Robert Fisk has been a reporting from the Middle East for several decades now, first with the Times and then the Independent once Rupert Murdoch had sRobert Fisk has been a reporting from the Middle East for several decades now, first with the Times and then the Independent once Rupert Murdoch had shown too much interest in editing his pieces for the former newspaper. The majority of the writing in this collection of his articles for the Independent come from the Iraq invasion onwards to the book’s publication in 2010. Because Fisk has been a correspondent in the Arab world for so long there is a weariness in some of the reports, you get the sense that the author just wants to grab the leaders of America, the UK, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria etc etc and bang their heads together and tell them to stop bombing, killing, maiming, invading, occupying and destroying.
Robert Fisk is a go-to man for facts on the Middle East, not only his own time but the history of the area from cultural influences through the Crusades and early modern history up to the 20th Century and the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people, still unacknowledged by Turkey’s political elite. His knowledge of Arab involvement in the World Wars is comprehensive and is a renowned authority on the years following the creation of the Israeli state and the Palestinian Nakba. He writes pointedly, almost brusquely at times with his dispatches containing the horrific details of the aftermath of attacks, usually by western or western backed powers. We hear of the duplicity of the leaders of the free world, the complicity of leaders of the Arab world and the truculence of Israel’s politicians in the face of huge levels of human suffering. It is written with an even hand, and no one gets off lightly. As with all collections of journalism some of the dispatches have a dated feel and should be read in the context of the events they describe. Many of the articles have a solid prescience to them that can only come from the author’s knowledge that “we’ve been here before, and history repeats itself” as Israel tragically proves on a regular basis. This is a useful book for anyone wishing to recall the mendacity with which we were taken to war, the results of that invasion and its impact on the surrounding countries in the area and anyone who wants to know more about the historical precedents that lead our politicians to believe they have a right to interfere in other nations present and future as well as their torn pasts.
Robert Fisk is a hero of journalism and free speech, his masterwork is The Great war for Civilisation and this volume is a decent companion for that exalted tome. ...more
Standards of healthcare in the third world should leave the developed world cold. We live in an age where there is enough expertise and medical advancStandards of healthcare in the third world should leave the developed world cold. We live in an age where there is enough expertise and medical advancement to rid the world of many of its ailments but very few people seem to care about the poor – even in their own countries. Fidel Castro and later Hugo Chavez would try to halt this trend and encourage other leaders in Latin America to do so. This book documents the rise, against extreme adversity, of revolutionary doctors that are spreading free healthcare around the world. The movement began in the 1970s in Cuba with ELAM – the Havana Medical School. At the time there was a ratio of one doctor per 1000 people but with time, investment and determination this figure would be down to 167 people per doctor by the Millennium. These doctors also gave almost 100% geographical coverage – including the often neglected mountainous regions. In addition to this Castro’s target of 10,000 Cuban educated doctors to be working overseas in third world countries and disaster zones was exceeded and now stands at 20,000. There is no discrimination to who gets access to this free healthcare, for instance 300,000 Bolivians had their sight restored including one man whose son wrote to thank the Cuban doctors for their great work – the man was Mario Teran, the Bolivian army sergeant who was ordered to murder Che Guevara by his superiors in 1967. Cuban medical personal also helped Nicaragua in 1972 despite that country being under a right-wing dictatorship that had trained Cuban exiles in advance of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Over half a million Cuban volunteers have gone to Africa on medical aid missions since the revolution. An example of such aid comes from the Pakistan quake of 2005 when most countries stayed for a month Cuba stayed for seven including through the harsh winter building 7 major base camps and 32 field hospitals. They trained 450 Pakistani doctors in emergency field work and Cuba later issued 1000 free scholarships to Pakistani’s for medical school in Cuba.
In 1998 when the late Hugo Chavez was elected 17 million people out of 24 million had no regular access to medical care prompting the president to trade oil for healthcare from Cuba and start a medical school with the intake. The 1999 constitution was drafted by the people and ratified through popular referendum by 75% of the people. It guarantees as human rights – housing, education, health care, food, indigenous land, language, women’s rights, workers rights, living wages etc. Articles 82 through 86 give government the responsibility of providing free universal health care. In 2005 at the first graduation of the new medical school in Caracas Fidel Castro announced that Cuba was teaming up with Venezuela to educate 100,000 more doctors over the next ten years, 30,000 from Venezuela, 60,000 from other Latin American countries and 10,000 from Africa/Asia. The Barrio Adentro programme took healthcare to the rural areas of Venezuela for the first time. The doctors were shocked when they arrived observing people whose conditions were akin to nations on a fraction of Venezuela’s GDP. Venezuela’s health spending increased from 2.8% to 6% of GDP in 2007 and reached 82% of the population. Infant mortality fell from 19 to 13.9 per 1000 deaths and all youth mortality from 26.5 to 16.7. Post natal mortality also fell from 9 to 4.2. The aim is to have trained 30,000 doctors by 2015 and this ambitious goal is on target for Venezuela. One of the best facts to advocate the success of the rural health programme is that Rightist politicians who tried to sabotage the Barrio Adentro programme in the beginning now campaign for elections by promising to keep them open and funded.
One of the most interesting and arresting points is that joint medical revolution is gender equal; 73% of the students studying community medicine in Venezuela are female and since 1999 50% of all Cuban physicians are female.
However, the United States did its utmost to undermine the reforms in both countries, particularly Cuba as its health system grew to outshine that of the US despite having a small percentage of the funding. The US doesn’t like progressive leadership gaining good results without resorting to “the market” and probably its most cynical attempt to disrupt the good work of the revolutionary doctors was to offer immediate asylum to anyone working in the various Cuban programmes – 500 health workers took up the offer in total and the fact that 45,000 medical professionals were given the offer it’s fair to say this underhanded policy was a failure.
This book documents one of the finer and yet least celebrated areas of modern socialism. It is a success story from start to finish and all praise should go to the author for trying to shine a light on these marvellous programmes. Whether socialism will win out in the end in Latin America amid a sea of enemies both real and imagined remains to be seen but Socialism in the 21st Century progresses through knowledge of the limitations of socialism in the 20th. Activity is not a purpose in itself but should be meaningful, helpful and aid societal growth. Revolutionary Doctors do this and this book shows that. ...more
All too often we can be caught up in this history contained within our borders, particularly when it concerns royal families and other powerful figureAll too often we can be caught up in this history contained within our borders, particularly when it concerns royal families and other powerful figures. This sceptre isle contains a plethora of stories, myths, legends, heroics, skulduggery, cynicism and downright nastiness to keep anyone entertained for years. How refreshing then that on a whim I picked out Veronica Buckley’s wonderful biography of the 17th century Swedish monarch, Christina, Queen of Sweden. Christina Alexandra was the only surviving heir of King Gustav II Adoplh or Gustavus Adolphus the Great – a birthright she never quite wished for being someone who preferred power without the responsibility of governing. An unhappy monarch who acceded to the throne at an early age abdicated the post in 1654 when she was 28 years old. Christina would go on to live until 1689 and the path she trod was one of bizarre tales, pettiness, rebellion, emotion, culture, cruelty and fantasy. She was a powerful woman who despised her gender and constantly referred to her womanhood as a curse. A great patron of the arts and lover of the Italian renaissance – at times of low wealth her vast collection of paintings were the one thing she tried to hold on to until the very end. She flits often between great affluence and relative poverty, often seeking more financial aid from her former kingdom in the north from where she was self-exiled immediately following her abdication to forge her own way in the less barren lands of the Italian and French south. It is often hypothesised by modern writers that she was probably an atheist but controversially switched from Lutheran Protestantism to Roman Catholicism to help her personal ambitions and ingratiate herself to the Pope. Certainly her catholic conviction only seems to have been brought out at very convenient moments. She was often led up the garden path by many a silky tongued rogue and her political nouse was poor for someone so well educated – but a beginner of many things and a finisher of none. It is highly likely she remained a virgin her whole life and indeed one of the main reasons for her abdication was the pressure put on her to marry and provide a dynastic heir to the throne. Lesbian rumours were and remain strong and she certainly enjoyed the company and aura of female friends much more than male companions. Eventually she developed a strong and robust friendship over many years with Cardinal Deccio Azzolino whose relationship certainly crossed into the realms of love but probably remained shy of physical intimacy. Veronica Buckley paints a wonderful picture of an extraordinary woman who invites feelings of pity, sorrow, at times disgust, intrigue, doubt and pride. Her reputation lives on and in an era where women were little more than ornaments with which the great and the good decorated their forearms that at least is a commendable legacy. ...more