Farzad Kamangar, Teacher, Trade Unionist, Kurd

November 26, 2008 at 2:51 pm (Human rights, Iran, KB72, Rosie B, unions)

This is being posted around the blogosphere.

Farzad Kamangar is a Kurdish teacher and activist who was arrested in August 2006 by the Iranian regime. There is breaking news that after fifteen months of torture and no fair trial he has been taken from his cell and is to be executed in the next few hours.

Farzad’s crime was that he “belonged to the Teachers’ Union of Kurdistan and to other activist associations. He wrote for the review Royan, the review of Education department of Kamiyaran and for newspapers of local Human Rights associations”, although the Iranian government prefers to describe this as “endangering national security”.

Whilst Education International has a list of things you can do to push for a fair trial if we can’t prevent his execution then those longer term efforts will be in vain. I know it’s not much but I’d like to encourage you to send an email to the Iranian President to let him know that the outside world is watching and that Farzad’s “crimes” of being a Kurd and a trade unionist do not justify his execution.

Please write to dr-ahmadinejad@president.ir when you read this.

Sample email;

Dear President Ahmadinejad,

Having learned today that teacher trade unionist Farzad Kamangar faces hanging in the next few hours, I call upon you to immediately commute his death sentence and have his case re-examined through a fair trial.


Actions like this are only small things – but sometimes they can make a difference.

More information here.

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Think before you link

August 26, 2008 at 9:25 pm (blogging, blogosphere, Free Speech, KB72, Rosie B, unions)

Harry’s Place has been shut down by the service provider evidently because of a post that was put up about a UCU activist (Jenna Delich) linking to a David Duke site, which she thought was a good place to find factual material on Israel and Jews. She sent this useful information round via a UCU mailing list.  Some of the UCU activists took exception to, well, not to Jenna Delich’s ideas of research but that Harry’s Place had pointed this out, and now a complaint has been made to the service provider (presumably about possible defamation) and the site has been shut down.

The material on this affair has been put up on a temporary site here.

Note to self and others:- if you do inadvertently link to a neo-Nazi site or any other dodgy site for information and this is pointed out to you, apologise and say that you are totally mortified.  In fact, it would be excellent if you felt totally mortified.  Then the whole business will go away.  But don’t sound huffy and annoyed like Jenna Delich – how were you supposed to know what a neo-Nazi site looks like?  (Same thing applies if you produce leaflets talking about the Holocaust and omit to mention its main and best known victims.  See comments to post here).

Also, if you have been found out, don’t resort to defamation laws or apply pressure through service providers.  Many bloggers might dislike the site you are attacking, but there is some solidarity among bloggers – first of all they came for Harry’s Place, next they came for me – and they will flash this story around the blogosphere.  From there it may be taken up by the mainstream media and you will look very bad trying to shut up critics, and especially bad if you are a union for academics. 

More information on how to detect a neo-Nazi site here.

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Don’t be so critical

May 18, 2008 at 9:53 am (Islam, KB72, left, religion, Rosie B)

The Freethinker interviews Ophelia Benson of Butterflies and Wheels:-

FT: Is it true that your upcoming book, Does God Hate Women?, was turned down by the first publisher because in was too critical of Islam?

OB: Yes, a publisher did turn it down for that compelling reason. It wasn’t exactly the first publisher since it never actually accepted it, but it was very interested, got Jeremy [Stangroom, the co-author] in to have a chat etc (I live six thousand miles away or I would have gone along for the chat too, whether they’d invited me or not) – then said they’d decided no because one mustn’t criticize Islam.

FT: How did you feel about that at the time?

OB: A mix of amusement and disgust, I think – amusement at the docile predictability, disgust at the crawling. I also felt even more convinced that the book was needed, precisely because a publisher would turn it down for such a reason. What publisher, you wonder? Verso.

Verso, the great left wing publisher describe themselves as putting out “Books with a critical edge“.  Except about religion, or a religion, of course.

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The Trees

May 12, 2008 at 8:02 pm (KB72, literature, Rosie B) ()

It’s May now, and after a chilly wet Spring there has been sunshine.  Here’s a poem for Spring.

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin

I find this poem exhilarating, but parts of it are difficult.

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;

First point – that “something almost being said,” is an awkward, even ugly line, clotted with consonants.  “Being” is a hard word to stress comfortably.  By the scansion it should break into two syllables – be-ing – but that makes you exaggerate the “be” bit, which isn’t natural English, and Larkin always tried to make his lines sound like natural speech.  Or was this deliberate, for the sense of this line, that what is “almost being said” is inexpressible – something that will not be turned easily into words?

The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

That is the puzzle presented by the verses, why this greenness which is normally experienced as a delight, should be a kind of grief.  The next stanza suggests and then refutes one answer:-

Is it because they’re born again,
And we grow old?  No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

It then implies another answer.  The sight of Spring can be a kind of grief, in that it is a bank statement showing that the credit sum of our years on this earth is being drawn on and we are getting closer to being permanently bankrupt.  Both we and the trees are growing old.  Grief is not us feeling the difference between us and the trees, but our similarities, except that the trees have “their yearly trick” of looking rejuvenated.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.

 I can see why the trees are unresting – broadleaved trees are busy, their leaves changing from buds to withered in a few months – but how are they castles?  Because they are large and strong?  And how can castles “thresh”?  And is there a play on words from “grain” in the second stanza to “thresh” in the third?  The idea of threshing seems fine – that they are mounding up their leaves to “fullgrown thickness” as you would pile up heaps of grain after threshing.  And the idea of busyness and the unresting movement is fine too.  But the castles are a puzzle.

The last two lines though have complete clarity.

Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

The thing that was “almost being said” in the first verse becomes what “they seem to say”, the joy of spring and its sense of new beginnings. This poem has the Larkin uncertainty, that you cannot make great positive declarations, that everything must be qualified, the “almost-instinct, almost true”.  But after the climb of stumbling hesitancy he finally reaches the summit and can shout out loud and joyful “afresh, afresh, afresh”.

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May 3, 2008 at 10:26 am (cinema, Islam, KB72, literature, Rosie B, Uncategorized, women)

I saw Persepolis the other night, and thought it was brilliant.

Persepolis3 Persepolis is the story of Marjane Satrapi, a bright, imaginative girl growing up in post revolutionary Iran where brightness and imagination and girlhood are severely suppressed.  Her kind parents and her tough, wise grandmother suffer under the stupid petty thuggery of the regime, while one uncle, a communist, is executed.  Afraid that Marjane’s rash behaviour will get her into trouble, her family send her to Vienna, where she takes up with a crowd of cool spoiled cynical Westerners.  She finds the culture hard to adjust to.  There’s a particularly comic caricacture of a shouty lead singer in a punk band.  The Westerners are indifferent to politics, which are literal life and death to her family in Iran.   She returns home but living there is difficult.  She is studying art, and the authorities have rubbed out Venus in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and the life class model is draped in a burkha.  So she leaves Iran again for France and exile.

I don’t read graphic novels and I haven’t seen many animated films either, so what I got out of it might be old hat and obvious to those used to those genres.  To me it was a revelation the way that the form works by forcing your attention, uncluttered by the distractions that human actors offer.  When you watch an actor performing a part you see the well-known face and the mannerisms.  With illustrations you concentrate on the emotions conveyed by the drawing.  You are focused, you are directed, as when following the narrator’s voice in a novel. 

That narrator’s voice and point of view is what you normally lose when putting a novel on screen.  Look, says the novel’s narrator, at Hetty’s eyelashes and Adam’s response to them, and the actors do their best with it.  But with animation you can do it in stylised short-hand – Hetty’s eyelashes, longer than they could ever be even with prosthetics, and Adam’s response, cruder than a competent actor’s could be but clearer and sharper. 

The objects like the swans Marjane’s uncle carved from bread in prison and the jasmine that falls from her grandmother’s bra have a magic power. The white swans sail on her bed and the white jasmine flowers fall and they, white on the black background, seem to glow with meaning.  This is how the world appears through Marjane’s eyes, for instance when her boyfriend arrives like an angel bathed in light then turns into a goofy idiot.

Persepolis2 The characters are arranged to form designs e.g. curves (the women Revolutionary Guard) framing with menace a cylinder (little Marjane).  When Marjane moves house over and over again in Vienna she gaily jumps from one roof top to another. There is charm, comedy, anger and grief within this film, which filled me with fresh delight.

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One, Two, Three, Four, Bang!

April 16, 2008 at 5:25 pm (KB72, music, Rosie B, sport)

Simon Jenkins:-

Come on, confess it, you have not enjoyed a story so much in years. A round-the-world marathon with all-in wrestling, kick boxing, rugby tackling and sanctimonious steeplechasing, staged free of charge in the streets of London, Paris and San Francisco by the International Olympics Committee – and before the Beijing games have even started. To add to the joy, nobody gets hurt except politicians.

On one side are Gordon Brown, the Chinese politburo, Tessa Jowell, Ken Livingstone, the IOC fat cats and 1,000 jogging policemen, all playing “protect the holy flame” as if in a scene from Harry Potter. On the other side is an old-fashioned mob. The mob wins and the nation splits its sides with glee.

I have enjoyed it especially as I detest the Olympics and all the nationalistic fervour around it. I watched Kelly Homes winning the gold last Olympics but otherwise it wouldn’t occur to me watch someone running.  It’s a patriotic fix, which is harmless in small doses, but there is such a colossal expenditure and cod ceremonial fuss to give the crowd its patriotic fix. 

If you’re good at anything you want to compete with other people. Competition is part of humanity since the most cunning hunter was patted on the back by the most deft gatherer.  Rejoicing that the strongest and the best is a member of your tribe is older than David and Goliath.  But £30 billion spent for this little frisson is not worth it, and the good PR that the host regime tries to make out of it can be an ugly performance.

Imagine a music Olympics.  Huge sponsorship by Sony, complaints about how poor investment in musical education was letting our musicians down and everyone, including the tone-deaf, cheering on their nation’s bands.

Musicians are competitive of course.  At one end they get miffed if they are not chosen as the headliner at Glastonbury, at the other they gauge whether they got more applause than the other acts in the pub.  With overt competition comes corruption.  A Battle of the Bands is won by the band who has the most mates.  Introduce nationalism and see how a pursuit can be distorted from enjoyment of its intrinsic quality to other baser ends.  As it is, a Scottish contestant in X-factor will get the patriotic vote, however talentless they are.

The Eurovision must be the closest thing to the Olympics in music and what a farce it is, from the lousy songs to the partisan, nul points judging.  If we took it as seriously as the Olympics or the World Cup we’d be entering Radiohead or Franz Ferdinand, instead of the nobody singing a nothing song that we do put on and in the same way that footballers leave their clubs to play for their nation during a World Cup, so would musicians be summoned from the tour or the recording studio and put under pressure to win one for the country.

Beckham’s broken metatarsal generated agony and suspense  – will he play? won’t he? Imagine the news media in desperate question mode about whether Amy Winehouse would be sober enough to sing.  Tom Yorke is having one of his Green fits and insists on amplifiers powered by human-treadmill generators.  Sting denies rumours that he is writing the song, and it is given to Richard Thompson (as it should be, but it would really be given to Amanda Ghost and James Blunt).*

Unlike athletics music cannot be judged by an objective standard of first across the finishing line. If the judges are from countries that have a dark view of the UK – which is likely – we know we wouldn’t have a chance, and Westlife, the Irish team, would be standing on the podium, with tears on their pretty faces.

Special acoustic stadia would be built in every host country for the music Olympics and underused for the rest of time. A microphone once used by Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix’s guitar would be carried about in procession all around the world.  Afterwards, a few people would be inspired to try playing a musical instrument but soon give it up again.

And everyone but everyone would fail the drugs tests.

*(Best known song – You’re Beautiful)

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New Life in the Ghost Town

April 9, 2008 at 9:10 pm (KB72, music, Rosie B) ()

“Phill Jupitus celebrates the phenomenon that was 2-Tone music. Thirty years ago bands such as the Specials, the Beat, Madness and the Selecter created a new sound born from a blend of punk, reggae and ska.”

Hear it while you can.

I missed the 2 Tone bands the first time round and I’m really sorry that I did after listening to that inspiring programme last Saturday morning about the interplay of the music and anti-racism. Phill Jupitus called the themes that 2 Tone songs dealt with “domestic politics” rather than sloganeering.  The songs came out of their lives, then the songs showed that their lives existed in a political context. 

Future histories of post war Britain will contain chapters on how important music was for political and social expression, as the novel was for the nineteenth century.  Later generations will imagine our times through the songs, as we imagine Victorian Britain through Charles Dickens and George Eliot. 

Jupitus interviewed Neville Staple of The Specials who talked about how being in a band stopped him from getting into serious trouble with the law.  It quietened him down, he said.  Jupitus hooted at that, since Staple was not known as the quiet man of music, but he, Staple, still insisted that it did quieten him.

That evening I got into conversation with a bloke in a pub. I mentioned that I was waiting for some friends and that we were going to see a Led Zeppelin tribute band, whose members were from West Lothian – was it Bathgate? Livingston? Uphall? – one of the grey grim towns in that area that is heaped with slag heaps from the defunct shale oil mining industry.  He said he was from Broxburn and probably knew them; his own three sons were musicians.  He added that that the West Lothian Council had a policy to encourage music.

He knew guys who were in brass bands that had played in America.  Someone in Livingston had a music group of 30 young musicians and each and every one was in full time employment or training, and in Livingston that was exceptional.  Music gave you discipline, he said.

I’ve heard it before – the band kept me together, just as a different kind of young man (it’s normally a young man) says that he was rescued from a likely criminal life by the army.

Later I looked this up on the West Lothian Council website:-

“School pupils in West Lothian are eligible to apply for free instrumental music lessons, delivered during the school day, by teachers working for the Instrumental Music Service.“ 

That seems to be an enlightened policy. You can promote teaching music for reasons of gaining employment qualifications since the music industry, though shedding jobs now, has been a big employer in recent years (140,000) – and who would ever have thought that in Britain, which was once called the  “country without music” by other Europeans.  You can promote teaching music for reasons of social policy, of engaging young people in something, that like playing sport, will give interest to their lives and be an outlet for their energies, that is, stop them acting up.  Or you can promote it because it’s an intrinsically good thing and sod all the extraneous rationales.

There’s a debate in the blogosphere about education – one Monck holding that education is for

“giving graduates the ability to excel in the subjects we know will feed an information-based, technology-driven global economy.”

When I read that kind of thing I reach for my translations of Catullus.

Others in the blogosphere point out that it’s a drab deal, to teach everyone so that they can be nice little corporates.

So hear The Specials on the subject:-

You’ll be working for the rat race
You know you’re wasting your time
Working for the rat race
You’re no friend of mine

Most of us end up as tired, limping rats in the race but even a rat should have more to her life than developing skills to navigate the maze and find the piece of cheese in the middle of it.

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History Lessons

March 15, 2008 at 9:12 pm (KB72, Rosie B, truth)

A big drum roll for our newest contributor, Rosie Bell. She already writes a marvellous blog that you should take a look at, and she is certainly most welcome to the Shiraz crew. Here she tells us a few things that get missed out in UK histories of her native New Zealand. VP

[Michael] Burleigh grew up on the south coast near Pevensey Bay, and the close proximity of Roman forts, Norman castles, Napoleonic Martello towers and second world war pillboxes first made him aware of the passing of time.

There were no such signs of the passing of time where I grew up though I was reading about Pevensey in Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, which tells the story of one part of England during the ages. That is a common colonial experience, of your head being in one distant place while your body is in another. I was born in the Waikato, a farming area south of Auckland, New Zealand.

The main story of New Zealand is of colonisation, of how one people (the British – the “Pakeha”) displaced another (the Maori). It was not taught at my high school in the 1970s. We had no good text books on New Zealand history. We had sketchy pamphlets on the building of railways, the development of export markets, the establishing of a liberal democracy (women got the vote in 1893) and the setting up of a welfare state. All worthwhile stuff but leaving out the facts of colonisation was a huge omission, similar to a history of twentieth century Russia that did not mention the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

I have been reading the Penguin History of New Zealand by Michael King to fill in the shameful gaps of my knowledge. I received a slight shock in discovering that run-down towns we had driven through on the way to see our relations in Auckland had been battle sites. Our prosperous pastoral Waikato had seen a high level of action in what is now called the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, the wars that put down Maori resistance to the taking over of their land. I received another shock in coming across the following paragraph:- “As Minister of Defence, [Thomas] Russell eagerly prosecuted the Waikato War in order to put Maori in what he regarded as their place, and to open up the Waikato itself to property investment and settlement.. . [T]he post-war confiscation policy was being applied to the most desirable land without any consideration as to which tribes had fought or not fought against the Crown . . Russell profited spectacularly from the war’s aftermath when he was out of politics, particularly by persuading the Government in 1873 to sell the enormous Piako swamp to a syndicate of which he was the leading member.”

We farmed on that swamp, criss-crossed with drains and prone to flooding. I had no idea of its provenance.

The Maori activism of the 70s, 80s and 90s has changed the way Pakeha New Zealanders view the history of their nation and the central fact of displacement is now generally acknowledged. The national curriculum includes those New Zealand Wars. The primary school included in its newsletter to former pupils an assurance to readers that our particular corner of the swamp had been got by honest purchase, not by dodgy confiscation. Time alters everything including our view of our place in time.

These are two common experiences with history: (1) when you begin to see and hear things that make you realise that past forces have pushed you to your own here and now; and (2) that important, in fact central, events have been missed out in your official education.

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