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Sunday 17 February 2008

What I've been Reading

In Flight.

Jon Ronson: "The Men Who Stare At Goats". Just getting started on this and not sure where it's going but we'll see.


Craig Murray: "Murder in Samarkand" . A must read for anyone who is genuinely interested in the true cost of the west's abandonment of the principles of liberty and natural justice in the execution of their "War on Terror". I've seen events like those described by Murray unfold before when I was somewhat close to the political action during South Africa's transition to democracy but in that case the efforts of the British, Americans and the EU at large (especially the Danes as I recall) were, by and large, directed towards fostering genuine democratic change and nation building. It must be said though that that represented a change of heart for most of the parties involved as many of the suddenly very friendly types I met regularly in the early 90's had spent upwards of twenty years either encouraging the former Apartheid Government's various anti-communist "wars" or supporting and training their various formal and informal opponents. That included (for example) facilitating the supply of Nuclear Weapons material and technology to the South African Government in the 1970's despite the fact that doing so was in breach of the NNPT and training many people (on both sides) of that particular fight on methods of terror. The fact is that realpolitik has always meant that countries' "diplomatic" actions have often been morally suspect and for my part I've never doubted that the morality of these people (Diplomats and their political and military "Advisors") is something that I would always have thought was dubious at best but I was still chilled by this insider's description of what appears to be a complete state of moral rot at the heart of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office under Blair's New Labour Government.

There's much to doubt in the story, it is just one person's account of a political\personal conflict that involved many, but it has far more than a grain of truth in it, especially with respect to the attitude of the British Government towards a seriously questionable "ally". His story does lead me to see him as an arrogant and wilfully careless man in a personal sense and one that was frequently culturally arrogant to such a degree that I often felt that he actually got into less trouble than he deserved for his behaviour. Despite this, and maybe even because it strikes me as being honest in a "warts and all" sense, I think that his account of the events surrounding his time as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan is about as close to the truth as we're ever likely to get from anyone directly involved. We now know that many of the claims that Murray makes, which were strenuously denied initially by the British Government, are almost certainly true and I suspect that very few of his more serious accusations are far wrong. I suspect that some of the opposition that he almost universally saw as political was actually just personal but overall it is still almost certainly true that he was nailed because his stance against the Uzbek Government was politically unacceptable and this lead to him being targeted because he was unwilling to follow the (New Labour) party line in supporting the post 9/11 wars in the Middle East.

Given the fact that the the ruling faction in the US establishment is making every effort at the moment to justify its acceptance of torture as an interrogation technique, that the Police and Government in the UK continue to try and make "Thought Crime" a reality, and the fact that no matter where we live we all continue to suffer extensive and egregious loss of personal liberty as a result of the security theatre surrounding the "War on Terror" this book is a welcome, if disturbing, description of just how easy it seems to have been for those who describe themselves as protectors of liberty to have thrown away almost everything that that used to stand for.

As a work of literature it's probably not much over a 5/10 and maybe even less so you have to work at reading it but as an expose on the reality of politics in a post 9/11 world it gets 9+/10 .

Iain M. Banks: Matter. Banks returns to the Culture with a classic. I'm sure there will be many critics complaining that this is "just another Culture" story but I was delighted by it. I would have read this in one sitting had I been able to stay awake long enough last night, I found it absolutely engaging and a pleasure to get lost in. It's paced well and in the end the storylines converge into what may be one of Bank's best closing scenes ever. I would still love to see Banks try his hand at something Sci-Fi but closer to home (in the way that Vinge did with "Rainbows End", or MacLeod with "Execution Channel") but if he kept churning out Culture novels like this one I'd not be complaining at all. Excellent, 9/10.

Looking Forward To

Charlie Stross: Saturn's Children

Alastair Reynolds: The Prefect

Alastair Reynolds: House of Suns

Terry Pratchett: Nation

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