Matt Hill, writing at the New Statesman website, makes some very interesting comments on the Hawking “boycott” and the BDS movement in general. It’s well worth reading the entire article, but this section is especially telling:
The problem with the BDS campaign is that the message it sends Israel is anything but clear – and, as a result, it risks being counterproductive. In his letter to the conference’s organisers, Hawking wrote about his concerns about “prospects for a peace settlement”, saying that “the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”. But Israel’s supporters claim that the BDS movement has little to do with the occupation, peace, and government policy, and is instead intended to bring into question the Jewish state’s right to exist.
It’s true that Israel’s supporters throw the word ‘delegitimisation‘ around to portray fair-minded criticism of Israel as invidious and sinister. But when it comes to BDS, the fact is that they have a point. The BDS movement doesn’t have a single leadership with stated goals, but most of the biggest groups within it make little secret of their preferred outcome to the conflict. Instead of a two-state solution, they support a single, Palestinian-majority state that would mean the end of Israel’s existence. Don’t take my word for it. Norman Finkelstein, the heroic pro-Palestinian author and activist, recently launched a blistering attack on the BDS movement, telling an interviewer: “[The Israelis] say ‘They’re not talking about rights. They want to destroy Israel.’ And in fact, I think they’re right. . . . There’s a large segment of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.”
And just in case any readers haven’t yet seen the clip of Finkelstein (someone this blog would not describe as “heroic”) accusing the BDS movement of fundamental dishonesty about Israel, here it is:
Aisha Harris, writing at Slate, is worried by the media coverage of Charles Ramsey:
“Charles Ramsey, the man who helped rescue three Cleveland women presumed dead after going missing a decade ago, has become an instant Internet meme. It’s hardly surprising—the interviews he gave yesterday provide plenty of fodder for a viral video, including memorable soundbites (“I was eatin’ my McDonald’s”) and lots of enthusiastic gestures. But as Miles Klee and Connor Simpson have noted, Ramsey’s heroism is quickly being overshadowed by the public’s desire to laugh at and autotune his story, and that’s a shame. Ramsey has become the latest in a fairly recent trend of “hilarious” black neighbors, unwitting Internet celebrities whose appeal seems rooted in a ‘colorful’ style that is always immediately recognizable as poor or working-class…
“…It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform. Even before the genuinely heroic Ramsey came along, some viewers had expressed concern that the laughter directed at people like Sweet Brown plays into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the ‘ghetto, socially out of step with the rest of educated America. Black or white, seeing Clark and Dodson merely as funny instances of random poor people talking nonsense is disrespectful at best. And shushing away the question of race seems like wishful thinking.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Gary Younge at the Guardian takes the opposite view:
“Millions in America talk like him. But rarely do we hear them unless they are on Maury, Jerry Springer or America’s Most Wanted, the butt of some internet joke or testifying to a shooting in their neighbourhoods. Working-class African Americans are generally wheeled on as exemplars of collective dysfunction. So when Ramsey emerges as heroic, humane, empathetic, funny, compelling, generous and smart, there is a moment of cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. Here is a man with a criminal past and a crime-fighting present…
“…Unvarnished and un-selfconscious, charming and compelling, he reminds me of none so much as Muhammad Ali in his prime, who said: I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky.
“I’m looking forward to getting used to Charles Ramsey.”
If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t yet seen the film of Mr Ramsey in full flow, you can judge for yourself:
P.S: now there’s a song as well.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Stephen Hawking, explaining his decision to boycott the Shimon Peres Presidential Conference in Israel, describes what he had planned to say:
“Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
That is a strong statement, but it’s not an eccentric or hateful view – and you certainly don’t have to be an enemy of Israel to share it. Yet although I can understand why some (particularly Palestinians) have urged Hawking to boycott this event, I very much regret his final decision. There are many countries which would not have allowed him to strike his planned dissenting note – and where requests for solidarity from those considering themselves oppressed could not even have been articulated. Here is Omar Barghouti’s response:
But Palestinians welcomed Hawking’s decision. “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking’s support for an academic boycott of Israel,” said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
I believe Barghouti is still registered as a PhD student at Tel Aviv University. That doesn’t mean that he can’t speak out against the injustices of occupation, checkpoints, detention or any other topic, or indeed call for boycott. Clearly he can. And that fact in itself might make one wonder, not whether Israel should be protected from robust criticism over its policies, but whether it is really the one country in the world which deserves to be the focus of such a very concerted boycott campaign.
Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, dies in Caracas
Death comes 21 months after it was revealed he had a tumour: he will be given a state funeral in the capital of Venezuela.
Guardian obit here.
Tonight’s opening episode (9pm, BBC 2) of Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing On The Edge promises to usher in a great series, with a cast including John Goodman, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jacqueline Bissett. Apparently, it’s about the tribulations of a black jazz band feted by the upper class in 1933 London and very loosely “inspired” by what happened to the Duke Ellington band when they visited Britain that year.
Here’s what the Duke himself (always rather impressed by royalty and the the British upper classes) wrote about that visit in his book Music is My Mistress (published in the UK in 1974):
We were absolutely amazed at how well informed people were in Britain about us and our records. They had magazines and reviews far ahead of what we had here and everywhere we went we were confronted with facts we had forgotten and questions we couldn’t always answer. Nevertheless, the esteem our music was held in was very gratifying. A broadcast we did for the BBC provoked a lot of comment, most of it favourable. Constant Lambert, the most distinguished British composer of that period, had written an appeciation of our early records years before.
Lord Beaverbrook, who owned one of the most important London newspapers, threw a big party to which the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Kent were invited. We were invited too and Jack Hylton’s Empress Club band played until we got through at the Palladium. It was all very colourful and splendid. Members of the nobility, Members of Parliament and delegates to the imperial conferences, all in informal dress, mingled happily. There was a generous buffet and the champagne flowed freely.
Prince George, the Duke of Kent, requested ‘Swampy River’, a piano solo I had a hard time remembering, but I was flattered, especially to have him leaning over the piano as I played it.
Later, the Prince of Wales had some kind words to say to us. When he suggested we had a drink together I was surprised to find he was drinking gin. I had always thought gin as rather a low kind of drink, but from that time on I decided it was rather grand. He liked to play drums, so he paid Sonny Greer a lot of attention, too. This is how Sonny remembers the evening:
‘As soon as we got the band set up, the Prince of Wales came over and sat down beside me Indian fashion. He said he knew how to play drums, so I said “Go ahead!” he played a simple Charleston beat, and he stayed right by me and the drums throughout most of the evening. People kept coming up and calling him “Your Highness” but he wouldn’t move. We both began to get high on whatever it was we were drinking. He was calling me “Sonny” and I was calling him “The Wale”.’
I think the Prince of Wales really did like us, because he came to hear us again at Liverpool, when he was up in that area for the races at Aintree. He was loved by the day people and the night people, rich and poor, the celebrities and the nonentities. He was truly the Billy Strayhorn of the Crown princes.
Here’s the band slightly earlier (1930, to be precise), playing ‘Old Man Blues’:
Incidentally, does anyone recognise the chord sequence?
The Graun‘s obit, here.
Here he has a go at the arsehole/asshole Littlejohn and defends lesbians.
But I still think his films are shite…
Tonight at 10.35 something extraordinary will happen: a TV programme will call into question the competence and integrity of its own Chief Editor.
BBC Panorama will air the fact that BBC Newsnight journalists (notably reporter Liz MacKean and producer Meirion Jones) do not accept the explanation given by the Corporation’s top brass for having pulled Newsnight‘s Savile exposé in December of last year. The clear implication will be that pressure was brought to bear from the very top of the Corporation to pull the film.
Those who heard Newsnight editor Peter Rippon trying to explain away the decision, or who read his original blog account (now amended) of the reasoning behind the decision, already know that his ’explanation’ stinks. But for nearly three weeks the Beeb’s official line on the matter held firm in its denial and compacency – which makes Rippon’s ”decision” (allegedly forced on him by the new director general George Entwistle) to “stand aside” today and the admission that his account was “inaccurate or incomplete” all the more remarkable.
In tonight’s Panorama, Liz MacKean will state that she knew at the time the Newsnight report was nearing completion on 30th November of last year, that the previously supportive Rippon had changed his mind and would not be prepared to see the film aired. She does not, it seems, offer any explanation as to why Rippon backed down, and Panorama has no proof that any pressure was brought to bear on Rippon.
It’s hard to escape the obvious explanation: the BBC had a number of grovelling “tribute” shows scheduled to celebrate the national treasure, tireless charity worker and serial paedophile Savile over the Christmas period. The Newsnight exposé would have been, to say the least, a bit embarrassing.
But now comes the most interesting bit: what did the new BBC director general (at the time head of BBC TV) George Entwistle, know about the allegations against Savile and the Newsnight report in the period immediately before the film was pulled?
According to Panorama, Helen Boaden (head of BBC news), warned Entwistle in December that something was about to be broadcast on Newsnight, that might cause him to have to re-think his planned Savile tributes over Christmas. Entwistle acknowledges that this conversation happened, but insists that he didn’t ask Boaden for further details – something that I am not alone in finding difficult to believe.
What we know for sure is that shortly after that convesation, Rippon pulled the programme and later gave reasons for doing so that have now been withdrawn as untrue (sorry: “inaccurate or incomplete”).
Naturally, the Murdoch press, the Mail and the Tories are having a field-day at the Beeb’s expense over the Savile affair as a whole, the Newsnight business in particular, and the BBC’s monumental mishandling of the whole fiasco. And it has to be admitted that the Corporation’s compacency, dishonesty and ineptitude has played into the hands of its enemies. If today’s reports that BBC has been briefing against its own Newsnight journalists are true, then heads will have to roll, starting with Enwistle’s.
But it must be borne in mind that tonights’s Panorama will be something that no commercial broadcaster would ever allow: a devastating and potentially career-threatening attack upon its own senior management. It was encroaching commercialism (ie: the imperative to protect Savile’s reputation during and after his life) within the BBC that got it into this mess in the first place. It’s the public service ethos (to be demonstrated by Panorama tonight) that may yet save it.
Jimmy Savile was clearly a disgusting and degenerate excuse for a human being. Claims from the BBC (notably former DG Mark Thompson) to the effect that no-one there had the slightest idea about Savile’s child abuse, are, quite literally, incredible. Almost as unlikely are the denials from Thompson and Newsnight editor Peter Rippon, that last year’s Newsnight exposé of Saville was pulled because it would have made a sick joke of the three tribute programmes honouring Savile that the BBC had ready to air over Christmas.
Yes, you only had to look at the grotesque figure of Savile and listen to his droning, witless voice, to guess that he was a total creep and sleeze-ball. But Savile’s crimes (now surely proven beyond reasonable doubt or cries of “he’s not here to defend himself”) would appear to be just the tip of the iceberg. Every day seems to bring new revelations that make it clear that Savile’s paedophilia was just one manifestation (albeit an extreme one) of a culture of gross sexism and tolerance of sexual abuse that existed in the BBC Light Entertainment department from the late 1960′s (ie the creation on Radio 1) up until at least the mid-1990′s and the end of the ‘Smashie and Nicey‘ era. And there are those who are suggesting it may not have completely ended then, either.
Janet Street-Porter, for instance describes in today’s Mail (see previous link) how Jim Moir, Head of (BBC) Light Entertainment in the 1980′s once addressed a committee meeing at which Street-Porter was the only woman present, by announcing “Well chaps, I’m going to put my dick on the table.” It was, of course, merely a figure of speech. But a telling one. Other female broadcasters (notably Liz Kershaw and Sandi Toksvig) who were at the Corporation in the in the 1970′s and 80′s have now come forward with accounts of sexual harassment, while a Sunday Times reporter, Camilla Long, claims she was groped by Dave Lee (“Hairy Cornflake”) Travis after interviewing him in June of this year. The recurring theme of all these stories is that such behaviour was considered normal and acceptable and anyone who complained would be regarded as strange (or worse, a lesbian).
But, of course, there is a qualitative difference between the sexual harassment of adult women (reprehensible as that is) and the crime of paedophilia, isn’t there? Maybe so. Or maybe they’re just different points on a continuum. Either way, there is every reason to assume that paedophilia at the BBC and, indeed, throughout the world of pop music and light entertainment in the 1970′s and 80′s, went well beyond the loathsome working class oik Saville. After all, even that doyen of twee, middle-class naughty-but-nice smugness, John Peel, boasted in newspaper interviews and his Sounds magazine column, of his penchant for under-aged girls. I would submit that the picture below, in its way, is almost as disturbing as what we’re hearing about Savile.*
*Naturally, this has upset Peel’s adoring fans, who rally to his defence here.
NB: it is clearly the case that a lot of the current attacks on the BBC in the wake of the Savile revelations, are coming from sources like the Murdoch press (the Sunday Times, especially) and the Mail, that have their own commercial and ideological reasons for wanting to knock the Beeb. But that doesn’t mean that what they’ve published is untrue, or should be down-played. I’ve made extensive use of material from both these sources in what I’ve written above - JM
I am still far from convinced that US socialists should vote for Obama, but I have to admit that the more we see and hear that ignorant, dangerous jerk Romney, the more difficult it becomes to resist the lure of lesser-evilism.
However, I offer the film below not to in order to endorse Obama, but because it’s such an extraordinary production. It certainly puts the typical Brit “party election broadcast” to shame. Enjoy…
And on the subject of Obama-cool, here are a few pseudo-Blue Note album covers that I just stumbled across:
H/t (album covers): Bruce R