A Question of Sources
As the biographer of Archibald Clark Kerr, the British ambassador to China from 1937 to 1942, I was disappointed to see that Jung Chang and Jon Halliday repeat in Mao: The Untold Story the allegation that Clark Kerr was a Soviet agent. Had this been argued out, and evidence produced, then I would at least have had something to consider. However, nothing of the sort is done. Indeed, the only relevant text referenced is my own biography of Clark Kerr in which I took considerable pains to dismiss this unfair allegation. What is the point of their bald citation of a text that expressly negates the point they try to make?
If this is symptomatic of their overall approach, then I am not surprised that they should find themselves under attack from Andrew Nathan (LRB, 17 November 2005). The issue is not Mao’s character and deeds but the ethics of biography.
University of Strathclyde
Writing about Nelson, Isaac Land says that ‘the navy did not require its captains to conduct a census of national origins’ (LRB, 1 December 2005). Captains in Nelson’s day were required, however, to keep a muster book that listed an extraordinary amount of detail about each crew member. ‘Place and country where born’ is one of its many column headings, along with, among other things, the cost of a sailor’s tobacco and of treatment for his venereal diseases, which would then be set off against his pay.
I was happy to see Ilan Pappe begin his article on Amir Peretz (LRB, 15 December 2005) with a quotation from my interview with the new leader of the Israeli Labour Party. But there was little else in the piece that I agree with.
Pappe claims that as leader of Israel’s national trade union congress, the Histadrut, Peretz
did nothing to limit the organisation’s extensive involvement in the occupation: in areas directly or indirectly controlled by Israel, the Histadrut granted the settlers union rights while denying them to Palestinians; as for Palestinian workers in industrial plants within the border zones … it ignored their situation entirely despite their having no basic human or workers’ rights.
He completely ignores the 1995 co-operation framework agreements reached between Peretz and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). Those agreements, which followed the Oslo Accords, have done much to create friendship and trust between the two countries’ trade unions, and to give some hope to Palestinian workers. The Histadrut has already transferred several million dollars in dues collected from Palestinian workers to the accounts of the PGFTU. In April this year, at a meeting in Brussels brokered by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), to which both the PGFTU and the Histadrut belong, Peretz and his Palestinian counterpart
agreed to move forward quickly on finalising a joint co-operation agreement between the two organisations. Key issues for the agreement include access for Palestinian workers to employment in Israel, relief funds for Palestinian workers and their families, action to prevent and resolve cases of exploitation of Palestinian workers, implementation of a March 1995 Co-operation Framework, and perspectives for future co-operation between the two organisations.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. Peretz has been fighting for more than twenty years for an independent Palestinian state and for Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands.
Pappe says that if Peretz were to come to power, the best the Palestinians could expect would be the Geneva Accord. These agreements are pretty close to the best that could be achieved when reasonable Palestinians and Israelis sit down and try to work out an agreement. If Pappe thinks they don’t go far enough in securing justice for the Palestinians, he should bring that up with the Palestinians who signed them.
Pappe is dismissive of Peretz’s chances of being Israel’s next prime minister. He bases his conclusions on public opinion polls. Only a few weeks ago, polls showed Shimon Peres easily winning the Labour Party primaries, and polls several months ago showed Peretz coming last among the various candidates for the Labour Party leadership. Polls in Israel are almost always wrong, and consistently underestimate the strength of Peretz. Pappe will also be aware that all new parties of the Israeli political centre – parties headed by media superstars like David Ben Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizman and so on – turn out to be a flash in the pan. This will almost certainly be the fate of Ariel Sharon’s Kadima, a new party whose two leaders have a combined age of over 160.
The Royal Pus
I wish Hugh Pennington (LRB, 15 December 2005) had told us a bit more about the presumably short-lived prophylactic concocted by Sir Almroth Wright at St Mary’s Hospital and known as the Anti-Catarrh (Public Schools) Vaccine. I don’t know what the force of those brackets is around the words ‘Public Schools’, but on the face of it it seems extraordinary that there should either once have been a form of catarrh that blocked the passages only of those children who had been packed off to be privately educated, or that the rather grand Sir Almroth had stipulated that public school pupils alone should be entitled to get the jab, if jab it was. One way or another, this sounds like a very class-conscious medicinal breakthrough, with a touch of god-save-the-king thrown in, what with the rumour that one of the ingredients that had been stirred into the laboratory mix had ‘been grown from pus taken from George V’s chest’. As rumours go, you might have supposed that this one would have proved counter-productive. Being touched for the King’s Evil would have been one thing, being injected with the royal pus quite another.
Protest Dance Pop
Adam Mars-Jones describes himself as ‘someone who hates drum machines’ (LRB, 15 December 2005). This doesn’t augur well for a review much taken up with the writer’s thoughts on ‘protest dance pop’ because inevitably he gives the dance part of this hybrid scant regard – ditto black music, so often synonymous with dance. In his version of the 1960s there’s no Curtis Mayfield or Sly Stone or the myriad of black artists who made musical protests. Of course they’re easily excluded when the definition of protest is ‘rather precarious emulsions of melody and slogan’. This conjures up the bland and tentative, and among others Edwin Starr’s ‘War’ won’t be fitting in there; nor will Jimi Hendrix’s feedback-heavy ‘Star Spangled Banner’ or his later ‘Machine Gun’.
This Band of Gypsies number is more or less a blues, which brings me to the most dispiriting part of the review, what Mars-Jones refers to as ‘the one-size-fits-all dungarees of the twelve-bar blues’. Can this folksy garment do justice to a form in which you’ll find the religious sublime (Blind Willie Johnson), the spooky (Elmore James), and the downright witty (Memphis Minnie). She by the way (the first woman to play electric guitar) was fond of glitzy split skirts and would have been puzzled by Mars-Jones’s demeaning metaphor; as would Robert Johnson in his dandy three-piece suits.
In the 1920s Memphis Minnie recorded her protest-cum-lament about the flooding of the Mississippi Delta ‘When the Levee Breaks’. It was reworked in the early 1970s by Led Zeppelin and has become one of the most sampled tracks in hip hop. But samples are maybe a bit too close to drum machines for Mars-Jones and it’s no surprise that later eras in black music are also absent from his potted history of ‘protest dance pop’. No Grandmaster Flash or Public Enemy or more recently Kanye West who’s made his feelings clear about the US administration’s response to the New Orleans flood.
Adam Mars-Jones thinks there weren’t many protest songs in the 1980s; but then he also doesn’t like drum machines. Songs isn’t exactly the word, but in warehouses and fields all over Britain there were people dancing to what might qualify as a variety of what he quaintly calls ‘protest dance pop’. It certainly felt like we were protesting against something, or involved in some kind of gentle revolution. But then we were all nutted on E, so maybe we were just kidding ourselves. And the hideous spectacle of 1990s so-called ‘superclubs’, the long hangover of indie guitar music, and the political disappointments of the past decade would seem to suggest that we were.
Yes, it was
Matthew Kelly says that Ireland in the 19th century was ‘not a fully integrated part of the Union’ (LRB, 1 December 2005). The Act of Union came into effect in 1801, and Ireland then sent MPs to Westminster, though it soon became clear that they were never going to achieve their political goals there. There was no legal ambiguity as to Ireland’s status within the Union, and Irish nationalists had no doubt as to the extent to which their affairs were run by a British administration in which they had no confidence; hence their determination to break the Union.
Homage to Benjamin Banneker
Nicholas Guyatt describes Washington DC as ‘a backdrop throughout the 19th century’ which, ‘only after Congress dusted off L’Enfant’s plans in 1902 … attained its current soulless majesty’ (LRB, 17 November 2005). L’Enfant had absconded to Paris more than a century earlier following his angry resignation as planner in chief. The real hero is Benjamin Banneker, the African-American mathematician who worked with L’Enfant and whose photographic memory reproduced those plans in detail.
Brooklyn, New York
Backed by Gold
Jenny Turner wonders about the origins of Ayn Rand’s name (LRB, 1 December 2005). ‘Ayn’ is the Hebrew letter that represents excellence; as for ‘Rand’, the South African currency was backed fully by gold and Rand was a firm believer in the gold standard as essential to the survival of capitalism.
Bridgehampton, New York
Peter Campbell twice quotes Samuel Palmer as saying that Linnell ‘plucked him from the pit of modernity’ (LRB, 17 November 2005). What Palmer said was that he had been plucked from ‘the pit of modern art’, which is more caustic and to the point.
Would anyone who lived in Paris between 1940 and 1944 and knew members of the American community there please be so kind as to contact me? I am doing research on the Americans who chose to remain in Paris under the Nazi occupation – whether they collaborated, joined the Resistance or, like most other Parisians, bided their time until liberation.
PO Box 8308
I am preparing an edition of Ian Hamilton’s collected poems and would be very grateful to hear from anyone who is in possession of any relevant material: manuscript or typescript poems or drafts of poems, letters referring to poems etc.
c/o Times Literary Supplement, London E98 1BS