Ridley Didley Doo, Number Two

June 20, 2006 at 6:48 am (Uncategorized)

Now Yvonne Ridley is found to have recently joined a deputation to Malaysian PM Matahir Mohamad with antisemite and conspiracy theorist Michael Collins Piper, of right-wing US “journal” The American Free Press. Amongst other things, Piper thinks people “shouldn’t discount” the idea that Ariel Sharon ordered 9/11. He has also claimed that Zyklon-B was used in World War Two concentration camps only to de-louse clothing. Well, there’s certainly a louse around here somewhere. Or maybe two, eh Yvonne?

Any readers from Respect care to explain?

[Hat Tips: Harry’s Place and Judeosphere]

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The genius of Marina Hyde

June 19, 2006 at 5:45 pm (Uncategorized)

This needs no comment:

“And so to the USA’s soccer World Cup showdown with Italy on Saturday night, where random annoyances included piles of discarded hamburger wrappers, a rash of FDNY T-shirts, the knowledge that the US keeper Kasey Keller’s mobile phone ringtone is the Tarzan roar, and the clinically obese gentleman at Kaiserslautern station loudly informing fellow supporters which bar the US hardcore fans were basing themselves in ‘so the terrorists had better stay away’.

Because if al-Qaida fears anything, it’s a frat-boy with a keg.

Marina, we love you.

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You know, I don’t believe there’s a "liberal elite"…

June 18, 2006 at 9:35 pm (Uncategorized)

… but some things really do give you pause.

I give you a story from today’s Observer. The first thing you will notice is that it’s absolutely enormous: it spreads across 3 pages in the main paper. The second thing is that it’s about a journalist called Urmee Khan, orgininally from Reigate, who went to live in Beeston, Leeds (home of two of the 7/7 bombers) for a month. She’s Muslim, and so are most of the inhabitants of Beeston.

So… was she going to interview locals about the bombers, to get an idea of what they were like? No. Perhaps she was going to perform some secret undercover mission to see if she could find a terrorist network? No.

No, what the whole article is about, is how Beeston is full of normal people. She tells us, at the end of her month:

“In Beeston I found kind, decent people: young mums, bored kids, community cohesion, an interfaith set-up which was the pride of northern England. I came looking for mullahs bent on destruction. All I found was mothers.”

What, really Urmee? A working class district of Leeds actually has people in it who are just as nice as mummy and daddy’s neighbours in Surrey? Wow, Pulitzer for you, I’ll sign the nomination papers myself.

Next week in your leaves-no-stone-unturned Observer, we send another person to another suburb, where they find some more nice people. Hey, I could really get the hang of this investigative journalism lark.

Seriously though, what I want to know, is who on earth that story is news to? All over the country, people of all colours, in all states of affluence and poverty, try to get on with their lives as best they can. And if the Observer thinks it’s going to come as any surprise to its readers that this is the case, then maybe there’s something in this “liberal elite” gubbins after all.

But let’s hope not, eh?

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Totally bloody ridiculous ideas of our time: #145 – "The Islamisation of Europe"

June 18, 2006 at 9:24 am (Uncategorized)

You know how right-wing pundits of a certain ilk are fond of going on about the “Islamisation” of Europe? Has it ever struck you how such views such a similar ring to the ignorant paranoia shared by many conspiracy theories throughout the ages? I was pondering this the other day, and decided to write something about it.

Before we get into it, if you don’t know what I’m on about, and you need a refresher, there are several (particularly absurd) examples in the comments on this thread from Harry’s Place. I say particularly absurd because the comments concerned refer to said “Islamisation” coming from the secular Muslim democracy of Turkey’s prospective entrance into the EU. I should add that I don’t think said comments necessarily represent the view of HP’s owners.

So where does the theory come from? Well, it grew out of ideas about the decline of western civilisation at the hands of waves of immigration and declining “moral values”, such as those expressed by uber-reactionary Pat Buchanan in his 2001 book “The Death of the West”. This paints an apocalyptic scenario whereby a combination of declining non-immigrant birth rates, evil liberal do-gooders and waves of immigration diluting “The West’s” values until finally Freedom Central is brought to its knees.

Sounds like paranoid bollocks, right? Yup, you got it in one.

Pat also thinks we in Europe have had our chips, at one point putting it thus, in a section (page 109 if you really want to look it up) that specifically refers to Muslims:

“The day of Europe is over. The coming mass migrations from the Islamic world will so change the ethnic composition of the Old Continent that Europeans will be too paralysed by a threat of terrorism to intervene in North Africa, the Middle East or the Persian Gulf. Europeans already ignore US sanctions on Iran, Iraq, and Libya. As their populations become more Arabic and Islamic, paralysis will set in.”

Now, not does this ignore simple facts, like for instance the fact that Arabs actually don’t compose any more than a small minority of Muslims in the UK and several other EU countries, it also assumes that all Muslims are theocrats, which is manifestly not true. More to the point, it also ignores the possibility that EU governments might have subverted US sanctions in the countries mentioned for reasons other than that they were “Paralysed by Muslims”. These might have been because of commercial interests, or even (whisper it) because some in the various EU political establishments just thought the sanctions were plain wrong. Not to mention that 2 years after Buchanan wrote his book, several EU countries supported the US invasion of Iraq, which hardly fits his theory. Although I’m glad to say that some of those invasion supporters later came to their senses and altered their stance, but that’s another story.

The various “creeping Islamisation” theses that have been churned out by right-wing pundits since 9/11 fit the same theme, to one degree or another. Creeping sinister fundamentalist conspiracies across Europe to “Islamise” it, or terrorists lurking behind every suburban curtain, you know the form. Oddly, a lot of these people refer constantly to Muslim anti-semitism whilst alluding to the treatment of Jews before World War Two, but actually it seems to me that the comparison is more appropriate between the treatment of Jews then and the treatment of Muslims now. The idea of sinister terrorist cells all over the country, the idea of government cowering before a “fundamentalist threat”, the second guessing about motives, the idea that Muslims almost have to reiterate all the time that they are not terrorists/theocrats/intending to blow up your house, all of that marginalisation and demonisation sounds to me like the paranoia that used to be directed at Jews in pre-WW2 Europe.

The reality of the situation is that all of this “Islamisation” theorising is predicated on a basic notion that it isn’t possible to be both Muslim and European. That notion is plainly utter rubbish – Muslim people have been living in Europe for centuries, and in any case “Christian” and “European” are not different words for the same thing, regardless of what some ignorant rightist politicians who want to exclude Turkey from the EU may wish to think. The majority of Muslim people, like every other group of people in Europe, want to live peaceful lives in a democratic state where they can work, succeed and experience life’s joys and failures like any other citizen. The logic of “creeping Islamisation” theories is both to deny that self-evident truth, and further to deny that Muslim citizens have the same inclusive rights as anyone else.

The political left obviously has a special job to do here, in unambigously refuting such arguments and setting the debate straight. The paranoia and marginalisation that such ideas foster, is what set the context for things like the debate over the Danish cartoons; the unbelievable inability to see that context, was one of the reasons why I was so angry at the Alliance for Workers Liberty for republishing them on its website. The AWL are good people, and good anti-racists, regardless of what anyone else says about them. But to fail to see what they were doing by republishing those cartoons, to fail to see the wider social and political context in which they took that action, was just the worst decision that I think they’ve taken in ten years of my knowing them.

In conclusion; what citizenship of an EU nation should be about, is precisely being free, feeling included, and being onself liberal and inclusive. This basic stance (which is by no means exclusively “left-wing”) appears to be lost on some parts of the political right, amid a morass of all-consuming paranoia that serves to further marginalise some of the most vulnerable people in contemporary Europe. It’s the duty of progressive, decent people everywhere to see that these latter-day conspiracy paranoids don’t get away with it.

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Reporting Hate Crime

June 17, 2006 at 12:05 am (Uncategorized)

Is it only me or do others feel uncomfortable when such cases are reported on TV? … my beef is when a reporter will say “____ died/was killed simply because they were Black/Gay/Catholic/Muslim/Jewish…”

Murdered victims of hate crimes have died because their killers had a prejudice against their victims race/sexuality/religion etc – it does the murdered victim and their loved ones an injustice to almost blame their racial/cultural/sexual differences for their deaths? I am getting fed up with such unintelligent and shoddy reporting, because I think that such events should be handled properly and with more sensitivity.

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Another right wing blowhard

June 16, 2006 at 6:46 am (Uncategorized)

Some of you will hopefully have read my post about Ann Coulter’s vile abuse of a group of 9/11 widows. I’d now like to introduce you to her colleague Michelle Malkin. Michelle’s a bit like Ann, except my Michelle story is about a lie she told recently.

UK readers may need a bit of backfiller on this. In the US Right’s demonology, progressives of all stripes hate America. They hate it because they’re bad people who want to burn the flag, march through every major city centre attacking war veterans, and to legalise sex with animals. I.e. to the right, progressives stand against everything that “decent folk” in the right’s eyes, believe in.

The one flaw in this narrative, of course, is that it isn’t true. There are obviously some nutters who claim to be on the left, who probably want to do the things that I mentioned above, but then there are nutters on the right too. Neither actually represents mainstream left, or right, wing opinion. Therefore justifying such demonisations can be difficult at times.

Michelle got it sorted though – she just said that a group of progressives at a meeting booed the speaker, Hiliary Clinton, for praising America and US troops. Which wasn’t true.

But hey, a little white lie for the cause never hurt anyone, right Michelle?

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But Beautiful: remembering Ella

June 15, 2006 at 10:06 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D)

I thank Simon B for reminding me that it’s ten years since the death of Ella Fitzgerald. Ten years in which some fine new jazz singers have come along (Claire Martin and Stacey Kent spring to mind), but no-one will ever equal Ella for sheer beauty of sound.

And yet Ella has had something of a bum deal in terms of reputation – particularly from jazz purists, who almost to a man (and I chose that expression carefully), will compare her unfavourably to her near-contemporary Billie Holiday. Billie (goes the Jazz Party Line) may have had a limited voice, but she exuded passion, sincerity, true jazz feeling and a natural affinity with the blues. Ella, on the other hand, (this is still the Party Line, you understand) was all vocal technique, but had little or no feeling, no blues sensibility and – if you want the bald truth – was scarcely a jazz singer at all!

All of which is not just unfair to Ella: it’s complete rubbish that owes more to ignorant mythology than it does to any serious musical appreciation. The idea that Billie was an authentic “jazz singer”, whose every note was suffused with passion, sincerity and suffering, is a nonsense that owes more to her ghosted (and highly unreliable) ‘autobiography’ Lady Sings the Blues (and the awful Diana Ross film based upon it), than to any boring old facts.  In reality, Billie -given the opportunity- demanded lush strings and ‘commercial’ arrangements on her later recording sessions (on which her voice was often dire). And Ella could sing with sincerity and passion (try “Ill Wind” from her Harold Arlen album, or ‘Do Nothing till You Hear from Me’ from her Ellington album – both on ‘Verve’), in addition to simply swinging like the clappers.

Jazz has always been very male. It was one of the first art forms to insist upon racial equality: how could it not, when all (excepting a few whites like Beiderbecke, Gooodman and Teagarden) its leading practitioners were black Americans? But the fact remains that, for all its racial equality, jazz was always seriously sexist.

Women were allowed in jazz as vocalists, provided they were pretty. Mary Lou Williams was the exception and even she had the advantage of being “the Pretty Gal Who Swings the Band”; she played the piano better than most men, and also arranged for Andy Kirk’s band. Ella Fitzgerald, who could never have been called a “Pretty Gal” started singing in the 1930’s, copying the white New Orleansian Connie Boswell: Ella , nervous as she alwys would be, won a talent competition at the Apollo Ballroom , and wasn’t pretty – but had the most fabulous voice. Benny Carter heard her there and recommended her to bandleader Chick Webb. From then on her career took off, first with Chick Webb’s band (which she took over for two years when he died in 1939), and then as a soloist.

She adapted to bebop with ease; almost every record she made from the late 1940’s through to the mid 1950’s is a lesson in bop phrasing. She could also scat-sing with a facility and wit unmatched by anyone except Louis Armstrong or Leo Watson. Then, Norman Granz (of ‘Verve’ records) came up with the “Song Book” idea: give Ella the task of recording all the significant songs of – say- Gershwin, Porter, or Mercer, and give her the lush backing of Nelson Riddle, or the brassy drive of Billy May, and you have a series of classics. No serious music lover (even if you’re not particularly into jazz) should be without them.

But Ella, despite her success, was never really happy. She wasn’t obviously unhappy the way Billie Holiday was (although Billie’s reputation as a tragic victim is at least in part the result of her own “successful exploitation of her (own) personal life” in the words of one commentator). Ella’s unhappiness was, apparently, that she simply felt unloved and felt unattractive to men. Sarah Vaughan – another wonderful vocalist – felt the same way. Ella was married to the bass player Ray Brown for a while in the 1950’s, but that didn’t work out (nor did a second marriage), possibly because of her inferiority complex. Her friend, Marian Logan, at the time of a 1950 European tour with Norman Granz’s ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ described her thus;

“She was shy and she was very insecure about her looks. She used to tell me, ‘You’re so beautiful’. It was hard on Ella. Everyone around her was so young and slim and she was young and fat, and she thought of herself, I guess, as kind of ordinary. Nobody ever made her realise that she had a beauty that was a lot different and a lot more lasting than the beauty of those ‘look pretty and the next day look like a raggedy-bose-of yacka-may’. Nobody ever made her feel valuable even for her talents. Nobody made much over her. She was always a very lonely person”.

The jazz world is-rightly- proud of its longstanding anti-racism. it has little to be proud of in its treatment of women. The reason for Ella’s underappreciation in jazz circles has, I suspect, a lot to do with her looks. She was- to put it bluntly- “matronly”(“homely” is another frequently used description) in a world where female singers were judged as much by their looks as by their voice. Billie Holiday was not exactly a conventional beauty, but even in her declining years she remained a striking, handsome woman. Ella just had the voice.

She ended up as the elder stateswoman of jazz: nominally acknowledged by all, but lonely. Her performances never moved me in quite the the way Billie Holiday’s do. But she kept the “Great American Songbook” alive the way no-one else could. For that – if nothing else- she deserves to be remembered.

Yes, Ella had real beauty, and not just in her voice (although that was-quite simply- the most gorgeous vocal sound ever produced in jazz or anywhere else): she was a lovely, loving, modest and strangely child-like talent who never quite believed in her own ability. In fact, she seems to have seriously doubted herself throughout her career. Her life strikes me as more tragic than that of Billie Holiday, who may have made bad choices in men and in many other matters, but did so voluntarily (it has even been suggested that she-Billie- was a masochist). Ella was lonely, insecure and never realised how important she was. The sexism and superficiality of the jazz/showbiz world, and the wider society it existed within, was, in large part, to blame. But that voice…

(NB: Fortunately, Ella’s geatest recordings are widely and easily available: I recommend ‘The Best of the Song Books’, Verve 519 804-2 and ‘The Best of the Song Books: The Ballads’, Verve 521 867-2)

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To people who think it’s "left wing" not to support England in the footie

June 15, 2006 at 3:02 pm (Uncategorized)

Eng-er-lund! Eng-er-lund! Eng-er-lund!

I’m off to watch the England v Trinidad & Tobago match, and as you’ll have gathered I will be cheering on England, in a suitably articulate manner of course. Here’s hoping it’ll be a good game.

Errmmm… and vote wotserface off Big Brother if you get a sec.

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Visit Palestine

June 13, 2006 at 11:40 pm (Uncategorized)

Visit Palestine is a devastating account of a Irish womans’ experience of working as a international observer in Jenin. This film covers 3 years of her life. Caiomhe Butterly lived with the people of Jenin and helped protect whoever she could, from the daily effects fo the Israeli occupation – there was a time when she had received some news airtime when she was shot by the Israelis. Luckily she survived with no disability, Through this, Caiomhe was awarded the Time Magazine European Hero Award.

Caiomhi’s film shows what it is like for the people to be under enforced curfews… to be bombarded by soldiers in tanks and guns – the bombing of peoples homes – the killing of men, women and children. The grief of the loved ones, such as orphans and partners who have to deal with life managing with children, loneliness and financial difficulties without their husband or wife. Including the mother of one of the few female suicide bombers. Who is now without 2 of her beloved children. 1 having died due to being shot by the Israelis – in front of his sister, who went on to avenge her brothers death, by blowing herself up and killing Israelis.
The film shows how politicised the children are from living in an unnatural and psychologically crippling environment – where they have to often run to school, ducking and diving under gun fire. when they have to deal with classmates being shot in their own classrooms and being taught how to survive under those dangerous conditions.
There were many children, men and particularly women who talked about their experiences of losing loved ones and homes. Not one of those people blamed or showed any hatred for the Jewish/Israeli people. But they had made clear where they did focus their frustration of where the daily bombardment had come from, which was Ariel Sharon, the Israeli premier.

It is so easy to disassociate oneself from such circumstances when clips are shown on the news – but this film was gritty and brought home to me, the emotional, physical and social factors of the people of Palestine.
As for the activists that go to places of conflict, like those who go to Palestine and Iraq. I have often heard people saying that such people are mad and careless – but watching this film shows that these people know they are not going to have an easy time or some sort of holiday – This film confirms that they’re only purpose is utter determined humanitarianism.

I recommend this film to anyone who has an interest in Middle Eastern politics. Go on the website – and see about getting it shown at your nearest independent cinema – or buy the DVD.

I went to a local showing and we had the opportunity to ask Katie Barlow, the directer of the film questions about her work. She is doing her best to get major TV channels to show her film – which has already been shown in some places in the Middle East and free speech TV.

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Shirley Phelps

June 13, 2006 at 10:59 pm (Uncategorized)

A very interesting character 🙂



some niceeee music on there…

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