Miles Kington, 1941-2008: not half bad

January 31, 2008 at 6:55 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, literature)

A lot will be written about this writer, broadcaster, humourist (a ‘humourist’ who actually made you laugh!), prolific columnist, jazz-lover, linguist and humanitarian, over the next few days.

For me, his finest achievement was to translate, and bring to our attention, Alphonse Allias (1854-1905). Here’s Kington’s introduction to  A Wolf in Frog’s Clothing – the best of Alphonse Allais (Pan, 1989):

“When I wrote the introduction for the original edition of this collection (published by Chatto and Windus with the title The World Of Alphonse Allais), I made three bad mistakes.

I went on and on about about how funny Allais was.

I tried to analyse his humour.

I ended up with an introduction much longer than any of the pieces in the book, rather as the Extras column sometimes outshines all the batsmen in an England side.

The first mistake was the worst, I think. There’s something in human psychology which resents being told how great a film, play or book is. At least, when I follow up rave reviews I always come away thinking: Well it wasn’t that great. Whereas if I am told that something is not half bad, I often come away thinking how great it is.

Alphonse Allais is not half bad.

There is no point in analysing humour, because telling someone why a thing is funny will not make him laugh at it – on the contrary, it is more likely to stop him laughing.

And the length of the introduction came about, I think, because I hoped that people who enjoyed the book would want to know everything there was to know about the author. This was a mistake. The main purpose of information in an introduction is to provide facts for a book reviewer to parade as his own knowledge.

So this introduction will be shorter, unanalytical and modest in its claims. As it is, I have already gone on at greater length than Allais himself did. When he issued a collection called The Squadron’s Umbrella, he wrote the following pithy note to readers:

‘Some explanation of the title is in order.

‘1. The umbrella, that useful modern device, is not mentioned in the book.

‘2. The role of the cavalry squadron in modern warfare is much debated at the moment. Not by me, though.’

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Equal rights for agency workers – Back the Bill!

January 31, 2008 at 5:08 pm (anonymous, Europe, Gordon Brown, Human rights, Jim D, labour party, unions)

New Labour’s greatest shame and betrayal: its five-year opposition to the EU Temporary and Agency Workers Directive. Last year Andrew Miller MP’s Private Member’s Bill attempted to introduce the terms of the Directive into UK legislation: the Labour whips ensured that not enough MP’s had the bottle to turn up to vote for it, and the Bill failed.

Just to demonstrate that the departure of Blair has not diminished New Labour’s willingness to grovel before the CBI, Brown  and his Business Secretary John Hutton are now determined to block Paul Farrelly MP’s similar Bill, due to be heard on Friday 22nd February. Indeed, they’ve ensured that the Bill will be heard on the day of the week when most MPs are back in their constituencies.

Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, joint General Secretaries of Unite (‘the Union’), have written to all Unite members who are also members of the Labour Party. Their message should be heeded by all socialists and trade unionists (anti-EU fanatics who claim to be on the ‘left’ can rationalise their own contradictions in their own time):

Dear Colleague,

Agency Workers – Back the Bill

We need your help with ensuring that the Agency Workers Private Member’s Bill will get through. This Bill will provide equal treatment on basic terms and conditions for Agency workers and is being put forward by Unite MP Andrew Miller.

For this Bill to make any progress we need to ensure that at least 100 Labour MPs will be in the House of Commons on Friday 22 February to vote for it. As Friday is usually a day that MPs are working in their constituencies we need you to stress the importance of voting for this Bill to your MP.

Unite members everywhere have been making it clear to the union about the problems with increasing casualisation in their workplaces. Agency workers are being used to undercut hard won rates of pay and terms and conditions and they are being exploited in the process. We know of numerous examples where this is causing tension in the workplace. Andrew Miller’s Bill will resolve many of these problems.

Unite and other unions have been working to address this problem across our economy through negotiations with employers and through legislation. Before the last election it was agreed between the unions and the government (the Warwick Agreement)that there would either be an EU Directive or UK legislation to put protection in place. This Bill will meet that commitment.

As a Unite member and a Labour Party member you are able to support this Bill in many ways, such as:

* Raising this issue urgently with your MP to ensure they will be in Parliament to vote for the Bill on Friday 22nd February. Let us know whether your MP will be there.

* Send the enclosed postcard to your MP.

* Get colleagues at work to send the postcard (you canget more postcards from your Regional Office).

* Raise the issue at your CLP meetings.

* Talk about the Bill with your colleagues in the union and in the party to raise the profile of the campaign.

Thank you for your support on this vital issue.

Yours sincerely

Derek Simpson                  Tony Woodley

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“I work very hard”: Kim Kardashian

January 30, 2008 at 11:00 pm (Jim D, parasites, plutocrats, Tory scum, wankers)

Prior to happening upon the 60 Second Interview in today’s Metro free-sheet, I’d never heard of Ms Kardashian, “best pals with Paris Hilton” and star of Keeping Up With The Kardashians on E1 television.

But her answer to the question, “What is it you actually do?” will surely stay with me for many years:

People don’t know that my father started a company called Movie Tunes Inc. I worked for him in his office for eight years. When he passed away, he left the company to me and my sisters and brother. The company’s been sold but now I own two fashion stores with my sisters, Khloe and Kourtney, and we’re about to take our business online. I also model and I’m taking acting and singing classes. I work very hard“.

Still, at least she’s occassionally done something vaguely resembling work. Unlike this lot.

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Modern anti-Semitism

January 27, 2008 at 11:07 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, israel, Jim D, palestine, Racism)

This attitude is, unfortunately all too typical of the ultra-right organisations that claim to speak on behalf of British Muslims:

“The Muslim Association of Britain welcomes and fully supports the stand taken by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the main umbrella organisation in Britain, in boycotting the Holocaust Memorial Day functions…”

Even more despicable, this attitude is reflected on the so-called “left”:

“Holocaust Memorial Day has been an annual event in this country since 2001, marked each year on the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation by the Red Army on January 27 1945.

“It is sponsored by the British government and, besides a national event, local events are held around the country sponsored by local government and various religious and civic groups.

“Among the millions of victims of the nazis were Jews, Gypsies, gays, communists, trade unionists, the disabled, mentally ill – and the Palestinians.

“In fact, the Palestinians hold a unique place as the Holocaust’s forgotten victims, at least in the eyes of those charged with maintaining the objective of colonising the Middle East in the interests of Western neoliberalism.

“in short, the long-suffering Palestinians have been sacrificed upon the alter of the West’s continued blind support of that apartheid state otherwise known as the state of Israel.”

(John Wight, ‘Holocaust Hypocrisy’, Morning Star, January 26 2008).

As a supporter of the Palestinians’ right to a viable state alongside Israel, and an opponent of Israel’s treatment of these oppressed people, I was going to write a point-by-point rebuttal of Wight’s argument. But then an overpowering sense of disgust and nausea overcame me…his foul words (printed, remember in Britain’s only “socialist” daily paper) surely speak for themselves?

Let’s not mince words: this is the form that modern anti-semitism takes.

While we’re on the subject, may I recommend Walter Russell Mead’s extremely nuanced and fair review (in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs) of Mearsheimer and Walt’s The Israel Lobby:

“Beyond these faults, the insensitivity that the authors too frequently display in their handling of difficult topics will leave many readers convinced that, despite their frequent protestations to the contrary, the authors are sly and malicious ant-Semites. These charges – made inevitable though not accurate by the authors’ unwitting and innocent use of certain literary devices that trigger unhappy memories – are generating an ugly, ill-tempered, and thoroughly pointless debate about the authors’ character and intentions. I can stand behind Mearsheimer and Walt. This may be a book that anti-semites will love, but it is not necessarily an anti-Semitic book.” 

After you’ve attended your local Holocaust Memorial Day event, send me your comments.

CORRECTION: Since I wrote the above piece, Jules has pointed out in the comments that the opening quote, from an MAB press release, dates from 2005 and I understand that both they and the Muslim Council of Britain have since amended their policies and no longer have the postion of boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day. I am happy to acknowledge this mistake: I should have checked the date on the press release. I have not re-written the piece because I think it’s important to note that in 2005 these “mainstream” organisations did hold such a vile position, and because I don’t want to seem to be trying to cover up my mistake.

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Our Ken beyond satire

January 26, 2008 at 7:19 pm (democracy, elections, Jim D, labour party, Livingstone, wankers)

“Livingstone said that although he had initially been opposed to the mayor having so much unchecked power, he had come to see the benefits of being given a free reign.” (Graun, January 25 2008): read the rest here.

In the light of the above, I must confess that I didn’t immediately twig onto this being a spoof…

…Pity they couldn’t work another Bond villain into the piece…

Georges is also rather good on all this.

Thank gawd I don’t live in London, and don’t have to make a truly horrible choice: Klebb or Blofeld? Boris, despite having many Bond villain credentials, is of course completely out of the question. 

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Is it something I said?

January 26, 2008 at 3:26 pm (funny, voltairespriest, wankers)

Always good to know the readership’s being kept happy isn’t it? Peruse the first comment on this thread. My personal favourite part is:

Voltaire’s Panty Line is thick, vain, lacks any subtlety of interpretation, has had a personality bypass and is a cunt.

Yes. Whereas the author of the comment is clever, is full of subtlety, is full of personality and could on no grounds be described as a cunt – as is so clearly revealed by what he writes.

Well it made me chuckle anyways. And as it happens, so did this. I bet Sacha will be surprised to hear of his pivotal role in AWL politics, not to mention that Jim will be surprised to hear about how he secretly supports the war in Iraq. And the AWL’s membership will be surprised to hear how they’re all going to be doing entry work in Respect.

Ta ta for now: I’m off to a metrosexuals’ pinot grigio party.

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George Galloway’s “Progressive List”

January 26, 2008 at 12:44 pm (elections, Galloway, Respect, trivia, voltairespriest)

I have a question.

Does anyone have any knowledge of what names will be on this “Progressive List” for the GLA elections, apart from George Galloway’s?

If I can make a humble suggestion to Respect Renewal’s governing clique, I’d like to put in a good word for my favourite RR councillor, Harun Miah. He’s a man of passionately progressive political views, as evinced by his thoughts on socialism:

As for socialism, it does provide some sort of justice, some sort of equality. I agree with that. As long as it doesn’t breach the rights of others. Of course, Respect has socialism as an element, but it’s not the only element, is it? There are other concerns.

And what’s more, his knowledge of labour movement politics is just as formidable:

I do favour trade unionism. We need all the trade we can get, so we have to help them.

George, pick up the phone. You know it makes sense.

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What Galloway did next

January 25, 2008 at 11:53 pm (Galloway, Jim D, labour party, Livingstone, political groups, politics, religion, Respect, stalinism, wankers)

The facts are still not entirely clear, and we’ll keep you posted as best we can, but what seems to be the case as of this moment, is as follows:

1/ Perma-tanned shyster, Stalinist and power-worshipper George Galloway has announced that he will run for the London Assembly as part of what he calls a “progressive list”.

2/ That “progressive list” will not be ‘Respect’ or ‘Respect Renewal’, but will be a “new party” and be registered as such.

3/ Galloway describes his new party as “a broad coalition” that will promote “old Labour values.”

4/ John Rees of the actual, existing Respect (SWP wing) described Galloway’s candidacy as “a shame”, but was sure Respect “would do very well without him” (the SWP-wing of Respect is fielding the leading philospher and Marxist intellectual Ms Lindsey German for Mayor – a strong challenge, obviously).

5/ Galloway appears to have consulted no-one within either wing of Respect, about his candidacy or about the “progressive list.”

6/ Galloway says his new outfit will include “some Respect members as well as people not part of Respect.”

7/ There is no evidence that Galloway has consulted his new-found (since the split with the SWP) bag-carriers and sycophants Socialist Resistance, athough some of them have welcomed his move, after the event.

8/ Galloway hates and despises Trots – including (perhaps especially), those “Trots” that suck up to him.

9/ He worships power and powerful men, and holds democracy in contempt.

10/ He’s a Stalinist.

11/ Socialist Action are Stalinists.

12/ Ken Livingstone is a powerful man who despises democracy.

13/ Socialist Action are Livingstone’s political gofers and hench-persons.

14/ Galloway likes being surrounded by gofers and hench-persons, especially if they’re Stalinists and/or communalist Tammany Hall-style operators.

15/ Galloway wrote this, timed to appear today.

…Draw your own conclusions…

P.S: this, from Janine, over at the Stroppies, is also of interest.

P.P.S: This is truly tragi-comic… 

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Cannon on Burns

January 25, 2008 at 8:53 pm (good people, Jim D, liberation, literature, socialism, whisky)

It’s Burns Night, so I’m having a wee dram (any excuse) and re-reading James P. Cannon‘s finest piece of writing, which closes with a Burns quote (another excuse):

“…When it comes to choosing representatives of the human race as it wants to be and will be, I’ll put my chips down on the likes of these people who will give 8-by-4 pieces of their skin for a friend, or for a co-worker who may not be a friend or even an acquintance, but just a man and therefore a brother.

“They are the heralds of the future and represent its spirit, the spirit of socialist cooperation, whether they know it or not. They and the others like them, harnessing their natural impulses to social goals, will do away with the social system which distorts and cripples human nature. They will change the world and make it fit for all the people and all nations to live together in peace and fraternity.

It’s coming yet for a’ that, as Robert Burns affirmed. ‘Then Man to Man, the world o’er shall brothers be for a’that.’ And there’s going to be a great Day.”

(From ‘To the Men Who Gave Their Skin’, published in The Militant, April 30 1951)

I’ll drink to that (and this, in the same spirit): brothers and sisters!

…(for surrealists only…).

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Probably Freudian

January 25, 2008 at 2:38 am (Jim D, literature, modernism, science)

I have always been fascinated by great works of engineering – and especially by the idea of engineering under difficult circumstances – underwater, for instance. To this day I wonder at how wind turbines and harbours are  constructed out at sea.

Well, I’ve been reading the rather good mystery novel The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld, which takes as its starting point Sigmund Freud’s visit to America in 1909:

“In 1909, Sigmund Freud, accompanied by his then disciple Carl Jung, made his one and only visit to the United States, to deliver a series of lectures on psychoanalysis at Clark University, in Worcester, Massechusetts. The honoury doctoral degree that Clark awarded him was the first public recognition Freud ever recieved for his work. Despite the great success of this visit, Freud always spoke, in later years, as if some trauma had befallen him in the United States. He called Americans ‘savages’ and blamed his sojurn there for physical ailments that afflicted him well before 1909. Freud’s biographers have long puzzled over this mystery, speculating whether some unknown event in America could have led to his otherwise inexplicable reaction.”

I won’t give away the plot of this rattling good yarn, but I will tell you that the construction of the Manhatten Bridge comes into it:

“The Manhatten Bridge, nearing completion in the summer of 1909, was the last of the three great suspension bridges  built across the East River to connect the island of Manhatten with what had been, until 1898, the City of Brooklyn. These bridges – the Brooklyn, the Williamsburg, the Manhatten – were, when constructed, the longest single spans in existance, extolled by Scientific American as the greatest engineering feats the world had ever known. Together with the invention of spun-steel cable, one particular technological innovation made them possible: the ingenious conceit of the pneumatic caisson.

“The problem to which the caisson responded was this. The massive support towers  for these bridges, necessary to hold up their suspension cables, had to rest on foundations built underwater, almost a hundred feet beneath the surface. These foundations could not be laid directly on the soft riverbed. Instead, layer upon layer of sand, silt, shale, clay, and boulder had to be dredged, broken, and sometimes dynamited until one reached bedrock. To perform such excavation underwater was universally regarded as impossible  – until the idea of the pneumatic caisson was hit upon.

“The caisson was basically an enormous wooden box. The Manhatten Bridge caisson, on the New York City side, had an area of seventeen thousand square feet. Its walls were made from countless planks of yellow pine lumber, bolted together to a thickness of over twenty feet and caulked with a million barrels of oakum, hot pitch, and varnish. the lower three feet of the caisson were reinforced with boiler plate, inside and out. The weight of the whole: over sixty million pounds.

“A caisson had a ceiling but no man-made floor. Its floor was the riverbed itself . In essence, the pneumatic caisson was the largest diving bell ever built.

“In 1907, the Manhatten Bridge caisson was sunk to the river bottom, water filling its internal compartments. On land, enormous steam engines were fired up, which, running day and night, pumped air through iron pipes down into the great box. The forced air, building up to enormous pressure, drove out all the water through boreholes drilled in the caisson’s walls. An elevator shaft connected the caisson to a pier. Men would take this elevator down into the caisson, where they could breathe the pumped, compressed air.

“There they had direct access to the riverbed and hense were able to perform the underwater construction work previously considered impossible: hammering the rock, shovelling the mud, dynamiting the boulders, laying the concrete. Debris was discharged through ingeniously devised compartments called windows, although one could not see through them. Three hundred men could work in the caisson at one time.

“An invisible danger lay in wait for them there. The men who emerged from a day’s work in the very first pneumatic caisson – employed for the Brooklyn Bridge – frequently began to feel a strange light-headedness. This was followed by a stiffening of their joints, then by a paralysis of the elbows and knees, then by an unendurable pain throughout the entire body. Doctors called the mysterious condition caisson disease. Workmen called it ‘the bends’ because of the contorted posture into which its sufferers were driven. Thousands of workers  had their health ruined by it, hundreds endured paralysis, and many died before it was discovered that slowing the climb back to the surface – forcing the men to spend time at intermediate stages as they ascended the shaft – prevented the disorder.”

Good, innit?

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