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

Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Wingnuttery from Conservapedia

The Conservapedia entry for Liberal Denial (I read it to find out what on earth it was referring to) is priceless. Take #8:

Liberals deny they are liberal, and that most of the media are liberal.

If by "liberal" we understand "opposed in every way to the attitudes expressed in Conservapedia", then darn tootin' I'm a liberal. So #8 is instantly falsified.

Then there's #3:

Liberals deny how they censor the Bible from their daily activities, and encourage the censorship for others too

I don't deny censoring the Bible from my daily activities: indeed I am hard-pressed to find any daily activity in which I would find the Bible of any utility. There's too much print on the pages for them to be of much use for shopping lists, and while undoubtedly I could use the Bible to squash wasps I generally go for a magazine. Not being a pre-industrial carpenter, I rarely find myself staring at a piece of wood and thinking "What would Jesus do?" In most parts of my daily life, the answer to that question would be "Stand there looking stupid while the workings of the most basic modern technology were explained to him".

But seriously (if one can take any of this junk seriously) there are wonders in here such as:

(Liberals deny) that state run health care has lead to Islamic terrorism in Britain, and would do so in the US.

(Liberals deny) that successful democracy, both historically and logically, is the result of Protestant Christianity.

(Liberals deny) that heavy metal music is generally anti-Christian and promotes themes such as drugs, sex and Satan worship.

(Liberals deny) that the intellectual justification for Hitler's attempt to build a master Aryan race was the theory of evolution.

And finally....

(Liberals deny) that they make sweeping generalizations about Conservatives.

Whereas Conservatives proudly trumpet their own sweeping generalizations about Liberals.

Sudden Islamophobia Syndrome

An excellent example of Sudden Islamophobia Syndrome.

(Compare and contrast with "Sudden Jihad Syndrome" as promoted by Daniel Pipes, Cinnamon Stillwell, and other Muslim-haters).

And note the desperation with which Pamela Geller tries to blame the attack, bizarrely, on "leftist" supporters of the Park51 Islamic Centre. Because since Muslims are obviously the cause of all crime, if a Muslim appears to be the victim the whole thing must have been faked to make Muslims appear to be the victims, right?

P.S. On the subject of bigoted loonies, while I was in Conservapedia looking up "Sudden Jihad Syndrome" I came across this delight: Examples of Bias in Wikipedia. My personal favourite is #29, though #11, #13, #19, #40 and #46 are all rather sweet in their ignorant-hicksy way.


One of the festival reviews I haven't yet got round to posting is of an excellent concert by Arlo Guthrie. He read out a delightful poem for children, and I found it online here. For once I'm going to cut and paste it for your more ready enjoyment:

Mooses Come Walking
by Arlo Guthrie

Mooses come walking over the hill
Mooses come walking, they rarely stand still
When mooses come walking they go where they will
When mooses come walking over the hill

Mooses look into your window at night
They look to the left and they look to the right
The mooses are smiling, they think it's a zoo
And that's why the mooses like looking at you

So, if you see mooses while lying in bed
It's best to just stay there pretending you're dead
The mooses will leave and you'll get the thrill
Of seeing the mooses go over the hill

©1993 Arloco Music, Inc. (ASCAP)

And the man posts pictures of Portland Harbour - what's not to like?

It's not often I have to thank Uncle Jimmy for posting a link to something worthwhile: but thank for this one.

Peter Reynolds' blog looks pretty interesting. At a quick look, I agree with him completely on Israel/Palestine, on the legalisation of drugs, and on Tony Blair's donation to the Royal broitiosh Legion, which are the topics he's posted on most recently. I disagree with him over gun control and over the value of Prince Charles's opinions on architecture. And he lists Uncle Jimmy's blog in his "essential" list: hmmmm.

He posted a brilliant article by Margaret Atwood - he couldn't link to it as it appeared in the Times which is now subscription only. Here's his copy: go and read it (scroll down a little).

Oh, and if the title puzzled you, you've probably forgotten where my parents came from (and where my brother lived until his death earlier this year). A very early childhood memory of mine is of having the USS Nautilus pointed out to me in Portland Harbour: the world's first nuclear submarine had just made landfall after being the first ship to travel under the North Pole. And part of one of the Mulberry harbours used in the D-Day landings is still there.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fribo: St Bride's Centre, Edinburgh,15 August 2010

I saw first saw Fribo in Glasgow back in January 2009. This time they were alone on the bill, and they now have a new line-up. Founder member Sarah-Jane Summers has decamped to Norway (appropriately I suppose) and her place on fiddle (and sometimes vocals) is fellow Scot Hannah Read, apparently in her final year at Berklee. On this showing Read is every bit the fiddler that Summers was, though much blonder and with an occasionally distracting habit of standing on one leg while playing (as she was wearing a red dress I kept thinking of Pretty Flamingo). This time Fribo had brought their own percussionist rather than borrowing a local one: Magnus Lundmark, who played cajon. (Coincidentally we bought my drumming son a cajon for his 18th birthday and it arrived the following day.) I think of cajons as hand drums but Lundmark played mainly with a set of brushes, which was interesting. Anne Sofie Linge Valdal was just as good on vocals as before but could shine on her own: and I have rarely seen such a cheerful singer. This woman could smile for Scotland (if she weren't Norwegian).

The music was as good as ever. Most of it was on the limited edition CD (Happ) they were selling, which I gather from Ewan MacPherson is due to be re-recorded and/or remixed into a fianl version with additional material later in the year in Norway. The one I bought sounds just fine so I don't imagine I'll trade up, but for the rest of you it should be worth getting if you have any interest in Nu-Nordic music.

I've just spotted that the CD has additional percussion by Signy Jakobsdottir, last year's "local" percussonist, so either Signy wasn't just co-opted for the Glasgow gig last year or they decided to keep her. My mistake.

My only reservation about the gig, the only thing that would drop it from five stars to four, is that this time in a small intimate venue it became clear that Fribo are a band who would really shine most where they could interact more with the audience. In Glasgow they were in a huge hall, and nobody expects interaction there other than from seriously brilliant workers of an audience. But here I kept thinking how much better they would be if the house lights were up and they could see who they were playing to, and how seriously amazing they could be in, say, a ceildh setting, or anywhere where people could get up and dance (they could set up in the bar at your local and tear the roof off) Because so much of what they play is dance music, albeit dance music with slashes through its Os and circles over its As: and they really are excellent at it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dan Cruickshank: Edinburgh Book Festival 15 August 2010

We saw Dan Cruickshank in the Book Festival a couple of years ago (review here) and much of my description of that talk could just be cut and pasted in here (the hand-waving, general Patrick Moore-like demeanour, inability to stick to a timetable...). This time he was talking about his book The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital. Georgian London wasn't planned like Edinburgh's New Town, but was thrown up piecemeal by speculative builders. And a lot of the money which funded it came from the sex trade, which was much more open and socially accepted than it would become in Victorian times. It was possible for a former prostitute to become the mistress and even the wife of someone of the highest social standing. Dan had plenty of Hogarth cartoons to show as well as portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds (ones he painted to keep rather than to sell) of some famous high-class hookers.

While he was every bit as enthusuastic as last time, and still fascinating, Hilary and I both felt his talk had too much of an unplanned feel about it: that this time he'd digressed down byways which might actually not all have been more interesting than the bits of his main narrrative he didn't get round to presenting.

Easily his best anecdote, though, concerned Lavinia Fenton, the actress who played Polly Peachum in the original production of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. She caught the eye of the Duke of Bolton, who became infatuated with her, kept her as his mistress and when his wife died, married her. Dan had rung up the current Lord Bolton (not a Duke any more - downrated by the aristocratic version of S&P) and got his wife on he phone. He explained that he was ringing about Lavinia Fenton, the former Duchess, and was absolutley floored when the current Lady Bolton said "But I'm Lavinia Fenton too"! Apparently she had been born Lavinia fenton, read about her famous namesake, found that Lord Bolton lived not too far away, went and knocked on his door for a chat....and ended up marrying him. Sometimes life really is weirder than anything you could imagine.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fatima Bhutto: Edinburgh Book Festival 15 August 2010

Fatima Bhutto belongs to a famous Pakistani political dynasty: her grandfather was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, imprisoned and murdered by General Zia ul-Haq (and immortalised, warts and all, by Salman Rushdie as Iskander Harappa in his novel Shame). Her aunt was Benazir Bhutto, also a victim of a political assassination. This much I knew before I saw her. I hadn't realised that her father Mir Murtaza Bhutto had been murdered by a police death squad. Hardly surprising, then, that one of her themes was the "tradition" of political assassination in Pakistan, by all parties, as a way of settling scores and removing opponents. Her latest book Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter's Memoir pulls no punches, nor did she in her talk.

Fatima Bhutto is an extraordinary woman by any standards. For a woman living in Pakistan as a member of a high-profile family, her courage and candour are extraordinary. It goes without saying that she receives death threats. This is a woman who is prepared to say that David Cameron was right about the Pakistani government's ambivalent attitude to terror; who is prepared to say that the problem of Islamic terror in Pakistan has been made much worse by US policy, especially the policy of arming the mujahideen against the USSR in the late 1970s and early 1980s; and who is not afraid to call a spade a spade, or the spectacularly corrupt Musharraf government a spectacularly corrupt government. Benazir was a favourite auntie and they used to be close, but Fatima does not hesitate to point out that grandfather Zulfikar Ali made the only serious attempt to address Pakistan's huge inequality of wealth by limiting landholdings, a reform which Benazir reversed when she came to power so that the gap between the billionaires and the shanty-dwellers was restored. Nor does she flinch from mentioning that Benazir authorised the police death squads whose "clean-up" operations included her father's murder, and indeed applauded ther zeal. The Bhutto name may gain Fatima an audience, but she has no interest in Bhutto hagiography or in a political career for herself. She's a writer and a writer she will stay.

Her talk went all too quickly. We learned that the best chance for peace between India and Pakistan (and indeed Iran) had been the proposed natural gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan. This would have gained India gas it needed, given Iran a market for its excess gas, and brought Pakistan in an income from both. There would have been incentives for peaceful co-operation all round. In the even the scheme came to nothing because the USA disapproved, and bribed Pakistan to scupper the deal by offering it nuclear technology (just the kind Iran is now developing). We learned that endemic corruption means that almost none of the vast amount of aid money poured into Pakistan by the USA, UK, EU and others reaches its destination, and also how this in turn fuels fundamentalism and terror. (If your village has no government-supplied scholl because a warlord has pocketed the money, then the Taleban and their kind provide the only opportunity to read and write, and get to guide your education and your children's.) She did stress that although any money supplied directly to the government would mysteriously (or not so mysteriously really) vanish, donations given to Oxfam, War on Want, and especially the Red Cross/Red Crescent were accounted for properly and reached their destination.

A fascinating hour.

William Wegman: Family Combinations - City Art Centre, Edinburgh

This was a delightful exhibition by the American photographer William Wegman featuring his family of Weimeraner dogs. The photographs are a mixture of naturalistic pictures of the dogs in various locations (perched on a huge bollard at a harbour, or nine sleeping puppies in among a pile of rocks and almost indistiguishable from it) and more contrived pictures with the dogs and various props. Both are delightful, and in both he manages to bring out the different personalities of the dogs to a remarkable extent. There were also videos: I didn't watch all of these but they mostly seemed to involve clothes (creating the illusion of people with dogs' heads). Some were taken when his dogs appeared on Sesame Street though I didn't see those. I found the videos very slightly creepy, but the photographs which formed the bulk of the exhibition were utterly charming.

If you're in Edinburgh, it's on until 24 October and is well worth a visit.

No Israeli complaints of antisemitism? Must be balanced then.

An update on this post. I received a reply to my email of complaint: the same reply, it would appear, that every complainant received. The whole text is below, but first I'd like to point out just a few sections of this piece of complacent arrogance.

1) Jane Corbin is a world renowned journalist with twenty years’ experience reporting for ‘Panorama’ and the on-going conflict in the Middle East. She is respected for her dedicated, impartial and balanced work on both sides of the conflict and approached this subject with the same level of fairness which she is known for.

Translation: how dare you accuse our embedded-with-the-IDF reporter of bias. How DARE you!
2) We appreciate some viewers were unhappy about the nature of the video and audio footage we showed......The majority of the footage used in the programme is openly available on the internet........All featured footage was meticulously double and cross checked to verify its accuracy; any footage of uncertain events during the raid was clearly labelled as such.

Translation: we described the notorious bogus "Go back to Auschwitz" footage in a voiceover as being of "disputed authenticity", and you can get it on the web and find out there that it's fake, so what's the problem? OK, so you could say the same about the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, but this is our progeamme and we decide what gets shown on the basis of ideology, not fact. Suck it up, plebs. And of course we didn't ask for access to the hundreds of hours of video footage confiscated by the Israelis from the passengers on the Mavi Marmara. Why would we be interested in that?

3) The programme made it clear that the flotilla was still in international waters, ninety miles from Gaza.

Translation: .....but obviously the question of whether the Israeli attack was therefore legal or not was not in our remit. Why bite the hand that feeds you?

4) We believe the programme was balanced and impartial.

Translation: After we had spent five minutes discussing the iron rods and knives used by the passengers (with pictures), and reporting an IDF spokesman suggestimg that they had firearms (with no evidence of a single bullet wound to an Israeli soldier), and a further five telling how the IDF had fired paintballs and shot at passengers' legs, obviously we had no time to consider why there were no serious injuries among the solders but nine fatalities among the passengers (shot at close range, mainly in the back of the head, according to the autopsy report). If you consider this unbalanced there must be something wrong with you, not with us.

5) We acknowledge the strength of your views regarding this matter, thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Translation: Fuck off and stop wasting our time with your pitiful bleatings about truth and balance: we have a hasbara service to run here.

Here is the full thing in all its high-handed glory. (The mis-spelling of "culturesofresistance.org" is the BBC's, showing how much attention they paid to the token non-Israeli footage).

Dear Mr Saunders
Thank you for your feedback regarding ‘Panorama – Death in the Med’ as broadcast on 16 August. Please be assured that your concerns were forwarded to the programme’s production team.

We understand the strength of feeling regarding the Israeli Defence Force’s operation against the Mavi Marmara on 31 May 2010. We recognise the complexity of the subject and note its ramifications within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole.

This programme intended to explore the considerable confusion about what actually happened on the Mavi Marmara on the day in question.

Israel has been accused of breaking international law by seizing a Turkish ship. Israel says the protesters were terrorists. Turkey insists they were innocent victims. With several inquiries underway Panorama’s Jane Corbin uncovered important new evidence from both sides in a bid to establish what really happened.

Jane Corbin is a world renowned journalist with twenty years’ experience reporting for ‘Panorama’ and the on-going conflict in the Middle East. She is respected for her dedicated, impartial and balanced work on both sides of the conflict and approached this subject with the same level of fairness which she is known for.

We appreciate some viewers were unhappy about the nature of the video and audio footage we showed. We can assure you that enormous care was involved in selecting the footage we showed. During the programme we made it clear that a variety of different sources were shown, some from the Israeli Defence Force, some from the IHH and “culturesofresitance.org” and others from individuals who were onboard the Mavi Marmara on the night in question. The majority of the footage used in the programme is openly available on the internet.

All featured footage was meticulously double and cross checked to verify its accuracy; any footage of uncertain events during the raid was clearly labelled as such.

Viewers were shown a wide range of opinions and whenever a question of authenticity of footage arose, we made this clear.

We also spoke extensively to the groups and individuals involved in the incident including three Israeli commandos involved in the raid; the head of the IHH - Bulent Yildirim; the Free Gaza Coordinator on board the Mavi Marmara - Lubna Masarwa; three Turkish activists and activist Ken O’Keefe, who were on board the Mavi Marmara on the night in question. We also spoke to Hamas official Dr Ahmed Yousef in Gaza. They were all given sufficient time and a platform to make their points.

The programme made it clear that the flotilla was still in international waters, ninety miles from Gaza. The programme also made it clear that a number of inquiries are ongoing.

We believe the programme was balanced and impartial, going to great lengths to give opposing sides the opportunity to air their views.

We acknowledge the strength of your views regarding this matter, thanks again for taking the time to contact us.
Kind Regards
BBC Audience Services

Thursday, August 19, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

In the sense, at least, that it's a post from Uncle Jimmy to which I appended a comment which wasn't rude about UJ or even about Blair himself. Here's the post, on the news story that Tony Blair is to donate the profits from his memoirs to the Royal British Legion's Battle Back Centre, a charity rehabilitating injured ex-servicemen.

And here is the comment I added:

I don’t like Blair, and the RBL in general is far from my favourite charity. However, praise where it’s due and all that: I would have been (OK, was) near the head of the queue to criticise TB for adding to the personal wealth amassed on the back of his appalling incumbency, so let me cross over to the other line and barge apologetically (sorry, don’t normally comment here, persona non wossname) into the queue to praise his giving the proceeds to charity. And, while it may surprise you, I mean no irony when I say that his choice of charity seems particularly apt. I may not be able to raise a cheer for Blair, but I’ll raise a glass just this once.

And I meant it. Obviously I have no special insight into Blair's motivation for the gift. A desire to improve his reputation for greed? A wish to be seen to be doing something for those injured in wars he sent them into? A suggestion from his tax accountant? Hell, maybe for once what you see is what you get and the bloke had the same kind of feeling you get when you pass a Big Issue seller. (Though few of us, I imagine, pay £4.6 million for a Big Issue.) Whatever. Just this once, the money is ending up not in Blair's pocket but in those of folk less fortunate than him. It doesn't make him Timothy Winters, but he gets a glass raised.

The Phone With Two Brains

The spellcheckers on iPhones are weird. I texted my wife the other day to remark that mine kept offering unhelpful suggestions instead of perfectly good words, while leaving total garbage unchecked. Hmm, she texted back, we'll have to incestigate. It took me a minute or two to twig that she wasn't being extremely quick and witty but had actually hit the adjacent key, whereupon the spellchecker had proved my point. (Though oddly enough when I texted her back my spellchecker did flag it up.) It's a great word though, innit?

Dr Freud: So, young man, let us continue our incestigation into your relationship with your mother....

Postscript: today I was texting and went to type "silence" but omitted the "l". What word do you think my iPhone suggested when I had typed "sience"? Was it "silence"? "science"? "since", perhaps? "Siena"?

None of the above. It was....."diencephalic".

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Renaissance Fair from Hell

I have Phil to thank (if that's the word) for my new obsession. You see, like my kids, I have long been a fan of parody music videos of the Weird Al Yankovic kind, where a song is kitted out with new Mondegreen-type lyrics and then a video is shot to accompany them. This sort of thing:

But what if the lyics weren't a stand-alone parody of the song but instead were a running commentary on the video itself? Here's the one Phil pointed out:

in which I keep finding new things to enjoy.

Of course, in the same way that not every song parody is as good as Weird Al, there are a lot of crappy Literal Video Versions out there. Some have good lyrics but are let down by the poor singing (there's a Strawberry Fields Forever near miss out there, and an almost tolerable I Believe In A Thing Called Love). Some are just, well, crap. SO far I've found one other which I like as much as Bonnie Tyler, if not in fact more. Here it is:

Enjoy. And if you find any more really good ones, let me know.

Dance Your Way To Psychic Sex, by Alice Turing

Not everyone who goes under a pseudonym is a racist creep like BlairSupporter. My friend "Alice Turing", for example, is a fine writer whose first novel (published under her real name) I enjoyed immoderately and will probably read again soon. Her new novel Dance Your Way To Psychic Sex has been published in Germany for some time, but owing to problems finding a British publisher Alice has made it available for sale online. She has sold enough advance copies to make it economic to get a print run done. I bought one, and so did Lisa. There are a couple of dozen left. Why not do yourself an unexpected favour and buy one? I can't guarantee you'll enjoy it, but if you're the kind of visitor to this blog who pays attention to my recommendations (as opposed to the ones looking for wet T-shirt pictures or posting sarcastic comments on my political pieces) you probably will.

If you need more persuasion, read this interview.

OK, now buy the sodding book.

Rhapsodies In Red, White and Blue: RSNO, Usher Hall, 14 August 2010

Back in the Usher Hall for another well-attended concert. This time the orchestra was the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Gunter Schuller. I'd seen Schuller before: I can''t remember what he was conducting then though I think it included one of his own pieces. Schuller was a pioneer of what might be termed classical-jazz fusion, epitomised for me by the album where I first heard of him, Jazz Abstractions with Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Jim Hall (among others) and the Contemporary String Quartet. Anyway, Gunter Schuller was here on Saturday to conduct an all-American programme of Copland, Gershwin and Ives.

We kicked off with a piece I'd never heard right through, though I saw James Earl Jones doing part of it in news footage of Bill Clinton's Inauguaration (the second one I think). This was Copland's Lincoln Portrait, which begins with settings of various tunes associated with the American Civil War, before the orchestra is joined by a speaker (here Clarke Peters) who reads extracts from speeches by Abraham Lincoln. It is a moving though not maudlin piece, and made a good start to an otherwise very exuberant evening.

Next, the pianist Steven Osborne joined some of the RSNO for a performance of Gershwin's Rhaosody In Blue. this, though, was not the normal orchestral version but the original version created for Paul Whiteman's jazz band. (In my youth I had a 78 rpm record of Gershwin himself playing this version with Whiteman, but I'd never heard it live.) The orchestra was augmented by a tuba player who doubled on string bass (not something one sees every day, especially as he was using two tubas in different keys as well), three saxophones and a banjo player. (This turned out to work alongside my wife: it was Robin Robertson who teaches guitar at Stevenson College. He got a well-deserved special handshake and bow from Gunter Schuller at the end.)

Steven Osborne's performance was formidably accurate, if perhaps a touch risk-averse for my taste. (It's all relative, of course: Gershwin gives the pianist plenty of adrenalin-laden moments, and only someone of his own - or Osborne's - awesome technique has the luxury of being able to make any of it sound safe.) The RSNO, though, clearly relished being a jazz band, even if John Cushing's opening glissando was simply a rapid swoosh rather than a true note-bender. Much fun was had by all, including the now fairly elderly Schuller who conducted the whole evening sitting down. The audience just loved it, and so did I.

After the interval we had a rare performance of Charles Ives's Fourth Symphony. This monster uses a large orchestra with nine percussionists, three pianists (a soloist on a big concert grand, an orchestral pianist on a smaller grand, and another on a quarter-tone piano, which must have been hell to tune in the days before digital keyboards - and the symphony was premiered in 1965 having been written back in the 1920s but not fully edited and assembled). There is a chorus, and an organ. This ain't chamber music. The music itself lurches from a restrained opening, with the chorus singing "Watchman, what of the night?" to an full-blown cacophony not unlike something from Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica. The third movement is a simple fugue, one of the most beautiful and tonal movements Ives ever wrote. The finale begins with the percussion letting rip before the rest of the orchestra join in, all seemingly in different time signatures and tempi though less anarchic than before - more Zappa than Beefheart. At the climax the chorus come in, wordlessly singing a hymn tune, and the orchestra gradually calms down towards the ending.

The only time I had seen this piece done before was a few years ago in the festival when John Adams conducted it (I think with an American orchestra). Schuller's version may not have shaken the foundations the way Adams did at the climaxes (that may have had more to do with the orchestra than the conductor) but he brought a clarity to the performance that Adams couldn't match, as well as bringing out the lyricism of the third movement. It's easy to think of Ives as needing the adrenalin of a Bernstein, a Previn or even a Rattle, yet the premiere was given by none other than Leopold Stokowski, the only conductor to be impersonated - quite well actually -by Bugs Bunny (in Long-Haired Hare). The RSNO responded brilliantly to Schuller's understated style and brought the symphony, and the concert, to an uplifting end.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Edinburgh International Festival Opening Concert: El Niño, Usher Hall, 13 August 2010

I'd better start on my festival reviews before I get so far behind I become overwhelmed (I still have much of last year's festival remaining unreviewed, and the pile of programmes and handwritten notes stares at me reproachfully when I dust it).

So, last Friday the official festival kicked off with the BBS Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Conlon, doing El Niño by John Adams. This is an oratorio about the nativity, inspired by Handel's Messiah not just in its subject matter but in the fact that the soloists are not tied to singing the same character all the way through. El Niño includes material from both the Old and New Testaments, as well as from some apocryphal New Testament writings (Gospel of James, Gospel of pseudo-Matthew). It also sets texts by Hildegard of Bingen and a number of oter female poets - for this is a nativity definitely as seen from a female perspective, and contrasts the human physical experience of childbirth with the mystical birth of Christ. The first half of the piece takes us up to the birth, while the second deals with the Magi and the massacre of the innocents, which in this instance is underlined by a setting of Rosario de Castellanos's poem Memorial de Tlatelolco, which commemorates the massacre of several hundred students at a political demonstration in Mexico in 1968 (yes, not long after the Olympics) and the way it was more or less totally covered up. I certainly was unaware of it. Both the poem and the music are exceptionally powerful, which could be said of much of the piece.

The music is both much more varied and more moving than I had anticipated: I've seen three Adams stage works but here there was no production to distract attention from the music in the way that Nixon In China's onstage Airforce One, Klinghoffer's ship or Ceiling/Sky's sets by renowned graffiti artists did. I think it was The babe leaped in her womb which made great use of a gamelan, non-western tuning and all, while the final Una palmera, sung by a chorus of young girls, was utterly charming and exceptionally beautiful. There were six vocal soloists: Jessica Rivera (sop), Kelley O'Connor (mezzo), Willard White (bass-bar), and a trio of counter-tenors Robin Blaze, Paul Flight and William Purefoy. All were very fine indeed, as were the Festival Chours and the NYCS National Girls' Choir. The BBCSSO played their hearts out, fielding fewer strings than usual to reduce the density of the textures: and special mention to their two keyboard players (sharing three keyboards) who were kept very busy.

A splendid opening night, and sold out - as it should be.

I, too, love the name Dr Reginald Osiris for a villain

I don't often review books in this blog, and this isn't exactly going to be a review. It's just that I am currently reading a hilarious book by Victoria Coren (presenter of Only Connect) and Charlie Skelton entitled Once More With Feeling. If I tell you that its subtitle is How We Tried To Make The Greatest Porn Film Ever you may begin to see the appeal. It is proving to be not only very funny but also very interesting about the mechanics (and indeed economics, psychology and sociology) of porn film production (thus far just in the USA). There are some great interviews with porn stars, and when I say "great" I don't simply mean "funny" or "oo-er missus" but genuinely revealing and thought-provoking (and clearly having provoked thought in the authors as well as the reader). Try and find a copy. Apart from anything else, you will never be able to watch Only Connect again without thinking about...oh, read it yourself.

An edited version of this letter is published in today's Guardian


Not for the first time, Simon Hoggart (column, 7 August) allows common sense to desert him when he imagines he has the "nanny state" in his sights. The stepping stones over the river Dove have not been renovated because of an obsession with health & safety (if anyone has such an obsession it is Hoggart) but because they are part of a right of way used in high season by literally thousands of walkers each day. Despite their being referred to in The Compleat Angler (a book it is doubtful whether one visitor in ten thousand has ever heard of, let alone read) they were not constructed, nor are they used today, purely as a landscape ornament in the manner of Capability Brown. These stones were made for walking, and the renovation (using local limestone in what the picture in his column show to be a perfectly respectful and unobtrusive way) is aimed at keeping them that way.

I suspect Hoggart's issue is that he hates having to share "his" picture-postcard view of stones which he clearly has never used (slipping off is more likely to get you a gashed
leg or a sprained ankle than simply wet feet) with the hoi-polloi who actually continue the tradition of using them to get from A to B. If the council had done nothing and in twenty years' time the stones had become so eroded as to be both unusable and irreparable, Hoggart would doubtless be sitting somewhere in France moaning about how much better care the French take of their heritage than we do.

Still, in his next paragraph he describes Tony Blair as being a "heralded, loved and acclaimed prime minister". Clearly the man needs help.

Non-Mideast Non-Muslims Riot Over Non-Danish Video Images

In case you imagined that anger over "blasphemous" pictures was restricted to Muslims complaining about Danish cartoons, here are some non-Muslim South Africans getting heated over a painting of Nelson Mandela.

And let's not forget this gem (originally published by Matthew Hogan under the title I have stolen for this post).

Nor should we forget Mary Whitehouse, Lord Longford and their prosecution of Gay News for "blasphemous libel" in publishing "The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name" by James Kirkup: a crap poem by a man rightly described at the time as Britain's first dissident poet.

Incidentally, I am amused to note that none of the links I have found to Kirkup's poem includes the spectacularly tasteless original artwork, which I must therefore leave to your imagination. It, er, illustrated the poem's subject matter. That is all.

Uncle Jimmy finally drifts off-planet

Hard to say which of Uncle Jimmy's most recent posts most clearly shows his growing derangement. Is it this attempt (I think) at satire or humour or both?

Or this one? Apart from telling us that David Kelly believed Saddam had WMDs (is this supposed to be news? did he ever deny it?) I am at a loss to say WHAT this one is meant to be about as incherence takes over altogether. Something about Blair, I think.

Gosh. If this goes on I shall be starting to feel sympathy for the poor dear lad as his mind gives way.

Nah, just kidding. If he wants to kill or otherwise harm himself he can do so without my getting in the way.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Zionist Broadcasting Corporation does what it's paid for, again

I have just been watching tonight's BBC Panorama programme on the Mavi Marmara massacre. If anyone was ever in doubt that the BBC's coverage of Middle Eastern affairs is bought and paid for by the Israeli government, this should clarify the matter. According to the BBC (whose reporter was embedded with the IDF and went with them on training exercises) the convoy's organisers (the Turkish IHH) had terrorist links (a claim, BTW, made only by the Israelis). At no point was the legality of a challenge to a ship in international waters by Israeli forces questioned at all. Much play was made of the activists' determination to defend themselves if attacked. One activist said that if he died he wanted his family to know he had done so in a good cause: this was spun to make it look as though he was intending to martyr himself like a suicide bomber. The Israelis claimed that the activists had firearms other than those seized from the IDF, but the display of weapons confiscated showed nothing more sinister than kitchen knives, and while there were IDF soldiers claiming to have been stabbed none claimed to have been shot. We were shown the footage (now admitted by the Israelis to be fake) of the "Go back to Auschwitz" message from the Mavi Marmara, with only the comment that its authenticity was disputed. (This is like quoting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and saying "their authenticity is disputed".) We had a loving close-up of (supposedly) an activist holding a knife, though it was being held between finger and thumb as though perhaps, it had been picked up from an IDF soldier (it looked like a military knife as against the kitchen knives the IDF claimed to have confiscated). We had IDF soldiers explaining how they advanced through the ship shooting activists in the legs (though not how this resulted in the casualties shot in the back of the head). We heard much of the fear of the poor IDF soldiers whose abseil route to the deck had been compromised by the wicked activists (they tied it to an antenna instead of simply rolling over and capitulating, so of course they had to be shot, in self defence, by the frightened darlings of the IDF).

Finally, and the ultimate insult to the memory of those who died in the massacre, the Panorama presenter told us that the convoy was purely a political stunt and not about aid at all, because among the cargo seized by the Israelis (and still sitting in storage somewhere despite the IDF's claims that it would pass it on to its Gaza recipients) she found (or was given by her Israeli minders - no proof was offered that they had any connection with the convoy) some date-expired, and thus "useless", medicines. Hmm, let's see now. My child's arm has just been blown off by an Israeli bomb and I have the choice of (a) no painkillers or antibiotics, or (b) painkillers and antibiotics with labels saying they should be used by 10 August 2010. Should I refuse to use the medicines because their effectiveness might be less than 100%? Is this even a sensible question given that the medicines are still sitting in some IDF officer's yard for hasbara use with gullible journalists like the BBC and are more likely to be eventually sold on the black market than to get within ten miles of Gaza?

And so on, and on. It would seem that the IDF could establish a floating gas chamber in the Mediterranean and shove whomever they wished into it, and if their spokesmen said the victims were terrorists and the IDF were acting in self-defence, the BBC would accept it without question. This programme made me feel ill, and I shall not be looking for any kind of truthful coverage of West Asian affairs from the BBC (not that I did before, after their initial refusal to permit charity appeals on behalf of the victims of Operation Cast Lead).

Let's just return to basics. What justification does Israel believe it has for boarding foreign vessels in international waters? Because until that is established, the degree of resistance it met, whether that be iron bars, knives, Kalashnikovs, or tactical nuclear weapons, is irrelevant. That the BBC showed no interest whatsoever in this basic question tells you all you need to know about its sympathies, even before its propagation of admitted Israeli fake footage.


Inspired by this farrago, I have today made my first ever complaint to the BBC about a programme. I also complained to OFCOM, and would encourage anyone else who feels strongly about the programme (watch it first though!) to do so. Be warned that OFCOM has a 750-character limit for complaints, so minimalism is encouraged.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Victims we know so well

As you would expect fom the BBC, this radio 4 documentary about the Mossad is mostly fairly laudatory. But listen to a former Mossad agent at around 5:25 saying how they felt back in the 60s they could get away with any crimes because all the rest of the world felt sympathy for Israel over the Holocaust and over the attitude of their Arab neighbours. I remember that being exactly the general attitude of people when I was at school and university (so after both the 1967 and 1973 wars). I acted in a student play drawing parallels between the Christmas story and current events, and its sympathies were wholly - and at the time uncontroversially - with the Israelis. (I played a security guard in a courtroom in which my then girlfriend was playing a Palestinian terrorist). At about the same time the IDF mounted the Entebbe raid which gained them huge admiration in Britain. I don't think Irsrael was knocked off its pedestal for the British public (it remains on it for most of our media of course) until Sharon turned a Nelsonian blind eye to the massacre in the Sabra and Chatila camps in Lebanon by his "Christian" allies.

Interesting though to hear that the Mossad deliberately played on the idea of Israel as victim back then, when we knew no better and fell for it.

Israel keeps on lying, the world keeps on nailing their lies

Just found this great piece by Mark Steel in the Independent on the Mavi Marmara massacre. (Hat tip to Gilad Atzmon.)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Useless idiot

The loathsome Uncle Jimmy, having run out of spleen to vent on Lauren Booth, returns to his normal sport of Galloway-insulting. Presumably the poor fool hasn't twigged that George - had he ever heard of Jimmy or his neofascist website - would consider Jimmy's disapprobation to be confirmation that he is doing something right. Jimmy, of course, has to dredge up a story from January 2009 and dress it up as though it were news (well, the poor dear can't have had his weekly update from the Israeli Embassy so will be running short of material).

I did like his description of George Galloway and Yvonne Ridley as "supposedly British". This from an anonymous American who tries to pass himself off as a Brit (while insisting that Barack Obama isn't American). Hypocritical, much?

But let me make one thing quite clear. Whatever otheres may have said, I have never, ever, described Uncle Jimmy as a "useful idiot". An idiot, undeniably. But a bigger waste of protein was never visited on the human race: not even Blair himself.

After Juliet, Pilrig Studio, 10 August 2010

And they're off! The 2010 Edinburgh Festival season is officially under way, and my first port of call was the Pilrig Studio, to see the pupils of John B Connally High School (Austin, TX) performing After Juliet by Sharman Macdonald. This is a sequel to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and imagines how things panned out for the Montagues and Capulets, still hating each others' guts but constrained to stop fighting. The main characters are Benvolio (Raymond White), a Montague, who loves Rosaline (Keaton Patterson), a Capulet still carrying a torch for Romeo (with whom she was in love before he met Juliet). Sharman Macdonald is a Scottish playwright who was given the idea for the play by her now-rather-famous daughter Keira Knightley, who went on to play Rosaline at the Young Vic when she was 14. I didn't know the play, and enjoyed it not only for the way the characters develop but for the unresolved ending, where the heads of the families seem to be reconciled with each other but the rank and file are still beating each other up.

It's always fun reading the programme notes for these tings, as we find Raymond White is a nationally competitive gymnast (on a gymnastics scholarship to the University of Oklahoma). I kept wondering if we'd see any onstage gymnastics, and was rewarded with a splendid backflip from one level down to another near the end.

Valentine (James Balandran) muffed a line near the start and simply repeated the line correctly without a single flicker of emotion (and I mean ABSOLUTELY nothing). I was very impressed. This was the production's first performance in this year's Fringe, so some glitches were pretty inevitable. I didn't spot any others though.

The use of music in the production was good, including Muse's Supermassive Black Hole. Apparently the play is supposed to have an onstage drummer providing musical commentary on the action: a custom, I imagine, more honoured in the breach than the observance. (Yes, yes, I know, Hamlet not R&J.)

Keaton Patterson as Rosaline was the star performer. Rosaline is undeniably feisty but also emotionally vulnerable, and you can see why Benvolio would fall for her, at least in this portrayal. She (or rather her director Patty MacMullen) did however miss an opportunity for humour that presents an open goal. In her first scene with Benvolio Rosaline lights a cigarette which he snatches and throws away. Rosaline is furious: "It doesn't grow on trees - for me it doesn't". If only she had allowed a beat after "trees" for the audience to realise that actually it does grow on trees (OK, bushes) before clarifying her remark, the joke would have found its mark.

Overall a very good performance though, and I say that as one who is pretty cynical about serious drama on the Fringe (apart from the stuff at the Traverse). A credit to Austin, and to Texas.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

¿Mi nave?, ¿la encontraste?

I'm at the Ballater flat for a few days, and took the opportunity of a rainy day today to go into Aberdeen. Among other things, this meant I could catch up with my kids by seeing Toy Story 3. And yes, it really is as good as they had told me.

And yes, I know my daughter is studying Spanish so has reasons of her own to love this bit, but it was my favourite as well.

Friday, August 06, 2010

O tempora! O Mores!

A wonderful post here from Anna Pickard over at Little Red Boat.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

It's a Dog Eat Toe world

This story was brought to my attention by a Facebook friend, Pamela Brown.

At least now I know what image will come to mind when I read about those Kosovar kids supposedly named Tonibler after our toxic ex-PM.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Le Nozze di Jim

I have to share this. Some of you may be watching the Channel Four series Orchestra United featuring the conductor James Lowe. Jim has conducted my own orchestra (Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra), standing in at rehearsals when our regular conductor wasn't available, and also steering us in concert through a programme of Faure, Honegger, Franck and Berlioz. Jim is one of my Facebook friends and has just returned to the UK having been to Malaysia on his honeymoon(sorry, ladies). I was looking at the wedding pictures on his Facebook page and felt I must share this one. I mean, lots of people have string quartets to play at their weddings. Usually however the bride and groom are excused from this particular duty. Apparently not always:

(Picture by Kirsten Hunter).

Of course now I'm wondering what they were playing. I'd love to imagine it was this.

Congratulations to Jim and Lucy anyway.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Kris Kristofferson, Edinburgh Festival Theatre 3 August 2010

Hilary and I first saw Kris Kristofferson about 30 years ago, when he was still performing in a large band with Rita Coolidge. We saw him again in a solo gig a few years ago, and tonight we saw anither solo outing. He's 74: totally grey but well-preserved and still good-looking. OK, he's past his peak now: occasionally he forgets lyrics, or starts a song with the wrong harmonica, but he;s so utterly charming it's easy to overlook it. As you will see from the setlist below, the songs were a mix of the familiar (with a few missing: no The Law Is For Protection Of The People, no Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends whose performance from 1980 stays with me to this day) and the more obscure, which is always good to see. Age hasn't put out his fire either: this son of a USAF general poked fun at Messrs Bush and Cheney just after he did Nobody Wins, and he dedicated Shipwrecked in the Eighties (his opening number) to "the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, in opposition to the war." There was also a feeling of real anger bubbling underneath his introduction to The Circle. This song's immediate subject is the dissidents in Argentina in the days of Galtieri and the rest of the (US-backed) military dictatorship, who simply disappeared and whose memory was kept alive and very public by their brave female family members. Kris explained however that he wrote it in response to one of Bill Clinton's first acts as President which was to fire two cruise missiles at Baghdad (the USA were not at war with Iraq at the time). Whatever he intended them to hit, what they actually did was kill one of Iraq's foremost artists, Layla Al-Attar, and some of her family. It took Kristofferson some time to discover the name of the artist, so slight was the concern about her murder in the US media. Anyway, he found it, and he wrote the song. I'm guessing he wasn't invited to Chelsea's wedding...... Like so many of his songs, it combines both a world-weary honesty about the evils people do and a heartening faith in the power of love and....I was going say political action, but I suppose what his songs are really about is how faith hope and love can effect change if you work at them.

Here is the song that perhaps best encapsulates that message:

Tonight's setlist, in very rough order:

Shipwrecked In The Eighties
Me and Bobby McGee
The Best of All Possible Worlds
Darby’s Castle
Casey’s Last Ride
Help Me Make It Through The Night
Loving Her Was Easier
A Moment of Forever
Here Comes That Rainbow Again
Why Me?
Nobody Wins
The Circle
Sunday Morning Coming Down
From Here To Forever
The Heart
The Promise
Once More With Feeling
To Beat The Devil
The Silver Tongued Devil and I
Johnny Lobo
The Pilgrim: Chapter 33
Jody and the Kid
Billy Dee
For The Good Times
The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me

Schoolchildren in the Middle East being indoctrinated in racial hatred. I wonder where?

We hear a lot about the sick anti-Jewish propaganda being dinned into the ears of Arab schoolchildren all over the Middle East. We hear less about the sick indoctrination of Israeli schoolchildren in hatred of Arabs. I wonder why.

At least the Arabs don't get practical classes in hatred laid on for them.

And remember, folks, this isn't in the Occupied Territories, but in Israel itself. So not even talking about hatred for foreigners such as the Arabs are supposedly doling out, but hatred for their fellow Israelis. Sweet.

British enterprise we can't be proud of

And while this piece by Robert Fisk is obviously about Israel and its links with NATO and the EU, I prefer to read it primarily as an indictment of the global arms industry in which Britain still has such a large part. It would be no comfort to me to learn that we were selling our advanced weaponry only to the USA and not to Israel (I should probably include one of the thousands of video clips of napalm raining down on Vietnamese villages but you'll know them all already). Nor does it make me feel any better that that great British invention, VX nerve gas, is stockpiled only by the US Army and not by, say, Iran, or Cuba, or either flavour of Korea. As we see every time the USA incinerates a few dozen more Afghan children, there are no good guys any more, and it's about time our government recognised that by ceasing to give massive subsidies to weapons merchants. Let them stand on their own feet like other companies in these troubled times. If they can't afford the bribes or whatever it takes to bring in the orders, fine, let them go under. I hate to see people losing their jobs, but if someone has to suffer I'd rather it was these wastes of space than people producing useful things.

The law is for the protection of the (chosen) people

If I were to make up a story that Israel believes that the international human rights law does not apply to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, but insisted that it does apply to the Jewish settlers there, I would expect to be accused of a wicked antisemitic slur.

So I'm very glad that I don't have to make it up. (Hat tip: Angry Arab)

Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh 2 August 2010

Another concert in the Jazz and Blues Festival, and one I'd been very much looking forward to, Brian Auger being something of a hero of mine. One of the all-time great Hammond organ players, he was a keyboard star before Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman came on the scene. Famous back in the sixties for his massive glissandi where he used his whole arm on the keyboard to send huge clusters of notes roaring up and down (a technique I remember being interested to hear our school music teacher - an awesome classical organist and one cool dude despite being around sixty - using when improvising on the school's pipe organ for a concert with our house rock band of the time, a Cream lookalike trio called Evening). He became a household name when Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity had a huge hit with Dylan's This Wheel's On Fire. Here it is:

For most of the intervening years Auger has had a band called Oblivion Express, with various line-ups (he remarked that his players kept going off to join Santana or the Average White Band). Today the band comprise Brian on keyboards (his faithful Hammond B3 with a single digital keyboard on top). his daughter Savannah Grace Auger on vocals, his son Karma Auger on drums (yeah, I know, 1960s names - though I think Dweezil and Moon Unit were worse) and Nick Sample on bass. I have a live album of Auger with a different group altogether, and to judge from that and the various Youtube clips available his setlist hasn't changed all that much over the years. He's still doing songs like Season of the Witch (yes, the Donovan song) and Light My Fire which he's been doing for over forty years. The point, however, is that every night it's completely different because they're all really good improvisers. I know I could go and see them tomorrow and get a completely fresh show.

Set list:

Freedom Jazz Dance
Season of the Witch
Bumpin' On Sunset
Indian Rope Man
Light My Fire
Don't Look Away, Look Around
Whenever You're Ready
Compared To What

Encore: Save Me

This video gives a good impression of what they're like live. Brian is even wearing the same shirt he had on tonight (a weird Japanese one with an anime character on the front).

The festival person introducing the band told us that Brian first played Edinburgh in 1966. Now he's 70: doesn't seem that way. Haste ye back, Brian.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Canned Heat - Queens Hall, Edinburgh 31 July

This concert, part of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival (yes, yet another Edinburgh Festival) was billed as part of the Woodstock Reunited tour. Of the four members of Canned Heat there are only two originals left, though some of the founders died way back in the 70s. Anyway, if you shut your eyes you'd never know, so perfectly have they recreated the band's original sound (and that despite their harmonica player's being one of the casualties).

There were always going to be two important things about this concert. (1) Are the band good live performers, not just going through the motions? (2) Will they do all the old hits? Answers repectively YES and DUH! They opened up with On The Road Again, I suppose to showcase how little their sound has changed. In among a whole bunch of blues standards and things I didn't recognise we also had Amphetamine Annie, Goin' Up The Country and Let's Work Together.

I'm not a hardcore Canned Heat fan but enjoy their kind of music, so this was always going to be a fun evening for me, with no high expectations to be punctured. But it was uncanny how little the sound has changed (indeed I had to Google when I got home to confirm the lineup changes).

Here are the boys in their prime:

Shut Up 'N' Play Your Ukelele

Sometimes you find something on Youtube that makes you wish to applaud the effort that went into it even if the end product is a little unpolished. This is such a video. Ladies and gentemen, I give you Frank Zappa's Peaches En Regalia transcribed for solo ukelele.

Religion of Peace?

Israeli police arrest two rabbis for incitement to murder non-Jews.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

A worrying development

I suppose this was inevitable: if judges make decisions unacceptable to the Jewish Lobby they have to be sacked and replaced with more compliant ones. It will be interesting to see whether Clarke (who was one of the few sane members of the Thatcher and Major governments) stands up for an independent judiciary or if he is prepared to see the English criminal justice system offically politicised.

More from Jewbonics

Following on from the Jewbonics piece I linked in my last post, here is another great piece. I don't normally like cutting and pasting whole articles (more Uncle Jimmy's style than mine) but this one really deserves to be brought front and centre.

is there a humanitarian crisis in Gaza? not the point

Israeli hasbara and the nincompoops who repeat it in the West have been pointing to the presence of an economy and food in Gaza as evidence that the boats are unnecessary. No crisis, no goods needed to resolve crisis. No goods needed, no boats needed. For those who take comfort in the simple cruelty of such a silly justification for abusing 1.5 million people, they can stop reading. For the rest of the planet, the situation is more complicated. Almost without fail, every Gazan I speak to tells me that they do not want charity, they do not want humanitarianism, they do not want gadgets or aid convoys. What they want is justice, and an end to the siege. What they want is an opening of the borders so that they can manage their own economy and their own lives. The Free Gaza Movement has admirably insisted from the outset that the boats aren't just a humanitarian effort. They're a political intervention aimed at breaking the siege. The problem is that this sort of freedom-from-occupation doesn't quite capture the liberal imagination so well. A good portion of people outside the solidarity movement think that putting brown people under foreign occupation is OK. Usually, such dusky folk are abusing their women, and when they're not abusing their women, they're shipping their children off to madrassas, erecting minarets, reading the Koran, voting for fundamentalists, and generally being quite offensively Islamic. As long as they're engaged in such silliness, collective punishment--state-terrorism--is OK, and occupation is OK. But it should be done responsibly.

So the organizers have to pitch their efforts in two keys: humanitarianism and freedom. Israel has no good answer to the claim that the territory is under siege, and when pressed, insists, as Avigdor Lieberman did, that "Israel will not allow a violation of its sovereignty at sea, in the air, or on land." Everyone will forget this statement and continue claiming that Gaza is not occupied a few days after Israel (tries?) to commandeer the boats. But the humanitarian situation will continue to abrade liberal sensibilities. So prong two of the propaganda effort is to say that there's no humanitarian crisis.

And they are right: there are quite a few nice restaurants in Gaza City. Maybe a few thousand of the people living here can afford them. Food does come in. But children are still stunted. There is power. Just not all day. There is clean water. It just comes from bottles and purification devices. There are stores stocked with electronics. Just, most of the population is effectively excluded from meaningful participation in the cash economy and can't buy the goods in them. Yes, people have toilets. They're just not hooked up to an adequate or functional sewage system. Yes, there is concrete and iron and glass to build homes. It just costs far more than it would cost if there weren't supply constraints, so many people cannot afford them, either, and building projects are stalled.

Gaza isn't a humanitarian crisis only because people are not starving to death, and when you define humanitarian crisis as post-earthquake Haiti, you arrive at the understandable conclusion that there's no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. What would be more correct to say? That Gaza is a carefully managed political crisis, modeled after a concentration camp, complete with per-person calorie allotments adjusted for height, weight age, and the rest, a crisis managed through UNRWA food distributions, with the assistance of a tenuous tunnel economy. You can't manage an urban population of 1.5 million people on an ad hoc emergency basis in perpetuity. Is it a "humanitarian crisis" that Gazans feel despondent and hopeless, that they think the world does nothing while Israel imprisons them? Is it a humanitarian crisis that young men and women feel that they will die without seeing the world? Or that they go to die in forays beyond the border because they feel that life isn't worth living? A humanitarian crisis when cancer patients die because there's inadequate treatment in Gaza for cancers? Are we suddenly nutcase dictionary lawyers, debating what the appropriate slot for Gaza is just because there are a couple nice restaurants in Gaza and the lucky-ducky Gazan upper-class has nice food in the bin?

Even my cynical friends get optimistic and hopeful about the boats, especially these boats--not because of the wheelchairs, although those are needed and I hope they get in, but because they represent the possibility of freedom. "We will not let this flotilla get through. It harms Israeli security," Israel TV's Channel 10 quoted Danny Ayalon as saying. When the goal is the denial of political possibility, that makes sense. You don't interrupt a lab experiment on how to warehouse a people and foreclose any possibility of liberation. Except that's exactly what Free Gaza continues to do. Here's Greta Berlin: ""They can do whatever they want, but they can't stop us...There are ships full of civilians who want to break the blockade on Gaza,€“ to make people in Gaza as free as anyone else." That's what Israel and those who support its policies oppose. What is wrong with them? Rhetorical question. What's wrong with them is Zionism.

Then there's this one on how the Israeli government is deliberately and systematically destroying Gaza's fishing industry, and this one on the Israeli Arab guy jailed for breaching Israel's anti-miscegenation laws by having sex with a Jewish woman (a story I reported here).

Altogether a very worthwhile blog indeed.

Enough about the fucking "Strip Mall" already

The media have recently been full of this story, originating of course in Israel, about the "Strip Mall", a luxurious shopping mall in Gaza. This is meamt to show that there is no "siege" in Gaza, that nobody is suffering derivation of any kind and that they're all rich whiners living off Western aid. Not so..

That particularly ugly spin on the story was begin by Israeli government stooge Tom Gross. He originally complained on his website that "the media" aren't covering the story (doesn't he read Ynet?) yet as this response points out, the story was first reported by the Palestinian media. Presumably they thought they were reporting a heartening story about a small shopping centre opening amid the ruins. In any case, Gross now admits that Aarab media have given the story plentiful coverage, and now just moans that the New York Times and BBC aren't headlining the story. I mean, what do the Israelis pay them for?

On the same topic, this from an American Jewish blogger is magnificent and deserves wider distribution.

Message to Mel: just because a site has a name in Hebrew, that doesn't make it a reliable news source

Mad Mel Phillips has totally lost it. In a savaging of David Cameron for his recent statement of the bleeding obvious about Gaza, we have

Cameron did not condemn the flotilla, whose lead ship the Mavi Marmara was run by Turkish-backed terrorists who set out -- according to the evidence from their own mouths -- to commit an act of jihadi terrorist aggression against Israel.

Firstly, only Israel considers the IHH a terrorist organisation. Not Britain, not the USA. (Israel considers it to be a terrorist group because it deals with Hamas. Well strike me down, it has dealings with the elected governments of the places it takes aid to.) And secondly, I must have missed the part where someone from the convoy said they were on the way to "commit an act of jihadi terrorist agression against Israel". After all, they weren't going to Israel but to Gaza. No doubt Mel will be able to produce a citation for us. What? No citation? How odd.

He did not condemn those Turkish-backed terrorists on the Mavi Marmara who attempted to lynch and kidnap the Israeli commandos who boarded the boat and who employed no violence at all until they themselves were set upon.

How is it "kidnapping" when the Israelis boarded them? How is it employing "no violence at all" to shoot flotilla activists from the air before beginning to board? (See here.) Anyway, they made up for it after they were "set upon". The "shotgun-type" bullet sounds like a Glaser Safety Slug: some paintball.....!

But best of all:

He did not condemn the Turkish-backed terrorists on the Mavi Marmara who, I am reliably informed, slit open the stomach of one of those Israeli commandos and pulled out his guts before throwing him into the sea.

So clearly he would be one of the, er ZERO (count 'em!) Israeli commandos killed or seriously injured by the heavily-armed (slingshots! spanners! fire hoses!) "terrorists". Maybe that low casualty rate is because of the attention they received from the passengers.

She follows this extraordinary allegation with the telling remark

I have said it before: Israel is the litmus test of decency in political discourse. Those who attack Israel are invariably on the wrong side of the global fight to defend civilisation against its destroyers.

So the litmus test of decency in political discourse is not having any discourse because Mel has already decided the correct opinion for us all to hold. As she asks of David Cameron, who does she think she is? Mighty Mouse?

Regarding her "reliable information" about the commando, I found the story on the web at a site devoted to the return of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. I then found exactly the same text on a Florida Concealed Carry forum. So far, so nutjob, but according to a credit on one of the sites the story actually originates in this site: Kol Ha Tor - Voice of the Turtledove ( "The Greatest Event that the world has ever seen is now taking shape: The regathering and rebirth of Re-united 12-tribed Israel as foretold 3000 years in advance in the Bible".)

Gosh, I'm glad Mel has such reliable informants to support her crazy slanders. Imagine what a fool she might make of herself if she listened to fruitcakes.

(Incidentally, Mel isn't even content with Kol Ha Tor's lies, but has to add a little on her own account. "Amir" says the commando jumped into the sea to swim to an Israeli boat. But Mel tells us the "Turkish-backed terrorists" threw him into the sea. What's up, Mel? Other people's Zionist bullshit not good enough for you?)

Think of the propaganda coup it would have been for the Israelis if they had been able to produce this chap with a massive abdominal wound. Does anyone seriously imagine that if one of the soldiers had actually been dealt such a massive and vicious injury during the attack the Israeli authorities would have neglected to mention it? After all, they admitted going to the trouble of faking recordings of the activists making antisemitic comments, and of making up stories about their al-Qaeda links. Imagine the use they would have made of a genuine VICTIM! If only he hadn't simply been made up by an End Times nutter.

If only Melanie Phillips had the vaguest notion of what constitutes "reliable information".