The death of Carl Sargeant and the backlash against women

November 14, 2017 at 4:18 pm (conspiracy theories, crime, Daily Mail, Human rights, Jim D, labour party, law, misogyny, tragedy, Wales, women)

Let’s be clear from the outset: the death of Carl Sargeant was a tragedy and no-one should be using it to score points or make political capital.

That’s why I’ve hesitated before writing anything on the subject, and I certainly have no intention of seeking to pre-empt the findings of either the coroner or the independent inquiry ordered by Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones.

The anguish of Carl Sargeant’s family and close personal friends is entirely understandable: but that doesn’t mean we have to simply go along with what they say.

Less still do we have to go along with those who are not family or friends of Carl Sargeant, but simply people who think the whole issue of sexual harassment in politics has ‘gone too far’, and have seized upon this tragedy as – supposedly – evidence that the whole sexual harassment business is now ‘out of hand’, etc, etc, with wrongly accused men as the main victims.

From the outset of the sexual harassment in politics scandal, we were assured by Charles Moore in the Telegraph, that women were now on top and the worry is whether they will share power with men or just “crush us”. Peter Hitchens, in the Mail On Sunday, warned that the “squawking women” would end up in niqabs if they carried on. Meanwhile, David ‘Mr Somewhere’ Goodhart tweeted that it was only the women of the metropolitan elite who were bothered about sexual harassment.

As news of the Carl Sargeant suicide broke, the Daily Mail’s front page claimed he’d been “THROWN TO THE WOLVES” and denied natural justice by Carwyn Jones and the Labour party.

But what, exactly, is Carwyn Jones supposed to have done wrong? As far as I can judge, he did indeed do things (as he has said), “by the book”. Carl Sargeant was, apparently, made aware of the general nature of the allegations, but not (at the early stage of the investigation) given precise details or the names of his accusers: he would, as I understand it, have received this information in due course and then been given every opportunity to defend himself. In the meanwhile, he was dismissed from his ministerial post and suspended from the Labour party. Carl Sargeant’s family were not satisfied, which is understandable; opportunistic calls for Jones’s resignation, eminating from the Tories, sections of the press, some in Plaid and even some Labour people, are not.

It may be that the coroner and/or the independent inquiry will point to shortcomings in the way the case against Carl Sargeant was handled, and it may be that more support should be offered to all those mixed up in allegations of this sort – especially when peoples’ mental health is at risk. But it would be outrageous for anyone to seek to use this tragedy to downplay the seriousness of sexual harassment, or to deny its prevalence in politics and public life.

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The Death of Stalin: history as tragedy *and* farce

October 22, 2017 at 2:02 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, cinema, comedy, film, Jim D, murder, parasites, stalinism, terror, thuggery, tragedy, truth, USSR)

Communism is the positive abolition of private property, of human self-alienation, and thus the real appropriation of human nature through and for man. It is, therefore, the return of man himself as a social, ie really human being, a complete and conscious return which assimilates all the wealth of previous development. Communism as fully-developed naturalism is humanism and as a fully-developed humanism is naturalism” – Marx, Third Economic and Philosophical Manuscript, 1844 (Marx’s own emphases).

Stalinism, that murderous negation of Marx’s humanism and the emancipatory ideals of October 1917, seems to be making a minor comeback in British politics. It’s no secret that at least two of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest advisers are dyed-in-the-wool Stalinists and (I’m told) cod-Stalinist iconography and rhetoric is worryingly prevalent within Young Labour. That semi-official mouthpiece of middle class liberalism, the Guardian, recently published a letter defending the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939, the alliance between Stalin and Hitler that set off the Second World War.

Since most present-day Stalinists and would-be Stalinists are (in my experience) not particularly interested in either Marxist theory or serious history, perhaps farce is the best way to begin to educate them. The Death of Stalin bills itself as “loosely based on a true story” and it’s certainly the case that director Amando Iannucci has taken plenty of liberties with the facts surrounding the death of the mass-murdering tyrant in March 1953: as historian Richard Overy has pointed out, Vyacheslav Molotov was not foreign minister when Stalin died; Marshal Zukov did not command the Red Army at the time, having been exiled to the provinces; Krushchev, not Malenkov chaired the meeting to re-organise the government; and Beria had ceased to be head of security in 1946.

But all this is really beside the point: the film is a caricature, and like all the best caricatures, it tells a fundamental truth: that the danse macabre of these apparatchiks as they jostled for position following the monster’s death was as grotesque, absurd and cynical as anything Iannuncci has previously satirised in his depictions of contemporary bourgeois politics (The Thick of It / In the Loop and Veep), but more deadly. And, of course, it is all a million miles from the ideals of the Bolshevik revolution that these gargoyles had strangled.

The scenes immediately following the apparent ‘death’ (and brief, terrifying revival, before real death) contain at least two real truths: that the apparatchiks dithered over whether to call a doctor for several interconnected reasons: fear of  being seen as disloyal, the wish to see Stalin gone in order to succeed him, and secondly, the fact that many doctors  had been murdered, imprisoned or ceased practicing as a result of the so-called Doctors’ Plot, an antisemitic campaign in which senior medics were accused, preposterously, of belonging to a “Zionist terror gang” (today’s leftist “anti-Zionists” take note).

Is this a suitable subject for comedy – even comedy as consciously dark as this? Mr Overy thinks not, complaining that whereas “the audience reaction to Downfall was serious reflection about the Hitler dictatorship … The Death of Stalin suggests Soviet politics can be treated as opera buffa”.

Again, I beg to differ: though the film is genuinely very funny, the laughs are frequently brought to a sudden end with the sounds of pistol-shots as prisoners are summarily dispatched, a body rolls down the stairs as a torture session is briefly revealed, and the sadist, mass murderer and rapist Lavrentiy Beria (brilliantly portrayed by Simon Russell Beale) casually orders a soldier to “shoot her before him – but make sure he sees it.”

The diabolical figure of Beria dominates the film like a monstrous, manipulative, poisonous toad whose eventual cum-uppance (another historical inaccuracy, by the way; he wasn’t executed until December 1953, months after the period covered by the film) had me silently cheering – and then feeling ashamed: had Beria, from beyond the grave, degraded my humanity to the degree that I was entertained by a brutal killing?

In fact, it is Russell Beale’s extraordinary performance as Beria that is, simultaneously, the film’s greatest strength and its central weakness: so satanically malevolent is he, that the other apparatchiks seem almost likeable – or, at least, pitiable. Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) comes over as a nervous, failed stand-up comedian, Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor – Hank from The Larry Sanders Show) is weak, vain and pathetic, while Molotov (Michael Palin) is simply a tragic, broken man, not least when Beria tricks him into denouncing his own wife, in her presence.

So this is not definitive history, and makes no pretence of being so. But it tells a real truth: that Stalin and his courtiers were at least as venal and corrupt as the very worst bourgeois politician, and a thousand times more murderous (OK: Trump may yet cause me to reassess that judgement). They, and the regime they created out of the ruins of the October revolution, had nothing to do with socialism or communism – not, that is, if like Marx, you believe that communism must be “fully-developed naturalism [and] humanism.” It’s a tragedy that a new generation of would-be socialists (some not even born when the workers of Eastern Europe overthrew Stalinism in 1989-90) are going to have to learn this lesson from scratch. Let us hope that Iannucci’s darkly comic and horrifically wise film sets at least some young comrades on a journey to the truth.

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Trump: adding ignorant insult to Puerto Rico’s injuries

October 2, 2017 at 12:42 pm (climate change, environment, Human rights, Latin America, posted by JD, tragedy, Trump, United States)

Comment: Danny Katch

Left: Trump on the golf course; right: Flooding in Puerto Rico

PUERTO RICO is facing a triple disaster that includes the worst the world has to offer in the early 21st century.

An unprecedented sequence of powerful hurricanes fueled by climate change. An infrastructure that was already degraded by years of debt and austerity imposed by hedge fund vultures and colonial overlords in Washington. And now a White House inhabited by a racist modern-day Nero who fiddles on Twitter while 3.4 million U.S. citizens drown.

Millions of people–with and without family on the island–are condemning Trump’s response and scrambling to mobilize help, which the richest and most powerful government in the world should already have been providing.

But we need to make sure that, even as people do whatever they can during the immediate life-threatening crisis, we’re building political alternatives to disaster number four, already on the horizon: The long-term plans in government and on Wall Street to take advantage of this crisis to permanently steal Puerto Rico’s remaining resources from its people.

Hurricane Maria–which struck Puerto Rico head-on less than two weeks after the Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc, knocking out power to 1 million people–has caused a stunning amount of damage in Puerto Rico.

According to FEMA’s update on September 30, only one hospital on the island is fully operational, 59 are partially operational, and four are closed. Just 10 percent of the island has cell phone service, less than half the island has drinking water, and only nine out of 52 wastewater treatment plants are operational.

And, of course, the entire electrical grid is still down, forcing the island to rely on fuel-based generators. Fuel is being rotated to make sure the functioning hospitals have continuous power. Read the rest of this entry »

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The lovely, gentle, sad but joyous jazz star: Lester Young

August 26, 2017 at 7:11 pm (jazz, Jim D, love, song, The blues, tragedy)


Above: Pres bursts into jazz immortality in 1936

Pres, or Prez (“The President of all Saxophone Players”, so named by Billie Holiday), died in New York on 15 March 1959. He was born in Woodville Mississippi on 27 August 1909, so perhaps that happier anniversary should be Lester Young Day.

“Lester was a dancer, a dreamer, a master of time and its secrets. Foremost among them: equilibrium. He never stumbles on the tightrope of swing, of tension and relaxation held in perfect ying-yang balance. He is a juggler, a high-wire artist without a net, a diver, a gambler, a gamboler.

The discoveries, the clear profundities of late Lester have been little understood. Some of his languor, no doubt, was the result of the need for conservation of energy. But what he made of this necessity! He was indeed a mother of invention….

“Long live gentle Lester, who loved life despite what it had done to him, and who never stopped reaching out, gifts in hand. To hell with those who call your strength weakness because you turned the pain inward, upon yourself rather than others, and offer simplistic explanations for your singular fate. Perhaps they envy you your immortality” – Dan Morgenstern, in ‘A Lester Young Reader’, edited by Lewis Porter, pub: Smithsonian, 1991.

I’ve posted this clip of Lester’s final encounter with his platonic love, Billie Holiday, several times before. But there may still be people who haven’t seen it. Watch Billie’s face as Pres (the second soloist, following Ben Webster) struggles through his slightly strained, but beautifully-constructed solo: it’s pure love in its most refined and intense manifestation; a couple of years after this 1957 TV show (on which Lester was not booked to appear, but turned up nevertheless) both Billie and Lester would be dead:

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I Called Him Morgan

July 28, 2017 at 5:11 pm (cinema, film, humanism, jazz, mental health, music, posted by JD, tragedy)

Although released in the US last year, Kasper Collin’s I Called Him Morgan comes to UK screens for the first time this week. Jordan Hoffman in today’s Guardian gives it five stars and writes, “I Called Him Morgan isn’t just the greatest jazz documentary since Let’s Get Lost, it’s a documentary-as-jazz. Spell-binding, mercurial, hallucinatory, exuberant, tragic … aw hell, man, those are a lot of heavy words, but have you heard Lee Morgan’s music? More importantly, do you know the story of his life?”

Other reviews:

Kasper Collin’s I Called Him Morgan accomplishes the impossible. It renders the story as a Greek tragedy, in which everyone not only has reasons, but spells them out: Morgan, his wife, and the “other woman,” accompanied by a chorus of witnesses like Wayne Shorter and Bennie Maupin. This is one of the most unconventional, spellbinding music-related documentaries ever made.

— Gary Giddins (jazz & film critic, USA)

Kasper Collin’s excellent documentary “I Called Him Morgan,” a sleek, sorrowful elegy for the prodigiously gifted, tragically slain bop trumpeter Lee Morgan, is as much a visual and textural triumph as it is a gripping feat of reportage. Binding its charismatic gallery of talking heads with woozy, moody evocations of Morgan’s New York City — courtesy of ravishing 16mm lensing by the ingenious cinematographer Bradford Young — Collin’s film is most moving when it delves past the expected struggles with fame, creation and addiction to etch the unusual, affectionate and finally fatal relationship between Morgan and his common-law wife Helen.

— Guy Lodge, VARIETY

Modern music was scarred by the death, at thirty-three, of the trumpeter Lee Morgan, who was shot in a Lower East Side jazz club in 1972 by his common-law wife, Helen Morgan. The Swedish director Kasper Collin’s documentary “I Called Him Morgan” is anchored by the sole recorded interview that she granted, in 1996, shortly before her death. Collin reveals the vast historical range of her story, starting with her move, in the nineteen-forties, from her native North Carolina to New York, where she confronted the limited employment opportunities for black women and built a sort of freestyle artistic salon. Interviews with Morgan’s great musical cohorts, such as Wayne Shorter and Albert (Tootie) Heath, reveal the jazz circuit’s high-risk behind-the-scenes energies, involving fast cars, sexual adventures, and—in Morgan’s case—drugs. From the story of one complex relationship, Collin builds a resonant portrait of an enduringly influential scene and era.

— Richard Brody, THE NEW YORKER

While it’s technically correct to call “I Called Him Morgan” a documentary, Kasper Collin ’s brilliant film plays like first-rate drama as it tells the tragic story of Lee Morgan. He’s the bop trumpet prodigy who died of wounds after his common-law wife, Helen More, shot him on a snowy night in 1972 in a jazz club in New York’s East Village. The tragedy was shared; Helen, as the movie makes clear, was a compelling figure in her own right, a woman of depth and passion who rose from rural poverty in North Carolina.

— Joe Morgenstern, WALL STREET JOURNAL

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Khadija Saye: artist

June 18, 2017 at 8:08 pm (Art and design, good people, humanism, posted by JD, RIP, tragedy)

Khadija, pictured left, and her mother Mary Mendy are believed to have died in the fireKhadija Saye , pictured left, and her mother Mary Mendy are believed to have died in the fire (Credit: Facebook )

Waldermar Januszczak in today’s Sunday Times:

Amid the preeners and posers, she warmed hearts
I never met Khadija Saye. My only qualification for writing about her id that I knew her art. But I can say that she was not, as the MP David Lammy well-meaningly puts it, “an emerging artist”. Real artists are never emerging. They have already emerged.

To understand why I say that you need to imagine the Venice Biennale. Every two years the entire international art world descends upon the tiny islands of Venice to argue about who is best at this or that. They call it “the Olympics of modern art”. It’s a crazy, frantic and occasionally horrible event that chews up artists and spits them out.

This year Khadija Saye showed up in Venice. Indeed, she is still showing there, until November 26, in an exhibition at the Diaspora Pavilion. I’d never heard of her before. She was showing a set of small and haunting photographs of women in African dress. Some were self-portraits., Others were pictures of her mother. All had an ancient look to them as if they had been discovered in some 19th-century scrapbook left behind by a retired colonel.

This ancient look was the result of a process called wet collodion tintype. It’s an early photographic process that results in an especially soft and haunting array of grey and black.

In my review in Culture on May 21, I said Khadija “heaps poetry and sadness onto her imagery”. In a biennale full of posturing and preening, games-playing and posing, her heartwarming portraits, with their palpable sadness and their sense of a lost colonial past, saved the day.

So no, I’ve never met Khadija Saye. But I know she stood out from the crowd. And that she was a true artist.

Image may contain: one or more people
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Image may contain: one or more people
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Grenfell Tower: ruling class criminal negligence

June 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm (campaigning, capitalism, class, Conseravative Party, crime, hell, Human rights, Jim D, Tory scum, tragedy)

“People were waving scarves, flashing phones, torches, flapping their windows back and forth, crying for help … At first people [on the ground below] were trying to help them, pushing at cordons. I could see the smoke billowing behind them and in some cases I could see the flames, until they disappeared … [by 4am] there was no sign of life. Everyone was in a resigned state of shock. We couldn’t do anything and we were coming to accept the fire brigade couldn’t do anything either … I’ll never forget the sound of those screams: the screams of children and grown men” (would-be rescuer Robin Garton, quoted in The Times).

The faces look out from the newspaper, smiling in happier times. Many of them black or Middle Eastern with names like Khadija Kaye, Jessica Urbano  and Ali Yawa Jafari. But also Sheila Smith and Tony Disson. Then you read about people throwing their children out of high windows in the hope that someone would catch them, people jumping (some on fire) to almost certain death (shades of 9/11) and mother of two Rania Ibrham sending a Snapchat video to a friend who described it: “She’s praying and she’s saying ‘Forgive me everyone, goodbye’.”

This all happened in 2017 in one of the wealthiest boroughs in London, under a Tory council and a Tory government. But these people weren’t wealthy: they were amongst the poorest in the city, living cheek by jowl with people of enormous wealth.

It turns out that the local residents’ group, the Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly warned the council and the so-called Tenant Management Organisation (ie the landlord) that a disaster was coming. In November of last year Edward Daffarn published a post on the Grenfell Action Group blog, entitled Playing with Fire, in which he warned that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation (KCTMO) and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”

Local (Labour) councillor Judith Blakeman attempted to raise concerns with council officials and the management body “ad nauseam” since refurbishment of the block began in 2014: “They kept reassuring us that everything was fine” she said.

The refurbishment involved encasing the building with cladding that fire safety experts have long warned compromises the safety of tower blocks whose original “compartmentalised” design had incorporated rigorous fire safety standards (it also meant that advice to residents to “stay put” in the event of a fire was fatally inappropriate). An “external cladding fire” had caused the death of six people in Lakanal House tower block in South London in 2009. At the inquest into that disaster, the coroner had recommended that the government should review fire safety guidance to landlords and, in particular, the danger of the “spread of fire over the external envelope” of buildings (ie the use of external cladding). She also recommended that sprinkler systems be fitted to all high-rise buildings. None of this happened.

So why were the warnings ignored? Why did Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until he lost his seat last week (and is now Theresa May’s chief of staff) fail to act on the warnings prompted by the Lakanal House fire? Why did his predecessor Brandon Lewis, tell MPs that it was “for the fire industry”, not government, to “encourage” the installation of sprinklers rather than “imposing” it? Why did then-communities secretary Eric Pickles treat the Lakanal House coroner’s recommendations as “advice” to local authorities rather than as instructions?  And why didn’t Grenfell Tower even have a building-wide fire alarm?

The answer is as simple as it’s shocking: these residents are poor working class people, many of whom are also ethnic minorities and migrants (in an especially tragic twist, the first body to be identified is that of a Syrian refugee, Mohammad al-Haj Ali). Such negligence and cost-cutting would never be tolerated in the luxury high-rise flats and offices peopled by the rich: these are built to the highest standards, using the safest materials.

This is ruling class contempt for the poor – also exemplified by May’s refusal to meet with local people during her brief and tightly-policed visit to the scene earlier today.

Let no-one tell you this was simply a “tragedy” as though it was some sort of natural disaster. This was criminal negligence by the ruling class and their political party, the Tories. Our response – and the only response that will truly honour the victims – must be to pursue the class struggle with renewed vigour. Starting by kicking out the Tories as soon as possible.

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Grenfell Action Group: “All our warnings fell on deaf ears”

June 14, 2017 at 10:41 pm (class, environment, Human rights, London, posted by JD, privatisation, Tory scum, tragedy, workers)

It is becoming apparent that the residents of Grenfell Tower had made repeated representations to the (Tory) Council and the so-called Tenant Management Committee, about their fears over the safety of the building. But these were poor working class people, isolated within a prosperous borough. They were ignored, as the Grenfell Action Group’s blog demonstrates:

Posted on by

Watching breaking news about the Grenfell Tower fire catastrophe. Too soon (5am) to even guess at numbers of casualties and fatalities. Our heartfelt and sincere condolences to all who have perished, to the injured, to those who are bereaved or are still searching for missing loved ones.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in RBKC.

ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time. Below is a list of links to previous blogs we posted on this site trying to warn the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who own this property, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation who supposedly manage all social housing in RBKC on the Council’s behalf:

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/fire-safety-scandal-at-lancaster-west/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/kctmo-playing-with-fire/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/more-on-fire-safety/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/another-fire-safety-scandal/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/kctmo-feeling-the-heat/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/why-are-we-waiting/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/grenfell-tower-from-bad-to-worse/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/more-trouble-at-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-disempowered-of-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/tmo-still-asleep-at-the-wheel

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Hillsborough and the end of history

April 16, 2017 at 10:01 am (Civil liberties, class, Daily Mail, history, Murdoch, Robin Carmody, sport, tragedy)

Above: Anfield in the days following April 15, 1989 –  scarves left at the ground and draped on the Kop goal. Photo: Dave Sinclair.

By Robin Carmody

So here we have it, the first anniversary when there has not been an official memorial service at Anfield itself, and the first after some kind of victory, some kind of vindication, some kind of recognition that the years of struggle were not worthless, not fought in vain?

A few things spring to mind:

Douglas Hurd – who, had he been Prime Minister, certainly would have tried not to let Murdoch ride roughshod over the PSB tradition, however hard that would probably have become after a certain point – should be given some credit for his (squashed) insistence as Home Secretary, coming directly from the social conscience of his One Nation Tory tradition, that the government should embrace and endorse the wholeheartedly, unashamedly and unambiguously anti-police conclusions of Taylor’s interim report. Had Thatcher not stood in his way, a generation of lies could never have become institutionalised.

Might gridiron football be more widely played and followed in 2017 England than association football had it not happened? I’m not sure it’s entirely ASB (for “Alien Space Bats”, the term used in alternative history circles to refer to something wholly unbelievable and impossible in any remotely conceivable circumstances); as a child at the time I had just fallen for football in a big way, but I was a romantic looking outside my own time, my previous sporting passion had been horse racing, and I was obsessed with repeats of Look, Stranger and Follyfoot, Plenty of my He-Man and Thundercats-preferring contemporaries on the Thames Estuary did love the NFL on Channel 4, for all that it didn’t exist to me. And if that Polish shot had been slightly lower … no Blair, no Britpop, no Cameron and no Coldplay, and Florence Welch and Laura Marling ballerinas? It is well within the realms of possibility.

Let no-one pretend that the ancien regime of English football was remotely ideal, or in any way representative, or in any way democratic, or in any true sense “the people’s game”. It was no such thing. It was, in essence, a different kind of bad, a different kind of unrepresentative, undemocratic elitism. It represents the same story as many aspects of English life and capitalism, which went straight from small-time feudalism to billionaire plutocracy with scarcely any intervening period of being any good (compare, for example, the first incarnation of radio stations such as 2CR with the current Heart network, or the towns those stations tend to serve when virtually all foreign influence was shut out of them to the same towns monopolised by national or global brands; as bad as each other, just in wholly different ways). The 96 did not die for Murdoch and the Glazers. But they did not die for aldermen either.

Rather, they died for what we never had before and would have had to have wholly different politics in the decade leading up to Hillsborough to have after, that is to say the elusive dream of genuinely democratic control of “the people’s game” – which it never has truly been in any of its incarnations – actually by the people. There was, even in the context of Thatcherism, a decent chance of this happening after Hillsborough, because the plutocrats at that point saw the game as beneath them, “a slum game for slum people” to quote one particular Murdoch rag. Maybe if Gazza’s tears hadn’t happened, and the game hadn’t had a sudden boost in terms of bourgeois and broader social appeal, it could have done, because they still wouldn’t have cared and democratic ownership could have been the way out of what was very clearly the final straw, the last knock which had rendered the old edifices wholly unsustainable, for the old quasi-feudal structure of club ownership. Michael Knighton may have been trying to wake the sleeping giant in the sleeping giant of an industrial city which was being given new pop-cultural life, but there were other, better ideas which, again, were in no sense ASB or out of reach. One of the most melancholy pages in The Times’ digital archive – the first, only in some highly selective senses and from some equally selective perspectives the best (at any point in the paper’s history), but still the most widely available – is from September 1989, with much talk about fan power and fan involvement as the way ahead – the only way ahead – for football in the 1990s. But on the same page, we have the paper’s owner, at that stage talking only about his hopes to buy cricket rights. At that point, football was still for prole scum as far as he was concerned – that Sun front page showed how much he cared about the people who had given him a British foothold and made him rich in the first place – and so there was still hope for the rest of us. But then …

Let us look back rather sadly on the situation described in David Stubbs’ book 1996 and the End of History, where there was vague hope – hope, as we now know, built on grains of sand and seats of clay – that the decay of both English football and British politics, both of which could arguably be traced to the same week in June 1970 (c.f. the “permanent Butskellism” counterfactual in the Nick Hancock & Chris England book published in that era, far removed from the better-known quasi-fascist dystopia with the same starting point), could be reversed through a closely interrelated purpose. Let us reflect with deep melancholy – especially if we’re my age, even if we were always one step out of everything – on the fact that the first huge wave of mainland European influence on English football at that moment was seen as a means of shoring up our position in the EU, and quite possibly the euro itself, for good.

Let no-one pretend that Brexit can be progressive for English football, for the reasons given above. The old isolation was every bit as bad, in a different way, as the present situation. Let no-one attempt to bring it back, while (in common with Brexit as a whole) leaving the true exploiters untouched.

And let us recall again these words of Keith Waterhouse, arguably his single best column after his Faustian pact with the Harmsworths (the results of which have left much of his best work in limbo among young liberal types in the UK who would otherwise respect and admire it, and I’m working on the assumption that most readers of this blog who were adult by 1989 would not have seen it unless they glanced at Tory relatives’ newspapers, relatively mild and restrained in tone compared to now though the Mail still was); let us praise and celebrate the fact that fans are now, as he rightly believed they always should have been, treated as people and not as prole scum and cattle, let us acknowledge the gains he called for which have been won, but let us mourn the fact that they were not deeper and more profound in other, harder to reach under the present economic system, senses. Let us, in particular, acknowledge its progressive status compared to much else which appeared in that part of the press, by no means just The Sun. And let us keep it in our minds, as proof that a great humanitarian – for all his latterday moans about “Brussels bureaucracy” and the like – never quite (see his sheer joy at Obama’s election, in his last year of life, for proof of this) lost the qualities which had once, in less divided times, made him so revered.

Thanks, of course, are due to the Gale Group for digitising the Mail (particularly valuable if you want to see the “middle class fightback” of the 1970s, stealing Labour’s tactics against it, in action, in a paper which had been seen, like that class itself, as in an inexorable decline) and to the British Library for allowing me to print it. The microfilms would still have been there, but for the generation coming through now, who need to know how they got where they are and how they might want to get out of it, they are acquiring the status of papyrus. Those with access to UK Press Online are urged to track down his post-Heysel column from 3rd June 1985, still in the Daily Mirror at that point, which reveals many of the fractures which had emerged on the Left; while he ends with vicious, fervent condemnation of unemployment, the poverty trap and Thatcherism, many of the things he identifies as elements of social decay were now supported and seen as non-negotiable forces to be championed by the post-68 Left in England (although, very importantly, not in Scotland) and they give some idea of how he would, effectively, call their bluff a year later. But coming out on the other side, here it is (and please don’t be offended by the use of “soccer”, the dominant form in most newspapers until comparatively recently and, while always more common among the middle class in the UK, reflecting its origins within private schools and universities, definitely not a US-originated term as many now think):

After Black Saturday

Keith Waterhouse

Daily Mail, Monday 17th April 1989

IF I SUGGEST that some good may come out of the deadly shambles that was Hillsborough, I am not thinking of such safety improvements as may be triggered off, or not, by those oft-repeated shibboleths, “Lessons must be learned”, “It must never happen again” and “these are all issues which have to be very closely examined”.

Similar resolutions were made after Heysel and Bradford but what must never happen again has happened again – with the supposed safety improvements being a factor in the cause of the disaster.

To most observers on the touchline of this tragedy it seems blazingly obvious that football is a spectator sport in the control of fools. In the fullness of time the inquiries and inquests will doubtless couch this verdict in more seemly language. And there will be recommendations effectively suggesting that the fools might, with the benefit of hindsight, acquire a somewhat higher IQ.

But the good that may come out of the disaster will not arise out of the implementation of belated recommendations. Good is not implemented. It implements itself. It did so at that abandoned FA Cup semi-final.

Like many other by now shame-faced listeners, I would guess, my first reaction to the initial newsflash on the radio was a sigh of, “Oh God, here we go, here we go, Liverpool again!” By the end of a long grim day I had regained a good deal of the respect for Liverpool in particular and soccer fans in general that had seeped away over the violence-besplattered years.

Mismanagement, not misbehaviour, was to blame for Hillsborough. That much was quickly apparent. But more than that: we saw the fans in a new light – and it was the light of respect.

We saw Liverpool supporters resourcefully acting as stretcher bearers for their stricken mates, quickly organising themselves into makeshift St John Ambulance teams and using advertisement placards to convey the injured. They didn’t learn that kind of initiative on their YOP schemes.

We saw the taunts die on the lips of Nottingham Forest fans as they realised this was no mere riot. As the dead were carried off they accorded their rivals the decency of silence.

We saw Everton fans returning home jubilant from their semi-final triumph over Norwich, only to be shocked and subdued by the news and to put away their scarves and rosettes as a gesture of respect.

We saw stunned Liverpool survivors who had lost friends or relatives returning to the ground clutching posies of flowers which they hung reverentially on the spiked railings.

THIS was the eye-opener. They looked like soccer louts and they dressed like soccer louts and doubtless in less sombre circumstances there were those among them who would have behaved like soccer louts, yet they returned carrying not bottles and beer cans but flowers.

The proposition that inside every soccer hooligan is a decent young man trying to get out may be too saccharine-sweet a pill for our present administration to swallow, and indeed it may be a wild overstatement. But Parliament, before leaping on Hillsborough as hell-sent support for the Football Spectators Bill, would do well to take pause and consider that these are human beings and not animals they are dealing with.

The sole function of soccer identity cards, it seems to me, is to degrade and humiliate the fans even further than they are degraded and humiliated already by being prodded and herded into cattle pens. Had ID cards been required at Saturday’s semi-final their only use, in the opinion of the Liverpool doctor who took upon himself the duty of declaring the victims dead, would have been to identify the bodies. Otherwise they could have led to a crush outside the ground as terrible and fatal as the one within it.

BUT I am not about to go into the ins and outs of identity cards, inadequate organisation, allocation of tickets, crowd control, cages, crush barriers, or the insensitivity of Football Association chairman Bert Millichip who, when asked whether the Cup Final would be cancelled, replied: “Life does have to go on”. Not for the dead Liverpool fans, it doesn’t.

No: I simply say that when these matters are weighed and considered, it must be in the realisation that all concerned with football safety, from the Government down, have gone badly wrong in regarding soccer fans as a species of sub-humans with a level of intelligence even lower than that of some soccer administrators.

Received opinion, or anyway the received opinion of those who spend most of their waking hours dreaming up new and ever more futile schemes for curbing soccer violence, is that if the fans behave like animals then they must expect to be treated like animals. Yet when they are treated so much like animals that their lives are put in peril and many of their lives are lost, then they behave not like animals but like responsible human beings. There is a valuable lesson there. Will anyone in authority learn from it?

At the risk of waxing sentimental I will stick my neck out and repeat myself. Inside every soccer lout there is a decent young man trying to get out. That is the good that may emerge from Hillsborough’s black Saturday.

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Whatever happened to “blowback”?

March 22, 2017 at 8:02 pm (apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, Galloway, Jim D, John Rees, Lindsey German, London, murder, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, Stop The War, SWP, terror, tragedy)

First picture of London terror attack suspect

There was a time when no Islamist terror outrage was complete without an article published within a day or two, from Glenn Greenwald, Mehdi Hasan, Terry Eagleton or the undisputed master of the genre, Seamus Milne, putting it all down to “blowback”. Such articles usually also claimed that no-one else dared put forward the “blowback” explanation, and the author was really being terribly brave in doing so. No such articles have appeared for a few years (the last one I can recall was after the Charlie Hebdo attack), so here’s my idea of what such a piece would read like today:

LONDON – In London today, a police officer was stabbed to death and pedestrians killed by a car driven by a so-called “terrorist”. Police speculated that the incident was deliberate, alleging the driver waited for some hours before hitting the pedestrians

The right-wing British government wasted no time in seizing on the incident to promote its fear-mongering agenda over terrorism, which includes pending legislation to vest its intelligence agency, CSIS, with more spying and secrecy powers in the name of fighting ISIS. A government spokesperson asserted “clear indications” that the driver “had become radicalized.”

In a “clearly prearranged exchange,” a Conservative MP described the incident as a “terrorist attack”; in reply, the prime minister gravely opined that the incident was “obviously extremely troubling.” Newspapers predictably followed suit, calling it a “suspected terrorist attack” and “homegrown terrorism.” A government spokesperson said “the event was the violent expression of an extremist ideology promoted by terrorist groups with global followings” and added: “That something like this would happen in London shows the long reach of these ideologies.”

In sum, the national mood and discourse in Britain is virtually identical to what prevails in every Western country whenever an incident like this happens: shock and bewilderment that someone would want to bring violence to such a good and innocent country, followed by claims that the incident shows how primitive and savage is the “terrorist ideology” of extremist Muslims, followed by rage and demand for still more actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation. There are two points worth making about this:

First, Britain has spent the last 16 years proclaiming itself a nation at war. It actively participated in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and was an enthusiastic partner in some of the most extremist War on Terror abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister revealed, with the support of a large majority of Britains, that “Britain is poised to go to war against ISIS, as [she] announced plans in Parliament [] to send CF-18 fighter jets for up to six months to battle Islamic extremists.” Just yesterday, fighter jets left for Iraq and the Prime Minister stood tall as she issued the standard Churchillian war rhetoric about the noble fight against evil.

It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country. Regardless of one’s views on the justifiability of Britain’s lengthy military actions, it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of British bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.

That’s the nature of war. A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it. Rather than being baffling or shocking, that reaction is completely natural and predictable. The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.

The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on civilians and police officers to be justified). The issue is causation. Every time one of these attacks occurs — from 9/11 on down — Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.

Those fairy tales are pure deceit. Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others. The statements of those accused by the west of terrorism, and even the Pentagon’s own commissioned research, have made conclusively clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world’s Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims. The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.

If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then one should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well. Far from being the by-product of primitive and inscrutable religions, that behavior is the natural reaction of human beings targeted with violence. Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the U.S. in that region prior to that.

Second, in what conceivable sense can this incident be called a “terrorist” attack? As I have written many times over the last several years, and as some of the best scholarship proves, “terrorism” is a word utterly devoid of objective or consistent meaning. It is little more than a totally malleable, propagandistic fear-mongering term used by Western governments (and non-Western ones) to justify whatever actions they undertake. As Professor Tomis Kapitan wrote in a brilliant essay in The New York Times on Monday: “Part of the success of this rhetoric traces to the fact that there is no consensus about the meaning of ‘terrorism.’”

But to the extent the term has any common understanding, it includes the deliberate (or wholly reckless) targeting of civilians with violence for political ends. But in this case in London, it wasn’t civilians who were really targeted. If one believes the government’s accounts of the incident, the driver attacked pedestrians at random, but his real targets were in uniform. In other words, he seems to have targeted a policeman– a member of a force that represents British imperialism.

Again, the point isn’t justifiability. There is a compelling argument to make that police officers engaged in security duties are not valid targets under the laws of war (although the U.S. and its closest allies use extremely broad and permissive standards for what constitutes legitimate military targets when it comes to their own violence). The point is that targeting soldiers who are part of a military fighting an active war is completely inconsistent with the common usage of the word “terrorism,” and yet it is reflexively applied by government officials and media outlets to this incident (and others like it in the UK and the US).

That’s because the most common functional definition of “terrorism” in Western discourse is quite clear. At this point, it means little more than: “violence directed at Westerners by Muslims” (when not used to mean “violence by Muslims,” it usually just means: violence the state dislikes). The term “terrorism” has become nothing more than a rhetorical weapon for legitimizing all violence by Western countries, and delegitimizing all violence against them, even when the violence called “terrorism” is clearly intended as retaliation for Western violence.

This is about far more than semantics. It is central to how the west propagandizes its citizenries; the manipulative use of the “terrorism” term lies at heart of that. As Professor Kapitan wrote in The New York Times:

Even when a definition is agreed upon, the rhetoric of “terror” is applied both selectively and inconsistently. In the mainstream American media, the “terrorist” label is usually reserved for those opposed to the policies of the U.S. and its allies. By contrast, some acts of violence that constitute terrorism under most definitions are not identified as such — for instance, the massacre of over 2000 Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps in 1982 or the killings of more than 3000 civilians in Nicaragua by “contra” rebels during the 1980s, or the genocide that took the lives of at least a half million Rwandans in 1994. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some actions that do not qualify as terrorism are labeled as such — that would include attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or ISIS, for instance, against uniformed soldiers on duty.

Historically, the rhetoric of terror has been used by those in power not only to sway public opinion, but to direct attention away from their own acts of terror.

At this point, “terrorism” is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything. It is long past time that media outlets begin skeptically questioning its usage by political officials rather than mindlessly parroting it.

(c) Glenn Greenwald, Mehdi Hasan, Patrick Coburn, Seamus Milne, George Galloway, John Rees, Lindsey German, Peter Oborne, the SWP, Stop The War Coalition, etc, etc.

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