Norman Field on the correct key for Armstrong’s Cornet Chop Suey

December 13, 2014 at 5:30 pm (good people, history, intellectuals, jazz, New Orleans, posted by JD)

I met up with my old friend Norman Field yesterday, and – as is invariably the case with this extraordinary autodidact – had a wonderful time. The conversation ranged from nineteenth century European history, to contemporary jazz-scene gossip and Birmingham local history. Along the way we touched upon Thatcher and the Falklands war, the arranging skills of Fud Livingston and the reason(s) why Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra left Victor records and joined Columbia 1928.

Norman is (was?) a fantastic clarinet and sax player but has now – for reasons best known to himself and which I would not presume to cross-examine him over – more or less given up playing in public. Suffice to say that people who know about hot jazz (Keith Nichols, Scott Robinson, Richard Pite, to name but three) regard him as a master and oracle. Scott Robinson, having heard Norman play at the Whitley Bay classic jazz festival a few years ago, described him as a “f****n’ genius.”

I should add that Norman made me a clear plastic 78 rpm record (of Jimmy McPartland with the Original Wolverines) in the course of our meeting!

Norman’s commitment to serious jazz research is demonstrated by this article, from his website. It’s reproduced here with his permission:

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Louis Armstrong’s ‘Cornet Chop Suey’ (1926): What key is it in?

Above: Armstrong’s Hot Five

By Norman Field

This article could not have been written without the generous help of Michael Kieffer, to whom many thanks. Other acknowledgements will be found at the foot of the text.

Over the years, I had occasionally heard that some doubt existed as to the correct key for Louis Armstrong’s tune of this name. The doubt specifically concerned the original version of it, which he had recorded with the Hot Five for OKeh early in 1926. This problem had apparently been around for some years. It had been discussed in the correspondence columns of Jazz magazines; possibly articles had been written about it, and it had certainly been talked about quite a bit. I understood that well known trumpet players had gone into the problem, and that, surprisingly, there was still no general agreement.

A few years ago, I became interested in selecting the correct pitch for early Jazz and dance band records, and found that by applying a few simple tests, it was – usually – possible to be fairly sure of the correct speed at which to play a 78 rpm record, so that it would come out at the correct pitch.

However, these tests were only valid for Jazz and dance records made in the U.S.A. and Britain in the 1920s through to about the mid-1930s; and even then, only when the band included a piano. It primarily rested with the piano, of course, and the assumption that this would be tuned to a standard pitch. I asked the late John R.T. Davies, the doyen of 78 rpm record restorers, whether this assumption was acceptable. He agreed strongly, pointing out that the major record companies (Victor, HMV, Columbia, Brunswick, Vocalion, Odeon, OKeh &c.) were large concerns, recording the most prominent international artistes, and the use of first-class pianos was to be expected, and therefore, for pitching purposes, that assumption was valid, tenable; indeed, unavoidable.

Of course, there are instances of ‘below-par’ pianos to be found on some Jazz and dance records of this period. However, these are probably pianos that are simply rather out of tune (with themselves), and sound ‘ploingy’ as a result. This is quite a different thing from the piano being tuned to the wrong pitch altogether. (See appendix 1.) 

So in general our assumption that the pianos are tuned to standard pitch is valid as a starting point. In any case, if for example, a piano had been allowed to become very flat in pitch, it would be difficult for wind instruments – the clarinet in particular – to ‘get down’ to the pitch of the piano without becoming out of tune with itself. And if a piano had somehow been tuned very sharp, a clarinet would simply not be able to get up to that pitch at all. Overall, the statement: ‘Pianos in recording locations, whether permanent or temporary, were, in general, tuned to standard pitch’ is a reasonable one, and likely to be true far more often than not.

And what actually is this standard pitch? As far as the U.S.A. goes, the note A (the one above middle C on the piano) should be 440 Hz, usually written as A=440. And the standard pitch used in Britain for orchestral and dance music at that time (circa 1900 – 1945) was A=439, a fairly trivial difference, so that the same tests can be used pretty safely for both countries. (See appendix 2.) 

As for other countries, and other styles of music, and indeed those artists and ensembles in the U.S.A. and Britain not using a piano, the application of ‘The General Rule Of The Piano’ must – in the first instance – be assumed to be inapplicable and, consequently, conclusions from it non-viable. I am not qualified to comment further on these musics; but certainly commend those who may be interested in them to pursue their own researches on these fascinating topics. Perhaps they will be able to derive some simple tests to help ensure correct pitching of old 78 recordings of e.g. a Javanese gamelin orchestra, or a Cantonese instrumental ensemble? After all, the correct pitching of any and every ‘78 rpm’ record is an essential part of properly preserving, for posterity, the information contained on it.

About three years ago, I heard of the existence of a CD set of early Louis Armstrong classics that included the 1926 Hot Five ‘Cornet Chop Suey’ twice. Once in the key of E flat; and also in the key of F. This was because, in the opinion of the compilers of the set, there was still no general consensus on which key it was in. To include it, therefore, in both keys was certainly very commendable. But I was puzzled that a record could be attributed to two keys so much as a tone apart. Not merely a semitone, but a whole tone: really a very large interval! In theory at least, it should have been fairly easy to decide which was the true one. The trumpet players who disagreed on the key of the piece may have (I don’t know…) played the tune over on their trumpets (or cornets) in both keys. And then used, as a basis for their conclusion, the fingering of their horns indicating one key rather than the other because one key ‘fell more naturally under the fingers’ than the other. At least, I assume that this is what they did. If my assumption is correct, then I have to say that that approach might at times be deceptive. As a clarinet player, time and time again, I have tried to find out exactly what Johnny Dodds or Don Murray played on their clarinets back in the 1920s, and the more I learn, the more I distrust what seems logical on the surface. Also, as the decades pass, it becomes ever more difficult to even attempt to analyse the ‘mindset’ of a 1920s virtuoso player. Certainly, Dodds and Murray were both virtusosi of the clarinet. They could play anything they mentally conceived… and usually did so. Perhaps intuitively, they ‘eliminated the instrument from the equation’: the music that appeared in their consciousness was the music that straightway sounded in the club or the ballroom in which they were playing. There was no intervention of any ‘problem of execution’ on their instrument. If – as I suspect – they (along with most other top musicians) did this, they were rather in advance of their time. They did not need to read treatises on the psychology of musicianship, the bulk of which have proliferated in the last 50 years. They just did it anyway.

If Dodds & Murray could do that, how much more could Louis Armstrong do it? Louis, from his first startling appearances on disc in 1923, was manifestly a very special case. On this basis, Louis’s cornet fingering patterns, I thought, might be rather unsusceptible to logical analysis. I’d found exactly the same in trying to play Dodds’s clarinet solo on ‘Potato Head Blues’ by the Hot Seven on a clarinet in C, in case he was playing one of those, instead of the normal B flat clarinet. Both fingerings, I found, were pretty equally plausible.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Why the US Founding Fathers forbade torture

December 10, 2014 at 10:50 pm (Democratic Party, history, Human rights, posted by JD, reblogged, Republican Party, terror, United States)

By Juan Cole (reblogged from Informed Comment):

I have argued on many occasions that the language of patriotism and appeal to the Founding Fathers and the constitution must not be allowed to be appropriated by the political right wing in contemporary America, since for the most part right wing principles (privileging religion, exaltation of ‘whiteness’ over universal humanity, and preference for property rights over human rights) are diametrically opposed to the Enlightenment and Deist values of most of the framers of the Unites States.

We will likely hear these false appeals to an imaginary history a great deal with the release of the Senate report on CIA torture. It seems to me self-evident that most of the members of the Constitutional Convention would have voted to release the report and also would have been completely appalled at its contents.

The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution is full of prohibitions on torture, as part of a general 18th century Enlightenment turn against the practice. The French Encyclopedia and its authors had agitated in this direction.

Two types of torture were common during the lifetimes of the Founding Fathers. In France, the judiciary typically had arrestees tortured to make them confess their crime. This way of proceeding rather tilted the scales in the direction of conviction, but against justice. Pre-trial torture was abolished in France in 1780. But torture was still used after the conviction of the accused to make him identify his accomplices.

Thomas Jefferson excitedly wrote back to John Jay from Paris in 1788:

“On the 8th, a bed of justice was held at Versailles, wherein were enregistered the six ordinances which had been passed in Council, on the 1st of May, and which I now send you. . . . By these ordinances, 1, the criminal law is reformed . . . by substitution of an oath, instead of torture on the question préalable , which is used after condemnation, to make the prisoner discover his accomplices; (the torture abolished in 1780, was on the question préparatoire, previous to judgment, in order to make the prisoner accuse himself;) by allowing counsel to the prisoner for this defence; obligating the judges to specify in their judgments the offence for which he is condemned; and respiting execution a month, except in the case of sedition. This reformation is unquestionably good and within the ordinary legislative powers of the crown. That it should remain to be made at this day, proves that the monarch is the last person in his kingdom, who yields to the progress of philanthropy and civilization.”

Jefferson did not approve of torture of either sort.

The torture deployed by the US government in the Bush-Cheney era resembles that used in what the French called the “question préalable.” They were being asked to reveal accomplices and any further plots possibly being planned by those accomplices. The French crown would have argued before 1788 that for reasons of public security it was desirable to make the convicted criminal reveal his associates in crime, just as Bush-Cheney argued that the al-Qaeda murderers must be tortured into giving up confederates. But Jefferson was unpersuaded by such an argument. In fact, he felt that the king had gone on making it long past the time when rational persons were persuaded by it.

Bush-Cheney, in fact, look much more like pre-Enlightentment absolute monarchs in their theory of government. Louis XIV may not have said “I am the state,” but his prerogatives were vast, including arbitrary imprisonment and torture. Bush-Cheney, our very own sun kings, connived at creating a class of human beings to whom they could do as they pleased.

When the 5th amendment says of the accused person “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” the word “compelled” is referring to the previous practice of judicial torture of the accused. Accused persons who “take the fifth” are thus exercising a right not to be tortured by the government into confessing to something they may or may not have done.

Likewise, the 8th Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” is intended to forbid post-sentencing torture.

The 8th Amendment was pushed for by Patrick Henry and George Mason precisely because they were afraid that the English move away from torture might be reversed by a Federal government that ruled in the manner of continental governments.

Patrick Henry wrote,

“What has distinguished our ancestors?–That they would not admit of tortures, or cruel and barbarous punishment. But Congress may introduce the practice of the civil law, in preference to that of the common law. They may introduce the practice of France, Spain, and Germany.”

It was objected in the debate over the Bill of Rights that it could be ignored. George Mason thought that was a stupid reason not to enact it:

“Mr. Nicholas: . . . But the gentleman says that, by this Constitution, they have power to make laws to define crimes and prescribe punishments; and that, consequently, we are not free from torture. . . . If we had no security against torture but our declaration of rights, we might be tortured to-morrow; for it has been repeatedly infringed and disregarded.

Mr. George Mason replied that the worthy gentleman was mistaken in his assertion that the bill of rights did not prohibit torture; for that one clause expressly provided that no man can give evidence against himself; and that the worthy gentleman must know that, in those countries where torture is used, evidence was extorted from the criminal himself. Another clause of the bill of rights provided that no cruel and unusual punishments shall be inflicted; therefore, torture was included in the prohibition.”

It was the insistence of Founding Fathers such as George Mason and Patrick Henry that resulted in the Bill of Rights being passed to constrain the otherwise absolute power of the Federal government. And one of their primary concerns was to abolish torture.

The 5th and the 8th amendments thus together forbid torture on the “question préparatoire” pre-trial confession under duress) and the question préalable (post-conviction torture).

That the Founding Fathers were against torture is not in question.

Fascists (that is what they are) who support torture will cavil. Is waterboarding torture? Is threatening to sodomize a man with a broomstick torture? Is menacing a prisoner with a pistol torture?

Patrick Henry’s discourse makes all this clear. He was concerned about the government doing anything to detract from the dignity of the English commoner, who had defied the Norman yoke and gained the right not to be coerced through pain into relinquishing liberties.

Fascists will argue that the Constitution does not apply to captured foreign prisoners of war, or that the prisoners were not even P.O.W.s, having been captured out of uniform.

But focusing on the category of the prisoner is contrary to the spirit of the founding fathers. Their question was, ‘what are the prerogatives of the state?’ And their answer was that the state does not have the prerogative to torture. It may not torture anyone, even a convicted murderer.

The framers of the Geneva Convention (to which the US is signatory) were, moreover, determined that all prisoners fall under some provision of international law. René Värk argues:

“the commentary to Article 45 (3) asserts that ‘a person of enemy nationality who is not entitled to prisoner-of-war status is, in principle, a civilian protected by the Fourth Convention, so that there are no gaps in protection’.*32 But, at the same time, it also observes that things are not always so straightforward in armed conflicts; for example, adversaries can have the same nationality, which renders the application of the Fourth Convention impossible, and there can arise numerous difficulties regarding the application of that convention. Thus, as the Fourth Convention is a safety net to persons who do not qualify for protection under the other three Geneva Conventions, Article 45 (3) serves yet again as a safety net for those who do not benefit from more favourable treatment in accordance with the Fourth Convention.”

Those who wish to create a category of persons who may be treated by the government with impunity are behaving as fascists like Franco did in the 1930s, who also typically created classes of persons to whom legal guarantees did not apply.

But if our discussion focuses on the Founding Fathers, it isn’t even necessary to look so closely at the Geneva Conventions.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The phrase “all men” means all persons of any nationality.

We know what the Founding Fathers believed. They believed in universal rights. And they believed in basic principles of human dignity. Above all, they did not think the government had the prerogative of behaving as it pleased. It doesn’t have the prerogative to torture.

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No benefits for them?

November 29, 2014 at 4:16 pm (anti-fascism, Europe, good people, history, Human rights, immigration, Poland, posted by JD, Racism, war)

Tomas Prouza posted the picture (above) on Friday, having been upset by Cameron’s suggestion that EU immigrants should only be allowed to claim welfare after they had been in the UK for four years.

Tomas responded by posting the photo of these Eastern Europeans (not only Czechs, but Poles as well) who helped defeat fascism, with the words: “These Czechs ‘worked’ in the UK for less than four years. No benefits for them?”

This followed an earlier Tweet by Prouza in which he said: “Cameron’s speech on migration: taxing people according to their nationality? What other criteria will come next?”

Prouza’s sentiments were echoed in Warsaw, with the Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz releasing a statement that read: “Poland will not agree to changes undermining the principles of the EU’s single market, specifically the free movement of people.”

The Tory leader’s speech marks an attempt to regain the agenda after embarrassing official figures showed net migration to Britain is higher than it was when the coalition came to power, leading experts to conclude that his promise to cut migrant numbers was “dead and buried”.

Unemployed Europeans heading to Britain to find work will have six months to find a job or they will be kicked out, he said in a keynote speech on immigration.

Cameron’s proposals may be hard to enact as the European Parliament’s President Martin Schulz has warned that they would need the approval of all the rest of the European Union’s member states.

“Let’s be clear,” he told the Huffington Post UK. “If they [Cameron’s proposals] are not in the interests of all 28 member states, we will not get it [any re-negotiation].”

Schulz said that the UK was not part of the Schengen Group [26 European member states without border control] or in the euro, and the rest of the member states would only look at any new proposals for change once they were concrete.

“He says ‘our relationship with the European Union’, well, this is a relationship with yourself. The UK is a member of the EU. I don’t negotiate about my relationship with myself, it’s a little bit strange.”

Cameron signalled that those with jobs will only receive in-work benefits, such as tax credits, and social housing once they have been in the UK for four years.

No child benefits or tax credits for children living elsewhere in Europe will be paid out, regardless of how long an EU migrant has paid into UK coffers under the plans.

He insisted the package of measures he is unveiling will mean Britain has the toughest welfare system for EU migrants anywhere in Europe.

He said: “People have understandably become frustrated. It boils down to one word: control. People want Government to have control over the numbers of people coming here and the circumstances in which they come, both from around the world and from within the European Union. And yet in recent years, it has become clear that successive Governments have lacked control. People want grip.

“I get that.They don’t want limitless immigration and they don’t want no immigration. They want controlled immigration. And they are right. Britain supports the principle of freedom of movement of workers. Accepting the principle of free movement of workers is a key to being part of the single market.

“So we do not want to destroy that principle or turn it on its head. But freedom of movement has never been an unqualified right, and we now need to allow it to operate on a more sustainable basis in the light of the experience of recent years. My objective is simple: to make our immigration system fairer and reduce the current exceptionally high level of migration from within the EU into the UK.

“We intend to cut migration from within Europe by dealing with abuse; restricting the ability of migrants to stay here without a job; and reducing the incentives for lower paid, lower skilled workers to come here in the first place. We want to create the toughest system in the EU for dealing with abuse of free movement.

“We want EU jobseekers to have a job offer before they come here and to stop UK taxpayers having to support them if they don’t … EU jobseekers who don’t pay in will no longer get anything out. And those who do come will no longer be able to stay if they can’t find work.

“The British people need to know that changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement in the renegotiation. I say to our European partners, we have real concerns. Our concerns are not outlandish or unreasonable. We deserve to be heard, and we must be heard.

“Here is an issue which matters to the British people, and to our future in the European Union. The British people will not understand – frankly I will not understand – if a sensible way through cannot be found, which will help settle this country’s place in the EU once and for all.

“And to the British people I say this. If you elect me as Prime Minister in May, I will negotiate to reform the European Union, and Britain’s relationship with it. This issue of free movement will be a key part of that negotiation.

“If I succeed, I will, as I have said, campaign to keep this country in a reformed EU. If our concerns fall on deaf ears and we cannot put our relationship with the EU on a better footing, then of course I rule nothing out. But I am confident that, with goodwill and understanding, we can and will succeed.”

Tomas Prouza responded with the photo at the top of this post, and the words: “These Czechs ‘worked’ in the ‪#‎UK‬ for less than four years. No benefits for them?”

H/t: Ian Woodland

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Roads Were Not Built For Cars

November 25, 2014 at 8:49 pm (Cycling, history, Rosie B)

Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built for Cars is a revisionist history, reclaiming the role of bicycles in the development of roads and the cars that dominate them. When a class, a race, a gender reclaims its history it is usually in the cause of self-assertion. After reading this I was indignant when a privileged usurper tooted me for walking across the entrance of a cul-de-sac which they were turning into. Listen, these are my f***** streets too, you know.

Roadswerenot

The later Victorian age. The railway lines had cut through the country on their purpose-built tracks and profoundly changed ideas of mobility. The roads, once well maintained for mail coaches, had fallen into disuse. But in the 1870s and 1880s people started pedalling themselves at speed and with the commercialisation of the Safety bicycle in 1885  bicycling became popular with the elite, affordable for the middle-classes and then finally through second-hand sales and mass production, taken up by the clerks and the factory workers. It powered invention. In 1896 more than half of the 28,000 patents were for improvements in bicycles.

Psychobike

The Psycho Ladies’ Bicycle -1889. Step through for the skirt problem

Cyclists were heading from the paved streets to the countryside, on roads which unlike the railways were not then seen as conduits for fast-moving traffic. Roads were originally made for a human or horse pace and for short journeys. But a new desire had been formed – for self-propelled travel over a distance on a smooth surface.

Passage on the king’s highway is an ancient right in England.  A landmark court case in 1879 established bicycles as “carriages” under law and so with the rights to use the roads in the same way as broughams and hackneys. The Cyclists’ Touring Club had one of their members (an MP) add a clause to the Local Government Act of 1888 which effectively prevented county councils from creating by-laws to prohibit cycling on the roads.

Along with lobbying for legislation cyclists campaigned for better surfaces via bodies like the Roads Improvement Association. Some roadworks the members funded themselves. They produced equipment including a ring to measure the size of stones for surfacing, kept an eye on maintenance and made themselves guardians of the highways as modern cycling advocates act as wardens for cycle paths.   Eventually this work was taken over by the Road Board “the first central authority for British roads since Roman times”.

Where the cyclists went the motorists then followed and their lobby groups were often the cycling groups with “Automobile” added to the name. One of Cartlon Reid’s main themes is that this was not a case of the poor man’s transport (the bicycle) overtaken by the rich man’s vehicle (the automobile). Bicycles were at first expensive – the high-wheelers (“penny farthings”) were ridden by moneyed athletes. Aristocrats like the Marquess of Queensberry, Oscar Wilde’s enemy, were keen cyclists as was Daisy, Countess of Warwick, one of Edward VII’s mistresses. Arthur Balfour was president of the National Cyclists’ Union and Herbert Gladstone, son of W E Gladstone and one time Home Secretary vigorously pedalled, and pushed for street paving and road maintenance. In the USA the League of American Wheelmen was founded in Newport, the millionaires’ holiday village,

The League of American Wheelmen also campaigned for better roads via the Good Roads Movement, again with a combination of politics and practical demonstration. Their campaign included rolling “road shows”. “The Good Roads train.. would disgorge road builders, a traction engine, a road roller, a sprinkler and broken stone, from which an “object lesson” road would be constructed at prearranged stopping points.” Railway interests opposed them, and farmers, who were responsible for half-heartedly maintaining the rural roads, did not want to be taxed for the benefit of city-slicker cyclists, however much their own wagons jolted on the ruts and ridges. ”Eventually the farmers were won over and the politicians found there was mileage in a publicly paid for road system.” In 1916 the Federal Aid Road Act was signed by Woodrow Wilson, himself a cyclist who had been much impressed by the roads in Britain and France on cycle journeys in his youth.

By then many of the cyclists had become motorists as well. They were the rich who loved speed and self-propelled travel and the very latest gadgetry, promoted by the cycling industry’s flair for advertising. They used the maps that Messrs Bartholomew had crowd-sourced from members of the Cyclists’ Touring Club. The technology behind these early motors – the pneumatic tyres, the ball bearings, the spoked wheels, the precision engineering skills – had been created by the cycling industry.

Clementcyclesbt-1

French cycling poster, 1897

“Carl-Benz’s Patent Motorwagon, the first true automobile, was a motorised two-seater tricycle… The key components for Henry Ford’s Quadricycle – including the wire spoke wheels, bush roller chains and pneumatic tyres – were from bicycles.”

The Nazis erased the cycling origins of Benz’s Motorwagen from history and monument and at the launch of the 15 millionth Model T in 1927 the Ford company claimed that the “Ford car… started the movement for good roads.” The now plebeian bicycle became something of an embarrassing ancestor to the more powerful and more progressive seeming vehicle.

So the well-connected cyclists who had lobbied for good roads became well-connected motorists who wanted unthwarted access to these roads. And they took them over, though they numbered only in thousands, while the cyclists were in the millions because the masses had begun to ride bicycles.

The rights to the passage on the King’s highway was a liberal right which then in the spirit of Ayn Rand was taken over by the strongest and most ruthless. Even a speed limit law was seen as “unEnglish” and as the motorists were of the upper echelons, they resented being treated as criminals for breaking it. (The motoring public is still resentful that they are subject to law – witness fury at speed cameras. One of the cycling groups’ aims is to lower speeds in urban centres to 20mph.)

Carlton Reid compares this to the enclosures “when land in common use by the many was fenced in and appropriated by the few.”

And like the landowner the motorist feels himself entitled to the roads. Hold up his passage he won’t feel merely inconvenienced, but righteously outraged, spluttering like Hilaire Belloc’s JP:-

I have a right because I have, because,

Because I have, because I have a right.
….
Moreover, I have got the upper hand,
And mean to keep it. Do you understand?

Familiar political themes run through this book. One is of how laissez faire can become devil take (or run over) the hindmost. Another is the Revolution Devouring Its Own Children. A group or class will agitate to bring about a change that will ultimately destroy them, like Iranian leftists demonstrating for the removal of the Shah only to end up being killed by Khomeini’s Islamic Republic. The cyclists lobbied for good roads and got them, and were then pushed off them by the sheer force of a ton of metal, going at five times their speed.

However though Roads Were Not Built… is a polemic shot through with a sense of injustice for the written out and colonised – the literally marginalised literally pushed in the gutter when they had literally paved the way for the motorist – it could be enjoyed by Jeremy Clarkson. It buzzes and hums with innovation and invention. It’s crowded with energetic promoters and lobbyists, engineers and entrepreneurs and tinkerers, sportsmen and pioneers. Cycling did come as a miracle, bestowing a sense of speed and independence. “The cyclist is a man half made of flesh and half of steel that only our century of science and iron could have spawned.” wrote Charles-Louis Baudry de Saunier in The Art of Cycling (1894).

In our own equally exciting and innovative age of computing we are half flesh, half digital stream. Thus Carlton Reid’s Roads Were Not Built… was kickstarted by crowdfunding. He put his researches on his entertaining blog. You can get the book as a big dead-tree soft-back with lots of colour plates (histories of cycling always have cool pics) or as an “iPad version with 10 videos, two audio clips, a 3D spinnable object, and 580+ illustrations, many of which zoom to full-screen.“

Charlesrolls

Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce

The book ends with potted biographies of many of the motor grandees with a cycling background and their firms, my favourite being that of Lionel Martin. Eton rich. Held long-distance records on tandem and tricycle. He and his friend Robert Bamford were both members of the Bath Road Club and were souping up ordinary cars.

Their advertisement in the Bath Road News:- “If you must sell your birthright for a mess of petrol, why not purchase your car – from Bamford & Martiin Ltd, the most humorous firm in the motor trade.” These cars became Aston Martins.

“Martin was a tricyclist to his dying day. He was killed in October 1945 after being knocked from his tricycle by a motor car on a suburban road in Kingston-upon-Thames.”

 

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Enemy Intelligence from the Vaults: This is (Auberon) Waugh!

November 15, 2014 at 6:24 pm (Civil liberties, Europe, history, terror, truth)

Above: Aubron Waugh

Robin Carmody writes:

As someone who greatly enjoys your occasional ‘Enemy intelligence’ feature, would it be possible to expand it to include old articles presenting enlightenment from unexpected sources?  In this case, Auberon Waugh, who was undoubtedly fanatically anti-working-class and anti-socialist but when he got it right, he really got it right.  These pieces are both from the Daily Telegraph in September 1995 (first piece slightly edited, second piece complete), and the sadness of both is that they could pretty much still apply today, just with a few names changed:

Saturday 16th September 1995:

(…) Villagers of St Tudy, the small Cornish village near Bodmin, were recently moved to address a petition to Mr Major asking for a referendum on further European involvement.  A senior villager, Vice Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly, 80, one time head of “intelligence” at the Ministry of Defence, thought the petition would be ignored.  He explained.
“I would not be so naive as to suppose that what St Tudy says today, the Government will do tomorrow.  But at least, before we die, we have done the best we can for our grandchildren.”

If that is the best he can do, it is pathetic.  So is the entire level of political debate in Britain (…)  What these people fail to realise is that we have a much better prospect for resisting change within the protection of a selfish, inward looking Europe than we have when exposed to cultural takeover by the United States and economic takeover by the Pacific Rim.

Terrified and resentful of the tiny changes required by participation in the European Union, Britons miss nearly every opportunity to shape the union to their own advantage.  Instead they mumble their platitudes about British sovereignty, and having fought two major wars to preserve it.

Let them examine the picture of [Paddy Ashdown, Tony Blair and John Major] laughing cruelly about a goldfish.  They are what is left of British sovereignty.

Saturday 30th September 1995:

At the time of the Gibraltar shootings, I remember taking the rather pompous line that if we Brits were to adopt terrorist tactics and start executing people on suspicion, we had no business to pose as upholders of law and order in Northern Ireland.  Those who argued, as they did in every saloon bar, that the only way to deal with outlaws was to give them a dose of their own medicine, were quite simply wrong, or so I maintained.

The three terrorists, two men and a woman, were unarmed, none carried a remote control device to a nearby bomb, nor was there any bomb nearby.  At the time it seemed more likely than not that it was a planned assassination, an illegal execution of three suspects, and that a cock-and-bull story about explosives in a parked car and remote control devices was a limp afterthought for the benefit of the inquest.

Seven years later it seems probable that the SAS were indeed misinformed, and that they genuinely intended to arrest the three terrorists, although there was remarkably little planning for their removal from the scene as prisoners.  What remains slightly frightening is the weight of opinion behind the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to execute suspected terrorists without trial, on the basis of unexamined and highly questionable intelligence information.

One expects this degree of moral crassness from The Sun and from at least some of its sexually confused readers.  The Sun summed up its own reaction to the European Court of Human Rights’ verdict in a sentence: “Terrorists have no human rights”.  That is an attitude people are free to take, but they still have to establish that the people from whom they propose to remove all human rights are terrorists.  You can’t condemn people on a wink and a nudge, or on the untested gossip of an intelligence service which seems to get three quarters of its information wrong.

However we look at the matter, the SAS goofed.  When someone described as a “senior Cabinet minister” talks of the “prompt and courageous action of the SAS” and announces that in response to the European Court’s unfavourable verdict many Cabinet ministers want Britain to leave the Court of Human Rights, I think we should start to tremble.  It is unpleasant enough to have to live surrounded by people of The Sun‘s intellectual and moral calibre.  One does not want to be governed by them.

Let us be thankful for every bit of self-determination we sacrifice under these circumstances.  For my own part, I shall even welcome tomorrow’s arrival of the litre and the kilo.  Those most vehemently opposed to them are just the sort of people who ought to be in prison.

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Arafat wanted to “welcome” the 1978 Camp David peace talks

November 13, 2014 at 8:57 pm (Egypt, Guardian, history, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine)

Yasser Arafat in Beirut during the early days of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Above: Yasser Arafat in Beirut during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon

The last really positive development towards a just peace in the Middle East came in 1978 when, following  Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat‘s unprecedented visit to  Israel, he and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin began secret negotiations at Camp David. These talks led directly to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. (aka the Camp David Accords). As a result Sadat and Begin shared 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. As part of the Accords, the two also drew up a Framework for Peace in the Middle East, which dealt inadequately but generally fairly with the Palestinian question, but was written without participation of the Palestinian leadership of the time, had little impact and was condemned by the United Nations.

But this was a far more hopeful and potentially fruitful moment for peace in the Middle East than the 1993 Oslo Accords, or the second – abortive – Camp David negotiations of 2000.

However, according to an article in today’s Guardian,  had Yasser Arafat been willing to defy his closest aides and the Syrians who then controlled Lebanon, he would have accepted Sadat’s invitation to join the 1978 talks and, indeed, “welcomed” them. The authors of the piece, Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi know what they’re talking about: Khalidi is a former Palestinian negotiator who was part of Arafat’s team at the time.

How different the last thirty years or so of the tragic history of the Israel/Palestine conflict might have been if only Arafat had had the courage of his own personal convictions at the time.

The crucial passage is this:

His style of leadership was consensual. He was conscious of the need to maintain support among the broader leadership of Palestinians and their institutions. He cultivated and heeded the opinions of his associates, and often gave way to their demands, sometimes using their objections as a foil to avoid difficult decisions. He never moved too far without the support of those he felt were important in lending political legitimacy to his stance. He would have welcomed Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem and the ensuing Camp David political process had he been free to decide on his own. In a room packed with most of the Palestinian leadership and senior cadres at which the Sadat initiative was being discussed and volubly denounced, Arafat sat with eyes half-shut, pretending to show no interest, until one of the present authors was asked his opinion. When he suggested that anything that would free Arab land from occupation without bloodshed would be in the national interest and proposed that the Palestinian leader should join the Egyptian-Israeli meeting at Mina House, as invited by Sadat, Arafat’s eyes popped open and he nodded in vigorous assent. But his close aides rejected any such notion and he had to go along with the prevailing mood. After the meeting was over, Arafat took the author aside, saying that while he was convinced of what he had said, the Syrians – then in control in Lebanon – would never allow it, and made a cut‑throat gesture with his hand.

Read the entire fascinating article here.

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The fall of the Wall, 1989

November 8, 2014 at 8:47 am (AWL, democracy, From the archives, Germany, history, Human rights, liberation, posted by JD, revolution, stalinism, USSR)

The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 by the East German state, was a symbol of the totalitarian Stalinist systems. The wall was a monstrosity and we are glad it was torn down by Berliners on the night of 9 November 1989. The collapse of Stalinism was a victory for freedom. Despite a wave of capitalist triumphalism that followed, the workers of the former Stalinist states are now able to meet, discuss and form their own organisations. Here, an editorial in Workers’ Liberty magazine of July 1990 examines the reasons behind Stalinism’s collapse in Eastern Europe.


For over 60 years the typical totalitarian Stalinist society — in the USSR, in the USSR’s East European satellites, in Mao’s China, or in Vietnam — has presented itself to the world as a durable, congealed, frozen system, made of a hitherto unknown substance.

Now the Stalinist societies look like so many ice floes in a rapidly warming sea — melting, dissolving, thawing, sinking and blending into the world capitalist environment around them.

To many calling themselves Marxists or even Trotskyists, Stalinism seemed for decades to be “the wave of the future”. They thought they saw the future and — less explicably — they thought it worked.

The world was mysteriously out of kilter. Somehow parts of it had slipped into the condition of being “post-capitalist”, and, strangely, they were among the relatively backward parts, those which to any halfway literate Marxist were least ripe for it. Now Stalin’s terror turns out to have been, not the birth pangs of a new civilisation, but a bloodletting to fertilise the soil for capitalism.

Nobody foresaw the way that East European Stalinism would collapse. But the decay that led to that collapse was, or should have been, visible long ago.

According to every criterion from productivity and technological dynamism through military might to social development, the world was still incontestably dominated by international capitalism, and by a capitalism which has for decades experienced consistent, though not uninterrupted, growth.

By contrast, the Stalinist states, almost all of which had begun a long way down the world scale of development, have for decades now lurched through successive unavailing efforts to shake off creeping stagnation.

The Stalinist systems have become sicker and sicker. The bureaucracies tried to run their economies by command, and in practice a vast area of the economic life of their societies was rendered subterranean, even more anarchic than a regular, legal, recognised market-capitalist system.

The ruling class of the model Stalinist state, the USSR, emerged out of the workers’ state set up by the October 1917 revolution by way of a struggle to suppress and control the working class and to eliminate the weak Russian bourgeoisie that had come back to life in the 1920s. It made itself master of society in a series of murderous if muffled class struggles. Its state aspired to control everything to a degree and for purposes alien to the Marxism whose authority it invoked. And it did that in a backward country.

In the days of Stalin’s forced collectivisation and crash industrialisation, the whole of society could be turned upside down by a central government intent on crude quantitative goals and using an immense machinery of terror as its instrument of control, motivation, and organisation.

When the terror slackened off — and that is what Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin essentially meant: he told the members of his bureaucratic class that life would be easier from then on — much of the dynamism of the system slackened off too.

To survive, the bureaucracy had to maintain its political monopoly. It could not have democracy because it was in a sharp antagonism with most of the people, and in the first place with the working class.

So there was a “compromise formation”, neither a self-regulating market system nor properly planned, dominated by a huge clogging bureaucratic state which could take crude decisions and make them good, but do little else. State repression was now conservative, not what it was in the “heroic” days either in intensity or in social function.

The USSR slowed down and began to stagnate. And then the rulers of the USSR seemed to suffer a collapse of the will to continue. They collapsed as spectacularly as the old German empire collapsed on 11 November 1918.

Initiatives from the rulers in the Kremlin, acting like 18th century enlightened despots, triggered the collapse of the Russian empire in Eastern Europe. But it was a collapse in preparation for at least quarter of a century.

The Stalinists had tried nearly 30 years before to make their rule more rational, flexible and productive by giving more scope to market mechanisms. Now, it seems, the dominant faction in the USSR’s bureaucracy has bit the bullet: they want full-scale restoration of market capitalism. Some of the bureaucrats hope to become capitalists themselves. But with its central prop — its political monopoly — gone, the bureaucracy is falling apart.

The fundamental determinant of what happened in Eastern Europe in the second half of 1989 was that the Kremlin signalled to its satraps that it would not back them by force: then the people took to the streets, and no-one could stop them.

It is an immense triumph for the world bourgeoisie — public self-disavowal by the rulers of the Stalinist system, and their decision to embrace market capitalism and open up their states to asset-stripping.

We deny that the Stalinist system had anything to do with socialism or working-class power. Neither a workers’ state, nor the Stalinist states in underdeveloped countries, could ever hope to win in economic competition with capitalism expanding as it has done in recent decades The socialist answer was the spreading of the workers’ revolution to the advanced countries; the Stalinists had no answer.

The Stalinist system was never “post capitalist”. It paralleled capitalism as an underdeveloped alter ego. Socialists have no reason to be surprised or dismayed about Stalinism losing its competition with capitalism.

The bourgeoisie has triumphed over the Stalinists, but it has not triumphed over socialism. And genuine socialism receives the possibility of rebirth as a mass movement from the events in Eastern Europe.

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Kobane: echoes of Warsaw

October 8, 2014 at 1:20 pm (anti-fascism, genocide, history, islamism, kurdistan, Middle East, posted by JD, solidarity, Syria, turkey, war)

Above: dying YPG fighter

From today’s Times:

Sir,
The hearts of the Kurds are breaking and we must heed their pleas. In Kobane, lightly armed Kurdish fighters are defending people against a genocidal enemy with tanks and artillery. If the city falls, the Da’esh fanatics will butcher the men and sell the women into sexual slavery; not even children will be safe. Meanwhile, Turkish troops sit idle on the frontier and the authorities stop Turkish Kurds from crossing to assist their comrades. The scene is eerily reminiscent of the Warsaw uprising of 1944 in which Stalin held back the Red Army to allow the Nazis to wipe out Polish resistance fighters. The world must call upon Turkey to arm the Kurdish fighters. Governments must also drop the designation of the Kurdish YPG fighters as terrorists; they are secular nationalists who pose no danger to the world, and earlier saved the Yazidis from annihilation.
DR JOHN TULLY
Senior lecturer in politics and history, Victoria University, Melbourne

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Remember the First International 150 years ago: remember the Kurds today!

September 28, 2014 at 6:26 pm (history, internationalism, iraq, kurdistan, Marxism, posted by JD, solidarity, Syria, workers)

sketch of Marx addressing the CongressBy johnj

(right: Marx addresses the inaugural meeting of the First International)

150 years ago today  the First International (the ‘International Working Men’s Association’ ) was in founded in London by the likes of Marx, Engels and Bakunin. It earned establishment hatred for its support for the Paris Commune in 1871.

Today, in Kobanê, northern Syria, Kurdish women and men are heroically resisting the barbarous forces of ISIS – with almost no international support.

Don’t believe the media hype about US air strikes – in Syrian Kurdistan these have so far been minimal and ineffective, unlike in Iraqi Kurdistan where US jets have protected Erbil, a city of Western consulates and oil companies.

ISIS in Syrian Kurdistan is using US tanks and heavy artillery seized when it captured Mosul in northern Iraq. It spreads inhuman terror: when these mercenaries captured one Syrian Kurd village last week they decapitated a disabled woman who had no legs.

The brave Kurds of the YPG/YPJ are resisting with AK47s and largely home-made armour. And with their hearts.

They draw courage from their national pride and their democratic, secular, egalitarian values. The same values that inspired those internationalists who gathered in London on 28 September 1864. And those who went to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s.

What about us, today?

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Pride! When Lesbians and Gays Supported the Miners

September 22, 2014 at 7:44 pm (AWL, cinema, class, gay, history, Jim D, lesbian, LGBT, solidarity, Thatcher, unions, workers)

I ran into Comrade Clive Bradley over the weekend, and he was warm in his praise for the film Pride, which depicts (albeit in “feel-good” style à la The Full Monty and Made in Dagenham) the role of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) during the great 1984-5 strike.

Clive was a prominent member of LGSM at the time, although he’s not portrayed in the film.

Here’s an interview that Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity did with Clive a couple of weeks ago, just after the film’s release. There is also a review of the film, which I haven’t republished, but which can be read here.

“The miners needed solidarity”

Solidarity: What was LGSM and what did it do?

Clive: It was a group that was set up of lesbians and gay men set up to support the miner’s strike. It has to be said it was initially mainly gay men, but more and more women got involved over the time. Practically it raised money for the miners who were on strike for a year. Mainly by standing outside lesbian and gay pubs rattling buckets, it raised quite a lot of money. This was sent to a particular mining community in south Wales, in the Dulais valley, with which connections had been made.

Solidarity: Why did this get started, and how did you get involved?

Clive: It was the idea of two people in particular, Mark Ashton and Mike Jackson. Both are dramatised in the movie. They put out a call at Pride in ‘84 and organised a meeting at “Gay Is the Word” bookshop in London. At that time I was just moving to London from Manchester and was a member of Socialist Organiser [forerunner of the AWL]. It’s not rocket science to see how I got involved.

I went to the second ever meeting of LGSM. I was active in supporting the miners and thought it was a brilliant initiative. It proved to have a very powerful effect on lesbian and gay men and on the miners. The NUM went on to lead the pride demonstration in August 1985. The NUM, a traditional union, not famous for its view on matters such as lesbian and gay rights, became quite prominent in the changing policy on gay rights in the Labour Party.

Solidarity: What impact did it have in the gay community, and what arguments did LGSM make about why gay people should support the miners?

Clive: The strike lasted for a whole year and divided the country, divided everybody. A lot of people supported the miners and didn’t need to be persuaded, but we argued that we needed the miners to win. If the miners lost then the Tory government would be going for everybody, and these lesbian and gay communities would be an easy target. People would put a lot of money into the bucket to show solidarity — presumably a lot of money they didn’t have in many cases. LGSM was the first really concrete example of how an “autonomous” movement of the “specially oppressed” (as we used to say) could struggle alongside the organised working class, and transform working-class consciousness in the process.

Solidarity: Were other left groups involved in LGSM? What was their attitude to it?

Clive: Some members of different left groups were personally involved, even members of Militant [forerunner of the Socialist Party] and the SWP, whose organisations were more hostile to the project. Militant , for example, generally argued that any kind of autonomous organisation was necessarily divisive. LGSM and Women Against Pit Closures, etc. showed that quite the reverse was true.

Solidarity: How was LGSM received in the mining communities?

Clive: The film does this quite cleverly. It is basically a rom com between two communities. The film shows you both acceptance and hostility, but a growing acceptance. That isn’t far off what actually happened.

I went to South Wales twice, the second time when the strike was actually finishing in March ‘85. That was very emotional for all of us. My own experience was that people couldn’t really have been more welcoming.

The first time we went down, there was a minibus load of us, we were being put up in people’s houses, that was the deal. We all went down to the miner’s welfare in the evening to sing songs and get drunk. It was completely fine, no hostility at all.

The reality was we were raising money for them. The miners needed solidarity, and I’m sure if people were at first dubious about where the solidarity came from, need overcame that. And, of course, as you make contact with people you realise that you have more in common than you initially thought. Why the suspicions broke down, as I’m sure there were some, is no mystery. It was the nature of people meeting each other and the power of solidarity.

Solidarity: What do you think members of LGSM learnt from the experience?

Clive: For many people it was their first time going to that sort of working-class community, though certainly not for everyone. We were a mixed group and certainly there were people from working-class backgrounds, it was not all middle class lefties. The vast majority were just people who wanted to do something.

When you have a big confrontation between a section of the working class and the government you have to take sides, more than just in your head.

There have been reunions [of LGSM] recently and many people still seem to hold broadly the same views that they used to. You can tell for many people in LGSM it was an absolutely formative experience in their lives, and very important to them.

Solidarity: Do you think there was rolling back after the defeat of the dispute, both in the gay community and in the mining community?

Clive: The miners were beaten and most of them lost their jobs. Generally speaking in the class struggle, the defeat of the miners had a hugely bad effect. We’re still living with the consequences of it.

I doubt miners’ attitudes rolled back too much with regards lesbian and gay rights. You started to get stories of miners coming out. At reunions we get visits from miners. We often hear “it turns out my son is gay”.

Ex-miners and their families came up from south Wales for the film premiere.

In the lesbian and gay community, struggle wasn’t rolled back. You got growth of the lesbian and gay movement after 1985. Not long after was “Section 28” [the Tory law which prevented the “promotion of homosexual lifestyles”] against which you had enormous demonstrations. The pride parades in the early ‘80s were relatively small, but by the late ‘80s and certainly the early ‘90s they were enormous.

Solidarity: What do you think about the film?

Clive: It gets an awful lot incredibly right. It’s in the broad ball park of something like The Full Monty, but much more political. Over the credits you have someone singing Solidarity Forever. It takes for granted that the strike was right. It’s absolutely about the importance of class struggle and solidarity between communities. The portrayals of the real people are very close and a good tribute.

Its good that for the anniversary of the strike, this particular act of solidarity will be remembered.

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