BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze is a superb programme that deals with serious issues in an intelligent, usually balanced, and often passionate, manner. Recent editions have included debates on the future of the NHS, assisted dying and the limits (if any) of freedom of expression.
Last night’s debate on Gaza was outstanding, even by the usual high standards of the show. If you didn’t hear it, click here.
Sarah AB, over at That Place gives a pretty good account of the discussion, but I’m reproducing, below, the assessment posted by one ‘Craig’, shortly after the broadcast, at a blog (new to me) called simply Is The BBC Biased? Quite clearly, whatever other reservations ‘Craig’ may have about the BBC, he was impressed by what he heard last night:
Tonight’s The Moral Maze was quite something.
To do justice to the thoughts it provoked would demand a post that took longer to read than it actually took to listen to the programme (and no one wants that), so I will simply sketch my initial impressions of it.
The panel contained two strongly pro-Israeli speakers, namely Melanie Phillips and Jill Kirby (making her debut), and one strongly pro-Palestinian speaker, Giles Fraser. The final speaker, Matthew Taylor, was happier to sit on the fence but dangled his feet on the Palestinian side.
The ‘witnesses’ were Colonel Richard Kemp and Dr Hugo Slim on the Israeli side, and Mehdi Hasan and Ted Honderich on the Palestinian side.
Michael Buerk gave a characteristically fine introduction (firm but fair).
Then came the first witness, Mehdi Hasan.
Mehdi (characteristically) was very canny in making repeated denunciations of Hamas, saying that they too had committed war crimes. Of course, that concession allowed him to repeatedly make his main point – that Israel is committing war crimes and that Israel is worse than Hamas because of its superior military strength and because it is ‘the occupier’.
His argument didn’t convince me but I can well imagine, unfortunately, that his fluency might have struck home with many a Radio 4 listener.
Melanie’s repeated attempts to talk him down, and both her and Jill’s attempts to get him to condone Hamas rather misfired. He was perfectly happy to condemn Hamas (#Taqiyya?) in order to make his condemnation of Israel tell, thus (in the process) somewhat taking the wind out of their sails.
Next came Colonel Richard Kemp.
He was very persuasive, making Israel’s case with considerable reasonableness (as opposed to Mehdi’s excitability). I suspect (and hope) that Radio 4 listeners will have responded well to his arguments.
Both Matthew Taylor and Giles Fraser gave him space to make his arguments and seemed rather hard-placed to argue with them. Giles, characteristically, was passionate but also seemed somewhat disarmed by Col. Kemp’s quietly-made points. It was a clear win for Col. Kemp.
Then came Ted Honderich.
Prof. Honderich is a philosopher. [I own an encyclopedia of philosophy edited by him]. He sought to make a philosophical case in defence of Hamas. Yes, really.
I suspect (like me) that most Radio 4 listeners will have failed to make much sense of his arguments. All I took from his contribution is that he thinks Hamas is good and that Israel is bad, and that he thinks that Hamas is justified in deliberately seeking to kill Israeli civilians. Philosophically-speaking.
I almost wish that Michael Buerk hadn’t cut him off so curtly from making his initial argument as I suspect that Radio 4 listeners would have been even more put off by the result. (Michael clearly didn’t like Ted Honderich). Partly as a result, Prof. Honderich made very little headway here.
His remarkable (and reprehensible) appearance was dominated by his spiteful encounter with Melanie Phillips. Insults flew in both directions.
Finally came Dr Hugo Slim, who put the case for Israel well, but who was also willing to give his hands a good wringing in the process. Giles Fraser tried to wax passionate against him but seemed to find him too likable (too liberal) to get into a proper fistfight with, and Matthew Taylor appeared to reach a meeting of minds with him
The final panel discussion was lively. Giles Fraser came out (extraordinarily) as being sympathetic to Ted Honderich’s pro-Hamas points (well, he is a Guardian editorial writer these days). Melanie Phillips tried to talk him down (and everyone else – until Jill Kirby made a good, pro-Israel point). Jill Kirby floundered somewhat, though she made some good points (first day nerves?). Michael Buerk had a dig at Giles for seeming to back up Prof. Honderich, and Matthew Taylor sat on the fence.
All in all, a fiercely balanced programme.
I did note that some people on Twitter denounced it as biased, though I couldn’t work out in what direction they meant (and was deeply unwilling to check their Twitter feeds).
You have just five days to catch the superb BBC 4 (that’s TV not Radio 4) documentary, Nat ‘King’ Cole : Afraid of the Dark, which deals mainly with the music, but doesn’t flinch from describing the racism either.
Nat was the first black artist to have a show on mainstream US television, but it only lasted for two years (1955-57) before folding due to lack of sponsorship. Nat (not his channel, ABC) finally pulled the plug, commenting “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
The contributions to this BBC documentary from from Nat’s widow Maria are extraordinary and often heartbreaking. Meanwhile, here’s a reminder that Nat wasn’t only a (very superior) crooner: had he never sung a note he’d still be remembered as one of the great jazz pianists:
Thomas with wife Caitlin
For no particular reason that I can fathom (the centenary of his birth is not until this coming October), BBC Radio 3 has decreed today ‘Dylan Thomas Day’. Oh well, this gives me an excuse to republish Kingsley Amis’s account of a meeting with Thomas in 1951. Amis had little time for Thomas either as a man or as a poet, as the following account makes clear. Surprisingly, and under circumstances that have never been made clear, Amis was appointed executor of Thomas’s estate.
This account was first published in the Spectator in 1957, republished in 1970 as part of the Amis anthology What Became of Jane Austin? and finally appeared again in modified form in Amis’s 1991 Memoirs. What appears below is from the latter, with the 1957 conclusion appended:
I met Dylan Thomas on a single evening in the spring of 1951, when he had accepted an invitation to give a talk to the English Society of the [University] College [of Swansea]. The secretary of the society, a pupil of mine, asked me if I would like to come along to the pub and meet Thomas before the official proceedings opened. I said I would like to very much, for although I had lost all my earlier enthusiasm for his writing, I had heard a great deal, not only in Swansea, of his abilities as a talker and entertainer of his friends. I arranged with my wife and some of our own friends that we would try to get Thomas back into the pub after his talk and thereafter to our house just up the street from there. I got down the pub about six, feeling expectant.
The foregoing paragraph is based on a brief account I wrote of this meeting in the Spectator in 1957. If I had known about him then what I have since learnt, I would still have turned up, but with different expectations. For one things, I would certainly not have entertained the idea of getting him along to my house then or at any other time, indeed, would have done my best to conceal its location from him. I will now go on with a version of what I went on to write then, cut and amended where necessary.
Thomas was already in the pub, a glass of light ale before him and a half-circle of students round him. The impression he made was of apathy as much as anything. Also in attendance was, I said in 1957, a Welsh painter of small eminence whom I called Griffiths. In fact this person was a Welsh poet of small eminence by the name of John Ormond Thomas and later known professionally, I understand, as John Ormond. In the course of the session he told us several times that he had that day driven down from his house in Merionethshire (north Wales, now part of Gwynedd) on purpose to see Thomas, whom he had known, he said more than once, for several years. Thomas seemed very sedate, nothing like the great pub performer of legend. He was putting the light ales down regularly but without hurry. After some uninspired talk about his recent trip to America, he announced, in his clear, slow, slightly haughty, cut-glass Welsh voice, ‘I’ve just come back from Persia, where I’ve been pouring water on troubled oil.’
Making what was in those days my stock retort to the prepared epigram, I said boyishly, ‘I say, I must go and write that down.’ What I should have said, I now realise, was something much more like: ‘What? What are you talking about? That means nothing, and it isn’t funny or clever, it’s infantile playing with words, like that silly line of yours about the man in the wind and the man in the west moon. Or the phrase in that story about Highlanders being piping hot. They weren’t hot or piping hot, but saying so is a bit naughty, I agree. Taff.’
Following on from similar focuses devoted to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert and Webern, March 7 will celebrate the great impressionist’s music through recordings dating from the 1930s to the present day.
Performers involved include pianists Pascal and Ami Rogé in a recital from Wigmore Hall (including a two-hand arrangement of Boléro), the Nash Ensemble, and New Generation Artist mezzo Clara Mouriz. There will also be a series of downloads called Ravel Revealed exploring aspects of his life.
Now, of course, there’s a lot more to Ravel than Boléro (my personal favourite is Daphnis et Chloé) but I couldn’t resist bringing you this 1934 film (below) as a foretaste:
Better than Torville and Dean, eh? George Rafters all round!
In general, I’m one of those listeners who objects to music on Radio 4 – especially the infuriating Mastertapes with the annoying rock fan John Wilson, who – frankly – should just fuck off to Radio 2, where he belongs. However, I’m happy to make an exception for Soul Music, which this week featured the strangely melancholic Christmas song, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.’
It was written in 1944 by one Hugh Martin for the film Meet Me In St. Louis, in which it was sung by the film’s star, Judy Garland. It comes at a particularly sad moment in the film, and Garland felt its original lyrics (read out for us in the Radio 4 programme) were altogether too depressing, and eventually Martin was persuaded to replace them with slightly more upbeat (but still hardly jolly) words. Later on Frank Sinatra got Martin to change them again, this time replacing “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” with “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”
As always with Soul Music, the programme discusses not just the song’s lyrics, but also its (surprisingly sophisticated) harmonic structure and chord changes, interspersed with the thoughts and reminiscences of people for whom it carries a special meaning and/or memories. James Taylor’s pensive version, recorded shortly after 9/11, quite rightly receives a special mention:
My favourite version, by Ella Fitzgerald, doesn’t feature in the programme, perhaps because Ella’s voice is almost too good and (combined with the relatively up-tempo swing arrangement) doesn’t quite convey the pathos that the lyrics seem to demand. Never mind: it’s Ella and it’s beautiful. So here’s wishing A Merry Little Christmas to all of you!
(Jim has already written on this below, but I want to add my piece.)
Well, can you believe it?. An illiberal piece of policy is advanced by a powerful body, against it comes a petition, a demonstration, media shouting and then the policy is withdrawn. Amazing.
To recap, Universities UK, (UUK) (formerly The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom) put out guidelines that allowed speakers at meetings in universities to insist women and men be segregated for “genuinely religious” reasons. Student Rights picked this up. The bloggers you’d expect – Maryam Nazie, Ophelia Benson, James Bloodworth produced angry posts. The mainstream media moved in – Nick Cohen in the Spectator, and Yasmin Alibai-Brown, finely furious, in The Independent.
Imagine the scenario:-
Sheikh Shifty is invited by some ISOC group to speak about Freedom and Justice at the University of Excellence. Sheikh Shifty will only speak if the women sit separate from the men.
Obvious answer – tell the misogynist theocrat to take a hike, in these words,
“I am sorry to inform you that it is against the principles of the University to allow meetings to occur with gender segregation.”
But not in the UUK’s horrible management speak:- .
if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully
There was a petition and a small demonstration which Channel 4 covered at length.
Then the BBC began to thunder. The Today programme (1:35) on 11th December had a long piece which started with the reporter regretting his old LSE, the one in the 1980s where students were raucous but not so ready to be offended, or offended on the behalf of putative others.
The next day the BBC got Nicola Dandridge, the Chief Executive of UUK, into the Today (2:10) studio. Regular Today listeners recognised the tones with which Justin Webb interrogated her. It’s the one which they use on a duplicitous politician who has no moral leg to stand on – who has, say, been fiddling her expenses. It’s the voice of outraged decency against a moral moron and it was music to my ears, an angry liberal telling off a squirming piece of inconsistency and illogic. (For a biting take down of Dandridge’s muddled defence, I would strongly recommend this.)
“If this is all that Dandridge means – that people have the right to sit where the hell they want and some will sit cliquishly by gender or other groupings, there is no role for Universities and no reason why the situation should ever be addressed in policy.
Worse, “If women want to sit where the hell the want”? IF? What is this world in which you live where women routinely have no desires and sit where they are told without a single thought disrupting the gentle currents of air between their ears?
All women always sit where they want unless coerced or forced. The fact that you can’t acknowledge this openly, that women naturally have desires and preferences, that we make conscious choices here-there-and-everywhere, speaks to a profound sexism whose paucity of respect for a woman’s mind truly challenges the ability of words to express. I can only repeat your own phrase:
If women want to sit where the hell they want
and goggle at your idea that you will only impose segregation in times and places where women have no preferences.
The politicians – Chuka Umunna , Jack Straw, Michael Gove, David Cameron spoke out. Under the threads of their statements in the Guardian commenters were saying, Bugger me, the horrible Tory creeps are right this time. I’d normally be spitting that politicians were interfering in University affairs – they really shouldn’t, you know – but I’m cheering them. If the representative body of the Vice Chancellors and Principals are so bloody clueless, and the NUS are so supine, they need to be kicked.
I think a lot of the response has been visceral. The suffragettes weren’t force fed for this, the women who fought a grinding battle to get entry into English universities shouldn’t be pissed on
So now the UUK has withdrawn gender segreation from its guidelines. It looks like the forces of light have won for once.
Congratulations to those who attended protests and wrote copiously. If only every campaign could be so successful. But what a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time and anger-fuelled action.
Flesh is Grass has a sane, thoughtful piece:-
Women always miss out when public spaces are segregated by leaders and organisers – even if voluntary, it’s a small change in culture, in the general view of what is acceptable. Authoritarians always use the values of open, pluralist societies against those societies themselves, and weaken them incrementally. Let’s stop this.
She also pointed out that feminists like Caroline Lucas, MP, Green Party and Natalie Bennett, Leader, Green Party did not speak out. I read that Caroline Lucas had said it wasn’t a priority. Also there hasn’t been a peep out of that clutch of feminist writers in The Staggers. Polly Toynbee, one of the old-guard Guardian, undid the miserable expectations we now have of her paper, by sticking to her old feminism and atheism. At least they didn’t publish any of their usual apologetics on these matters. The Observer has an editorial and a good piece by Catherine Bennett.
On the other side:-
Well, one is an article which looks like parody in the Huff Po by Camilla Khan, the Head of Communications,(!) Federation of Student Islamic Societies, who tries to wrap this up in a mixture of post-modernism and spirituality. She has managed to use every con-trick word – those words that irritate like berry bugs in a bra cup – “discourse”, “empower”, “nuanced” and “diversity, “
Firstly, the term segregation itself is highly problematic and acts to conflate the reality further. As Saussure theorised on syntagmatic relations, ‘within speech, words are subject to a kind of relation that is independent of the first and based on their linkage,’ and segregation connotes various forms of separation and oppression.
The problem is calling segregation, segregation. If you called it something else it would be fine. Telling Molly when she walks into a room that she can’t sit here because she’s a woman, isn’t segregation, just nuanced diverse empowerment.
Tendance Coatesey has a bit of fun with Khan’s linguistic studies – Saussure is old hat, I understand – but she really should read a bit of Orwell, and note that calling mass murder “liqudation of anti-social elements” doesn’t stop it being mass murder. But whoever has influenced her writing style, it wasn’t Orwell.
Her other con-trick is that very old anti-feminist ploy, that women taking a different (and different will mean inferior) place is a path to spirituality. So the anti-suffragists said that women agitating to take part in public life spoiled their purifying influence and their moral specialness. They were meant for a higher destiny.
As with life, Islam acknowledges that we form different groups who occupy various intellectual and social spaces. Diversity is celebrated with spirituality at the forefront, forming a broad frame of reference which is not always easily comprehensible to those outside of it.
No, I can’t comprehend how her spirituality is so much compromised when she takes a bus, goes to the cinema or sits in her cultural studies class. What about the diversity of those women who don’t want to be herded with other women, and men also. Is that celebrated? (Add “celebrate” with abstract nouns to my list of berry bug words). I think the “diversity” is a pretty damned narrow one.
Second is Shohana Khan. Khan is a member of Hitz ut-Tahrir, the fighters for a Caliphate where apostates will be killed.
Her argument boils down to:- Men and women must be separated because otherwise they will get sex on the brain and not be able to do something.
Rather the concept of separating men and women in public spaces in Islam, is part of a wider objective. Islam has a societal view that the intimate relationship between a man and a woman is for the committed private sphere of marriage, and should not be allowed to spill outside of this sphere. This is because in society, men and women need to cooperate to achieve things in society whether in the work place, in education, in interactions across the public space. Islam firmly believes if the sexual instinct is let loose in this public sphere, it can taint and complicate these relationships. Therefore Islam promotes ideas such as honouring women which are upheld in society, but alongside such ideas specific rules and laws are implemented to help maintain the atmosphere of healthy interaction between the sexes.
And if the woman breaks these rules, eg by not covering her head she’s fair game is she?
I think it has been observed that public school boys for instance, especially in times past, had a highly unhealthy attitude towards women because they weren’t used to them as normal human beings. So you’re talking garbage – and rather prurient garbage at that. Islamists are as sex obsessed as Hugh Hefner.
Now I won’t say I haven’t been at a public meeting and thought a chap in the audience was rather a dish. In fact, political meetings at universities is where many of us met our soulmates – that person who was highly vocal about the need to oppose nuclear proliferation and had lovely grey eyes. The partnerships of couples who fell in love with the shared ideals and the person can be highly productive. The Pankhursts were one such couple. Jennie Lee and Nye Bevan were another. So I can’t deny there is a sexual element at public meetings, as there is in the offices where we work.
But that it should dominate someone’s mind so much that it screws up their ability to act! What’s wrong with them? Knowing how to behave in public is part of growing up, as is concentrating on the matter at hand. The only people offering distractions who should be segregated are those twerps with buzzing mobile phones.
So a victory this time round. End with Any Questions (:38). Shami Chakrabati took what has been a common attitude – why on earth are we even talking about this?
Johnathan Dimbleby: Is there justification for segregation in an educational setting?
Amjad Bashir (small business spokesman for UKIP, Pakistani immigrant, from Bradford): No. The answer is no. Absolutely not. . . All through my life, and my children, my grand children are all mixing, all sexes, whether it’s primary schools, whether it’s secondary schools. whether it’s universities. There is no room. This is England This is the twenty first century. It’s not Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive, It’s not Saudi Arabia, where they are not allowed to have bank accounts. This is England. We should allow our youngsters to mix and decide their own future. This is the twenty first century. I am against this segregation.
Nelson Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe has described how the family gathered around him to say goodbye. She also describes her own sometimes difficult relationship with her father and the difficulties of living in a divided family. We republish this because it’s an honest and very moving account of the private Mandela and his family.
Makaziwe Mandela, Mr Mandela’s oldest surviving child, was speaking to the BBC’s Komla Dumor.
Here are some excerpts from that interview:
It has been a very long painful period.
As you know because of the type of family we are, you can’t experience the pain and the trauma, and actually now the loss, privately. We are always constantly, people around and the glare and sometimes you feel like screaming, you know, ‘Can you give us peace, just to have that moment as a family?’ It’s been very, very hard.
He was very, very much loved. He knew that he was loved. Being conscious of all the warmth that came from the world, it’s difficult to say, we tried to explain it to him that, you know, people are outside the hospital singing, putting cards and flowers.
So for me I think Tata, until the last moment, heard us. And the children were there, grandchildren were there, you know, Graca was there, so we were always around him even at the last moment we were sitting with him on Thursday the whole day.
They told us Thursday morning that it’s likely and said to me: ‘Maki call everyone that is here that wants to see him and say bye-bye’.
It was the most wonderful day for us because the grandchildren were there, we were there, the professional doctors, and in actual fact when they saw him slipping away, those doctors dedicated their time. They were running shifts, three-hour shifts, 24 hours.
Being there, it was like they were soldiers guarding this… I don’t know whether you understand this… they were soldiers guarding the spirit of a king. Yes, my father comes from royalty.
And so even for the grandchildren I think it was a wonderful moment. Unfortunately there were some grandchildren and my sisters were out, there were some grandchildren who were participating at some event in Brazil.
But for those who were here I think it was a wonderful moment for them.
I was bitter as child because I had a father who was there but not really there.
My father is awkward with his emotions. People don’t understand that because they see the public persona. But Tata had the public persona and the private persona. He couldn’t express his emotions.
He grew up in a society where you had to be seen but not heard, the African culture, where you learnt by emulating the others before you, where as a man you did not show your emotions.
He couldn’t say the words ‘I love you’. I mean even with the grandchildren, if you talk to them, there’s very few moments where Tata has said ‘I love you’.
The way he knew how to show love was to provide for his children. He bought us all houses. That was his way of showing love.
My family has been a very divided family. My father has had three wives, but I try the best I can. I can never say that I am perfect but one of the things that my father really wanted more than anything is that his own children would get along.
I try to be the word of wisdom. I try to bring, even now everybody together, the grandchildren, it was me who will say ‘I think we should inform this one’. Even with Mandla [her nephew] who I just took to court now.
It was me who said to the doctors ‘I think we should call Mandla now to come’ because I think it was important for all of us to have closure and be united.
Surely we’ll still have differences in how we see things, but I think there is a better way of how to deal with issues. My dad has always said to us ‘Charity begins at home’.
I don’t think my father fought just for political freedom. My father also fought for spiritual freedom, to free yourself spiritually.
He talks about the fact that it takes courage to forgive. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing.
I don’t think it was easy… but I think he knew that if you didn’t forgive he would be forever in prison – himself spiritually.
So for me the lesson we can take away from his life is to have the courage to forgive other people… Because if we have the courage to forgive as human beings, there will be no wars that we see around us, there will be no crime, there will be no violence, there will be no conflict, and for me that’s the greatest gift that Tata has given to the world because he also says none of us when we’re born are born hating another.
We are taught to hate.
And if you can teach a human being to hate, you can also teach a human to love, to embrace, to forgive, and for me that’s the greatest lesson.
Us old jazzers love discussing the perennial question of the ‘hottest’ record of all time. Alyn Shipton at Radio 3’s Jazz Record Requests has asked for suggestions. The definition of ‘hot’ in this context is (like the word ‘swing’ or indeed ‘jazz’) not at all easy to pin down. But we know it when we hear it. It doesn’t necessarily just mean ‘up-tempo,’ though a brisk pace is usually a requirement. It’s to do with intensity, drive and raw excitement.
Philip Larkin reckoned that Louis Armstrong’s 1929 recording of St. Louis Blues was the Hottest Record Of All Time, and I’m inclined to agree. But leaving that aside, what other contenders are there?
I’d put forward Hello Lola by the Mound City Blue Blowers (1929), Bugle Call Rag by the Billy Banks Rhythmakers (1932), That’s A’ Plenty by Wild Bill Davison (1943), and this (which I’ve suggested to Alyn and should be played on JRR this Saturday):
This blog tends to have a love-hate relationship with Nick Cohen. But we have to admit that when he’s good, he’s very, VERY good. If you missed him on Radio 4’s Any Questions, you really should listen now. He certainly won me over on the question of the Royal Charter on the press with a quietly impassioned contribution that even brought in Milton. He was equally good on the Snowden revelations and threats to the Guardian. Come to that, he spoke a lot of sense about that inflatable rat…
Here he is in equally splendid form at the Spectator‘s blog:
British journalists form a circular firing squad
To stop liberals duping the credulous masses, the very right-wing press, which boasted with justice in the case of the Mail, about how it stood up to Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson’s attempts to intimidate the media, is now encouraging the Tories to attack the Guardian and intimidate the BBC while they are about it.
Their double-standards show censorship is fine on the British Right as long as it is the Right doing the censoring. Mind you, the Left is no less duplicitous.
Having watched, pondered and re-watched Paxman’s interview with comedian Russell Brand on last night’s Newsnight, I’m still not sure what to make of it. My initial response was that Brand is a pretentious, incoherent idiot, spouting a lot of pseudo-revolutionary hot air and half-digested anarchistic platitudes. But several people I’ve spoken to today told me they were impressed by him. So I’ve watched it again and have to admit that, after a facetious start, he becomes more sympathetic as he gets angrier. But I still think he’s a prat – and a banal prat at that – and wonder what the hell the New Statesman is playing at, hiring him as a guest editor this week.
Judge for yourself…
…and feel free to let us know what you think.