RIP: IHT

This week the death was announced of The International Herald Tribune, and her replacement by the International Edition of The New York Times.   Born in Paris in 1887, the deceased reached maturity in 1967, when she became jointly and equally owned by The Washington Post and The New York Times.  From then to 2003 were her glory years, perhaps because neither newspaper parent was able to impose their own, provincial culture on the cosmopolitan IHT editorial team in Paris.   Here is Hendrik Hertzberg:

The first time I ever went anywhere outside the United States was in 1960. I was seventeen, I was by myself, and I was in Paris. At the earliest possible moment, I did four things. I sat down at a little table at an outdoor café. I ordered a glass of red wine. I lit a Gauloises. And I opened up my copy, freshly bought, of the Herald Tribune. Only then did I no longer feel like a tourist or a high-school kid. I was suddenly something better: an American in Paris.”

But no marketing manager can stomach a brand he does not control, so the NYT broke up the marriage with The Post in order to take full control of the IHT in 2003.  The IHT was never the same since.  Editorial control seemed to shift from Paris to Manhattan.   The content seemed suddenly to be centred on events in New York, instead of on the world itself.   New Yorkers don’t like to think of themselves as provincial, but they often are.  The arts section is now a mash-up of the NYT arts section, for instance.
And for all their prizes, the editors of the NYT seems to lack some basic newspaper management skills.  Why change the font?   Why, one has to ask, must the cartoon page shift its position in the paper from day to day, like some permanent floating crap game?     Now, in just a few days under its new name, the newspaper’s op-ed page has shifted elsewere in the paper.    It seems that the editors mis-understand the nature of a newspaper – indeed, THIS newspaper – in the life of its readers, if they think we don’t care about such matters.
Now, instead of a paper written for and by English-speaking readers around the world, it has become a paper written by journalists in New York City for readers from New York City.  The world’s loss, alas.
UPDATE (2016-07-31):  And now?  From buying it every day, now, I hardly ever do.  The newspaper is a poor skeleton of its former fleshy self, and shamefully provincial.

The death of Enos Nkala

The death has occurred of Enos Nkala (1932-2013), co-founder of ZANU, former Zimbabwean Senator, and ZANU-PF Minister in the government of Robert Mugabe (1980-1989).  As Minister for Home Affairs, he was chief prosecutor of the Gukurahundi, the brutal genocidal campaign waged by ZANU-PF against supporters of PF-Zapu and the people of Matabeleland.    This prosecution was undertaken despite Nkala being Ndebele himself.   In a more just world, he would have died in prison.
The Telegraph obituary of Nkala is here.  The writer says:

Nkala became Mugabe’s most feared enforcer after the collapse of an uneasy coalition between the ruling Zanu-PF party and Joshua Nkomo, the leader of the Zapu party. This was essentially a truce between Zimbabwe’s two largest tribes: Mugabe’s majority Shona people and Nkomo’s Ndebele. The deal fell apart in 1982 when Nkomo was ejected from the cabinet and accused of planning armed rebellion.
This supposed plot was almost certainly an invention, but Mugabe retaliated in January 1983 by sending a special army unit to Matabeleland, the home of the Ndebele in western Zimbabwe. The Fifth Brigade’s task was to wage war on the population, eradicating Zapu and enforcing support for Mugabe by terror and violence.”

Well, either Joshua Nkomo was plotting against the government of Robert Mugabe while he was a Minister in that government or he was not.  At the press conference he gave in Salisbury (as it still then was) in February 1982 upon his dismissal, Nkomo was reported by Newsweek (February 1982) to have  admitted that he had indeed sought the assistance of the apartheid Government of South Africa to stage a coup and to overthrow Mugabe.   South Africa had, apparently, refused his request.
The crimes of the Mugabe regime against the people of Matabeland were genocidal and deserve to be punished as crimes against humanity.   It does not diminish these crimes in any way to say the truth – that Mugabe’s government was also right to be suspicious of plots by PF-Zapu and Nkomo to overthrow by illegal, unparliamentary means the legitimately-elected, majority government of Zimbabwe.   Later in 1982, somebody – and this was no paranoid invention of a crazed megalomaniac – blew up most of the planes of the Zimbabwean Air Force while they were parked on an airforce base at Gweru.  The plots and enemies of ZANU-PF were real.
 

Jenny Biggar RIP

This is a belated tribute to long-time acquaintance, Jenny Biggar (1946-2008), for many years the Treasurer of the Budiriro Trust, a British-Zimbabwean educational charity.  I found the following obituary, written by Ann Young and published in the Loddon Reach Parish Magazine (July/August 2008, 1 (4): 16).

Jenny Biggar died on May 8th [2008] after a valiant fight against Lymphoma. All those who packed into St. Mary’s church for her funeral on May 19th bore witness to a life that had been well lived and truly Christian. It was a wonderfully uplifting service and a tribute to someone who had touched the lives of others, not only here, but across the world, and whose dying had been an example for us all.
 
Jenny was brought up at Manor Farm in Grazeley and attended the Abbey School in Reading. She was the middle child with two older brothers and two younger sisters. Family life was always central to her so it seemed natural that, when her mother died, she returned to the Farm in 1985 to look after her father and make a home for him. She had spent many years working in Africa, had read English as a mature student and was embarking upon a D.Phil at Oxford when she felt called back to her family. She quickly became a very active member of the Parish with jobs ranging from P.C.C. Secretary, to making curtains for the Church hall. She also worked hard for her two favourite charities – The Budiriro Trust (which maintained her links with Zimbabwe) and the B.R.F. She did some counselling work at the Duchess of Kent House and worked in the Estate Office at Englefield Estate.
 
Jenny was a wonderful cook and will be remembered for her soup at many Church events. She was a skilled needle woman and an accomplished musician, singing with the Farley Singers, the Dever Singers and the Church choir as well as playing the organ. She was also an intellectual with a deep love of literature.  She was honest and forthright in her opinions, but always with grace and good humour.  Throughout her life Jenny had more than her fair share of difficulties; she fought hard battles to overcome them and developed not only a stoical resistance to pain and discomfort, but huge inner strength. She gave so much to us all and will be sorely missed.”

And here is an obituary by Elspeth Holderness (1923-2009) in the 2007-2008 annual report of the Budiriro Trust.

Jenny Biggar died on 8th May 2008 after a valiant fight against Lymphoma. She was a very wonderful and exceptional person. St. Mary’s Church, Shinfield, was packed for the inspiring Funeral Service, which included several choirs which Jenny used to sing in herself – a wonderful tribute to someone who had so many friends here and abroad and who was always cheerful and quietly helpful and who had this deep inner strength.
 
Until not long ago, Jenny was a Trustee of Budiriro as well as Secretary and Fund-Raiser. She spent a great deal of time and energy in seeking out sources of funding, both from individuals and corporate bodies and managed to raise thousands of pounds with her tireless energy and enthusiasm. She was also involved in other ways (not least her home-made cakes, etc. after each Annual Meeting!). She was working at Manor Farm Estate, and also did some counselling.
 
She grew up at Manor Farm, run by her father, on the Englefield Estate, near Reading, and was part of a big, loving family. Her father, Bill, and Hardwicke [Holderness] (see obituary, Budiriro Trust Annual Report 2006-2007), had become great friends during the Second World War in the same squadron in RAF Coastal Command, and years later we found him and his family again on one of our rare visits to Britain – which was lovely. Around 1970, Bill wrote and said Jenny had decided to emigrate to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and could we perhaps “keep an eye” on her and we said “fine”.
 
She was, I think, very happy, working as a Medical Secretary, making new friends, joining St. Andrew’s Church [Salisbury], having her own flat, and also having the freedom of our house and garden. She also realised how some of the children around us needed education and to be able to read books. Jenny had a love of literacy and books and literature all her life.
 
After she rejoined her family some years later, she took a degree in English as a mature student at Reading University, and when we later went to live in Oxford, she had embarked on a DPhil at Oxford University, also in English. We introduced her to Ken and Deborah Kirkwood (who had been highly involved in Budiriro since the beginning and had already embroiled both of us), and she was happy to become involved too. She worked miracles.

Elspeth Holderness was the wife of Hardwicke Holderness (1915-2007), RAF pilot, Rhodesian MP and fighter for racial equality, whom I mentioned here.

Vale: Molly Clutton-Brock

Only the other day, I was reporting on revolutionary communists in the Rhodesia of the late 1950s.   One of those alleged revolutionaries, a founder of a non-racial co-operative farm and of rural health clinics, Molly Clutton-Brock, has just died aged 101.   Her obituary is here.   Her late husband, Guy, is the only white Zimbabwean buried at Heroes’ Acre national cemetery, outside Harare.

Letter from Finchley

The influence of Mrs Margaret Thatcher on British economic and cultural life is shown now, at her death, by the pages and pages and pages of newsprint devoted to her in every British newspaper, all day every day since her death.  Even the Gruaniard has joined in the chorus, although sometimes singing from the hymnal of another denomination, but still with pages and pages of text and images.  It is like the mass media psychosis that hit Britain the week after the death of Princess Diana in 1997.
The praise heaped on Saint Margaret has stretched credulity to the limit.   Like some modern-day Bolivar, she apparently single-handedly liberated Eastern Europe from Communism, which if true would surely be news to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR (1989 membership), the Central Committee of the CzechoSlovak Communist Party (April 1968 membership), the Central Committee of the United Workers Party of Poland (1956 and 1989 memberships), and the millions of brave citizens of Berlin, Leipzig, Budapest, Gdansk, Prague, Warsaw, Bucharest, Moscow, and throughout the region, who actually did, through argument and protest and strike and resistance, liberate their countries from tyranny.   Part of the justification given for her role in the freedom of Eastern Europe is the fact of her early meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, before his elevation to the General Secretary-ship of the CPSU, after which meeting she proclaimed that she could do business with him.  But why would this endorsement have helped him rise?  Surely such a public statement from one of the nation’s nuclear-armed enemies potentially lost him votes in the race to be General Secretary.
And, by a certain class of people, she was then, and still is, seen as the Simon Bolivar of Britain.  Yes, like all politicians, she represented a particular economic class and indeed she represented their interests very effectively.  (It was not, by the way, the class of her parents or of her upbringing, but it was the class of her husband.)   But statesmanship requires a politician to decide in the national interest, not in the interests of a particular class.  With just one possible exception, I cannot think of a single major decision she took in which she decided in favour of the nation against the interests of her own sectional base.    The one exception was the decision to defend the Falkland Islands following invasion by the Argentinian military junta in 1982.
One could – and she did – defend such sectional decision-making on ideological grounds,  for example, using the so-called theories of trickle-down economics, of metaphysical entities (eg, invisible hands), and of magical thinking and  psychokinesis (eg, frictionless adjustment to free trade) that constitute the parallel, reality-free, universe that is neoclassical economics.  In other words, she argued that although the decisions she took seemed to favour one group over another, in reality all would benefit, although perhaps not all would benefit immediately.   But all economic policies have both winners and losers.   Mrs Thatcher rarely evinced any public sympathy for the losers of her policies, and her contempt for those who lost was always obvious.
Her last major enacted policy – towards the end of her 11 years in power – was the Poll Tax, which punished society’s losers with a most unfair and regressive tax, at the same time as giving manifest and immediate benefit to her sectional base.  This was not a policy of someone governing in the national interest.  This was not a policy of someone having personal compassion for the downtrodden, the ill, the unlucky, the old, and the unfortunate in our society.  This was not policy – and her dogged insistence on maintaining it against all evidence that it was not working epideictically reinforces this – that showed her approaching the challenges of governing in a reasoned or pragmatic way, with an open and rational mind, intent on balancing competing interests, or of finding the best solution for the country as a whole.
Norm is correct to castigate those who have publicly rejoiced at her death.  Such rejoicing is quite understandable, even though wrong.   Mrs Thatcher’s condescension, contempt, and antipathy for those who suffered from her policies or from life in general was evident to everyone, all along.  She herself said there was no such thing as society.   She herself said that anyone using public transport over the age of 35 was a failure in life.   It is no wonder that the worst riots in Britain in the 20th century happened under Mrs Thatcher.  It is no wonder that her party has no longer any support to speak of in Scotland (ground zero for the Poll Tax), and no wonder that support for Scottish independence is now so strong.  It is no wonder that punk and reggae developed in overt opposition to her.  Linton Kwesi Johnson named his famous song for her, conflating her with Inglan.   It is no wonder that people are organizing street parties in the cities of Britain to celebrate her departure.
In contrast to most of the reporting engulfing us now, here are two responses to show the historians of the future that not all of us alive at this moment welcome the sudden attempt at canonization.  The first is from a Guardian editorial on Tuesday 9 April 2013:

In the last analysis, though, her stock in trade was division. By instinct, inclination and effect she was a polariser. She glorified both individualism and the nation state, but lacked much feeling for the communities and bonds that knit them together. When she spoke, as she often did, about “our people”, she did not mean the people of Britain; she meant people who thought like her and shared her prejudices. She abhorred disorder, decadence and bad behaviour but she was the empress ruler of a process of social and cultural atomism that has fostered all of them, and still does.”

The second is an impassioned speech from Glenda Jackson MP, given in the House of Commons yesterday, about the pain Mrs Thatcher’s policies wrought.  The speech was given against and over the top of much noise and shouting from the Yahoo Henrys who still, apparently, sit on the Conservative Party Benches.  I say thee, Yay, Ms. Jackson, Yay!

Vale: Joan Child

Child-Joan-Speaker
The death has occurred of Mrs Joan Child (1921-2013), first female Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives (1986-1989) and Labor MHR for Henty in Melbourne (1974-1975, 1980-1990).  She was the first female Labor Party MHR, and only the fourth woman elected to the House.   That it took 73 years for the Australian Labor Party to elect a woman to the Lower House of Federal Parliament is quite telling about attitudes in the Party and in the wider society.  As Speaker, she refused to wear the traditional wig and gown, and was always very down-to-earth.   On the evening before the Queen’s opening of the new Australian Commonwealth Parliament House in 1988, for instance, Madame Speaker Child could be found relaxing where she often went – having a drink and playing the pokies at the Canberra Labor Club.  She was always quite approachable there, too.
Her SMH obit is here.
POSTSCRIPT (2013-03-29):  Here is James Button, son of former Labor Industry Minister, Senator John Button, writing about the ALP:

Outside Albania, was there ever a more macho party than the old ALP?  Its first female member of the House of Representatives, Joan Child, was not elected until 1974, thirty-one years after Enid Lyons became the first female conservative MP.  It was a party that prized hardness, humour, guts and aggression:  men who could hold their drink, hold their tongue when they had to, and hold their own in argument.  Its language was vivid, often vulgar.  Doing the numbers for Hawke, his backer Graham Richardson once said, was ‘better than sex and almost as exciting as a good feed’.”  (Button 2013, page 126 of large print edition)

James Button [2012]: Speechless:  A Year in my Father’s Business.  Melbourne, Australia:  Melbourne University Press.

Vale: John Makumbe

This post is a tribute to Zimbabwean political scientist, John Makumbe (1949-2013), who has just died.  I first met him in Zimbabwe in 1981, and once traveled with him to Botswana.  We had many conversations on religion, where we disagreed greatly.  He became an outspoken and fearless opponent of Robert Mugabe’s corrupt regime, and had been planning to stand for election for his home region, Buhera, to the Zimbabwe House of Assembly at the forthcoming national elections.
The Telegraph (London) obituary is here, The Zimbabwe Mail here, and Nehanda Radio here.

Vale: Dave Brubeck

The BBC Radio 3 program Jazz Record Requests had a special edition yesterday in memory of Dave Brubeck.  It is available to listen for another 6 days, here.   
I heard Brubeck and his quartet play a concert in Liverpool about 10 years ago. He was old enough to have to shuffle slowly onto stage, but once at the piano, his playing was alive and energetic. My only disappointment was that he performed a concert in Liverpool and not once made any reference to the music of the city’s most famous musical sons. We could have been in Outer Woop Woop, for all the difference it had on his choice of repertoire. Not even an allusion in an improvisation was just churlish.
Brubeck’s reknown was remarkable.   I once requested a busking middle-aged violinist in a Kiev cafe in the mid 1990s to play Take Five, and saw his face light up with delight.  As it happened, he also knew The Hot Canary.