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Jim (Blackheath, London, UK)

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The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
by Naomi Klein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.74

147 of 225 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A twisted and frequently inchoate rant, 9 May 2008
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Seven years ago, while still a university student, the must read book at my alma mater was Naomi Klein's `No Logo.' A probing and insightful look into the way that corporations were taking over our high streets and lives, it was at once pertinent and relevant. I had only lived in London for a couple of years, and already witnessed how its high streets were transmogrifying into `any street/ any town'. In barely 18 months the coffee shop culture I had once loved had been wrecked by Starbucks, one of Klein's principle targets. Though those who said it was the `defining tome' of its generation or the `handbook of the anti-globalization' movement overstated its importance, `No Logo' was an outstanding and memorable book, a must-read, even.

Now, we have `The Shock doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism' the long awaited follow up to `No Logo'.

Naomi Klein writes that this started out as a book about the privatization of the war on terror and became something else. `The truth [of its content] seems so bizarre,' she writes in an early chapter. It is `a book about shock. About how countries are shocked - by wars, terror attacks, coups d'etat and natural disasters . And then they are shocked again - by corporations and politicians who exploit their fear and disorientation of this first shock to push through economic shock therapy. And then how people who dare to resist this shock politics are, if necessary, shocked for a third time - by police soldiers and prison officers...'

The premise and scope of the book are thus ambitious and promising. Klein's thesis is certainly original and thought-provoking. Unfortunately she is unable to support it without making ludicrous jumps between historical events, drawing incorrect conclusions, using cursory evidence, and painting a picture of a vast right wing global conspiracy that often verges on the ludicrous.

The target for most of her ire is Milton Friedman and the so-called Chicago School of economists, that have influenced the policy of every world leader from Augusto Pinochet to Margaret Thatcher to George W Bush. Alas, Klein gives the Chicago School far too much importance. She doesn't recognize them for what they are: academics, whose work is only ever taken and modified to suit the needs of the country it is applied to. The Chicago School has never changed the fate of a single country - only those that have employed their strategies have done that.

The picture Klein paints is one in which the Chicago School spend forty years traveling the world, coercing global politicians - many of whom are portrayed as dozy or unwitting - into implementing their theories. According to Klein these men are fanatics that live for the stripping down and privatization of the global economy. Omnipresent is Friedman, who is portrayed as a sort of `Dr Evil' figure pulling the strings behind this cabal. The impression one gets, if taking this thesis at face value, is not unlike that behind the infamous nineteenth century anti-Semitic tome `The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' which made out that the world was governed by a global Jewish conspiracy. Replace the Jews with Chicago School economics professors and you have the updated version - The Shock Doctrine.

To support this theory Klein twists and turns global historical events to fit her narrative. The context of the Cold War is ignored completely with regards events in the 1960s 70s and 80s (of course all US foreign policy was pretty much dictated by the Chicago School, wasn't it?). Mrs Thatcher launches the Falklands War not to defend British sovereign territory, but to allow her to privatize British state utilities. (That the Argentine defeat led to the overthrow of the hated military junta, a target of Klein in an earlier chapter is conveniently overlooked). The necessary reforms to bring the rotten and bankrupt former Communist countries up to date are lambasted at every turn. Poland, which underwent a particularly harsh form `shock therapy', and Russia, which was undermined by the corruption of the Yeltsin era, are the only examples given; not the Baltic states, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic or Slovakia whose transitions were all smoother and are wealthy and well-integrated members of the EU 25 (an inconceivable notion in 1989). None of this would be extreme enough to fit her narrative.

Ignored also are the unquestioned success stories of those countries that have brought in liberal economic reforms, some modeled on the Chicago school. What of Ireland, once the sick man of Europe and now its richest country after oil rich Norway? Why not give some context on the reforms in Britain, where, pre-Thatcher, it was a strike ridden, ineffective country on an inexorable downward spiral? Why no mention of the colorlessness, economic pallor and corruption of the communist world?

There are other inconsistencies and twisted facts too. The South American junta leaders are (rightly) lambasted for their corruption. But when the IMF and World Bank get successor regimes to sign reforms designed to stop future leaders using the state treasuries as their current accounts, it is seen as part of the Chicago School's conspiracy.

Klein's use of figures can be sketchy too. She uses the NASDAQ and how it reacts `positively' to terrorist attacks to show how it suits those wicked capitalists for bad things to happen. Thus it jumps 7 points the day of the 7/7 bombings in London (she doesn't point out that this was about 0.2%) and 11.4 points the day a terror plot was thwarted in the UK the following year. This is obviously because it suits banks for bad stuff to happen because we live in a disaster economy, not because it might be down to ordinary fluctuations (not even that the jumps were anything out of the ordinary). She is rightly angry that an incompetent former governor of New Mexico is put in charge of post-invasion Iraq's educational program. But in contrasting New Mexico and Iraq's literacy rates, she uses figures from 1985.

She is better on her original subject - the privatization of the Iraq war. The corrupt, idiotic and wholly inefficient rule of the Bush administration is a perfect target, and her account of its work in Iraq, and also New Orleans, is a reminder of what a good journalist she can be. The chapters dealing with the betrayal of the Tsunami hit populations of South Asia are good - but then she spoils it with trying to draw it into her tirade against Friedman and the Chicago School.

It is only these parts that save the Shock Doctrine from oblivion. The rest is an uneven, frequently inchoate and self righteous rant that is utterly unconvincing if you read between the lines. Unfortunately there are those that will take everything she writes at face value, and repeat and adopt her many ludicrous stances. That is why this work is so detrimental to those - like me - seeking social justice in this world and ultimately a panacea to those she lambastes.
Comment Comments (42) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 23, 2015 11:43 PM BST

Kenny [2007] [DVD]
Kenny [2007] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Shane Jacobson
Offered by Digizoneuk
Price: £21.89

1 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious mockumentary, 9 May 2008
This review is from: Kenny [2007] [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Kenny is from the genre made famous by The Office, though without any of the nuances or subtleties that made that series so brilliantly funny. Quite what it adds to the so-called silver screen is beyond me.

If it was real it might have made an adequete satellite TV series to be squirreled away late in the schedules; as a work of comedy it is like one of those appalling ITV programmes that are suddenly dropped after one dismal showing.

The scenario is this: Kenny is a gauche, Ozzy bloke, a bit of a lad, and he runs a portaloo company. So his inherent vulgarity can be mixed with lots of musing on pooh. It's as simple and abysmal a proposition as that.

It's banal, unfunny and, quite frankly, a pile of excrement as a film: One to be avoided unless you find pooh jokes funny.

McMafia: Crime without Frontiers
McMafia: Crime without Frontiers
by Misha Glenny
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dazzling exposition of modern organised crime, 22 April 2008
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In McMafia, Misha Glenny meets some of the underworld's villains and scammers and puts a human face to the vast conspiracies which we hear so much about, but ultimately know so little. He is an entertaining, affable guide, a meticulous researcher and, it would appear, a brave journalist. He writes with candour, incisiveness and occasional humour. This is a very different work to his books on the Balkans, but the skills that made them such good books are much in the evidence here as well.

Glenny takes us on a world tour of global crime: from the insidious backstreets of the ex-Soviet bloc, where James Bond-esque baddies lurk in every corner, to Nigeria, Brazil, Japan and China. Although the chapter titles - such as `The Future of Organised Crime' - suggest a thematic approach, it is more geographic than that, which actually makes it all the more readable.

My only problems are with the title - which suggests that the global underworld somehow replicates himself everywhere and is anodyne for it, when Glenny shows that it is not - and the lack of over-arching hypothesis - this isn't a book about the globalisation of crime, we are told at the end, when the preceding 400 pages would suggest that it is.

But as part travelogue, part social history this is nevertheless an excellent read. It is an urgent, compelling book, which I read over only a couple of days and would recommend to anyone with the vaguest interest in organised crime.

England Managers: The Toughest Job in Football
England Managers: The Toughest Job in Football
by Brian Glanville
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A once great writer long past his best, 9 April 2008
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In England Managers: The Toughest Job in Football Brian Glanville has bitten off rather more than he can chew. There is no harm in using only his own recollections, but he doesn't seem to know enough. If he wants to delve back into the history and psychology of England managers past and present, why no mention of the fundamental things that make them tick? Writing of the famous 5-1 win over Germany, when the England team ran riot against Germany, he makes Oliver Neuville, that gifted inside forward, a winger. And he describes `West Ham's precocious inside forward' Joe Cole (?) without naming him! Later in the same chapter he details the same game against Cameroon twice, but differently ,and repeats himself when describing Owen Hargreaves. He also attributes a performance by Wayne Rooney to a time when he was still at school. Sloppily written and edited, like David Beckham, Glanville seems to be a figure long past his best yet somehow surviving on his past reputation. How sad.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 17, 2009 1:44 PM GMT

Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart
Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart
by Tim Butcher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting journey through Africa's dark heart, 3 April 2008
In Blood River, Tim Butcher traverses the Congo River in a homage to Henry Morton Stanley, one of his predecessors as the Daily Telegraph's man in Africa. This is a decent attempt at unravelling one of the most impenetrable areas on earth; while lacking the insight of a Paul Theroux or VS Naipaul, Butcher's lively and erudite prose makes for an engrossing read. It is an important book too, for it has brought to a large audience one of the most neglected human tragedies on earth. And yet 1200 people die every day in the Congo through war and its devastating effects.

But despite Butcher's best efforts, I felt that there was something lacking that might have propelled Blood River to greatness. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it lacked urgency and in many ways lacked empathy with the Congolese people. Butcher wrote this book because he was following a journey undertaken by his hero some 140 years previous, not exposing the terrible fate of an entire people. Indeed his repeated complaints that his journey is an `ordeal' can seem trite in comparison to what those around him are suffering. He also spends 300 pages grasping for a polite way of saying independence has been an unmitigated disaster; if he believes colonialism is a good thing (as he frequently implies, when contrasting the order under Belgian rule with today's disarray), he should just say it. This won't spoil the book for those who haven't read it, but it's also worth mentioning that he doesn't actually complete the journey as he intended, he took the easy way out and a helicopter back for the last long leg.

Overall, a good book, one of the best written about Africa in the last few years, but it ultimately lacks the brilliance of Aiden Hartley's Zanzibar Chest or Philip Gourevich's great polemic on Rwnada.

Mister Pip
Mister Pip
by Lloyd Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A fine concept that falls down with flat prose, 8 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Mister Pip (Paperback)
It is 1990 and fourteen year old Matilda is living in a remote village on the Papuan island of Bougainville. Deep in the bush, she and her fellow villagers are remote from a civil war that grips the island, although the periodic appearance of rebel soldiers is a reminder of the horrors they all face. In these troubled times, Mr Watts, a local teacher and the only white man around keeps up morale through his teaching. But everything is not as it seems, and Matilda's bland retelling of events (presumably while in her twenties) lulls the reader into a false sense of security.

I really wanted to like this book and the idea behind it is a nice one. However, Lloyd Jones doesn't quite bring it off. The central premise is that Mr Watts keeps the village's children going through his powerful telling of Dickens' Great Expectations. But he never really gets articulates the power of Watts' teaching; instead we get a periodic dissection of one of English literature's finest books, which tells us nothing.

The flat prose presumably gives Matilda `her voice', but there is nothing enchanting or particularly beguiling about it. Even the intermittent moments of action and savagery are told in a flat, matter-of-fact way. After a while it all becomes a bit dull and you start counting the pages still to go.

Indeed, the narrator's emotional detachment is the strangest thing about this book: at times it feels as if you're reading the work of a French existentialist, rather than what is sold by the publishers as some sort of modern fairy tale. Everything seems so matter of fact. Events are retold, but there's little analysis. I won't give away the dreadful conclusion to life in Bougainville, but Matilda's culpability is dismissed in a paragraph, and her father's is not considered at all.

In sum, this is an adequate novel, possibly a worthy Booker nominee, although the judges would have got it very wrong to give it the winning accolade. If you expect something life affirming or great, however, this is the wrong book.

Eastern Promises [DVD]
Eastern Promises [DVD]
Dvd ~ Viggo Mortensen
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.42

5 of 47 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Promises much but significantly fails to deliver, 3 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Eastern Promises [DVD] (DVD)
A London gangster film directed by auteur David Cronenburg, including a stellar cast starring man-of-the-moment, Viggo Mortensen, seems such a brilliant proposition, but this dismal film is so laughably bad that you wonder why it was even released. Its faults are many, but at its heart is an entire lack of credibility that undermines what semblance of plot.

A London midwife (Naomi Watts) witnesses the death of a prostitute in labour and sets about finding out about her past, while trying to locate the dead woman's child through a diary that is left in her possession. Rather than go to the police, Watts goes to a mysterious Russian restaurant and inadvertently gets the head of the Russian mafia in London (who raped and impregnated the prostitute, it emerges by incredible coincidence) to translate the diary for her. There are all manner of ludicrous plot deviations, including Watts falling for the mafia boss's driver (Mortensen), who also happens to be a government double agent.

If you haven't switched off by the time all this has emerged you will have witnessed every abysmal Russian stereotype played out. You see, they're all drunk, morbid, on the take 'and talk like zees.' (The accents are straight out of the Dick Van Dyke voice school). The nadir was the rape (which you don't see), which plays on an old stereotype of the Russian peasantry: the drunk son is unable to perform, so his father steps in and shows him how. What a tired, offensive slur on Russians. Actually, more ludicrous than that was the one fight scene, in a bath house, in which Mortensen fights off hideously under armed hit men in the nude. It is a scene that is reminiscent of Borat fighting his manager.

This is a bad, bad film. Tedious, offensive, implausible. Mortensen struggles to make his ridiculous character believable, but being head and shoulders above a wooden cast - Naomi Watts is simply awful - is no justification for an Oscar nomination. This was 97 minutes of my life I'll never get back - don't make the same mistake.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 5, 2008 11:53 PM BST

The Elements
The Elements
Offered by Sonic-Sound
Price: £17.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A welcome addition to the trip hop revival, 11 Feb. 2008
This review is from: The Elements (Audio CD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
With its songs themed around the five elements - Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water - I must admit that the very premise of this album seemed dodgy at first, like the sort of `good idea' that a teenage garage band might come up with. Moreover, with a play time of just 18.5 minutes this is less an album than an EP (and surely it should be priced as such). However, the dark lyrics and earthy tones of vocalist Julia Johnson more than carry the concept off. Trip Hop seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment - with a new album by Portishead slated for an April release - and while Second Person are easier to listen to than Bristol's finest, their music is clearly reminiscent of Massive Attack. Certainly any fans of this genre will enjoy The Elements.

The Elements (Numbered Limited Edition)
The Elements (Numbered Limited Edition)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Welcome Addition to the Trip Hop Revival, 11 Feb. 2008
With its songs themed around the five elements - Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water - I must admit that the very premise of this album seemed dodgy at first, like the sort of `good idea' that a teenage garage band might come up with. Moreover, with a play time of just 18.5 minutes this is less an album than an EP (and surely it should be priced as such). However, the dark lyrics and earthy tones of vocalist Julia Johnson more than carry the concept off. Trip Hop seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment - with a new album by Portishead slated for an April release - and while Second Person are easier to listen to than Bristol's finest, their music is clearly reminiscent of Massive Attack. Certainly any fans of this genre will enjoy The Elements.

The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
by Orlando Figes
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine history lacking the narrative impact of Figes's earlier work, 1 Feb. 2008
The Whisperers is Orlando Figes's moving book recounting the private lives of Soviet citizens living under Stalin's tyranny. It is a fine book, impeccably and widely researched and stands up well both as an academic work and as a relatively accessible history. Figes's achievements in this wide ranging bok are many, but the most telling thing I learned from reading The Whisperers was the sense of shame that the families of those persecuted by Stalin suffered even decades later.

While this is a very good work, there are a couple of shortcomings that preclude The Whisperers from attaining greatness and becoming a landmark text on the USSR - as Figes's earlier work A People's Tragedy was.

The first is its subject range. The uniqueness of this book is purportedly that it's the first history to tell of the private lives of Soviet citizens. But the Stalin era, on which Figes focuses, is indivisible from three phenemona it bred - the Terror, the war, the gulag - and they are well documented elsewhere. Although there is no questioning the breadth of Figes' research, there is a recurrent sense that we are getting the same stories already told elsewhere (In Anne Applebaum's The Gulag, for example).

More interesting, I feel, would have been a narrative that stretched until 1989. So what if the era is less coloured with the horrors of war and repression? There are numerous questions about the USSR still waiting to be answered. How did people live under Brezhnev? What cat and mouse games did private citizens have to play with the secret police? What were perceptions of the west? Were there fears about nuclear war? How did people react to perestroika and glasnost? I could go on.

My second criticism is the lack of narrative drive. A People's Tragedy, Figes's best book - and the finest history of its era in my opinion -showed that populist history could be written with academic rigour. In it, Figes used personal histories - General Brusilov and Maxim Gorky, for example - to illuminate the wider story of the Russian revolution and civil war. He uses the same device in The Whisperers with the poet Konstantin Simonov, but it is less effective because there are a lack of other identifiable characters to accompany Simonov in driving the text forward. Figes recounts hundreds of individual case studies effectively, but in the end they are just names on a page. As a reader it is difficult to emphasise with them in the same way as an individual who reappears throughout the duration of the book.

One of the criticisms of A People's Tragedy was that it owed `more to Tolstoy than to E.H.Carr or Richard Pipes' and Figes was (unfairly) pillioried by some critics for writing with the verve of a novelist rather than the muted prose of an academic. I get the sense with The Whisperers and his last book Natasha's Dance that he is in some way holding back, at once trying to prove his populist and academic credentials when he doesn't really need to. In a way, Figes suffers criticism by comparison to his earlier masterpiece when the reality is that few other historians would be able to produce as powerful a work as the Whisperers, never mind A People's Tragedy. A People's Tragedy was a supreme example of how history can be written with the dramatic thrust of a novel, while retaining its credibility as a history. Figes would do well to return to these principles -- for if he does he could emerge as the finest historian of his generation.

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