Sorry kids, I’ve been gone for a while. But I’m back.
OK, I’ve had a great two weeks.
Favourite story: It was my great pleasure, two weeks ago, to meet the wonderful Stroppies, who made me stay in the pub throughout the first two hours of the most important feminist student conference since the last one. You two are a proper pair, and you should make more of yourselves than the ex-pab and her net-savvy mate than you pretend to be. And Louise, Denham would be pround to know you (he’s really quite charming when he tries ;))
The lastest anti-democratic, counter-productive piece of gesture-politics from the cops and the Blair government, in their “war against terrorism at home” (note that I do not put the word terrorism in scare-quotes), is the proposal to ban flag-burning.
It seems that the catalyst was a demonstration outside Westminster Cathederal lat month, when members of the al-Ghuraba Islamist fundamentalist sect harassed churchgoers. What the hell that has to do with flag-burning is anybody’s guess; there are already laws in place to deal with harassment. Then there was the February demonstration in London against the Danish cartoons, at which (apparently) Danish flags were burned. But what got most of the media and ther public upset was not flag-burning, but placards saying “Behead those who insult Islam”. Again, there are already laws in place to deal with incitement to violence: we don’t need more.
And anyway, the right to burn the flag of your own nation – or, indeed, another nation – strikes me as being a pretty good mark of a democracy. It’s enshrined, for instance, in the First Amendment to the US constitution, and attempts by the right- wing to overturn it, have been (narrowly) defeated by civil libertarians and consistent democrats and supporters of free speech.
Anyway, better that people burn flags than that they burn people.
Education Secretary Alan Johnson’s withdrawal of plans to force religious schools to take 25 per cent non-faith pupils is yet another victory for the increasingly assertive religious lobby in Britain. This time the assault was led the Roman Catholic church, heading up a united front of Muslim and Jewish communalists. It is a victory for bigotry and sectarianism that will inevitably result in increased communal division. How the hell this government, actively promoting sectarian education (aka “faith schools”), thinks it can possibly be a good idea to have still more state schools that promote one particular religion, excluding pupils who do not ‘belong’ to that religion, when it recognised that an important part of the fight against sectarianism in Northern Ireland was to get rid of such schools, simply defies logic.
However, Johnson’s quota scheme was always a half-baked nonsense. Where is the sense in encouraging “faith” schools, only to demand that some children of the faithful must be turned away in order to shoehorn in a quota of unbelievers? It was never clear, either, whether the proposed quota would apply only to “new” (ie: Muslim) faith schools, or all of them.
It was clearly unjust that there should be 6,850 Christian and Jewish state schools, while Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other religions were denied that right. The answer is obvious: no new state-funded “faith” schools, and the existing ones to be secularised. Faith is no more acceptable a criterion for running or attending a school than race.
Hat-tips to my ol’ pals the Stroppies and Will, for drawing my attention to this dispute, in which the GMB is taking on a truly horrible employer, JJB Sports, in Wigan, Lancs, England, for a meagre living wage. JJB’s main shareholder, an asshole calledDavid Whalen, has the audacity to denounce the union and its members as “communists” for demanding a living wage – and then buggering off for a holiday in Barbados!
The workers have voted for strike action on 31 October and 2 November.
Anyone within ‘striking’ distance of Wigan on those days should support them on the picket line.
The rest of us should contact Neil Holden, GMB Lancashire Regional Officer on (UK) 07740 804070, or Steve Pryle, GMB Press Officer on 07921 289880, to see what we can do in support of these workers.
To: Ms. S. Bird
Dear Ms. Bird,
RE: Our Client, Mr. James N. Denham of Shachtman Towers, Birmingham, England
We act for the above-named in the matter of a Foul, Libellous, Defamatory and otherwise Actionable “article” that appeared, dated Sunday October 22 2006, upon a so-called “Web Log” above your name.
In the aforementioned “article” a False, Objectionable and altogether Misleading comparison is made between our Client and a certain character (known as “Father Jack”) in a popular televisual entertainment programme, “Father Ted”.
This Defamatory comparison constitutes a Vile Calumny and has caused our Client considerable Personal Distress, such that he has become altogether Unmanageable and otherwise Incapacitated. Medical evidence is presently being obtained, which we are confident will confirm that our Client has suffered permanent Psychological Damage as a result of your Irresponsible, Reckless and altogether Malicious so-called “article”.
The above notwithstanding, our Client wishes it to be known that he has no objection, in Principle, to being compared with with figures from the world of popular entertainment and, indeed, has frequently been compared with (and mistaken for) the likes of Mr Ronald Coleman, Mr Clark Gable, and Mr Cary Grant.
Indeed, our Client has no objection, in Principle, to being compared with a Catholic Priest, so long as that Priest is Father Michael Logan, as portrayed by Mr Montgomery Clift in the cinematic production ‘I Confess’ (Dir: Alfred Hitchcock, 1953).
We are therefore instructed by our Client, Mr James Denham, to require and immediate Retraction, Apology, and monitary Compensation of a sum comensurate with our Client’s Distress, Injured Feelings, Loss of Earnings, permanent Psychological Damage, and Detriment to Good Name and Reputation.
If such an Undertaking is not forthcoming, our Client instructs us pursue this Matter with the full rigour and force of the Civil Law.
Ephraim I. Grabbit LLB
Partner: Mss’rs Sue, Grabbit & Runne.
Engage, the campaign originally set up to oppose the academic boycott of Israel, has now taken up the cause of Palestininan students, presently banned from attending Israeli universities:
“At a time when Israeli professors are rightfully opposing attempts to prevent them from teaching – just because they are Israeli – Gisha (the Centre for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement) calls upon Israel not to prevent Palestinian students from studying – just because they are Palestinian. Academic freedom is universal”, says Sari Bashi, Director of Gisha.
Engage believes that academic international exchange is a Good Thing in and of itself and can form part of the path to peace: “Engage unambigiously opposes all attempts to apply discrimination on the basis of nationality, to academic interchange, whether in the form of a boycott of Israeli institutions and individuals, or in the form of a universal ban on Palestinians studying in Israel”.
Israel’s universities are also taking a strong stand on this issue.
The Engage statement continues: “While ongoing calls to boycott Israeli Jewish academics and institutions are a vicious attack on academic freedom, a blanket ban on Palestinian admittance to Isreali universities is also a serious attack on fundamental human rights. Israel’s academic institutions have a policy of open entry to anyone who meets their academic criteria without regard to gender, religion, ethnicity or nationality. They should be allowed to continue to make their own judgements on who they admit. The Government-imposed ban should be rescinded immediately”.
Please help bring this issue to wider attention and help promote practical suggestions for solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian academics and institutions seeking the reversal of this ban, by following the proposals recommended by Dr Paul Frosh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem here and Jon Pike and Engage here.
You can also write to the Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir (who has come out against the ban), supporting her position and demanding the immediate cancellation of the ban:
MK Professor Yuli Tamir, Minister of Education, Education Ministry, Jerusalem, Israel. Fax: 02-5602246; email: email@example.com
Fifty years ago this week, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian workers and students were fighting the Stalinist secret police (AVO) and the newly-arrived Russian tanks, in the streets of Budapest. Against the Russian tanks and the well-armed AVO, the demonstrators had home-made Molotov cocktails and relatively few (mainly old) guns. But they had their massive numbers, their courage and their solidarity.
It suited both the Stalinists and and the leaders of the West, to make out that the revolution was demanding capitalist restoration. Radio Budapest spewed forth lies about “fascists and reactionaries” leading the uprising. Inevitably, such a spontaneous movement did not have a clear-cut political programme, and certainly many of the rebels did harbour illusions about Western capitalism. But in fact, the main demands being put forward were for greater pluralism in political life, free elections, an independent (of the USSR) national policy, an end to forced collectivisation and for the factories to be run by workers and specialists instead of bureaucrats. Many of the rebels also demanded the return of the reformist ex Prime Minister Imre Nagy, sacked by the Stalinist ruling class a year earlier.
What is often forgotten is that although the revolution was eventually defeated, that defeat only came about because of a second intervention (in early November) by Russian tanks. At the end of October, the Stalinist government collapsed, the Russians agreed a ceasefire (in Budapest – fighting continued elsewhere) and Imre Nagy formed a reformist government. Nagy ordered the Russians out of Hungary, reinstituted political pluralism and announced Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw pact. It was probably that last announcement (and the knowledge that the West would be preoccupied with Suez) that prompted a second Russian invasion in November, with fresh troops, air strikes and artilliary bombardment concentrated upon working class areas.
The (London) Observer‘s correspondent Lajos Lederer described the “total savagery”of what he saw; “People swarmed to the Legation all day…hundreds more telephoned, imploring the Great Powers to intevene. ‘Tell the world what they are doing to us!’ they cried. And we could do nothing. The outside world was busy elsewhere, in Suez. We were ashamed. We could offer nothing but a promise that we would do our best to tell the world about these horrors”; (incidentally, Lederer wasn’t quite right about Suez being the cause of Western inaction: recent research has shown that the Eisenhower administration never had any intention of challenging the Russians over Hungary, quite regardless of what was happening in Suez).
Even so, the resisters fought on, and a general strike continued for some time. It wasn’t until the next year that Stalinist “order” was fully restored.
More than 2,500 Hungarians were killed, about 20,000 were wounded and another 200, 000 fled into exile (incidentally, creating Europe’s first post-war refugee “crisis”). Stalinism was eventually overturned, of course, in 1989.
All of us at ‘Shiraz Socialist’ salute the Hungarian heroes of 1956.
(NB: For an excellent eye-witness account of these events, get hold of Peter Fryer’s book ‘Hungarian Tragedy’. Fryer was a British Communist Party journalist sent to Hungary by the Daily Worker. He was horrified by the Russian intervention and sided with the Hungarians. The Daily Worker first heavily-edited his reports and then suppressed them altogether. Fryer left the Party in disgust and joined the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League. Another excellent source of information is this account, from a ‘Council Communist’ stance. Anderson takes a less charitable view of Nagy than most commentators, arguing that he agreed to calling in the Russian troops).
Philip Larkin , for a while, moonlighted as a jazz critic for the Sunday Telegraph in the sixties and early seventies.
He’d always liked jazz, and from a young age had collected records:
“…those white and coloured Americans, Bubber Miley, Frank Teschmacher, J.C. Higginbotham, spoke immediately to our understanding. Their rips, slurs and distortions were something we understood perfectly. This was something we had found for ourselves, that wasn’t taught at school (what a prerequisite that is of nearly everything worthwhile!), and having found it, we made it bear all the enthusiasm usually directed at more established arts”.
When he started writing about jazz and reviewing records, Larkin began to think about his audience, and was typically elegiac:
“My readers…sometimes I wonder whether they really exist. Truly they are remarkably tolerant, manifesting themselves only by the occassional query as to where they can buy records: just once or twice I have been clobbered by a Miles Davis fan, or taken to task by the press agent of a visiting celebrity. Sometimes I imagine them, sullen fleshy inarticulate men, stockbrokers, sellers of goods, living in 30-year-old detached houses among the golf courses of Outer London, husbands of ageing and bitter wives they first seduced to Artie Shaw’s ‘Begin the Beguine ‘ or The Squadronaires’ ‘The Nearness of You’; fathers of cold-eyed lascivious daughters on the pill, to whom Ramsay Macdonald is coeval with Rameses II, and cannabis-smoking jeans-and-bearded Stuart-haired sons whose oriental contempt for ‘bread’ is equalled only by their insatiable demand for it; men in whom a pile of scratched coverless 78s in the attic can awaken memories of vomiting blindly from small Tudor windows to Muggsy Spanier’s ‘Sister Kate’, or winding up a gramophone in a punt to play Armstrong’s ‘Body and Soul’; men whose first coronory is coming like Christmas; who drift, loaded helplessly with commitments and obligations and necessary observances, into the darkening avenues of age and incapacity, deserted by everything that once made life sweet. These I have tried to remind of the excitement of jazz, and tell where it may still be found”.
He had a way with words, didn’t he? The miserable old sod.
“So hang on; if we’re all up for this “combatting extremism” lark (whatever that is when it’s at home) by keeping an eye on people who consort with ultra-religious sects which preach a strict doctrine of adherence to a holy book, and is intolerant towards gay people and oppresses women…
Shouldn’t we be keeing an eye on Ruth Kelly?
(Yes, indeed, we should: but last I heard ‘Opus Dei’ were not in favour of stoning adulteresses and homosexuals – JD)