RIP Nicholas Winton

July 1, 2015 at 11:21 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, good people, history, humanism, posted by JD)

 

Nicholas Winton with one of the children he rescued during the second world war.

Gene (of Harry’s Place) writes:

I hope the life and achievements of Nicholas Winton, who died at the age of 106, are getting full recognition in the British media.

Winton was belatedly recognized for his role in helping to rescue and find families for at least 669 Jewish children from Nazi-controlled Czechoslovakia in the months before the outbreak of World War II.

“I called myself Honorary Secretary of the Children’s Section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia,” Mr. Winton told The Washington Post in 1989. “The other people,” he added, referring to government bureaucrats and others confronted with his doggedness, “they just called me a bloody nuisance.”

…He wrote letters to government leaders around the world, including in the United States. Nearly all of them turned down his requests for assistance. “If America had only agreed to take them, too,” he said, “I could have saved at least 2,000 more.”

Sweden agreed to take in some of the young refugees, as did Britain — provided that Mr. Winton could identify families willing to care for the children until they were 17 years old. The government also required that he secure the staggering sum of 50 pounds per child for their eventual return home.

Many of the children would lose their parents in the Nazi death camps and had no home to return to after the war.

While holding down his job at the stock exchange and with help from assistants, including his mother, Mr. Winton gathered or forged travel documents for the children, raised the necessary funds and recruited host families through newspaper advertisements and other means.

I was especially touched to learn that one of the children he rescued was Karel Reisz, who grew up to direct two of my very favorite movies: Who’ll Stop the Rain and Sweet Dreams.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Louis Armstrong and ‘La Vie En Rose’

June 26, 2015 at 8:40 pm (France, good people, jazz, love, music, poetry, posted by JD, song)

My good friend Ricky Ricardi, archivist of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, NYC, commemorates the 65th anniversary of Louis’ recording of ‘La Vie En Rose’ (from Ricky’s blog ‘The Wonderful World Of Louis Armstrong’):

65 Years of “La Vie En Rose”

Louis Armstrong with Sy Oliver’s Orchestra
Recorded June 26, 1950
Track Time 3: 26
Written by Mack David, Edith Piaf and Louiguy (Louis Gugliemi)
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Melvin Solomon, Bernie Privin, Paul Webster, trumpet; Morton Bullman, trombone; Hymie Schertzer, Milt Yaner, alto saxophone; Art Drelinger, Bill Holcombe, tenor saxohpne; Earl Hines, piano; Everett Barksdale, guitar; George Duvivier, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums; Sy Oliver, arranger, conductor
Originally released on Decca 37113
Currently available on CD: It’s on “Satchmo Serenades” and about a thousand compilations.
Available on Itunes? Yes.

65 years ago today, Louis Armstrong tapped into his French side by recording two songs he’d perform for the rest of his career: “La Vie En Rose” and “C’est Si Bon.” What follows is a slightly updated version of my original 2010 posting on “La Vie En Rose” and I’ll be back in a few days with a fresh look at “C’est Si Bon.” Enjoy!

*************************
For the last couple of decades, “What a Wonderful World” easily wins the title of the most ubiquitous Louis Armstrong recording, being used in a countless amount of films, television commercials and high school reports (just check YouTube). But “La Vie En Rose” is definitely a close second. According to Imdb.com, it’s been used in at least eight major motion pictures since 1994, most notably in the Pixar classic “Wall-E,” as well as television shows, commercials, you name it. And anyone who has spent three minutes and 26 seconds in its presence can easily understand the phenomenon. You’d have to have the heart of the Tin Man (pre-Oz) to not be moved by it.

Of course, the song truly belongs to Edith Piaf, the legendary French singer who co-wrote it and made it famous to the point where a documentary and a feature film about her life each bear the title “La Vie En Rose.” Piaf apparently wrote the song in 1946 and sat on it for a while before she finally gave it a go in public, where it was received tremendously. In 1948, she sang her original French lyrics on a recording that was picked up in the United States by George Avakian of Columbia Records. I’ll let George tell the story, as he eloquently did in the liner notes to an Armstrong boxed set on the Hip-O label, “An American Original”:

“That same year, Edith Piaf took New York by storm an me by surprise. I was doubling as International and Pop Album director at Columbia in those days, and when Piaf’s manager told me she was coming back to New York despite a cool reception the first time ’round, I asked our Paris affiliate to send me samples of her interim releases so that I could try to choose something which might appeal to the American public. I recognized one melody as ‘You’re Too Dangerous, Cheire,’ a failed pop tune I had liked a couple of years earlier. The label said ‘La Vie En Rose,’ and the impassioned French lyric was far superior to wishy-washy English words I knew. We gave it a shot and to everyone’s astonishment but ‘Ay-deet’s,’ it sold a million copies.”

For those who aren’t familiar with it, hear’s Piaf’s original French version, courtesy of YouTube:

As of today, multiple YouTube versions have amassed over 20 million views, a testament to the lasting power of Piaf and that song in particular. But who is in second place? Ol’ Pops with just over 19 million views himself. As Avakian added, “Of the countless cover versions that followed, Louis’ was easily the best, and he never stopped singing it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment

Previously unpublished: Victor Serge on Trotsky’s ‘Their Morals And Ours’

June 24, 2015 at 8:35 pm (democracy, From the archives, good people, Human rights, intellectuals, Marxism, posted by JD, socialism, trotskyism)

Victor serge.jpg
Above: Serge

Unpublished Manuscript on Their Morals and Ours


Translated: for Marxists.org 2015 by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2004.
Translator’s note: This 1940 manuscript, which we thank the great Victor Serge scholar Richard Greeman for providing us, and which has never before been published in any language, is an essential text in the Serge canon. It demonstrates his distance from what was left of Bolshevism as well as his critique of the dogmatism of Trotsky and Trotskyism. His admission that the germs of Stalinism can be found in even the Bolshevism of the heroic period is a key element in understanding both the Soviet Union and Serge’s development. Of especial interest, as well, are his nuanced comments about the European social democratic parties, a bugaboo of the revolutionary left but which Serge finds to have played and continue to play a valuable role. The illegible sections of the manuscript, as Greeman has pointed out to me, are testimony to Serge’s poverty: he couldn’t afford new ribbons for his typewriter.


The need for this critique recently struck me while translating Leon Trotsky’s remarkable essay Their Morals and Ours. There are surely no other contemporary documents that better express the soul of Bolshevism, by which I mean, of course, the Bolshevism of its great years and also, as we will see, the Bolshevism of its decadence which, while courageously opposing Stalinism, the doctrine of the Thermidor of the Russian Revolution, nevertheless bears its mark. And there is absolutely no doubt that no one will ever write anything comparable on this subject, for the great Russians of the three revolutions of 1905, 1917, and 1927 are dead, and we know all too well what kind of death that was. Trotsky remains the last representative of a great historical event and of the type which was both its product and its highest achievement. The modern world owes these men a great deal; the future will owe them even more. Which is even more reason not to blindly imitate them and to try to discover to precisely what extent the socialism that is on the march owes them its approval.

One is immediately struck by the tone of Trotsky’s book, though not by what is peculiar to it, that is his incisive and clear style , but rather by the domineering tone of Bolshevik speech of the great years, along with its echoes of the imperious and uncompromising style of Karl Marx the polemicist. And this is something of great importance, for this tone is essentially one of intolerance. With every line, with every word it implies the claim to the monopoly of truth, or to speak more accurately, the sentiment of possessing the truth. That this sentiment is born of an assurance that is often useful in combat is undeniable. But that this assurance is at bottom unjustifiable is also undeniable. The truth is never fixed, it is constantly in the process of becoming and no absolute border sets it apart from error, and the assurance of those Marxists who fail to see this is quickly transformed into smugness. The feeling of possessing the truth goes hand in hand with a certain contempt for man, of the other man, in any case, he who errs and doesn’t know how to think since he is ignorant of the truth and even allows himself to resist it. This sentiment implies a denial of freedom, freedom being, on the intellectual level, the right of others to think differently, the right to be wrong. The germ of an entire totalitarian mentality can be found in this intolerance.

Trotsky confounds under the same rubric and with the same contempt democrats, liberals, idealists, anarchists, socialists, left socialists (the “centrists”), right communists, and even left communists (“Trotskyists”) who offer any objections to what he thinks. Through purely mechanical reasoning he considers that they constitute a united front “against the Fourth International.” The existence of the latter is, however, still only a problem, but even if it were already a reality this way of viewing it would still be surprising because of its disdain for the facts. The anarchist Berneri (and quite a few of his political friends), the Menshevik Rein-Abramovich, the POUM militants Andres Nin, Kurt Landau, Arenillas, Mena and so many others) are dead, along with hundreds of thousands of poor Spanish buggers crushed under the weight of international reaction. Along with Rykov and Bukharin, the right communists in Russia [rest of the sentence illegible]. To say after all this that only the Fourth International “suffers the pressure of international reaction” is truly a bit of swagger. But we can see how this swagger has become possible: however weak it might still be – and this means however far from real political existence it might be – the Fourth International alone is the bearer of revolutionary truth. And so… etc, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 1 Comment

Jon Stewart peers into the abyss

June 20, 2015 at 2:48 pm (Anti-Racism, crime, good people, Jim D, television, United States)

The usually witty host of the US Daily Show, Jon Stewart says “no jokes” in the aftermath of the Charleston killings:

“I have nothing other than sadness that once again we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal but we pretend doesn’t exist … I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit.”

A powerful and moving statement, well worth watching:

H/t: Jon-Erik Kellso

Permalink 22 Comments

Civil rights: a Mighty Girl reaches 60

June 10, 2015 at 9:35 pm (Anti-Racism, children, civil rights, good people, history, Human rights, posted by JD, Racism, United States)

I am speechless with admiration! A mighty girl, indeed!

A Mighty Girl's photo.

Happy 60th birthday to Ruby Bridges! As a six-year-old, Ruby Bridges famously became the first African American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in the South. When the 1st grader walked to William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960 surrounded by a team of U.S. Marshals, she was met by a vicious mob shouting and throwing objects at her.

One of the federal marshals, Charles Burks, who served on her escort team, recalls Bridges’ courage in the face of such hatred: “For a little girl six years old going into a strange school with four strange deputy marshals, a place she had never been before, she showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier. We were all very proud of her.”

Once Ruby entered the school, she discovered that it was devoid of children because they had all been removed by their parents due to her presence. The only teacher willing to have Ruby as a student was Barbara Henry, who had recently moved from Boston. Ruby was taught by herself for her first year at the school due to the white parents’ refusal to have their children share a classroom with a black child.

Despite daily harassment, which required the federal marshals to continue escorting her to school for months; threats towards her family; and her father’s job loss due to his family’s role in school integration, Ruby persisted in attending school. The following year, when she returned for second grade, the mobs were gone and more African American students joined her at the school. The pioneering school integration effort was a success due to Ruby Bridges’ inspiring courage, perseverance, and resilience.

If you’d like to share Ruby Bridge’s inspiring story with the children in your life, there are several excellent books about her story including the wonderful picture book “The Story Of Ruby Bridges” for ages 4 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-story-of-ruby-bridges), the early chapter book “Ruby Bridges Goes to Story” for ages 5 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/ruby-bridges-goes-to-school), and the highly recommended memoir that Ruby Bridges wrote for young readers 6 to 12 entitled “Through My Eyes” (http://www.amightygirl.com/through-my-eyes).

There is also an inspiring film about her story called “Ruby Bridges” for viewers 7 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/ruby-bridges) — you can also watch it instantly on Amazon at http://amzn.to/WOOvgY

To give young readers more insight into the school integration struggle, Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison, has written an outstanding book, that’s filled with photos capturing the major desegregation events of the period, entitled “Remember: The Journey to School Integration” — for ages 9 and up — at http://www.amightygirl.com/remember

To introduce young people to the Civil Rights Movement and its courageous activists, we’ve compiled over 30 books for children and teens in our special feature on the “Top Mighty Girl Books on Civil Rights History” at http://www.amightygirl.com/mighty-girl…/civil-rights-history

For Civil Rights Movement-themed books for readers 4 to 8, we recommend “I Am Rosa Parks” (http://www.amightygirl.com/i-am-rosa-parks-1), “Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins” (http://www.amightygirl.com/freedom-on-the-menu), “White Socks Only” (http://www.amightygirl.com/white-socks-only), and “Child of the Civil Rights Movement” (http://www.amightygirl.com/child-of-the-civil-rights-moveme…).

For older readers, we recommend “Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High” for 12 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/warriors-don-t-cry), “Rosa Parks: My Story” for ages 9 to 13 (http://www.amightygirl.com/rosa-parks-my-story), “The Lions of Little Rock” for ages 9 to 13 (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-lions-of-little-rock), and “Fire From The Rock” for 12 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/fire-from-the-rock).

For Mighty Girl stories for children and teens that explore racial discrimination and prejudice, visit http://www.amightygirl.com/…/soci…/prejudice-discrimination…

Permalink 2 Comments

Free Raif Badawi! Stop the flogging!

June 8, 2015 at 6:38 pm (blogging, Civil liberties, Free Speech, good people, Human rights, Middle East, posted by JD)

Amnesty International:

URGENT: Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has decided to uphold Raif Badawi’s sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison. Let’s remind them that blogging is NOT a crime! http://amn.st/6187hAbD

 

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

– See more at: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/notes/#sthash.BaiNexdZ.dpuf

Permalink 1 Comment

Charles Kennedy: what Labour could learn

June 3, 2015 at 9:02 pm (good people, iraq war, labour party, Lib Dems, mental health, reformism, RIP, tragedy, war)

By Alan Theasby

RIP Charles Kennedy 1959-2015

I’m not a fan, but there is a lot Labour could learn from him.

When he took the boring “centre right” LibDems by the scruff of the neck and carved out a position as an independent “radical” party to the left of New Labour (at least to appearances), the result was a massive electoral swing in 2005, and LibDems were still seen by many as “left of Labour” in 2010 (how many thousands left in disgust at their role in the Coalition?)

When the LibDems presented radical, left politics – against the Iraq War, for EMA, against tuition fees, even anti-cuts to some extent – they got lots of support.

In Scotland the SNP is posing “left” and taking advantage of Scottish Labour’s abysmal policies: cuts, attacks on Unite union, and in bed with the Tories in “Better Together” etc. No wonder they swept the board, it’s a total indictment of Blairism and the likes of Jim Murphy!

In England the Greens are taking up the mantle that the LibDems had until 2010; this has not yet translated into votes but that’s a serious posibility if Labour contimues on its current “middle of the road/neither owt nor nowt” course or moves even further rightwards.

Lots of activists & “lefties” I know have  massive illusions in the SNP & Greens, and write off the Labour Party as dead. I disagree on both counts: the SNP & Greens can pose as “left” under the Tories and with a Labour Party looking to “middle England”/ the “middle classes” (etc), but I have no illusions in them; and (although I like the word “Pasokification” – and now “Pascotification”) this is not Greece and Labour has deep roots unlike PASOK, and thewre is no sign in Britain of anytrhing like Syriza (which did not spring from nowhere but was created through splits & fusions in the existing strong Greek Communist Party, left union activists and other left groups).

So what do others think? Given that there is not even a vaguely left candidate for Leader, will Labour become a pathetic rump – or can it recover? Meanwhile, it’s come to something, hasn’t it, when the record of a former SDP’er and leader of the Lib Dems, is much braver and more left-wing than any candidate for leader of the Labour Party?

JD adds: and, at a human level, a thought from Gaby Hinsliff in today’s Graun:

All those people getting cheap laughs on social media out of Kennedy’s last erratic performance on the BBC’s Question Time, or rejoicing in his defeat on election night, were just a visible example of a culture which not only stigmatises people with mental health problems but treats public figures – politicians or otherwise – as if they were somehow less than human. If Charles Kennedy’s death leads one or two to pause before unleashing mob scorn or fury, if it prompts an ounce more compassion for people whose lives might well be more complicated than they look – well, a fine liberal legacy that would be.

Permalink 10 Comments

Remembering Dennis Potter

May 17, 2015 at 11:39 am (drama, From the archives, good people, humanism, posted by JD, television, truth)

Dennis Potter

The playwright and TV script-writer Dennis Potter would have been 80 today. As it is, he died aged 59, on 7th June 1994. Less than three months earlier, he’d given this extraordinary interview to Melvyn Bragg on Channel 4.

By then Potter was diagnosed with inoperable, terminal cancer and spent the interview swigging from a hip flask of morphine (possibly laced with whisky). He called his cancer ‘Rupert’, as in Murdoch: “I’d shoot the bugger if I could”.

I still cherish a 2007 pamphlet published by the Guardian, which contains a slightly edited and tidied-up transcription of the interview.

The pamphlet starts with a wonderful Foreword by the Graun‘s veteran TV critic Nancy Banks-Smith (who once worked with Potter on the old Daily Herald). It’s no surprise that Potter was an agnostic who tended to the atheistic end of the agnostic scale; nor that he was a (utopian, I’d say) socialist.

Those of us who saw the interview when it went out on Channel 4 on April 5 1994 will never forget it. For those of you who didn’t, here’s a taste (and you can watch part of it here):

“I grieve for my family and friends who know me closest, obviously, and that they’re going through it in a sense more than I am. But I discover also what you always know to be true, but you never know it till you know it, if you follow (sorry, I’ve got…my voice is echoing in my head for some reason).

“We all, we’re the one animal that knows that we’re going to die, and yet we carry on paying our mortgages, doing our jobs, moving about, behaving as though there’s an eternity in a sense. And we forget or tend to forget that life can only be defined in the present tense; it is is, and it is now only. I mean, as much as we would like to call back yesterday and indeed yearn to, and ache to sometimes, we can’t. It’s in us, but we can’t actually; it’s not not there in front of us. However predictable tomorrow is, and unfortunately for most people, most of the time, it’s too predictable, they’re locked into whatever situation they’re locked into…Even so, no matter how predictable it is, there’s the element of the unpredictable, of you don’t know. The only thing you know for sure is the present tense, and that nowness becomes so vivid that, almost in a perverse sort of way, I’m almost serene. You know, I can celebrate life.

“Below my window in Ross, when I’m working in Ross,  for example, there at this season, the blossom is out in full now, there in the west early. It’s a plum tree, it looks like apple blossom but it’s white, and looking at it, instead of saying ‘Oh that’s nice blossom’…last week looking at it through the window when I’m writing, I see it as the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you: you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance…not that I’m interested in reassuring people – bugger that. The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it!  And boy can you celebrate it”.

Permalink 7 Comments

The King of the Blues is dead

May 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm (good people, music, posted by JD, RIP, The blues)

BB King, 1925-2015

“[H]is instrumental virtuosity and the seamless interaction between the liquid, vocal tone he conjured from the numerous Gibson semi-acoustic guitars that have borne the nickname “Lucille” over the past six-and-a-half decades and his warm, chesty singing (“First I sing and then Lucille sings”) was only one part of the reason for his pre-eminence not only in his chosen field of the blues but in the broader expanse of the past musical century’s popular mainstream. BB King was also one of the planet’s consummate entertainers; his expansive stage presence, enveloping generosity of spirit, patent willingness to drive himself into the ground for his audiences and ability to put virtually any crowd at their ease took him from the backbreaking labour and harsh racism of the rural Southern states to the biggest stages of the world’s capital cities” -From the excellent appreciation by Charles Shaar Murray in today’s Guardian.

The Thrill Is Gone (probably his most famous recording):

…and here’s a live version of my personal favourite Three O’ Clock Blues:

Permalink 4 Comments

Ananta Bijoy Das: yet another secular Bangladeshi blogger murdered by Islamists.

May 13, 2015 at 7:39 pm (Andrew Coates, Bangladesh, blogging, fascism, Free Speech, good people, humanism, islamism, murder, religion, secularism, terror)

Re-blogged from Tendance Coatesy (very slightly edited):

Ananta Bijoy Das, Beloved by Humanity, Hacked to Death by Islamists.

Loved by all Progressive Humanity: hacked to Death by Islamists.

Ananta Bijoy Das: Yet another Bangladeshi blogger hacked to death.

(CNN)Attacks on bloggers critical of Islam have taken on a disturbing regularity in Bangladesh, with yet another writer hacked to death Tuesday.

Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, was killed Tuesday morning as he left his home on his way to work at a bank, police in the northeastern Bangladeshi city of Sylhet said.

Four masked men attacked him, hacking him to death with cleavers and machetes, said Sylhet Metropolitan Police Commissioner Kamrul Ahsan.

The men then ran away. Because of the time of the morning when the attack happened, there were few witnesses. But police say they are following up on interviewing the few people who saw the incident.

“It’s one after another after another,” said Imran Sarker, who heads the Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh. “It’s the same scenario again and again. It’s very troubling.”

Public killings

Das’ death was at least the third this year of someone who was killed for online posts critical of Islam. In each case, the attacks were carried out publicly on city streets.

In March, Washiqur Rahman, 27, was hacked to death by two men with knives and meat cleavers just outside his house as he headed to work at a travel agency in the capital, Dhaka.

The three victims are hardly the only ones who have paid a steep price for their views.

In the last two years, several bloggers have died, either murdered or under mysterious circumstances.

Championing science

Das was an atheist who contributed to Mukto Mona (“Free Thinkers”), the blog that Roy founded.

Mukto Mona contains sections titled “Science” and “Rationalism,” and most of the articles hold science up to religion as a litmus test, which it invariably fails.

While Das was critical of fundamentalism and the attacks on secular thinkers, he was mostly concerned with championing science, a fellow blogger said.

He was the editor of a local science magazine, Jukti (“Reason”), and wrote several books, including one work on Charles Darwin.

In 2006, the blog awarded Das its Rationalist Award for his “deep and courageous interest in spreading secular & humanist ideals and messages in a place which is not only remote, but doesn’t have even a handful of rationalists.”

“He was a voice of social resistance; he was an activist,” said Sarker. “And now, he too has been silenced.”

Taking to the streets

Soon after Das’ death, his Facebook wall was flooded with messages of shock and condolence. And hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Sylhet demanding that the government bring his killers to justice.

“We’ve heard from Ananta’s friends that some people threatened to kill him as he was critical of religion,” Das’ brother-in-law Somor Bijoy Shee Shekhor said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We are ashamed, brother Bijoy,” someone posted on Das’ Facebook page.

“Is a human life worth so little? Do we not have the right to live without fear?” wrote another.

The beloved comrade will be remembered by all humanity.

Permalink 2 Comments

Next page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 547 other followers