To the memory of père Jacques Hamel

July 26, 2016 at 4:25 pm (Andrew Coates, Catholicism, Christianity, France, islamism, poetry, posted by JD, RIP, terror, tragedy)

By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesy):

A photo of Priest Jacques Hamel taken from the website of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray parish

In the memory of père Jacques Hamel.

I love my work and my children. God.

Is distant, difficult. Things happen

Too near the ancient troughs of blood.

Innocence is no earthly weapon.

Geoffrey Hill. Ovid in the Third Reich. *

Two attackers killed a priest and seriously wounded at least one other hostage in a church in northern France on Tuesday before they were shot dead by police. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The two assailants entered the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, during mass, taking the priest and four other people hostage, including two nuns.

Police said the men killed the priest, named as 84-year-old Jacques Hamel, by slitting his throat.

An interior ministry spokesperson said a second hostage was “between life and death”.

Le Monde says that the local Muslim leadership immediately reacted by showing their love and friendship to the victim and all those affected.

Le président du Conseil régional du culte musulman de Haute-Normandie, en charge de la mosquée de Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, inaugurée en 2000 sur une parcelle de terrain offerte par la paroisse catholique, s’est dit « effaré par le décès de [son] ami ». « C’est quelqu’un qui a donné sa vie aux autres. On est abasourdis à la mosquée », a-t-il ajouté. Le prêtre et l’imam faisaient partie d’un comité interconfessionnel depuis dix-huit mois. « Nous discutions de religion et de savoir-vivre ensemble », a précisé Mohammed Karabila.

The President of the Haute-Normandie Regional Council of Muslims, which oversees the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Mosque, built on a plot of land offered by the Catholic parish, has said he was “in agony” at the death of his friend. “He was somebody who devoted his life to others. At the mosque we are utterly devastated” he added. For a year and a half the Priest and the Imam had both been part of an inter-faith committee. Mohammed Karabila talked of their activity, “We discussed our faith and how we can get good community relations.”

I cite Geoffrey Hill above because the attack on a early day mass immediately made me think of seeing a priest celebrating Morning prayers  in a place the poet wrote about, the ancient St Michael the Archangel – ‘In Framlingham Church’. *

It was a weekday morning about five years ago and there was only a handful of people there.

But it was solemn and of great dignity.

Goodness is far more important than anything else. 

 

* Both in: Geoffrey Hill, Broken Hierarchies. Poems. 1952 – 2012. Oxford. 2013.

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Farewell to Karl Dallas

July 4, 2016 at 1:12 pm (Anti-Racism, culture, good people, Jim D, music, RIP, stalinism)

Jim Denham writes:

A born-again Christian semi-Stalinist folk musician may seen a strange friend for Shiraz Socialist and for me in particular. Karl Dallas and I never met in person, but had a number of exchanges by email and via below-the-line comments here at Shiraz. We had some especially sharp disagreements over the saxophonist Gild Atzmon, who Karl continued to defend -and, indeed, to promote in both senses of the word – long after it should have been obvious to him that Atzmon was a vicious antisemite and dangerous reactionary. Mind you, Karl was far from being alone on the left in his softness on Atzmon, and at least (unlike, say the SWP) seems to have been motivated by naivety rather than cynicism and sectarianism.

But for all of that, Karl remained courteous and friendly. I never doubted his fundamental decency, his often personally courageous commitment to what he understood to be socialism and the self-evident sincerity he demonstarted in every aspect of his life. He was living proof of something I’ve long believed: that it’s possible (on the broad left, at least) to have sharp political differences with people, yet still like and respect them. Our shared love of music certainly helped maintain friendly terms. Karl was a frequent contributor to the Morning Star (and its forunner, the Daily Worker), and it only seems right and proper to reproduce that paper’s tribute to him (NB: we’ve only republished the main obituary; it’s worth following the link for several other appreciations):

Karl Dallas

KARL FREDERICK DALLAS, who died on June 21 at the age of 85, will go down in history as the father of British folk-rock journalism.

But for those who worked with him at the Morning Star or assisted him organising gigs to raise awareness and funds for numerous movements and for those who stood next to him as human shields in Iraq, joined his hunger strikes or even watched him don donkey ears to keep our community swimming baths open, he’ll be remembered for his solidarity wherever human injustices and inequalities prevailed. He was one with us, the people.

Dallas was brought up in a socialist family and was named after Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. From the age of seven, he was a peace activist. It was then that he accompanied his mother, a single parent, on a demonstration against Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler.

From an early age he set his heart on a career as a poet and lyricist. He understood the value of the arts, specifically the protest song, as a cultural unifier.

Describing his most political songs as “love songs with a universal message,” Dallas summed this up in an encouraging declaration of hope: “People survive despite everything.”

Via a stint as a publicist for Billy Smart’s Circus, he came to journalism and his work was informed by his own considerable skill as a musician. Dallas had a knack of scouting out the best talent around.

At first using the name Fred Dallas, it would be the mid-’60s before he became widely know as Karl Dallas, having established himself as the most influential music journalist in Britain.

He was a contributor to Melody Maker from the 1950s to the 1970s and continued his political interests by writing for the Daily Worker — later the Morning Star — and self-published the magazines Folk News, Acoustic Music and Jazz Music News among others.

Dallas was a popular figure, gaining interviews from even the most elusive of all artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Davey Graham and he was known to gain access to Pink Floyd when no other journalist could.

Throughout his career, he kept his professional integrity by writing what he thought was important and never allowed friendship to influence what he would write.

At some point, he came to the conclusion that “music was a murderous business,” having seen too many creative sensibilities destroyed by a capitalist industry and those controlling it.

Dallas was a rock and folk survivor. A recovering alcoholic and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous since the early 1980s, he never forgot October 9 1979, the day he had his last drink. It was this personal struggle with his own demons that, perhaps, made Dallas so akin to those whom he affectionately called “the walking wounded” who “soldiered on.” Having considering himself an atheist with an inclination towards paganism, Dallas converted to Christianity in 1983.

He retired from full-time journalism in 1999. Even so, he continued to work ceaselessly, celebrating the multicultural richness and diversity of Bradford where he made his home — he had left London and moved there with his wife in 1989.

Speaking out against the EDL, he assembled crowds in peaceful, multifaith opposition to racism and fascism. Having had his songs recorded by the likes of Ewan MacColl and The Spinners, Dallas ran songwriting workshops and he was a regular at Bradford’s Topic venue, where his composition Hamba Khalie, Sala Khalie, with its lyrics: “Go well, stay well, safe journey home” became the folk club’s signature finale.

He wrote plays, novels and poetry like there was no tomorrow, along with online music reviews and he remained a loyal contributor to the Morning Star. His work for Bradford Radio included weekly debates, a jazz show and film reviews and he was at times a quirky broadcaster. His marathon eight-hour Midsummer Night’s Radio Madness Show — at Midnight is remembered with particular fondness.

He was a regular guest at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention and set up his tent there for the last time in 2013, meeting briefly with old friends and enthusing over the raw energy of the Yorkshire band The Dunwells. The most poignant moment of that weekend for me had to be sitting next to him when Fairport sang Who Knows Where the Time Goes. He had seen so many bright lights cut down in their prime but it was the loss of Sandy Denny that seemed to haunt him most.

Back in 1981, on the occasion of Dallas’s 50th birthday, folk-rock musician Roy Harper predicted: “Karl Dallas will outlive us all.” With a massive backlog of writing, published and unpublished, he leaves enough of a mark to ensure his voice will live on.

He lives on also in the most vulnerable and would-be silenced of society to whom he gave his support, at times risking his own safety and even his life. A man of words, a maker of songs and verse and a teller of tales, he embraced new technologies and was an eager advocate of the selfie-broadcast.

Shortly before his death Dallas announced on Facebook: “I’m living one day at a time and planning a fun-filled funeral. Try and be there.”

A lifelong activist and comrade, he will be sorely missed. But it is a small comfort to know he remained with us for the summer solstice, when the tilt of the earth was most inclined towards the sun.

Our kind thoughts and condolences are with his wife Gloria, his children Molly and Steven and their families.

Carol Ballard

 

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Mohammed Ali: a hero of the twentieth century

June 4, 2016 at 6:39 am (Anti-Racism, black culture, celebrity, civil rights, good people, history, literature, media, posted by JD, RIP, sport, United States)

Muhammad Ali has lost his last fight, but he went down with the courage that characterised his entire life. He is now mourned and celebrated as the athlete of the century and a hero by the media and politicians in the United States and throughout the world – very often the same people who in the 1960s and ’70s villified him for his opposition to the Vietnam war and for his radical black politics. He died a celebrity, and he richly deserved his fame. But it is a bad habit of our age merely to celebrate celebrity.The late Mike Marqusee‘s Redemption Song (Verso, 1999) is by far the best book dealing with Ali’s social and political significance. Marquesee wrote:

We should look at how his celebrity was established and what it means. And I do not believe that his fame rests only on what he achieved in the ring – although if you are a sports fan you have to be awed by that. More important was what he achieved outside the ring.

We must re-insert Ali in his historical context, and that means principally his relationship to the great social movements of the 1960s. The young Cassius Clay was very much a typical patriotic, Cold War chauvinist. Representing the US in the Rome Olympics of 1960, at the age of 18, he won a gold medal in the Light Heavyweight division. And to commemorate the victory he published his first poem:

To make America the greatest is my goal,
So I beat the Russian, and I beat the Pole.
And for the USA I won the medal of Gold.

A crude start for someone who would travel a long way in the next few years. The key to understanding Ali’s movement away from this unexamined national chauvinism is the impact of the civil rights movement of the first half of the 1960s. In the years between 1960 and 1965, hundreds of thousands of young black people from precisely Muhammad Ali’s background – from working class homes in Southern American cities – took to the streets to challenge Jim Crow, America’s version of Apartheid, and to challenge a century of institutionalised racism of a type we can barely imagine today.

At one point it was estimated that 60% of all black college students from across the South were directly involved in this mass movement. And a terrible price was paid – some were murdered, many were beaten, huge numbers were arrested. It was one of the great battles of our era. Ali was driven by the same social forces which drove his contemporaries into the streets; but he was driven in a different direction. His response to all-pervasive racism was different because – after his Olympic triumph – he met the Nation of Islam (NoI) in the streets of Miami.

Over the next few years, as a promising Heavyweight contender, travelling around the country, fighting his way up the ladder, looking for a title shot, he met many more Muslims. Most famously he met Malcolm X and formed a friendship with him. Through the NoI, this young, quite uneducated man encountered the tradition of black nationalism whose origins go back to the beginnings of the twentieth century and which flourished under Marcus Garvey. Black nationalism had enjoyed a kind of underground existence up to this point and when Cassius Clay encountered the NoI in the early ’60s it was the longest standing, wealthiest, best-organised black nationalist organisation in America (albeit a nationalism of a peculiar kind). Clay kept his interest in the NoI secret – if it had become public he would never have become the Heavyweight champion, he would never have had a chance to face Sonny Liston in the ring and we would not be discussing him today.

He got a title shot in 1964, in Miami, against Liston, who was said to be unbeatable. To the world’s surprise, at the age of 22, Cassius Clay did beat Sonny Liston and became the World Heavyweight champion. Instead of going to a big party at a luxury downtown hotel, as was expected of newly-crowned champions, Cassius Clay went back to the black motel, in the black area of Miami – at that time, effectively a segregated city – and had a quiet evening, without any drink, discussing what he would do with the title he had just won, with his friends, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, the great gospel and R&B singer, and Jim Brown, a famous US football player who later became an actor. The next morning, after these discussions, Cassius Clay met the press – which in those days was exclusively white and male – and told them, “I don’t have to be what you want me to be, I’m free to be what I want.” In retrospect that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but, at the time it was earthshaking. Firstly because sportstars, and particularly young black sportstars, were expected to be what they were told to be; secondly because what Cassius Clay wanted to be was a public member of the NoI – probably the most reviled organisation in America at the time. And at his side was Malcolm X – probably the most reviled individual in the US at the time. In announcing his embrace of the NoI Cassius Clay was repudiating Christianity, in a predominately Christian country, at a time when Islam was an exotic and little know faith in America. He was repudiating the integrationist racial agenda, in favour of a separatist agenda, at a time when the Civil Rights movement, led by Martin Luther King, for whom “integrationism” was a central shibboleth, was at the height of its prestige and power. So Cassius Clay angered both the white and the black liberals – and, most importantly, he was repudiating his American national identity in favour of another national identity, that of a member of the Nation of Islam, a nation whose borders had nothing to do with the borders of the US.

Up till this time, no black sports star or celebrity had attempted to do or say anything like this without being crushed – as had Paul Robeson and WEB DuBois in an earlier generation. This stand was widely seen as a terrible tragedy for the young fighter. After all, he had the world at his feet and here he was, embracing an unpopular cause, thereby narrowing down his appeal. Or so it was thought. The reality is that by joining the NoI and redefining who he was, Clay was walking into a new world – ultimately presenting himself to an international constituency – which changed what he meant to people all over the world and which changed his destiny inside and outside the ring.

Shortly after the fight he went to New York and was seen everywhere with Malcolm X. But only a week later Malcolm X announced his departure from the NoI, his famous break with Elija Muhammad. Ali chose to stick with the NoI, and renounced his friendship with Malcolm. Why Cassius Clay did this is an interesting question. Malcolm was moving in a more political direction, away from the conservative and quietistic side of the NoI, towards a direct battle against racism. Ali – who had just been renamed as Ali by Elija Muhammad – was looking for a refuge from racism, and that was what he had found in the NoI. Ali was, ironically, trying to avoid political engagement by sticking to close to the NoI and staying away from Malcolm.

But the 1960s did not allow Ali the luxury of avoiding politics. As the years went by he was drawn deeper into political controversy. Ali went to Africa in 1964, at a time when no American sportstar – of any colour – had even noticed that continent’s existence. He went to Ghana where he was greeted by the President, Kwame Nkrumah, famous anti-colonialist and founder Pan African movement. Nkrumah was the first head of state to shake Ali’s hand. It was to be another eleven years before a US President would deign to shake Ali’s hand (since then, of course, they all want to shake his hand). In Ghana tens of thousands poured out to welcome Ali. They chanted his new name. Observers on this trip say that this was the moment Cassius Clay really became Muhammad Ali. Why did so many Ghanaians came to greet him – after all very few spoke English, almost none had access to a television? Why did they come to see Ali? First, boxing was popular there.

The Heavyweight championship of the world was a pretty transparent idea and people were pleased that such an eminent figure had recognised their newly independent country. More importantly, Ali was a an African American world champ who had repudiated his American identity and taken on an Islamic name and embraced his African patrimony. The Ghanaian masses knew that this was something new and exciting. They understood the meaning of this transformation long before it became apparent to American commentators.

The impact of this trip on Ali was tremendous. It was during this trip that Ali came to understand that he was accountable to a broader, international constituency, a constituency of the oppressed, and this new sense of accountability was to guide him over the next turbulent decade.

The test of his new identity came over Vietnam. By early 1966, the US was finding it difficult to impose its will on the Vietnamese and the draft call was expanded; the Heavyweight champion of the world was reclassified as 1A, eligible for military service. Ali was told the news at a training camp in Miami and, badgered all day by the press, he came out with the line: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” It may have been a spontaneous remark, but he stuck to it over the following years and even turned it into a poem:

Keep asking me, no matter how long,
On the war in Vietnam, I’ll still sing this song:
I ain’t got no quarrel with no Viet Cong.

At the time the critics asked: what does Muhammad Ali know about Vietnam? Read the rest of this entry »

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RIP: ‘His Reverence’ Richard Bashford

May 13, 2016 at 8:53 pm (ex-SWP, good people, humanism, Jim D, reformism, religion, RIP, workers)

Former councillor, Rev Richard Bashford.

Former Labour councillor and miners’ strike supporter Rev Richard Bashford

My friend, comrade and drinking companion Richard Bashford has died. He’d been in poor health for a long while, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected. But it’s still a shock: one more old crony departed; one less pal to consort and jaw with.

Richard was a strange and fascinating character, having been ordained into the C of E and serving as the vicar of Winson Green (one of the most deprived areas of Birmingham) for many years in the 1970s and 80’s, until he was elected as Labour councillor for Quinton – another deprived part of Birmingham, but unlike Winson Green, predominantly white working class. The people there recognised him as a committed champion of their local concerns, and loved him for it. One of his campaigns involved driving racists out of the area, even though it was predominantly white in the first place.

Richard was an entertaining story-teller, especially about himself: he claimed to have been a member of the International Socialists in London in the late 1960s or early 70s and to have departed the organisation over some dispute or another, having poured a pint of beer over the local IS organiser’s head. By the time I got to know him in Birmingham in the early 1980’s, he was a leftist member of the Labour Party and widely known as the “Red Rev” of Winson Green. He’d also set up a Youth Training Scheme in Handsworth/Winson Green, called Greensprings: its aim was to use government money to bring training and employment opportunities to young people, many of whom were from the Afro Caribbean community, and who had been in trouble with the police. This imitative was remarkably successful and turned round many lives; it was also typical of Bashford: ever the opportunist, he decided to use government money in the cause of social justice.

One of Richard’s managers at Greensprings was an ex-Lucas shop steward called Vic Collard – himself an eccentric, opinionated former IS member. Richard, Vic and I – sometimes joined by renagade SWP’er Tina Roe (who added some glamour as well as intellectual rigour to the proceedings) – met virtually every Sunday lunchtime in the 1980’s in various Brum pubs to drink, discuss politics, argue and laugh. They were golden days. Vic died a couple of years ago (but not before recording his account of being a working class member of IS, published by Workers Liberty) and now Richard’s gone. I haven’t seen Tina for a while: the old friendships are being erased by mortality.

A last memory of “His Reverence” (as friends often referred to him):

During the great miners’ strike of 1984/5 Richard was actively involved in the Birmingham Trades Council Miners’ Support Committee and helped set up a public meeting in Handsworth. A couple of striking miners from Maerdy, South Wales, attended, one of whom spoke from the platform. The audience was mainly Afro-Caribbean and Asian, and their support was fantastic, with a generous collection taken at the end. After the meeting Bashford, myself, the two Maerdy boys and a driver crushed into a car, heading for a pub. The Maerdy boys – still excited by the meeting – started expressing themselves in somewhat fruity language, before realising that a Man Of The Cloth was present: “So sorry, your Reverence, we forgot you were here”, one of them bleated apologetically. Bashford bellowed, from the back seat, “Don’t be a jerk: I was in the Merchant Navy!” The Maerdy boys were polaxed. And – by the way – the word Bashford used wasn’t “jerk”.

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RIP, Asad Shah: a good man struck down by fanatics

April 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, good people, humanism, Islam, islamism, Jim D, religion, religious right, RIP, scotland, secularism, tragedy)

This is genuinely moving: please read the family’s statement, and then the information about anti-Ahmadi prejudice in both Pakistan and the UK:

Shopkeeper Asad Shah
Asad Shah ‘met everyone with the utmost kindness’ Credit: SWNS 

Religion, colour and creed were irrelevant to the friendly shopkeeper (an Ahmadi Muslim) who died in an attack outside his store after wishing his customers happy Easter, his family has said.

In a moving tribute to 40-year-old Asad Shah, his family said they had been devastated by the loss of a “brilliant” man who recognised “that the differences between people are vastly outweighed by our similarities”:

Asad Shah family statement following death in Shawlands
(released on behalf of the family by Police Scotland, 30 March 2016)

On Thursday evening (24th March), a beloved husband, son, brother and everyone’s friend, Asad Shah, was taken away from us by an incomprehensible act. We are devastated by this loss.

A person’s religion, ethnicity, race, gender or socioeconomic background never mattered to Asad. He met everyone with the utmost kindness and respect because those are just some of the many common threads that exist across every faith in our world. He was a brilliant man, recognising that the differences between people are vastly outweighed by our similarities. And he didn’t just talk about this, he lived it each and every day, in his beloved community of Shawlands and his country of Scotland.

If there was to be any consolation from this needless tragedy, it came in the form of the spontaneous and deeply moving response by the good people of Shawlands, Glasgow and beyond. As a family, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to all who have organised and participated in the street vigils, online petitions and messages. You have moved us beyond words and helped us start healing sooner than we thought possible. You were Asad’s family as much as we are and we will always remain with you.

One of our brightest lights has been extinguished but our love for all mankind and hope for a better world in which we can all live in peace and harmony, as so emphatically embodied by Asad, will endure and prevail. Asad left us a tremendous gift and we must continue to honour that gift by loving and taking care of one another.

We will not be making any further comments on this tragedy and ask everyone, especially the media, to allow us the privacy we need to grieve and heal away from the public eye.

With deepest appreciation,

The Shah Family

______________________________________________________________________

 

Here’s a selection of absolutely vile anti-Ahmadi comments that led to OFCOM reprimanding Ummah Channel. Disgusting.

See also Wikipedia

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John Chilton: gentleman and scholar of jazz

February 26, 2016 at 10:29 pm (good people, history, jazz, Jim D, literature, music, RIP)

When I was a lad first getting into jazz I wanted a copy of Eddie Condon’s biography, ‘We Called It Music’, which I’d heard was an informative and entertaining read: but how to get my hands on a copy? The old memory’s not all it might be these days, so I cannot recall how I got the idea, but somehow I learned that a jazz trumpeter called John Chilton ran a bookshop in Bloomsbury, London and so I sent the shop a book token I’d been given, with a note asking if they had a second-hand copy. The book arrived a few days later, plus a friendly note from John and postal order for the change I was owed! That was my only direct dealing with John Chilton, who has died aged 83.

I did, however, get to hear John play on several occasions, starting with a Sunday lunchtime session at a rather grotty pub in Clerkenwell called the New Merlin’s Cave, and then at a number of rather more prestigious venues where his Feetwarmers were backing George Melly. In fact, the Feetwarmers became Melly’s backing group and John his de facto road manager and musical director from the mid-70’s until the early 2000’s.

But John had a parallel career as a jazz historian and writer. His seminal ‘Who’s Who Of Jazz’ was described by Phillip Larkin as “one of the essential jazz books” and his biographies of Coleman Hawkins, Louis Jordan, Sidney Bechet  and (together with Max Jones) Louis Armstrong won many awards and remain indispensable works on their subjects.

He also happened to be, by all accounts, a very decent and generous human being – well, he did, after all, send me that postal order.

Revisiting his ‘Who’s Who Of Jazz’ for the first time in a while, I’ve just noticed this forward by one Johnny Simmen of Zurich., which I think stands as a good, brief, epitaph:

“Rex Stewart, Bill Coleman, and Buck Clayton were the first to mention the name of John Chilton to me. They all said that he was a fine trumpeter and led a good band. ‘That boy is amazing’, Rex told me, ‘and I mean it’, he said, emphaising the point. Later on, when Bill and Buck expressed similarly flattering opinions, I concluded that Chilton had to be a pretty exceptional musician. I finally managed to hear a few of his solos and realised at once that they had not exaggerated one bit.

“Some time later, I received a letter from England, turning the envelope I saw to my surprise that the sender’s name was John Chilton. Perhaps he wanted me to investigate the possibilities of an engagement in Switzerland? No, there was no mention of this, but John – he had received my address from Bill Coleman – that he was in the process of writing a dictionary of American jazz musicians, from the very beginning up to the inclusion of musicians born before 1920. He asked if I had any information on doubtful points.

“From the tenor of the letter, I could tell at once that John is as deeply involved in the history of jazz and the men who play ‘the real thing’ as he is in his playing and arranging. Having gradually got fed up with phoney ‘jazz journalists’ over the years, I was glad to find out that John Chilton is an entirely different proposition. He has the ability, perseverence, and enthusiasm to tackle and finish such a demanding work. It is my opinion that this is one of the truly valuable books on jazz musicians. It is the work of a musician whose knowledge of jazz and love and devotion to ‘the cause’ is unsurpassed.”

Below: John on trumpet with the Bruce Turner Jump Band in 1961 (the still picture shows trombonist Johnny Mumford):

NB: Telegraph obit, here

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Harper Lee’s great novel of civil rights and social justice

February 20, 2016 at 9:15 am (Anti-Racism, civil rights, literature, posted by JD, poverty, Racism, RIP, United States)

Nelle Harper Lee: April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016

Megan Behrent wrote this in 2010 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Harper Lee’s  To Kill a Mockingbird. The article first appeared in the US  paper Socialist Worker (nothing to do with the British SWP):

AS NEW debates erupt about racism, provoked by the bigotry of the Tea Partiers and the rush to judgment about Shirley Sherrod, this summer marks the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which is being celebrated around the country with festivals, re-enactments, book clubs and even “mocktails.”

While the celebrations are in part a commercial gimmick to sell more books, they’re also a testament to the lasting legacy of a novel that is among the most read (and most loved) books of 20th century American literature. Lee’s only novel [prior to the controversial publication in 2015 of Go Set A Watchman – JD] earned her a Pulitzer Prize, has sold over 30 million copies, is taught in 75 percent of U.S. high schools, and has been titled “our national novel” by Oprah.

According to the BBC, its appeal goes beyond borders, beating the Bible (although not Pride and Prejudice) to come in fifth in a British poll for World Book Day. Among British librarians, it was the number one book they would recommend.

Narrated by Jean Louise Finch, better known as Scout, an articulate 6-year-old, Mockingbird covers two years in Maycomb, Ala.–from 1933 to 1935. Dismissed by some as simply a children’s book, the novel is far more than a simple coming-of-age story in the old South. For Scout, her brother Jem and friend Dill (based on Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote), growing up means being increasingly at war with the world of the Jim Crow South.

It’s as an anti-racist novel of the civil rights movement, with its deep commitment to social justice and full equality–this is what earned it such a wide appeal. While the limits of the novel’s politics have often, with good reason, been the focus of debate among scholars and critics, it’s because it stands against racism and for social justice that Mockingbird is listed second among “books that have made a difference” to one’s life, according to ABC News.

Set in the 1930s and published in 1960, the novel straddles both periods and can best be understood, as Patrick Chura argues in the article “Prolepsis and Anachronism: Emmett Till and the Historicity of To Kill a Mockingbird” in the Southern Literary Journal, “as an amalgam or cross-historical montage.”

Through her depiction of the fictional town of Maycomb during the 1930s, Harper Lee exposes the poverty and class inequalities that plague the town, while introducing the reader to the segregated world of the Jim Crow South. Published just five years after the Montgomery bus boycott and the brutal murder of Emmett Till, it’s clearly a novel inspired by the civil rights movement despite being set 30 years earlier.

While Lee has stated that no one trial provided the inspiration for the trial of Tom Robinson that dominates the second half of the novel, it’s clear that two cases in particular left their mark on the novel. In 1931, in Scottsboro, Ala., nine men ranging in ages from 12 to 19 were arrested and falsely accused of rape and assault. A lynch mob of hundreds gathered around the prison, forcing the National Guard to intervene.

Over the next decade, the “Scottsboro Boys,” as they became known, were national symbols of criminal injustice in the segregated South. An all-white jury convicted all nine men, with no due process and virtually no defense. Their case would later be taken up by the Communist Party, which helped bring it to national attention, mobilizing a campaign that put the Southern criminal justice system itself on trial.

In 1955, Emmett Till’s brutal murder became a lightning rod in the nascent civil rights movement as a symbol of the barbarism of Southern “justice.” Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago, was tortured and murdered while visiting Mississippi for the alleged “crime” of whistling at a white woman.

The trial of the two men responsible for his murder made front-page national news, as an all-white jury took just 67 minutes to exonerate Till’s murderers. The foreman noted, “It would have been a quicker decision…if we hadn’t stopped to drink a bottle of pop.”

Both cases galvanized a generation of activists and provided the political impetus for Harper Lee’s novel. In Mockingbird, Tom Robinson’s trial doesn’t spark a mass movement, but it nonetheless leaves an indelible print on the children’s changing consciousnesses, making it impossible for them to ever see their town–a microcosm of the South as whole–the same way again.

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THE FIRST half of the novel chronicles the adventures of Scout as the town and its social relations are introduced. The oppressive weight of Southern society and the alienation it produces are most clearly expressed through the unforgettable character of Boo Radley, the juvenile rebel turned adult recluse, one of the novel’s “mockingbirds,” who is the object of the children’s fascination.

Maycomb is a segregated Southern town where racism is unquestioned, poverty is everywhere, and one’s last name determines one’s place in a narrow-minded society. Being a Haverford “is synonymous with being jackass”; being a Cunningham means you’re poor, but refuse to take charity (i.e. the “good” poor); and being a Ewell means you don’t bathe, don’t go to school and do as little as possible except for signing relief checks (i.e. the “bad” poor).

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Meacher: “scholarly, considerate and magnificently right on the big issues.”

October 25, 2015 at 6:26 pm (democracy, good people, labour party, left, posted by JD, reblogged, reformism, RIP)

By Ann Pettifor (This blog originally appeared at LabourList)

MeacherMichael Meacher has died as he lived, seldom attracting any fuss or attention, and seldom burdening his friends and comrades. That makes me sad, as he was a man deserving of attention – and not just as he was dying.

He was marginalised for most of his political life, often by the same people that will today mourn him. And that disregard for, and dismissal, of his unerringly principled political stance was wrong – both in political and moral terms – because Michael Meacher was magnificently right on the key democratic, economic and environmental issues of the day.

He was often patronised by some Labour MPs, but his intellect, decency and courtesy meant he had few real enemies. Those who opposed or marginalized him were mostly wrong, often unpleasantly so.

His understanding of the key challenges facing our country was outlined in his latest book: the British State We Need. Its House of Commons launch went unheralded – attended by only two Labour MPs – Kelvin Hopkins and Andy Burnham, and a few of Michael’s real friends. Michael did not mind: instead he shared his knowledge and analyses generously, and focused his energies on supporting those both inside and outside the House of Commons willing to fight the good fight – for social justice, a sound economy and a sustainable and liveable environment. He not only maintained and regularly contributed to Left Futures but also sponsored and hosted progressive campaigns, most recently Economists Against Austerity.

I loved our discussions. Michael was a great intellectual – thoughtful, scholarly, well briefed and numerate. He was also considerate, enthusiastic and kind. A gentle man.

We first met more than thirty years ago – when he was a leading light in the ‘soft Left’ as it was then known, and in particular the Labour Coordinating Committee (LCC). Together with Stuart Weir and Frances Morrell, Michael had founded the LCC after the electoral debacle of 1979. I met and got to know Frances through the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. Appalled by the results of the ‘79 election when only eleven women were elected as Labour MPs – just a few more than fifty years earlier when eight were elected in 1929 – we were both active in the Labour Women’s Action Committee (LWAC). Michael consistently supported our campaign for positive action to expand the number of women selected as candidates for parliamentary seats.

At the LCC Frances, Stuart and Michael were a formidable team producing thoughtful and sharp analyses and strategies for the Labour Party after the election of Margaret Thatcher. Together they provided a much-needed antidote to the deeply ingrained anti-intellectualism of the Labour Party. Frances took a fiercely independent stand when she backed the right-wing trade unionist Frank Chappell in his call for the general management committees of Constituency Labour Parties to be bypassed, and for the vote instead to be extended to individual members: the “one Member one Vote”, OMOV campaign.

Looking back, both Michael and I were on the wrong side of that argument. As the election of Jeremy Corbyn proved just before Michael died, Frances was right. Sadly, she too has not lived to see the full impact of what at the time was her very unfashionable stance on the Left.

Fortunately Michael lived to witness the election of Jeremy Corbyn, which pleased him enormously. But he was not uncritical of his friends in the Campaign group, as one of his last blogs testifies. He maintained his economic acuity, political integrity, and indeed his passion, until the end.

He leaves a big vacuum in British politics – a vacuum unlikely to be filled by many in his party who are less principled, informed, decent, loyal and courteous. Which is why his abrupt departure from political life causes me great sadness.

Ann Pettifor is Director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics and is a member of John McDonnell’s Economic Advisory Committee

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Remembering Denis Healey – the good, the bad and the utterly hilarious

October 4, 2015 at 10:07 pm (history, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, RIP)

A generous tribute to the old bruiser from a long-standing opponent, Jon Lansman (first published at Jon’s blog, Labour Futures):

Denis_HealeyDenis Healey was a great figure for twenty-five years of Labour history, a politician with “a hinterland”, very well-read and deeply interested in art and music, and, though Jeremy Corbyn may not have approved, was a master of the brilliant put-down. Geoffrey Howe was forever diminished by that greatest of personal attacks – his attacks summed up as being “like being savaged by a dead sheep“.  He will be remembered fondly even by many of us for whom he was a bête noire in our youth in the 1970s.

As Chancellor under Wilson and Callaghan he was undoubtedly the Chancellor who sealed the end of the Keynesian approach that had been adopted by both Labour and Tory governments in the post-war period until then, and has only been reintroduced as Labour’s by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. He led the battle in cabinet for the cuts in public expenditure which were the price of IMF support for Sterling.

However, with hindsight, he was chancellor in the most difficult of times with rampant inflation that was largely a consequence of the Barber boom (named after the Tory Chancellor between 1970 and 1974) and the oil price shock, and he was unfairly blamed for the winter of discontent following Callaghan’s insistence in 1978 on a disastrously low 5% pay norm when inflation was still 10%. He did, after all, favour a system of price controls far more extensive than anything being proposed by Corbyn and McDonnell and his incomes policy, agreed through full cooperation with the TUC and trade union leadership, was clearly designed to benefit the low paid.

In the years of New Labour, he may quite reasonably have been regarded as on the left of the party.

As it happens, I have a grievance against Denis Healey. On 20 September 1981, in the latter stages of Labour’s deputy leadership election campaign (the first that involved party and union members not just MPs) in which Denis Healey had been challenged by Tony Benn, Healey accused me personally on live television of “orchestrating the heckling and booing” which he had faced on the previous day at a Labour demonstration in Birmingham and at a similar event in Cardiff that July.

I was, at 24, the secretary of Benn’s campaign committee but had not been present at either demonstration. I never received an apology from Denis Healey though I did from London Weekend Television which accepted that I had been libelled. By that evening, ITN’s News at 10 ran what Tony Benn recorded in his diary as “a devastating denunciation of Healey” and showed Healey merely saying that “if I made a mistake it was unwise“. But in spite of that, as is so often the case in these situations, the Mail and Express and sundry other right-wing newspapers continued to carry nasty stories about me for several days. And even now when the incident is referred to, which happens from time to time, the accusation is normally reported without any reference to the fact that the TV company settled out of court to avoid a libel action.

Still I bear Denis no grudge. Though he won the election by a whisker of 0.5%, he so nearly failed to do so. That he suffered such an embarrassment on the eve of the Annual TUC congress was very damaging to his position. The TGWU, though it’s executive had already decided to nominate the “spoiler” candidate, John Silkin, decided the following day to give its second round vote to Tony Benn. Walt Greendale, then chair of the union executive and one of the outstanding lay union activists of the period, told me at the time that he thought it would probably not have reached that decision if it hadn’t been for Healey’s foolishness.

I hold no grudge against Denis. When he came to campaign for Tony Benn in the Chesterfield by-election in 1984, I spent a large part of the day with him and, though there was still no apology, he was witty, charming and impeccably polite. He campaigned hard all day, topping it off with the wonderfully memorable speech at one of the packed public meetings which characterised that campaign which culminated in the words “Healey without Benn would be like Torvill without Dean” at which precise point the Chesterfield Labour banner behind him came crashing down. It brought the house down with laughter, and we all retired afterwards to a pub where Denis entertained everyone, playing the piano and singing songs alongside Tony. It was one of the funniest evenings I have ever spent. He is sorely missed.

(Update:- Major Denis Winston Healey speaking at the Labour Party Conference in 1945)

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Phil Woods RIP

October 3, 2015 at 10:34 am (jazz, Jim D, music, RIP, United States)

I’m ashamed to admit that I came late to Phil Woods and have only been listening intently to his superb playing since news of his death, aged 83, came through earlier this week.

He played his final gig on September 4th using an oxygen mask and, before the final number announced that due to emphysema, he was retiring with immediate effect. Due to his extensive work as a session man on pop records, many people who are not particularly into jazz, will have heard his playing without knowing it: he plays the sax solo on Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are, for instance.

But it is as one of the greatest of post-Parker altoists that he will be properly remembered. Here he is on a live recording from 1976 (‘Live From the Showboat’), in truly magisterial form on ‘Cheek To Cheek’, a difficult song not obviously suited to jazz improvisation – but Woods makes it all sound so easy:

Phil Woods (alto) with Harry Leahey, guitar Mike Melillo, piano Steve Gilmore, drums

H/t: Pete Neighbour, who wrote on facebook, “This is one of ‘THE’ Phil Woods tracks… I remember playing this endlessly when I first got it on vinyl; desperately trying to get somewhere near this masterful performance – and failing dismally I hasten to add. My mind struggling with the harmonic complexities that Phil found in this standard….. desperately trying not to copy…but wanting… so, so wanting to be influenced and to let some of his genius seep through my playing. Today, with everyone seemingly accorded ‘superstar status’ to listen to this brings home the meaning of true musical genius. I know all this sounds ‘gushing’……..but….if it does…..I don’t care!”

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