Russian imperialism today.

“We are builders and pioneers,” Baird said. “We are warriors when war is thrust upon us, and we are compassionate when confronted by catastrophe.”

Professional historians have been taking issue with Conservatives for this reading of history but their argument is a column for another day.

Today, it’s worth marking Baird’s speech as a manifesto, a rationale for the Harper government’s decision to spend millions marking the War of 1812, and millions more for upcoming First World War commemorations.

It is through the re-telling of these stories that Harper hopes Conservatives will be able to displace Liberals as Canada’s “natural governing party”.

February 16, 2014

QotD: Theodore Roosevelt’s admiration for Imperial Germany

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:02

There was in the man a certain instinctive antipathy to the concrete aristocrat and in particular to the aristocrat’s private code — the product, no doubt, of his essentially bourgeois origin and training. But if he could not go with the Junkers all the way, he could at least go the whole length of their distrust of the third order — the undifferentiated masses of men below. Here, I daresay, he owed a lot to Nietzsche. He was always reading German books, and among them, no doubt, were Also sprach Zarathustra and Jenseits von Gut und Bose. In fact, the echoes were constantly sounding in his own harangues. Years ago, as an intellectual exercise while confined to hospital, I devised and printed a give-away of the Rooseveltian philosophy in parallel columns — in one column, extracts from The Strenuous Life; in the other, extracts from Nietzsche. The borrowings were numerous and unescapable. Theodore had swallowed Friedrich as a peasant swallows Peruna — bottle, cork, label and testimonials. Worse, the draft whetted his appetite, and soon he was swallowing the Kaiser of the Garde-Kavallerie-mess and battleship-launching speeches — another somewhat defective Junker. In his palmy days it was often impossible to distinguish his politico-theological bulls from those of Wilhelm; during the war, indeed, I suspect that some of them were boldly lifted by the British press bureau, and palmed off as felonious imprudences out of Potsdam. Wilhelm was his model in Weltpolitik, and in sociology, exegetics, administration, law, sport and connubial polity no less. Both roared for doughty armies, eternally prepared — for the theory that the way to prevent war is to make all conceivable enemies think twice, thrice, ten times. Both dreamed of gigantic navies, with battleships as long as Brooklyn Bridge. Both preached incessantly the duty of the citizen to the state, with the soft pedal upon the duty of the state to the citizen. Both praised the habitually gravid wife. Both delighted in the armed pursuit of the lower fauna. Both heavily patronized the fine arts. Both were intimates of God, and announced His desires with authority. Both believed that all men who stood opposed to them were prompted by the devil and would suffer for it in hell.

If, in fact, there was any difference between them, it was all in favor of Wilhelm. For one thing, he made very much fewer speeches; it took some colossal event, such as the launching of a dreadnaught or the birthday of a colonel-general, to get him upon his legs; the Reichstag was not constantly deluged with his advice and upbraiding. For another thing, he was a milder and more modest man — one more accustomed, let us say, to circumstance and authority, and hence less intoxicated by the greatness of his state. Finally, he had been trained to think, not only of his own immediate fortunes, but also of the remote interests of a family that, in his most expansive days, promised to hold the throne for many years, and so he cultivated a certain prudence, and even a certain ingratiating suavity. He could, on occasion, be extremely polite to an opponent. But Roosevelt was never polite to an opponent; perhaps a gentleman, by American standards, he was surely never a gentle man. In a political career of nearly forty years he was never even fair to an opponent. All of his gabble about the square deal was merely so much protective coloration, easily explicable on elementary Freudian grounds. No man, facing Roosevelt in the heat of controversy, ever actually got a square deal. He took extravagant advantages; he played to the worst idiocies of the mob; he hit below the belt almost habitually. One never thinks of him as a duelist, say of the school of Disraeli, Palmerston and, to drop a bit, Blaine. One always thinks of him as a glorified longshoreman engaged eternally in cleaning out bar-rooms — and not too proud to gouge when the inspiration came to him, or to bite in the clinches, or to oppose the relatively fragile brass knuckles of the code with chair-legs, bung-starters, cuspidors, demijohns, and ice-picks.

Abbott and Thayer, in their books, make elaborate efforts to depict their hero as one born with a deep loathing of the whole Prussian scheme of things, and particularly of the Prussian technique in combat. Abbott even goes so far as to hint that the attentions of the Kaiser, during Roosevelt’s historic tour of Europe on his return from Africa, were subtly revolting to him. Nothing could be more absurd. Prof. Dr. Sherman, in the article I have mentioned, blows up that nonsense by quoting from a speech made by the tourist in Berlin — a speech arguing for the most extreme sort of militarism in a manner that must have made even some of the Junkers blow their noses dubiously. The disproof need not be piled up; the America that Roosevelt dreamed of was always a sort of swollen Prussia, truculent without and regimented within. There was always a clank of the saber in his discourse; he could not discuss the tamest matter without swaggering in the best dragoon fashion.

H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, part 2, 1920.

February 5, 2014

The Internet and the defenestration of the gatekeepers

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:51

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith talks about the recent movie The Fifth Estate, prominent whistleblowers, and how the Internet upset so many top-down information models:

The top three “whistle-blowers”, of course, in no particular order, are Assange himself, Bradley/Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. I’m interested in these individuals for a number of reasons, not the least of which, is that I wrote about them (actually, I anticipated them) long before most people in the world ever knew they existed.

Including me.

Eleven years ago, in a speech I delivered to the Libertarian Party of New Mexico entitled “Empire of Lies“, I asserted that every human being on Earth is swimming — drowning — in an ocean of lies, mostly told by governments of one variety or another. I pointed out that lies of that kind — for example, the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” that never happened, and yet cost the lives of 60,000 Americans and 2,000,000 Vietnamese — are deadly. I proposed, therefore, that any politician, bureaucrat, or policeman caught telling a lie to any member of the public for any reason — a well as any among their ilk keeping secrets — ought to be subject to capital punishment, preferably by public hanging.

On network television.

Some time later, I stumbled on what I think is the true historical significance of the Internet. For as long as human beings have been communicating with one another, except among family and friends (and even then, sometimes) communications have been vertical and one-way, from the top down. Just to take it back to the Middle Ages, you can’t talk back to, or argue with a church bell. You either do what you are trained to do when it rings — wake, pray, eat, go to bed — or you do not, and suffer whatever consequences society has arranged for you to suffer.

This sorry situation was not improved materially by later “great” inventions like the printing press, movies, radio, or television. Such innovations only made it easier and more convenient to issue orders. The elite laid down the law to the peons (that’s us) and there was no way of contradicting them. Letters to the Editor are limited to 400 words.

But the Internet, and all of the technical, political, and social phenomena associated with it, turned this communications hierarchy sideways. Almost overnight, it was now possible for anybody on the planet to talk to anybody else, and to speak privately with a single individual, or to millions, without obtaining anyone’s permission, judged not by their power or authority, but by the cogency of their arguments.

Atlas didn’t shrug, Authority wigged.

Traditional Big Media, newspaper, magazine, and book publishers, movie studios, radio and television network executives, held onto their monopoly gatekeeper position, inherited from a more primitive era, desperately and at any cost. Only they were fit to judge what word could be sent by mere individuals to the Great Unwashed (that’s us, again). What it cost them is their very existence. They were incapable of divining that the Age of Authority, including theirs, was over.

For governments all over the world, subsisting as they all do on lies, intimidation, and violence, it was a nightmare. They have tried to fight back, but they will lose. The tide of history is against them. The idea of “peer-to-peer” communication is out there, and — short of the mass slaughter some of them seem to be preparing against us: a measure of their utter despair — it can never be called back or contained.

January 29, 2014

Pitching the New Deal through film – Gabriel Over the White House

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:01

I’d never heard of Gabriel Over the White House, so Jonah Goldberg‘s summary was quite interesting:

The legendary media tycoon William Randolph Hearst believed America needed a strongman and that Franklin D. Roosevelt would fit the bill. He ordered his newspapers to support FDR and the New Deal. At his direction, Hearst’s political allies rallied around Roosevelt at the Democratic convention, which some believe sealed the deal for Roosevelt’s nomination.

But all that wasn’t enough. Hearst also believed the voters had to be made to see what could be gained from a president with a free hand. So he financed the film Gabriel Over the White House, starring Walter Huston. The film depicts an FDR look-alike president who, after a coma-inducing car accident, is transformed from a passive Warren Harding type into a hands-on dictator. The reborn commander-in-chief suspends the Constitution, violently wipes out corruption, and revives the economy through a national socialist agenda. When Congress tries to impeach him, he dissolves Congress.

The Library of Congress summarizes the film nicely. “The good news: He reduces unemployment, lifts the country out of the Depression, battles gangsters and Congress, and brings about world peace. The bad news: He’s Mussolini.”

Hearst wanted to make sure the script got it right, so he sent it to what today might be called a script doctor, namely Roosevelt. FDR loved it, but he did have some changes, which Hearst eagerly accepted. A month into his first term, FDR sent Hearst a thank-you note. “I want to send you this line to tell you how pleased I am with the changes you made in Gabriel Over the White House,” Roosevelt wrote. “I think it is an intensely interesting picture and should do much to help.”

You can probably get the overall tone of the movie from this clip:

Even the editors at Wikipedia — hardly a hotbed of proto-fascists — describe it as “an example of totalitarian propaganda”:

Controversial since the time of its release, Gabriel Over the White House is widely acknowledged to be an example of totalitarian propaganda. Tweed, the author of the original novel, was a “liberal champion of government activism” and trusted adviser to David Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister who brought Bismarck’s welfare state to the United Kingdom. The decision to buy the story was made by producer Walter Wanger, variously described as “a liberal Democrat” or a “liberal Hollywood mogul.” After two weeks of script preparation, Wanger secured the financial backing of media magnate William Randolph Hearst, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s staunchest supporters, who had helped him get the Democratic presidential nomination and who enlisted his entire media empire to campaign for him. Hearst intended the film to be a tribute to FDR and an attack on previous Republican administrations.

Although an internal MGM synopsis had labeled the script “wildly reactionary and radical to the nth degree,” studio boss Louis B. Mayer “learned only when he attended the Glendale, California preview that Hammond gradually turns America into a dictatorship,” writes film historian Leonard J. Leff. “Mayer was furious, telling his lieutenant, ‘Put that picture back in its can, take it back to the studio, and lock it up!’”

Released only a few weeks after Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration, the film was labeled by The New Republic “a half-hearted plea for Fascism.” Its purpose, agreed The Nation, was “to convert innocent American movie audiences to a policy of fascist dictatorship in this country.” Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter concurred in 2007 that the movie was meant to “prepare the public for a dictatorship,” as well as to be an instructional guide for FDR, who read the script during the campaign. He liked it so much that he took time during the hectic first weeks of his presidency to suggest several script rewrites that were incorporated into the film. “An aroma of fascism clung to the heavily edited release print,” according to Leff. Roosevelt saw an advance screening, writing, “I want to send you this line to tell you how pleased I am with the changes you made in Gabriel Over the White House. I think it is an intensely interesting picture and should do much to help.” Roosevelt saw the movie several times and enjoyed it. After a private screening, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that “if a million unemployed marched on Washington … I’d do what the President does in the picture!”

January 21, 2014

George Orwell – confessed pamphlet addict

Filed under: Britain, History, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:22

The British Library has posted an interesting short item on their Untold lives blog about George Orwell’s pamphlet collection:

George Orwell’s collection of mostly political ephemera was an important barometer of the social changes of the 1930s and 1940s, and a measure of his influences during those decades. While Orwell’s personal papers went to University College London and the National Archives, his miscellaneous materials are held by the British Library. Totalling over 2700 items, a full inventory of Orwell’s collection of pamphlets is now available via the British Library’s website.

Orwell was not a writer of ‘bestselling’ books until the end of his life, after the Second World War. He became known as a journalist, a critic of other people’s writings and a word-portraitist of the landscape of politics. It is likely he never passed up the opportunity to acquire pamphlets of any persuasion. He wryly observed in The Tribune that the pamphleteer’s road was paved by a “complete disregard for fairness or accuracy” (8 December 1944). Perhaps the most appealing aspect of his pamphlets collection is that he wasn’t Hoovering them up to form a George Orwell Archive; he considered them as a spectrum of thought that was deserving of preserving.


Orwell’s heaps of pamphlets informed his writing, both fiction and non fiction. He took pride in his squirrelling-away of pamphlets, “political, religious and what-not”. In 1949, he estimated that this hoard numbered 1200-2000, but even the higher figure was an underestimation. He wrote that “a few of them must be great rarities” and they were “bound to be of historical interest in 50 years time.” In line with most of his considerations, he wasn’t wrong.

October 7, 2013

Even the “revised” official Chinese economic stats are dodgy

Filed under: China, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:23

In a survey of China’s military and economic status, Strategy Page mentions the perennial issue of unreliable official economic statistics for China:

Chinese officials are becoming more open about the problems they have getting accurate economic information for such things like annual GDP and unemployment rates. Apparently Chinese GDP has not been growing steadily at near ten percent a year for decades. Chinese officials do eventually (months or years later) get more accurate data and while Chinese GDP has actually been steadily growing over the last three decades the annual growth has actually varied from 5-15 percent. Chinese official policy was to keep everyone calm by issuing less variable annual growth rates. In short, the official numbers were doctored. For more accurate and immediate indicators of economic activity Chinese and foreign economists and business leaders use things like electricity production, railroad traffic and similar data that cannot be manipulated by local officials to make their city or province look more successful. Many financial exerts inside and outside China fear that all this official manipulation of economic data (an ancient practice in China) is masking some serious economic problems that could go sideways at any time and cause a banking crises that would paralyze the economy for a while and cause political chaos. It’s very much a crouching tiger and hidden dragon. This is an ancient phrase warning that behind seeming success and talent lurks the possibility of imminent disaster. Chinese are ever mindful of these bits of ancient wisdom.

September 8, 2013

QotD: What is Fascism?

Filed under: Britain, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:37

Learned controversies, reverberating for years on end in American magazines, have not even been able to determine whether or not Fascism is a form of capitalism. But still, when we apply the term ‘Fascism’ to Germany or Japan or Mussolini’s Italy, we know broadly what we mean. It is in internal politics that this word has lost the last vestige of meaning. For if you examine the press you will find that there is almost no set of people — certainly no political party or organized body of any kind — which has not been denounced as Fascist during the past ten years. Here I am not speaking of the verbal use of the term ‘Fascist’. I am speaking of what I have seen in print. I have seen the words ‘Fascist in sympathy’, or ‘of Fascist tendency’, or just plain ‘Fascist’, applied in all seriousness to the following bodies of people:

Conservatives: All Conservatives, appeasers or anti-appeasers, are held to be subjectively pro-Fascist. British rule in India and the Colonies is held to be indistinguishable from Nazism. Organizations of what one might call a patriotic and traditional type are labelled crypto-Fascist or ‘Fascist-minded’. Examples are the Boy Scouts, the Metropolitan Police, M.I.5, the British Legion. Key phrase: ‘The public schools are breeding-grounds of Fascism’.

Socialists: Defenders of old-style capitalism (example, Sir Ernest Benn) maintain that Socialism and Fascism are the same thing. Some Catholic journalists maintain that Socialists have been the principal collaborators in the Nazi-occupied countries. The same accusation is made from a different angle by the Communist party during its ultra-Left phases. In the period 1930-35 the Daily Worker habitually referred to the Labour Party as the Labour Fascists. This is echoed by other Left extremists such as Anarchists. Some Indian Nationalists consider the British trade unions to be Fascist organizations.

Communists: A considerable school of thought (examples, Rauschning, Peter Drucker, James Burnham, F. A. Voigt) refuses to recognize a difference between the Nazi and Soviet régimes, and holds that all Fascists and Communists are aiming at approximately the same thing and are even to some extent the same people. Leaders in The Times (pre-war) have referred to the U.S.S.R. as a ‘Fascist country’. Again from a different angle this is echoed by Anarchists and Trotskyists.

Trotskyists: Communists charge the Trotskyists proper, i.e. Trotsky’s own organization, with being a crypto-Fascist organization in Nazi pay. This was widely believed on the Left during the Popular Front period. In their ultra-Right phases the Communists tend to apply the same accusation to all factions to the Left of themselves, e.g. Common Wealth or the I.L.P.

Catholics: Outside its own ranks, the Catholic Church is almost universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both objectively and subjectively;

War resisters: Pacifists and others who are anti-war are frequently accused not only of making things easier for the Axis, but of becoming tinged with pro-Fascist feeling.

Supporters of the war: War resisters usually base their case on the claim that British imperialism is worse than Nazism, and tend to apply the term ‘Fascist’ to anyone who wishes for a military victory. The supporters of the People’s Convention came near to claiming that willingness to resist a Nazi invasion was a sign of Fascist sympathies. The Home Guard was denounced as a Fascist organization as soon as it appeared. In addition, the whole of the Left tends to equate militarism with Fascism. Politically conscious private soldiers nearly always refer to their officers as ‘Fascist-minded’ or ‘natural Fascists’. Battle-schools, spit and polish, saluting of officers are all considered conducive to Fascism. Before the war, joining the Territorials was regarded as a sign of Fascist tendencies. Conscription and a professional army are both denounced as Fascist phenomena.

Nationalists: Nationalism is universally regarded as inherently Fascist, but this is held only to apply to such national movements as the speaker happens to disapprove of. Arab nationalism, Polish nationalism, Finnish nationalism, the Indian Congress Party, the Muslim League, Zionism, and the I.R.A. are all described as Fascist but not by the same people.

George Orwell, “What is Fascism?”, Tribune, 1944

June 23, 2013

Ecuador press law to mandate coverage of government propaganda items

Filed under: Americas, Law, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:28

Ecuador has a new law on the books that may force the media to carry government propaganda or risk prosecution:

Under Ecuador’s new Communications Law, however, journalists may have to pay far more attention to ribbon-cutting ceremonies and other government PR events. Article 18 of the law forbids the “deliberate omission of … topics of public interest.” But this wording is so vague that nearly any action by local, state, or national government official could be considered of public interest.

“Newspapers don’t have enough journalists or space to cover all these events. Radio programs don’t have enough air time,” Paúl Mena, president of the Ecuadoran Journalists’ Forum, told CPJ. “If the government starts demanding coverage, there are going to be problems.”

More conflict between the media and the Correa government seems inevitable under the Communications Law, which was approved by the National Assembly on June 14 and will go into effect next month. Not only does the law create a state watchdog entity to regulate media content, but it is filled with ambiguous language demanding that journalists provide accurate and balanced information or face civil or criminal penalties. “This is completely crazy,” Monica Almeida, an editor at the Guayaquil daily El Universo, told CPJ. “The law is designed to regulate everything we do.”

[. . .]

The 44-page law contains 119 articles. In interviews with CPJ, Ecuadoran journalists were at a loss to pick out the worst provisions since they view nearly all of them as serious violations of press freedom.

For example, under the law reporters are now required to earn a journalism degree. Rather than serving as a neutral referee, the Superintendence of Information and Communication — the government’s new watchdog agency — could be used by Correa to simply bash the press. And reporters are especially incensed by Article 26 that prohibits “media lynching.” This is defined as “the dissemination of concerted and reiterative information … with the purpose of undermining the prestige” of a person or legal entity. Media outlets found violating this provision could be ordered to issue public apologies and would be subject to criminal and civil sanctions that are not specified in the legislation.

One magazine editor in Quito, who asked to remain anonymous, said the article seems designed to thwart investigations. That’s because such in-depth reporting often requires publishing a series of stories over several days or weeks that could be construed as harassment.

May 3, 2013

Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia at 75

Filed under: History, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:05

In the sp!ked review of books, Mick Hume looks at the book that got Orwell tossed out of the inner circle of leftist writers, not because it was bad, but because it was honest (and made Stalinism look too similar to Hitlerism):

George Orwell could have been killed twice in the Spanish Civil War. Once when he was shot in the throat by General Franco’s fascist forces; then when he was hunted by official Communist agents who, with the backing of Stalin’s Soviet Union, stabbed the revolution in the back and imprisoned, tortured and killed leading leftists and anarchists who were ostensibly on the same Republican side. Orwell learned the hardest way that the war against fascism in Spain was also a civil war against Stalinism.

Homage to Catalonia, Orwell’s famous account of his time in Spain from his arrival in Barcelona on Boxing Day 1936 to his escape in June 1937, has just reached its seventy-fifth anniversary. Like its author, the book almost didn’t make it either. The radical journalist and author’s usual publisher, Victor Gollancz, turned the book down without even seeing the manuscript, insisting that he would not publish anything ‘which could harm the fight against fascism’ by criticising the Communists.

Most of those from Britain and Europe who went to write about and fight in the Spanish Civil War took a similarly one-eyed view and followed the pro-Soviet line. What was unique about Orwell was that he hated fascism, but also stood apart from the official Stalinist-dominated left of his time. The radical maverick wrote about what he saw in Spain, rather than simply what he was told was true — although he also warned his readers to ‘beware my partisanship’ when seeking an objective account. He questioned the ‘official’ Stalinist-dictated account of events in Barcelona and elsewhere that was accepted around the world. This heresy made him the subject of a hate campaign when Homage to Catalonia was finally published in 1938, a campaign which continued well into the 1980s.

[. . .]

Orwell’s brilliant firsthand account of the conflict stands apart from and well above the I-was-there school of emotive, narcissistic war reporting we witness too often today. He also attempts to put his personal experiences into some proper political context, in two chapters now removed (at his request) from the narrative text and published at the end as appendices.

Here, Orwell closely interrogates and challenges the ‘official version’ of events in Barcelona, put about by the Communists and their many international apologists to justify their brutal repression of the non-Stalinist left. As he unravels the twisting of truth by propaganda organs such as the CPGB’s Daily Worker, you can almost see the ideas he was soon to express in his novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. He is also cutting about the way that the Communists simply branded their opponents as ‘Social-fascists’ and ‘Trotsky-Fascists’ to avoid engaging in important political arguments. Many who express their admiration for Orwell today have yet to absorb his point that screaming ‘Fascists!’ in the faces of those you disagree with is not the same thing as making your case. ‘Libel’, as he concludes, ‘settles nothing’.

April 17, 2013

Within the Hermit Kingdom

Filed under: Asia, Military, Pacific — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

“Sir Humphrey” posted this a few weeks ago, but given the ongoing weirdness emanating from North Korea, it’s still fully valid:

North Korea is one of the most unusual and terrifyingly Orwellian states on the planet. Imagine a nation where every member of the population has spent the last 60 years being told that they live in a paradise, and that they have the greatest living conditions on earth. Add to this complete state control of the media and broadcast, a network of spies and informants and a gulag archipelago that would make Stalin jealous. Presiding over this nation of some 23 million utterly indoctrinated and militarized people is a tiny elite who enjoy a pampered and privileged lifestyle which provides them with any manner of goods and services. At the very top of this is the ruler Kim Jong Un, who has inherited his position from his father Kim Jong Il. The Kim dynasty are treated almost as gods, and no criticism of any form is officially tolerated.

[. . .]

It is telling that there have been multiple photos of Kim appearing in the media while making visits to the armed forces. Kim Jong Il used to do something similar, whereby he would make a regular ‘guidance’ visit to various KPA units and reiterate advice on how things could be done better (a trait of Kim Jong Il was his unerring ability to be a world expert at whatever he turned his mind to apparently). If anything Kim Jong Un has been more prominent in these sorts of visits, where he seems determined to establish his credentials as a military leader. Not a military man by background, and with no real party power base to speak of, he needs to ensure that he can count on the loyalty of the armed forces to support his regime. Photos of him delivering guidance may appear somewhat hammed up to the Western audience, but in North Korea they serve as evidence that Kim has an understanding of the threat and is prepared to meet it.

The use of the rhetoric against South Korea and the US is important — it provides a unifying theme and helps focus attention on repelling the long expected attack. At the same time, the attempt to conduct a crude form of ‘nuclear blackmail’ by conducting tests of devices and rockets helps demonstrate Kims credentials as a credible world leader, with the most advanced technology and the ability to dictate terms to the wider world. The problem though is that as Kim is discovering now, it is difficult to back down from the pedestal when the other side don’t react as you expect them to.

April 13, 2013

Jonah Goldberg on Melissa Harris-Perry’s “Lean Forward” ad

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:50

In the most recent “Goldberg File” email, Goldberg had this to say about the rather revealing sentiments expressed by Melissa Harris-Perry in an MSNBC “Lean Forward” clip:

Before we get to all that, a word about the ad campaign itself. In one sense these ads are like the question, “You want extra?” from the masseuse at a shady Vietnamese massage parlor — proof that all pretense at propriety is exactly that, pretense. This is supposed to be a news network. Moreover, it is supposed to be a news network that constantly boasts of its professional and philosophical superiority to Fox News (and it’s true; except for ratings, influence, quality, and profit MSNBC kicks Fox’s butt). And yet, they run testimonials to state power with a frequency that rivals North Korean TV.

But in another sense these ads are the “extra” itself — a rather sad and perfunctory attempt to satisfy urges that barely rise above the masturbatory. The self-love oozes from the screen as the hosts’ inner-15-year-olds realize this is their chance to prove they’re as great as their favorite social-studies teacher told them they were!

Thanks to the magic of Hollywood, they preen for the cameras with an almost post-coital glow as they deliver their little sermonettes that amount to pointless verbal onanism. Hey, look. There’s no-necked Ed Schultz at a diner, looking like he’s having one last cup of coffee before he has to work up a sweat burying the corpse of a dissident union official still moldering in the trunk of his ten-year-old Coupe de Ville. And there’s Rachel Maddow (looking a bit like that aforementioned dead union official) trying to give her Stakhanovite commitment to infrastructure projects a romantic hue.

All Your Children Belong to Us

And now there’s Melissa Harris-Perry. By now you’ve heard of or seen the ad, but just in case here it is. In short, she thinks the idea that your kids are, well, yours is outdated and counterproductive.

Rich Lowry, praise be upon him, offers a fine summary of what Harris-Perry is getting at here. Actually, no disrespect to the guy who signs my paycheck (who is not only a powerful man, but a handsome one) but Harris-Perry herself was more than clear enough about what she’s after. The thing is only 30 seconds long, very highly produced, and straight to the point.

This is important because Harris-Perry is now simultaneously insisting she won’t apologize and insisting that she didn’t say what she so obviously said. In the ad she’s talking about the role of government, government investments, and ridiculing the idea of “private” ownership of kids. “We have to break through,” she urged, “our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families.” Now she claims she was talking about civil society and voluntarism?

As the guy who took Obama to his first stable said when the president was about to step in some equine feces, “Oh, that’s horses***.”

April 7, 2013

Possible reasons for North Korean bellicosity

Filed under: Asia, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

Michael Walker in the Eurasia Review:

What the North Korean leadership is hoping to achieve by its belligerence is anyone’s guess. As a “senior U.S. official” told the Reuters news agency that, when it comes to Kim’s strategy, “It’s a little bit of an ‘all bets are off’ kind of moment.” Several possible explanations suggest themselves, though. First, it may be that Kim is simply attempting to secure his power base by standing up to the “imperialists” in Washington. It would be understandable if he felt the need to bolster his position domestically, for he is a mere 30 years old and faces the monumental task of solving the country’s “chronic economic problems,” while at the same time keeping the 1.2 million-strong army on his side.

A second possibility is that he is employing former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory”: Give the other side the impression you are capable of doing anything, including using nuclear weapons, in the hope of winning concessions at the negotiating table. Again, considering the DPRK’s perilous economic circumstances, this strategy would make some sense.

A third, and less probable, explanation is that Kim really wants to provoke a military clash with the United States and its allies. Given the isolated nature of his regime, there is at least a chance that he believes the DPRK has the means to emerge victorious in such a confrontation.

Another unknown quantity in this supercharged state of affairs is Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first ever female president. Her month-old administration is already reeling from a series of scandals, leaving her weak at a time of potential national crisis. She would be under enormous pressure to reply with force were the North to launch even a limited military strike. Her predecessor was castigated for his vacillating response to North Korea’s alleged sinking of a South Korean ship and bombardment of a disputed island in 2010, which led to the resignation of the country’s defense minister.

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