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Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom)
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Pinkoes and Traitors: The BBC and the nation, 1974 - 1987
Pinkoes and Traitors: The BBC and the nation, 1974 - 1987
by Jean Seaton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Auntie BEEB Under Siege., 28 Feb. 2015
This is a delightful and riveting account of the BBC in the years 1974-87. It is written with clarity and verve. It displays again Professor Seaton's remarkable knowledge of the media that she has demonstrated in her previous books. Any one interested in social history and, in particular, a period when the BBC underwent external and internal attacks about its programmes and alleged political bias, will find this book a delight.

The BBC was founded in 1922 under John Reith. Vetting of staff began in 1933. In 1937 the first TV outside broadcast took place on the occasion of George VI's coronation. In 1972 a very large number of complaints were received about the coverage of the troubles in N.Ireland. In 1983 the BBC is defended in the Commons by the SDP against claims of treachery. In 1988 a ban was imposed on reporting in N.Ireland. These are only a few of the key events that make a study of the BBC so interesting and fascinating.

The BBC had to minister to the nation from dawn till dusk. It had to be sensitive to the public's moods and feelings. As Jean Seaton shows it 'had to showcase and polish up the crown jewels of British culture'. On the other hand it had to wash our dirty linen in public. Finally, she adds,'it had to find a way of taking the mickey out of the whole damn lot'.

This, the first of two volumes, takes its title from the famous and very funny Dear Bill letters in the magazine 'Private Eye. It is full of intimate details such as: programme making, government complaints about bias (Kate Adie was called a traitor by Norman Tebbit) and mismanagement, financial problems, the many Director Generals, rows, panics and disputes, and the Falklands war.

I will not spoil it for readers by revealing details but Seaton regales us with the extraordinary story of the 'Play School' clock and union disputes over its hands; Margaret Thatcher's anger when the BBC questioned the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War; revelations about Huw Wheldon and Malcolm Muggeridge; Robin Day and Joan Bakewell's anatomy; Bob Peck's problems, and the Sun paper accusing the BBC of treason. We are told that the Chairman's office along with that of the DG was regularly checked for 'bugs's. The sacking of Alistair Milne, the DG, was, as she says, a seminal event.

Seaton also reminds readers of the many superb programmes put out by the BBC, ranging from 'I Claudius, Life on Earth, Morecambe and Wise, to reports on terrible disasters in Ethiopia. Today it is amazing to recall that an extremely popular programme was the 'Black and White Minstrels'. How times change!

Arguably, the most revealing story Seaton tells is one that has been kept under wraps for years. She tells us that in order to maintain the public myth that Charles and Diana were deeply in love, the BBC made the team filming the wedding rehearsal keep secret the fact that Di wept throughout. The arranged marriage was a tragic error for both parties.

There are fascinating sections on, for example, women in the BBC, David Attenborough, the love-in with the ghastly Jimmy Savile (reading it increases ones belief that there was a massive cover up about this nasty creep), and the managerial revolution resulting from the appointment of John Birt as DG.

In all a fascinating trawl through 13 years. I have only one caveat with Professor Seaton's excellent account. She knows, as does any historian, that context is crucial to any story. It is easy today to be critical of the government's anger in the 1960's at BBC interviews with IRA murderers, criticism that led eventually to a banning order. However, at the time to witness, for example, Joan Bakewell's interview with a notorious member of the IRA was hard to stomach. I can assure readers that members of the armed services serving in N. Ireland at the time were not enamoured with the interviewer or the BBC. Regrettably,there are times when limits need to be placed on free speech.

A very even, fine and, at times, amusing analysis of the nation's favourite source of news. It complements and sits comfortably alongside Asa Briggs magisterial account of the BBC :'The First Fifty Years', and Michael Leapman's :'The Last Days of the Beeb'. It is a timely book for as the DG Tony Hall has said about the Corporation's future:'the BBC is at the crossroads'.
One looks forward to the next volume.


Winners: And How They Succeed
Winners: And How They Succeed
Price: £11.99

20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How To Win By A Loser., 26 Feb. 2015
The author tells us he is obsessed with winning. Presumably, given his role as Tony Blair's spin doctor, at any price. In this overlong book Campbell explores his fascination with winning and those he believes are winners. We are informed that losing is 'an important ingredient in most recipes for winning'. This is the first of several clues that we are reading a cookbook about how to bake a win.

Campbell is not shy or reticent about his skills. He is, he says, very knowledgeable about strategy, crisis management, campaigns and communications. Gosh, how is poor Tony managing without him these days? In addition, he adds that he wants to guide the reader through areas such as teamship (whatever that is), resilience, leadership, boldness, adaptability and decision-making. All the buzz words are mentioned, invariably without satisfactory definition. A meaningless list that describes a human being yet to be born.

He writes, he tells us, 'through a prism of personal political experience, and thousands of hours of watching and playing sport and talking to some of the greatest sports winners of our times'. One wonders how he found the time given the time he and Tony spent revising dossiers. At this stage in the book he reflects that it dawned on him that perhaps he was being a little arrogant in thinking he could 'write a guide for CEO's or elite sports teams'. Ah well better late than never.

His so-called recipe for winning is old hat, a mixture of Dale Carnegie, Peters, Drucker, Porter, Handy and many, many other gurus. An inordinate amount of time is spent discussing the difference between objectives, strategy and tactics. Nothing remotely new here, and his explanations are absent or very poor. He fails, for example, to emphasize that strategy (formerly known as management) is essentially about choice.

His choice of winners range from the Queen who he says he admires despite the fact he is a staunch republican, to a well known boxer who is undoubtedly a great boxer but also a wife beater with several assaults to his name. He claims to being 'quite shocked' to find how many of us in the West believe Putin is ''the most effective leader'. Putin by the way was not interviewed by the author. Pity. His choice of 'winners' includes some unusual people, to say the least.

As Peter Jones wrote in his review in the Times, 'What a wonderfull counsellor this value-free creep would have made to Hitler, Stalin, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Isis leader'.

With regards to his piece on the Queen it is replete with sentences like ' as one person told me', and 'an adviser said....'. We are never given names. Every comment is based on what one adviser or courtier told him Every bet is hedged in a ramble about the 'Firm'. Again there is nothing at all new.

The whole of this book is written in overblown journalese in which 'strategise' and negativity' abound. There is nothing remotely new for anyone with a knowledge of management theory and leadership. Regarding the latter, Campbell all too clearly fails to understand the crucial difference between management and leadership. If Campbell is setting himself up as a guru then he has failed. He was bound to do because there is no holy grail of how to win or how to succeed in business. Incessant searching for a holy grail results in it receding as surely as Gatsby's green light.

Particularly irritating is the arrogance and bombast of the writer that shines through this self-admiring book. Campbell clearly has a very high opinion of himself. A pity this book doesn't reflect his claimed skills.

It is a vacuous piece of writing that skims the froth of other people's writings while ignoring the detailed depths. Many of his transparent references to winning strategies also reveal someone out of date with current research For example, we are not told that many 'winners' past and present are also obnoxious people. Tyson, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Putin, Henry Ford, many sport cheats plus several US Presidents and British Prime Ministers; the list is very, very long. Neither, does Campbell seem to be aware of massive research that demonstrates that many achieve winning status not because of clever strategies but as a result of sheer luck, good fortune or a handsome inheritance. Regarding the latter, many winners have won by 'buying' their win. For example, no presidential contender would ever become president of America unless they were a multi-millionaire. He also fails to point out that quite often winners become losers at a later stage in their lives.

He fails badly to distinguish winning in sport and winning in, say, business. Defining winning in the former is self-evident but in the latter it is far more complex. Even in politics, winning is not easy to define. For example, have you really won in any meaningful sense if you have failed to get less than 50% of the popular vote? This has happened many times here and in the USA.

One ingredient that is noticeably missing in this cookbook is honour. It was Martin Luther King who said, 'without honour any form of winning is hollow and of little merit'. Allied with the absence of values, this book is a shallow attempt to analyse winning.This is not a philosophical treatise or a pragmatic one. It is most definitely not a road map to winning.

It has been reported that Campbell has recently been lecturing, for a lucrative fee, to the rather nasty Serbian hierarchy. Presumably, about how to win next time they think of slaughtering someone. Guess who is advising their government? You're right first time. Yes, it's Tony. Despite being a so-called Middle East peace envoy he obviously still has plenty of free time in which to increase his bank (banks) balance. Clearly, Tony and Alastair are still a winning team. Equally clearly, they don't mind who pays them.

Campbell has suggested that all politicians should have, as he has had, a psychiatrist. Only a winning one of course.

A self-indulgent account that is replete with arrogance, platitudes, banalities and cliches.


Believer: My Forty Years in Politics
Believer: My Forty Years in Politics
Price: £10.44

4.0 out of 5 stars Can He Do It For Ed?, 22 Feb. 2015
David Axelrod was drawn to politics when he was taken to see and hear Presidential contender John F.Kennedy speak. It was in his home town, Stuyvesant, on Manhattan's Lower East side. He was five years old. Kennedy told the crowd he had not come ' to please you but to serve you'. For the young boy the scene was, 'pure magic, electric and important', even though he was too young to understand the meaning of Kennedy's words. From that moment he was hooked. 52 years later he was present in Des Moines, Iowa, when President Obama gave the final speech at the final campaign stop of his political career.
Obama was desperately trying to win a second term at a time when his approval ratings were below 40%.

The author had been involved in over 150 campaigns as a journalist and strategist. In 2008 and now 2012 he was campaign manager in Team Obama. After Obama's victory he was a White House advisor for two years.

In the General Election in May he is being paid to give advice to Ed Milliband. This is somewhat surprising as he had decided to leave the campaign trail. Jim Messina, Obama's deputy campaign manager, is advising David Cameron. Surprisingly, Axelrod does not mention Milliband in this book.

The book describes his affection and deep admiration for Obama and his family. The author's early life was very unhappy. His dad committed suicide and his mother was indifferent to his needs as a youngster. One of his children has epilepsy. He tells of the sea changes he has witnessed in the political, social and economic life of America while working as a political strategist.

He recounts the first time he met Obama, it was in 1992. Axelrod had become a a consultant for the Democrats 8 years earlier. He clearly has a strong affinity for black candidates, possibly because he had been raised by Jessie Berry, a black nanny. His passion for the political arena is overt on every page.

Humane he is but he shows how on a number of occasions he didn't hesitate to besmirch a politician. For the 2012 campaign, Axelrod used the tag line, 'Yes We Can'. He had written this in 2004 for the first TV ad of the first Obama campaign to win a seat in the Senate. It became the Obama mantra in 2007/8.

The author describes in detail how Obama lost the collaboration of Republican leaders by 2010, how he failed to tame Washington and build bipartisan bridges. The 2008 campaign was based on change. That of 2012 was a typical political one. He does not hesitate to mention the division, rancour and tawdriness in American politics. In an impassioned passage he tells how he had seen 'our democracy at its best and its worst'. He adds. with reference to those he had represented, that some 'had left me disappointed, appalled, and, worst of all, ashamed'.

Having decided in 2012 that enough was enough, that the thought of starting overwith someone new was unappealing, and that the physical and emotional toll was becoming too much, it is something of a U-torn to hit the campaign trail again, even as an advisor.

The pay must be good.


Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Price: £7.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some U-Turns Require Great Moral Courage., 20 Feb. 2015
Of all the repressive Jim Crow laws that ruled the American South for much of the post-Civil War era, few were as nefarious as those that were designed to stop African-Americans voting.An array of extra-legal tactics were formulated by southern officials to ensure white political and economic supremacy. In 1870 the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted. It guaranteed the right to vote to all male citizens. It stated that this right,'shall not be denied or abridged by the US or by any State on account of race, colour, or previous condition of servitude'. Women got the same right in 1920.

The intent of the Amendment was soon circumvented by segregationist southern lawyers. Measures such as literacy tests, and poll taxes were introduced to stop black voters voting. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was also neutered by unscrupulous politicians. The 'southern way of life', they argued, had to be protected. In August 1965 President Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act.

In the 1960's black people comprised around 28% of the Deep South's population.The potential results of giving them the vote were enormous. Cheap labour would be threatened, competition for jobs would increase, and, of particular concern, the social standing of whites would be undermined.

The Mississippi Summer Project of 1964 revealed the South would resist these threats by, if necessary, violence. Tactics ranging from verbal threats to physical attacks soon became commonplace. Shootings, lynchings, bombings and cold bloodied murder were used and ignored by the authorities. As a result, very few black voters registered to vote. Nevertheless, the Mississippi movement had heightened public awareness of racial discrimination. Media coverage transformed a state protest into a federal one. Many were repulsed by what they saw on their television screens. The next big test would come in Selma, Alabama, the Queen City of the Black Belt. It became sacred ground to all those who fought for civil rights. In 1965 a campaign began conducted by Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young and several others. They guided the campaign to success despite internal squabbles, and volent opposition. In addition, they received an enormous amount of support from the people of nearby Marion, a small town engulfed in Jim Crow laws.

In February 1965 in Marion, a State Patrol trooper shot an unarmed black man. It proved to be a pivotal event that set off a chain of events which eventually had enormous repercussions for US race relations.

David Garrow's book focuses on the direct and indirect effects of the Voting Rights Act on southern politics. His book is also about protest. It was the dynamics of protest that helped southern blacks to achieve remarkable gains. He emphasises the importance of the Selma campaign. The author details the strategy used by King and others to influence the passing of the Voting Rights Act. Garrow examines the work of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which followed King's advice and aimed at non violence protest. Hearts and minds, wrote King, had to be changed.

Selma in 1965 became the focal point of non violent protest after failures in Albany and Birmingham. Selma was infamous for the vicious behaviour of the local county sheriff, Jim Clark. This persuaded the campaign planners to focus on nonviolent provocation, a strategy that hopefully would cause Clark to react violently thereby drawing national attention to the predicament of black voters.

Garrow emphasises the importance of the news media and the reaction that the news coverage provoked throughout the nation, in particular in Congress. He shows how the media played a crucial role in the campaign. The Voting Rights Act did not signal the end of the voting rights struggle. But it did lead to an important shift in the focus of the struggle.

On 9 March,1965 Dr Martin Luther King headed the march of thousands to cross the Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery. When ordered to stop by a trooper he, to the surprise of many, prayed then said 'We will go back to the church now'. It proved to be a remarkable U-turn. It was an insiring act by a great man. King was 36 at the time. His life had been threatened many times. His physical courage was surpassed by his moral courage. Non-violence required great discipline and training. To succeed, King had to cajole and persuade his followers. Many refused to be persuaded. King's U-turn demanded great courage because he knew it would be misunderstood. He did it because he knew it was practical and the right thing to do. A few days later a southern President ended his speech to Congress by saying:'We will overcome'. Within days, King's march crossed the bridge and made its way to Montgomery. He said:'The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice'. Incredibly, despite what he had suffered, he still believed it.

Voting rights opened the way to all other civil rights. It led to the bigot Governor George Wallace pleading for forgiveness from the African American voters he had tried and failed to stop.

This is a comprehensive and uplifting account of injustice. Unfortunately, as recent events have shown anti black prejudice still persists in some parts of the US.

The recent film about Selma is better than some previous films based on historical events. However, there are serious flaws. For example, the portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson is a travesty of the truth. We know that LBJ supported King and his colleagues because all telephone conversations between the two were recorded, and these are now available to researchers. Also, why does the film change the scene on the Pettus bridge? King did his famous U-turn not because he wanted to avoid the marchers being hurt but because he wished to avoid defying a federal order. At the end the film fails to tell us that the racist George Wallace went on being elected governor AFTER African Americans gained voting rights. He remained in office until 1987. Why the lies? Why the manipulation? I do wish film directors would stop letting their political bias intrude on truth and facts.


Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage
Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage
Price: £4.68

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To Clearly Express What You Mean Does Matter., 16 Feb. 2015
This non-pedantic book is written by a former very strong pedantik, as his writings over the years for the Times proves. I feel sympathy for anyone who dares to write guides about written English because they cannot win. The purists will attack any attempt to modify the rules of grammar while non purists will ridicule those who defend these rules. There are some 876 books on how to write correct English. This is another.

There is ample evidence that there is much wrong. Examples of sloppy English abound. For example, I have yet to hear a soccer player or coach use the word 'beaten'. Every team gets 'beat'. Essays up to and including those written at university are replete with the following: fantastic, unbelievable, incredible, and brilliant. Nothing today is open or honest, it is transparent. I once marked a History essay about Napoleon by a second year student at a top university who used the words incredible five times, unbelievable six times and transparent four times, and that was on the first page. Other adjectives are unknown but then listen to speakers on the radio or tv.

There are masters of miscommunication. John Prescott was one. He said in the Commons:'The Green Belt is a Labour initiative and we intend to build on it'. A soccer pundit told us that:'Every international is totally unique, and this one is just the same'. Tautological phrases have become commonplace. Newsreaders report on 'safe havens', 'accidental mistakes', 'end results', and 'unconfirmed rumours'. I am repeatedly asked on my tablet, 'Have you forgotten your PIN number?' What else does the N mean?

The widespread and growing use of texting and emailing is also degrading the use of standard English. Of particular concern, is the decline in reading. My local Head Librarian tells me the decline in borrowing by teenagers in particular is deeply worrying. This reviewer regards every library closure as a disaster. You will never be a sound speller or be able to punctuate properly or have a wide vocabulary unless you read on a regular basis. A great deal of research confirms this.

Unfortunately, the training of our teachers leaves much to be desired. A recent test in basic grammar and spelling was given to 150 newly trained teachers of English. The results were startling. Not one scored over 87%. 47 scored below 58%. I, and I am sure other parents, have seen English and History homework marked incorrectly. Correct spellings changed to incorrect ones, paragraphs incorrectly positioned and wrong punctuation go uncorrected. There is no serious attempt to teach grammar in most of our schools today. Indeed, most teachers could not teach it. As a result, semi-literacy is a problem for many at 16.

My wife and I regularly receive mail from utility companies that contain very bad errors of English, errors that matter because they cause ambiguity. In other situations such errors can be dangerous. Even a misplaced comma can cause problems.
Politicians and many celebrities are also guilty of speaking convoluted English. Of course, it pays the former to be ambiguous.

For example, target, a noun, has become a verb, viable is widely misused as is the intransitlve verb warned. Absolutely is now invariably used instead of yes. Abuse and misuse are mixed up, as are practise and practice, deprecate and depreciate, effect and affect, practical and practicable, and, still, there and their, its and it's. There are many more. Speakers on radio and tv are unable to utter more than three or four words without repeated. 'ye know'. Newscasters have to end all interviews with thanks that have to end with 'indeed'. Particularly ugly is the use of 'like' as in 'I was like....'. 'I could of..', is not uncommon. Every policy is described as 'raft of ideas'. 'In hand', means in the next year or so. Civil Service jargon is particularly opaque.

It is a fact that people are judged by how they speak and write, however unfair that may seem to some. However, why should we be afraid of excellence and precision? Good English is not the preserve of an elite, it is available for all if we are prepared to make the effort.

All that is needed in order to write basic, sound, and clear English is the ability to: start a sentence with a capital letter, ensure it has a verb, end it with a full stop, and place, where necessary the odd comma. Learn how to use the dreaded apostrophe and inverted commas and, given a reasonable vocabulary together with an understanding of a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb, you are away. There is little need to bother with the semicolon. The result will not put you in the author's class but what you write will be understood. Why is this regarded as too difficult for many of our young people? Please do not listen to those who claim that learning grammar stifles creativity. This is nonsense.

There will be people who argue that none of this matters. Kamm believes the purists have refused to move with the times. He adds, correctly in my opinion, that English is a living language. However, I do not think this means we have to despoil a beautiful language just to keep up with the latest trends in non standard English. Where I think he errs in this book is in forgetting that he argues from a solid base of expertise in the use of English. The vast majority of people do not. He can, therefore, attack grammar bores and those sticklers for correct English. He can ignore errors involving few and less, disingenuous, that and which, and flaunt and flout, rooted and routed, return back, but others are not able to be so generous. Employers, for example, frequently complain in the Press that newly appointed employees, some of whom are graduates, are unable to write a simple sentence without error. Badly worded cvs and poor peformance at interviews are manifest. Obviously, both adversely affect employment opportunities.

I have always taken a middle way. Split infinitives, starting a sentence with but or and, ending one with of does not bother me. Here I am with Kamm one hundred per cent. I also agree you can write clear unambiguous English without an understanding of complex grammatical constructions such as the difference between the double genitive and the objective genitive. i alway tell my university students to put away Fowler, not that many have heard of him or his book, and read Churchill, a master of simple unambiguous English. In addition, I tell them to read George Orwell, the finest stylist in English in the 20th century, and have a good dictionary to hand.

There is, therefore, no need to fear linguistic barbarism if pedantry is diluted a little. I share Kamm's view that we should encourage diversity,that dangling modifiers can be ignored so long as he remembers he operates from a superior base. The correct word, however, does matter. Knowing the difference between appraise and apprise is important. Such rules are not bunkum or 'just preferences'. We cannot and should not sit back and leave the English language to its own devices. Change is justified if it improves clarity, reduces ambiguity and does not violate logic.

Kamm is right that purists don't always get it right. In this book and in his excellent weekly column he sets out a range of disputed usages, ones that get pedants hot and bothered. For example, the use of crescendo, irregardless, who, whom, because, ain't, and jargon in general. Many of his views are highly controversial. Nevertheless, it is good that his opinions keep the rest of us on our toes.

A final point. It is sometimes argued that writers like Hemingway, Steinbeck and Mark Twain broke every sacred rule of English. True, but they were exceptional writers. They should not be used as models of how to write good, accurate English.

It is good that this debate continues. I doubt it will ever cease. Meanwhile, our young people should be taught: Be clear; be concise; be simple. Cut out the clutter, put away the phone and tablet and read.


Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made
Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Every Spanish General Wished To Save His Country By Becoming It's Ruler., 15 Feb. 2015
The Second World War began only five months after the Spanish Civil War ended. Starting in 1936 it was a war that was a test bed for military technology and also, as Rhodes shows, for medical advances in blood collection, preservation and storage; in surgery and the use of plaster to preserve limbs. These medical advances not only saved many lives in the civil war but also in the 1939-45 war.

The war that had convulsed Spain was soon submerged in the minds of people outside Spain once the world war began. To this day it seldom is taught in our schools even at 'A' level. Yet it was a vicious conflict that involved every sector of society and one that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded. In the war families and neighbours were divided. Religious hatred fueled the anger. The hatred the war engendered left a legacy that still survives today in some parts of Spain. The war heralded the coming ideological battle between fascism, communism and liberal values. Hitler and Mussolini stoked the war and supported the rebel forces under Franco with arms and supplie. They seized the chance to test new weapons, particularly dive bombers, the tragedy of Guernica was the result. Appalling atrocities were all too common on both sides but the weight of evidence available today points to those committed by the rebel forces being the worse. There is no doubt that the military rebels carefully planned an operation to eliminate in the words of Emilio Mola, 'without scruple those who do not think as we do'. The atrocities on the Republican side were the result mainly of hot-blooded reaction to the coup and rebel bombing raids. By 1937 there was an explosion of blind millenarian revenge. Thousands died behind the lines. More died of disease and starvation, while others died in slave-labour camps. Over 500,000 refugees were forced into exile. Many died in French concentration camps. Several thousand were murdered in Nazi death camps.

The nationalists claimed they had risen in revolt on 17 July, 1936, in order to forestall a communist coup. This was a lie. The left said the nationalists had attacked without provocation law-abiding democrats. This is disingenuous. The resulting war, like all civil wars, led to a cycle of fear and hate. Truth was a major casualty of the war. Intense debate, claim and counter claim and polemics have gone on for many, many years and show no sign of abating. The reader of this and other accounts must, therefore, make their own moral judgements.

This book is not about the war as such or the labyrinth of Spanish politics. It focuses briefly on the main causes and then concentrates instead on human stories and the technical developments mentioned earlier. The narrative is pinned to the chronology of the war itself. This approach makes for a very readable and refreshing account that sits comfortably alongside the superb books on this dreadful war by, for example, Beevor, Preston and Thomas.

Rhodes book is full of human stories about famous people such as Hemingway, Picasso, Galleon, Orwell and others, and how they reacted to the war. The main story however is about the largely unknown Patience Darton an upper class lady who went to Spain to help sick and wounded Republicans. Hers is a very moving story.

Rhodes does not pretend to be dispassionate. For example, most of his stories are chosen from the leftist Republican side. But it is difficult to be dispassionate when writing about a war when both sides wish to persuade you they were the innocent party. More balanced accounts like those mentioned above are however available.

An excellent addition to books on this savage and brutal war by a Pulitzer-Prize winner. It is mainly anecdotal but, nevertheless, written with passion and verve. It follows the author's earlier and excellent books on the SS, and the making of the atomic bomb.

This book again serves to remind us of the remarkable manner in which Spain has embraced and fostered democracy since Franco's death.


The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution
The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution
Price: £6.64

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Monster That Has To Be Stopped., 14 Feb. 2015
By mid June 2014, Isis had changed the border between Syria and Iraq. In the process it had gained control over some 6.3 million people. Isis calls its aquisition a caliphate. It is approximately the same size as Great Britain. Similar but as yet smaller Isis affiliates have sprung up in Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen. In the latter, Western embassies have just evacuated their premises. This is, as the author says, the first time in modern history that regimes in the Middle East have faced Islamic terrorists who are occupying defensible territory. These fanatics have heavy weapons and plenty of money pouring in from oil revenues. Their aim appears to be to recreate the vast empire of medieval Islam. It is a deeply worrying development that bombing alone will not halt.

In this Caliphate, Isis has imposed a brutally ultra conservative form of Islamic law. Although numbered in thousands, but growing, it has defeated forces many times bigger. This terrorist group delights in spreading fear hence videos of beheadings and murder by fire. Crucifixions are not uncommon. Many aspects of its ideology are unique. It is one of the richest militant organizations in the world. The finance comes from oil, criminal activities, extortion, private donations, kidnappings and counterfeiting. It is estimated that ransoms alone have resulted in IS getting well over $100 million.

It is worth recalling that only 7 years ago four books were published by Middle Eastern scholars in which the fall and decline of Islamic terrorists was confidently predicted. In this book Cockburn gives an account of how the events of the past two years came about. It is a penetrating and convincing account by the Iraq correspondent of the Independent.

The essence of his thesis is that the West and Arab nations failed to take seriously what was under their noses. Their failure was essentially a failure of judgement. The author believes, as do many, that one of the most calamitous errors was the decision to invade Iraq, an invasion based on a tissue of lies by Bush and Blair. That invasion resulted in appalling sectarian civil war, a war that is still going on. Posing as liberators Isis carried out massive torture, beheadings and rape. Decisions regarding Syria were equally poor leading to 8 million refugees and thousands dead. The arab 'Springs' in Libya and Egypt have in fact turned out to be winters, and rather nasty ones. Intelligence failure has again been manifest.

Cockburn also examines and condems what happened after bin Laden was killed. In brief, the West failed to understand that al-Qaeda was an idea not an organisation. Killing its leader was therefore of very little consequence. One of the gravest errors and one that many have pointed out was the failure to pursue the Saudi and Pakistan paymasters. The obnoxious Saudi regime has to this day continued to export extremist ideology and weapons to Sunnis in the region. Both countries have deliberately deceived the West for years. Cockburn believes these and other mistakes have given birth to 'a Frankenstein monster'. He is clearly very angry, and he is not alone. It is nauseating to many that elements in this country fawn over Saudis because of oil and armament sales to that corrupt regime.

Isis has internationalized the Syrian and Iraq conflicts in order to trigger a massive influx of foreign fighters from many parts of the world. There are known recruiting cells in the Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco and Indonesia. In June 2014 it again changed its name, this time to IS. It is no longer part of the al-Qaeda franchise.

IS has morphed into a political entity never before seen, a terrorist group that like a nation has its own army, currency and passports. Its declared long term aim is to turn the world into an Islamic state. We need to be aware also that the leaders, like the leaders of Qaeda, are well educated men. The leader of Qaeda is a surgeon. Many have degrees in 'hard' subjects. In addition, as Bruce Hoffman, a leading authority on terrorism, has said 'many IS members are disturbingly normal'. This makes their detection that more difficult.

The more that beheadings are threatened the greater the demand to do something. The more air attacks continue the more the threats increase. As a result the more Muslims are regarded with suspicion and singled out by police and security forces. Over reaction is what IS wants because this will galvanise Islamic support for the Jihadist cause. In the past two months the Jihadist struggle has become a struggle against Western civilisation and not just an internal conflict within Islam. This has never been the case with any previous terrorist group. 'Jihadi Cool' has romanticized the group among marginalised, disillusioned Islamic youth. It is estimated that some 3,000 Europeans of Arab descent have fought in Syria. Lone wolf attacks seem increasingly likely. They will continue to have a political and psychological impact. Media coverage provides the necessary oxygen for it to flourish.

It doesn't help either when Lord Wolf,the former chief justice, said recently that those who insult Islam are responsible for any explosive consequences. A dreadful comment to make.

Cockburn fails to discuss the many challenges that IS face. For example, it is land-locked. It has no ports. These weaknesses create problems for its supply chain. Overland transport is also hampered by its enemies. Despite military victories so far, its forces are heavily outnumbered. Moreover, it has no airforce or trained pilots. If it had it would be destroyed by the USAF. Neither has it a robust defence capability against an air attack. A few 'Singers' will soon run out. Of perhaps greater moment is IS's ability to govern and run a Caliphate. Even with plenty of money there is growing evidence that problems are growing for IS. The territory it has to administer is 80,000 square miles and contains 8 million people who need the basics of life on a regular basis. Finally, many of the nearby states are either Shia or opposed to IS on other grounds. Hence, it will be very difficult for IS to acquire these territories.

In its favour are several factors. The anti-IS alliance is flimsy. Iran and the US are hardly blood brothers. A prolonged struggle will put great pressure on both. Syria remains a major bone of contention for the anti-IS alliance. Next, defeating IS by military force alone is likely to be extremely hard if not impossible. Certainly it cannot be defeated without ground troops, and IS is aware that the West has no appetite for another ground war.

We have all too clearly reaped what,in part, we have sown. It is very likely that the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the Hyper Cacher supermarket and in Belgium will prove to be forerunners of attacks elsewhere in Europe, fot example in Norway, Berlin, or Denmark. The fight against IS is just beginning. It will be a slow protracted fight since air power can only degrade but not defeat. As a result the murky complex situation in the Middle East will become even more complex.

Those British citizens who chose to go and fight for these savages should, if they ever return, be charged with treason. Claims they have been 'radicalised' should be treated with contempt.

An interesting and well-written account although its thesis is hardly new. It is a little one-dimensional. For a deeper analysis you will need to look elsewhere. The bibliography is reasonable but is by no means exhaustive.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 24, 2015 12:40 PM GMT


The Sphinx: Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II
The Sphinx: Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II
Price: £10.44

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How FDR Got America Into The War., 10 Feb. 2015
At the end of the Great War in which America had played a late but pivotal part no country was more determined to stay out of European wars than the USA. Millions of Americans had been opposed to their country taking part, for many it was not their concern. Many Americans believed they had been tricked into the war in 1917. They had lost some 50,000 men for a cause that was not theirs. No more foreign wars was the cry in 1919. A senator said: 'To hell with Europe' when by 1935/6 it was becoming clear that Hitler had no intention of honouring the Versailles Treaty. Another group of Congressmen actually praised Hitler . Some of the support for Hitler came from those who blamed the Jews for the Great War; anti-semitism was rife in many parts of the country. This book's aim is to examine how these views were overcome resulting in America entering the Second World War in 1941. It is about a debate that Arthur Schlesinger described as: 'the most savage political debate in my lifetime'. It was a debate that like the civil war divided and tore families apart.

The title of the book refers to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). He acquired the name, the Sphinx, in 1939 because he refused to say whether or not he would run for President again.

FDR was born in 1882 in Hyde Park, New York to a wealthy and affluent family. He was an eighth-generation American of Dutch origin. Arguably, he was America's greatest President. He was certainly unique and the most influential. After concentrating on the Great Depression he focused his energies on helping the other allies to win the war but not without overcoming major obstacles at home. He succumbed to illness in the middle of his fourth term, shortly before the Allies won the war.

No other American President had a more early experience on German soil than FDR. With his parents he visited that country eight times from the age of nine. After qualifying as a barrister in 1907, he became a New York state senator from 1910 to 1913. In 1914 he became Assistant Secretary of the Navy. His cousin Teddy had held the same post. Both had a deep knowledge of the sea and naval matters. FDR also had an appreciation of the coming importance of air power. That understanding was to prove of incalculable value in the Second World War.

He was one of those who argued for unconditional surrender, as he did in the Second World War but his advice was ignored. At the age of 39 he contracted polio.
In 1928 he became governor of New York, and in 1932 he was elected Democratic President.

A polished orator who inspired millions with his intimate fireside chats, he was also a crafty wheeler-dealer who understood how to manipulate Washington politics. By the time of his death he had led the country through two of the greatest crises in its history, dramatically increased the power of the presidency, and set up new agencies that changed the federal government.

In 1938, isolationism was strong in Congress and in, for example, the mid-west. The powerful Senate Foreign Relations Come was solidly isolationist. In 1939, he supported isolationism in his State of the Union address while at the same time asking Congress to spend $525 million on armaments. As the author points out, his task became one of steering a middle way between the Allies and the isolationists, the latter not at all happy with siding with Stalin. FDR's other major task after Pearl Harbour was to decide whether to give priority to the Pacific war or to support Churchill's and Stalin's constant demand for a second-front in Europe. Of course, China was another problem he had to face.

His decision under the Lend-Lease Act to give the Allies $50 billion of military aid was in part a reply to Winston's cry 'to give us the tools' but also a means of boosting US industry. The loan had to be repayed with interest. By 1943, the vast army of jobless workers had gone. Millions were now employed in the armed services and in wartime production in factories. Opposition to the Act was intense. The Chicago Tribune thundered 'it was a bill for the destruction of the American Republic'. Many saw Lend-Lease as a prelude to war. Arguments raged across the country. It became a contest between defeatests and fascists on one side and Commies and warmongers on the other. Lindberg, one of FDR's major opponents, and a very popular man with the people, warned of chaos, dictatorship at home, bankruptcy and Communism. He had been to Germany many times, thought their air force was invincible, and argued passionately for appeasement.

Roosevelt's wartime record was not blemish free. His decision to imprison thousands of Japanese Americans, and his refusal to bomb the rail lines leading to Auschwitz remain controversial even to this day. Neither, however, really damaged his public image.

He was a consummate politician. Like Churchill he inspired the people. After his death in 1945, the New York Times said: 'Men will thank God on their knees a hundred years from now that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House'.

Despite telling the voters in 1940 that 'Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars', that is what he did after Japan launched its 'Day of Infamy' In December 1941, and Hitler made one of his crass decisions to declare war on America. FDR's policies during the war led to superpower status in 1945. By clever tactics, and shrewd manoeuvring and charm he overcame pacifists, backwoodsmen and a ragbag of isolationists and celebrities. These included Henry Ford, an anti-Semitic, Randolph Hearst, Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin, a venomous Catholic priest who hated Jews. He was admired in Berlin. Joe Kennedy, whose son became President, was a leading isolationist, and no lover of this country. Cheque-book Joe was a man who believed money was the means to political power. He bought the ambassador job to Britain and his sons carried on the good work later.

Fortunately for the world, FDR succeeded in cajoling the American people into believing their future was inextricably linked with defeating Germany and Japan.

An excellent account. The bibliography is adequate.

However, for a definitive account of Roosevelt nothing equals or surpasses the outstanding two volume work by James MacGregor Burns.


Murder at Camp Delta: A Staff Sergeant's Pursuit of the Truth about Guantanamo Bay
Murder at Camp Delta: A Staff Sergeant's Pursuit of the Truth about Guantanamo Bay
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Chilling Account Of Alleged Official Murder., 7 Feb. 2015
I recently reviewed Guantanamo Diary, an account of an inmate in that detention camp-a euphemism for prison. His diary is a shockng account of brutality.

Any reasonable person reading that dIary could be forgiven for wondering if the diarist was telling the truth or grossly exaggerating lawful interrogation techniques. Unfortunately, such thinking is sullied by other accounts that also severely criticise what goes on in Guantanamo. Those accounts are now enhanced by Joseph Hickman's book: 'Murder at Camp Delta'.

The author is a former Marine who on becoming a sergeant in the Maryland National Guard was a guard at the Camp. Delta Camp is located at Guantanamo Bay. Hickman now helps wounded army veterans on a voluntary basis. He stresses he is a patriot not a nut or a traitor. He has been called both.

On the night of 9 June 2006 he was in the Camp Watchtower. There were 460 prisoners in Guantanamo at this time. He became very concerned about the deaths of three detainees while on duty. He is adamant that they were murdered . Next morning all were warned by the base commander to say nothing about the night before. Hickman believes what followed was a cover up. Official deafness became the norm. His views and those of other soldiers were ignored by investigating panels. The latter he says were'masterpieces of obfuscation'.

The official line was the three had committed suicide by hanging. This was later altered to suicide by stuffing bedsheets down their throats. The author believes they died because rags were forced down their throats by interrogators. The rags, he says, were so far down their throats that they could not possibly have been put there by the prisoners. Medics were unable to pull the rags out.

Hickman believes that the three were taken to a secret place outside the Camp known as Camp No because officially it didn't exist, and murdered by the CIA. If his account is proved true, the outcome will be the greatest miiitary scandal since Abu Ghraib. Recently, the CIA have admitted that Camp No does exist.

In 2008 a group of graduate law students carried out a througher analysis of the findings of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. They published their findings in 2009. Their report showed that the official version was totally implausible. Every claim made in the official version was flawed because standard operating procedures would have made what was claimed impossible. Further doubt was cast on the official findings when it was revealed that five guards who were on duty on the night in question were told to rewrite their witness statements. Their original statements have never been made public, and the page in the guard's official logbook referring to 9 June has conveniently gone missing. So has all relevant video footage.

This is another very disturbing book about what goes on in the shady world of the Guantanamo prison camp. More evidence like this and America's reputation will suffer accordingly. The West will not defeat terrorists by adopting their methods.

Needs to be read by all concerned about the misuse of torture in this camp and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the author is pressing for a full congressional inquiry.

There are currently 122 prisoners in Guantanamo. Obama's promise to close it remains just that, a promise. A major worry for him is that there are prisoners who if released can reveal what has been going on in the camp for over 13 years, particularly in camp 5.


The Birth of the Pill: How Four Pioneers Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution
The Birth of the Pill: How Four Pioneers Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution
Price: £6.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Pill For All Seasons., 7 Feb. 2015
The discovery of the contraceptive pill following the brilliant but controversial research of Sanger and, Pincus was one of the most important scientific events of recent years. Sanger was a legendary crusader for a scientific method of birth control that would permit a woman to have sex without risking pregnancy. She was repeatedly told by eminent scientists that this holy grail was impossible. Come 1950, she had spent 40 years on the trail of the pill. Margaret Sanger then met Gregory Pincus a 47 year-old biologist with a genius IQ. He had made no major scientific discoveries, in fact he was something of an academic outcast after being rejected by Harvard. His controversial ideas and experiments conducted in his converted garage had upset the establishment. Despite this, he remained a renowned expert in mammalian reproduction.

In the American press his claim that soon humans would be able to control the baby making process by a scientifically proven method was ridiculed. He was called a Frankenstein. No university would employ him save Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. He worked there in a lowly ranking job as a reseacher. His basement lab was grubby and contaminated with coal dust.

Pinctus and a friend, Hoagland, decided to scrape enough money together to set up the Worcester Foundation For Experimental Biology. He was aware of the pioneering work being undertaken by Sanger. They met, Sanger had now been joined in her crusade by Katherine McCormick, and discussed producing a pill that would be 100% effective. They were opposed by other scientists, by politicians and the catholic clergy. The trio were eventually joined by a very respectable family doctor,John Rock, whose task was to persuade women to participate in the drug's trials. This, for understandable reasons, was not easy. Many feared complications and opposition from their husbands. In the end the trials had to be held in Puerto Rico where the population was booming.

In order to gain FDA approval, Pincus presented the Pill as a drug to regulate menstrual periods. Four years later in 1961 over 1.2 million women were on the Pill (Enovid). As they say, the rest is history. At last 71 year old Sanger had achieved her life's dream. Throughout the ages women had had to rely on methods such as crocodile dung, cedar oil, frankincense, half a lemon, the condom or the coil. Thanks to Pinctus, those methods were now history.

It was the gradual changes occurring in the rules of morality following the war, and publications like Kinsey's study that aided the move to finding a pill. By mid-century there was a growing demand to get rid of taboos, particularly those concerning sex. However, opponents hit back. The Pill, they argued, would lead to permissive behaviour, a collapse of family life and marriage. In brief, it
would destroy thousands of years of Christianity and Puritanism. These critics never mentioned that a biological means of contraception would allow women to become equal partners with men.

The latter, of course, was anathema to the Catholic Church. As one said, women should not be free in terms of sex. To appease catholics,the Church was told the Pill was as natural as the rhythm method. Years of argument and deliberation followed before Pope Paul V1 in 1968 damned the Pill in his encyclical 'Humanae Vitae. Women were not to be set free after all. The news was devastating for those poverty stricken women in the Third World.

This is an important book about how dedicated individuals can, despite massive opposition, bring about revolutionary change. It demonstrates yet again how far powerful reactionary forces will go to stop change. In this case, particularly if that change frees women and makes them equal to men. This excellent book is a forceful rebuke to all those forces who attacked the Pill.

If the pill had been available many years earlier, thousands of illegitimate children would not have been born, and they and their unwed mothers would not have been subjected to abuse and a lifetime of undeserved shame.

A worthy successor to Dr L.Marks superb book:'Sexual Chemistry'.

Read it.


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