LOBSTER'S VIEW OF NOTES FROM THE BORDERLAND issue 11 (from Lobster 73 Summer 2017) and our response
Larry O'Hara 9/10/17
It is one irony of the current age that serious engagement with research such as ours is hard to come by. Fact is, it requires effort and the ability to actually analyse: thus it is no surprise that while we afforded 'Unofficial Conspiracy Theorists' the July 7th Campaign an uncensored opportunity to critique us in Notes From the Borderland issue 9, they have (8 years later) still not responded to our dissenting from their assertion the London bombings of 7/7/05 were an inside job. Maybe their broadband speed is a bit slow? Equally, 'Official Conspiracy Theorist' the eternally self-regarding Raffaello Pantucci, while desperate to see our review of his book on Britain's Jihadists in issue 11, has since descended into a highly uncharacteristic silence. Not even a Twitter of a response! This despite (or because?) the review, with evidence, raises serious questions regarding his academic integrity. Even though he is only a think-tank expert, Pantucci seeks to convey an air of academic respectability. Thus one might have thought he would welcome the chance to defend himself: he has not. Feel free to draw your own conclusions: we have. On another tangent entirely, neither Assange nor his entourage (John Pilger and the other luvvies/Front-Line Guardianistas) showed the slightest interest in our research: after all, we never went to Oxbridge or public school, don't live in Hampstead, and are nothing to do with the Guardian or Hollywood. C'est la vie!
It is gratifying therefore that somebody at least has responded to NFB 11: no less a figure than the redoubtable editor of Lobster magazine (now sadly on-line only) Robin Ramsay. This review, and a lot more besides, can be found on the web-site https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk.
To encourage debate, I have taken the liberty below of reproducing Robin's review (in black) and below relevant sections my responses in blue follow.
Notes from the Borderland
Dr Larry O'Hara sent me a copy of the latest issue (no. 11) of his magazine, Notes from the Borderland (NFB). This is 80 A-4 pages, with the text in three columns per page. So that's about 60,000 words, maybe more. The following description is from the NFB Website http://www.borderland.co.uk:
"Welcome to Britain's premier parapolitical investigative magazine Notes from the Borderland (NFB). We have been producing the magazine since 1997 but some published material before then.
Our political perspective is Left/Green, but we welcome truth-tellers, whatever their affiliation. Research interests include the secret state (MI5/MI6/Special Branch, now SO15) & their assets, including those in the media. We are resolutely anti-fascist, and to that end investigate the far right and state infiltration of various milieus. In a shallow age where many TV programmes and print/internet stories are spoon-fed to servile journalists/bloggers by shadowy interests, NFB stands out as genuine investigative research."
Although the Website is basically a come-on for the hard copy, you will get a sense there of what NFB is about, as well as a contents list for this current issue.
Much of this was interesting to me. For one thing, NFB has continued doing what Lobster used to do: surveying published material on the intelligence and security services and producing synopses of it. There is a long essay about Lockerbie; and, while I am no expert on this subject, I didn't see anything that surprised me.
It is gratifying that Robin recognises this, given he co-authored the definitive book on secret state intervention in Labour politics 'Smear'. I would only add two things. First, we still analyse the secret state because it still needs to be done: virtually all coverage of the secret state elsewhere appears to conform to the agendas of one or other secret state faction, wittingly or unwittingly. Secondly, as subscribers who peruse this web-site already know, at least half the articles here do not appear in the printed magazine, and are stand-alone in their own right, not just a 'come on'.
The best piece is a 15-page account by O'Hara of the assault on Julian Assange by some of the Guardian's journalists.
It's not for me to say if it's the best piece as I wrote it: but it is certainly a serious contribution to debate. Pity all the Assangists can hear is the sound of one hand clapping (via hidden microphones in the Ecuadorean Embassy maybe?). And while quite a few Guardian journalists are featured, the main one is Nick Davies, a man who makes Raffaello Pantucci seem modest.
But the material is all worthwhile, even the page in which Robin Whittaker presents Chapman Pincher's case that Roger Hollis was a Soviet agent. I don't agree with the thesis but it is interesting to meet it again.
Agreed: NFB has no party line on this issue!
On the down side, there's a jokey tone to some of it I find irritating (not least because the jokes aren't funny or clever). The front cover, for example, has the famous picture of Obama, Hillary Clinton and assorted military and spooks apparently watching the live feed of the American assault on the compound in which Osama Bin Laden was living.
Coming from the mouth of one anonymous figure are the words, ˜ASSANGE HAS EVADED THE DRONE STRIKE MR PRESIDENT".
From another, ˜THAT'S DONE IT. WE HAVE TO SEND IN NICK DAVIES" (Caps in the original.)
Well, we believe life is too serious not to have a laugh every now and then: after all, we don't produce NFB for the money, so that's as maybe. Indeed, the correct term for what we did on this front cover (and every other NFB apart from 2 9 & 10) is detournement, a subversive technique drawn from French Situationists. Not to everybody's taste but then what is? Speaking of that picture (humour aside) at 12.32 pm 3/10/16 Wikileaks themselves tweeted a reported quote from Hilary Clinton about Assange asking "can't we just drone this guy?". The report claims the statement drew laughter from the room which quickly died off when the Secretary kept talking in a terse manner. While her campaign manager Robbie Mook declined to comment on this, there has to be a possibility this is true. Even if not, she is certainly nasty enough and the cover within the range of poetic license...More to the point, perhaps this front cover was art imitating life, albeit unknowingly. And the figure we have a speech bubble coming from isn't ˜anonymous" but Denis McDonough, then Deputy National Security Adviser. We thought Robin the US politics expert, not us. Actually, this ˜best piece", as Robin describes it, raises disturbing questions about how the intervention of Nick Davies in the Assange affair seemed to conform to US State Department interests. A coincidence perhaps? Or maybe more: either way, it makes him a legitimate target for satire. Read it and find out.
In contrast, in their introduction to a piece continuing NFB's coverage of the politics of anti-fascism (Searchlight et al), authors Heidi Svenson and Dr Paul Stott are stern:
˜The current article is not stand alone, we constantly refer to the previous one. If that inconveniences, tough: this magazine is for grown-ups, not people who get facts from You-Tube [sic] and Wikipedia".
Robin describes Heidi and Paul as being ˜stern", but they are making a serious point: we do not, and will never, believe that only things on the internet are worth looking at. Furthermore, we are all concerned about the debasement of thought and language that the instant gratification society facilitated by the internet has produced. You-Tube is in no way a serious medium for conveying evidence-based research (where do you put footnotes?) and Wikipedia is a mish-mash of the Encyclopaedia of Fools and a spook's playground. Here we are in accord with the critique by Jaron Lanier, articulated in his two books 'You are not a Gadget' and 'Who owns the future?'.
For my taste the magazine needs more rigorous editing to improve the punctuation, reduce or remove the speculation and jokey asides and tighten-up the writing.
Fair enough: we try to be as rigorous as possible, but certainly things slip through the net (to coin a phrase), though that said, the quote below isn't one of them:
For example, what does this, from the opening paragraph of the introduction quoted above, actually mean?
˜We have been producing the magazine since 1997 but some published material before then".
Does the 'some' refer to material or does it mean ˜some of us"?
It means both: some of that material is available on this site either as downloads or to buy. Other material is not up yet, for instance the critique of the Green Party in 'Paradise Referred Back'. Patience, children!
There are also a couple of simple technical changes I would make. If you've got lots of source notes (and I like notes), make them legible. In the O'Hara piece on Assange, to accommodate two not funny illustrations, the notes are tiny.
Let you into a secret here: between issue 10 and 11 we perforce [look it up!] had to move to new publishing software, which we haven't totally got to grips with: those pictures were in fact not moveable during reconfiguration of the magazine as it would have left a blank section. So, we left them in. Admittedly, the footnotes are sometimes small, as here: about which two observations. Anybody really interested can enlarge them, but more importantly we always try to have NFB articles finishing at the end of a page, so readers don't have to hunt elsewhere for foot-notes.
And why are the footnote numbers in the text in bold?
In this case a truth hidden in plain sight as Sir Francis Walsingham might say: they are in bold so they stand out, enabling readers to clearly see where we are citing evidence for an assertion, meaning they can in principle check the source in terms of existence and verifiability.
Finally: while keeping this going is an impressive achievement, why produce a hard copy at all? Put on-line with free access, the material would reach infinitely more people than the relative few who are going to spend £4.75 on a hard copy and would save all concerned in the magazine's production and distribution a deal of work.
A good question. To which we say immediately that some articles are on-line anyway. However, we do not anticipate ever putting all of it on-line for free not just because there are financial costs involved in gathering research material (some of it from human intelligence indeed), but also because by putting everything on the internet we would become indistinguishable from the plethora of conspiracy theorising and bull-shit the internet is awash with.
In addition, there are two main reasons not everything will be on-line.
Firstly, as Nicholas Carr in his book 'The Shallows' and Susan Greenfield in her 'Mind Change' postulate, relying exclusively on the internet dulls the senses and flattens our neural synapses, hindering an ability to construct (and follow) the complex chains of reasoning necessary for a truly thriving intellectual life and polity. The practice common to many sites of highlighting the most popular articles exercises a gravitational pull towards those, rather than allowing visitors to exercise their own judgement and imagination. Which is why we don't have such a section..
We are not Luddites, rather we believe in a twin-track approach that uses the internet but also realises the best thinking occurs reading things off-line or that have never been on-line. To give a practical example, soon on this web-site (and not in the magazine first, note), we will launch an NFB project to compare and contrast the current policies of a potential Left Government run by Jeremy Corbyn with a detailed critique of what the Labour Left got up to strategically last time they were important, in the 1980's. A key element of that will be placing on-line here (once the grammar is cleaned up and references double-checked) a detailed Left Government scenario, fully researched and referenced, I wrote nearly thirty years ago, which is over 40,000 words. Like every other article on this site, it will be not only downloadable, but also printer-friendly, so those interested can peruse it (and look for inconsistencies and internal contradictions) off-line. We will happily put responses on-line, but see this as the start of a process of updating the analysis in order to produce something that will then be printed. In other words, this site is and will be part of a dialectical ongoing process leading to a hopefully cogent and relevant political intervention, under the aegis of NFB magazine, but not reducible to it. Rather different than the simplistic view of this site as either just a 'come on' for the magazine, or indeed an adequate substitute for it. As it happens, and to put it politely, the passage of time and the obsession with social media in all its forms has not produced a Labour Left more sophisticated and battle-ready than last time. Another coincidence? Maybe: more of that anon though.
Secondly, there is the prosaic reason of 'resilience'. The internet and a society ever more dependent on it are thereby increasingly fragile. Whether it be ecological or military disaster, or even cyber-attack (by states or other actors) no web-site is immune from disappearance, indeed this has happened to us in the past and no doubt will again. To obliterate a web-site (including from the Way-Back machine) can be accomplished at a keyboard in minutes. But to totally remove from circulation every copy of a printed (and therefore reproducible whether by using OCR software off-line or otherwise) magazine--that's a different proposition entirely.
For all the above reasons (and more), we reject the binary opposites of print or online, and will continue as long as we can to do both. And long may Lobster itself continue (although the Europhiliac idiot who runs their twitter feed would be no loss if he ceased and desisted).
To find out more about issue 11: click on the purple link below