Photograph: Adam Scourfield/BBC/AP Photo/AP
The neurologist and author Oliver Sachs died yesterday aged 82. I read his most famous book, The Man Who Mistook his Wife For A Hat, a few years ago, but beyond that know little about him. According to the obit in today’s Guardian, he was criticised for writing “fairy-tales” in that his case histories lack the meticulous detail that contemporary science expects of practitioners. He was also accused of breaching patient confidentiality, although as far as I am aware, he took care to protect patients’ identities and certainly never used their real names in his writing.
What I do know about him is the sheer humanity he demonstrated in everything I’ve read by him, not least the very moving essay he wrote in the New York Times on learning of his terminal illness in February of this year:
It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”
I urge you to read the whole thing, here.
By Alan Theasby
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.
The Left Unity conference on Saturday is debating Kurdistan. There is a motion which describes ISIS as having “progressive potential” because it breaks down the imperialist-drawn boundaries of Middle Eastern states and literally – literally – calls for support for a caliphate in the region, describing this as representing “internationalism”, “protection of diversity and autonomy”, “accountability and representation” and “effective control of executive authority”. I honestly don’t think I’ve misrepresented it. Luckily there are a number of other decent motions supporting the Kurds and working-class and socialist forces, including one which highlights the nature of Western imperialism but argues for the Kurds’ right to get weapons and air support in their battle against ISIS (not proposed by Workers’ Liberty funnily enough).
NB: the motion, in pdf form, is p.41, amendement Ba2
Service users and supporters rallied in Cambridge on 5 April
By Matt Wells (via Workers Liberty)
Lifeworks is a Complex Cases Service drop in centre which currently supports over 70 people with complex mental health problems in the Cambridge district and has supported many, many more over several years.
Following a deeply flawed decision to close the Lifeworks centre, taken behind the backs of those using it, a group of service users decided to occupy it. That was six weeks ago and the occupation is still holding out. This short video interview from inside the occupation with one of the participants gives a flavour of the resolve being shown by those fighting to save the service.
Please visit their Facebook page and sign their petition: see here.
They are seeking donations to sustain their campaign. Cheques to Cambridge & District Trade Union Council, marked Lifeworks. Send to Ian Beeby, Treasurer, CDTUC, 55, Station Road, Whittlesford, Cambridge, CB22 4NL.
A surprisingly fair and sympathetic piece by Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, who appeared on Channel 5’s The Big Benefits Row last night. The standard health warning about re-blogs here at Shiraz (ie don’t assume we agree with all of it) applies:
Katie Hopkins, Matthew Wright and Spectator reader White Dee
My night with White Dee — and Channel 5’s Big Benefits Row
What do you get if you mix the Jeremy Kyle show with Question Time? Channel 5 tried to find out this evening in a one-off debate about benefits and I was one of the 25 – yes, 25 – guests they asked along. Matthew Wright tried to keep the order, and the debate ranged (or, rather, raged) from the morality of benefits for immigrants to high MTR rates for welfare. It was more of a verbal explosion than a debate – you’d have working single mums screaming (“give me a job, innit!”) at benefit-dependent single mum. Edwina Currie baiting the lefties, with visible enjoyment. Even a mini protest (“every mum’s a working mum”) and Katie Hopkins who, with her ‘you’re all evil scroungers’ act, wound up the audience perfectly. And Jack Monroe, of the austerity recipe fame, who was admonished for using the f-word. It was kind of political panto.
Even Peter Stringfellow was present- in his capacity as a pensioner on benefits. He was very keen to touch the hem of Rachel Johnson, there as she’d recently spent a week living on £1 a day and has (as she put it) “friends with benefits”. The ex-Guardian journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor, was there to heckle Katie Hopkins and just when you though the evening couldn’t get more bizarre, up pops Terry Christian (ex-The Word) to stick the knife into Ms Hopkins as well. Margot James, a Tory MP and member of the 10 Downing St policy group, was watching all this, open-mouthed, from the front row.
But the star of the evening, for my money, was White Dee. She was then, as she is in Benefits Street, calm, articulate and funny – and making more sense than the rest of the guests put together. When the show closed, everyone came to to her asking for autographs and taking selfies. She kindly said that she was a Spectator reader (all the best people are) and that she liked our coverage of the Benefits Street debate.
I’m not sure what was learned this evening, given the variety of angles the topic was approached from – and the brave attempt to mix the Jerry Springer-style fights with the likes of myself jabbering on about marginal tax withdrawal rates (see below). But one thing’s for sure: after years of being an incredibly dull policy area, welfare reform is now one of the hottest topics in Britain. It is capable of breaking out of the normal confines of Westminster debate, and into a wider realm where wilder beasts roam and many more millions pay attention. And where poll after poll (including one taken for the show) makes clear that the public still backs reforms – still, that is, on the side of the government.
PS Here’s the point I was trying to make. White Dee doesn’t work because if she found part-time work and wanted to increase her hours, she’d find herself trapped in a system that would, in effect, tax her at 100 per cent for the work that she does. There is so much poverty in Britain because we have destroyed the economic function of work for the low-paid. Below is the Marginal Deduction Rate (i.e., benefits withdrawn, as a percentage of money earned) for someone in White Dee’s situation (i.e., a lone mother with two children).
Those of us old enough to have been active on the student and petty-bourgeois left in the 1970’s will remember the various Maoist sects who then infected that milieu. Us Trotskyists may sometimes have looked and sounded a bit wacky, and one or two of the ‘Trot’ sects (ie: the WRP and the Sparts) were downright sinister. But it was the various ultra-Stalinist Maoist sects (whose names invariably ended with the initials ‘M L’) who really brought the left into disrepute with their ludicrous slogans, bizarre posturing and denunciations of “revisionists,” “social fascists,” “running dogs of imperialism” etc, etc (believe me: I am not joking).
As Comrade Coatesy points out, the “slavery” case is in many respects a dreadful tragedy. There is also, of course, the risk that it will put serious young people off the idea of becoming involved with the organised left. And the idea that these Maoist lunatics had anything to do with Marxism is, of course, preposterous.
Some reactions today from comrades who remember these crackpots:
* “These people were total fruitcakes (if I may use that term). I recall them appearing at a Tim Wohlforth meeting where their speaker said that Chairman Hua, Mao’s successor, could control the weather and was responsible for blizzards then raging on the coast of the USA. They also claimed the British fascist police unjustly persecuted one of their members driving through a red light (red meant go on Chinese roads during the Cultural Revolution). As Coatesy says, tragic and also dangerous for the rest of the left after Martin Smith, etc.”
* “Oh, the Workers Institute of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought … I had actually concluded, looking back on them, that they must have been a joke. Aside from a leaflet I was once handed promising that the ‘day of revolutionary victory is nigh’ because the Chinese CP was digging a tunnel from which the Red Army would triumphantly emerge (soon) in London, I remember a campaign in defence of ‘Comrade Norman Rajeeb’ (maybe this was the guy who drove through the traffic light). As I recall he denounced not only the imperialists but ‘revisionists of all hues’ from the dock, and you could ‘literally see the representatives of the fascist imperialist state quaking in their shoes.’ Okay, these are quotes from memory and it was a long time ago, but, well, I laughed so long and hard it sort of stuck, I think.”
* “I presume they split from the CPE(ML) because of the Albanian turn of the latter. I think the avant garde composer Cornelius Cardew may have had something to do with them at one point. Cardew himself (who wrote the legendary book ‘Stockhausen Serves Imperialism’) moved away from Maoism towards the end, and then was killed in a road accident, which of course fuelled all sorts of conspiracy theories on the Maoist ‘left.'”
Above: the Tsarnaev brothers (Tamerian on right) immediately before the bombs went off
There’s something thoroughly distasteful about the way elements of both left and right attempt to use terrorist incidents to bolster their predetermined agendas. Fox News (etc) will immediately point the finger at Islamists. Socialist Worker (UK) and their ilk will respond by reminding us that it’s not always Islamists who do these things, usually name-checking Timothy McVeigh and/or Anders Behring Breivik and concentrating upon the dangers of “Islamophobia.” As far as I’m aware, the “blowback” explanation/justification for terrorism is the exclusive preserve of a certain kind of leftist but I may even be wrong about that.
So I’m not about to draw sweeping conclusions from the revelation (to be aired on BBC Panorama tonight) that one of the (suspected) Boston bombers was simultaneously a militant Islamist and a subscriber to publications espousing white supremacy and anti-government conspiracy theories.
According to the BBC, Tamerian Tsarnaev possessed articles arguing that both 9/11 and the 1995 Oklahoma bombing were US government conspiracies, and another on “the rape of our gun rights.”
He also possessed material condemning US drone attacks and the plight of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
I opened by criticising those who use terrorist outrages to justify a simplistic political agenda, so I’ll try to avoid doing that myself. The motives of the Tsarnaev brothers are not obvious, and mental health may well be a factor. They were not members of any Islamist network. As ethnic Chechens, they spent their early years in a troubled and violent region. In the US, Tamerian lived a relatively comfortable and apparently conventional life, but seems to have become a militant Islamist when his boxing ambitions were frustrated due to his lack of citizenship.
The BBC quotes a friend of the brothers, saying: “He (Tamerian) just didn’t like America. He felt like America was just basically attacking all Middle Eastern countries…you know, trying to take their oil.”
And on the all-important (but too often overlooked) distinction between Islam and Islamism, it’s worth noting the words of Nicole Mossalam, spokesperson for the mosque that Tamerian occasionally visited:
“As far as connecting with the Islamic community here, to actually praying, being involved, doing acts of charity .. all these were pretty much lacking.
“I would say he was just a Muslim of convenience.”
* Panorama – ‘The Brothers who Bombed Boston’ will be screened tonight, Monday 5 August on BBC One and then on the BBC iPlayer in the UK.
“The sex-pest and the anti-Semite” – JD
Now that the serial sex-pest ‘Comrade Delta’ (aka Martin Smith) has finally “resigned” (or has he?) from the SWP, it seems an appropriate time to remember one of his more outspoken supporters. Now, I’m aware that it’s not always fair to damn people on the basis of those who, unbidden, speak out in their support. But in this case, you’d have thought that Mr Smith might have taken steps to publicly repudiate such foul support: to the best of my knowledge, he never has.
I reproduce the following distasteful (and, frankly, unhinged) piece from Atzmon, only because of that, and because there still seem to be some idiots about who continue to argue that the moderately talented sax player Gilad Atzmon, once promoted so vigorously by the SWP under Mr Smith’s leadership, is not an anti-Semite:
Once again leading UK AZZs , their Sabbath Goyim (Laurie Penny and Richard Seymour) and Islamophobic Hasbara outlet Harry’s Place have been caught together in bed. The exact same Judeocentric tribal coalition that, a year and a half ago, was formed to wreck my career (and failed) is now pursuing Martin Smith AKA Comrade Delta, former secretary of the UK SWP (Socialist Workers Party) who, they insist, is a ‘sex offender’.
Between 2005-10 I worked closely with Martin and the SWP. At the time I was the SWP’s official Kletzmer. I toured with Martin, performed and spoke in quite a few of those Red gatherings. I met some very nice people in the SWP, but I also came across their many Jewish gate-keepers and tribal operators. But the one thing I never detected in any of those political gathering was a trace of libidinal enthusiasm let alone sexual desire. I assumed at the time that these militant young Marxists had decided to postpone having sex until after the revolution.
However, it didn’t take long to realise that Martin Smith was not being pursued because he is a ‘sex offender’ – he surely isn’t – no, our so-called ‘progressive’ tribals chase Smith because he is a Jazz lover and an enthusiastic fan of my music. They harass him because he gave me a platform in spite of the Jewish demand to ban me. They want to bring Martin Smith down simply because he didn’t obey his tribal masters. So If anything, it is Martin who is the rape victim in this saga – he is punished because he refused to bow down to the tribal junta.
(You can read the rest here if you’ve a strong enough stomach…)
Flavorwire Interview: ‘We Steal Secrets’ Director Alex Gibney on Julian Assange and the Wikileaks Backlash to His Film
In his riveting new documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, director Alex Gibney (the prolific Oscar winner behind Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer) tells two stories: the thriller-like ascendency of the organization and the troubling questions it asks about government transparency, and the crumbling of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, which plays like something out of Greek tragedy — the transformation of an admirable idealist to a paranoid propagandist, injecting his own legal woes into the lofty aims of his organization, and conflating them. Gibney was unable to procure an interview with Assange; “Julian wanted money,” Gibney explains in the film, though Assange was willing to exchange his interview for information on the other people Gibney was talking to. (UPDATE: The organization has disputed this claim. Mr. Gibney notes that they’re working from an “incomplete and inaccurate transcript based on non-final version.”) The filmmaker refused, and We Steal Secrets has been under fire from Wikileaks supporters since it was unveiled at Sundance last January. I asked Gibney about that backlash, the importance of the story, and related troubling matters of transparency in the Obama administration
Flavorwire: When and how did you first become aware of Assange and Wikileaks, and when did you decide you wanted to make this film?
Gibney: I first became aware of him through the collateral murder thing when it was posted on the website before the Afghan and Iraq war logs, and I took note of it as a kind of cool new publishing mechanism for this kind of material. I thought, “Wow, that’s interesting.” I read the piece by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker and then it really exploded, obviously, when the Afghan and Iraq war logs broke, and then the state department cables. It was after that that [producer] Marc Shmuger called me and said, “Would you be interested?” Frankly, I was busy doing some other things. I was just following it as a civilian because I was interested in it and I couldn’t resist. I said, “Yeah, sure. If you can raise the money, I will do it.” Then he went to Universal and we got the money, and off we went.
I really admire the fairness of the film — it champions what Wikileaks is about, while being deservedly critical of Assange himself, or at least the recent iteration of him. How closely does the evolution of the narrative within the film mirror how your own feelings evolved about the story?
I think it did evolve and it did change, and frankly, while we were following the story, the story changed. When we came onto it, Assange was still living in the Norfolk mansion, not yet in self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, so a lot of things were yet to happen. Based on Raffi’s piece in The New Yorker and my first meeting with Assange, I liked him a lot, and I thought it was a pretty simple David and Goliath story. At the same time, it was kind of peculiar because when I came into the story, in media terms, he was becoming a kind of Goliath, he meaning Assange. He was surrounded with a number of lawyers and agents and press people that I had to wade through. It was like trying to talk to a movie star, and so that I think also was tough. I wish I’d met him when he was in Iceland.
Walk me through your communications with Assange during the production — and if you’ve had any since.
One of my executive producers, Jemima Khan, put up some of the bail money for Assange, and so that helped to plug me into his group. And so from the very start, I approached him and told him I wanted to talk to him. I think I may have put him off in the sense that most people [who] were coming to him wanted to make some kind of a deal, like, “Give me access and I’ll go raise the money to make a film about you,” and then Julian would put conditions on the access. I came to him and told him that I was making the film whether he participated or not. I didn’t put it in a crude way — I just said, “I’m doing the film now, I hope you’ll participate.”
I don’t think he liked that very much. He likes to have control. He likes to feel like he’s the puppet master, so nevertheless, I hung on and kept trying over the course of time. You know, he did agree — I have a number of emails saying, “Yeah, sure, we agree to the interview, let’s do it,” and then later on, he decided not to agree. I kept going, so I kept making the film even as I kept trying to get him to talk and [it] was very late in the game when we were close to finishing that I tried one last time and he said, “Well, let’s talk about it.” So I flew over from New York to England and went and visited him at this Norfolk estate that is owned by Vaughan Smith and we had this six-hour conversation where we explored whether or not he would do the interview.
I walked through it, but he wanted certain guarantees, like he wanted to know if he could see cuts. I said, “Look, I don’t do that. That’s not how it works. I don’t work for you.” And then he responded huffily, “Well, I don’t work for you either.” I said, “Yeah, I know, I get it!” I think he wanted a spin doctor. He wanted to be able to say or believe that he could control the message and the messenger. And while I told him that I really wanted his unvarnished views about these issues and really wanted him to dig into detail into the story… ultimately, editorial control rested with me. End of story.
Have you heard anything from him or anyone that’s still in the organization since? Read the rest of this entry »
Enemy intelligence from the Telegraph:
Charlie Veitch (above) was once one of Britain’s leading conspiracy theorists, a friend
of David Icke and Alex Jones and a 9/11 ‘truther’. But when he had a change of
heart, the threats began. He talks to Will Storr.
On a June afternoon in the middle of New York’s Times Square, Charlie Veitch took out his phone, turned on the camera and began recording a statement about the 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center.
“I was a real firm believer in the conspiracy that it was a controlled demolition,” he started. “That it was not in any way as the official story explained. But, this universe is truly one of smoke screens, illusions and wrong paths. If you are presented with new evidence, take it on, even if it contradicts what you or your group want to believe. You have to give the truth the greatest respect, and I do.”
To most people, it doesn’t sound like a particularly outrageous statement to make. In fact, the rest of the video was almost banal in its observations; that the destruction of the towers may actually have been caused by the two 767 passenger jets that flew into them. But to those who subscribed to Veitch’s YouTube channel, a channel he set up to promulgate conspiracy theories like the one he was now rejecting, it was tantamount to heresy.
“You sell out piece of s—. Rot in hell, Veitch,” ran one comment beneath the video. “This man is a pawn,” said another. “Your [sic] a f—ing pathetic slave,” shrilled a third. “What got ya? Money?” So runs what passes for debate on the internet. Veitch had expected a few spiteful comments from the so-called “Truth Movement”. What he had not expected was the size or the sheer force of the attack.
In the days after he uploaded his video, entitled No Emotional Attachment to 9/11 Theories, Veitch was disowned by his friends, issued with death threats and falsely accused of child abuse in an email sent to 15,000 of his followers. “I went from being Jesus to the devil,” he says now. “Or maybe Judas. I thought the term ‘Truth Movement’ meant that there’d be some search for truth. I was wrong. I was the new Stalin. The poster boy for a mad movement.”
Above: Alex Jones, ultra-right conspiracy-nut supreme
Charlie Veitch is not Jesus nor Judas nor the devil nor, even, Stalin. He’s currently an unemployed father-of-one who lives in a semi, in Salford, Greater Manchester, with his fiancée, Stacey. Baggily dressed and 6ft 5in, the 32-year-old looks like a student but carries himself like a philosopher, wielding aphorisms and gesticulating theatrically, as if conducting a symphony of his own sagacity.
Veitch is spellbound by ideas, but the problem is that he has two competing world views that he’s never been able to reconcile. Born in Rio de Janeiro to a Brazilian mother and a Scottish merchant seaman, Veitch inherited a Right-wing outlook from his father, a patriotic, working class Thatcherite. But his father also passed on a mistrust of authority.
“He told me, just because someone’s wearing a uniform or a fancy hat, it doesn’t mean they’re your boss,” he says.Veitch Snr was also responsible for Charlie’s peripatetic childhood.
Attending “a new school every six months”, he was bullied on many continents. “I was always birds— head, because I have a patch of white hair,” he says. At Edinburgh Academy, a private school he attended from 14, he fostered an antipathy towards “rugger buggers” who had rich fathers, became prefects and “got all the girls and all the attention”.
For a while, Veitch’s Right-wing opinions dominated his decision-making. He joined the Territorial Army and got a job in the City. But, the other narrative, of a world which pitched “second-rate citizens”, as he’d been at school, against the “rugger buggers” – the privileged elite and the heirs to power – was always there, slowly creeping up on him. And at six o’clock one morning, after a night out at a club, it pounced.
“I was absolutely spangled from the nightclub when my best friend said ‘Charlie, you know you’re Right-wing and you joined the Army? Well, they were lying to you.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘9/11; it wasn’t as you think.’ It was almost like an initiation into a cult, a religion. You’re being given special knowledge.”
His friend showed him the online documentary Terrorstorm: A History of Government Sponsored Terror, made by the American radio host Alex Jones. It parsed a new version of history, in which governments secretly organised terror attacks to spread fear and extend their matrices of control. From the Reichstag fire to the Gulf of Tonkin up to the present day, it writhed with apparently unassailable facts and sources.
Jones is a brilliantly effective propagandist who recently made headlines for his hostile showdown on US television with Piers Morgan, over gun control. His YouTube channel has had over 250 million views while his masterpiece, Terrorstorm, has been watched more than 7 million times Read the rest of this entry »