Sunday, January 31, 2010


There used to be, in the sidebar of this page, a collection of my latest tweets and the more eagle-eyed among you will probably have noticed they're no longer there (or maybe not). About three weeks ago, I decided, in a fit of whimsy, to commit twittercide and erase all trace of myself from Twitter. It was a sudden acte gratuite; in the morning I was tweeting away to beat the band, by midnight my twitter presence was no more. I told nobody I was going to do it, not even the dozen or so of my 'followers' whom I actually know personally. I didn't even have to use the Web 2.0 suicide machine; it was all quick and painless and it was a good feeling to disappear into the night like that. Though I did enjoy Twitter, I can't say I really miss it. It was leeching up too much of my time (particularly since I got an iPhone) and I have since spent the regained time more efficiently, by reading. To a certain extent, contra the cliché spouted by social networking sceptics, I have become less rather than more sociable since leaving.

I'm not going to join the chorus of uninformed bores who rail against Twitter or any other social networking site. Twitter was enjoyable and can be of great use to some people but, even as my tweeting snowballed (I hit the 700 mark after nearly two years activity last July, by the week of my demise I was up to 4000) I couldn't really justify it from a professional point of view. I've used it once or twice to that end but, to be completely honest its effect was minimal and even the traffic diverted to this blog from it was negligible. I don't know if those folk I used to correspond with on Twitter read this blog (or even if many of them notice me missing) but for those that do, this will explain the absence. I was flattered to find out the founder of one major political website (whom I've never met) wondered where I had gone to. While I have not gone completely offline, it's nice not to have to express oneself in 140 characters or less anymore.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Raul Hilberg on International Holocaust Day

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day and the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I happened to recently watch Claude Lanzmann's Shoah once again - all nine and a half hours of it - after reading Lanzmann's thoroughly enjoyable memoirs Lièvre de Patagonie.

In the clip above, we see Raul Hilberg, the first major historian of the Holocaust - a term he, incidentally, disliked - demonstrating, via Reichseisenbahn documents, how railway officials of the Third Reich knew full well why they were transporting Jews to Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hilberg, as in all his interviews in Shoah,can barely conceal his disgust at the task in hand, but that's hardly surprising seeing he lost 26 family members in the Nazi death camps.

Hilberg died three years ago. Though he could be a loose cannon at times, his old-fashioned Mitteleuropean sense of academic rectitude never deserted him and he never allowed what might appear to be the 'right fight' to cloud it. He deplored the shoddy tendentious scholarship of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners and proved an unlikely ally for Norman Finkelstein during the controversy over Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry. Hilberg agreed with him that the extent of Nazi gold stolen from Jews held in Swiss banks was exaggerated.


Though every new Clint Eastwood film is worth a gander, the quality control is not always the most stringent, so it's not terribly surprising that two good films, The Changeling and Grand Torino should be followed by one that's, well, more than a bit silly. Invictus is an adaptation of John Carlin's Playing the Enemy, the account of how Nelson Mandela put aside his well-founded prejudices toward the Springboks and got behind their surprise World Cup win in 1995. The film is very much a white person's wishful-thinking fantasy and it's hard to imagine Hollywood making a film about Bafana Bafana's victory in the Africa Cup of Nations a year later, despite the fact the footballers had more white players in their squad than the Springboks had black players in theirs. The rugby is likewise not too realistically filmed, and the matches take place in decidedly more balmy conditions than those who watched the World Cup in that South African winter will remember.

I also find it hard to believe that so many black South Africans shed their hostility towards the Springboks so quickly as appeared the case in the film. I would guess that the kindest emotion many of them expressed was rather indifference. Readers of this blog will know about my own indifference to rugby; I can't quite say I would always support Ireland's opponents in a match (though whenever Argentina dump them out of the World Cup, I always find it strangely amusing) but their Six Nations success last year left me as cold as a Chelsea-Man U League Cup semi-final would be likely to. If that's my reaction, I would find it strange that the majority of black South Africans could bring themselves to be so magnanimous to the sporting symbol of the hated apartheid.

But of course Mandela was exceptionally magnanimous, in this, as in many other cases in the years following his release. And, among his own electorate, he was largely alone. The film lacks the subtlety or the insight to really flesh out the historical stakes of Mandela's intervention; for all its good intentions it cannot avoid appearing to resolve more than four decades of apartheid by means of a unlikely sporting success. I'm reminded of a review I read of Roland Emmerich's Independence Day when it came out; the now forgotten critic said that though the world has been destroyed and civilization lays in tatters, the characters celebrate the conquest of the alien invader's like they've won a volleyball match.

But all this is a little unfair on Invictus. It's a likable enough film despite its manifest flaws. It is by Clint Eastwood after all, one of the more likable and admirable personalities in the US, never mind Hollywood.

Invictus - Official Trailer [HD]

It's as silly and enjoyable in its own way as this little masterpiece:

But neither is as good a film as this:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Reverend James Cameron

One shouldn't waste too much time on Avatar other than to remark that its 3D technology will serve many better directors than James Cameron well in years to come. One of that swarming horde, John Boorman - though he may not may use of the technology himself - summed up the film's success rather drolly in a letter to today's Irish Times:

The religious aspect should not be taken lightly. In Hollywood they speak of Avatar in reverential tones. They believe there is something sacred about a cultural object that makes that kind of money.

Somewhere up there Karl Marx is roundly smirking...