The obligatory moon stuff (2)

July 19, 2009 at 6:08 am (history, Jim D, literature)

Philip Larkin – Sad Steps
Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

Four o’clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There’s something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate –
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere

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The obligatory moon stuff (1)

July 18, 2009 at 6:46 pm (history, Jim D, modernism, music, science, United States)

“Why’s everybody asking ‘how high the moon’? The moon don’t ask how low we are” -Slim Gaillard.
Here’s Les Paul and Mary Ford, suitably “modern”:

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‘An ocean of illegitimacy’

July 18, 2009 at 1:06 pm (anti-fascism, Iran, Max Dunbar)

In an essay on the Iranian uprising, Martin Amis pays tribute to a society where ‘people go on pilgrimages, not only to the shrines of their martyrs and imams, but also to the shrines of their poets’ and explains why Ahmadinejad is the Islamic Ronald Reagan. Here’s the first para:

The writer Jason Elliot called his recent and resonant Iranian travelogue Mirrors of the Unseen; and I am aware of the usual dangers associated with writing about the future. But what we seem to be witnessing in Iran is the first spasm of the death agony of the Islamic Republic. In this process, which will be very long and very ugly, Mir Hossein Mousavi is likely to play a lesser role than Neda Agha Soltan, whose transformation (from youth, hope, and beauty, in a matter of seconds, to muddy death) unforgettably crystallised the core Iranian idea – the Shia tragedy and passion – of martyrdom in the face of barbaric injustice. Neda Soltan personified something else, too: the modern.

There’s already a response from Abbas Barzegar who derides Amis as – oh, you’ll never guess – a ‘secular fundamentalist’, and claims that the Islamic regime is a ‘viable alternative’ to the ‘liberal intellectual tradition’ and ‘its secular humanist hegemony’. Protestors on Tehran’s streets may disagree.


(Image: Iranian Freedom blog)

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Man and Machine

July 18, 2009 at 11:24 am (music, Rosie B)

In a pub last night I heard a young guy do a cover of Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightening:-

It’s a gorgeous song, wildly romantic, telling the perennial story of the outlaw dying young while his lovely woman weeps at his deathbed:-

Says James, in my opinion, there’s nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won’t do
They don’t have a soul like a Vincent 52
He reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
He said I’ve got no further use for these
 I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride

Lyrics here:-

Is there any other song that can make you feel the love a man can have for a beautiful machine?

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Cubana bop

July 17, 2009 at 7:29 pm (AWL, Castro, Cuba, cults, Jim D, stalinism)

I attended the AWL’s Ideas for Freedom event in London last weekend. It was, as usual, very enjoyable and educative. Particularly heartening was the number of new, young comrades present. I attended a very civilised, good humoured debate between AWL-founder Sean Matgamna and former leadership member of IS, John Palmer, on the IS’s position on British troops in Ireland in 1969. While these two old adversaries were mulling over old times and old differences, shouting, heckling, cheering and booing could be heard eminating from a nearby room. It turned out that this was a super-heated deabate on Cuba, between the AWL’s Paul Hampton and the RCG’s Helen Yaffe (accompanied by quite a few vociforous Cuba Solidarity Campaign supporters, so she wasn’t outnumbered). I gather both speakers gave as good as they got and it all nearly spiralled out of control, but stopped short (just) of blows.

Paul Hampton says:

I hope comrades enjoyed my debate with the RCG on Saturday (I did!)

My review of Helen Yaffe’s book is at


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On Belief In Belief

July 17, 2009 at 1:03 pm (Max Dunbar, religion, secularism)

Dan Dennett raises a good point at CiF:

Today one of the most insistent forces arrayed in opposition to us vocal atheists is the ‘I’m an atheist but’ crowd, who publicly deplore our ‘hostility’, our ‘rudeness’ (which is actually just candour), while privately admitting that we’re right. They don’t themselves believe in God, but they certainly do believe in belief in God.

I am particularly unimpressed by those who proclaim the loudest; they demonstrate by their very activism that they fear the effect of any erosion of religion, and they must think that erosion is likely if they don’t put their shoulders to the wheel.

This is what gets me about the pro-faith crowd. Their position is: It’s not that we are religious ourselves – the very idea! But the masses need religion to give meaning to their poor struggling lives, and who are you to take that away?

Baggini calls this the social version of belief in belief, and explains it as: ‘whatever doubts the powerful cognoscenti may have, it is important that they foster belief in religious belief, or all hell will break loose.’

If you think I exaggerate have a look at this piece from Madeleine Bunting, with her condescending imagery about migrants returning from a nightshift cleaning offices, with ‘a well-thumbed Bible or prayer book to read on their journey.’ Or Theodore Dalrymple in the NS: ‘Though I am not religious, I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for us to live decently without the aid of religion.’ Even Baggini adds the caveat that: ‘This view is often accused of being elitist (which it is) and patronising (which it may not be). To treat someone as though they were less intelligent than they are is patronising; to treat someone as though they were less intelligent than you, when they are indeed less intelligent than you, is not. That is why we do not patronise small children when we talk at their level.’

The pro-faith tendency loves to quote that beautiful passage from Marx – ‘The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness’ – which they interpret as: No arguments about FGM until we’ve established the workers’ state. Yet there are less honourable historical antecedents for its views. The neoconservatives believe in faith as a noble lie. This is Irving Kristol:

There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn’t work.

Like Bunting and Eagleton, Kristol disdains illusion himself while being happy to let his social inferiors struggle under their illusions in the name of social cohesion.

Aside from its inherent contempt for the common man, this theory doesn’t even work on its own terms: Dennett references a study claiming the secular social democracy of Denmark to be ‘the sanest, healthiest, happiest, most crime-free nation in the world.’

He adds: ‘We should certainly hope that those who believe in belief are wrong, because belief is waning fast, and the props are beginning to buckle.’


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Some sensible comments on Iran…in the ‘Morning Star’!

July 16, 2009 at 7:02 pm (anti-fascism, democracy, fascism, Human rights, Iran, Jim D, stalinism)

The Morning Star, organ of the remnants of the old Stalinist Communist Party of Britian, is usually a reliable source of “my enemy’s enemy” fake-“anti-imperialism” and “left” anti-semitism. Amazingly, they carried this very sensible piece about Iran. The explanation is, of course, that their comrades in the Tudeh Party – unlike the middle class “anti-imperialists” who frequent the MS letters column, SOAS academia and blogs like Seymour’s Tomb, have to live and operate under the clerical fascist regime.

Since his last “election,” Ahmadinejad has postured around the world as a great leader, boasted of his conversations with God, denied the nazi Holocaust, trampled on human rights in his country and jailed his opponents.

But above all, he is a willing and enthusiastic representative of the Iranian theocratic and mercantile class.

This is the same class that has trampled on the anti-imperialist ambitions of the ’79 revolution, repressed working-class and student organisations, engaged in brutal tortures and executions and severely restricted the rights of women.

It now dresses in pseudo anti-imperialist clothes, but the reality is that the president has no clothes.

This must form the basis for any progressive assessment of Iran’s political reality.

Large sections of the Iranian population have taken this as their starting point and are expressing their outrage on the streets.

Their experiences have informed and motivated the protests and this dictatorship, like others before it, has responded with violence and tragedy.

Now it is the Iranian masses and their autonomous organisations which require support.

The clerical regime is continuing with its posturing, hiding behind its trade links with other nations, claiming conspiracies, seeking scapegoats and responding with its customary iron fist.

There are many parallels to be found in international politics. Whatever subtleties of difference there may be, the theocratic regime in Iran has demonstrated that it is on the wrong side of history.

Supporters of the movement for peace, independence, freedom and liberty in Iran should not be dragged alongside.

Navid Shomali is the British representative of the Tudeh Party of Iran

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Billie Holiday, 7 April 1915 – 17 July 1959

July 15, 2009 at 6:52 pm (black culture, jazz, Jim D, music, song)

The woman who was probably the greatest singer in the entire history of jazz died nearly 50 years ago. Apart from her extraordinary voice (limited but highly expressive), she tends to be remembered for her “tragic” life, bad choices in lovers and her clashes with the authorities (she was even arrested on narcotics charges as she lay on her death bed in hospital).

She made an extraordinary impression on all who met her, or even just heard her records. The British jazz critic Max Jones who met her and got to know her when she visited Britain in 1954 and then just before her death in 1959, is typical:

“Soon reports were coming in regularly of her deteriorating condition. At the end of May she collapsed and was taken to hospital, suffering from liver and heart complaints.

“Still harried by the authorities, she died in degrading circumstances at 3 a.m. on 17 July 1959, with 70 cents in the bank and 750 dollars in large notes strapped to her leg. She was, by her reckoning, only 44 years old. And I was halfway through a letter to her when friends telephoned to say she was dead. Though half expecting it, I was devastated by the news.

“But still, we have those many lovely or disturbing recorded performances. They will be a pleasure to my ears for the rest of my life and those of future generations for all time, I guess.” 

The actor, Billy Crystal  (who, it turns out, is the nephew of Commodore Records’ Milt Gabler, who recorded Billie singing ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939), still remembers her.

Billie is well represented on Youtube, including her incredibly moving 1957 TV recording of ‘Fine and Mellow’ , a reunion after some years of estrangement, with her old friend Lester Young and the cry of pain and protest that is ‘Strange Fruit.’

But I prefer to remember the young, joyous and defiant Billie of the mid-to-late 1930’s, as featured in this little gem (below):

Billie even (playfully) puts drummer Cozy Cole in his place in the opening banter.

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The Hitler-lover who runs Formula One

July 12, 2009 at 9:56 pm (fascism, grovelling, Jim D, plutocrats, Racism, sport, Tony Blair, twat)

The brilliant Catherine Bennett, writing in today’s Observer, nails both the disgusting little Hitler-lover who runs the so-called “sport” of Formula One, and the politicians (notably but far from uniquely, Blair), who have grovelled to him to the point of changing the law and spending millions on new roads to facilitate his business interests.

It’s one of Bennett’s finest pieces; here’s a flavour:

“An unashamedly sexist, racist, absurdly polluting celebration of speed, run for enormous personal profit by a Hitler fan who hates democracy is, you gather, up there with the World Cup and Olympics as a font of national pride and prosperity. In reality, given motor racing’s indelible associations with fascism, it’s hard to imagine a sport with a nastier history, in line with its unspeakable present. But Blair saved his loathing for fox-hunting.”

Read the rest here.

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Does God Hate Women?

July 10, 2009 at 11:49 am (Feminism, Human rights, Islam, literature, Max Dunbar, religion)

bensonDisclaimer – one of this book’s co-authors, Ophelia Benson, is my editor at Butterflies and Wheels

This is a terrible book. It’s a catalogue of cruelty, evil and despair. The first thirty pages comprise case studies of faith-based oppression – stories from women in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, stories of women being raped and flogged and mutilated, stories of those who die and are forgotten. This is not the worst example but it will serve for all:

In a macabre inversion of the usual pattern of human valour which sees people rushing into a burning building to rescue survivors, the girls at this school were sent back into the smoke and flames after they had already managed to escape. The reason for this was that the Saudi religious police, who had turned up outside the school, considered the girls to be inappropriately dressed for an escape – apparently they had neglected to put on their abayas (enveloping black head-to-toe robes) before running for their lives.  

At the core of monotheistic religion is an obsession with, and corresponding fear of, women and sex – the Other. The crimes committed against half the human race by religious governments and movements are protected by the Big Lie – that faith is centrally about love and compassion, and wickedness done in the name of religion is merely a perversion of peaceful scripture. Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom take this further. The point is that God can’t tell you what he wants. There’s no higher authority that can rule out faith-based persecution of women. This alone is why religion deserves no respect from anyone with pretensions to decency and morality. 

It may not surprise you to know that the usual cliches of ‘shrill’ and ‘strident’ thrown about by religious apologists bear no relation to the actual tone of the book, which is calm and measured despite the horrors of its subject matter. What Benson and Stangroom call the woman’s ‘ability to refuse’ is a relatively new thing. We live in a sexual marketplace where women are free to deny sex to men, whereas in most of the world and for most of human history the woman has been entirely subservient to her father and then to her husband: ‘honour is between the legs of women’.

It’s at times like this that I think anyone who believes that progress is a myth needs their rationality called into question. Of course, the authors point out, ‘the ability to refuse means that some people will be disappointed’; personally, this is how I account for the enthusiasm for theocracy among Western males. 

This book is terrible but essential. Ignoring it is not an option.

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