Bad blood river

William Shaw has a rant on Palimpsest about Tim Butcher’s Blood River:

Of course the real reason why the Congo is a hell hole has to do with the last 150 years of history, not with any darkness. The older part is documented in Hochschild’s brilliant history King Leopold’s Ghost. Back then it was about rubber. That was why Belgium slaughtered around 10 million Africans and brutalised milllions more. The last 15 years are more to do with the way we turn a blind eye to the way companies source the materials they need to make our laptops and mobile phones. Butcher acknowledges these arguments, but you sense he doesn’t really have much time for such liberal explanations. He sees Africa instead as eternally tribal and fractious. He has turned the wheel full circle to a kind of HM Stanley vision of Africa as something that only a strong hand could ever heal; the difference is that Butcher comes from an era which cannot condone such violence. As a result, he creates a picture of a country that nothing can redeem.

Entertaining and illuminating stuff.

William Shaw on Scientology

William Shaw is a great writer, and a great guy. He’s written a number of non-fiction titles, mainly on counter-cultural issues and is now doing some exciting stuff with social media, looking into stuff like uses the blog format to publish short non-fiction stories on UnMadeUp, posting stories around different parts of Brighton, and the almost uncategorisable 217 Babel. I’m hoping to do an interruption chat with him soon. He’s also a regular on Palimpsest, so he must have something about him.

Anyway, William has written a great piece for the Sunday Telegraph on Scientology:

It can never be said that Tom Cruise lives a normal life, but you don’t get to be Forbes magazine’s ‘world’s most powerful celebrity’ by being a lunatic. The list of fellow celebrity Scientologists is a long one: Kirstie Alley, Chick Corea, Beck, Jenna Elfman, Juliette Lewis, Lisa Marie Presley, Jason Lee, Giovanni Ribisi, John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, are, or have been in recent times. Will Smith almost was. Jerry Seinfeld toyed with it. Celebrities or not, these are not weak-minded people. They are all successful at what they do. So, we wonder, what on earth are they doing in Scientology?

One answer is simple enough. To put it bluntly, Scientology really, really likes famous people. Cynics point out that there is a reason for this. From the early days of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard set out to attract the famous to his new religion. Tom Wolfe once defined a cult as ‘a religion with no political power’; L. Ron Hubbard appears to have believed that Scientology needed something a lot more potent than political power. In 1955 he launched something he called Project Celebrity, listing 63 famous people he wanted to interest in his ‘science of the mind’. It was a catholic selection that included Ernest Hemingway, Danny Kaye, Orson Welles, Liberace, Bing Crosby, Pablo Picasso and Walt Disney.

‘These celebrities are well-guarded, well-barricaded, over-worked, aloof quarry. If you bring one of them home you will get a small plaque as your reward,’ Hubbard wrote to his followers.

Great stuff.