James Garner, civil rights activist

July 22, 2014 at 8:22 am (Anti-Racism, cinema, civil rights, good people, Jim D, RIP)

This hasn’t been mentioned in any of the obituaries that I’ve read in the UK media … but now I’ve found something about it in the Washington Post.

James Garner with Diahann Carroll at the March on Washington 1963. Now that's a man. RIP

Nice to know he really was a good guy (is that Nina Simone he’s holding hands with?)

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Boycott Israeli academics – but ask for their support on Gaza?

July 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm (academe, Chomsky, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, SWP, tragedy, war)

A wounded Palestinian baby receives treatment at a hospital in the Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014.

Above: wounded Palestinian baby, July 2014; a coherent response is needed

This response to the present horror in Gaza is a little confusing:

BDS (total boycott of all things – and people – Israeli) activist Haim Bresheeth appears to be heavily involved in an appeal, also involving Noam Chomsky, which quite rightly, calls on Israeli academics to speak out against the bombardment and siege of Gaza:

http://haimbresheeth.com/gaza/an-open-letter-to-israel-academics-july-13th-2014/

How does this fit with his and others’ desire for a boycott? The appeal is signed by at least one SWP’er (Mick Cushman, assuming he’s still a member) and also by leading boycotter and Hamas apologist Ilan Pappé.

An account of the difficulties of getting Israeli signatures (written by a supporter of Pappé) is linked to, but criticised for being “too dismissive of the Israeli reaction.”

The actual statement has so far been signed by about 40 Israeli academics and is a clear call for a negotiated settlement and peace agreement that will end the occupation and settlements. Unless anyone tries to interpret this as a voluntary liquidation of Israel it can only be a call for a two state solution.

It says:

The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people, is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.

So the BDS movement (SWP included) is calling for action, from people they say should not be engaged with in any way, advocating support for two states and laying into Pappé’s supporters for being unduly cynical about it.

Can anyone explain the logic behind this?

H/t: Comrade Pete

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Just remind me again: where was Alex Callinicos educated?

July 14, 2014 at 7:36 pm (gloating, Guardian, humanism, Jim D, stalinism, SWP)

Thanks to Owen Jones, in today’s Graun, for drawing my attention to a nasty little piece in the present edition of Socialist Worker. SW was once essential (and - believe it or not – entertaining) reading on the left, even for those of us who had little time for the SWP’s politics. But I haven’t bought a copy since September 2001 and so very rarely get to read it.

Above: Prof Callinicos, privately educated scion of the ruling class

For those of you who can’t be arsed to follow the link above, the article is entitled ‘Eton by Bear? The inquest begins,’ a supposedly ‘humorous’ take on the death of Horatio Chapple, mauled to death by a polar bear while on a trip to the Svalbard archipelago of Norway.

What makes the death of Chapple suitable material for SWP chortling is, it seems, the fact that he was a posh boy who went to Eton.

There was a time when I might have joined in with the sniggering, but I well remember being admonished over this by a senior comrade (himself of unimpeachable working class credentials) who told me, “socialism is about doing away with the idea that people’s worth should be judged by an accident of birth – and that applies just as much to workerism on the left as it does to mainstream society’s fawning before the aristocracy.” He was surely right, and I’ve never forgotten it – or the shame I felt at having to have such an elementary point explained to me.

Socialist Worker’s unpleasant sniggering over the death of this young man is all the more bizarre and distasteful when you consider the upper class, public school backgrounds of so many of their leading comrades, past and present - not least head honcho Callinicos, who (according to Wikipedia) “was educated at St George’s College, Salisbury (now Harare) …  [and] … first became involved in revolutionary politics as a student at Balliol College, Oxford, from which he received his BA.”

Even more importantly, SW‘s gloating over this horrible death tells us a lot about the kind of “socialism” that this degenerate organisation now represents. Jones usefully reminds us of the words of Peter Fryer, the Daily Worker (forerunner of the Morning Star) journalist who resigned from the Communist Party of Britain after they suppressed his sympathetic coverage of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Fryer was describing the Stalinist CP, but his words equally well apply to the nominally “Trotskyist” SWP of today:

“Stalinism is Marxism with the heart cut out, de-humanised, dried, frozen, petrified, rigid, barren.”

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Kathy Stobart – jazzwoman

July 12, 2014 at 11:58 am (Feminism, good people, jazz, Jim D, music, women)

Kathy Stobart and her band in the early 1950s

Jazz can be proud of its anti-racist traditions and of how, from the early twentieth century, black and white musicians defied racism in order to work together to make great music. Jazz played a major role in the US civil rights movement and – long before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson for the 1946 season – helped convince white America that black people were at least their equals, and had an awful lot to contribute to the American Way Of Life, if only given the chance.

Jazz’s record on sexism and women’s rights is less honourable. Until quite recently, women were scarcely tolerated in jazz, and even then only as fans, hangers-on and singers. The few female instrumentalists that there were in the 1930s, 40s and 50s on the US scene tended to be treated with condescension or (as with pianist Mary Lou Williams, whose talent could not be denied), as novelties if not downright freaks.

The situation for British women jazz musicians was just as bad until very recently, which makes it only right and proper that we now remember the tenor sax player Kathy Stobart, who died on 6 July aged 89. Kathy was a pioneer, having started professionally in the 1940s when she ran her own band and worked for top bandleaders like Vic Lewis and Ted Heath. In 1957 she caused a minor sensation when she stepped in for Jimmy Skidmore (who was ill) with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band and recorded a highly-regarded album, Kath Meets Humph.

Humph held Kathy in high regard, describing her sax playing as having “a huge booming sound, imbued with total originality and a commanding presence.” Kathy joined Humph’s band as a regular member between 1969 and 1978, and then re-joined for 12 years from 1992. She set a precedent: after Kathy left, Humph hired two other female sax players, Karen Sharpe and Jo Fooks, both of whom have spoken of Kathy as a major inspiration and role model.

Kathy’s second husband, the trumpeter Bert Courtley, died in 1969, leaving Kathy a single parent, and she took up music teaching to supplement her income. By all accounts she was a “natural” and in 2000 she tutored Judi Dench in the rudiments of sax playing for her role in Alan Plater’s TV play The Last  of the Blonde Bombshells.

Kathy, like a lot of the best female jazz players, would frequently be described by critics and fans, as playing “like a man”.  The description didn’t please Kathy, who once commented: “It’s supposed to be the ultimate compliment, but I wouldn’t apply it to myself. I’ve got a good pair of lungs on me and I’ve got well matured emotions. I play like me.”

Guardian obit here

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The Graun at its best … and worst

June 27, 2014 at 7:14 pm (Guardian, Jim D, law, Murdoch, publications, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religious right)

Regulars will know that although I take the Graun every day, its editorial line and a lot of its columnists infuriate me. So credit where its due: the paper’s role in exposing the News of the World phone-hacking scandal in the first place, and its dogged pursuit of the truth over five long years has been superb. The Graun is largely responsible for the criminal Coulson being brought to justice – something that would never have happened if matters had been left up to the Metropolitan Police (who now have serious questions to answer about their own cosy relationship with News International).

The star of the Graun‘s team on this story has been, since he first broke it in 2009, the relentless Nick Davies, who this week crowned his achievements with a magisterial and surely definitive account of the trial itself, closing with this quietly devastating conclusion, the full meaning of which is unmistakable when read in context:

It seems to have become forgotten, conveniently by some, that before the Old Bailey trial two former newsdesk executives, Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup, pleaded guilty, as did the phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire and a former reporter, Dan Evans, who confessed to hacking Sienna Miller’s messages on Daniel Craig’s phone.

Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World’s former chief reporter and news editor, pleaded guilty after the police found the tapes he had of Blunkett’s messages in a News International safe.

In the trial, Coulson was convicted of conspiring to hack phones while he was editor of the News of the World. The jury was discharged after failing to reach unanimous verdicts on two further charges of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office faced by Coulson and Goodman.

But Brooks was found not guilty of four charges including conspiring to hack phones when she was editor of the News of the World and making corrupt payments to public officials when she was editor of the Sun. She was also cleared of two charges that she conspired with her former secretary and her husband to conceal evidence from police investigating phone hacking in 2011.

The jury at the Old Bailey returned true verdicts according to the evidence. They were not asked to do more.

Superb stuff, and I only wish I could leave it at that. But yet another example of the Graun at its stupid, relativist worst has been drawn to my attention by Comrade Coatesy: a vile piece defending a vile man and a vile organisation, the writing all the more objectionable because of its post-modern pretentiousness. At least it didn’t appear in the print edition, but was evidently considered suitable for publication at the cess-pit that is Comment Is Free.

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Why the f*** is Labour backing Cameron’s EU posturing?

June 24, 2014 at 2:29 pm (David Cameron, democracy, elections, Europe, internationalism, Jim D, labour party, populism, reformism, stalinism, Tory scum)

EU Flag

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski sums up Cameron’s attempts to undo European integration:

“It’s either a very badly thought-through move or, not for the first time, a kind of  incompetence in European affairs. Remember? He fucked up the fiscal pact. He fucked it up – simple as that. He is not interested. He does not get it. He believes in stupid propaganda. He stupidly tries to play the system …

“His whole strategy of feeding [the Eurosceptics] scraps to satisfy them is, just as I predicted, turning against him; he should have said fuck off … But he ceded the field to them that are now embarrassing him.”

Sikorski is, believe it or not, considered a political ally of Cameron’s and (like the Tories’ bête noir, Jean-Claude Junker) a thoroughgoing reactionary. But, of course, that’s not the reason for the rift between Cameron and the Euro-Tories of the centre-right EPP. They agree on most aspects of economic policy.

Nor is it – despite Tory demagogy –  anything to do with the elitism, bureaucratism and lack of democracy of EU institutions.

In fact David Cameron’s attempt to veto the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to head the European Commission is no stance against elitism, nor an attempt to make EU institutions more democratic. Within the highly-limited standards of EU democracy it is the exact opposite.

Juncker is the preferred candidate of the conservative political bloc which won the largest chunk of popular votes in May’s European election. But Cameron isn’t bothered by the tally of the popular vote. He prefers bureaucratic manoeuvring and nationalistic special pleading. Cameron, with an eye on his UKIP rivals, wants to be seen to be “fighting for Britain”. No matter that there is no great difference on economic policies between Juncker and the British Tory party.

It would be a whole lot better if the political semi-union of Europe, which Cameron choses out of political expediency to object to, were more democratic, more transparent and were not tied to a drive to make workers pay for the crisis.

But it is still a big step forward for working-class people around Europe that barriers between nations have been drastically reduced.

At a time when migrants are being scapegoated we need those barriers to stay down.

The semi-dissolution of the barriers has made it easier to fight the class struggle across Europe. If the labour movement leaders of Europe had any imagination they could run powerful Europe-wide campaigns. For instance they could organise a Europe-wide struggle for a decent Living Wage, one which would could generalise much needed solidarity to existing struggles of low-paid workers.

Unfortunately there are a few on the left in Europe (but notably not  the Greek radical-left party Syriza) who oppose the existence of the political union of the EU: in the UK it is the No2EU campaign. The logic of their campaign is to advocate the resurrection of national barriers. In this way they add to the increasing toxic nationalism of UKIP and Cameron. But No2EU are, in the main, a bunch of brain-dead Stalinists whose fanatical little-Englandism stems from a visceral hatred of Germany and a bizarre, anachronistic perception of the EU as a threat to the USSR (by means of a time-warp, presumably). The derisory number of votes they picked up in the last Euro-elections means we don’t have to take them seriously – though RMT members may well be wondering what the hell their leadership was doing throwing away the union’s money on this reactionary irrelevance.

Much more serious – and worrying – is the present stance of the Labour Party. That pompous prat of a shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, has instructed Labour MEPs not to support Junker. If that was because Junker is an anti-working class, pro-austerity right-winger, then we’d agree. But no;  the wretched Alexander has made it clear that the Labour leadership supports Cameron’s quest for a less “federalist” (ie: more right-wing) candidate: “There can be no excuses. David Cameron has a clear mandate from political parties here in the UK – including Labour – to build consensus across Europe for an alternative candidate for president of the commission.”

What a disgrace! Or, as Mr Sikorski might say, what an incompetent, badly thought-through, fucking fuck-up.

 

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All The Cats Join In

June 18, 2014 at 10:36 am (film, jazz, Jim D, Sheer joy, trivia)

Over at Facebook, my friend Stroppy Bird keeps asking me (for reasons I have yet to fathom) whether I have any pictures of cats.

Well, I can do better than that. Here’s a short film:

Not just ‘cats’, but the Benny Goodman Orchestra and lindy-hopping as well!
The recording date was June 12, 1944. The trumpet section consisted of Billy Butterfield, Mickey McMickle and Charlie Shavers, with Cozy Cole on drums.

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Sami Ramadani’s claim that Zionists bombed Baghdad synagogues in 1950-51

June 17, 2014 at 4:54 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Guardian, history, iraq, iraq war, israel, Jim D, Middle East, Stop The War, terror, zionism)

 
Registering for Aliya, Baghdad, 1950                                                                       Landing in Israel

Sami Ramadani is a periodic contributor to the Guardian, always billed as “a political refugee from Sadam Hussain’s regime.” In fact, that billing doesn’t really do him justice: during the Iraq war he was a supporter of the murderous, anti-working class Iraqi “resistance” and is a demagogue, much loved by the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’, who routinely blames the “West” and “Zionists” for all the ills of Iraq in particular, and the Middle East in general.

Shiraz has commented on his politics in the past.

In his latest Guardian piece, arguing that prior to the 2003 occupation, there was no “significant communal fighting between Iraq’s religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities”, Ramadani mentions two incidents that would seem to contradict his thesis:

“[T]he only incident was the 1941 violent looting of Jewish neighbourhoods – still shrouded in mystery as to who planned it. The bombing of synagogues in Baghdad in 1950-51 turned out to be the work of Zionists to frighten Iraq’s Jews – one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world – into emigrating to Israel.”

I’ll leave aside the 1941 looting for now (though, whether by accident or design, it’s worth noting that Ramadani’s choice of words would lead the uniformed reader to assume that it, too, was probably the work of “Zionists”).

What I want to discuss here, is Ramadani’s bald statement that the 1950-51 bombings “turned out to be the work of Zionists”, as though that is an established, incontrovertible fact. Far from it: the matter is hotly disputed to this day, as a visit to Wikipedia will confirm. I want to make it clear that I am not ruling out the possibility that the bombings (or, perhaps, just some of them) were the work of Zionists, either operating on a free-lance basis or under orders from the Israeli leadership. But that thesis is far from being the established fact that Ramadani makes it out to be, as a glance at Wikipedia will confirm.

It is generally acknowledged that the two best accounts of the bombings, arguing diametrically opposed positions, are by Abbas Shiblack, in his 1989 book The Lure of Zion: The Case of the Iraqi Jews (later slightly revised and republished as The Iraq Jews: A History of Mss Exodus), who argues that Zionists were responsible, and Moshe Gat’s The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951 which presents the case for Arab nationalist responsibility. They also disagree on the question of how important the bombings were in causing the exodus of Jews from Iraq.

The two accounts were analysed and weighed up against each other in a review of Shiblack’s book by Rayyan Al-Shawat, writing in the Winter 2006 edition of Democratiya magazine:

The other significant study of this subject is Moshe Gat’s The Jewish Exodus  from Iraq, 1948-1951, which was published in 1997. A shorter encapsulation
of Gat’s argument can be found in his 2000 Israel Affairs article ‘Between Terror and Emigration: The Case of Iraqi Jewry.
’ Because of the diametrically opposed conclusions arrived at by the authors, it is useful to compare and contrast their  accounts. In fact, Gat explicitly refuted many of Shiblak’s assertions as early as 1987, in his Immigrants and Minorities review of Shiblak’s The Lure of Zion. It is unclear why Shiblak has very conspicuously chosen to ignore Gat’s criticisms and his pointing out of errors in the initial version of the book. The republication of Shiblak’s book 19 years after its first printing afforded him the opportunity to enact revisions, but where modifications were made they are minor, and almost no corrections are to be found. This article will highlight the major differences…

Al-Shawat’s admirably objective and even-handed article concludes as follows:

It is likely that we will never know for sure who the perpetrators of the attacks were.
As for the final word on the effect of the bombs, it is distressing to note that neither
Shiblak nor Gat saw fit to conduct a survey among surviving Iraqi Jewish emigrants
in order to ascertain, in the emigrants’ own words, their reasons for leaving Iraq.
This would have been of inestimable value in determining whether or not the
bombings were in fact the main reason for the exodus. Without evidence, Iraqi
Jews are not necessarily more qualified than anyone else to opine as to the identity
of the terrorists responsible for the bombs. Yet who could be more qualified than Iraqi Jews to explain which factors impelled them to leave Iraq for Israel?!

There is much anecdotal evidence to support the contention that the bombings – whoever
perpetrated them – were the decisive factor behind Iraqi Jews’ emigration. Personal
testimonies to this effect abound. Yet, inexcusably, there has apparently been no
organised effort to collate such testimonies within the framework of a scientific
survey. Though Shiblak cannot prove that Zionist emissaries from Israel were responsible for the bombings, he succeeds in demonstrating that these bombings were a major factor in the flight of Iraqi Jewry. Had Shiblak included a scientifically conducted survey of explanations provided by Iraqi Jews as to why they left, results might have proved that the bombings were the overriding reason – and not simply a major factor behind the exodus.

That seems to me to be a fair and balanced conclusion – ie: we simply don’t know who was responsible. But for the likes of Ramdani that’s not good enough: the Zionists must be to blame for bombing the synagogues – just as they’re to blame for so much else…

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Brave Afghans shame (some on) the Western “left”

June 16, 2014 at 6:50 pm (Afghanistan, anti-fascism, Civil liberties, democracy, elections, ex-SWP, Guardian, Human rights, islamism, Jim D, liberation, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, SWP)

The picture below should shame anyone and everyone in Britain (and the rest of the West) who doesn’t bother to vote …

Image: Men show their fingers after the ink-stained part of their fingers were cut off by the Taliban after they took part in the presidential election Men show their fingers after the ink-stained part of their fingers were cut off by the Taliban after they took part in the presidential election, in Herat province June 14, 2014.

…but even more, it should shame those on the so-called “left” who have ever expressed (publicly or privately) any degree of sympathy for the rural fascists of the Taliban. You know who you are (and so do we), you scum.

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The horror of Iraq

June 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm (iraq, iraq war, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, Syria, terror, tragedy)

 ISIS murdering Iiraq Security Forces after breaking open a prison in Mosul

Above: ISIS murdering Iraq Security Forces after breaking open a prison in Mosul

 Like most people, I’m watching in horror as Iraq disintegrates and the Islamist barbarians of ISIS continue to gain ground. I have no particularly profound insights to offer at the moment, so would recommend readers to check out the ever-reliable Juan Cole at the aptly-titled Informed Comment blog, and one Kyle Orton at this interesting blog, previously unknown to me.

B/t:  Bob From Brockley (for Syrian Intifada tip-off) 

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