China in his hand

December 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm (China, Guest post)

Guest post from Pink Prosecco

Our friend Mr Nooman is highly critical of Carillion’s practices with regard to those it employs at Swindon Hospital. If the allegations of blacklisting and bullying against Carillion are true he is quite right to stand up for the workers who have been affected.

Nooman’s blog is keen on China.

So I wonder what he’d make of this story, about an Oregon woman who found a letter describing conditions in a Chinese labour camp tucked away in her box of Halloween decorations?

Although one cannot be sure whether it is authentic, the horrendous conditions it describes are consistent with the testimony of former prisoners.

“Dai Liguo, formerly Detained Falun Gong Practitioner told the channel: ‘I was sent to Masanjia in 1999 and persecuted there. They produce handmade crafts for export.

‘Most are plastic and are toxic. I was making Christmas decorations, and also knitted sweaters. I had to work from 5 in the morning to 11 at night.’

Another former prisoner, Guo Yujun, said: “Aside from toilet breaks, we had to sit for the whole day, and make those products. There wasn’t a day off, and we weren’t fed properly. In our case, there was no pay for our work.”

Still –  their soldiers are super.

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Malala: Person Of The Year

December 30, 2012 at 10:21 am (anti-fascism, children, Civil liberties, Education, good people, Human rights, Jim D, misogyny, Pakistan, solidarity, terror, thuggery, truth, women)

There can be no doubt who wins Person Of The Year as far as I’m concerned: Malala Yousafza , anti-fascist heroine whose courageous stand for human rights against the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) nearly cost her her life.

“I don't mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I'm afraid of no one." - Malala Yousafzai

A Pakistani writer, Saroop Ijaz, put the feelings of all civilised people into words:

 There are those who are trying to inject complexity into the debate and some of them unwittingly are becoming apologists for this mindset of murder and blowing up girls’ schools. Yet, there remains very little room for complexity. It can either be Malala’s Pakistan or TTP’s Pakistan, it cannot be both. This should not be a choice. A Pakistan without Malala and her other fellow girls fighting for education will not be worth living in. I know binaries are supposed to be lazy and not nuanced enough, however, a 14-year-old child is shot in the head for “promoting secularism”. There is no provision for nuance. One has to set one’s face against this and summon all resources to fight. The debate on drone attacks can and should continue. However it has no bearing on our responsibility to fight these medievalists. They should be fought and eliminated — not negotiated with or mollycoddled. Firstly, negotiation is not possible. Secondly, and more importantly, negotiation with them is immoral. An attack on our children is as direct and frontal as an assault can be. This is not a question of politics; it has become a question of survival. The fight should begin by naming the enemy loud and clear, i.e., the TTP and their ideology of hate.

It is of some consolation to see the army chief condemning the assassination attempt on Malala. However, mere condemnation is not enough. The Pakistan Army has to stop the policy of considering the terrorist, any faction or network as “strategic assets”. The mindset has to be fought and fought as a whole and conclusively. It is now a choice between our children and these “strategic assets”. The Pakistan Army has, the over the past three decades, contributed to this ideology of jihad. For this reason, it also has the additional responsibility of erasing this misdeed and fighting these monsters.

George Orwell, writing about a young soldier of the Spanish War, wrote: “But the thing I saw in your face, No Power can disinherit; No Bomb that ever burst; Shatters the Crystal Spirit.” To understand Orwell’s words, have a look at the face of that child and the sparkle and resolve in her eyes. We are not Malala, but we should be, we can try. Let us hope Malala lives long enough to see her Pakistan.

Read the full article here

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Falklands “revelations” and the poverty of “anti imperialism”

December 29, 2012 at 7:31 pm (AWL, class, imperialism, internationalism, Jim D, Marxism, socialism, Tory scum, war)

So, thanks to the 30- year rule we now know that following the Argentine invasion of 1982 the US administration wanted Thatcher to agree a diplomatic solution to the Falklands dispute, and that she was, reluctantly, willing to agree to it.

Thatcher commented (in a paper stamped Top Secret) on the US proposal for a peaceful settlement, thus:

“[T]he withdrawal of Argentine forces would have been secured without military action. Argentina would gain representation on the interim commission and on the local councils; and a commitment to  to negotiations to decide the definitive status of the islands by the end of the year, although without any commitment to a tranfer of sovereignty…

“…Repugnant as it was that the agressor should gain anything from his agression, this seemed an acceptable price to pay.”

Above, Thatcher and Reagan: not always in step

Even after the British task force had landed, Thatcher and her advisers were discussing the possibility of changing the staus of the Falklands to “Some kind of association with the UN…if only the Argentinians could be brought to acquiesce to it” (Robert Armstrong, cabinet secretary, to Thatcher, 25 May).*

Of course, the reluctance of the Reagan administration to back a British military attack on Argentinian forces was known at the time. Christopher Hitchens was revealing nothing new in 1993, when he wrote

“In the case of the Falkland/Malvinas archipelago, it appeared that Britain had the right of self-defense under the UN charter and also that the Argentine junta had tried to salvage its domestic front by a cheap military adventure in the South Atlantic. A compromise of the kind put forward by Jeane Kirkpartrick and Alexander Haig (who were using the same Argentine torturers and fascists to train the Nicaraguan contras) would have left the junta in power, and very probably in possession. Opposed as I was to this collusion, I didn’t take the standard British left line that Thatcher was whipping up chauvinism and imperialist nostalgia. The insular John Bull position seemed to ignore the wider imperial context, and it was on the whole pleasurable and instructive to see the dismay on the faces of the Reaganites when they realized that they were going to have to drop either their British or Argentine allies.”

What these new “revelations” tell us for the first time, is how willing the Thatcher government was to consider various US peace plans and to countenance the possibility of giving up British sovereignty over the islands. This was in spite of major tensions between the UK and US that put the so-called “special relationship” under serious strain.

All of which just goes to confirm the bankruptcy of those (at the time and since) who sought to portray this conflict as some kind of “anti imperialist” struggle by the Galtieri regime against a last outpost of British colonialism and/or Anglo-American imperialism.

I was involved in a bitter (but very instructive) faction fight within what was called the Workers Socialist League, over the issue at the time and for a couple of years later. It convinced me that most people in the West who rant and rave about “imperialism” haven’t the slightest notion of what the word means in the Marxist tradition and, in fact simply want an excuse to support a less powerful capitalist class against their own, more powerful capitalist class. It’s called ‘dependency theory’, as developed by bourgeois economists in the 1960s to explain Latin American subordination to US capital and then adopted by a certain type of radical nationalist in Latin America and elsewhere to justify alliances with their own ruling classes .

I was pretty sure that my comrades and I were right at the time. These “revelations” simply confirm it once and for all.

P.S: A most instructive discussion here

* See the Guardian report, here

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Bob Brookmeyer: “There’s a lot of dirt, grime and sadness in life”

December 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm (jazz, Jim D, literature, music, philosophy, Sheer joy, Soul, truth)

The great jazz trombonist, arranger, composer and teacher Bob Brookmeyer died just over a year ago. As well as his musical accomplishments, he was a fine essayist, blogger and writer of what used to be called (back in the days of LPs) sleeve- (or liner-) notes. Someone really ought to publish a collection of his writings. In the meanwhile, here’re the sleeve-notes from Stretching Out, an album he recorded with Zoot Sims 54 years and one day ago:

These days, everything’s got science; or cellophane; or it’s frozen, ready to be popped into your old oven; or it’s safe for the kiddies and grandma too — the story is too familiar to all of us to tolerate much reiteration, but Jim, they never have been able to isolate SOUL long enough to deep-freeze it for storage and shipment. In fact, sometimes it seems like they forgot what it was, is and must be to the human heart and mind in our tin-soldier and popgun world. These men on this record know about that and some more besides and you can belive that if you will.

One of the saddening and, to my mind, tragic oversights of this evening’s “jazz” audience is their slavish, slatternly devotion to the immediate and the topical. The eternal seems to be too sticky a substance to mess with — it doesn’t wash off the hands very easy and so I guess people must really want to feel, for the first time, really clean, or sterile, or be in the swim, or hep or maybe even hip if they are some down kitties. Not me, thanks. There’s a lot of dirt, grime and sadness in life, perhaps more than many can cope with but it’s there, right under the edge of the carpet and behind the mirror, under your fingernails and betwixt your pearly teeth. And along with the sour you can have your sweet too, plenty of it, but that sugar doesn’t mean beans without you have some salt to let you know which is which. Admirably stated by Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton in a letter to his sister, to wit; “you got to take the bitters with the sweet” ( Mr Jelly Lord by Alan Lomax, Grove Press and the best book on jazz ever written). So, three long cheers for sadness that is blue instead of yellow, men that can admit to some real joy and know the hearse is parked just ’round the corner and above all, those gents that can say it all in that huge 4/4 beat that makes even this tired old correspondent “glad all over”, Orphan Annie’s old truism. By the way, did they really grab Daddy Warbucks on back income tax?

This all wouldn’t have been possible without Harry Edison and Fred Green, you know. They know as much about the kind of music that I feel as any men who ever lived. They have earned — with no catawauling about travel, working conditions, the plight of the “jazzman” in America today, and related rot — the respect and love of many musicians and listeners, especially those who were around to sop up that great Basie band in the early ’40s. They are, truly GIANTS: yesterday through, and inclusive of, tomorrow. Not an awful lot of that calibre here anymore mbut they’re enough. Ed Jones, Hank, Persip, Zoot and Cohn are of the same mind about this too, so if you all can’t agree in the world who is right, we’ll wait for you to catch up if you’ll hurry.

The album was recorded at Nola’s penthouse on a Sunday afternoon in December and it was fun, fun, fun and happiness. What I wouldn’t do to play with a band like this every night! Ah well, back to the workroom and some more of that score paper so have a good time at the funeral and a good day to all — BOB BROOKMEYER

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Hitchcock and ‘The Girl’: a dark, sad story

December 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm (Art and design, BBC, cinema, deviants, film, Jim D, misogyny, perversity, sexism, women)

“Blonds make the best victims” – A. Hitchcock

First things first: last night’s BBC 2/HBO film The Girl was absolutely superb – by far the best new work to be seen on Brit TV over the Christmas season. If you missed it, make sure you catch up via iplayer or whatever, asap.

Briefly, this was the story of Alfred Hitchcock’s choice of the previously unknown Tippi Hedren to star in The Birds (his follow-up to Psycho) and his obsession with her, culminating in a campaign of bullying and intimidation when she rejected his blundering advances. Finally, Hitchcock sabotaged her career by refusing to either release her from her contract or to use her in any more films, apart from the rather unpleasant Marnie.

His behaviour, these days, would be considered completely unacceptable and probably place him beyond the pale in the eyes of polite society.*

Once again we are confronted with the old conundrum: to what extent is it possible to separate a great artist from the more unpleasant aspects of his (and, it would seem, it is usually “his” rather than “her”) personality? As an admirer of  Philip Larkin I have difficulty coming to terms with evidence of his misogyny and racism, just as admirers of Eliot and Pound have (or should have) difficulty with the fascist sympathies of those two, and Picasso enthusiasts ought to be at least concerned by his Stalin-worship (which lasted into the 1950s). As for unacceptable sexual practices, the superb sculptor and designer Eric Gill probably leads the field, though I’ve no doubt there have been plenty of other major artists with similarly hideous sexual proclivities. Benjamin Britten‘s interest in adolsescent boys has long been the subject of speculation, though in fairness it should be stated that there has never been any evidence that he engaged in paedophilia.

Anyway, The Girl, based as it was upon Tippi Hedren’s own accounts (in interviews) of what happened, pulled no punches and made no effort to excuse or explain-away Hitchcock’s behaviour. But, thanks to a masterful performance by Toby Jones, we feel pity as well as disgust. Hitchcock was, by his own description, a fat, ugly walrus of a man who had only ever had sex with his wife (for whom the term “long suffering” scarcely suffices) and, now in his sixties, was impotent anyway. According to Jones’ portrayal, he appears to have felt that Hedren simply owed him a tumble for having made her a star.

The question that The Girl poses but doesn’t answer, is to what extent Hitchcock’s sexual obessions contributed to the dark, ambiguous power of his best work.

As well as Jones’ extraordinary portrayal, Sienna Miller gives a strong (in every sense of the word) performance as Tippi Hedren and Imelda Staunton deserves a mention for her profoundly sad Alma Hitchcock.

* On the other hand, the rapist and paedophile Roman Polanski as recently as 2009, could count on the support and sympathy of leading celebs and “intellectuals” throughout the world.

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Pro-union Jesus?

December 26, 2012 at 12:35 am (Christianity, Christmas, James P. Cannon, Jim D, trotskyism, unions, United States)

Jesus casting money lenders from the temple

Casting the money-lenders out of the temple

What follows is from The Militant, paper of the American SWP (nothing to do with the Brit organisation of the same name) of April 26, 1947*. I’m never sure about attempts to claim Jesus for the left, but this is a good effort, written with panache and brimming with righteous anger:

What Do They Know About Jesus?

By James P. Cannon

Did you see what I saw in the paper this morning? Thursday, April 17? It took the taste out of my breakfast. The Wall Street money-sharks, pressing their anti-labor drive on all fronts, now claim they have lined up God and Jesus Christ for the open shop. The New York Times reports: “Six hundred thirty-seven clergymen attached to various Protestant churches have joined in attacking the closed shop as a violation of basic teachings of the Bible, the American Council of Christian Churches, 15 Park Row, announced today.”

What do you know about that? And how do you think it happened? I wasn’t present when the deal was cooked up, but knowing whom these theological bunk-shooters serve and from whom they gets their orders, I can visualize the proceedings and tell how it happened, in essence if not in precise detail.

The top profit-hogs very probably had a meeting of their board of stategy down in Wall Street the other day and counted up the forces they had mobilized in the grand crusade to break up the unions and beat down the workers who are trying so desperately to make their wages catch up with the increasing cost of living. They checked off Congress, both the House and the Senate. They checked off the President and the courts. They checked off the daily newspapers, from one end of the country to the other, and found a 100 percent score on that front. Then they called the roll of radio commentators, and made a note to put pressure for the firing of the remaining two or three half-liberal “news analysts” on the air who are not going along 100 per cent.

On the whole their situation looked pretty good, but they had to acknowledge to themselves that public opinion is not yet responding to the union-busting program with any great enthusiasm. Then one of the union-busters — most probably one of their “idea-men” — got a bright idea. “Let’s send someone around the corner to the American Council of Christian Churches at 15 Park Row”, he said, “and tell them to start singing for their supper. Tell them to put God in the statement, and be sure to ring in Jesus Christ.”

No sooner said than done — but good. Now comes the public statement signed by 637 clerical finks who state that the closed shop (they mean the union shop) violates freedom of conscience and the Eight Commandement, “Thou shalt not steal”. They appeal to Christ on the ground that the union shop violates “the individual’s responsibility to God” and obliges Christain men to be “yoked together with unbelievers”. This, they say is wrong and not according to Jesus.

Well, I feel like saying to these strikebreaking sky-pilots what Carl Sandberg once said to an anti-labour evangelist 30 years ago: “Here you come tearing your shirt, yelling about Jesus. I want to know what in the hell you know about Jesus.” I don’t know too much myself, but if the only accounts of him we have are true, they called him “the Carpenter”; and he once took a whip and drove the money-lenders out of the temple. “Ye have made it a den of thieves”, he shouted, in white-hot anger.

And what have you done, you 637 fake-pious pulpit pounders who serve the moneyed interests against the people? You have made it a den of theives and liars too. You have the gall to represent the lowly Nazerene as a scab-herder; and to tell the Christian workers, who revere Him as the friend and associate of the publicans and sinners, of all the poor and the lowly, that they should not be “yoked together with unbelievers” in a union to protect their common interests. That’s a lie and a defamation. You’re simply trying to serve the rich against the poor, to help the rich in their campaign to break up the unions, which are the only protection the poor people have.

And don’t try to fool anybody with the statement that you are in favor of unions “properly conducted” — under open-shop conditions. We know what you mean by this mealy-mouthed formulation. Such unions, as Mr. Dooley once said, are unions which have no strikes, no dues and very few members.

And leave Jesus out of your lying propaganda, you scribes and pharisees, full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Every time you mention His name you libel Him, regardless of whether the story of His life and death be taken as literal truth or legend. The Carpenter of Nazareth has been badly misrepresented in many ways for many years, but your attempt to pass Him off as a union-buster goes just a little bit too far. It is just about the dirtiest trick that has ever been played on Jesus Christ since the crucifiction.

*Republished in ‘Notebook Of An Agitator’, Pathfinder Press, 1958 and 1973.

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The Christmas Life

December 25, 2012 at 7:08 pm (poetry, Rosie B)

“If you don’t have a real tree you don’t bring the Christmas life into the house.” Josephine Mackinnon, aged 8

Bring in a tree, a young Norwegian spruce,
Bring hyacinths that rooted in the cold.
Bring winter jasmine as its buds unfold –
Bring the Christmas life into this house.

Bring red and green and gold, bring things that shine,
Bring candlesticks and music, food and wine.
Bring in your memories of Christmas past.
Bring in your tears for all that you have lost.

Bring in the shepherd boy, the ox and ass,
Bring in the stillness of an icy night,
Bring in the birth, of hope and love and light.
Bring the Christmas life into this house.

Wendy Cope

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Christmas songs #8: Bach Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 – Part I

December 25, 2012 at 12:05 am (Christmas, Jim D, music, Sheer joy, song)

Merry Christmas, everyone:

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Christmas songs #7: Connee Boswell, White Christmas

December 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm (Christmas, jazz, Jim D, song)

The best-known Christmas song of all, performed here not by Der Bingle but by the (these days) nearly forgotten Connee (aka Connie) Boswell, a middle-class white gal (1907-1976), from New Orleans, who was a major influence on the young Ella Fitzgerald. Connee’s best jazz was recorded in the early-to-mid thirties with her sisters Martha and Vet (both of whom left the music business, leaving Connee to soldier on as a soloist), but this, recorded in 1958, is pretty good and shows she still had a powerful, jazz and blues- drenched voice, even on a commercial session at the very end of her career:

Click on that link (above: “best jazz”) to the Boswell Sisters’ highly-sophisticated yet bluesy version of ‘There’ll Be Some Changes Made’ and as well as hearing some fabulous, ‘modern’ close-harmony singing, you’ll see a secret that the carefully-posed official publicity photos of the time (as with FDR) kept hidden: Connee was wheelchair-bound.

P.S: A fascinating  recent interview with Vet Boswell’s grandaughter over at Michael Steinman’s great ‘Jazz Lives’ blog, here and a new blog devoted to ‘the Bozzies’ that you should visit.

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Mastermind: British Trotskyism to 1949

December 23, 2012 at 11:02 pm (BBC, geeks, Jim D, Pabs, politics, trotskyism, TV)

Dave Osler got seven. I got nine. Test your knowledge in this jolly quiz:

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