Category Archives: Current Affairs

R.I.P. Gore Vidal

I was saddened to hear that Gore Vidal passed away earlier this week at the age of 86. There’s a nice obituary by Hillel Italie over at HuffPo.

I spent a pleasant afternoon drinking vodka with Gore Vidal and friends (both his and mine) at a restaurant in Ravello high above Italy’s Amalfi Cost back in 1993.

I was doing a placement at the nearby University of Salerno as part of my Master’s degree in Communication in Computing, and was staying in Vietri sur Mare a little further down the Amalfi Coast with Katie, my girlfriend of the time.

My friend and fellow MA CiC classmate George Woodcock — a big fan of Vidal’s — was visiting with his two young sons for a few days, and, after recognizing Vidal, introduced himself to pay his compliments. Vidal and his party were most hospitable, and invited us all to join them for some postprandial refreshments.

I wasn’t at all familiar with Vidal’s literary work at that point (and in fact had always struggled not to confuse him with Vidal Sassoon, the British hair stylist who coincidentally also died recently in Los Angeles), but he was most charming and entertaining despite my ignorance, and showed a warm and seemingly genuine interest in our academic pursuits.

I have since read and enjoyed a number of his books, both fiction and non-fiction. His “Narratives of Empire” series of historical novels are an excellent way for an immigrant such as myself to become more familiar with American history, while his essays on American imperialism are damning indictments that are still highly pertinent today.

Here’s a selection of links to some of my favourite Gore Vidal works:

A dog ate my weapons of mass distraction…

Finally, a significant number of people in the U.S. are starting to ask questions about the possible manipulation and distortion of evidence for the non-existent weapons of mass destruction used as a pretext for the war against Iraq. See this petition, for example.

Still, now that the CIA has appointed a new special advisor, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some suitably unpleasant WMD’s are “discovered” (read: planted) in Iraq.

An Evening with Gore Vidal

I just came back from listening to Gore Vidal, at an event organised by The Nation Institute at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. It was a large auditorium, and it was sold out. Unfortunately either the acoustics or the public address system were lousy, so I could only make out about half of what he said, but that half was very good; sage & witty, without trivialising just how dire the present state of the union is. I won’t try to summarise his thesis, as it’s pretty much encapsulated in his two most recent books, both of which I highly recommend:

(For those seeking more instant gratification, check out this short op-ed piece, Blood for Oil, available online).

I also spoke briefly with the editor of The Nation, Katrina Vanden Heuvel; perhaps impolitely in retrospect, I failed to commend her on her opening remarks and merely asked her to give Gore Vidal a copy of a photograph I took when some friends & I met him briefly in Ravello, Italy in 1993.

Playground Politics

In yet another fit of U.S. imperial pique on an international scale, I read today with dismay that France, Germany & Russia were conspicuously not invited to an initial planning meeting for a multi-country “stabilisation force” for Iraq. Has the global political situation always been this childish and petulant?

I’m increasingly resigning myself to the dismal realisation that it’s always been like this. As the “might is right” mentality gains widespread political acceptance around the World, and pro-neocon pundits regurgitate past precedents of imperial tyranny (and my “homeland” Britain wrote large sections of the book on the subject) as justification, it’s more & more obvious that we haven’t progressed very much politically in the last two or three thousand years. How sad that a quote by Thucydides referring to the Peloponnesian War written more than 2,400 years ago is still relevant and much-quoted today:

“The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”

Denounce the Pacifists

This highly pertinent (and slightly abridged) quote from Nazi Reichsmarshall and Luftwaffe-Chief Herman Goering has been doing the rounds on the Internet recently:

“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

According to the Urban Legends Reference Pages, this quote was part of a private conversation on 18 April 1946 between Goering and psychologist Gustave Gilbert during a recess in Goering’s trial at Nuremberg. The conversation was recorded in Gilbert’s diary, which was published the following year:

Gilbert, G.M. Nuremberg Diary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1947 (pp. 278-279).

The Smoking Gun

19 days into the illegal war on Iraq, and coalition forces are now claiming to have discovered “smoking gun” evidence of WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Distraction). What a surprise! Perhaps they found them in a parked car, along with a copy of the Koran and a Boeing flight manual…

Anti-War Rally

Today I went to the anti-war rally in New York City with two friends, Angus & CK. We couldn’t get anywhere near the epicentre of the rally (1st Avenue north of 49th Street); the whole east side of New York was effectively shut down by a huge, diverse and peaceful crowd of peace protestors who braved bitterly cold conditions to make themselves heard (today’s highest temp in NYC was -5°C, or 22°F).

We got as close as 53rd St and 3rd Avenue, which was supposed to be an access route, but the police aggressively threw up a barricade right in front of us, supposedly because of some disturbance involving mounted police at 53rd St & 2nd Ave.

It was clear that the police massively underestimated the turnout; CNN’s website is currently estimating about 200,000 people attended, but it seemed like MUCH more to me — the police were totally overwhelmed, and responded by trampling through the crowds with riot police on horses (something I haven’t seen since the Poll Tax riots of 1989 in London).

Ignore the scaremongering U.S. media — opposition within the United States itself to the U.S.-led war on Iraq is huge. Today was a good day.

P.S. Message to Tony Blair: I am disgusted by you.

R.I.P. Senator Wellstone

As a disenfranchised inhabitant of the World’s newest democracy, I’ve made a few small political contributions to various Democratic election campaigns recently, in an attempt to help bring the U.S. back from the brink of the insane, unjust and dangerous War to Seize Oil. One of the campaigns I contributed $20 to a few days ago was Sen. Paul Wellstone… And now he is dead. He died in a “mysterious” plane crash…