I’m not sure whether or not it’s entirely seemly to bring this up just at the moment; but I really do think that as well as honouring a heroic, courageous human being, we also need to ponder what boxing did to Mohammed Ali in the end, and has done to thousands of other fighters over the years.
I wrote this nearly ten years ago, on the occasion of Ali’s 65th birthday:
Above: a bloodied Henry Cooper battles Cassius Clay (as he then was) in 1963 (Getty images)
Muhammad Ali is 65 today and suffering from Parkinson’s disease – a cruel fate for a man once renowned for his physical and mental speed and agility. Perhaps surprisingly, the most fulsome tribute to Ali I’ve seen today is from the Daily Telegraph, which devotes five pages of its sports section to a splendidly illustrated tribute, plus part of the main paper’s leader column:
“…Who can rival him as a sporting hero? His achievement in a sport of which some disapprove was not just to knock men out. He was an artist, not a psychopath; knocked down by Henry Cooper in 1963, 40 years later he telephoned him to reminisce. Psychic presence and witty self-promotion brought him double success in the ring and as a civil rights champion.
“Ali showed moral as well as physical courage. He refused to serve in Vietnam out of religious principle, he explained, but added ‘No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger’. His career seemed at an end, yet he made an amazing comeback in 1974 in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. More recently, when asked why he thought he would have beaten Mike Tyson, Ali simply tapped his temple: he was always the cleverer fighter.
“We need heroes, and Ali really is the greatest”.
Once over the shock of the voice of the retired colonels of Tory middle England praising a black, Muslim, civil rights activist and opponent of the Vietnam war, I have to say that I don’t dissent from any of that. Ali most certainly was (and is) a brave, generous and thoroughly admirable human being.
But the “sport” at which he excelled (and that may also be responsible for his Parkinson’s) is a foul business. I don’t think it should be called a “sport” at all: the object of boxing, unlike any other sport (including dangerous sports), is to render the opponent unconscious by repeated blows to the head and body. Since 1945 there have been 361 deaths in the ring, and the number of boxers reduced to shambling, punch-drunk wrecks by brain damage is uncounted. That’s not to mention permanent eye damage (up to and including blindness), ruptured eardrums, broken noses and jaws, smashed teeth, the famous ‘cauliflower ear’ and renal damage.
It has long amazed me that so few liberals and lefties seem at all concerned about boxing, and some even support it. The main reason for this is, I suspect, because boxing is traditionally a proletarian “sport” and a way for poor young men (often black or from other ethnic minorities) to achieve something in life. But that’s exactly the reason that socialists should oppose boxing: we want a society where that sort of barbarism simply isn’t required as a way to escape poverty, prejudice and lack of opportunity.
One of the few socialists to write extensively opposing boxing was the American Trotskyist James P. Cannon. Commenting on the death of 20-year-old Georgie Flores in the ring at Madison Square Garden, he wrote:
“It is a commentary on the times and the social environment out of which the boxing business rises like a poisonous flower from the dunghill, that nobody came forward with the simple demand to outlaw prize fighting, as it was outlawed in most states of this country up till the turn of the century. Cock-fighting is illegal; it is considered inhumane to put a couple of roosters in a pit and incite them to spur each other until one of them keels over. It is also against the law to put bulldogs into the pit to fight for a side bet. But our civilisation – which is on the march to be sure – has not yet advanced to the point where law and public opinion forbid men, who have nothing against each other, to fight for money and the amusement of paying spectators. Such spectacles are part of our highly touted way of life”.
“I was one of you. I was a typical Canadian. I grew up on the hockey rink and spent my teenage years on stage playing guitar. I had no criminal record. I was a bright student and maintained a strong GPA in university. So how could one of your people end up in my place? And why is it that your own people are the ones turning against you at home? The answer is that we have accepted the true call of Santa Claus and his reindeer.”
PUTIN: HANDS OFF UKRAINE!
‘The Stop the War Coalition opposes imperialist interventions wherever they occur, and by whatever government carries them out. We didn’t stop the war in Iraq, but we did create a mass anti war opinion in Britain and throughout the world. That tide of anti war opinion has made itself felt in the past few days. We now have to reject all attempts at intervention in Ukraine and call upon President Putin to to develop a foreign policy which is based on equality and justice, and the rights of national sovereignty. We will demonstrate on Saturday against this intervention. It is the aim of the anti-war movement to ensure that Putin is forced to abandon the attack on Ukraine now that the country with which Russia is supposed to enjoy a ‘special relationship’ has carried out an exercise in national self-determination.’
[NB: if it’s not obvious…ONLY JOKING!]
Mel Smith has just died.
He was great in sketch shows and also in the more straight role of Colin in Colin’s Sandwich.
Some videos of him and the Not the Nine O’Clock News gang doing their spoof songs.
Gob On you (Punk)
I Like Trucking
Country and Western
Mel Smith, who has died at the age of 60, had a perfect face for comedy. Hangdog and irritable, Smith’s often had the demeanour of a man who had just been trapped in a lift for 12 hours with an angry bluebottle. His gift for comedy is rightly recognised, but a look at his 40-year career reveals a more versatile talent.
The son of a bookie, Smith was born in Chiswick in 1952 and attended Latymer Upper School and Oxford University where he became president of OUDS. At the Oxford Playhouse, he directed a production of The Tempest which led to his being hired by the Royal Court as an assistant director.
This was the Royal Court of the mid-Seventies, a tremendously fertile period when playwrights such as David Edgar and Caryl Churchill broke through. However, Smith’s career stalled after an unhappy spell at the Young Vic and he decided to take over his dad’s betting shop. Then he got a call from John Lloyd.
Lloyd had created a satirical sketch show, Not the Nine O’Clock News, with a short-but-already-troubled history. It was 1979 and, in a year of a General Election, the BBC had pulled the pilot episode because they feared it took too overtly political. Lloyd decided to recast the show, and that was when Smith was asked to join.
Smith’s performances throughout the series’s four-year run are uniformally good. He played it beautifully straight as the Hush Puppy-wearing professor who has reared a rather urbane gorilla called Gerald. He was also the terribly polite customer who wanted to buy a “gramophone”, enduring the derision of Rowan Atkinson’s shop assistant with a stiff-upper-lip decency.
Although these were only three-minute sketches, Smith had the talent to completely immerse himself in the characters he played and make them memorable.
Of course, Not the Nine O’Clock News also starred Smith’s long-term collaborator Griff Rhys Jones. The pair formed the TV production company Talkback (which they eventually sold for £62million) and created Alas Smith and Jones, another successful BBC comedy show. It became famous for the pair’s wonderful quasi-philosophical face-to-face dialogues, which were filmed in profile.
But aside from these hit series, Smith should also be praised for the now largely forgotten Colin’s Sandwich. In this 1988 sitcom he played Colin Watkins, a British Rail clerical worker who dreamed of becoming the next Stephen King. The series was peppered with long monologues which Smith delivered brilliantly in the style of Tony Hancock.
However Smith’s comedy appearances were fewer and further between after this, and he concentrated largely on directing. Although the results were variable, he directed the underrated The Tall Guy (1988), which featured a brilliantly awful pastiche of West End musicals called Elephant, about the life of John Merrick. A decade later, he stepped in to direct Bean (based on Rowan Atkinson’s extraordinarily successful TV show) when the original director was fired.
The last 15 years of his life saw a marked reduction in his output. He had become addicted to painkillers and was hospitalised with stomach ulcers.
His last appearance was in Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge earlier this year. (By a curious coincidence, his first TV role was in Poliakoff’s Bloody Kids in 1979.) Smith played Schlesinger, a jobsworth hotel manager bristling with hostility towards Louis Lester’s black jazz band.
It was a neat, perfectly judged performance and an indication of how, had he lived, Smith might have developed into a successful character actor as well as a deceptively talented comedian.
This seems to be some kind of spoof, but I’ve no idea of what…
Billy Delta on the run
Redfriars School was founded in 1877 by its eccentric benefactor Anthony Cliff, as a special fee-paying school for Trotskyists, so that they could enjoy the benefits of a public school education, far from prying eyes.
Since Cliff passed away, Acting Headmaster Algernon Stallinicos has struggled manfully to maintain the school’s traditions, with the help of the Chair of the Governors, Sir Charlie, the Seventh Baronet Kimber.
Billy Delta is the Creep of the Remove. Billy is well-known for being able to peel an orange in his pocket. His appetites are vast. He is always on the prowl, and usually loses his trousers. Billy is waiting for a ten-bob postal order.
The whole thing here
“Mr Fraser is a skillful and meticulous writer, twice as good as Buchan, and twenty times better than Fleming” – Auberon Waugh
“George MacDonald Fraser has never claimed to be anything but the editor of ‘The Flashman papers,’ discovered by luck during an auction at an English country house. When the first ‘packet’ of papers was published, in 1969, several well-gulled reviewers genuinely hailed it as a grand literary discovery (one of them going as far as to say that there had been nothing like it since the unearthing of Boswell’s diaries). It is the deftest borrowing since Tom Stoppard helped himself to the walk-on parts of Rosencrantz and Guilderstern.”
The first book of the series, entitled simply Flashman deals with the cowardly bully’s expulsion from Rugby School (as depicted in Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays), his subsequent entry into the army and his “service” in the First Afghan War of 1841-2. Here’s a brief taster:
…[L]ooking back I can say that, all unwittingly, Kabul and the army were right to regard Elphy’s [ie General William Elphinstone’s] arrival as an incident of the greatest significance. It opened a new chapter: it was a prelude to events that rang round the world. Elphy, ably assisted by McNaghton, was about to reach the peak of his career; he was going to produce the most shameful, ridiculous disaster in British military history.
No doubt Thomas Hughes would find it significant that in a such a disaster I would emerge with fame, honour, and distinction — all quite unworthily acquired. But you, having followed my progress so far, won’t be surprised at all.
Let me say that when I talk of disasters I speak with authority. I have served at Balaclava, Cawnpore, and Little Big Horn. Name the biggest born fools who wore uniform in the nineteenth century — Cardigan, Sale, Custer, Raglan, Lucan — I knew them all. Think of all the conceivable misfortunes that can arise from combinations of folly, cowardice, and sheer bad luck, and I’ll give you chapter and verse. But I still state unhesitatingly, that for pure, vacillating stupidity, for superb incompetence to command, for ignorance combined with bad judgement — in short, for the true talent for catastrophe — Elphy Bey stood alone. Others abide our question, but Elphy outshines them all as the greatest military idiot of our own or any other day.
Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganised enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with the touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wraught complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.
NB: Flashman, the first of a series of twelve of books (or “excerpts” from the “Flashman papers”), was published in 1969. George MacDonald Fraser, an old-school Tory and war veteran, died in 2008 having described Tony Blair (to Christopher Hitchens) as “not just the worst prime minister we’ve ever had, but by far the worst prime minister we’ve ever had,” adding: “It makes my blood boil to think of the British soldiers who’ve died for that little liar.”
“This is morally fraught terrain, between the first sound of the bugle and the news of triumph or disgrace, which it takes a serious man to cover, whether saddled on a mettlesome charger or flourishing only a pen. And, since history is often recounted by victors, why not have it related for once by one who is something worse than a loser? Imagine if King Hal had kept Falstaff on hand as his bosom chum until the eve of Agincourt and you have a sense of Flashy’s imperishable achievement.”
Stupid Wanker ‘s Expert Writer writes:
Muammar Gaddafi’s 42‑year dictatorship reached its endgame as opposition forces reached Tripoli, the Libyan capital, this week.
Fierce battles were taking place in streets across the city as Stupid Wanker went to press.
The end of Gaddafi’s regime is a cause for celebration. But the nature of the struggle in Libya is now fundamentally different from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that originally inspired it.
It became so once Western forces decided to appropriate it.
When David Cameron boasts about his pride in the role the British military have played in a revolution, it speaks volumes.
This was no longer a rebellion that would challenge Western wealth and power.
The popular revolution got to the brink of bringing Gaddafi down in February, but was pushed back by his armed forces, so they should have just accepted that they’d lost.
The sheer brutality of the repression led many Libyans to call for the imposition of a no-fly zone, which seemed like a neutral way to save lives. But they should have allowed themselves to be killed.
But the United Nations voted for full-scale military intervention. This opened the door for Western governments to re-insert themselves into the region after the loss of their dictator friends in Tunisia and Egypt.
The imperialist powers hijacked the Libyan revolt and bent it to their own interests—trade contracts and international oil deals. They feel they have earned their right to dictate terms to any new government. So Gaddafi, who was at least anti-Western, should have stayed in power.
However, opposition forces currently united against the regime may well fragment over the extent of the West’s role in rebuilding Libya.
Nato has conducted more than 8,500 bombing raids since 19 March. Special forces worked on the ground, and drones have bombed and collected intelligence from the skies.
Finding money for war on Libya has never been a problem—despite the Tories’ “austerity drive”. British jobs and services for British workers, we say!
Cameron is keen to spin this war as a success for “humanitarian intervention”. It isn’t; because we say it isn’t. We don’t care what the people of Libya think.
But the West’s motives were never humanitarian. If our rulers really care about democracy and freedom, why do they not back opposition movements in Bahrain, Yemen or Saudi Arabia? We would, obviously, support such interventions, otherwise that particular part of our argument would make no sense.
The answer is that the dictators there are friendly to the West. Western leaders have never had any qualms about working with dictators—just as they had no trouble working with Gaddafi until after the Libyan revolt began.
They may have derided him as a “mad dog” in the past, but this didn’t stop Tony Blair embracing him in 2004 and again in 2007.
Whoever takes the place of the hated Gaddafi, one thing looks certain—the West will ensure it is a regime it can do business with. So the rebellion has been a waste of time.
The fall of the Libyan regime might help our rulers regain a foothold in the region and may make them more confident to intervene elsewhere. So it would have been better if the rebels had lost.
But the fall of Gaddafi carries contradictions for them. The sight of yet another brutal dictator brought down after decades of rule may embolden those fighting back elsewhere—especially against Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
And if the spirit of revolt that has spread across the region is invigorated, the same leaders who today cheer the end of Gaddafi may again find their interests threatened by a movement that has anti-imperialism at its core: so we’re not sure what we’re saying at all; in fact, we just spout bollocks and hope our readers are too stupid to notice
We’ve been getting away with it for forty years!
Moaning Stalinist, Britain’s socialist daily, comments:
Let us be crystal clear: the use of rape in war is completely unacceptable. If the allegation raised by the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor to the effect that the Gadaffi regime has been encouraging this practice proves true, then this newspaper will have no hesitation in condemning this outrage, as we have always done.
But that has to be a big “if”: given the deceitfulness of the Nato powers and the willingness of the ICC to do imperialism’s bidding against any small power that dares stand up for itself, these allegations must be taken with a very considerable pinch of salt. Remember the farrago of Western lies, deceit and duplicity that Wikileaks has exposed.
And with his decision to authorise the deployment of Apache attack helicopters, Prime Minister David Cameron has now openly committed this country to a war of aggression against Libya.
There can no longer be any resort to the flimsy excuse of preventing civilian casualties.
It was always a shameless cover for naked aggression and now even that insubstantial cover is blown.
Withgout possibility of argument, Britain is now involved in open war with Libya and Mr Cameron takes his place alongside Iraq warmonger Tony Blair as a candidate for an eventual war crimes hearing.
The actions of the British and French governments in committing attack helicopters can find absolutely no justification in resolution 1973. Yet the mainstream media has had little to say about this development, no doubt because the vast majority of them are little more than cheerleaders for the warmongers, insatiable in their desire for domination.
And there’s even less news about direct assassination raids aimed at Muammar Gadaffi’s various compounds.
There’s nothing of the preservation of civilian lives in that, given that the compounds are mainly in urban areas. Such attacks are a direct contravention of the UN resolution as an open attempt at regime change.
The Libyan rebels, who rose up demanding democratic reform and an end to state repression, have been unwittingly transformed into the infantry shock troops in an imperialist strategem.
French, Italian and British military intelligence agents have been holding meetings with former Gadaffi supporters, now born-again democrats, to lay down the terms for continuing military backing to their insurrection. these terms include the honouring of the accords entered into by Gadaffi with imperialist governments and transnational corporations advantageous and profitable to the Western side.
While the rebels were capering across the desert from town to town, occupying them in quick succession and bringing happy grins to the faces of the US, there was no question of direct intervention apart from the so-called “no-fly zone.” The moment, however, that the government’s forces retake an oil-significant town or city, it all changes.
Thus Gadaffi’s opponents have been encouraged by France and Britain to spurn mediation offers by Venezuela and the African Union and to continue the armed struggle: something that we, as supporters of the Bolshevik revolution naturally oppose.
This was and remains the wrong advice, based on the selfish priorities of the Nato powers, rather than an objective assessment of the situation in Libya. From the outset of the Nato attack, the Moaning Stalinist warned: “There is no benefit for the Libyan people in a long drawn-out military conflict.” The claim that Gadaffi’s troops have been given medication such as Viagra to encourage rape, if true, only goes to further prove the wisdom of our words.
If these horrifying claims are true, then by deliberately prolonging the conflict and upping the ante against Mr Gadaffi, the Nato forces are at least as responsible for the rapes as the pro-Gadaffi security forces.
On other pages:
* John Pilchard explains how its all Israel’s fault and Barrack Obama is a glossy Uncle Tom
* Top racing tips and all your favourite boxing and cookery news