Kerbside International Lawyer

January 31, 2010 at 3:12 pm (anti-fascism, iraq war, Max Dunbar)

Yeah we know we can’t have a better world
But at least we can be right

- The Indelicates, ‘The British Left in Wartime’

Following on from Comrade Denham’s post, I’ve been pondering one of the more confused of the antiwar arguments: the legality or otherwise of the Iraq war. The idea that the invasion was wrong because it was ‘illegal’ is frequently levelled, often by people who have a negligible understanding of international and war crimes law, and sometimes by people who belong to political groups dedicated to the armed overthrow of parliamentary democracy. If the war had been declared ‘legal’; if some attorney general had said, ‘Yes, this is okay, go for it’ would the antiwar faction have turned round, admitted fault and supported the war? If we’re going to talk legality, surely war is a crime in and of itself.

But the charge of illegality serves one purpose – to turn an argument about human rights, democracy and the responsibility to protect into an argument about boxes checked, hoops jumped and resolutions passed. It allows you to sidestep the complex issues of solidarity and internationalism and to retreat into a position of abstract judgement. But it can also make you look incredibly silly, as George Monbiot is finding out with his ludicrous ‘Arrest Blair’ campaign, the object being to make a citizen’s arrest of Tony Blair for war crimes. (Why does no one try to citizen-arrest Omar al-Bashir or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?) Unfortunately the law is a double-edged sword and Norman Geras has passed on words of caution from a legal professor:

What Monbiot is urging would still be a tort. Even though he is not suggesting imprisoning Blair, what he is suggesting would be a tortious battery, as it is an intentional unauthorised touching without consent. (In many day-to-day touchings – e.g. tapping someone on the shoulder to get their attention – there is implicit consent, but not with regard to what Monbiot suggests, as Blair would obviously not consent to it.)

Amusingly, if someone did act in this way as a result of Monbiot’s urgings, Monbiot would also be liable, as he would have procured the wrong and the wrongdoer’s actions would also be attributed to him. I would suggest, as well, that his employer, the Guardian, would be vicariously liable for Monbiot’s wrongdoing.

For the record, I do think there is a case for trying people in the Blair and Bush administrations for war crimes, but it would rest on the complicity in the torture of detainees, rather than the facilitation of a war that, despite everything, got rid of one of the worst fascist dictatorships on the face of the planet, and gave Iraqis the right to vote and hope for better times.

The antiwar faction is currently trying to turn Chilcott into a show trial – it will not happen. Blair is too clever and confident to let this happen. And yet the antiwar movement has won the argument. Liberal interventionism is discredited. It is dead. Pacifists are right to claim that the general public is against going to war. This is not so much out of concern for the welfare of soldiers and civilians, but from a resentful feeling that money should not be spent on foreigners when there are troubles enough at home. (I’ve heard people explain their opposition to government aid for Haiti in these exact terms.)

I repeat, Seamus Milne, George Galloway, Noam Chomsky and all the other isolationists and doctrinaire pacifists have won this argument. There is neither the cash nor the political will nor would there be the public support for an attack on Iran or Sudan, no matter how many times John Pilger says it’s going to happen. R2P is fucked. Leaders of fascist states all over the world can breathe easy in the knowledge that they can do anything they like to people – absolutely anything – as long as they keep it within their borders.

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Tony Blair says something that’s true!

January 30, 2010 at 7:19 pm (Champagne Charlie, Guardian, iraq war, Tony Blair, truth, war)

Well what did his critics expect? An admission that he’d got Iraq terribly wrong? Blair breaking down in tears and begging forgiveness from Rose Gentle? A confession that he’d personally sexed up the dodgy dossier and/or grabbed Lord Goldsmith by the testicles the better to concentrate the attorney general’s mind on the legality of the invasion ?

Dream on. As the Graun editorial  rightly states today, “There is a planet, some way removed from the real one, on which Tony Blair lives. He invited the Chilcot inquiry to join him on it yesterday. On this alternative earth, certainties dissolve and falsehoods become truths. Facts are transformed into opinions and judgements turn into evidence. Success and failure are both the same…

“Tony Blair is not exactly mad because of this, though his critics like to claim it, and nor is he plain old dishonest Bliar, as the familiar banners outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference hall put it yesterday. The key is not that he knows one truth and tells another, but that he sees things differently to others, in rthe broadest and most contrasting of ways. This allows no room for subtlety, or detail, or even facts.”

I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment of Blair’s extraordinary performance yesterday, and a pretty fair assessment of a man who is the ultimate relativist: for him, the concepts of truth and lies are not absolutes, governed by objective reality, but entirely subjective matters, governed by whatever Anthony Charles Lynton Blair Esq happens to believe at any given moment.

Unfortunately, the Graun‘s coverage seems to be largely made up of comments from the tyrants’ friend G. Galloway MP, and other sworn enemies of democracy and human rights. Funny how the anti-war “left” in Britain and the US today, increasingly resembles the isolationist, pro-appeasement right of yesteryear.

Mind you, many of those individuals (Clare Short , John Cruddas, Peter Wilby) and publications (the New Statesman and the Graun itself) who now denounce Blair as a madman/liar/warmonger/poodle/megalomaniac, etc, etc, would not hear a word against him when he seized the leadership of the Labour Party in 1994 and wagged their “realist” fingers at those of us who expressed doubts, telling us that we were infantile ultra-leftists, who needed to come to terms with the modern world of Blairite compromise and consensus.

Blair, it is clear, is incapable of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, fact and opinion, disarmament and regime change.  But he said one – just one – true thing yesterday: Saddam Hussein was, indeed,  a “monster” and the world and (especially) the peoples of Iraq are well rid of him. Sadly, that’s not something that the likes of George ‘Haw Haw’ Galloway, Lindsey German and the isolationists of the ‘Stop The War Coalition’ can accept. Which is why their morality and veracity is at least as flawed as Bliar’s.

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J’Attendrai: Django in action!

January 29, 2010 at 10:29 pm (Europe, good people, jazz, Jim D, music)

When I wrote my recent piece on Django’s centennial (below, Jan 23), I failed to find any “live” film of him in action, to accompany my tribute.  Michael over at the excellent  ‘Jazz Lives’ has done so; here it is:

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iJ7bs4mTUY&feature=player_embedded#]

This is also in memory of a great friend, the clarinet and sax player Mike Turner, who died much too young, last year. Mike was a hot jazz player who was also a committed Francophile, and loved the ‘bal-musette’ tradition of people like Charles Trenet: Mike would occasionally burst into song on a gig, and ‘J’Attendrai’ was one of his favourites. Sadly, I don’t think he was ever recorded singing it.

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J.D.Salinger, b: Jan 1st 1919, d: Jan 27th 2010

January 28, 2010 at 8:47 pm (Jim D, literature, mental health)

He left us just four slim volumes and I’m still not sure whether any of them are particularly good. But ‘Catcher’ is inescapably part of my adolescence (yours too, I bet). And I once knew a girl called Esme who claimed she was named for ‘Love and Squalor’.

Time magazine is first with an obituary – and it’s worth reading. I particularly liked the following (about Salinger’s legenadary reclusivity): “Pynchon figured out how to turn his back on the world with a wink and a Cheshire Cat smile. Salinger did it with a scowl.”

The final Chapter (#26)  of Catcher:

THAT’s all I’m going to tell about. I could probably tell you what I did after I went home, and how I got sick and all, and what school I’m supposed to go to next fall, after I get out of here, but I don’t feel like it. I really don’t. That stuff doesn’t interest me too much right now.

A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I’m going to apply myself when I go back to school next September. It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it? The answer is, you don’t. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it’s a stupid question.

D.B. isn’t as bad as the rest of them, but he keeps asking me a lot of questions, too. He drove over last Saturday with this English babe that’s in this new picture he’s writing. She was pretty affected, but very good-looking. Anyway, one time when she went to he ladies’s room, way the hell down the other wing, D.B. asked me what I thought about all this stuff I just finished telling you about. I didn’t know what the hell to say. If you want to know the truth, I don’t know what I think about it. I’m sorry I told so many people about it. About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about. Even old Stradlater and Ackley, for instance. I think I even miss that goddam Maurice. It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

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Don’t betray Afghan women in the name of “peace”!

January 27, 2010 at 9:45 pm (Afghanistan, islamism, Jackie Mcdonough, terror, thuggery, women)

Peace is – generally – good, and war is – always – bad. There can be little doubt that to achieve something that can be called “peace” in Afghanistan some distasteful deals will have to be done. Just as in order to get rid of the Taliban govenment in 2001, the West had to do deals with warlords who were little better (if any better) than the Taliban.

But as tomorrow’s London Conference on Afghanistan assembles, and talk of a deal with at least some sections of the Taliban is being heard from “realists” in Washington,  London and Kabul, it’s worth reminding ourselves  just how barbaric the Talibs were and still are  (not least because the Pilgers and Corbyns of this world have started describing them as, to all intents and purposes, ‘freedom fighters’):


Zarmeena is being excuted by Taliban

And it’s worth remembering that whatever the costs in human terms of the war (and I write as someone who opposed it from the start), women in Afghanistan have gained significant rights (especially in education) over the last nine years, despite savage attacks from the Talibs – including the dreadful murders of brave women teachers (torn – literally – limb from limb) and disfiguring acid attacks upon women students, by these gynophobic rural fascists.

Most Afghan women want peace – but not (one suspects) at any price. Homa Sabri, national officer-in-charge of UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund For Women) says: “I have great fears, and I am greatly confused…2001 was a very clear signal that there is no more room for conservative elements to rule in Afghanistan.”

Mary Akrami, Director of the Afghan Womens Skills Development Centre says: “Afghan women have the most to gain from peace and the most to lose from any form of reconciliation compromising women’s human rights. There cannot be national security without women’s security, there can be no peace when women’s lives are are fraught with violence, when our children can’t go to schools, when we cannot step onto the streets for fear of acid attacks.”

UNIFEM and other Afghan women’s and human rights organisations point out that the London conference is hosted and chaired exclusively by men: “Peace is impossible when half the population is excluded!” they say, and have issued this statement, including the following demands:

* Ensuring women’s representaion in peace processs. Consistent with constitutional guarantees for women’s representation, women must comprise at least 25 percent of any peace process, including any proposed upcoming peace jirgas. They must be represented in any national and local security policy-making forums, such as the Afghan President’s National Security Council.

* Guaranteeing that reconciliation protects women’s rights. The government and international community must secure and monitor women’s rights in all reconciliation initiatives so that the status of women is not bargained away in any short-term effort to achieve stability.

*Implementing a gender-responsive security policy. All efforts to enhance security in Afghanistan must better serve women.

Contact:

Oisika Chakrabarti, UNIFEM, +1 347 449-2260; oisika.chakrabarti@unifem.org

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Plod and Blogs

January 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm (blogging, bloggocks, blogosphere, censorship, Christianity, crap, Free Speech, Rosie B)

Further to Jim’s piece below, Seismic’s story got me into a fury.

At 10am on Sunday 29th November 2009, I received a visit from two policemen regarding my activities in running the Seismic Shock blog. [FFS! – why aren’t they in HQ filling in forms about something?  Or even kettling protesters?  This is really creepy.]. . . A sergeant from the Horsforth Police related to me that he had received complaints via Surrey Police from Rev Sizer and from Dr Anthony McRoy – a lecturer at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology – who both objected to being associated with terrorists and Holocaust deniers.

The sergeant made clear that this was merely an informal chat, in which I agreed to delete my original blog (http://seismicshock.blogspot.com) but maintain my current one (http://seismicshock.wordpress.com). [What powers have they got to tell you to delete a blog? And an “informal chat”?   It’s pleasant when you can have informal chats with the police, which I have when someone left my front door open and they came in to check that the house hadn’t been burgled.   But if they were coming to speak about my blog I would turn very formal on them.]  The policeman related to me that his police force had been in contact with the ICT department my previous place of study, and had looked through my files, and that the head of ICT at my university would like to remind me that I should not be using university property in order to associate individuals with terrorists and Holocaust deniers (I am sure other people use university property to make political comments, but nevermind).  [Bloody hell!  My work cuts off all access to blogging, reasonably if annoyingly as I can’t even do any posts or comments at lunchtime.  I can’t see them using the police as messengers in a matter of internal discipline.  So Seismic is being investigated?]

A Christian blogger – “Vee” of LivingJourney, who is based in Australia – linked to my blog as a resource for Christians to learn about anti-Semitism in the Church, including “lots of info on Stephen Sizer and Sabeel”.

Rev Sizer left her this comment:

Dear Vee,
You must take a little more care who you brand as anti-semitic otherwise you too will be receiving a caution from the police as the young former student of Leeds did recently. One more reference to me and you will be reported.
Blessings
Stephen

[That Blessings is so Christian-creepy.  I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin, as I stoke up the flames.]

Seismic points out that he did not in fact receive a police caution, and anyway would the Australian police leap at the word of the Reverend? I hope they would tell the Pommie dog-collar wearer to can it.

I’m not going to delve through the works of the Rev Stephen Sizer in order to pronounce on his anti-Semitism, but going by his behaviour towards Seismic and his threatening letter to an Australian blogger he is an authoritarian little shit with crappy ideas of what political debate is and one to give his religion a bad name.

Rev Sizer would have been bad enough if he had got lawyers to write letters to Seismic and his service provider in order to shut him up.  Getting the police involved and then using them as a threat to shut up other bloggers about his political activities is how a cowardly louse behaves, and it’s outrageous that the police didn’t tell him that that wasn’t their job to harass bloggers.

Seismic seems unsure of his rights in this case. It is evident that this government has extended the powers of the police, the police are taking advantage of it, and getting into the mindset where they poke around blogs for speech and writing crimes.  Using the anti-terrorism laws, they have been stopping and searching photographers for taking photographs.   Photographers held a mass demonstration against this yesterday.

Photoprot

The political history of this country is of the government extending its powers, the people pushing back.  A mass repetition of Seismic’s story on all blogs would be one small shove.

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Holocaust Memorial Day: Primo Levi speaks from the grave

January 24, 2010 at 1:51 am (anti-semitism, Christianity, history, Jim D)

Silence slowly prevails and then, from my bunk on the top row, I see and  hear old Kuhn praying aloud, with his beret on his head, swaying backwards and forwards violently. Kuhn is thanking God because he has not been chosen.

“Khun is out of his senses. Does he not see Beppo the Greek in the bunk next to him, Beppo who is twenty years old and is going to the gas-chamber the day after tomorrow and knows it and lies there looking fixedly at the light without saying anything and without even thinking anymore? Can Kuhn fail to realise that next time it will be his turn? Does Kuhn not understand that what has happened today is an abomination, which no propitiatory prayer, no pardon, no expiation by the guilty, which nothing at all in the power of man can ever clean again?

“If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer.”

- From Primo Levi: If This Is A Man (1959)

…And on Holocaust Day,, I note that Christian anti-semitism is still alive and well. Message to the Rev Stephen Sizer; you are a vile little anti-semite and if you want to call the cops on me, Jim Denham, for saying that, so be it. I’ll be glad to meet you in court and call you and your version of the Anglican Church  for what you are. Go for it, you miserable, dog-collared anti-semite!

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Django: the gypsy king of jazz

January 23, 2010 at 10:56 pm (Europe, jazz, Jim D)

We all use the term “genius” too readily. But the Belgian-born gypsy Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt (born 100 years ago today) probably deserves that description. He pioneered a style of jazz guitar playing that still astonishes and captivates  (and not just jazz specialists) 70-odd years later.

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He succeeded in doing this despite two major disadvantages:
1/ He was not American;
2/ His left hand had been badly injured in a fire, leaving just two fully-functioning fingers and a thumb to make the chord positions.
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The first of these wouldn’t matter so much these days, as European jazz  has long been accepted as the equal of anything coming out of the US (albeit by adopting some pretty turgid “folk” influences well described by one critic as “motionless pastoralism”); but in Django’s day even the best European musicians were considered merely talented copyists of the American originators. Django was the first European jazz musician to establish himself as a distinct and unique player who transcended and surpassed his main American model (the Italian-American guitar pioneer of the 1920′s, Eddie Lang).
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The second “disadvantage” turned out to be the making of him.  His handicap forced him to use a technique called “barring”, in which (as the late Richard Sudhalter described it) “one or two fingers are laid across the strings in the manner of a metal capo (or the solid bar of the Texas steel guitar) and another finger moves to vary the resultant pitch from there.”
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The injury also led Django to develop some innovative chordal inversions. The present day US guitarist and Django fan Frank Vignola told Sudhalter, “They’re things other players didn’t use, because they didn’t have to. There are records he made in the 1920′s, before his accident, and he’s playing more or less standard inversions. I think it’s safe to say he owes a lot of the uniqueness of his way of playing, ironically, to the handicap caused by the fire.”
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This technique, plus a brilliant sense of dynamics, all went to create what Richard Cook describes as a “wonderfully resonant (sound), accentuated by his use of silences and unexpected phrases which might allow a single cadence to sound like the chime of a bell.”
 
Django was also notoriously unreliable, petulant – childish, even – and vain. When things were going well, he basked in the adulation of fans, blew his money on sharp clothes and sports cars and generally behaved like a spoiled brat. When things went badly, he wallowed in self-pity and booze. He was the despair of booking agents, recording studios and – in particular – his long-suffering musical partner Stephane Grappelli, who said many years after Django’s death, “I think now I would rather play with lesser musicians and have a peaceable time than with Django and his monkey-business.”
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Django and Grappelli were not an obvious pairing either musically or personally. Grappelli in the 1930′s was a very ‘correct’ and rather restrained violinist who could play a very ‘polite’ form of jazz, but had nothing like the fire and verve of his US opposite number and model, Joe Venuti. Grappelli wasn’t even Django’s first choice as violinist in their famous group the Quintette du Hot Club de France: Django had wanted to use the now almost forgotten Michel Warlop, but for some reason Warlop wasn’t available. Nevertheless, Grappelli and Reinhardt formed a team that is, these days,  far better remembered than their American models Venuti and Lang.
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Grappelli, whatever his personal frustrations with Django, made a comfortable living out of his association with the “gypsy genius” and the Quintette until his own death in December 1997.
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It has been suggested (noteably by Chris Goddard in the book ‘Jazz Away From Home’ ) that Django’s ready understanding of the language of jazz (though he could scarcely read or write French) was because Gypsy society in Europe is (or was) very similar to Afro-American society in the US:
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“Both the Afro-American and gypsy races live within a culture but are not part of it. Their own cultural and social identities are thereby reinforced. It is therefore no coincidence that such societies display a taste for music at a very practical level. The world outside does not cater to their needs and so they provide their own entertainment.”
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Be that as it may, there is no doubt that Django was the first European musician to be accepted as a musical equal by such black American giants as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Rex Stewart, Dicky Wells and Bill Coleman (all of whom recorded with him in Paris in the late thirties), and even Duke Ellington (who brought him over to the US for a brief and not entirely successful tour in 1946).
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Django died of a stroke at the age of 43. By then Charlie Christian’s modernistic advances on amplified guitar and the arrival of bebop had begun to eclipse his pre-eminence. But all the signs were that Django was preparing to hit back: on his very last recordings he successfully switched to an amplified instrument and showed some understanding of bop. We’ll never know how he would have developed. But the rich and extensive recorded legacy is plenty to be grateful for.

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEzsPGHsi90]

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Haiti: the vultures descend

January 22, 2010 at 5:57 pm (cults, Max Dunbar, scientology)

There are faith-based humanitarian organisations who are in Haiti now and are doing a brave and necessary job. And then there are the Scientologists. It appears that John Travolta has pledged supplies, medics and ‘volunteer ministers’ from the Church. Apparently these last will be there to provide ‘spiritual assistance’ to earthquake victims.

Now, the history of Scientology suggests that any aid the Church provides will be extremely conditional. Marina Hyde provides the context:

L Ron [Hubbard] personally decreed the strategy he called ‘Casualty Contact’, in which he advised Scientologists to scan newspapers for reports of accidents or bereavements, searching for ‘people who have been victimised one way or another by life’.

Stipulating that one way to do this was to trawl hospitals, Hubbard declared of the ambulance-chasing Scientologist that, ‘He should represent himself . . . as a minister whose compassion was compelled by the newspaper story concerning the person [. . .] However, in handling the press he should simply say that it is a mission of the church to assist those who are in need of assistance. He should avoid any lengthy discussions of Scientology and should talk about the work of ministers and how all too few ministers these days get around to places where they are needed. It’s straight recruiting!’

Casualty Contact has since modulated into the Volunteer Ministers programme, whose yellow tents are increasingly visible at high-profile disaster sites, and often enlivened by special appearances by their celebrity adherents. Within these tents Scientologists administer the aforementioned Touch Assists, whose purpose is to ‘speed the Thetan’s ability to heal or repair a condition with his body’.

After 9/11, aid agencies at Ground Zero voiced concern that the Volunteer Ministers had displayed their leaflets around the disaster site and operated in the restricted area without authorisation until this was pointed out to the police, who then denied them access. Two days after the tragedy, and presenting themselves as an organisation called National Mental Health Assistance, representatives of the Church of Scientology duped Fox News into running the church’s freephone number for five hours on the bottom of the screen, apparently in the belief that it was the official outreach hotline. Fox News removed it after an irate intervention from the real National Mental Health Association.

‘The public needs to understand that the Scientologists are using this tragedy to recruit new members,’ the president of the NMHA stated. ‘They are not providing mental health assistance.’

Au contraire, say the Scientologists, who claim they provide a unique brand of ‘meaningful help’ during catastrophes. They were there after the tsunami, after Katrina – with added Travolta – and in Beslan, before being asked to leave after the local Russian health ministry judged their techniques unhelpful to already severely traumatised children.

And of course they were there after the 7 July attacks, when an undercover BBC investigation taped the leader of the London branch of the Church’s anti-psychiatry movement laughing that their role in the immediate aftermath of the bombings was ‘fighting the psychiatrists; keeping the psychs away [from survivors]‘. One survivor who happened to have mental health training voiced his shock that Scientologists had attempted to recruit him and others.

What sort of numbers they’ll do in Haiti remains to be seen, but hats off to Travolta and the church leaders for deploying in this way. As for Scientology’s most famous face, do recall ‘the Mr Cruise response to 9/11′ – setting up the First New York Hubbard Detox project where firemen who had breathed in the World Trade Centre dust were encouraged to submit to the ‘Purification Rundown’, discarding their medication and taking endless saunas along with high doses of niacin, much to the despair of their doctors.

From the creepy to the ridiculous, there’s this item on ABC about an American group called Faith Comes By Hearing that is sending Bibles – ‘solar-powered audible Bibles that can broadcast the holy scriptures in Haitian Creole to 300 people at a time.’

The Faith Comes By Hearing organisation says its Bible, called the Proclaimer, delivers ‘digital quality’ and is designed for ‘poor and illiterate people’.

It says 600 of the devices are already on their way to Haiti.

The Albuquerque-based organisation says it is responding to the Haitian crisis by ‘providing faith, hope and love through God’s word in audio’.

The audio Bible can bring the ‘hope and comfort that comes from knowing God has not forgotten them through this tragedy,’ a statement on its website says.

Apparently, this gadget will work in jungle, in desert, and on the moon.

(This is the link to donate to Haiti earthquake relief)

Update: Jon from Faith Comes By Hearing has appeared in the Shiraz comments:

Thanks for your thoughts on the solar-powered audio Bibles.  I can see where you may think this is not a good approach, but our organization has been working with the Haitians since 1986, providing them free audio Scriptures in their own language.

The moon comment was someone making mention that they didn’t require electricity.  That was a dumb bullet point on the website, thanks for letting me know.  We took it off.

Besides, these audio Bibles are still in the states enroute to dozens of relief groups who have called ASKING for them.  The Haitians have been preyed upon for a long-time by those interested in exploiting their natural resources and impoverishing their people.  We believe the people of Haiti are that nation’s most precious resource and we desire to empower them with the Scriptures in which they believe in a format they can use.  Roughly half the nation is unable to read, so giving them the Bible in a format they can use–audio, is completely reasonable.

Jon
Faith Comes By Hearing

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Sixty years since the death of Orwell

January 20, 2010 at 11:40 pm (history, Jim D, literature, politics, socialism, truth)

In January 1950, his health broken by the effort of completing Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell was planning to go to a sanatorium in Switzerland. He never made it. On the night of 21 January 1950,  his tubercular lung haemorrhaged and he died alone in a London hospital bed.

Despite the Swiss pipe-dream, all the evidence suggests that Orwell knew he was dying. Shortly before his death he’d  made a new will which included detailed instructions for his funeral. It also included the request that no biography should be written. Fortunately for us, Bernard Crick (with the agreement of Orwell’s widow Sonia) eventually defied this request and in 1980 Penguin published his George Orwell: A Life. The taboo having been broken, several other Orwell biographies have followed but Crick’s remains far and away the best; it’s presently out of print, which is a scandal. On the 60th anniversary of Orwell’s death I can think of no better tribute than to quote from the closing passages of Crick’s book – which include a section from Orwell’s 1946 essay ‘Why I Write‘:

“Let a paragraph from the same essay that Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus printed at the very beginning of  The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters serve as his own epitaph at the end of his first full and unwanted biography:

“‘What I have most wanted to do throughout the last ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon the world-view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the suface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.’

“‘…Our prerogatives as men’ wrote Louis MacNeice, ‘Will be cancelled who knows when…?’, if we cannot radically alter our relationship with public power; but neither a transformed nor a reformed public realm will be worth having if individual creative values do not flourish, indeed fructify in abundance for the majority of people, not just the chosen or even the self-chosen few. In striving to keep a deliberate balance between public and private values, between creative work and necessary labour, between politics and culture, Orwell’s life and his writings should both guide and cheer us. He hated the power-hungry, execised intelligence and independence, and taught us again to use our language with beauty and clarity, sought for and practiced fraternity and faith in the decency, tolerance and humanity of the common man. And what is even more heartening, he was all that and yet as odd in himself and as varied in his friends as a man can be.” 

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