Thursday, January 28, 2010

William Shawcross, Tony Blair and a Polly Adler detour ...

(Above: Polly Adler as per the back flap of her memoir, and the book cover).

Been reading Polly Adler's A House is Not a Home recently - well apparently it was ghosted by novelist Virginia Faulkner but it certainly captures what sounds like Adler's voice - and was reminded that the original genuine Dorothy Parker didn't mind spending a little time in a brothel:

Adler counted among her many friends Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker. Members of the Algonquin Round Table would frequent her establishment, situated in rented apartments scattered around the city. George S. Kaufman had a charge account with Polly. But Parker went for the ambiance of the place, which probably suited her taste for the sublime and the tacky.

Of Benchley, Adler wrote he was "the kindest, warmest hearted man in the world." He would rent out Adler's place for lavish parties, bringing along Parker, politicians and the literary crowd. (more here at Polly Adler's Brothel).

These days you won't find many people who remember Adler, even though her memoir got turned into a movie and a modest hit for Dionne Warwick. And while her memoir is written in a nicely chatty style (with a really cheeky ending about how she decided to tell her story in her own words), it's a reminder of what it was like to be a young Jewish Russian woman in New York in the rag trade at the start of the twentieth century, and why turning tricks sometimes seemed like the best way to get ahead.

She even managed to garner the odd favourable review, with the Times Literary Supplement quoted on the back cover calling it a 'notable social document', and suggesting 'If Bernard Shaw had known its author, Mrs. Warren would perhaps have been both more human and more convincing ... The tale is sordid but impressive, and is extremely well told' - though I'm not sure anything could have saved Mrs Warren from participating in one of the dullest plays about sex a Shavian wit could imagine.

And while Adler, who no doubt caught many a whiff of hypocrisy as she made her way through the world, manages to make a few incisive points about life, I probably enjoyed this quote from Gerald W. Johnson's Incredible Tale the most:

Among the very young the impression prevails that the so-called Jazz Age was marked by a collapse of morals, public and private ... It is true that the enactment of prohibition had the unexpected, but logical effect of converting public drunkenness from a disgrace into a distinction ... It is true also that the operations of the Ohio gang debauched the public service on the highest levels to the point at which we saw a former officer of the Cabinet in a prison cell for taking bribes while in office - a disgrace that had never befallen the United States up to that time.

It is true that fashion hiked women's skirts up to such an altitude that the lingerie shops were filled with knickers meant to be admired by the public. It is true that popular novelists began to write out plainly details of amorous experience that they had hitherto modestly - and obscenely - indicated by a row of asteriks ... (But) the great sin of the Jazz Age was not drunkenness, not lechery, nor plunder, but a vast, a criminal irresponsibility ... The average man took a holiday from thinking ...

So things change to stay the same. Remind you of the noughties?

Well I guess it's always good to turn to a brothel keeper for wise words, because there's a lot more sense talked in her memoir than there is in William Shawcross's attempt to justify the Iraq war in Why Iraqis owe Blair their thanks.

Even the header is profoundly offensive, since it's hard to imagine too many dead Iraqis thanking Blair for the privilege of voting, a privilege they might find hard to exercise, while the millions who were displaced might also take a view.

But Shawcross, who is a consort to Blair's policies, manages to find weasel words to extract himself and his master from the killing fields:

Despite the killing of thousands of Iraqis (mostly by other Muslims, not coalition forces), and despite the unforgivable failure of the coalition to plan for post-invasion chaos, Iraq today has a far better future than under Saddam Hussein.

You see! It was the other Muslims wot done it. Not the coalition forces at all. That shock and awe talk was just PR, what they delivered was just a mousey roar. The valiant battlers against the axis of weevils just went in to fix things up, and is it their fault that the Muslims refused to be helped, and instead went on a killing rampage.

Never mind that the British have regarded the Middle East as something of a martial playground and a fiefdom since they joined the Crusades back in medieval times. And that they can carry a lot of the can for the mess in which the middle east found itself at the end of the twentieth century, having spent years sowing the seeds for later chaos. How's this?

Iraq was Britain's testing ground for the use of aircraft against guerrilla fighters and their villages (another of Churchill's pet ideas). The British spent the 1920s, 30s, 40s and most of the 50s bombing and strafing desert outposts in Iraq. What does it say about the nature of progress that Britain and the US spent the 1990s doing essentially the same thing?

Or this?

With that, Sir Percy (Cox) took hold of the map. Carefully drawing a red line across the face of it, he assigned a chunk of the Nejd to Iraq; then to placate Ibn Saud, he took almost two thirds of the territory of Kuwait and gave it to Arabia. Last, drawing two zones, and declaring that they should be neutral, he called one the Kuwait neutral zone and the other the Iraq neutral zone. When a representative of Ibn Saud pressed Cox not to make a Kuwait neutral zone, Sir Percy asked him why. "Quite candidly," the man answered, "because we think oil exists there." "That," replied the High Commissioner, "is exactly why I have made it a neutral zone. Each side shall have a half-share." The agreement, signed by all three sides at the beginning of December 1922, confirmed the boundary lines drawn so carefully by Gertrude Bell. But for seventy years, up until and including the 1990 Gulf War involving Iraq and Kuwait, the dispute over the borders would continue." (here)

Shawcross is nothing if not determined to justify their last romp in the desert sands, calling up yet again the issue of WMD's to do its ongoing heroic duty:

The possibility of the ultimate nightmare - a terrorist attack involving WMD - was too great, especially after the US discovered that al-Qaeda had been researching ''dirty'' bombs in Afghanistan. Remember, the intelligence agencies of virtually all Security Council members believed that Saddam still had WMD and was determined to obtain more.

Dick Cheney himself couldn't have done a better job of conflating Saddam Hussein, al-Qaeda, dirty bombs, nukes, WMDs, terrorism, 9/11, risk taking, and all the other assorted blather used to excuse the rush to war.

And the enemies are the usual swine who voted down heroic action in the usual cheese eating way:

In early 2003, opposition to war grew through much of the Western world. Washington had no wish to return to the UN. But, more sensitive to public and party opinion, Blair sought another resolution before the US and British troops invaded. In the corridors of the UN, arms were twisted brutally; France, China and Russia ensured there would be no majority in the council for another vote in favour of ''les Anglo-Saxons''. This gave Saddam false assurance.

Well who else can we blame, if not the perfidious French, Chinese and Ruskis?

In the years since Saddam's overthrow, tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed. Most were victims of the brutal confrontation between Sunni and Shiite extremists, in particular al-Qaeda and the agents of Iran. The woefully inadequate post-invasion planning by the coalition added to the chaos. Yet the seeds of this conflict were sown by the devastation wrought by Saddam's despotism.

Yep, it wasn't just the fault of the extremists and al-Qaeda and Iran, it was also the fault of Saddam. He made them do it. What with all his strutting and boasting and his killing. Which somehow strangely never translated into action in Rwanda, and never seems to have become a strategy in North Korea (could it be because they have actual nukes), or in dozens of other countries where tin pot dictators have visited death and destruction on their subjects. Perhaps what they needed was a little oil to sweeten the pot and make the effort seem worthwhile.

Sorry, post Iraq, even oil doesn't cut the mustard, so a wretched theocratic state like Iran can thumb its nose at peaceful demonstrators calling for change and get away with it. While Afghanistan, which should have been the main game, continues in a sorry mess that has spread like a virus into Pakistan, itself a wretched state.

Well if it was all Saddam's fault, why not bomb his palaces to bring him in to line, while in the meantime concentrating on al-Qaeda, who just happened not to be in Iraq, but in Afghanistan?A few bombs near the tent soon brought Colonel Gaddafi into line.

Of course politicians don't like the notion of targeted assassination. In the politicians' club, there's an uncomfortable feeling that loons might suddenly see the way to improve Britain ... by taking out a few of the head honchos. Oops.

That's why it's so much simpler if you take out tens of thousands of innocent civilians, and more than a few professional soldiers paid to do the ugly business of killing and dying, and then embark on a sturdy career of weasel words to explain exactly why it had to be so and thus. Never mind that they took Saddam out because they knew they could, for all his hollow, devious posturing, and then didn't have the foggiest clue about what to do or what might happen once they'd done the dirty deed. Except sit in armchairs and explain how important it is that innocent people die on the basis of lies.

And now it seems, suddenly everything is getting better and better by the day:

Despite the continuing vicious attacks of suicide bombers, Iraq is now bravely inching towards a much more open society. Indeed, on many measures it is one of the freest countries in the Arab world.

Yeah, try telling that to the women of Iraq. What pish tosh. As it veers towards a theocracy of the old school.

Overall, violence is much reduced and opinion polls show that support for democracy is overwhelming. New elections with many competing parties are to be held this year. The dinar is strong, the economy is growing.

The Iraqis I know say they have hope for the future, and they thank Blair and Bush for that.

Well tell that to the thousands upon thousands now dead, the millions displaced, and how it's all to the good, and everything's for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Meantime, Blair's got the blood of innocents on his hands, and there's no wonder why a lot of people feel bitter about his desire to mount an illegal war. (Tony Blair faces legality blow over Iraq war).

There's more than a passing irony that since then he's turned Catholic - they always know how to offer contrition and forgiveness to the guilty. For once, it's tempting to hope that there actually is a god, because surely that would mean Blair and Bush and Saddam Hussein spending a hearty amount of time together in hell. Surely the unholy rush to war would make the holy rush to heaven that little bit trickier.

What a pity god's a fairy tale, but how pleasing it is to see Blair and his acolytes and apologists being put through the wringer at the Iraq inquiry in the UK.

It might not be much, but at least the dirty sheets are now hanging on the line. And at least there's some signs that average folk, who took a holiday from thinking, are now wondering just how they got led down that particular garden path ...

So little empathy for the thousands of lost lives, and so many excuses. Bah humbug, a brothel owner wouldn't bother with the pathetic excuses and self-serving platitudes.

If you're going to embark on a slaughter, you should follow the same logic and principle as when you break a plate in a china shop:

Those who devised the war in Iraq should own their follies. Roll on the grilling at the inquiry, due today.

Naturally Shawcross sent the punters who could be bothered to comment - so many tawdry deceptions and misrepresentations over the years, who can bother to respond to the cant - into a frenzy, but I especially liked this thought:

If there can be anything amusing at all coming from this ghastly affair, it is the sight of Blair seeking redemption. Washing his hands in the catholic holy water, but the blood just won't come off. It is Shakespearean - I think it is great fodder for a great play.

Oh dear, I just had to correct a typo in that, but hey, yes, instead of Frost v Nixon, let's have Tony Blair v his brain and his soul ... if only Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were still available as an act ...

So from Polly Adler to Shawcross to rare early footage of Beyond the Fringe. It's a strange new world, the intertubes, but not as strange as reading yet another attempt to link Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments older than two days are moderated and there will be a delay in publishing them.