Too Fair to Hizbullah
I do not support the terrible excesses of Israel’s bombing of Lebanon, nor do I regard all criticism of Israel as an expression of anti-semitism, but Charles Glass’s defence of Hizbullah is beyond the pale (LRB, 17 August). Is Glass familiar with these statements, made by Hizbullah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah? ‘If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide’ and ‘They [Jews] are a cancer which is liable to spread at any moment.’ The leader of the Party of God (a grotesque conception of a political party, although that doesn’t seem to bother Glass) is not simply a resistance fighter. He is an anti-semite with fantasies of genocide. Glass makes Hizbullah sound like a rational movement that does little harm, but on the contrary does a great deal of good and learns from its mistakes. What lessons had it learned from the debacle of the 1980s when it provoked a war that has brought so much havoc to its own country, without even consulting the government in which it serves? Glass tells us that he was kidnapped by Hizbullah. Has he succumbed to Stockholm syndrome?
Over the past few weeks I’ve spent a great deal of time arguing that those who oppose the recent actions of Israel in Lebanon don’t necessarily also blindly condone the actions of Israel’s enemies. Charles Glass’s eulogy to Hizbullah, in which he praises that organisation’s clemency, ‘intelligent’ use of suicide bombers, and its defiantly disinterested support for Syrian interference in Lebanon, has made my position that much harder to defend. Thanks for that.
Let Jerusalem Go
How noble of Slavoj Žižek to recommend that other people be self-sacrificing (Letters, 17 August). And how strange that he quotes the story of the two mothers from Brecht, rather than from the Bible.
I have always enjoyed E.S. Turner’s reviews, and was saddened to read about his death. I hope I can look forward to an article or obituary in a forthcoming issue.
Editors, ‘London Review’ write: We too were very sorry to hear of E.S. Turner’s death. He was a pleasure to deal with and his pieces were unfailingly a pleasure to read. Andrew O’Hagan wrote about him in the LRB of 15 October 1998 and that appreciation can be found on our website.
Reasons to Rebel
Mark Kishlansky condemns ‘those who rallied to the side of Monmouth’ in 1685 as ‘among the most extreme bigots in a bigoted age, because they forsook the allegiance they owed their lawful monarch for no other reason than that he was a Catholic’ (LRB, 17 August). That is a superficial view. These cloth-workers, artisans, craftsmen and labourers, while certainly Protestant non-conformists to whom James II’s prerogative Declarations of Indulgence were not yet available, were being hit hard by a slump in the cloth trade. They followed the duke in the hope – unrealistic, but genuine – that he could and would do something to improve their lives.
University of Exeter
What Tommy Did Next
Andrew O’Hagan tells us that Tommy Sheridan ‘took a stand against the ruthlessness of the tabloids’ (LRB, 17 August). He wonders whether ‘the people who read those papers in such numbers will now see his point and abandon them’. I doubt it. Sheridan’s first action after he won his case was to sell his story to the Daily Record.
The Steroid Era
Quite a few syringefuls of steroids or whatever have been injected into the bloodstreams of star sportspersons and, vicariously, the unusually excitable journalists employed to write about them, since David Runciman described the bad behaviour, both on and off the baseball diamond, of the home-run supremo Barry Bonds (LRB, 3 August). One of the American sprinters whom Runciman brought into his account, Marion Jones, seems finally to have bitten the dust, after many years of being suspected but never caught taking steroids. So has her male compatriot, Justin Gatlin, the joint holder of the world 100-metre record; and Floyd Landis, the short-lived American winner of the Tour de France in July, whose extraordinary recovery from a serious time deficit in one of the last mountain stages of the race was almost immediately put down to an even more serious surplus of testosterone found in his body on the day in question.
Not much of a summer for cheats, you could say, and just in case cricket-lovers were reflecting how fortunate we are that our game at least is free from scandals of this kind, along comes the ball-tampering episode on the parched turf of the Oval, where the Pakistani side was accused of doing something not as yet specified to the ball in order to encourage it to deviate on its passage from the bowler’s hand to the batsman’s bat. It’s assumed we will be scandalised by this, if it’s proved it actually happened, for sullying the fair name etc. Few followers of cricket will, I suspect, be able to muster the full degree of shock expected of them, coming as it mostly does from commentators who know perfectly well that ball-tampering goes back several decades, ever since the physics of the game began to be vaguely understood and the factors that might make a cricket ball swing more, or move off the pitch, were better appreciated. I fear cheating in cricket is small beer compared to the real thing elsewhere.
David Runciman misses an important point regarding Barry Bonds. Because major league baseball had no official policy on steroids until 2002 (a year after Bonds achieved a record number of home runs in a season), and instituted a half-hearted testing programme only in 2004 (a year after Victor Conte spilled the beans), it’s really not in any position to punish him. Throughout the ‘steroid era’ baseball was happy to allow juiced statistics to help revive a sport which had been devastated by the players’ strike of 1994. If Bonds is punished for anything, it will probably be – anticlimactically – for tax evasion.
It’s not quite right to say, as Andy Armstrong does, that the BBC Micro used 32-bit integer variables (Letters, 3 August). Like nearly all modern computers, the 6502 central processing unit (CPU) that the Beeb was based on uses binary digits (bits). The 6502 has instructions built into its hardware to move bits around in groups of eight and to add and subtract 8-bit numbers: it is an 8-bit micro. For any other arithmetic operations (addition involving numbers bigger than 255, multiplication, division etc) someone would have to write software.
More modern CPUs move bits around in groups of 32 or 64, and have built-in instructions for a wide range of arithmetic operations. BBC BASIC has several built-in data types, including 32-bit integers. Different software running on the BBC Micro can manipulate much larger integers. BBC BASIC first ran on BBC microcomputers, but has since been made available on many other, newer computer systems. Armstrong seems to have confused the hardware (BBC Micro) and its inherent capabilities with the software (BBC BASIC), which could be run on a different computer, or be replaced by different software with better or different capabilities.
Thomas Jones got a ‘syntax error’ when he typed 32768 at the BBC BASIC command line because BBC BASIC assumes that any input which begins with a number is a line of a program. But its internal data structure allocated only 15 bits for storing line numbers, so the highest possible line number was 32767. My favourite BBC BASIC error message is line number related, too. Typing ‘RENUMBER 10, 0’ at the command line provokes the reply: ‘Silly’.
Steven Shapin writes that Bill Buford’s maestro butcher refers to the customer as ‘un cazzo, a dickhead’ (LRB, 17 August). It is more probable that he is using the term to signify nothing, a non-entity, something worthless (as in ‘non vale un cazzo,’ ‘it’s worth fuck all,’ or ‘non ho fatto un cazzo,’ ‘I haven’t done fuck all’). ‘Dickhead’ would be more closely rendered by the literal testa di cazzo, or the figurative coglione, the insult of choice of the former Italian prime minister.
How, Michael Wood asks, could Gong Li’s character in Miami Vice fall for Colin Farrell’s Sonny Crockett (LRB, 17 August)? Good question. ‘It’s not that Farrell isn’t attractive,’ he goes on. Isn’t it? Well, Wood has always been a generous critic, but I’d say one of the big problems with Miami Vice is precisely that Farrell isn’t good-looking enough to star in it – especially alongside Gong Li, Jamie Foxx and Naomie Harris. He just hasn’t got the bone structure. The biggest problem with the film, however, is the one that Wood identifies when he asks: ‘What happened to the buddy movie?’ Michael Mann’s best films – Heat, say, or Collateral – have always derived their considerable dramatic tension from the relationships between their leading men. Heat is lumbered by unengaging subplots involving the main characters’ wives and girlfriends: the love-interest role is more than adequately filled by Val Kilmer as Robert de Niro’s sidekick (he even has long blond hair); and the money shot – built up to over the course of the first two-thirds of a three-hour movie – is the five-minute confrontation over a cup of coffee in a diner between Al Pacino (cop) and de Niro (robber), the first and only time the two actors have been on screen together. In Collateral, a lawyer played by Jada Pinkett Smith gets into Jamie Foxx’s cab at the beginning of the movie, and then turns up again at the end for the sake of a neat Hollywood conclusion. But the film’s energy all comes from the relationship between Foxx and Tom Cruise. If Mann felt that in Miami Vice ‘the men were not interesting enough on their own,’ as Wood suggests, then beefing up the women’s roles was never going to be a solution: a much better idea would have been to ditch Farrell. The tradition of repressed man love of course goes way back in movie history, especially perhaps in Westerns. But while pictures like Brokeback Mountain are deconstructing that tradition, Mann – at least before this latest venture – appeared to be doggedly sticking to it. Let’s hope he’s learned his lesson from Miami Vice, and in his next movie dispenses with female characters altogether.
Living at the seaside doesn’t seem to have made Iain Sinclair any more cheerful, and his piece on Andrew Kötting betrays his misanthropy (LRB, 17 August). Other observers of life on the beach would notice splashy games and laughter; he picks up on ‘scavengers sweeping the shingle with metal detectors for small change lost in the spasms of last night’s courtship rituals’. ‘Spasms’ – what a romantic he is. Sinclair’s gloom takes in the place as well as the people. His Hastings is one of ‘tannin scum’; balconies have ‘rusting nails and anti-gull devices’. Only a tiny minority of eccentrics – such as Kötting with his giant face-painted condoms – are celebrated as swimmers against the scummy tide. The rest of us seem to deserve nothing but disdain.