Archive for the 'Anita Hood' Category

Zugzwang a review


by Ronan Bennett 2007


Set around the great chess tournament held in St.Petersburg, in April/May 1914 (annotated) where the winner was to become endowed as the first chess Grand Master by the Tsar,Bennett takes the reader on a journey through plots within plots, revolution and chess. A thrilling, novel novel as a game is played throughout the story that challenges the reader to play along. (I skipped that but it will intrigue players I’ve no doubt) Bennett states of the main character, Rozental, “chess enthusiasts will have their opinion on the identity of the man on whom they think it is based.” The game played when the characters have time to play it is the Spethmann-Kopelzon game, (not the championship game) which it is said “bears a remarkable similarity” to King-A.Sokolov, the Swiss team Championship played in 2000.


I am not giving anything away the cover does not, to say “zugzwang is a chess term derived from the German, Zug (move) and Zwang (compulsion,obligation). It is used to describe a position in which a player is reduced to a state of utter helplessness. he is obliged to move, but every move only makes his position even worse.” I have never heard of this concept before but it strikes me that there is a lot in the way of general explanation of world events that can be understood through applying this idea. Hence this review.

Add a touch of spice, a psychoanalyst, (Otto Spethmann) and a few Anna K’s, police, spies, double agents and concert pianists (Kopelzon) and you have as the cover says, “A riveting story of treachery,murder,intrigue and passion” in a mere 274 pages and with an excellent Biblio of political background of late Tsarist Russia. Such big characters and ideas in succinct style. It is not surprising to learn Bennett is a regular chess journalist for the Guardian.
Bennett states in Acknowledgements that “Similarities may also be observed between Zugzang’s Gregory Petrov and the real-life Bolshevik militant Roman Malinowski.”

A can’t put down and informative read. Enjoy it from the bargain tables as I did.
Other reviews

A review of The Wind That Shakes the Barley winner of Cannes film Festival 2006


Just one gem from the past to help Steve notice his present. 

Posted by  anita  in  2006-09-30

I just saw the Ken Loach film ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ and what a splendidly made and politically-correct piece of pseudo-left propaganda (in the worst sense of the word) it is.

My partner is Irish Australian and quite familiar with this period of Irish history, but his first question was why would someone make this film now?  The answer was not long in coming as it quickly became clear that this film was made to make a, none too subtle, point about British involvement in Iraq.  When I came out from the film I picked up a leaflet and the message was crystal clear; ‘Speaking at the Cannes film festival Loach said: We live in extraordinary times and that has made people political in a way they maybe weren’t in the previous four, five, six years.  The wars that we have seen, the occupations that we see throughout the world – people finally cannot turn away from that.  It’s very exciting to be able to deal with this in films, and not just be a complement to the popcorn.’

This ‘historical’ film was made in order to tell a story that would be unacceptable to tell in the first-person.  This film was not really made to explain and explore Irish history from 85 years ago; it was made to encourage people to think negatively about the present British involvement in liberating the peoples’ of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Loach would not of course use the word liberation; he would speak of an illegal war and imperialist occupation forces etc.  Yuk!

From start to finish (in the current context) it’s a shameless film where the filmmaker hides behind the Irish people’s legitimate national struggle, to effectively promote the causes of Baathism, tribalism and the likes of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as these scum hide behind phony nationalisms today; though once again Loach would as a matter of course deny that as well; he would assuredly tell all who’d listen that he is on the side of the Iraqi people no less.  He would be sure to hate Saddam and Al Qaeda and the Taliban but would have also proudly marched for peace when others were advocating war against them.  They would be in power today if it were up to Loach.

Loach and the rest of the pseudo-left ‘opinion leaders’ are leading little on the street, but they are in control of the vast bulk of the mass-media; they dominate cultural output throughout the western world.  This film would be awarded in any western film festival; so the west is overdue for a cultural revolution.

The Wind that shakes the Barley is about the harsh ‘reality’ of all ruling-class armies.  It was made to a formula, like shooting pseudo-leftist shibboleth fish in a barrel. Show innocent death; show brutality of imperialist rule; show arrogance of ruling-class types; show the noble resistance that was only brought into being by the occupation; show a resistance as both necessary and reluctantly brutal (yet clean compared to British); show that elections under occupation and threat are invalid and draw the conclusion that free and fair elections cannot be held under threat of the gun, and that therefore Iraq’s process and government is illegitimate!

In the end, having dragged the viewer through the realist muck of British imperial criminality in Ireland during a time where the British stood in the way of the democratic revolution, Loach had to crucially distort the relationship of the foreign troops to the democratic revolution and the issue of voting to make his big point.  IMV Loach’s position is on the spectrum of xenophobia and racism.  (That would have the unarmed peoples’ of Iraq liberate themselves from tyranny and not to shed the blood of other Mother’s son’s and daughter’s to secure an international solution).

The key question that he distorted (after all he was making this film when the triple election process was in full swing in Iraq) was; can there really be a free and fair vote in countries that have occupation troops on the streets that by his implication are making a threat to the population as clear as was the proposition put to Collins of ‘immediate and terrible war as an alternative to the Treaty’.  Loach stands with the ‘heroes’ that won’t sell out; won’t compromise and therefore go to their ‘noble’ death’s as delivered to them by the ‘collaborating’ majority, and sell-out leadership.  He implies that the current government of Iraq is comprised of sell-out collaborators.  Phleese.

I found myself fuming at this cynical and sick distortion of the issues involved in liberation, in the context of and to the basic level of the bourgeois democratic revolution in 2006 in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone the Ireland of James Connolly’s generation.

The core questions raised in the Irish struggle for independence from Britain were not adequately highlighted by this film.  Specifically, did Michael Collins sell out by negotiating the Irish Free State?  What about the role of Eamonn DeValera?  ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ answers unambiguously, Yes the movement was sold out, and engenders the film with a cynicism and fatalism that leaves me cold.

These sentiments formed the main part of the final dialogue spoken by Damien O’Donovan a hypothetical Irish freedom fighter and main protagonist of the film, who declined to save his own life by refusing to convey intelligence to his brother (a Commander of the Free State Army) after his capture.

I found this part most disconcerting as there was the feeling that in the character Damien refusing to ‘sell out’ his ideals and being prepared to die for his ‘principles’ there was a direct comparison being made with current fascist insurgents and suicide bombers?

This film doesn’t do justice to any of the important matters raised by either the Irish struggle of so long ago, or the Iraqi conflict of today, and also has nothing particularly credible to say about the personal aspect of the brothers in arms either.  The film was littered with false oppositions (pragmatist v idealist; internationalist v nationalist; socialist v nationalist) simplifying the subject matter down to caricatures, rather than un-raveling the complexity of the revolutionary experience of Ireland for the viewer.

Rather than ‘raise discussion’ this film contributes to a dumbing down of the subject matter; even obfuscation of the issues is not too strong an expression.

By contrast, the film Michael Collins was about the same period and done as a Hollywood block-buster in 1996 (before 9/11 and the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq).  It too portrayed the British and their Irish collaborators as thugs and made clear that the Black and Tans were not there to help the Irish but to keep them down. But the treatment of the election process was very different and the empathy for the position of the negotiators of the Treaty was evident.

All in all, this highlights for me the need to adopt a dialectical approach to the world.  No truth can be found in establishing false dichotomies.  If Loach wanted to highlight how bad the war in Iraq is (it is after all fairly easy to portray death negatively) he ought to have just made a film about Iraq from a scared soldier’s perspective and exposed to the world how bad it is.

Ken Loach is apparently known for spurning the position of history from the great-man’s perspective, and specifically taking the position of ordinary people in his films. (As opposed to the film Michael Collins).  However, I think this was another real shortcoming with this film in that a real understanding by the audience continues to revolve around the main issues and players and the film really suffered for this one-sided approach. The dialectical approach tells us that light and dark are defined against each other, so too, ordinary people need leaders, and leaders cannot lead unless there are ordinary people willing to support them, anything else is pure fantasy and romanticisation and is not telling the complete story.

It’s just plain wrong to compare the struggle of Ireland’s freedom fighters with the current situation in Iraq and thereby engender corresponding sympathy for the so-called ‘freedom fighters’ currently bombing and disrupting the formation of a democratic Iraq.  The message of The Wind TSTB is if you kill people’s family and friends you’ve got to expect that there will be a reaction and that they will organize to kill you.  There is nothing debatable about this but this is not the real story because we all know that at times people and culture operate in a tooth for a tooth kind of avenge manner, but this is different to having the right political conditions present to unleash a real movement for national sovereignty as occurred in Ireland after the murder of the courageous leaders of the 1916 uprising.  (It was not so much that the people of Ireland necessarily supported the program of the rebels but that they reacted to the fact that many of the most prominent were all Court Martial-ed and shot)

Though Loach’s film makes it clear that the struggle for national rights was occurring alongside of the struggle for class rights it was again a superficial and opportunist handling of the question.  For instance, there is a scene where the courts of the Free State are hearing a case against a money-lender who is extracting extortionate levels of interest for a loan given to an old woman who is refusing to pay.

When the court finds against the money-lender ordering him to pay money to the old woman, a split amongst the people at the court develops and the members of the Army say “wait on”, we want him to give us money for guns…This part of the film could have been illuminating but was very superficial and the court decision was presented as extremely whimsical and showing that they were not really ‘fit’ to decide.

The brutality of this film had a stunning effect on the audience but it was a lecture from a coward.  In many ways it is this romanticisation of the idea of dying for one’s ‘principles’, Like a packet of Benson Hedges – where only the best will do – that renders the message of  The Wind that shakes the Barley as poisonous as smoking that packet of Benson and Hedges!


Posted by  owenss  at     2006-10-01Anita Im unsure from your Ken Loach movie review which side of the Irish Civil war you think progressive people should support. The side lead by Michael Collins or the side lead by Eammon De Valera?


Posted by     owenss  at     2006-10-01 02:57 AMAnita you claim that Loach and un named other anti war people have “….control of the vast bulk of the mass media…” poor old Ken produces a handful of art house movies and he controls the mass media?Yes now I see it The Wind that Shakes is the equivalent pro war Rupert Murdocks Fox News and Land and Freedom is the equivalent of the Sun newspaper or that film about a boy and a bird rivals Murdocks Australian newspaper holdings. Dont worry Im sure Barry is already preparing a piece to prove that Murdocks empire is minuscule.


Posted by anita at 2006-10-01 10:00PMLoach and the rest of the pseudo-left ‘opinion leaders’ are leading little on the street, but they are in control of the vast bulk of the mass-media; they dominate cultural output throughout the western world.  This film would be awarded in any western film festival; so the west is overdue for a cultural revolution.

Steve, I’m not suggesting conspiracies or anything like it.   I was trying to explain how if this film’s so bad, it won such acclaim.  First I thought this could only happen in France (anti-British and anti-Iraq war); then I thought wait on this would have happened in Australia.  My point was about my own world; I do not have Fox for example, so mostly the media I’m exposed to is the Australian ABC.

There is no presenter on the ABC Radio or Television who is for the Iraq war as far as I can tell.  I would be happy to be proven incorrect but take ABC 891 radio from Adelaide; Peter Goers the evening commentator who interviewed Tariq Ali and referred to him as the ‘Sage of the Age’; but at least Peter Goers deliberately has a pro-war commentator once a week in his guest right-winger Andrew Bolt each Tuesday night.

Bolt regularly looks like an intellectual giant up against the pseudo-leftist Goers on these issues.  But other than that, there is, to use the colourful expression of Mark Latham, a Conga-line of suck holes, pushing anti-Iraq war sentiment from morning til night.

It is wall to wall.

On the morning program almost every one of their guests except actual members of the government are anti-Iraq war.  The best they have done outside of that (that I have noticed) is an interview of the dopey right-winger Greg Sheridan.

Like employs like and over a period each organization develops a corporate culture.  The ABC is notoriously biased – of course it is mostly exposed by the right-wing in this country who criticize the ABC as left-wing.  BAH. It is pseudo-left mush.  Take the line it runs from morning to night on global warming; organic food; water crisis; plastic bags; peak oil; they go on ceaselessly with this pseudo-leftist green dribble.

The ABC gardening program is Gardening Australia; where the one time British soldier and peace campaigner Peter Cundall has a grand old time filling people with his composted thinking.  They push imbeciles like Tim Flannery, Roy Slaven, and David Suzuki.  The National Press club put on Peter Garret and the ABC ran and then later re-ran the program; but when Bjorn Lomborg was at the club the ABC did not even screen it!  The best he got was a quick and hostile interview on Landline!

I know you will remember the lies that Maxine McKew spread about Iyad Allawi and then never revisited.

Nationally on the TV the ABC have a show called the Insiders, again the balance they achieve is with the right-wingers Bolt, and Piers Akerman alternating on the show.  The mix is greater than three to one!  David Marr ex-Media Watch; Ian Henschke Stateline almost froth with the anti-war/green line; on and on it goes (throw some names in yourself, you won’t find it hard).  Consider that great organic beef producer Philip Adams how much more of a constant anti-Iraq war campaigner can you get?  Not the slightest attempt to hide the campaigning.

I recall ABC Adelaide’s morning commentators once going so far as to say that there is a serious possibility that the war could be about nothing (thus a GW Bush mad whim).  They employ as their international expert Keith Suter (full on pudding-headed anti-Iraq war and anti-Bush campaigner).  One of his recent great ideas was that if he had been President, rather than invade (liberate) Iraq like that dumbo GWB, he would be clever and offer a reward for OBL of $$$500,000,000 and that would interest the Russian Mafia and the Kazaks to get interested in rounding him up –just like the old US policy of handing a billion to the Al Qaeda sorts and getting the Saudi government to cough in another billion- handing over the reward to another international criminal group.  They have learned nothing.  Nobody even rang up to laugh at them.

In the News there is the constant barrage of terminology that is sympathetic to the insurgents, though I admit that referring to Iraqi Jihadi’s as the ‘resistance’ is no longer so evident.

We’ve also had Triple J using the ‘Don’t want to be an American Idiot’ song as its signature advertising jingle.  (Now if they were singing ‘don’t want to be a Jew idiot’; or ‘don’t want to be a Japanese idiot’; Indonesian; Aboriginal; etc then it would be clear what the sentiments are about.  Yet Australian tax-payers have funded the production of material on the xenophobic/ racist spectrum because anti-Americanism is perfectly acceptable in polite company).

Listen to today’s ABC News.  Or the national program AM.  Or the world at noon. Bob Woodward’s  book ‘State of Denial’.  I am sure you can get it from the net as a Pod Cast.  ‘Opinion poll today shows 80% think the war in Iraq hasn’t done anything to reduce terrorism.  91% think …85% …’ (The Lowy institute poll.)   ‘Doctors start campaigning to end Australia’s involvement in Iraq.’

The people are getting their views from somewhere.  They are not engaged in independent research but parroting back what the politicians and culture workers are feeding them.  Howard and Blair and Bush have been pathetic at selling the revolutionary requirement for this war against most of the ‘left and right’ intelligentsia.  But cultural food like this is breeding political cynicism, and paralysis not action- they all got re-elected – as the ordinary masses are much more sensible than the more ‘committed’ activists to the fact that the Coalition can’t just cut and run etc.

Now I think that I have been a little sloppy; but in my defense I’d been working on this for a while and wanted to get it published… but it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the old right and the pseudo-left.  They are saying the same poisonous things.  Bruce Springstein; Neil Young; The Dixie Chicks; they all believe the same stuff, while some think they are leftists and some think they are rightists.  They are all like Green Peace; nasty right wingers, it’s just that the pseudo-left uses some strange terms and methods for hiding from their bottom-line; terms that are utterly meaningless when combined with the policies that they push.  They can sing the Internationale all they like, but they want Australian troops withdrawn from Iraq and not involved at all in draining the swamp.

Loach’s film explicitly promotes the position currently being pushed by media internationally, namely that the war in Iraq is increasing the terrorist threat… there will be more Damien O’Donovan’s due to the ‘occupation’ of Iraq, you share this belief and subsequent rejection of the Iraqi government’s requests for assistance.

The American Peace movement currently relies upon celebrities as a draw card to Marches and rallies, and even this has not been successful in sustaining mass support against the war and moaning about how the people are just not getting it.  The anti-war movement do not want debate, they want one sided agitprop material, songs/films etc to change consciousness; they can’t stand up to in-depth analysis and rigorous effort; like yourself over the oil issue when you resort to a claim that oil was just a form of short- hand.  The real clear point is that the lastsuperpower could not do what the anti-war campaigners were claiming it was doing, and or would do.

As to your question about whom I support…Well I don’t feel well read enough about the period to put forward a hard position on it but since you asked my quite tentative and uninformed opinion based upon the films is that I am on Michael Collins’ side.  I was deeply moved when I first saw the Michael Collins film, and I am not sure if it is because Liam Neeson is OK by me whenever he is on screen (we are talking animal magnetism here-he is not a Hollywood Star for no reason) or whether Michael Collins was really such an engaging and brilliant leader in reality.  I take to heart Eamon deValera’s comments when he was the President of Ireland in 1966 (I got the spelling wrong last time) saying in effect that history would be kinder to Michael Collins than himself.

Speaking of being kinder I think you were really nasty to Barry commenting about how he is off attempting to back me up.  What a lot of nonsense.  As well, I was not commenting about anything else Ken Loach has directed but Wind.

The view that has been consistently put at lastsuperpower is held by a minuscule number of people around the world and it is not to be found on the ABC.  The closest we get is Hitchens served up from time to time.  Rather than continue to nit pick, while determinedly avoiding the main thrust of the articles on this site, you ought to try to write a larger piece trying to bring the bigger picture together as you have now come to understand things five years after 9/11: as an example the impending Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria and the establishment of a Palestinian State.  Israel just pulled all troops out of Lebanon, having been strung out to dry by being unimpeded by Rice and Bush.  Have they not thus demonstrated Israel’s limited military and political envelope, to the world?  Almost forty years after launching its 1967 war to grab Greater Israel, the war is coming to an end in defeat and the mass media and the pseudo-left just don’t get it.  Perhaps they are too busy applauding the re-making of Irish history.


Posted by  owenss  at  2006-10-02 04:09 AMAnita thank you for stating that in the Irish Civil war you would give your support to the side lead by Michael Collins.My next question is to Patrickm. Patrick do you support the side lead by Michael Collins?As to my offense to Barry. Guilty as charged. When Barry stated that the Iraqi resistance was minuscule I couldnt believe that he would defend that statement rather than just admit that he had overstated his case.Anita you invite me to make a serious contribution to this site and I wish I had both the time and the intellegence to do so. However it goes against the way I have become involved. I first contributed in response to Albert who stated that the Iraq project was going well.  I was further stimulated to contribute when people stated that the way forward in Iraq was to ramp up the killing of Iraqis who resisted. Again I couldn’t resist when contributors characterise the resistance in exactly the same terms used by the Whitehouse as I think this characterisation is a gross oversimplification.I was encouraged to contribute when Bill posted about resistance figures being paraded on Iraqi TV at the same time that a US soldier was let off after clearly murdering a wounded Iraqi who had already surrendered.

I uphold the Iraqi government as being just that. Having said that I look on them with the same contempt that I hold for Michael Collins who used Brittish weapons to kill Irish Republicans.

The Sunni arab population has the right to resist the oppression that they are experiencing. The Iraqi governments duty is to protect these people a duty I think they fail in the same way Collins failed the Irish. The rejection by the Iraqi government of peace proposals from numerous resistance groups is in my oppinion a tragic mistake.


Posted by  patrickm  at     2006-10-08 01:01 AMWhile a revolution unfolds in the Middle East, the pseudo-leftist web site ‘Socialist Worker online’ had this to conclude of its review of The Wind that Shakes the Barley.
But by the end of the film you can’t help being reminded of the British army in Iraq today, and Loach is the first to admit this.He said, “I think what happened in Ireland is such a classic story of a fight for independence, to establish a democratic mandate and to resist an occupying army.“Yet it was also a fight for a country with a new social structure.“The British army in Ireland during 1920-21 did what armies of occupation do the world over – adopt a racist attitude towards the people they are attacking and occupying.“They destroy people’s houses, engage in acts of brutality and generally oppress the people – and in Iraq that’s exactly what the British army is doing.“In spite of the suffering depicted, the fact still remains that the British marched out of Ireland. There is an element of hope in that.”Loach knows that British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in WW2 so why not show them?  But that would never do.  When trying to make his point about Iraq he had to skip WW2 and go back to British ruling class savagery in Ireland.  This film is only incidentally about the Irish.No liberation in Iraq folks; no elections; nothing to see but British brutality – move along and remember to chant no blood for oil, and later explain it away as a sort of metaphor when it turns out to make no sense whatever.
Anita thinks Michael Collins did the best he could; so did a majority of the Irish Parliament and so did a majority of the Irish people when the Treaty was put to a referendum.  The other side then brought on a fight and they lost that as well.  So there seems to be a pattern developing.

Steve ought to have a cover to cover read of Mao: losing is not a good idea.  The rejectionists were not sensible to fight and lose.  They ought to have not fought at all.  Mao often talks of avoiding fights unless you’re sure to win.  The blood was on their hands.  They had a way forward without slaughter and they chose blood instead.  History has yet to see the nationalist cause ‘victorious’ in all of Ireland, and I think interest is falling away in the context of being part of the reality of modern Europe; but history has, I think, recorded the civil-war in Michael Collins’ favor.

I can both appreciate the injustice of the Treaty and the decision of the negotiators to sign it and to trust to ongoing struggle to unfold further progress.  People both in the North and South were prepared to struggle for their rights, (in the long run they always are) and the civil-war in the Free State harmed that struggle.  History moves on and the Free State is ‘Gone with the Wind’.

The always required civil rights struggle in the North broke out again in the context of the same struggle in the U.S. in the sixties.  It was part of a world wide movement.   This struggle is now fully flowering (with power sharing; police force reform; anti- discrimination legislation enacted producing the inevitable demographic results and so forth).  All in the context of ongoing British ruling class decline in any ability to project imperial power.  The context of our reflections on the Irish Treaty is from this era of globalization and the rise of the Europe project.  Peace has broken out, and the continuity IRA, are a bad joke.  They are history repeating itself as a farce.  I am in favor of the IRA having ‘sold out again’.


Posted by  owenss  at  2006-10-08 06:29 PMPatrick so you think that you should never fight unless you are sure you will win.Well the Easter uprising never stood a chance, so they should not have done it?The provisional IRA could never defeat the British army, so they should have done what?You are also very kind to Michael Collins. Churchill put it to Collins either you attack the rebels or we will. I still lack respect for any Irish nationalist who will kill Irishmen at the behest of the British government