Many of my favourite books cover many areas, especially where non-fiction is concerned. I wish this collection of essays and articles, all written byMany of my favourite books cover many areas, especially where non-fiction is concerned. I wish this collection of essays and articles, all written by Noam Chomsky (except for the one where David Barsamian interviews Chomsky), were non-fiction, but it's not.
This collection covers many areas, ranging from a short description of anarchy to Obama's drone-wielding terrorist campaign, over climate change, into the more-than-apartheid campaign of Israel against Palestine. It's a lot, but it's so well written, and so thoroughly researched, that it's impossible to withstand, even if one tried to.
From the introduction:
The commentaries presented in this book are a collection of columns penned between 2011 and 2014, distributed to the international press by the New York Times Syndicate, and widely published in newspapers abroad. Few, if any, are published on the op-ed pages of American papers, and U.S. military censors even banned distribution of an earlier collection of his commentaries, INTERVENTIONS.
That's right. That book wasn't allowed into the reading list at Guantánamo Bay.
Chomsky's writing is, as always, simple and plain, even providing insight that extraterrestrials would find easy to get (not that we're hard to crack as a species, despite our wont to deplete ourselves):
To gain perspective on what’s happening in the world, it’s sometimes useful to adopt the stance of intelligent extraterrestrial observers viewing the strange doings on Earth. They would be watching in wonder as the richest and most powerful country in world history now leads the lemmings cheerfully off the cliff.
Last month, the International Energy Agency (IEA), which was formed on the initiative of U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1974, issued its latest report on rapidly increasing carbon emissions from fossil fuel use. The IEA estimated that if the world continues on its present course, the “carbon budget” will be exhausted by 2017. The budget is the quantity of emissions that can keep global warming at the 2 degrees Celsius level considered the limit of safety. IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said, “The door is closing . . . if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum (for safety). The door will be closed forever.”
Also last month, the U.S. Department of Energy reported the emissions figures for 2010. Emissions “jumped by the biggest amount on record,” the Associated Press reported, meaning that “levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst-case scenario” anticipated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007. John Reilly, co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) program on climate change, told the Associated Press that scientists have generally found the IPCC predictions to be too conservative—unlike the fringe of denialists who gain public attention. Reilly reported that the IPCC’s worst-case scenario was about in the middle of the MIT scientists’ estimates of likely outcomes.
The hypothetical extraterrestrial observers can be pardoned if they conclude that we seem to be infected by some kind of lethal insanity.
Chomsky's "Anniversaries from 'Unhistory'" is great, so much that it deserves a chapter of its own in this review. Instead, I will link to some highlights of mine, from that chapter: https://www.highly.co/hl/55ffa39b6c69...
Naturally, Chomsky delves into the concept of terrorism, what it actually means, not only the word, but how terrorism is defined by the UN, and how the USA continually deceive its population and the rest of the world on that note:
In three years we may—or may not—commemorate another event of great contemporary relevance: the 900th anniversary of the Magna Carta. This document is the foundation for what historian Margaret E. McGuiness, referring to the Nuremberg Trials, hailed as a “particularly American brand of legalism: punishment only for those who could be proved to be guilty through a fair trial with a panoply of procedural protections.”
The Great Charter declares that “no free man” shall be deprived of rights “except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.” The principles were later broadened to apply to men generally. They crossed the Atlantic and entered into the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, which declared that no “person” can be deprived of rights without due process and a speedy trial. The founders of course did not intend the term “person” to actually apply to all persons. Native Americans were not persons. Neither were those who were enslaved. Women were scarcely persons. However, let us keep to the core notion of presumption of innocence, which has been cast into the oblivion of unhistory.
A further step in undermining the principles of the Magna Carta was taken when President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which codifies Bush-Obama practice of indefinite detention without trial under military custody. Such treatment is now mandatory in the case of those accused of aiding enemy forces during the “war on terror,” or optional if those accused are American citizens.
Many other examples illuminate the concept of “terrorist.” One is Nelson Mandela, only removed from the terrorist list in 2008. Another was Saddam Hussein. In 1982 Iraq was removed from the list of terrorist-supporting states so that the Reagan administration could provide Hussein with aid after he invaded Iran. Accusation is capricious, without review or recourse, and commonly reflecting policy goals—in Mandela’s case, to justify President Reagan’s support for the apartheid state’s crimes in defending itself against one of the world’s “more notorious terrorist groups”: Mandela’s African National Congress. All better consigned to unhistory.
Chomsky's tips are always interesting:
In his penetrating study IDEAL ILLUSIONS: HOW THE U.S. GOVERNMENT CO-OPTED HUMAN RIGHTS, international affairs scholar James Peck observes, “In the history of human rights, the worst atrocities are always committed by somebody else, never us”—whoever “us” is.
Also, his views on companies and corporations that go hand-in-hand with government seldom disappoint to shock:
Joining the Vietnamese appeal against Dow are the government of India, the Indian Olympic Association, and the survivors of the horrendous 1984 Bhopal gas leak, one of history’s worst industrial disasters, which killed thousands and injured more than half a million. Union Carbide, the corporation responsible for the disaster, was taken over by Dow, for whom the matter is of no slight concern. In February, Wikileaks revealed that Dow hired the U.S. private investigative agency Stratfor to monitor activists seeking compensation for the victims and prosecution of those responsible.
His words on Israel, on the perennial US support for Israel, are always clarifying:
The possibility that Iran might develop nuclear weapons arises in the electoral campaign. (The fact that Israel already has them does not.) Two positions are counterposed: Should the U.S. declare that it will attack if Iran reaches the capability to develop nuclear weapons, which dozens of countries enjoy? Or should Washington keep the “red line” more indefinite? The latter position is that of the White House; the former is demanded by Israeli hawks—and accepted by the U.S. Congress. The Senate just voted 90–1 to support the Israeli position.
His words on how the USA perceive Iran as "a major threat", or, indeed, "the biggest threat", are also crystal clear:
As numerous polls have shown, although citizens of Arab countries generally dislike Iran, they do not regard it as a very serious threat. Rather, they perceive the threat to be Israel and the United States; and many, sometimes considerable majorities, regard Iranian nuclear weapons as a counter to these threats.
PREROGATIVES OF POWER February 4, 2014
As the year 2013 drew to an end, the BBC reported on the results of the WIN/Gallup International poll on the question: “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?” The United States was the champion by a substantial margin, winning three times the votes of second-place Pakistan. By contrast, the debate in American scholarly and media circles is about whether Iran can be contained, and whether the huge NSA surveillance system is needed to protect U.S. security. In view of the poll, it would seem that there are more pertinent questions: Can the United States be contained and other nations secured in the face of the U.S. threat?
And, on capitalism:
CAN CIVILIZATION SURVIVE CAPITALISM? March 4, 2013
There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.” The term “capitalism” is commonly used to refer to the U.S. economic system, with substantial state intervention ranging from subsidies for creative innovation to the “too-big-to-fail” government insurance policy for banks. The system is highly monopolized, further limiting reliance on the market, and increasingly so: In the past 20 years the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, reports scholar Robert W. McChesney in his new book, DIGITAL DISCONNECT.
His human insights and retellings of stories from Gaza are very touching:
While a showcase for the human capacity for violence, Gaza is also an inspiring exemplar of the demand for dignity. Ghada Ageel, a young woman who escaped from Gaza to Canada, writes about her 87-year-old refugee grandmother, still trapped in the Gaza prison. Before her grandmother’s expulsion from a now-destroyed village, “she owned a house, farms and land and she enjoyed honor, dignity and hope.” Amazingly, like Palestinians generally, the elderly woman hasn’t given up hope. “When I saw my grandmother in November 2012 she was unusually happy,” Ageel writes. “Surprised by her high spirits, I asked for an explanation. She looked me in the eye and, to my surprise, said that she was no longer worried about” her native village and the life of dignity that she has lost, for her irrevocably. The village, her grandmother told Ageel, “is in your heart, and I also know that you are not alone in your journey. Don’t be discouraged. We are getting there.”
A few words on Edward Snowden and people like Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning:
Washington has made clear that any country that refuses to extradite Snowden will face harsh punishment. The United States will “chase him to the ends of the earth,” Senator Lindsey Graham warned.
U.S. government spokespersons assured the world that Snowden will be granted the full protection of American law—referring to those same laws that have kept U.S. Army soldier Bradley Manning (who released a vast archive of U.S. military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks) in prison for three years, much of it in solitary confinement under humiliating conditions. Long gone is the archaic notion of a speedy trial before a jury of peers. On July 30 a military judge found Manning guilty of charges that could lead to a maximum sentence of 136 years. Like Snowden, Manning committed the crime of revealing to Americans—and others—what their government is doing. That is a severe breach of “security” in the operative meaning of the term, familiar to anyone who has pored over declassified documents. Typically “security” means security of government officials from the prying eyes of the public to whom they are answerable—in theory.
In an interview on German TV, Edward J. Snowden said that his “breaking point” was “seeing Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress” by denying the existence of a domestic spying program conducted by the National Security Agency. Snowden elaborated that “the public had a right to know about these programs. The public had a right to know that which the government is doing in its name, and that which the government is doing against the public.” The same could be justly said by Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and other courageous figures who acted on the same democratic principle. The government stance is quite different: The public doesn’t have the right to know because security thus is undermined—severely so, as officials assert.
There are several good reasons to be skeptical about such a response. The first is that it’s almost completely predictable: When a government’s act is exposed, the government reflexively pleads security. The predictable response therefore carries little information. A second reason for skepticism is the nature of the evidence presented. International relations scholar John Mearsheimer writes, “The Obama administration, not surprisingly, initially claimed that the NSA’s spying played a key role in thwarting 54 terrorist plots against the United States, implying it violated the Fourth Amendment for good reason. “This was a lie, however. General Keith Alexander, the NSA director, eventually admitted to Congress that he could claim only one success, and that involved catching a Somali immigrant and three cohorts living in San Diego who had sent $8,500 to a terrorist group in Somalia.”
His words on anarchy:
Anarchism is, famously, opposed to the state, while advocating “planned administration of things in the interest of the community,” in Rocker’s words; and beyond that, wide-ranging federations of self-governing communities and workplaces.
This broad tendency in human development seeks to identify structures of hierarchy, authority and domination that constrain human development, and then subject them to a very reasonable challenge: Justify yourself. If these structures can’t meet that challenge, they should be dismantled—and, anarchists believe, “refashioned from below,” as commentator Nathan Schneider observes.
On the current drone campaign:
For example, President Obama’s drone-driven global assassination program, by far the world’s greatest terrorist campaign, is also a terror-generating campaign. General Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan until he was relieved of duty, spoke of “insurgent math”: For every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies. This concept of “innocent person” tells us how far we’ve progressed in the last 800 years, since the Magna Carta, which established the principle of presumption of innocence that was once thought to be the foundation of Anglo-American law.
I love how Chomsky displays the thoughts of major publications and how they follow the lead of their government:
Recently the NEW YORK TIMES reported the “anguish” of a federal judge who had to decide whether to allow the force-feeding of a Syrian prisoner who is on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. No “anguish” was expressed over the fact that he has been held without trial for 12 years in Guantánamo Bay military prison, one of many victims of the leader of the Free World who claims the right to hold prisoners without charges and to subject them to torture.
A bit more on companies/corporations vs the environment:
It is unfair to omit exercises of “soft power” and the role of the private sector. A good example is Chevron’s decision to abandon its widely touted renewable energy programs, because fossil fuels are far more profitable. Exxon Mobil in turn announced “that its laserlike focus on fossil fuels is a sound strategy, regardless of climate change,” BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK reports, “because the world needs vastly more energy and the likelihood of significant carbon reductions is ‘highly unlikely.’” It is therefore a mistake to remind readers daily of the Nuremberg judgment. Aggression is no longer the “supreme international crime.” It cannot compare with destruction of the lives of future generations to ensure bigger bonuses tomorrow.
Brilliant. Simple. Plain. Insightful. A must-read....more
When you see an idol falter, you want to carry its wings and see it through. I was even prepared to give Morrissey a free pass here, based on my loveWhen you see an idol falter, you want to carry its wings and see it through. I was even prepared to give Morrissey a free pass here, based on my love for his lyrics and even for the semi-flawed last part of his otherwise brilliant "Autobiography". So, what did we face from this book?
Many reviewers seem to avoid the fact that Morrissey has actually written a couple of short books before having his autobiography published. This, however, is his first non-lyrical, fictional offering to the world.
The start was promising. A gang of men, runners all, are described using various inflections and rhymes, recalling William Faulkner and dadaistic poets, as dialogue is spurted out. Sentences like the following are often found:
Surrounded by women, some mechanically minded, some badly made-up, and all envious of one another, the boys had heartily gnawed at their iron bars and unwisely allowed alcohol a free dash at their brains because things overall mattered a little less since their track timings were now a bed of roses and their overall fitness boomed good times ahead, and what harm would a little devilment do?
To me, the first half of the book seemed more like an attempt to use clever wordplay to parlay Morrissey's own views of the world, by generally rephrasing his thoughts on murdering animals, on judges, on women, et cetera, rather than making a book come together.
In my view, the most obvious problem with this book, is that the author has simply not learned to write as a professional, and it shows, both in style and editing. Even though sentences and stanzas are beautiful to read and will be long-lasting, the book does not hold up as a whole, which pains me to say. Where Morrissey single-handedly revived lyrical writing where the whole musical universe is concerned, and made his autobiography light up the literary world some (where musical artists' autobiographies are concerned, especially), this tome is cracked.
I feel that Morrissey has tried hard to write this, while acting complacently and lacklustre with parts that clearly did require fierce editing prior to publication. He introduces the book by thanking his editor, who also edited "Autobiography", but I would like to hold her - and Penguin - to the wall for this.
So, how about that writing?
At the start of the book, Morrissey veers between describing the youthful men and their physical apotheosis, and also poetically describes the inevitable human physical downfall:
Look at them now in their manful splendor and wonder how it is that they could possibly part this earth in dirt, as creased corpses, falling back as the skeletons that we already are, yet hidden behind musculature that will fall in time at life’s finishing line.
It is certainly something to dwell excitedly within a body that fully and proudly shows whatever the person is, since we all, for the most part, struggle in haunted fashion, unaware of ourselves as flesh, looking at a future that does not show promise, or back at a past that couldn’t provide any, and permanently petrified at passing through without ever having lived.
The body is a thing only, of which we all irrationally fear … how to control, how to control … that which controls us.
Morrissey inevitably delves into gender, where men are irrevocably hailed and women are looked down upon, lost and not at all interesting, which has drawn a fair amount of criticism where writers feel Morrissey is a misogynist. The Daily Beast's article about this, titelled "Morrissey’s First Novel ‘List of the Lost’ Is a Bizarre, Misogynistic Ramble", makes valid points. Even though many an apologist may excuse Morrissey by saying he has simply painted a portrait where the characters of his book think and say these things, the fact remains, that men are intricately looked into, where women are frowned upon in a variety of disdainful ways. Examples of this:
Although the publicly confessed lust of the man must always be made to seem ridiculous and prepubescent, the lust of the woman is at first childlike and desperate – as if they know there is something about which they know nothing, and this itch takes on the aggressive – which almost never works.
Women are less of a mystery because their methods and bodies have been over-sold, whereas the male body speaks as the voice calls a halt.
Of Margaret Thatcher:
I hate womb-men like that…they just can’t wait to be one of the boys…and just watch, if she becomes prime minister she won’t hire any women into her government. Why do I even care? I mean, just look at her face.
There are some beautiful one-liners found throughout the book:
Justice and the law are two entirely different things.
Unless I am with you I shall never be where I belong.
Look at the blue of the sky and tell me why you held back. Did you think there would one day be a bluer sky and a better hour?
“I thought you’d said goodbye?” said Nails, nursing his hand. “Nails. To you … someone will always be saying goodbye …” Rims threw his final dart. With that he walked away.
It is impossible for Morrissey to deviate from his own persona. As he is a staunch vegetarian, the matter of animals being slaughtered by humans pops up from time to time:
In the church of secret service known as the abattoir this is exactly what humans excitedly do to beautiful bodies of animals who were also crafted in care by some divine creationist, yet at the human hand the animals are whacked and hacked into chopped meat whilst gazing up at their protector with disbelief and pleading for a mercy not familiar to the human spirit, ground and round into hash or stew for the Big Mac pleasure of fat-podge children whose candidature for roly-poly vicious porkiness makes their plungingly plump parents laugh loudly, as little junior blubber-guts orders yet another Superburger with tub-of-guts determination to stuff death into round bellies, and such kids come to resemble their parents as ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag.
He even gets in words about people whom he has hailed throughout his existence, e.g. Buffy Sainte-Marie and James Baldwin, paired with his hatred for the monarchy and the justice system. It could have been used better, instead of making me feel as though the book, at times, is another blog platform for Morrissey.
Some sections of the book are plainly confusing, e.g. one about former president Ronald Reagan, gender and the fictive Cartwright family:
Reagan has no time for black power, women’s rights, gay liberation, animal rights, anti-war rallies or student demonstrations. He contrasts all of the exciting changes that made America new again, and he offers old-fashioned power-politics, the type of which must always keep a profitable war on the go … everything old (including himself ) sold off like fake insurance to the all-powerful conglomerate America of Bonanza, a rich and expertly presented daily television drama where cow-rustling Ben Cartwright lives handsomely with his three sons (none of whom share one single gene, since all three are of different mothers, and, magically, all three mothers are either dead or hidden behind studio curtains).
and although deity Ben Cartwright had fathered three sons from three women who had usefully dissolved into tumbleweed, his three strapping sons themselves do not reproduce and almost never pair off for passionate romance.
And let's not miss what I think is the most written-about stanza in the whole of the book:
At this, Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone. Both fell awkwardly off the bed, each tending to their own anguish yet still laughing an impaired discomfort of giggles whilst curving into a hunched disadvantage.
Well, bulbous salutation confronted, I will choose to put the wording out of my mind for now.
All in all, this is a fairly muddled ride through Morrissey's mind, rather than through a slew of sporting men and their lives. Opportunities came knocking, were wasted yet some shimmer like diamonds in the sky....more
And despite the miraculous, well-documented healing powers of the Comedic Arts my old man dies taking a big bloody shit in his bed.
This is a pretty st
And despite the miraculous, well-documented healing powers of the Comedic Arts my old man dies taking a big bloody shit in his bed.
This is a pretty standard Palahniuk line from one of the short stories in this tome, of which a lot are OK, one's great and a few are...not up to par with his usual writing, albeit in novel form.
Then, at times, you're jolted by his genius:
And you know the feeling: You want your best friends and your fiancée to mesh, but my friends grit their teeth and look at me with their eyebrows worried tight together in the middle, and they say, “Dude, did it ever cross your mind that maybe—just maybe—Britney is mentally retarded?” And I tell them to relax. She’s just an alcoholic. I’m pretty certain she’s a heroin junkie, too. That, and she’s a sexual compulsive, but it’s nothing so bad some talk therapy wouldn’t fix her. Look at me: I’m fat; nobody’s perfect. And maybe instead of a wedding reception we could get our two families together in a hotel conference room to surprise her with an intervention, and instead of a honeymoon we could get Britney committed to a ninety-day inpatient recovery program. We’ll work through this. But no way is she retarded. She just needs some rehab.
Then again, at the worst, he feels like a pastiche of himself:
He owned a cat he’d named Belinda Carlisle and let drink from the black bidets. It was a long-haired sable Burmese, like a bubble of black hair. Ted loved Belinda Carlisle, but he knew enough not to let her get too close.
All in all, this is entertaining, yet not too fulfulling. I'll recommend "Choke" or "Rant" much rather than this....more