Friday, 30 December 2011

Ernest Hemingway: war hero, big-game hunter, ‘gin-soaked abusive monster’

Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon, editors
Volume One: 1907–1922

Paul Hendrickson
Everything he loved in life, and lost, 1934–1961

"Gee I’m afraid I wont be good for anything after this war!”, Ernest Hemingway wrote to his parents in September 1918. He was recuperating at an Alpine hotel on Lake Maggiore, having been granted leave from the military hospital where he was undergoing “electrical treatments” on his severely wounded legs. “All I know now is war”, the nineteen-year-old continued. “Everything else seems like a dream.”...

The prediction that war was all he knew was less reckless than it sounded at the time, however. Hemingway died fifty years ago, shooting himself in the head in the early morning of July 2, 1961, at the house he shared with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, in Ketchum, Idaho. The last ten years of the marriage, which began in 1946, had been marked by insult, paranoia and violence. “It is more than a year since he actually hit me”, Mary told her husband’s publisher, Charles Scribner, in 1950. An entry in her journal for October 1951 says: “E. followed me to my bathroom and spit in my face”. The information that follows is almost as startling: “Next day he gave me $200”.

Between the youthful war hero and his bullying reflection you can fit three failed marriages, two messed-up children, five car accidents, two plane crashes (on succeeding days), one self-shooting (beside the fatal one), murderous safaris, vertiginous celebrity, precarious wealth, and a peculiar type of literary success that seemed, in his eyes, to spell “failure”. The subtitle of Paul Hendrickson’s Hemingway’s Boat states the terms of the battle eloquently enough, though no more so than the title of Hemingway’s last original collection of short stories, published in 1933 when he was thirty-four, in which one may still – just – catch sight of the experimental modernist he had been for ten productive years: Winner Take Nothing.
The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume One: 1907–1922 covers the years of the future writer’s childhood, his schooldays, beginnings as a journalist first on the Kansas City Star and then the Toronto Star, and of course his adventure on the Italian front...
The most ruinous artifice of all was celebrity, which demanded a set of poses that masked the murmuring trauma underneath. Hemingway’s self-invention was matched by that of his third and youngest son Gregory – also known as “Gigi” – a lifelong transvestite. In November 1952, Gregory wrote to his father:
“When it’s all added up, papa, it will be: he wrote a few good stories, had a novel and fresh approach to reality and he destroyed five persons – Hadley, Pauline, Marty [Gellhorn], Patrick, and possibly myself. Which do you think is the most important, your self-centred shit, the stories or the people?”...

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Hitler's Assault on the Golden Rule : by Claudia Koontz

The Third George J. Wittenstein Lecture

Hitler's Assault on the Golden Rule 
by Claudia Koontz

To resist,” from the Latin resistere, means to stand fast, to uphold principles against pressure to abandon them. In her lecture, Claudia Koonz discusses the appeal of the Nazis’ mandate to “Love only the neighbor who is like thyself. 

Using examples from visual and print media from the 1930s, Koonz explores the moral culture that normalized state-sanctioned persecution, theft, and murder. When we appreciate the force of this culture of impunity, we appreciate afresh the moral courage of the very few who resisted it.

Claudia Koonz is professor of History and Women’s Studies at Duke University. Growing up in Wisconsin and attending UW Madison inspired her to ask how ordinary, decent people become mobilized for dangerous, even criminal, collective aims. In graduate school at Columbia University and Rutgers University, she chose Germany as a case study for this question, which she addressed in her books, Mothers in the Fatherland, The Nazi Conscience, and other works.

Hear the lecture on video:

and on You Tube:

See also:

Ordinary people. The courage to say no

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Egyptian army officer's diary of military life in a revolution

Despite the crucial role played by the military in Egypt's upheaval, little is ever heard from those at the heart of the armed forces: the ordinary, mid-ranking personnel whose loyalty to the military, or lack of it, could yet determine the outcome of the revolution. Now, one insider has penned a unique account of life in the Egyptian army. A reserve officer for several years, he was in active service throughout the anti-Mubarak uprising and worked through this year's unrest before completing his duty in late 2011. The officer's name and identity has been concealed; the text below has been edited for clarity and to preserve the writer's anonymity.

"Officer training was intense. Our days started at 5am, and conditions were terrible. It was an attempt to 'break us' and transform us from civilians to military men. The hours were filled with pointless assemblies and formations where we'd stand for hours in the sun, the recital of army songs, singing the national anthem daily and following orders from the sergeants and warrant officers who would treat us terribly. But even those who gave us lessons would complain about the army and tell us how surprised and shocked they were at how different it had been from their expectations, and how frustrated they were at being unable to leave.
Regulation food was awful and served most of the time with dirty plates and spoons; it was partly bad management but I also believe they arranged things like that deliberately as it was possible to buy your own food instead from the well-stocked cafeteria and this was a way for the army to make money.
Punishment for misdemeanours included being forced to stay at the training academy on your days off, being made to lie down with your hands behind your back and then crawl on the ground, and being told to stand under the sun for an hour in full uniform and equipment, or getting thrown into military jail. It was all designed to humiliate you, but often we preferred being sent to jail; it was better than the normal daily schedule because at least it meant we were out of the sun.
Sometimes we'd rebel until the prison was full, at which point they'd have to try and be nicer to us...

Exotic creatures discovered living at deep-sea vent in Indian Ocean

British scientists have found a remarkable array of creatures, some of them new to science, in one of the most inhospitable regions of the deep sea. In the first ever expedition to explore and take samples from the "Dragon Vent" in the south-west Indian Ocean, remotely operated submarines spotted yeti crabs, sea cucumbers and snails living around the boiling column of mineral-rich water that spews out of the seafloor.
Dr Jon Copley, a marine biologist at the University of Southampton who led the exploration of the Dragon Vent, said his team found animals that had not been seen in neighbouring parts of the oceans.
"We found a new type of yeti crab. Yeti crabs are known at vents in the eastern Pacific and there are two species described so far, but they have very long, hairy arms – ours have short arms and their undersides are covered in bristles. They're quite different to the ones that are known from the Pacific," said Copley. "This is the first time a Yeti crab has been seen in the Indian Ocean."
His team also found sea cucumbers, vent shrimps and scaly-foot snails. Sea cucumbers have previously only been seen at deep sea vents in the eastern Pacific. "This is the first time they've been seen at vents in the Indian Ocean and they're not known from the central Indian or mid-Atlantic vents so far," he said.
Deep-sea vents, also known as hydrothermal vents, are springs of superheated water that are powered by underwater volcanoes. They erupt from the sea bed and are usually found a few miles under the sea surface. The scalding temperatures and rich mineral content of the water give rise to vast rocky chimneys, which have been found to support a wide variety of life forms...

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Book review: 'Tolstoy: A Russian Life'

Tolstoy: A Russian Life
Rosamund Bartlett

Count Lev Tolstoy is one of those writers who was as fascinating and complex as his novels and stories. A man so awful and quarrelsome to those around him, especially his long-suffering wife, was nonetheless able to produce masterpieces of serene introspection and humane insights. How could Tolstoy, a loner, a quintessential outsider all his life, understand and evoke the glittering social whirl and intricacies of fashionable salons? How could someone so masculine through and through somehow plumb sympathetically in his fiction the female psyche, which seemed, in real life, to perplex him at times beyond endurance? In short, he is a dream subject for a literary biographer.

But with such richness comes the inevitable difficulty of writing about a man whose life was so messy and destructive, so tormented and tormenting to those around him, and reconciling all this mayhem with the lapidary literary products of his head and heart. The good news is that in "Tolstoy: A Russian Life" British Russophile Rosamund Bartlett, author of a fine 
biography of Anton Chekhov, has managed to reconcile the contrarieties and produce a marvelously judicious, insightful study.

Fundamentally sympathetic to Tolstoy, she is also adept at identifying events in his youth, like the early deaths first of his mother, then his father, that destabilized his personality: The result is a clear-eyed biography that never minimizes its subject's faults while not losing sight of his better nature. Nor, all-important, of his artistic genius, with its protean imagination and prodigious talent for putting into deathless prose everything from historical and philosophical speculation to the simplest, most essential features of human characters and existence.

Bartlett's biography of Tolstoy is not one of those overburdened with literary criticism, which might dismay those who like a lot in biographies of writers, but
she is so attuned to his creative process that little is lacking in her portrait of how he was able to compose all that amazing prose. She has a new translation soon to appear of what may well be the acme of his fiction, "Anna Karenina," and it is significant that her excellent chapter on the intricacies of his struggles to perfect the huge task of writing it is simply titled "Novelist."

Nowhere is the intimacy of her understanding of her subject more apparent than in her painstaking reconstruction of how Tolstoy was able to produce this prose miracle. A result that, she reports, left even its author "fairly nonplussed" to learn that "most recent reviews were hailing him to be a writer as great as Shakespeare, and that even Dostoyevsky was waving his arms about and calling Tolstoy a 'god of art.'".. If there is one central insight running through Bartlett's life of Tolstoy it is his essential Russianness...,0,985399.story

Outsider physicists and the oh-my-god particle

IN OCTOBER 1991, astrophysicists observed something incredible in the skies above Dugway Proving Ground, a former weapons-testing facility in a remote corner of Utah. It was a cosmic ray with an enormous amount of energy - equivalent to the kinetic energy of a baseball travelling at 100 kilometres per hour, but compressed into a subatomic particle. It came to be known as the oh-my-god-particle, and though similar events have been recorded at least 15 times since, mainstream physicists remain baffled by them.
To Jim Carter, a trailer-park owner in Enumclaw, Washington, ultra-high-energy cosmic rays pose no problem. They offer proof of a radical theory of the universe he has been developing for 50 years.
In Carter's theory, these rays are photons left over from the earliest stage of cosmic evolution. He calls them "apocalyptic photons" and believes that one of them was responsible for the Tunguska eventMovie Camera in 1908, in which a mysterious something from outer space flattened 2100 square kilometres of Siberian forest.
Carter's ideas are not taken seriously by the physics mainstream. He does not have a PhD and has never had any of his work published in a scientific journal. He has just a single semester of university education, which was enough to convince him that what was being taught in physics departments was an offence to common sense.
In response, Carter went off and developed his own ideas. Five decades on he has his very own theory of everything, an idiosyncratic alternative to quantum mechanics and general relativity, based on the idea that all matter is composed of doughnut-shaped particles called circlons. Since the 1970s he has articulated his ideas in a series of self-published books, including his magnum opus, The Other Theory of Physics.
For the past 18 years I have been collecting the works of what I have come to call "outsider physicists"...

Britain's imperial echoes have led it to a ruinous decade of wars

What do Britons "want" in the coming year? An ambassador to Washington was once asked the question on radio and replied, "That's very kind of you, a box of candied fruits would do." Such humble responses are now out of date. As the season of goodwill slithers into that of New Year's resolution, the urge to tell the world how to behave seems uncontrollable.
We can suppress a yawn at David Cameron's sermon on Christian values and Ed Miliband claiming the Helmand army is making Britain "secure, peaceful and happy". More troubling is the foreign secretary,William Hague's, declaration on Facebook of a Christmas ambition to increase "international pressure on Syria … push Burma in the right direction … improve the situation in Somalia … and protect women's rights in the Middle East" among other uplifting goals.
The phraseology may seem in place beneath portraits of Pitt and Palmerston, but how must it play with its intended recipients? Imagine the Indian foreign minister sending Britons a Christmas message deploring their addiction to knife crime, or Japan's expressing his dismay at Britain's broken homes, or Pakistan's decrying Ulster sectarianism as "unacceptable". I am sure Hague would tell them to mind their own business.
Britain's assumption of an ancestral role in passing judgment on Kipling's "lesser tribes without the law" seems genetically embedded. Hague might as well have been quoting from The White Man's Burden..

None of the areas of Hague's concern had anything to do with Britain, let alone being within Britain's sovereign domain, nor have they been for over half a century. The power has gone. The legitimacy has departed. Only the language of implied command echoes through the Foreign Office's post-imperial dusk

Pakistan’s General Problem – By Mohammed Hanif

Two days before the Americans killed Osama bin Laden and took away his bullet-riddled body, General Kiyani addressed Army cadets at Kakul. After declaring a victory of sorts over the militants, he gave our nation a stark choice. And before the nation could even begin to weigh its pros and cons, he went ahead and decided for them: we shall never bargain our honour for prosperity. As things stand, most people in Pakistan have neither honour nor prosperity and will easily settle for their little world not blowing up every day. The question people really want to ask General Kiyani is that if he and his Army officer colleagues can have both honour and prosperity, why can’t we the people have a tiny bit of both?

How Pakistan’s Generals turned the country into an international jihadi tourist resort.
What is the last thing you say to your best general when ordering him into a do-or-die mission? A prayer maybe, if you are religiously inclined. A short lecture, underlining the importance of the mission, if you want to keep it businesslike. Or maybe you’ll wish him good luck accompanied by a clicking of the heels and a final salute.
On the night of 5 July 1977 as Operation Fair Play, meant to topple Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s elected government, was about to commence, then Army Chief General Zia ul Haq took aside his right-hand man and Corps Commander of 10th Corps Lieutenant General Faiz Ali Chishti and whispered to him: “Murshid, marwa na daina.” (Guru, don’t get us killed.)
General Zia was indulging in two of his favourite pastimes: spreading his paranoia amongst those around him and sucking up to a junior officer he needed to do his dirty work. General Zia had a talent for that; he could make his juniors feel as if they were indispensable to the running of this world. And he could make his seniors feel like proper gods, as Bhutto found out to his cost.
General Faiz Ali Chishti’s troops didn’t face any resistance that night; not a single shot was fired, and like all military coups in Pakistan, this was also dubbed a ‘bloodless coup’. There was a lot of bloodshed, though, in the following years—in military-managed dungeons, as pro-democracy students were butchered at Thori gate in interior Sindh, hundreds of shoppers were blown up in Karachi’s Bohri Bazar, in Rawalpindi people didn’t even have to leave their houses to get killed as the Army’s ammunition depot blew up raining missiles on a whole city, and finally at Basti Laal Kamal near Bahawalpur, where a plane exploded killing General Zia and most of the Pakistan Army’s high command. General Faiz Ali Chishti had nothing to do with this, of course. General Zia had managed to force his murshid into retirement soon after coming to power. Chishti had started to take that term of endearment—murshid—a bit too seriously and dictators can’t stand anyone who thinks of himself as a kingmaker.
Thirty-four years on, Pakistan is a society divided at many levels. There are those who insist on tracing our history to a certain September day in 2001, and there are those who insist that this country came into being the day the first Muslim landed on the Subcontinent. There are laptop jihadis, liberal fascist and fair-weather revolutionaries. There are Balochi freedom fighters up in the mountains and bullet-riddled bodies of young political activists in obscure Baloch towns. And, of course, there are the members of civil society with a permanent glow around their faces from all the candle-light vigils. All these factions may not agree on anything but there is consensus on one point: General Zia’s coup was a bad idea. When was the last time anyone heard Nawaz Sharif or any of Zia’s numerous protégés thump their chest and say, yes, we need another Zia? When did you see a Pakistan military commander who stood on Zia’s grave and vowed to continue his mission?..

Monday, 26 December 2011

America, Israel, Iran: a shifting risk

The many factors that are contributing to an increase of tension over Iran's nuclear ambitions were noted in the previous column in this series. They include anexplosion at an Iranian missile-plant, the capture of a CIA surveillance-drone, the rhetoric of Republican politicians in the United States, and a hawkish speech by the diplomatic insider and Barack Obama's former adviser on middle-east issues, Dennis Ross (see "America, Israel, Iran: war in focus", 15 December 2011).
The column noted that - Ross's informed viewsnotwithstanding - the perception of many analysts is that the Obama administration does not anticipate a military confrontation with Iran. This judgment has been reinforced by the remark of the US defence secretary Leon Panetta that a war with Iran could have dangerous consequences.
Amid these circumstances and signals, the column highlighted a longer-term strategic issue that might transcend more immediate concerns: the likelihood that Iranian influence in Iraq after the US troop withdrawals, and Washington's fear of Iranian regional power, might both increase to the point of confrontation.
The risk
The past week has seen three developments that bear on this argument. The first is the attempted arrest in Iraq on terrorism charges of the leading Iraqi Sunni politician and the country's vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi. He has sought refuge in Kurdish Iraq, with his pursuer - Iraq's (Shi'a) prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki - requesting that the Kurds hand him over to the Baghdad authorities.
Whatever the basis of the allegations, the incident appears a case of a Shi'a-dominated government consolidating its (sectarian) power at the expense of Iraq'sSunni minority - even to the extent of abandoning the power-sharing process..

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Scientific misconduct

Scientific misconduct is not necessarily a sign of a decline of ethics among scientists today or of the increased competition for tenure and research funds. Accusations of scientific misconduct, sometimes well supported, pepper the history of science from the Greek natural philosophers onward. Ptolemy of Alexandria (90–168), the greatest astronomer of antiquity, has been accused of using without attribution observations of stars made by his predecessor Hipparchus of Rhodes (162–127 BCE), who himself had used much earlier Babylonian observations as if they were his own. Isaac Newton used “fudge factors” to better fit data to his theories. In his studies of hereditary characteristics, Gregor Mendel reported near perfect ratios, and therefore statistically very unlikely ratios, from his pea-plant crossings. When Mendel crossed hybrid plants, he predicted and found that exactly one-third were pure dominants and two-thirds were hybrids. The high unlikelihood of getting exact 1:3 ratios was first pointed out in 1911 by R.A. Fisher, the founder of modern statistics and a founder of population genetics, when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge University. Though Charles Darwin has been cleared of accusations of nicking the idea of natural selection from Alfred Russel Wallace, he seems to have only reluctantly credited some of his predecessors.
The first formal discussion of scientific misconduct was published in 1830 by Charles Babbage, who held Newton’s chair at Cambridge and made major contributions to astronomy, mathematics and the development of computers. In Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of Its Causes, Babbage distinguished “several species of impositions that have been practised in science…hoaxing, forging, trimming, and cooking.” An example of “hoaxing” would be the Piltdown man, discovered in 1911 and discredited in 1953; parts of an ape and human skull were combined, supposedly to represent a “missing link” in human evolution. Hoaxes are intended to expose naïveté and credulousness and to mock pseudo wisdom. Unlike most hoaxes, Babbage’s other “impositions” are carried out to advance the perpetrator’s scientific career. “Forging,” which he thought rare, is the counterfeiting of results, today called fabrication. “Trimming” consists of eliminating outliers to make results look more accurate, while keeping the average the same. “Cooking” is the selection of data. Trimming and cooking fall under the modern rubric of “falsification.” Scholarly conventions and standards of scientific probity were probably different in the distant past, yet the feuds, priority disputes and porous notions of scientific truthfulness from previous centuries seem contemporary...

Iraq: What Remains

The world has changed a great deal since the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003–thanks in part to that invasion and to the earlier invasion of Afghanistan. And yet, watching President Barack Obama welcome home the troops at Fort Bragg on December 14, and the media coverage of that event, it struck me that one thing has not changed. Despite the vast expenses incurred by news organizations following the occupation, and the considerable time that politicians in Washington spent debating its merits, many Americans continue to see in Iraq a reflection of their own country’s ideals and contradictions. They will remember Iraq as an American trauma. But it was, above all, an Iraqi trauma.
The country that George W. Bush and Tony Blair have left behind is free of Saddam Hussein, but it is needy and volatile and may tip back into sectarian war. In addition to 4,500 US soldiers, well over 100,000 civilians have lost their lives. Millions have fled into exile or have had to leave their homes in Iraq, ancient Christian communities have been obliterated, and only a shared pursuit of oil revenues keeps the country’s most important groups (the Shia Arabs, the Sunni Arabs, and the Kurds) precariously united. Even for a president seeking re-election, Obama’s description of Iraq as “sovereign, stable, and self-reliant” seems unduly optimistic.
The ramifications of the US-led coalition’s failure extend far beyond Iraq’s borders. Had the operation in Iraq succeeded, Iran could well have been next. Obama’s Iran policy is relatively cautious, relying on containment through sanctions and, possibly, acts of sabotage. But there can be no doubt that the power of Iran in Iraq and in the region has increased as a result of the USinvasion. It is hard to imagine America and its allies again launching such a vast military enterprise, or presenting it as part of something so obscure and unexplained as a “war on terror.” America’s failure in Iraq marks the end of a century of ill-judged invasions, coups, and other attempts by western powers to manipulate events in the Middle East. It is an important moment.
The neocons regarded intervention in Iraq as a means of establishing a beachhead for liberal, democratic values in the region...

Do China’s Village Protests Help the Regime?

Over the past two weeks, the western press has focused on a striking story out of China: a riveting series of protests in Wukan, a fishing village in the country’s prosperous south. The story is depressingly familiar: Corrupt cadres sell off public land and villagers get nothing. Anger builds and protests erupt. Inept local officials negotiate and then turn to violence, in this case encircling the town with police in hopes of starving the population into submission.
According to interviews with villagers, officials had been selling off communal land in Wukan since the early 1990s, with few locals seeing any of the proceeds. Resentment finally boiled over this autumn when the last large plot of land in the village was sold—at a time when rising inflation meant many villagers wanted the land to grow their own crops. They rioted, chased the party leaders out of town, and chose a dozen representatives to negotiate. Their demands were that the sales be investigated and officials removed.
Police then allegedly kidnapped five of these leaders and beat one of them to death, igniting the most recent protests that have captured the outside world’s attention. The other four remain in police custody. Scores of foreign reporters descended on Wukan, providing blanket coverage of the riots and negotiations between the villagers and government leaders. The riots ended Wednesday after the government made some concessions and villagers agreed to go home.
What to make of all this? The overall sense in western reports is that things are spinning out of control in China, that the center can’t hold and the Communist Party can’t manage. We are told that China has tens of thousands of similar protests each year. The exact numbers aren’t clear but official figures show a dramatic increase in “mass incidents” over the past decade from just a few thousand to, by some measures, 80,000. Subconsciously we get the message: protests are a sign of instability, ergo the stability of China under one-party rule is eroding.
And yet to a degree this analysis doesn’t add up. If the government is so worried about protests, then why does it make the statistics available in the first place?..

Friday, 23 December 2011

I don't believe in God, so why is it that I don't want to be labelled an atheist?

A couple of weeks ago, a nurse stood beside my hospital bed with a pen and a clipboard. After the questions about allergies and next of kin came the one about religion. None, I said, when she asked which one. Her English was hesitant. "You are … what do you call it … an atheist, then? Shall I write that?" "Please just write 'none', or 'no religion'," I said.
I don't know why I jibbed at the word atheist. It may have been Jonathan Miller's argument that non-belief in God is a narrow and entirely negative self-description that ignores all the other things you might either believe in or not, from homeopathy through necromancy to the Gaia theory. As a definition it belongs to the same dull category as "non-driver" or "ex-smoker"; not driving or no longer smoking, just like not believing in God, is an inadequate guide to the self. There are so many richer and more positive ways, or so you hope, to summarise your behaviour and beliefs and what you might add up to when the counting is done.
But after the nurse left with her questionnaire, I wondered about other motives for denying a truth about myself. Had it to do with social cowardice, or some ridiculous notion of politeness on my part? Three other men shared my bay in the ward, and who knew what beliefs they held? "Atheism" has such a scorning ring to it. I wouldn't have wanted them to think (though, of course, they wouldn't have cared less) that, as I lay beside them, I was quietly cackling at their misplaced faith in the other life to come. As it turned out, two of them may have declared at least the name of such a faith to the nurse, because the next day a visitor came into the ward and made a beeline for their beds, and talked briefly and earnestly to each man in a low voice.
The men were originally from Mayo and Dublin (I wrote about Joseph last week), and I can say only that their visitor seemed like a missionary woman, or my idea of one. She had cropped grey hair, a blue cardigan and flat shoes, and she looked like someone who ate sparingly and cared for God very much.
This visit, too, had a consequence. A priest came next...