Too much information

December 31, 2011 at 12:30 pm (media, Rosie B)

As everyone is saying, there was far too much news this year.   Arab and North African uprisings, News International downfall, dictators and currencies collapsing – the media was a sound surround of important and exciting news.

This picture handily combines two news items into one (29th April and 1st May):-


More of two for the price of one:-

Listen, it wasn’t my idea to join the Euro

I predict riots if we close News of the World

To all you news consumers and news makers out there, Happy New Year.

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Unimpressed TV

December 31, 2011 at 11:51 am (BBC, Galloway, Iran, islamism, Rosie B)

I haven’t watched Press TV myself except for the odd clip but what I hear about it is that it is a propaganda channel run from Tehran, and that to appear on it you have to be highly uncritical of the Iranian government.  According to the journalist Dave Osler (comment 12):-

I am generally of the ‘bus company’ theory when it comes to media outlets. Who cares who runs the bus, so long as the route takes you where you want to go?

That is why I have in the past written for the Daily Express, and happily appear on rightwing TV and radio shows (Richard Littlejohn, Nick Ferrari etc) if they want a leftie on to spark debate.

If the media offers you a platform, take it, on the sole condition that you get your message across.

But the point is that Press TV doesn’t offer that kind of platform, It carefully selects Brit lefties that will say the sort of thing that complies with its editorial line. That sort of exposure isn’t worth having.

So it’s no surprise that Press TV employs islamist and theocracy pimps like the well-known hijabbed sister-in-law Lauren Booth, Yvonne Ridley and, of course, George Galloway.

Radio 4 ran a programme about Press TV on Thursday evening, which is well worth listening to.

I would have liked to have heard more about Press TV’s audience.  I would guess that it would mostly be islamist sympathisers, and the kind of member of the far left who, a few decades ago, would have listened to Radio Moscow as their in-depth unbiassed news source.  For example, here’s a thicko who comments round these parts  (comment 5):-

Many Marxists with decades long experience in the movement have contributed to press tv, which in content and form, beats the superficial news churned out by media that Hitchens whored himself to.

George Galloway was invited to appear on the programme but did not take this chance to defend his employer.  He’s not usually shy about appearing on the BBC. However he might have been asked impertinent questions which is not the kind of thing his heroes eg Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad, would have put up with for a minute.

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Lucky Jim’s morning after

December 30, 2011 at 11:53 am (beer, Jim D, literature, whisky)

More from that hangover expert, Kingsley Amis:

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eye-balls again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

Fom Lucky Jim (pub. 1953).

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The head of the Arab League delegation to Syria

December 30, 2011 at 9:02 am (africa, apologists and collaborators, crime, Human rights, Jim D, Middle East, murder, protest, Syria)

As the killings continue, many Syrian protesters lack confidence in the delegation, and especially its head, General Mohammed Ahmad Mustafa Dabi. I wonder why?

“Meanwhile, more questions were being asked of Gen Dabi, after his initial comments on the mission were criticised as favouring the Syrian government.

“Gen Dabi was the head of military intelligence for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his actions over Darfur.

“Amnesty International said that under Gen Dabi, the military intelligence in the early 1990s “was responsible for the arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance and torture or other ill-treatment of numerous people in Sudan”.

“Gen Dabi’s first comments in Syria were that he had seen ‘nothing frightening'”

-From a BBC report.

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Dave asks: is there life in Labour?

December 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm (AWL, Cross-post, labour party, socialism)

Our old chum Dave Osler asks an important question, and provokes a good discussion over at his Part:

By Dave Osler

Despite the failure of Russia’s latest space probe, scientists are rightly determined to continue their search for life on Mars. The way things are going right now, it looks like that quest will reach fruition long before anyone ever discovers signs of life in the Labour Party.

It’s not that I saw the defeat of New Labour at the ballot box last year as a prelude to a rerun of the Bennite years. Apart from anything else, the weight of the left both inside and outside Labour is insufficient to permit stuff like that. To revamp a period slogan, it’s never again for “never again”.

But as a Labour Party member myself, my expectation was that some sort of internal discussion over the way Labour governed for 13 years would open up. Perhaps some leading figures would finally give voice some of the criticisms they had been bottling up while the Thought Police held sway throughout Oceania.

Even the re-emergence of a distinctly social democratic current would mark a step forward of sorts, especially if it were open to dialogue with Marxism. But more than 18 months after the return of the ConDems, nobody on the left has even properly attempted a balance sheet of the 1997-2010 experience and asked what lessons should have been learned.

Interestingly, soon after Cameron got the keys to 10 Downing Street, there were reports of an upsurge in new recruits to Labour. Some of these people briefly made an appearance at my ward meetings. I hate to generalise from the particular, but no attempt seems to have been made systematically to integrate this layer.

Then there was the election of Ed Miliband to the leadership, by the narrowest of margins. Red Ed — as he was misleadingly dubbed by the tabloids — sometimes seems to speak in a strange kind of political code.

This or that comment is designed to be read between the lines as an encouragement to the soft left, although even then, they are usually counterbalanced with some ostensibly even-handed sop to rightist opinion. Is he or is he not to the left of, say, Hugh Gaitskell? Discuss.

Nor does what remains of Labour’s small remaining hard left seem to be striding ahead, if the recent Labour Representation Committee conference is anything to go by. The LRC claims to have grown by 10% in the last year, although that is from a low base.

But attendance at the event appeared to be down on last year. Many executive places were uncontested and even the LRC’s undoubted leading MP John McDonnell found constituency commitments more pressing than staying to the end of the proceedings.

In so far as what is going on in the Labour Party tells us things about the state of consciousness in the British working class, all this stuff actually does matter.

I am not an AWL member, but as the organisation makes at least some of its internal debates public, I recall that orientation towards Labour was controversial within the group a couple of years back.

Majority opinion believed that it was worth maintaining some sort of presence, and at least one other far left grouping seem to have reached a similar conclusion, with familiar faces cropping up in new guises at Labour Party events.

But it is worth asking what revolutionary socialists can usefully achieve in stumping up for a Labour Party card. The old entrism tactic of past decades seems scarcely applicable. The contentions that Labour can be transformed into a revolutionary party, or even that a mass revolutionary current can be built inside it, seems more farfetched even then before.

Nor is it obvious to me that the membership are especially receptive to socialist ideas; a substantial proportion of it is actively hostile. And if it is radical youth and students you are after, the Labour Party is just about the last place you will find them.

The most persuasive argument is that there are so few other outlets for activity, to the point where even limited possibilities can start to look appealing. Permit me to briefly revert to the life on Mars analogy; life on Labour, even if it only amounts to the presence of microbes, would at least establish that we are not alone in the universe. At least for now, we should keep looking.

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Barbara Lea, jazz singer: 1929-2011

December 28, 2011 at 8:36 pm (Cross-post, good people, jazz, Jim D, song)

From Jazz Lives:

Young Miss Lea

The remarkable jazz singer Barbara Lea has left us. Her dear friend Jeanie Wilson writes, “I am deeply saddened to have to report the death of our own Barbara Lea, “The High Priestess of Popular Song”. She died peacefully yesterday, Monday, December 26, here in Raleigh, North Carolina; I was with her as were my husband, Bill, and our dear friend, Junk. And as most of you already know, Barbara has been battling Alzheimer’s for quite some time. So, “Sleep Peaceful”, dear Barbara… we will miss you but now you are free to sing once again.”

I know that many JAZZ LIVES readers have their own memories of hearing and working with Barbara, which I will share in an upcoming post. For now, this is the way I and so many others will think of her:

It’s an informal exploration of SKYLARK at the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — where Barbara is backed empathically by tenor saxophonist Mason “Country” Thomas, who also left us in 2011; Larry Eanet, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, bass; Tom Martin, drums. Thanks to Sflair for the original video and for sharing it with us on YouTube:

A musician who worked and recorded with Miss Lea several times is the fine drummer Hal Smith, who had this to say, “She had a lovely voice, terrific intonation, perfect diction and her voice aged very well. I had heard that she adopted the last name of “Lea” as a tribute to Lee Wiley. If that’s true, she deserved to invoke Ms. Wiley’s name. At the recording session she was well-prepared with a list of songs and keys, easy-to-read charts and ideas for routines. In that respect, and in her pleasant demeanor, she reminded me of another great vocalist — with the last name of Kilgore.”

Saxophonist, pianist, and director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Loren Schoenberg, also worked with and learned from Barbara: “Barbara Lea passed away this week and the world has lost an exemplary interpreter of 20th century popular music and I’ve lost a dear friend and mentor.

I was driving Benny Carter down Seventh Avenue to a rehearsal years ago and Louis Armstrong came over the radio playing “Ain’t Misbehavin’” . Benny’s response was “Listen to that – no bullshit!” And in the generous sense in which Benny meant it, one can transpose the same comment to Barbara’s music, though I’m sure she wouldn’t be happy with that language.

She was above all an intelligent and classy lady, with a gift for discovering the melodic and lyrical essence of a song. We started working together in the late 70’s and continued up to the point her illness made it impossible several years ago. If I heard her sing one tune, I heard her sing several hundred, because I was first and foremost a fan, and went to as many of her gigs as I could, many times with my parents. The Mr. Tram ensemble we had with Dick Sudhalter and Daryl Sherman was nothing less than a joy. You should have heard the conversations; they were as good as the music! Barbara was incapable of coasting when she sang. No wonder so many composers, starting with Alec Wilder, were so crazy about her. What a variety of timbres she had, and a variety of ways of phrasing to match the words. Scatting wasn’t for her, and she was forthright about her opinions, and blessedly empathetic with others who didn’t necessarily agree with her. There’s much more to be said about her, but for the essence, just listen. It’s ALL there.”

We’ll miss Barbara Lea.

(Thanks to David J. Weiner, Hal Smith, and Loren Schoenberg for their help).


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Some basic demands the left must start to make

December 28, 2011 at 6:41 pm (capitalist crisis, Cross-post, James Bloodworth, left platform, socialism)

Cross-posted from Obliged to Offend

By James Bloodworth

Ever since the inception of New Labour, the left in Britain has been characterised by timidity when faced with an electorate ready to embrace change. The reluctance to break with a right-wing status quo has not been confined solely to the British labour movement either, but has become a commonplace right across the contemporary European left. This is at least partly why on the back of the biggest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s the left is in the doldrums almost everywhere, despite the fact that it was the failure of right-wing orthodoxy that got us into the mess we find ourselves in today.

The timidity of the left in espousing its principles has led to a widespread belief that all we do is oppose things, rather than present an alternative. Often, when someone of the left appears in the media, no-content progressivism fills the space where policy proposal might be, warm-sounding buzzwords standing in for anything that might possibly upset a vested interest or two.

Is this because, as Peter Mandelson once put it, we are “all Thatcherites now”? I don’t think so somehow. The super-rich lording it over those of us who have nothing to sell but our labour has not become palatable simply because a perma-tanned cliché around the ex-Prime Minister said it had – coincidently, at about the time their own bank balances began to disappear off into the stratosphere.

People’s lives are today more than ever dictated by forces completely outside of their control. There is widespread acknowledgment that we are being ripped-off by banks, transport companies, the energy industry, and a political class which parrots whatever it thinks a handful of voters in marginal constituencies wants to hear. If there was ever a time to let go of the timidity that has characterised the movement for so long and to start making a few basic demands, it’s now; and in this vein I’ve compiled a short list of five practical things the left should start arguing for right away.

The list is by no means exhaustive, and I welcome further contributions. It has also been written based on where we are politically now, rather than where many of us would no doubt like us to be.

1. Higher taxes for the rich
Perhaps the most basic demand but one the left is far too hesitant to make. While combatting tax evasion and introducing “Robin Hood” taxes are all well and good, what about the white elephant in the room: making the rich pay more tax? I wholeheartedly support attempts to make the rich pay what they already owe; but I also want to close the gap between the rich and poor, as you probably also do, if like me you believe gross inequality leads to a dysfunctional society.

2. The public release of official records showing the annual income of every British taxpayer who earns over £100,000 a year
They do it in Sweden, and there is as yet no sign of George Orwell’s totalitarian dystopia. As well as safeguarding transparency, this would also force employers and CEOs to justify their exorbitant wage packets to their employees. The Chief Executive of Tesco was paid £5 million in 2005. In the same year the average Tesco employee was paid £12,713. Is it credible to assert that the Chief Executive is 430 times more industrious and productive than the average Tesco employee? Let’s hear that argument, then.

3. The right to recall MPs who break manifesto pledges
How can something be called democracy in any way, shape or form when a person has little idea of what they are voting for? While it might be reasonable to grant politicians a degree of leeway based on the practicalities of government, it should be possible to recall any MP elected on a platform which they subsequently dump once in government. The prospect of a ministerial car and a pat on the back from a Lord should no longer be allowed to turn our politicians into pledge-breakers.

Not unrelated to this, but touching on a much bigger subject, one of the first tasks of a modern socialist movement should be to redefine the word “democracy” beyond the confines of 19th century liberalism. By that I do not mean less democracy, but more, much more.

4. Return the utilities to public ownership
The market engenders freedom, so it is said, and nowhere is this more apparent than the utilities, where consumers are “free” to pay as much as companies require them to for services they cannot do without. The alternative (there is always an alternative, because champions of the market despise coercion) is the freedom to go and live in a cardboard box in the forest.

Most people are angry about the price of electricity, gas and train fares, but the left does not at present make the connection in the public mind between huge price rises and the collections of sports cars the bosses of the utilities have in their driveways. None of us can do without these things, so how about we start to run them for the benefit of all of us, rather than a tiny elite.

It might also be useful if we let go of a fear of being labelled “left-wing”, and instead start making David Cameron afraid that his toleration of this racket will leave him out in the political cold.

5. Tackle the exploitative buy-to-let housing market
Again this relates to a modern distortion of the notion of freedom. We all need somewhere to live, but today the freedom to make a large amount of money out of this need seems to trump the need itself. As a first step, adequate social housing should be built with controlled and sensible rents which undercut the private sector. This in itself would bring down the price of rent substantially.

Most people below the age of about 30 will never own property, let alone a “portfolio” to exploit. It’s time the left spoke up for these people, rather than parasitic accumulators masquerading as respectable businesspeople.

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(Very) Great Expectations

December 27, 2011 at 4:02 pm (Christmas, cinema, Jim D, literature, TV)

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Dickens, and BBC 1’s new version of Great Expectations starts at 9.00pm tonight, continuing at the same time tomorrow and Thursday. With an all-star cast including Ray Winstone as Magwitch and Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham, it’s been receiving rave reviews from the journos who’ve already seen it, and would seem to be one more powerful argument for the licence fee.

Dickens, perhaps because of his sometimes excessive sentimentality and overt moralism, has this image of being  comforting and comfortable (“heart-warming” is the term usually deployed).  But Great Expectations is a mysterious and frightening tale involving  the criminal underworld, all manner of psychological manipulation, violence,  madness, unrequited love, and despair.

Claire Tomalin’s excellent Charles Dickens – A Life describes how the book came into being, and also explains something that has often bothered me – the banal, incongruous and anti-climatic happy ending:

When Dickens told Forster (John Forster, his closest friend – JD) he was going to write another story in the first person, he added an assurance that it would be nothing like David Copperfield, and of course it is not. David’s story is of a middle-class boy who overcomes cruel neglect by his own effort, becomes a successful writer, is allowed by fate to marry the girl he loves and then to lose her when she turns out to have been a mistake, and ends with a perfect wife and family. Not only is Pip quite a different sort of boy with a family background from the lowest, labouring level of society, his story is one of failure, failure to understand what is happening to him, failure to win the girl he loves, failure to save his benefactor, failure to make anything of himself. He just redeems himself morally, and that is enough, after all he has seen. It is enough for the reader too. His statement of what he feels for the indifferent Estella is the most powerful expression of obessive love for a woman in Dickens: ‘when I loved Estella with the love of a man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.’ Nothing needs to be added to this, but Bulwer ( Edward Bulwer Lytton, another friend and a writer considered at the time to be in the same league – JD), in a foolish moment, wanted Pip to be given a happy ending with Estella and suggested to Dickens that he should set aside his bleak final vision and write a cheerful one. Amazingly, Dickens accepted Bulwer’s advice and rewrote, adding a chapter with a conventional variant and publishing it. Forster was told too late to object, but he was not pleased and thought it marred the book. He wisely kept a copy of the original ending to be compared with the substitute, and published it in the third volume of his Life of Dickens. Few critics since have disagreed with Forster, although the happy ending appears in every standard edition of Great Expectations.

David Lean’s 1946 film version, starring John Mills as the older Pip (and narrator), Anthony Wagner as young Pip, Martitia Hunt as Miss Havisham and Jean Simmons as Estella, is a tough act to follow:

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Islamists slaughter Nigerian Christians on Christmas day

December 26, 2011 at 2:53 pm (africa, anti-fascism, apologists and collaborators, Christianity, Civil liberties, Guardian, hell, islamism, Jim D, media, relativism, thuggery)

“There was a car filled with dead bodies. Apparently it was a family coming to worship” – witness Timothy Onyekwere, quoted in today’s Guardian.

At least 35 Nigerian Christians deliberately blown to bits as they worshipped (or came to worship) on Christmas day. Can you conceive of anything more blatantly, viciously, sectarian? Anything more calculated to say to people, “we regard you as legitimate targets, simply because of your faith, and we will take pleasure in killing you as you come to worship on your most holy day” ?

The perpetrators of these carefully co-ordinated attacks (three in all) are known: the Islamist sect Boko Harem. They did the same thing on Christmas Eve last year. Their aim is to impose sharia law across Nigeria, a country whose population is about equally Christian and Muslim.

The story received a mention on the BBC news on Christmas day, but no analysis, no discussion, no questions asked. Not even the obvious one: what is the relationship (if any) between Boko Harem and al-Qaeda?

Most noticeable of all, no horrified reactions from the usual civil liberties spokespersons, decrying the bestiality of the people prepared to do such things. True, the Vatican found a spare moment from excusing child abuse, to condemn the attacks, but I have  yet to hear anything from the craven sharia-supporter Rowan Williams or any other Christian spokesperson. Never mind the likes of  these people. Can you imagine the reaction if “Zionists” had done such a thing?

The truth seems to be that sections of the “liberal” media and the “civil liberties”/”peace” lobby have come to regard Islamist violence in much the same way as they regard natural disasters – all very sad, of course, but not really anyone’s fault, so to be “regretted” but not “condemned.”  This tendency has intersected with the SWP/Galloway-influenced “left”‘s post- 9/11 enthusiasm for Islamism, and a desire on the part of many decent people to avoid stirring up racist hostility to Muslims. This last element in the mix is the only one deserving of any degree of serious consideration; but it is self-evidently possible to express condemnation of militant Islamism without impugning the vast majority of thoroughly decent Muslims world-wide, who have no time for murderous religious sectarians.

Treating Islamist mass-murder and/or irredentism as virtually an inevitability, a natural phenomenon (or, worse, simply a reaction to “imperialism”/”Zionism”) is, in fact a chemically-pure example of what the late Edward Said once described thus:

“…it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world.”

There also seems to be a reluctance, on the liberal-“left” to face up to the self-evident fact that what we’re facing here, is an anti-fascist struggle.

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Bach Christmas Oratorio

December 25, 2011 at 12:01 am (Christmas, humanism, Jim D, music, Sheer joy)

Brilliant stuff!

And a happy Christmas to you!

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