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Letters

Vol. 28 No. 20 · 19 October 2006

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Bush’s Useful Idiots

Most American liberal intellectuals surely agree with Tony Judt about the catastrophe that is the Bush foreign policy, and the Bush administration’s ‘sustained attack on civil liberties and international law’ (LRB, 21 September). As a consequence, it seems necessary to say that the charges he levels are, to a considerable degree, misleading, and reflect a deplorable ‘cultural provincialism’ (Judt’s words) that is surprising in so seasoned a critic. To read Judt, one would think that the only liberal intellectuals that matter in the United States – and the only ones he reads – are the handful of journalists who contribute pieces to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. The only other so-called or one-time liberals who apparently wield any influence, according to Judt, are the new hawks who write to urge a war against Islamofascism, people like Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff and Leon Wieseltier.

The truth is that the pages of American journals are filled with attacks on Bush’s foreign policy, and indeed on the entire record of the current administration in Washington. The op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post regularly contain blistering attacks on Bush and his policies, attacks which do not at all buy into the ‘binary division of the world along ideological lines’ that Judt rightly condemns. To be sure, Thomas Friedman has not given up his hectoring about ‘the larger struggle we’re in’, but the New York Times has done a good deal to rally the liberal intelligentsia with hard-hitting pieces by Frank Rich, Paul Krugman and others. Beyond the newspapers of record, there is a whole other world in the United States that Judt seems either to know nothing about or to ignore.

Why does he not cite the American liberal intellectuals who write for Harper’s, or Daedalus, or my own quarterly, Salmagundi? Why not mention the lengthy pieces contributed to Harper’s in recent months by its just-retired editor, Lewis Lapham? The current issue of Salmagundi, a special number on ‘Jihad, McWorld, Modernity’, contains contributions from liberal intellectuals like Benjamin Barber, Martha Nussbaum, Orlando Patterson, James Miller and Carolyn Forche, not to mention other intellectuals like Breyten Breytenbach, Peter Singer and Tzvetan Todorov. Not one of these people has ‘acquiesced’ in the Bush programme. Not one has agreed to the silence that Judt contends has spread across the American intellectual scene. Not one is other than committed to resisting what Judt calls ‘the unilateral promotion of empire’.

Yes, quite as Judt contends, ‘many of America’s most prominent liberals have censored themselves in the name of the war on terror,’ but many other prominent and not so prominent intellectuals have refused to ‘provide the ethical fig leaf’ for the brutal policies Judt would have us identify and resist. To suggest otherwise is not to get the picture right.

Robert Boyers
Saratoga Springs, New York

Tony Judt names a dozen or so former ‘liberals’ who have seemingly deserted the cause by backing Bush’s war in Iraq. Nearly all of the so-called liberals he cites happen to be mainstream and Jewish, and one can readily infer that many of them put their concern for Israel’s welfare, as they interpreted it, ahead of their liberalism. The greater omission in Judt’s article is the plethora of dissenting opinion in organs that are simply not represented in mainstream media. From blogs to Z-Magazine online, and from Chomsky and Zinn to graduate students throughout the US, there is and has been a great deal of informed dissent. That this dissent is marginalised or utterly unacknowledged is the fault of the corporatised media, which ought really to be the subject of Judt’s interrogation.

Harold Jaffe
San Diego, California

Liberal Texas

August Kleinzahler isn’t right when he says that ‘right-wing is the only kind of talk-radio you get here in Texas’ (LRB, 17 August). There are two AM stations in Texas which finance their commercial operation by carrying the liberal (it prefers the adjective ‘progressive’) talk-radio network Air America: KXEB Radio 910, which serves the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area, and KHRO Radio 1650 in El Paso.

Richard Wood
Keaau, Hawaii

Real Panache

John Lanchester is right in what he says about Nasa’s Edsel-vintage corporate culture, but he does an injustice to those heading skyward ‘attached to a fucking great bomb’ (LRB, 21 September). Precisely because the ‘thing is falling out of the sky with the aerodynamic panache of a giant can of baked beans’, the real panache is the pilot’s: not one has crash-landed.

Back in Nasa’s glory days, even photographers were kept 17,000 feet away from the Apollo 11 launch pad – about a mile per kiloton of explosive yield were the Saturn V to suffer a mishap. Yet one enterprising colleague of mine slipped away down a canal to a point two miles closer. The lift-off safely hurled the ‘spam in a can’ astronauts moonwards, but the wayward journalist emerged hours later, stone deaf and looking like Wile E. Coyote on a bad day. He recovered sufficiently to take the press bus to the base of the launch pad, which we were aghast to find sprinkled with Saturn V nuts, bolts and other bits shed during lift-off. Nasa declined to comment, but a Mercury astronaut later explained their significance. Any damn fool can get close to a virtual hydrogen bomb, but it takes the right stuff to climb into one fully aware that it has been built by the lowest bidder.

Russell Seitz
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Hyacinth Girls

T.S. Eliot’s ‘hyacinth girl’, mentioned by Mark Ford (LRB, 21 September), brings to mind the hyacinth girl in Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata (1907), where she stands for death and desire as she does in Eliot. In The Waste Land, when the narrator sees her, he was ‘neither/Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,/Looking into the heart of light, the silence.’ In The Ghost Sonata, when the hyacinth girl dies, ‘pure white light pours into the room.’ In both works, Christian and Buddhist elements are mingled; and, like The Waste Land, Strindberg’s play is a melange of allusions to other works – Goethe, Heine, Wagner, nursery rhyme etc. Strindberg called it the ‘mosaic technique’, and he seems to have invented it.

Did Eliot read Strindberg? He was in Germany in 1914 and 1915, when Strindberg was the most discussed dramatist. The younger generation regarded him as the incarnation of the modern conscience. In 1949, on the occasion of Strindberg’s centenary, Eliot sent a letter to the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, in which he said that he had got to know some of Strindberg’s plays when he was young and impressionable.

Evert Sprinchorn
Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York

Officers’ Mess

In his report of his travels around Israel Gabriel Piterberg (LRB, 21 September) refers to Jean Said Makdisi’s account of the faeces left in Beirut households by Israeli soldiers in 1982. A friend of mine’s house was requisitioned in World War Two and eventually used by the US army. On their departure, there were human faeces everywhere. Is this a general phenomenon?

Jeffrey Boss
Stroud, Gloucestershire

Too Fair to Hizbullah

I hesitate to intervene in the controversy regarding Hizbullah’s anti-semitism, because I do not have first-hand knowledge of the anti-semitic statements attributed to Hizbullah leaders, nor do I know whether they are representative of Hizbullah thinking. Charles Glass suggests that the statements attributed by Eugene Goodheart to Nasrallah ‘are in all likelihood fabrications’ (Letters, 5 October). It would not be the first time in the history of commentating on the Middle East conflict that incriminatory fabrications have been relied on. However, there does appear to be at least one reliable source on the subject. The political scientist Amal Saad-Ghorayeb has written at length about Hizbullah’s ‘anti-Judaism’ (as she terms it), quoting from the writings and speeches of its leaders. Professor Saad-Ghorayeb teaches at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. In 2002, Pluto published her Hizbullah: Politics and Religion.

Hizbullah, she explains, closely identifies Judaism with Zionism. It uses the terms ‘Jewish’ and ‘Zionist’ interchangeably. It refers to Israel as both ‘the Zionist entity’ and ‘the Jewish entity’. It regards Judaism as iniquitous. Zionism is a ‘Torah and Talmud’ ideology. Israel’s Jews, though ethnically diverse, are bound together ‘by their Talmud and Jewish fanaticism’. The Jews are ‘racists’. They see themselves as God’s ‘chosen people’. Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of Palestinian worshippers at Hebron in February 1994 is taken to be typical of Jewish violence. And so it goes on. The Jews have inflated the number of World War Two Jewish dead. The existence of gas chambers has never been proven. There is a universal Jewish conspiracy against mankind. Saad-Ghorayeb quotes from one of Nasrallah’s ‘diatribes against Israel’ (her phrase), as follows: ‘If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli.’

The implication of Glass’s letter is that Goodheart is wrong to describe Nasrallah, and by extension Hizbullah, as anti-semitic. I invite Glass to confirm that this is indeed his position, and if it is, to comment on the material assembled by Saad-Ghorayeb.

Anthony Julius
London WC1

Ava Stays at Home

Michael Newton’s review of Lee Server’s biography of Ava Gardner brought to mind an episode Artie Shaw spoke about in recordings I made with him during the late 1980s, on which I later based a play called Artie Shaw Talking (LRB, 7 September). In Shaw’s words:

‘Johnny Hyde was Ava’s agent, and I told him I didn’t think she was being treated properly at Metro. They’d given her a contract when she divorced Mickey Rooney, who was their biggest star, but she and her sister Bappie, who took care of her business, were very naive and they accepted one of those seven-year contracts with all the options on the studio’s side. She was making about $125 a week.

‘Bappie was a baby name for Beatrice, I think. She was much older than Ava, a sort of surrogate mother. She manoeuvered her into the marriage with Mickey, and she tried to get her married to Howard Hughes. I found out later Ava had been living in a house Hughes was paying for when I met her.

‘At 5.30 one morning after we were married she got her usual wake-up call. She had to be at the studio at six for make-up. We’d been up till about midnight.

‘“Oh my God," she said. “I’ll have bags under my eyes all day."

‘“Don’t go in," I said. “You’re not doing anything over there."

‘“What do you mean?"

‘“They put you in a bathing suit and give you a beach ball and take you down to the beach and take a picture and put a caption on it: ‘Ava Gardner, starlet, featured in a forthcoming Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film.’ You’re not doing anything. You’re a stooge."

‘“Well, what am I supposed to do?"

‘“Stay in bed," I said.

‘“I can’t," she said. This is the girl who said she didn’t want to be in movies, who’d hang up the phone after talking to some producer and say: “Oh, for Christ’s sake!"

‘“What’re they going to do?" I said. “I’ll give you the hundred and twenty-five a week. I give you more than that now – what is this bullshit?"

‘“Really?" she said.

‘“Yeah, stay in bed."

‘I picked up the phone and said: “OK, we got the call. Bye." It was a studio call.

‘Then I lay there waiting. Sure enough, in a little while the phone rang, a casting call.

‘“Where’s our little girl?"

‘“She’s very sleepy," I said. “She’s beat and she’s not coming in today."

‘“What? What’s the matter? Is she sick?"

‘“No," I said. “That’s all you know."

‘I knew it was going to go up the ladder from there. The next call’s from Billy Grady in casting. “Artie, what happened?"

‘“Nothing," I said. “She’s tired, man. You’re going to take her out to the beach and take pictures of her against a rock? Who cares."

‘“Artie, what’s going on?"

‘“Nothing, Billy. That’s all."

‘I knew it was going to go up from there. Next call probably from Joe Cohen, and on up to Eddie Mannix, then Benny Thaw, and finally the head man himself, L.B. [Mayer]. It didn’t get to him. I stopped at Benny Thaw, who was one of the upper crust.

‘“What’s going on, Artie? You know this is very serious."

‘“What’s serious? A hundred a week? That’s not serious. That’s pin money."

‘“What am I going to say?"

‘“Nothing, Benny."

‘Now Johnny Hyde calls up. It’s rebellion in the ranks, right?

‘“Artie, what’s happening?"

‘“I think this is stupid. Ava is very tired – she hasn’t slept – and she’s not doing a goddam thing at Metro."

‘“Artie, you know how this works. They’ll either pick up her option or they won’t."

‘“I don’t give a goddam."

‘“They’re going to put her on suspension."

‘“Fine, we’ll do without the hundred and twenty-five. I’ll give her a cheque every week and she’ll go shopping. She’s going to spend more than that anyway, so what are we talking about?"

‘He laughed. “You’re right, but what do you want me to tell them?"

‘“Tell ’em that."

‘In a little while he called again. “L.B. would like to meet with you."

‘“Why me? Why doesn’t he meet with you?"

‘“You’re the one that’s running this rebellion. Come in and we’ll have a meeting." This was before people “took" meetings.

‘We went to a meeting. Johnny and I; and L.B., the rajah, and his henchmen. He never had a meeting alone. He had to have witnesses to say, “He never said that," in case anybody tried to sue him. He would have these guys there, Eddie Mannix, Benny Thaw, Arthur Freed.

‘He had this big white desk that he played like an organ. Buttons. If he pressed all the buttons, the whole studio would come dashing in. The whole joint would blow up. This is where he used to cry “ball-bearing tears", as Judy Garland put it, when he pleaded with some star to behave right. “Don’t go out with that guy, sweetheart. Honey, please, I love you like a father." And he’d cry. “He’ll do you harm; he’ll fuck you. You don’t want that."

‘He ran a harem.

‘“How are you, Artie?" he said.

‘“Fine, L.B.," I said, “nice to see you."

‘I was the MGM nemesis. As Natalie Wood said once at the Academy Awards, “Those days when everybody was marrying Artie Shaw …"

‘“What’s going on?" he said.

‘“Nothing, L.B.," I said. “It’s kind of silly. It isn’t really worthy of your attention. Ava’s getting $125 a week, and I don’t want her doing these stupid things she does. You’re treating her as bait to get you some press. She’s my wife. I’d rather give her the money to stay home and do what she wants."

‘“What are you suggesting?" he said.

‘“Nothing. It’s your studio."

‘“Are you asking us to redo her contract?"

‘“No, I’m not. But if you expect her to come to work you’ll have to make it serious."

‘“What do you have in mind?"

‘“I don’t know. What would you have to pay her as a salary so you’d respect her?"

‘“A thousand?" he said.

‘“Would you really respect her at a thousand dollars, L.B.?" Gable was then getting around five.

‘“Well, fifteen. At 1500 I’d have to have some respect. At the end of 40 weeks that’s $60,000. We don’t throw that kind of money around. The kind of money she’s getting now, you’re right, it’s an errand boy."

‘“At $1500 a week you would take her seriously enough to put her into something that makes sense? A movie?"

‘“Yes. I think so," he said.

‘“Johnny?" I turned to him.

‘“I think that would be a fair figure, Artie," he said.

‘So I said OK and they redrew the contract. That was that.

‘I came home and told Ava she had a deal as a $1500-a-week actress.

‘They put her into a movie called Whistle Stop with George Raft, who was a big star at that time. She was the co-star. Metro lent her to an independent producer for that movie. They got $60,000 for her, so that took care of her salary for the year.

‘Then she was in The Killers. They lent her to Warner’s. John Huston wrote the script under the name Tony Villiers. Bob Siodmak was the director. He did a hell of a job and that made her.’

Aram Saroyan
Los Angeles

Zidane Standing Still

Zinédine Zidane is already sweating four minutes into the match recorded in Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s recent film, not merely because he works hard ‘even standing still’, as Paul Myerscough says, but because he has a mild form of the hereditary blood disorder thalassaemia, which affects his body’s capacity to synthesise haemoglobin (LRB, 5 October).

Anthony Cummins
St Hugh’s College, Oxford

Indeed

Colin Burrow refers to an ‘Heir of Sorrows’ worthy of Sylvie Krin (LRB, 5 October). Who on earth is Sylvie Krin?

Roger Jones
Andover, Hampshire

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