Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pink triangle, silver paper clip

Thinking of a Jew in captivity reminds me that Tuesday was Holocaust Memorial Day. I meant to do a post then, but was feeling a bit under the weather so didn't get round to it.

The post I was going to write would have mentioned that the TUC was commemorating the day. In addition to remembering the many trade unionists, Jewish and non-Jewish, who were murdered by the Nazis, this year the TUC is focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) victims. It's easy, even for those of us who have seen Cabaret, to forget that not every Holocaust victim was targetted because of their race.

Peter Tatchell has a good article on the subject here. (And there is more on the film he was reviewing here.)

Funnily enough, I was thinking about the non-Jewish Holocaust victims last weekend. I'd been watching the excellent film documentary Paper Clips on TV. In short, as part of a diversity project (much-needed in a community almost wholly WASP) the students in 8th grade at Whitwell Middle School, VA, were studying the Holocaust. Someone asked how big six million was, and out of the discussion came a sub-project: to collect six million paper clips. Why paper clips? Well, they were invented in Norway and worn during WW2 as an unobtrusive badge of opposition to the Nazi occupiers. And six million aren't too unmanageable. So they wrote to famous people asking for paper clips. Read more here.

I found the film extremely moving, and inspiring in all kinds of ways. I've been banging on about it to friends and family ever since. One of the pupils involved, after the first visit by a Holocaust survivor to their school, said she was amazed to discover that there were people in the world who had never known their grandparents. That's what it means to be in small-town, rural Virginia. It's not cliches about inbreeding or dumb yokels: it's communities so close that (a) everyone knows their grandparents and (b) nobody knows anyone who doesn't.

By the time the kids came to fill their railcar (they got hold of a cattle car once used for transporting people to the camps, for use as a permanent memorial) they had 29 million paperclips. They decided to use 11 million in the railcar: six million for the Jews, and five million for the Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, communists and so on. When the film reached that point, having up to then been concentrating wholly on the Jewish component of the Holocaust, I must confess I actually cheered. Because hardly any discussion of the Holocaust, anywhere, goes beyond the six million Jews: I suspect coming to terms with six million murders is hard enough, but eleven? Yet these isolated rural kids, who had started out never having seen a Jew or a German (or for that matter a gypsy, and probably not many gays or communists either) were remembering what, as Peter Tatchell says, most histories of the Holocaust choose to forget.


Habeas corpus

For some time now you have probably been seeing, but not noticing, the Free Gilad Shalit button on my sidebar. Shalit, you may recall, is an Israeli soldier who was abducted from close to the border with Gaza and taken captive by Hamas, back in June 2006. Since then there have been rumours but no confirmed contact with him. The Red Cross have not been allowed to visit, and it was unclear whether he was alive or dead. most recentky there have been rumours that he had been released to the IDF, as well as ones that he had been killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Amnesty International is currently running an email campaign calling on the Hamas leadership to allow the Red Cross access to Corporal Shalit in accordance with international law so they can verify his condition.

I hope that everyone who has been vocal in complaint about Israeli war crimes in Gaza - as I have - will make a little time to take part in this campaign against a Hamas war crime too. Just because Hamas may be less immoral than the IDF doesn't necessarily raise them above the level of "a better class of bastard", and they need reminding of that.

So for all those of you wishing to drop casually into your water-cooler conversation that you emailed the head of Hamas this weekend, here's the link to Amnesty's campaign. (You will need to register, which is quick and painless.) You don't have to belong to Amnesty - though I do - or even to agree with all of Amnesty's aims. You can personalise the email, though I imagine on its passage through Amnesty's server anything too offensive might get your email trashed.

What are you waiting for?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Bella figlia dell'Alaska, forsooth.

And while in a humorous mood, a friend drew my attention to this. Somebody's been busy.

Required listening, I would suggest

For all those of you who have been wondering just what kind of a piece of musical humour I named my blog after: wonder no longer.

The strings are playing Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (which is for strings only) and the rest of the orchestra is playing other stuff that just happens to fit (kind of) with it. A warning: at times the sheer density of other stuff going on may cause your brain to melt.

Another warning: best not listened to while drinking unless you wish to splatter the surrounding area every minute or so.

All four movements are here presented on a single track, which is a mild annoyance but one I can put up with for the sake of a decent online version at last. Thank you Grooveshark.

Yet another warning: when I first found the site the file started streaming very quickly. Same when I first went in via the link I posted. Since then it's been downloading for ever. You may have to be patient.

From Gold to Golders Green - it's only logical

You may remember that a few months ago I reported on a competition being run by the Royal Society of Chemistry for the best science-based solution to the problematic situation in which Michael Caine and his chums find themselves at the end of the film The Italian Job.

Well, now they've found a winner, and I must say his solution is rather neat.

The runner-up came up with a solution best described as "Don't knock it, it works (probably)". Must be an engineer. Or possibly an arsonist.

Thinking of heavy weights being counterbalanced by people leads inevitably to thoughts of Gerard Hoffnung. Or if it doesn't, you really should listen to this.

More on the Zionist Broadcasting Corporation

This is a joke. At least I think it is.

This, on the other hand, is not.

This explains a lot

From the Daily Mash.

Tough times for us all

Wondermark hits the spot again.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The BBC keeps up a long tradition of one-sidedness

I was watching the most recent episode of Around The World In Eighty Faiths: a fascinating series on religion around the world. Peter Owen Jones, the presenter, is an Anglican priest, and his views on the religions he encounters are invariably interesting. However, when he got to Israel and the West Bank (Faith Number 33: Judaism) it was interesting how the tone changed. His own comments were much as ever: pretty even-handed and non-judgemental. But what interested me was the itinerary he followed in the West Bank, which I assume came from the series producer, and the way in which the footage was edited.

In the West Bank he first visited the Jewish settlement of Efrat. There he met a rabbi who explained to him that the whole area had been a "no-man's-land" for two thousand years, since the time of the destruction of the second temple. The rabbi explained that God gave the land to the Jews according to Genesis chapter 15. (He did point out that God said nothing about their having a right to expel innocent people who were there already: but if it was a "no-man's-land" there can't have been any, can there?) By way of a link Pete Owen Jones then said that belief that this biblical story gave all Jews the right to come and live there was "disputed", especially by the Palestinians. Disputed? Efrat is a Jewish settlement in the Occupied Territories. It is illegal under international law. It's even illegal under Israel's domestic law. There is no "dispute" about it from anyone except the settlers who are making profits out of the theft of other people's lands and livelihoods (and apparently the BBC, Zionist propagandists-in-chief, for whom no action by Israel is ever "illegal").

Owen Jones then travelled to a Palestinian refugee camp, and we saw him passing through an Israeli checkpoint. The way the footage was edited gave the definite impression that Efrat was in Israel and the camp in the Occupied West Bank. Not so: both are in the West Bank, but the separation barrier (never alluded to in the programme of course) passes around Efrat in one of its incursions into Palestinian territory. Anyway, there we met a Sunni Muslim who invited Owen Jones to his home. And bless my soul, out of a camp of 4,000 people who is this person they picked to film but someone whose daughter five years ago blew herself up in an Israeli supermarket. What a strange coincidence. Despite leading questions from Owen Jones about whether her suicide bombing was "an act of radical Islam" the father was at pains to describe her actions as un-Islamic.

Let's be clear here: in the whole segment there was not one mention of the deaths of Palestinians at Israeli hands over the past sixty years. Not a hint of a reference to violence by settlers against Palestinians. The only killing mentioned was the Palestinian daughter's suicide bombing in Israel. Territorial issues were always described in terms of the foundation of Israel in 1948, with no mention of the occupation, from 1967 to the present, of a huge parcel of land outside Israel. This deliberately gave the impression that it is the legitimacy of Israel that the Palestinians oppose rather than its invasion and occupation of their country. The Efrat settlement was made to look as though it was part of Israel, thus making the Palestinians' resentment of it seem like denial of Israel's right to exist. The Israelis in Jerusalem were described as living in fear of their neighbours, but the Palestinians' very real fear of their military overlords was never touched on. Even the fact of the occupation was fudged: the West Bank was described as "Palestinian-controlled" not "Israeli-occupied", and at the Israeli checkpoint (where the crew were turned away) we saw only a sign saying "Palestinian Authority Territory area ahead. No entry for Israelis. Entry illegal by Israeli law." No suggestion that Israelis routinely enter the area with tanks and bulldozers, with helicopters and F-15s. If Israelis can't enter Palestine then obviously Efrat must be in Israel. And if the Palestinians control their own area then their complaints must be about the existence of Israel itself, right?

The last line as the BBC left the refugee camp was the information, thrown in for reasons that can only be guessed at, that one of the suicide bomber's victims had been a teenage Israeli girl. None of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian dead received such a personal mention.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Poetry Inertia

So. 250 years since our national bard Robert Burns appeared on Earth. I've eaten my haggis, drunk my whisky, and watched the BBC's Burns broadcast from Celtic Connections. And yup, the guy is awesome.

I wouldn't necessarily go as far as someone I read this week who described him as the greatest British poet since Shakespeare, though he'd surely make any such short list. What I would suggest is that even for the English, never mind the Scots, his works have entered the collective consciousness - become part of the language - to a greater extent than those of any poet, or even any writer, since Shakespeare. For heaven's sake, what Englishman would have heard of a haggis if Burns hadn't eulogised it? What would they sing at New Year if Burns hadn't provided them with the perfect anthem? Why are those funny Scots bonnets called Tam O'Shanters? Why was the famous ship named the Cutty Sark? Complete this famous phrase: my love is like a .......

Anyway, here are a few of my own favourites. Now Westlin Winds, described by Dick Gaughan as saying everything that needs to be said about anything, and all in five stanzas:

Now westlin winds and slaughtering guns
Bring autumn's pleasant weather
The moorcock springs on whirring wings
Among the blooming heather
Now waving grain, wild o'er the plain
Delights the weary farmer
And the moon shines bright as I rove at night
To muse upon my charmer

The partridge loves the fruitful fells
The plover loves the mountain
The woodcock haunts the lonely dells
The soaring hern the fountain
Through lofty groves the cushat roves
The path of man to shun it
The hazel bush o'erhangs the thrush
The spreading thorn the linnet

Thus every kind their pleasure find
The savage and the tender
Some social join and leagues combine
Some solitary wander
Avaunt! Away! the cruel sway,
Tyrannic man's dominion
The sportsman's joy, the murdering cry
The fluttering, gory pinion

But Peggy dear the evening's clear
Thick flies the skimming swallow
The sky is blue, the fields in view
All fading green and yellow
Come let us stray our gladsome way
And view the charms of nature
The rustling corn, the fruited thorn
And every happy creature

We'll gently walk and sweetly talk
Till the silent moon shines clearly
I'll grasp thy waist and, fondly pressed,
Swear how I love thee dearly
Not vernal showers to budding flowers
Not autumn to the farmer
So dear can be as thou to me
My fair, my lovely charmer

Then we have The Silver Tassie, surely one of the great songs of parting. (Though these days the shock of claret by the pint is an unintended distraction.)

Go fetch to me a pint o wine,
And fill it in a silver tassie;
That I may drink, before I go,
A service to my bonie lassie:
The boat rocks at the Pier o' Leith,
Fu' loud the wind blaws frae the Ferry,
The ship rides by the Berwick-law,
And I maun leave my bony Mary.

The trumpets sound, the banners fly,
The glittering spears are ranked ready,
The shouts o' war are heard afar,
The battle closes deep and bloody.
It's not the roar o' sea or shore,
Wad make me langer wish to tarry;
Nor shouts o' war that's heard afar-
It's leaving thee, my bony Mary!

Next, a very famous song even before Steeleye Span got at it. He didn't like the Act Of Union, oh dear no. Not sure how he'd have viewed devolution.

Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame
Fareweel our ancient glory
Fareweel e'en to the Scottish name
So famed in martial story
Now Sark runs to the Solway sands
And Tweed runs to the ocean
To mark where England's province stands
Such a parcel o' rogues in a nation

What force or guile could not subdue
Through many warlike ages
Is wrought now by a coward few
For hireling traitor's wages
The English steel we could disdain
Secure in valour's station
But English gold has been our bane
Such a parcel o' rogues in a nation

O would ere I had seen the day
That treason thus could sell us
My auld grey heid had lien in clay
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace
But pith find power till my last hour
I'll mak this declaration
We're bought and sold for English gold
Such a parcel o' rogues in a nation

And finally my all-time favourite. For anyone who has ever had to relinquish someone they loved to distraction.

Ae fond kiss and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, and then for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerful twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.

I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,
Naething could resist my Nancy:
But to see her was to love her;
Love but her, and love for ever.

Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met - or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

Fare-thee-weel, though first and fairest!
Fare-thee-weel, though best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.


BTW, the title of this post makes perfect sense if you say it with a Scots accent and think about which county Burns hails from. (Gets coat......)

Running scared again

Reading this latest statement from Ehud Olmert, an obvious question comes to mind. If "Israel has admitted using white phosphorus in Gaza but says it did not break international law in doing so" then why is Olmert worried about prosecution of the Most Moral Armed Forces In The Middle East (TM)? Similarly, Israeli spokesmen have assured us that cluster bombs were only used in "open areas", which I'm sure are plentiful in the world's most densely-populated place. And they never tire of telling us that Israel never targets civilians: it's just that most people in Gaza voted for Hamas which makes them supporters of terrorists. So why is Olmert is terrified of having his moral darlings investigated? It's almost as though he believed that they had broken the law but that they should suffer no more than the normal IDF whitewash (i.e. an investigation into how they allowed the news to get out despite the ban on journalists).

I hope that if any members of the Israeli government or the IDF set foot in the civilised world (the EU, for example) they are arrested immediately. Then we can see what Olmert's "protection" consists of. What's he going to do, threaten to nuke Brussels?

I believe that the IDF's poster-boys the Jerusalem Quartet are coming back to the Edinburgh festival this summer. While as far as I know none of them actually served in Operation Cast Lead, their role as apologists for war crimes should at least come under scrutiny.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You're nearly a laugh but you're really a cry

A good article from al-Jazeera news on Israel's foreign policy and the threat it poses to israel's own survival.

A brilliant article on Israel and Gaza from the 7 January Guardian to which I was directed from Michael Berube's splendid blog American Airspace.

Use of chemical weapons against civilians: when Saddam did it everyone screamed "war crime" but Israel has decided it's perfectly legal so that's OK.

The Daily Mash lightens the tone somewhat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We are all made of stars

Driving through to Glasgow on Saturday for the Bela Fleck concert, I was listening to a CD of Peter, Paul and Mary (CD 4 from the Carry It On set) . One of my favourite tracks is a live performance of a gospel number. One of the great things about gospel is that it's rarely half-hearted. I mean, call-and-response is supposed to be vigorous. How vigorous? Well, something like the response at 0:19 into this clip will do nicely:




Anyway, back here on Earth (and without the Doug Trumbull visusl effects) PP&M were doing Children Go Where I Send Thee with the New York Choral Society of all people.




It comes over especially well on a decent sound system, but even in the car (or on Youtube) you get a feeling that the music is taking on a life of its own by about number eight. Funnily enough, I think it makes more impact as pure audio than as a video: the choir just come crashing out of nowhere, and Mary's voice has an amazing throatiness that is rather at odds with the blonde white woman on the screen.

The song's lyrics are obviously reminiscent of Green Grow The Rushes-O, which is to say they involve counting, some quasi-Biblical references, and not a whole lot of sense. It prompted me to Google the latter song, confident that someone would know what it was all about.

Actually, not so much.

Which made me feel rather better AND now I can point to the Hyades and casually drop a remark about "Eight For The April Rainers" into my conversation. Life and soul of the observatory, that's me. (Though considering the trouble I had explaining to my wife and daughter why the Plough is sometimes upside down in the sky, my opportunities for use of that conversational gem are likely to be somewhat limited.) (And yes, they do know that the Earth spins: maybe it's the fact that the sky doesn't that bothers them.)



How's that? From Close Encounters to a star cluster via a selection of human folk traditions and one of the most enigmatic lyrics ever.

As a pendant to that commodius vicus of recirculation, here are Peter, Paul & Mary (from the same concert) doing Light One Candle, which is a Chanukah song. Perhaps someone should have sung it towards Israel over the past few weeks.



"Throw Down Your Heart" - Bela Fleck and friends, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall 17 January 2009

My first visit this year to Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival, and what a belter of a concert it turned out to be. I had been familiar for some time with Bela Fleck, the Jimi Hendrix of the banjo (and I'm not being facetious there; he has as much in common with the average bluegrass picker as Hendrix had with Chet Atkins). Here he is with his regular band the Flecktones doing Copland's Hoedown. Eat your heart out, Emerson, Lake and Palmer:



The Glasgow gig was a tie-in with his recent film project, where he went to Africa to expore the banjo's roots in African instruments, and worked with musicians in Uganda, Tanzania, Mali and The Gambia.

It began (there was no support) with a solo Bela Fleck improvisation which segued seamlessly into and out of a Bach cello suite before featuring an amusing bit where he pretended to be having trouble reaching a note so played it with his nose (it was a good joke 250 years ago when Josef Haydn did it too). Then he brought on a number of other musicians who did spots by themselves, spots with him and finally a mighty 13-way collaboration (which they'd never attempted on stage before). Best-known of the guests was Mali's master of the koro, Toumani Diabate. Also from Mali was the songer Oumou Sangare, and finishing up the Malian contingent we had the tremendous Ngoni ba, led by Bassekou Kouyate on ngoni (looks like a big rebec, sounds like a banjo but very quiet unless you amplify it) and his wife Amy Sacko, a singer who can easily hold her own with Ms Sangare. Ronding off the band we had the distinctly pregnant Scots Gaelic singer Kathleen McInnes and the delightful Irish singer and whistle player Liam O Maonlai.

While not wishing to detract for a moment from the Celtic contributors, who were terrific, the evening belonged to the Africans. Ngoni ba in particular were a revelation: I'd never heard of them or the ngoni before, but was inspired to buy their album (and didn't regret it). Toumani Diabate and Oumou Sangare I knew, of course, though I'd never seen either in the flesh. iI can report that they are as great live as on record. Special mention should go to Toumani's duet with Bela, which seemed to be a pretty spontaneous jam lasting about quarter of an hour and keeping up the interest throughout. It struck me as rather amusing that Toumani Diabate rattles when he settles himself down to play: there's clearly something in his robes that rattles like a bead curtain as he shuggles about. Oumou Sangare doesn't rattle as she shimmies about (men shuggle, women shimmy - OK?), but she mesmerises: the line from Some Like It Hot about Jello on springs comes to mind.

Bela Fleck is never less than fascinating (last night he was playing a D.C. concert for the Obama inauguration) but this was sonething very special. We got to see all his own skills, not least of which is extremely sensitive accompanying; we had a great concert of African and Celtic music; and we had some very fine cross-cultural blending. An evening not to be missed: it seemed short at two hours of music.

Monday, January 19, 2009

You know you're in trouble when....

When I saw the headline for this article I thought "Oh no, another article on the sufferings of the poor Israelis to 'balance' the news of more Palestinians murdered". But actually the article is much more than that. Read it and see.

I felt it said more than a hundred protest marches when people who had been tortured by Saddam Hussein came out against the Iraq invasion. Similarly, when someone whose mother-in-law was killed by one of Hamas's rockets speaks out against Operation Cast Lead it must carry a special significance.

Even when you start in on the list it's hard to get your stuff done

And this, I fear, is me to a T.

And this, recommended to me by my daughter, rings the odd bell:



As does this one which she didn't mention but which (knowing my daughter) wlll ring as true for her as it does for me:

Ever had the feeling you overlooked something important?

Me too

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Great news

I received this email from Reprieve on Thursday:

Dear Rob

We are absolutely thrilled that our client, Mohammed el Gharani, is to be released from Guantánamo Bay following a federal court order obtained yesterday. Judge Leon ruled that Mohammed, who was just 14 years old when he was imprisoned in Guantánamo in 2002, is not and never has been an enemy combatant, and was wrongfully held at the notorious military prison.

Zachary Katznelson, Reprieve’s Legal Director, who spoke to Mohammed immediately after the hearing last night to tell him the good news, said that he was delighted, and very excited about going home to his family after such an ordeal.

Mohammed is the youngest remaining juvenile in Guantanamo Bay. He was just 14 years old when he was seized by the Pakistani authorities and sold to the US military for a bounty. As a Chad national living in Saudi Arabia, his opportunities for education were extremely limited, so Mohammed had left his home for Pakistan, hoping to learn English and train to work with computers. Seized in a random raid on a mosque, targeting Arabs and Africans in Pakistan in October 2001, he is one of 22 juveniles held in Guantánamo Bay since the prison opened in January 2002. He was accused of participating in an Al Qaida cell in London, however has never been to England and would have been 11 years old at the time in question.

Mohammed has endured terrible abuse, first in Pakistani custody, and for the last six and half years in US custody, first at the US prison at Kandahar airport and then at Guantánamo, where, he has explained, he has been hung from his wrists on 30 occasions. On one occasion a heavily armoured riot squad slammed his head into the floor of his cell, breaking one of his teeth, and on another occasion a cigarette was stubbed out on his arm by an interrogator. Mohammed has said that he received constant abuse from some guards at Guantánamo, much stemming from his vocal objection to being called a “nigger” by US military personnel. As a result of the violence against him he became deeply depressed, and tried to commit suicide on several occasions. We are all incredibly relieved that Mohammed’s seven-year ordeal is finally over.

Thank you so much, as ever, for your support of Reprieve, which makes fantastic achievements like this one possible. We are only able to continue this life-saving work with your help - please donate now: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/donate.htm

All the best,

Laura

Laura Stebbing
Resource Development Manager
Reprieve
PO Box 52742, London, EC4P 4WS
Tel: 020 7427 1087

Reprieve delivers justice and saves lives, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. To find out more or to make a donation visit: www.reprieve.org.uk

Another child rescued from an American torture cell is good news, but if Barack Obama stands by his promise to close Guantanamo down altogether that will be even better.

Incidentally, I liked the look of this campaign when I visited the Reprieve home page, as I urge you to do. I haven't signed up yet because it seems not to accept still photos and I haven't got a video camera handy. But I shall be flying the flag for amateur classical musicians on there as soon as I get organised, and I urge all the musical types among you, even if you're only fans rather than performers, to campaign against the obscene abuse of music as an instrument of torture. I rather think Beethoven and Bartok, to name just two, would have had something to say on the matter.

The Good, The Equally Good, And The Frankly Deranged

The various letters and petitions on the topic of Gaza in Friday's Guardian make interesting reading. Three things particularly struck me. One was the sheer number of influential people who signed the first petition. One was the excellent letter from Leon Rosselson, long one of my favourite songwriters. And the last was Chris Gale's lone letter at the bottom attempting to justify Israeli genocide. Knowing the amount of money and effort the Israeli Foreign ministry puts into feeding its propagamda to the British press, that's hardly surprising. What I found extraordinary was his assertion that "Israel's fight is a fight for western values of secular democracy and human rights against those that would unleash a medieval theocracy upon us all."

There is nothing secular or democratic about Israel, whose constitution ensures that it is run by Jews for Jews, and whose Arab citizens are forced to live in restricted areas and denied full political rights. Only this week Arab political parties were banned from contesting the upcoming election. Gale is both a fool and a liar: if any country in the region is trying to force medieval theocracy onto its neighbours, it is Israel; and if any is a democracy it is Gaza.

Hear, hear.

Two fine speeches from the British House of Commons during its debate on the situation in Gaza on Thursday evening. The second is from George Galloway, whose point of view one might easily predict. George is a faintly ridiculous figuire in many ways: one cannot take entirely seriously an MP who appears on Celebrity Big Brother. However, many of the accusations levelled at him over the years by the tabloid press have had no basis in fact whatsoever, as many successful libel writs have testified. His speech on Thuursday demanding action from the British Government is a reminder that not only is George's heart in the right place, he is still an extremely eloquent speaker.

But first I want you to watch a speech by Sir Gerald Kaufman, a Jewish MP from Gorton in Manchester. Kaufman grew up an Orthodox Jew and a Zionist. Family members were murdered by the Nazis in Warsaw. He was a personal friend of Golda Meir. Yet on Thursday, while urding the government to impose an arms embargo on Israel, he described Israel as "acting like Nazis". They were not only war criminals, he said, but fools. I've never particularly cared for Kaufman as an MP, but every word of this speech was true, was well-chosen, needed to be said, and deserves to be echoed around the world wherever imbeciles are declaring as usual that to oppose Israel's actions is to be an anti-Semite.



And now George:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Spare a thought

It's marvellous that there were no fatalities, or even significant injuries, amoing the passengers and crew of the Airbus that landed in the Hudson River. (Hilary and I loved the exchange on BBC news, when an anchorman asked a reporter in the States if the plane had stayed afloat because it had some kind of flotation devices installed. "No, absolutely not" he said, "the whole point with airplanes is that you try to keep them out of the water". )

Anyway, this seems an opportune time to wonder what became of the flock of birds at La Guardia? How many seagulls are mourning a loved one? Whose Dad won't be coming home from the fishing? a train of thought, of course, inspired by Les Barker's classic Have You Got any News Of The Iceberg?

On a cold rainy night on a Liverpool quayside
In the years before the Great War
The world was in shock at the loss of Titanic
So proud had they been days before.
Relatives gathered for news of their loved ones,
To read through the list of the dead,
When into the throng came a sad-eyed old Polar Bear,
And to the clerk at the counter he said…

Have you got any news of the iceberg?
My family were on it you see,
Have you got any news of the iceberg?
They mean the whole world to me.

My wife and children were coming from Greenland
To be by my side in the zoo.
Belinda's my wife and the eldest's called Bernard,
And Billy, well, he's only two.
I know on the ship there were hundreds of people,
And I know the iceberg's not yours,
The Polar Bear's eyes held the start of his teardrops
He covered his face with his paws.

Have you got any news of the iceberg?
My family were on it you see:
Have you got any news of the iceberg?
They mean the whole world to me.

It's been over a year since I last saw my children,
I left home to build my career:
I've worked very hard, I'm a star in the circus,
It's all been for nothing I fear.
There's my face on the poster,
We're in town this week,
And my children were meeting me here.
Everyone watched as he struggled to speak
And his paw brushed away one more tear.

Have you got any news of the iceberg?
My family were on it you see:
Have you got any news of the iceberg?
They mean the whole world to me.

By now all the people had gathered beside him,
His grief was one they could share,
The people around him in silence and sadness,
Listened to the sad Polar Bear.
I wanted my children to see me performing,
And Belinda, she would have been proud.
At last, lost for words and his tears flowing freely,
The question was asked by the crowd.:

Have you got any news of the iceberg?
My family were on it you see:
Have you got any news of the iceberg?
They mean the whole world to me.

I thought this was hilarious

Yes ir was a stupid comment. Double yes it was stupid to put it on video (duh!) But an awful lot of the outrage about it has clearly been deliberately stoked by the tabloid press. And if the Daily Mail thinks it acceptable to employ a columnist (Melanie Phillips) who refers to London as "Londonistan", how can they complain about a far less calculated use of "Paki"? (I would post links, but their website is unavailable. How very 19th century.)

Anyway, this was really funny.

If it works for rats then it will work for non-Israelis (obviously)

Is it just me, or is this study missing something? Personally I find grid-plan streets incredibly confusing, which is why I'm always getting lost in central Glasgow. Wee windy streets that do their own thing: they stick in the memory.

Let's leave the grids to rats and the Tel Aviv academics.

A couple of brave members of the House of Lords who don't mind being photographed clutching flying gold schlongs if that's what it takes

These guys deserve an award. No, a different one: for standing up for what is right against the Blairite hordes.

Just to show how far we've fallen from common sense since Blair made thoughtcrime a reality, see here.

This is impressive

Even when you allow for incoming as well as outgoing texts being counted, and when you make allowances for spam - this is still one hell of a lot of texting.

And the unconvincing fake death award goes to .....

this guy.

Update: here.

There's four left in the box

Some people's brains are just connected up oddly. Both my wife and I fall into that category: she haa trouble telling her left from her right, while I have a few obsessive/compulsive tendencies (I like knives in size order on knife racks, for example) and have been accused in the past of having trouble expressing my emotions (hmmm....hands up if any blog readers picked up on that.....)

No great surprise then that one of our children was diagnosed with (extremely mild) Asperger's Syndrome. I can see a kind of amplified version of some of my tendencies in him, certainly. Unlike either of his parents (Hilary was a model student throughout; I had the common male adolescent dip in performance, and then at university decided sex, drugs and rock & roll - with priorities 2, 3, and 1 respectively - were more interesting than lectures: Hilary got a 2/2 in Music, I got a 3rd in Chemistry and a vast record collection - go figure) Ruairidh obtains learning support: his handwriting being even worse than my own, he gets a laptop, and extra time for the more writing-intensive exams. With which he does just fine: he isn't stupid, but his writing is poor and he flounders when required to perform multiple tasks in parallel. If he can sequence and prioritise them, he's fine. (And my own life is driven by diaries, Post-Its and To-Do lists to what seems to be a greater than normal extent. We all find our ways to cope.)

All of which is a preamble to this jerk, who should know better but clearly doesn't. Dyslexia is one of those "autistic spectrum disorders" like Asperger's, or indeed my own below-the-radar weirdnesses (and certainly like Hilary's: problems with left and right are very common with dyslexics). I therefore take considerable exception to the suggestion that dyslexics (and by extension the rest of the autistic spectrum zoo) have merely been badly taught. I am pretty certain that there are standard tests that would show me up as not quite the entire Monty: nevertheless, the last IQ test I took put me in the 160+ range, I seem to have managed OK in life, and I will happily submit to any comparison of my reading skills, spelling, etc. with anyone on the planet. You see, there are people who are dumb. There are people who aren't dumb but can'tt read, or can read but can't write. And there are people who aren't dumb, and can read and write, but just not in quite the same way as you or I. There is a whole spectrum of not-quite-correctly-wired people, from my wife with her L-R problem to Kim Peek (Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man). If Graham Stringer can accept that someone who retreats into Abbott & Costello routines when life gets tough (but can count a pile of toothpicks at sight) isn't a product of bad teaching, perhaps in time he can learn that those of us further back along the spectrum are the products of God's crappy quality control as well.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

The reason my "burst" of posts on Wednesday night ended up as just two is rather funny. Right now I am rather stuffed up with a cold, which means that my normally loud snoring is turned up to 11. I have therefore been banished to a fold-out bed in the living-room so my wife can get some sleep without needing earplugs so dense as to keep out her alarm clock. Also, as is not uncommon among us 50-somethings, I have been known to doze off in front of the TV, occasionally being woken by my wife or daughter next morning. However, on Wednesday I surpassed myself, dozing off in mid-post on the blog and spending the night asleep sitting in front of the PC. It didn't leave me feeling too short of sleep, but I had a crick in my neck that is only now beginning to abate.

It could have been worse: it would have rather embarrassing to be found snoozing over a pregnant bikini contest or a Playboy playmate or a candid picture of a celebrity...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Unite Member no. 32806414: Workplace Representative and Health & Safety Representative. And proud of it

I saw this article today in the Guardian. It seemed to me that Mr Gall was rather missing the point of trade unionism. The commenters on his piece seemed also to be concentrating on union leaders and officials rather than workplace representatives (they used to call us Shop Stewards back in the days when Britain had a manufacturing industry). More than a few of them seemed to be taking the line that trade unions were impotent or irrelevant, so I posted this comment:

A lot of commenters seem to believe that "the unions" comprise only fat-cat union bosses and put-upon dupes of members. May I point out, as a member of Unite, that whatever one's opinion of our Joint General Secretaries (and the members certainly express a variety of opinions on them) it's not generally Derek Simpson or Tony Woodley who gets involved when a member has a problem, whether that's a redundancy notice or a bullying manager. Most of the work of unions is done by workplace representatives like me, who aren't union employees, just members. It's union reps who get safety issues in factories sorted out. It's union reps who represent members in disciplinary hearings, and advise them when they have issues with their managers. It's union reps who work every day to try to get working conditions improved, or at least not degraded. If forging constructive relationships with senior management means we get advance notice of planned restructuring and can help manage it to avoid compulsory job losses, then we do that. If it means we can help draft disciplinary and appraisal rules to ensure there are robust appeal procedures built in, we do that too. Just because we're not constantly walking out and picketing doesn't mean we're not fighting job losses: after all, the best time to fight planned job cuts is when they're still on the drawing board. And in any case, even in the finance industry where I work, job cuts are by no stretch of the imagination the only threat to our members. We have bullying, harrassment, management who try to bend the rules, abusive calls to call centres, armed raiders, requests for staff to relocate or change shift patterns...... Irrelevant unions? Not to the members who come to me for help, we're not.

If Gregor Gall doesn't see unions on the plate, perhaps he should remember that not every effective trade unionist - nor every effective baseball player - is a striker. See all those faces in the outfield, watching to make sure they don't drop a ball? That would be us.

Amused to see (some twelve hours later) that nobody has actually responded to that comment (though unionista makes a point about the need for workplace involvement). I'll say it again: full-time union officials are valuable, no question about that - but if you have no people among the workforce prepared to get involved and fight for their colleagues, you're pretty much wasting your time. I'm not making any grandiose claims here regarding my own significance: I have colleagues whose records of union work far exceed my own in both quantity and quality. But I believe - dammit, I know - that I have personally made a difference to the quality of some people's working lives. That means as much to me as any IT accomplishment (and I've done my bit for my employer's profits over the decades). Anyway, please take my comment as it was intended: not as any kind of personal ego-trip, but a plea for the union workplace representative not to be overlooked.

Be seeing you............

A burst of what you might call "news-inspired" posts tonight none of them involving Gaza (not yet at least).



First up, Patrick McGoohan has died. If I say he was 80, that should instantly call forth the response "I am not a number - I am a free man!" as he is best remembered for the 1960s TV series The Prisoner, which he co-authored and in which he starred. It's very hard to imagine a TV channel commissioning such a series now: utterly surreal though full of menace, as though Ingmar Bergman had done an episode of Dr Who. It certainly put Portmeirion on the tourist map: indeed my own interest in the series dates from a visit there about 15 years ago (while I remember the series being screened, I never watched it at the time - I have the DVDs now).

Personally I shall remember Patrick McGoohan most fondly for his wonderful performance as George Bernard Shaw in The Best of Friends. (Why does the amazon.com site not list McGoohan as a star? He had equal billing with Hiller and Gielgud!) If the DVD weren't so bloody expensive I'd love to see that again: the BBC aired it some 20 years back. McGoohan, Dame Wendy Hiller and Sir John Gielgud, and every one of them on top form (thus perfectly matched). The scene where Shaw receives a notice of Sister Laurentia McLachlan''s (Hiller's) elevation to some senior rank of nunhood, which he (understandably in the circumstances) mistakes for a death notice; whereupon he sends a wonderful note of condolence to Sister Laurentia's sister nuns; whereupon Laurentia herself responds to explain his mistake; whereupon he (as it were) jumps up and down with righteous but joyful rage in reply (the whole play unfolds via letters between the various characters) is simply sublime. I cannot imagine better casting of any of the three principals, and and I have read the book by Hugh Whitemore (another underpraised genius, author of Breaking The Code in which Derek Jacobi was originally cast to perfection as Alan Turing).



Be seeing you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend

One of the surest ways to achieve immortality, for better or for worse, is to have a song written about you; and one of the best genres for the purpose is the protest song. It is largely thanks to Tom Paxton that we remember the names of the three civil rights activists murdered in Mississippi in 1964 (Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney); Woody Guthrie immortalised the Los Gatos plane crash victims (though their anonymity other than to their loved ones was the point of the song); and to Brits of a certain age at least mention of the Peabody Mining Company recalls John Prine's barbed nostalgia in Paradise.

So the obituary of William Devereux Zantzinger a few days ago was rather interesting. He's the villain of the piece in Bob Dylan's song The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll:



Even though Dylan spelled his name wrongly I still recognised it straight away. What I thought was especially interesting was that the facts of the case are not exactly as related by Dylan. While there is no doubt Zantzinger was an unpleasant boor, and that he assaulted Hattie Carroll, it seems clear not only that he didn't intend to kill her but that if the assault caused her death it did so only indirectly. His "high office connections" seem to have been overstated as well. (Also, Carroll's children were rounded down from eleven to ten for poetic purposes.)

It's hardly surprising that Zantzinger didn't much care for Dylan, though he never attempted to stop him performing the song.

Support Your Local Dissident Writer


Craig Murray, the author of Murder In Samarkand, whose delightful talk at the 2007 Edinburgh Book Festival I described some time ago, has a new book, The Catholic Orangemen of Togo and Other Conflicts I Have Known. Among other matters relating to African affairs, the "Arms to Africa" scandal is covered, in which a British mercenary company had been breaching a UN arms embargo by importing wepaons into Sierra Leone during the civil war there (the scandal arising from questions over possible collusion by the British Government). In an attempt to prevent publication of Craig's book, Tim Spicer (protagonist in the Sierra Leone affair) has had his lawyers send threatening letters to a variety of publishers and booksellers. Now Craig has been advised that his book is not libellous and that no legal challenge by Spicer would be likely to succeed. However, given the costs of defending such an action most companies have done exactly what Mr Spicer wants, which is to back away from handling the book.

Now Craig is in the process of having the book published privately. In the meantime, as a gesture of the two-fingered kind (one-fingered if you're American) to mercenaries, their lawyers, and mercenary lawyers, he is making the whole 226 pages available for download free of charge. It's a compressed pdf file of just over a megabyte, it downloads almost instantly, and I cannot recommend it too highly. Pop over to his site (also incidentally a haven of good sense on Gaza and other international news) and download it. Alternatively, buy the book. Though as he reckons each copy makes him 80p profit of which he is donating £1.00 to Amnesty International, it might be kinder to download it and make your own donation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This is a message to all leaders of the......people not to be compassionate with those who shoot at civilians in their houses.

I thought this statement from former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu was interesting. (Hat tip: Angry Arab.)

The question is, if "Jewish war ethics" (not a combination of words one often encounters, and I begin to see why) legitimises the indiscriminate killing of civilians in revenge for evil perpetrated by a few among them, when will Ron Prosor, Alan Dershowitz and all the other apologists for Israeli terror shut the **** up about Hamas's targeting of civilians? Personally I think it's abhorrent whichever side is doing it, but hey, I'm not Jewish, and if the general principle is OK with a former chief Jew then who am I to argue?

Oh no, sorry, I forgot that "Jewish war ethics" are for Jews only, and not for Untermenschen and lesser animals who have to abide by the Geneva conventions and such.

When any outrageous incitement to "destroy Israel" is made by some irrelevant Muslim cleric or other, it makes front page news throughout our supposedly anti-semitic media (who indeed are perfectly happy to invent similar remarks and put them into the mouths of Muslim politicians)? Yet a call for the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians in the name of Judaism from a senior rabbinical authority goes unreported outside Israel. How strange.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry and its sock puppets; and let's not forget the West Bank while we're being appalled by Gaza

A good piece by Richard Silverstein in the Guardian on the Israeli Foreign Ministry's programme of planting lies and generating spurious outrage on the Internet (as well as the US media's reporting of IDF propaganda reports as though they were from independent sources).

And the picture in my last post reminded me that while we're all understandably focused on Gaza right now, life in Hebron still sucks if you're an Untermensch Arab. Here is an article from Peace News about attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians. And here is a report by an IDF soldier (let's not pretend they're all Nazi wannabes) on the racial segregation policy being enforced there.

Is it not richly ironic that the "settlers" whose very presence in Hebron is illegal under international law (and indeed Israel's own laws) are allowed to strut about with machine-guns while whining that they're civilians if anyone lifts a finger against them, whereas in Gaza the police and security forces of the legitimately elected government are held to be terrorists whether they are armed or not? Or that mosques and schools in Gaza are deemed by the IDF to be "terrorist centres", so unlike the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem whose heavily-armed "students" were being taught to admire Israel's martyred murderers?

When they said a Holocaust they meant it

The shelling of a house in Zeitoun in the Gaza strip, where over a hundred Palestinian evacuees had been told by the IDF to shelter, does indeed look a lot like a war crime. The IDF have claimed it was a mistake, but as the building was shelled repeatedly that seems unlikely.

When the Nazis imprisoned Warsaw's Jews in the ghetto and denied them food and medical attention, that was a crime against humanity. When they rounded those same people up and herded them into places so they could kill them more easily, thay was a crime against humanity. Of course, the Nazis used cyanide gas which while an unpleasant way to die is preferable to being dismembered by explosives. It seems the IDF can learn a little humanity from their predecessors even if they need instruction in nothing else. I suppose however that the shells are paid for by the United States, whereas the IDF would have to buy its own cyanide (Zyklon B is still available from the Czech Republic).

Of course, in Hebron the peace-loving Israeli settlers have learned that lesson too:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A collection of puns

Police were called to a day care where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.

Did you hear about the guy whose entire left side was cut off? He's all right now.

To write with a broken pencil is pointless.

When fish are in schools they sometimes take debate.

A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.

A thief fell into wet cement. He became a hardened criminal.

Thieves who steal corn from a garden could be charged with stalking.

We'll never run out of math teachers because they always multiply.

When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A.

The math professor went crazy with the blackboard. He did a number on it.

The geology professor discovered that her theory of earthquakes was on shaky ground.

The dead batteries were given out free of charge.

If you take a laptop computer for a run you could jog your memory.

A dentist and a manicurist fought tooth and nail.

A bicycle can't stand alone; it is two tired.

A will is a dead giveaway.

A backward poet writes in verse.

In a democracy it's your vote that counts; in feudalism, it's your Count that votes.

A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.

If you don't pay your exorcist you can get repossessed.

With her marriage she got a new name and a dress.

When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.

The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine is now fully recovered.

A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France, resulted in Linoleum Blownapart.

You are stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.

He broke into song because he couldn't find the key.

A calendar's days are numbered.

A lot of money is tainted: 'Taint yours, and 'taint mine.

A boiled egg is hard to beat.

He had a photographic memory which was never developed.

A plateau is a high form of flattery.

Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.

When you've seen one shopping center you've seen a mall.

If you jump off a Paris bridge, you are in Seine.

When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she'd dye.

Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis.

Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.

Acupuncture: a jab well done

With thanks (if that's the word) to Wicked Thoughts

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Do they like Pina Colada and getting caught in the rain?


As my friend Eddie put it, here is a couple that needs to talk more.

With or without cocunutty comestibles, they have planned their escape: they're getting divorced.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them

Here is the list of Palestinians murdered on the first day of Israel's "Holocaust" against Gaza (thanks to Angry Arab).

A little light relief

Israel has been dropping flyers into Gaza requesting information on terrorists. So the Electronic Intifada decided to give them some. More jackboot than Jackass, but same basic idea.

The point where I felt reality had rendered satire obsolete (as Tom Lehrer said when Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize) was where the nice Israeli told EI that the Jews had been in Gaza for thousands of years while the Palestinians had only settled there recently. Anyone spot the mistake there? (Hint: (2009 - 1968) < 1,000.)

Thanks to Angry Arab for the link.

I have a question

...to the author of this article.

You say "The residents of Gaza, and the Palestinians as a whole, say they would like their own state. Yet such state must be earned. And earning a state – a piece of land to call your own – takes much more than incessant whining to the international community coupled with a desire to drive out the Jews."

So what did the residents of Israel do to "earn" the state they were gifted sixty years ago? Other than incessant whining to the international community coupled with a desire to drive out the Arabs? Certainly Israelis have never shown the slightest sign of inner strength (they run screaming from anyone who dares to fight back against Israeli terror). And if they have such a strong "desire to create rather than destroy", why after sixty years have they never translated such a desire into action?

Compare and contrast

A politician with convictions and the decency to do something about them.

vs.

A politician who briefly talks the talk but quickly toes the line in case his paymasters get upset.

In a world with too many of the second, we need more of the first. Personally, after this demonstration of Israel's "avoidance of civilian casualties" and its desire for peace, I'd like to see every nation in the civilised world expelling its Israeli ambassador. Why would anyone want diplomatic relations with such a country? One that would never have been established if it weren't for the UN, yet now defines the UN as an enemy and attacks civilians under its protection? Oh wait, they've been killing UN peacekeepers for years now, so no surprises there.

And the worst thing about the inaction of Obama, Bush and of course "peace envoy" Blair? Israel's murderous rampage could be stopped in an instant. It wouldn't take a international task force, or a nuclear strike on Tel Aviv. All it would take is for the USA to stop funding it. If Israel was reduced to reliance on its own resources (plus the ones it has stolen from its neighbours) for the first time in its history, I reckon it might last as long as two weeks before collapsing as all its welfare junkies fled screaming from the idea of working for a living. Just time for the rest of us to organise a farewell party.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

It must be a bugger for Israel when it can only censor its own press

This piece from Ha'aretz made me smile. Not just because the mere publication by the Guardian of an obituary into a senior political figure in the elected government of Palestine (even if he was a prick) evidently touched an Israeli nerve - and right now anything that causes pain, however slight, to the Holocaust supporters of Tel Aviv seems worth cherishing - but because of the final paragraphs:

Israel's Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Ron Prosor, said he was not surprised by the tone of the obituary.

"This is not the first obituary and it seems it won't be the last that The Guardian grants to Hamas terrorists."

Others recently honored by an obituary in The Guardian include Clash of Civilizations author Samuel Huntington, South African anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman and British Jewish playwright Harold Pinter.


I never knew that Huntington, Suzman and Pinter were Hamas terrorists.... But even if we ignore the careless writing, it's a lovely thought that the mere publication of the obituary of a Nobel prizewinner is felt worthy of comment in the context of the honouring of terrorists. And you know the Guardian's getting something right when it's getting up Ron Prosor's nose. Perhaps he's jealous, secure in the knowledge that no British paper would bother with an obituary for him.

Here, to add to his rhinitis, is a link to the Guardian obituary of Nizar Ghayan itself.

And here is a comment on the Ha'aretz piece which points out, as you will see, that it's full of lies.

Oops.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least among supporters of Israel such as the US and UK governments, the BBC and most of the American media, that Israeli missiles and shells never hit civilians because they are so carefully aimed that they can selectively kill Hamas militants even while demolishing a house on top of a family. Anyone who dies is ipso facto a militant, or so we are told.

So this story clearly shows that Hamas terrorists are now dressing themselves up in IDF uniforms and hiding in "structures" which must be military because no civilian structures are ever shelled by the IDF, The World's Most Moral Army (TM). The treachery of these Palestinians! First they keep civilians as human shields in military targets like mosques and hospitals, and now they don't even have the decency to look brown enough to tell apart from brave Israeli troops. Now if they were all made to wear the traditional Holocaust dress of striped pyjamas the exterminators' jobs would be so much simpler.

Israel delivers its threatened "Holocaust" with American-made WMDs. Meanwhile Blair goes shopping.

I posted last week about the BBC's hopeless pro-Israeli bias when reporting on the Gaza invasion. Here is an excellent piece from al-Jazeera on similar bias in the American news media.

The BBC continue as much in Israel's pocket as ever. Last night the Israeli attacks were invariably described as retaliation for the rocket attacks by Hamas. Hamas was also described as having broken the ceasefire,(ignoring Israel's refusal to abide by its terms in the first place by lifting the blockade. (Here are some of the big lies we get constantly from the BBC.)

I thought one of the pieces of footage showed an artillery shell disseminating cluster ordnance, which in a densely populated civilian area would undoubtedly be a serious war crime. Actually it seems to have been a white phosphorus shell. using those in populated areas is of course also illegal, but it would be rank anti-semitism to ascribe the wrong war crime to the IDF.

( I needn't have worried: Ha'aretz confirms the use of cluster ordnance but reckons the shells were "aimed at open areas". In the world's most densely populated place, with all escape routes barred - what open areas?)

Tony Blair was also shown "engaging early with Israel" by meeting the Israeli ambassador to Washington. No suggestion of any interest by him in engaging with Hamas or even the Palestinian Authority, and definitely no sign of his going anywhere near Gaza. (Though it seems he was on holiday, the poor dear. We couldn't expect him to miss an Armani opening with the prospact of free goodies just to go and look and some dead babies in the dirt.) In any case, he may not know where Gaza is, never once having been there. (He thought about it once but Israel told him not to so of course he complied.)

Blair's statement last week equated Hamas's rockets (total death toll at the time: nil) with Israel's attacks which had already killed several hundred civilians. Probably his contribution to "peace" in Gaza will be the same as when Israel attacked Lebanon last year: delay the implementation of any peace deal to allow Israel to maximise the civilian body count for domestic political purposes.

Here is a good analysis of what Israel is probably hoping to achieve by the present holocaust.

As that article mentions Jenin, it is of course obligatory to point out that the IDF did not "massacre" Palestinians there (though the article above doesn't make any such accusation, I bet I still get complaints from Friends of Israel). Jenin was no massacre (only 26 civilians dead officially, which is nothing for the IDF), just a collection of comman everyday Israeli war crimes (mass demolition of houses, torture, unlawful killings), though at least one investigator from Amnesty thought it likely there were many civilian bodies unaccounted for beneath the debris. As Israel banned a UN investigative team from entering they will have to live with the suspicion that Jenin was in fact more than just an everyday Israeli war crime.

His name doesn't lend itself to use as an SI unit though

I thought this was interesting, if only as a corrective to the Daily Mail readers (and writers) who seem to think that all Muslims are murderous and backward, and the militant atheists who imagine that professing any kind of religious faith means preferring scripture to science.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi etc

Hilary and I went to the cinema tonight to see Shah Rukh Kahn's latest Bollywood hit, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (God Made This Couple). We were the only non-Asians in the audience (not a shock but not a given these days either) but we enjoyed it immensely. It has a very silly plot which I won't try to explain, but it gives SRK the opportunity to do more comedy than usual, and he's very good at it. Of course he also gets to blub a bit, but there's less of that than usual so it sort of evens itself up. The only Youtube clips are trailers (or a making-of for the big dance number which is a bit pointless if you haven't seen the film). Suffice it to say the big "Item Number" is a collection of homages to earlier Bollywood leading men and ladies, featuring SRK and a starry line-up of female Bollywood heartthrobs (Kajol, Bipasha Basu, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherji....) The subtitles have a rather quaint quality, in part because they've made the song translations rhyme. Though I suspect the delightful "mention-not-ji" for "no problem" may henceforth become Saunders family usage.

As there are no good clips up yet, here is a somewhat similar homage from Dil Chahta Hai about which I posted a while ago. One of the couples in the film have been suggested to each other as an arranged match and laugh at the idea, and this scene is where they're just beginning to fall in love, though they're barely aware of it. They're in the cinema and see a pastiche of various Bollywood styles with themselves in the lead roles, which rather disconcerts them.... Here is Wo Ladki Hai Kahan:



And here is a really good song, set in a disco (which makes the dancing easy to integrate into the storyline). The video quality is rather sucky, but the sound's OK. Basically it's the film's three male leads singing a sort of one-for-all-all-for-one song about being mates, and about how they don't give a toss what other people think about them, they're just gonna have fun on their own terms. I give you Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe:

Friday, January 02, 2009

Here's to Fifty More Glorious Years


I forgot to post yesterday to congratulate Fidel Castro and the Cuban people on fifty years of demonstating that Communism can - and does - work. Not to mention showing a degree of solidarity and loyalty in the face of an illegal 46-year blockade and untiring (though unsuccessful) efforts by successive US presidents from Eisenhower to Shrub to overthrow the revolution, by assassination, starvation or simple invasion. Mistakes have been made along the way, but corrected and learned from.

We shall learn a lot about how credible Barack Obama is when he talks about change, or freedom. when we see what his policies are in relation to Cuba. Will he lift the blockade? Will he release the five Cubans held for attempting to investigate a plot to blow up Cuban airliners? Or will he simply mouth platitudes and take the money of Cuba's opponents in Miami and in the Bacardi corporation?

And we shall learn a lot about how durable the Cuban revolution really is when it has to survive not only Fidel Castro's retirement but his death. The signs are good: a lot of people expected it to collapse the instant Fidel stepped down, whereas it's in fine shape.

Meanwhile - rock on, Cuba.

We've been here before

Nobody can be surprised at the genocide presently being visited on the inhabitants of Gaza, as the Israeli government announced its intention to give them a "holocaust" ten months ago. Though it does rather spoil the sanitized this-is-just-because-of-the-rocket-attacks-and-only-Hamas-is-being-targeted fiction in which the BBC is of course deeply complicit.

I note that back in March, clearly underestimating the depths to which the BBC would stoop in toadying to Israel, I failed to spot that the remark by President Ahmadinejad about which they reported so much outrage was wholly fabricated, as a glance at his actual speech makes plain.

Really, if you want to know what's going on you're better off reading Ha'aretz, where they make no bones about Israel's targeting civilian areas (firing "warning missiles" first to reduce civilian casualties - you have to love them) and bombing mosques. (The spirit of Baruch Goldstein is alive and well in his beloved IDF.) Or of course you could simply follow al_Jazeera's excellent coverage.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

He had fun, fun, fun till the party took his Tony away

Following a link from a hilarious comment on my post yesterday about President Ahmadinejad's Christmas message, I've been enjoying the Tony Blair blog (formerly Keep Tony Blair For Prime Minister, so you know what to expect).

I can't decide whether the funniest thing is the fawning photographic tribute to Blair by a "grateful Iraqi" which he apparently "found" at....his own photobucket group. Well, at least he's honest, though finding it somewhere with a shred of an Iraqi connection would have convinced more.

Or is it his glowing praise for Melanie Phillips and her attitude to the "War against the West", where he encourages all his readers to subscribe to her site? He quotes at length her glowing praise of Mr Pastry John Bolton, disgraced ex-ambassador to the UN. Then, bless him, he tells us that he understands Mad Mel to be to the political right (writing for the Spectator and the Daily Mail? Gosh, we'd never have guessed) but that "I wouldn't say I belong there in any measurable or philosophical way". Um, is that apart from hosting a fan site for the most right-wing prime minister of the post-war era? the one who adopted all Thatcher's ideas and then dismembered the Labour Party to ensure there would be no effective opposition when he forced them into law? The one who in the manner of dictators throughout history created an imaginary threat to our way of life which only he knew the solution to? A solution which happened to involve scapegoating minorities, restricting immigration, damaging our relations with Europe for a generation, and a shift to internment without trial and shoot-on-sight policing? Ooh, no, nothing right wing about Tone the Drone.

Do visit his site. It's a hoot.

Ooh, and now the same chap has a Bring Back Tony Blair site too. I can support that. Bring him back and put him on trial in the Hague for his manifold atrocities, that's what we need. Though I doubt that's what BlairSupporter has in mind. (If anyone had the slightest doubt of his right-wing nutter credentials, incidentally, a mere half-minute scanning the new site threw up a reference by him to the "liberal intelligentsia press". Gosh, he's channeling Sarah Palin now.)

One final thought: "Bring Back Tony Blair" sounds like "Bring Back Hanging" or "Bring Back the Birch", a call for cruel and unusual punishment. And being called for by much the same people.

Not proud, but honest

In a post on ludicrous American lies about Israeli genocide, Craig Murray is remarkably honest about the fleeting feeling which I suspect many of us feel from time to time when hearing the news from West Asia, and which most of us (I hope) feel instantly ashamed of. But I do know exactly where he's coming from.

Meanwhile, let us pray for all the dead from more than 40 years of illegal military occupation, whether Palestinian or Israeli civilians, IDF soldiers, Palestinian terrorists, Israeli settlers, Olympic athletes - all of the above. Good or bad, guilty or innocent - may death bring them some kind of peace.

And let us also pray - to any god or none - that 2009 brings peace, or at least less killing, to Israel and all its neighbours.