Taking a break part one

The blog is taking a break for a while. In the meantime some odds and sods until it resumes.


Long before the blog became a PR person it read Daniel Boorstin’s 1961 book The Image. The blog hadn’t thought of it much lately until reading a review of Donald Trump’s campaign autobiography Crippled America by Mark Danner (NYRB 26 May 2016).

The review contained a longish quote from Boorstin who was the Librarian of Congress in the 1970s and 8os. He wrote more than two score books and in one of them, the blog doesn’t remember which but probably The Image: A guide to pseudo-events in America, he made the profound observation that in Benjamin Franklin’s day as an early newspaperman if the packet from London had not arrived Franklin reported that “there was no news today.” Today there is never no news even if it is only the wiggling of a Kardashian posterior.

Danner quoted Boorstin saying (more than 50 years ago note!): “The celebrity in the distinctive modern sense could not have existed in  any earlier age. (Although the blog is not sure about how Byron fits into this argument.)The celebrity is a person who is known for his (sic) well-knownness. His qualities – or rather his lack of them – illustrate our peculiar problems. He is neither good nor bad, great nor petty. He is the human pseudo-event (sounds like Derryn Hinch). He has been fabricated on purpose to satisfy our exaggerated expectations of human greatness. He is made by all of us who willingly read about him, who like to see him on television, who buy recordings of his voice, and talk about him to our friends. His relation to morality and even to reality is highly ambiguous.”

In contrast to the cult of celebrity perhaps we ought to have a cult of competence. Unfortunately though, as Kim Mahood writes in Craft for a Dry Lake about the competent as opposed to the celebrity – “He was too competent to capture the imagination of history.”

Brexit and the European dream

Amidst the angst about Brexit and the EU’s future it is worth remembering that the history of the European idea was about much more than economics, currencies and ever closer union.

In recent months the blog has read a Stefan Zweig collection of essays and talks (some of them unpublished until now) given to as a birthday present (70th to be exact from the blog’s friend John Spitzer). Zweig was once possibly the world’s most popular author although his books fell out of print and really only Beware of Pity and The World of Yesterday remained well known. In recent years Pushkin Press has tried to redress the situation republishing Zweig’s novellas along with a biography of a proto European, Montaigne. The blog also has a 1956 edition of the biography of that other proto-European Erasmus which doesn’t seem to have been re-published which is a pity. The latest collection, Messages from a Lost World, contains a number of speeches and articles which were produced after the outbreak of the war and before his suicide as he despaired of what had happened to his beloved German language and Vienna. Many of them, including a proposal for a precursor of the modern EU concept of a series of Cities of Culture, make the case for European unity.

What is distinctive is that Zweig’s views echo those of the European community founders, such as Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, recently described by Ian Buruma (NYRB 7 April 2016) as “more than dry technocrats” and all being Catholics bringing with them “a whiff of the Holy Roman Empire.” It is also no accident that the major EU annual prize is the Charlemagne Prize presented in Aachen.

Buruma also reminds us of Julien Benda’s 1933 comment that: “Europe won’t be the result of a simple economic or political transformation. It will not really exist without adopting a system of moral and aesthetic values, the exultation of a certain way of thinking and feeling.” Of course Benda also imagined this new community would all speak French.

Topsy Turvy

The Chilcot inquiry reminds us of the topsy turvy nature of militarism – most of those who are most gung ho about military action are those that missed out, were ineligible or dodged active military service – Howard, Blair (he wouldn’t have passed the psych test if you place any credence on Bob Marshall-Andrews memoirs of his time as a Labour MP and his exposure to a messianic Leader), and George W. Bush.

Indeed, the contrast between those who had seen combat, such as Colin Powell, and the chicken hawks (list your own names although Paul Wolfowitz would be high on it) over Iraq was striking. With some modesty the blog points out that this also applies to more humble participants as it and its friend John Phillips (Vietnam veterans both) are strong supporters of the Australian War Powers Reform group which aims to change the way Australia goes to war.

Now the US progressive Jewish magazine, Forward, has published an article (6 July 2016) contrasting the attitude of many of Israel’s current and past Mossad and Shin Bet leaders to their political masters. Indeed a Likud leader, David Bitan, recently warned that these intelligence and security agencies were a problem because they were ‘leftists’. Their crime – believing Israel’s security is best protected by a two-state solution and the avoidance of an apartheid type state. Of course, the common Likud argument about a two state solution creating ‘indefensible borders’ also offends the military’s sense of history and achievement as well as their knowledge that the Israeli military is the most potent in the region.

Similar arguments have been canvassed in the US Foreign Affairs by Aluf Benn and Yagil Levy with the former encompassing the argument that “Israel – at least the largely secular and progressive version of Israel that once captured the world’s (including the blog’s) imagination – is over.”