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

Monday, June 28, 2010

Suzanne Vega, Glasgow City Halls 21 June 2010

Last week I went through to Glasgow to see Suzanne Vega for the first time. She was supported by Duncan Sheik, another American singer/songwriter. I hadn't heard of him but rather liked his stuff and will be watching out for him in future.

Vega herself didn't disappoint: indeed she was better than I had dared to hope. Her most recent album is an "unplugged" revisiting of her best-known love songs, so she did a fair number of those. She also featured songs from her first album (Cracking, The Queen and the Soldier, and her opening number Marlene on the Wall) , as it had been released 25 years previously. And, of course, she did her most-requested songs such as Tom's Diner, Solitude Standing and Luka. She did I'll Never Be Your Maggie May, Tombstone, New York Is A Woman, Frank and Ava, In Liverpool, Blood Makes Noise. As my prior knowledge of her work had largely been confined to her first two albums, I was rather relieved that she hadn't suffered a major change of style over the past quarter century, nor it would seem any lessening of her songwriting talent.

Primarily, though, Suzanne Vega is a fantastic performer, whether with her accompanying guitarist and bassist or simply alone. She has an easy, relaxed way with the audience, chatting happily about her songs without ever becoming boring or self-absorbed. Every now and themn someone would shout out either a request or a supportive remark, and this being Glasgow she had a certain amount of fun with the fact that she frequently couldn't understand what was being yelled. (Neither could I some of the time, and I worked in Glasgow for four years and still visit regularly.) Which could have come across as patronising but in fact was simply taken as part of her charm. Charm, indeed, is the quality Suzanne Vega most obviously possesses: that, and talent.

Hearing Luka performed by her alone, or Tom's Diner with a percussive accompaniment from the band, I was struck by the way she has evidently not freeze-dried her hits but continues to reinvent them in performance.

Anyway, hell of a good gig. Whenever she's next in Central Scotland I'll be there.

Video Fun - Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde

Couldn't resist tacking this one on. It's Kristin Chenoweth (the original Glinda in Wicked, more recently seen in Glee). Here she is as Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein's Candide. Paul Groves is in the title role as the homeloving innocent Candide, while Cunegonde is a much flightier character. They are engaged, and sing here of what they're looking forward to in their marriage. Their aspirations are not quite the same...

And here's Kristin again doing a great job on Cunegonde's aria "Glitter and be Gay". She and Candide became separated by war and natural disasters so never got married. Still, Cunegonde is one of those women who, no matter what befalls them, land on their feet (passing through an intermediate stage of flat on their backs). Here she sings of how dreadful it is to be a fallen woman: and yet the role does have its compensations......

Finally Cunegonde and Candide get back together, wiser and more realistic. The final chorus (which starts with just the two of them) is "Make Our Garden Grow". I don't think even the big tunes from West Side Story beat this one.

Video Fun - Renee Fleming

Let's start with Marietta's song (aka the Lute Song) from Die Tote Stadt by Erich Korngold (best known for his film scores such as The Adventures of Robin Hood. The opera is a bit of a rarity: I've never seen it done live. I first heard of it when this piece was used in the film Aria.

Now we have the Letter Duet from The Marriage of Figaro (subtitled in Spanish!)

Staying with Mozart but moving away from opera, we have the Laudamus Te from the C minor Mass, a wonderfully exuberant piece all round and a real showcase for a soprano's skills.

Nobody can be considered a true star until s/he has worked with the Muppets. Verdi's Caro Nome (from Rigoletto) will never be the same again.....

Finally we have what I consider the greatest operatic ensemble ever written, the trio from the last act of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. The only subtitles are in German I'm afraid, so by way of a quick crib:

- the woman on the right is actually playing the part of a teenaged boy, Octavian
- the woman in the middle (Renee Fleming) is his much older long-time mistress, the Marschallin
- the woman on the left is Sophie, roughly his own age, and with whom he has fallen utterly in love.

In the trio all three of them are singing very differently about love. The Marschallin is singing that she knew the time would come when she had to let Octavian go, and how she had always hoped she could love him in the right way so she could bear it when that happened: the time is here and she's finding it hard but knows she has to do the right thing. Octavian is "torn between two lovers", desperate to avoid hurting the Marschallin but knowing that he will. Sophie really hasn't a clue what's going on: she loves Octavian, she's in awe of this ultra-aristocratic older woman and can see there's some history between her and Octavian that she hasn't figured out: but the Marschallin seems to be giving them her blessing so it must be OK. All of which is set to music of a post-Wagnerian romanticism dialled up to 11 (for the horn section, dialled up to 15) which in a confined opera house is an absolutely overwhelming physical experience.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Terrorism, real and imagined. And why I'm starting to warm to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

ITUC international survey shows 101 people murdered in 2009 for belonging to a trade union. Now that's a real terrorist threat.

Here's a good New Statesman article from last year about the invisibility to the mainstream media in Britain of terrorism by far-right racists: the ones who actually have bombs, and really threaten to behead Muslims, as against the "Muslim terrorists" whose terrorism is generally imaginary.

And you don't want to rely too much on Wikipedia but this page is interesting, if only for dealing with stupid Yanks who think terrorism began in September 2001.

Here is an article on the 29 British citizens and residents kidnapped by the USA and tortured. And all the others.

And a sideline opens up here:

Did you know that the only evidence produced against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the "9/11 mastermind" comes from confessions forced from him under torture (he was waterboarded over 180 times and his children were tortured to get him to sign statements)? See above, and here, here, here, here and especially here.

We haven't heard nearly as much about this as the Americans (in Britain we all moved on from 9/11 on about 9/18) but after reading all those articles, and this one I'm beginning to hope that KSM walks away from that court a free man.

Lauren Booth - another target for Uncle Jimmy's hatred

Here's Uncle Jimmy waxing lyrical about his idol's more popular sister-in-law.

(BTW, why are so many of Jimmy's hatefests directed at women? Lauren Booth, Helen Thomas, Diane Abbott, Clare Short, any Muslim who wears a veil, Shami Chakrabarti, Margaret Hodge, Sharon Stone, Jacqui Smith.....) I suppose they've all stepped outwith their allotted sphere of Kinder, Kuche und Kirche.

Anyway: first of all his revealing IMHO, MS BOOTH NEEDS TO BE LOCKED UP. RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. Because the last thing we need in Uncle Jimmy's ideal Britain is to be able to speak freely without fear. Fear is what drives Islamophobes like Jimmy: they need us all terrified of the wicked Moooslims so they can offer their snake oil "solutions" to the "problem". That most of us have no problem with Islam and find their solutions utterly irrelevant really annoys them. Good.

And in response to Lauren Booth's comments about the IDF's targeting of civilians, he says

Unlike murdering fundamentalist Islamists, who murder in EVERY country in the world

I await his statistics for Iceland and Burkina Faso with great interest. And I must have missed the ones in Malta, the Vatican, Cuba, Colombia, Botswana, Venezuela, Peru....... Well, he did put EVERY in CAPITALS so naturally I thought it must mean something. Oh, right.

He ends up "Why are these Stop The War types so violent, with their imbecilic ranting and blatant lies? I call it incitement to violence."

Why are these Muslim-hating types so violent, with their imbecilic ranting and blatant lies? I call it Keep Tony Blair For PM

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Ah, the joy of Israeli democracy in action.

Meanwhile, a bunch of San Francisco Jews have clearly adopted Israel's attitude to political dissent.

Israel deploys nuclear-armed submarines off the Iranian coast. Rogue state, anyone?

And I never thought I'd see a comparison between Ronald reagan and Barack Obama in which Reagan looked the better oman of the two, but compare the Gipper's reaction to the murder on the high seas of Leon Klinghoffer with Obama's lack of response to the murder of Furkan Dorgan here.

Because she's worth it

Even Uncle Jimmy has his uses. If it weren't for his spluttering criticism of this piece I might never have spotted it, which would have been a shame as it's one of the funniest things I've read all year (and wickedly accurate about Mad Mel's obsessions and conpiracy lunacy).

Mr John, your name is a household word round these parts

It will be interesting to see whether musical instruments (and indeed newspapers, pens and writing paper) will be allowed into Gaza after Netanyahu's much-publicised (especially by Tony Blair who wants to take the credit) relaxation of import restrictions. After all, the "move" to a list of prohibited items ignores the fact that there was such a list (albeit unpublished) in place already, and it evidently included musical instruments.

When Elton John performed in Tel Aviv last week (some folk will do anything for money) he pontificated about how music spread peace and brought people together. Maybe if he complained less about the other performers who "cherry-pick their consciences" and a little more about how Israel is suppressing music in Gaza we might conclude that he has a conscience to be cherry-picked or not. Still, he was happy to play Sun City in South Africa during the apartheid era, and (for a million dollars or so) performed for Rush Limbaugh's wedding recently. If one of the world's most famous gay men is happy to play for an outspoken homophobe why would we be surpised at his hypocrisy over the benefits of music?

Personally I lost patience with him when he ruined his greatest song Candle In The Wind, deleting poor old Marilyn Monroe (goodbye Norma Jean indeed) and turning it into a Dianafest to ingratiate himself with the government and make a few more million quid. Can you imagine Mozart deciding to rework The Magic Flute to replace Sarastro by Emperor Joseph II? Even though Mozart was much more in need of money than our Reg, I think it highly unlikely (and not only - in case you were going to mention it - because he died soon after he wrote it).

Equality On Trial

What do you do when there is a highly significant US Supreme Court trial whose videotaping for delayed broadcast has been blocked? You take the publicly available transcripts and you turn them into street theatre, that's what. Then you video them and upload them to a central site. What a great idea.

The Equality On Trial blog has some interesting reports. Take this one, for example. It's wonderful to think that for every Tim Wildmon preaching hatred in the name of "family values" there are likely to be hundreds of American kids who are being brought up to think for themselves and to campaign positively for those things in the Constitution and the pledge of allegiance to which so many simply pay lip service. On the whole the story leaves me feeling hopeful rather than despondent about the USA.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Video fun: Noel Coward

Here is Noel Coward performing Nina, probably my favourite of his songs:

And I've only just found this Muppets' cover version of Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Marvellous:

Un-American Activities

And this story is very interesting. Imagine you're an American Jew who has joined the IDF and sworn allegiance to the State of Israel. Imagine now that a UN task force including US soldiers is sent to maintain order in Jerusalem during peace negotiations. (Or - a man can dream - to remove the Israeli government which has hundreds of undeclared nuclear weapons and a history of invading its neighbours that Saddam could only dream of.) What will these folks do if there is unpleasantness between the UN and the IDF? Shoot their American compatriots?

I think it is an eloquent demonstration of the power of Mearsheimer and Walt's "Israel Lobby" that these fools are not being treated in the same way as those (few) American Muslims who go to Pakistan to train to fight and kill American troops. They are traitors, pure and simple, pledging allegiance to a foreign power and taking up arms for it. At the very least they should be stripped of their US citizenship: if they want to fight for Israel let them become Israelis then there will be no problem. For every one of these jerks there are a thousand patriotic Muslims back in the USA who actually care about their country. For their sake, america, dump the pretend Americans who care more about Israel than about the country they profess to belong to.

I sincerely hope that if any British Jews were foolish enough to follow the Americans' example they would be deported. (Ideally after trial and lengthy imprisonment for treason.)

And just to be quite clear, I would take the same view of British citizens who joined the armed forces of Iran, Cuba, France, the USA, Angola, Australia or Zimbabwe. Traitors one and all.

Send not to know for whom the bell tolls

The news that Utah has executed another prisoner is sad. There are plenty of things about this case which make it unusual in the steady dripp, drip, drip of American executions. For a start it was by firing squad rather than the more usual lethal injection. More significantly, perhaps (the method of execution was Ronnie Lee Gardner's own choice) the execution was not of a black man, nor of someone mentally deficient, nor of someone who was a juvenile at the time of the offence. Most unusual of all, in this case there was no doubt whatsoever of the condemned man's guilt.

And yet. And yet.

Standing alongside Gardner's daughter and comforting her was the niece of the man Gardner murdered, Michael Burdell, a lawyer he shot in an attempted courtroom breakout. Donna Taylor, his niece, said that all his life her uncle had had a visceral dislike of violence and killing of any nature, so much so that when he was drafted for the Vietnam war he nade sure he was put in a role that did not involve carrying a gun. "Mike was totally against the death penalty", said Donna. "He would not have wanted this: he would have said this doesn't do any good."

Yes, the Bible tells us that "Thou shalt do no murder". It does not, however, mandate the death penalty for those who transgress. Jesus's message was "Love thine enemies, and do good to them that hate you". Saint Paul expressed it with his customary elegance: "Render to no man evil for evil". The Bible condemns adultery, yet we rightly cry shame when adulterers in Saudi Arabia or Iran receive the death penalty. If we are going to hold uo the example of Jesus against their Old Testament literalism, should we not do the same when the state of Utah, or any other place, arrogates to itself the right to terminate a wrongdoer's life?


It is rare that I find anything positive to say about the constitution of the state of Israel, but the absence of any provision therein for a death sentence to be imposed by Israeli courts is one of the few good examples of human rights which Israel sets to the world.

It is a pity, then, that when the Israeli government had Adolf Eichmann in its power it ignored its own constitution and - uniquely - executed him. I suppose at least that shows that Israeli governments show as much contempt for their own laws as they do for everyone else's.


One thing I find especially distasteful about American executions is the effort put into shielding the executioners from their own consciences. With lethal injections there are two switches, one of which is randomly assigned to be the one which causes the injection to be administered, the other being a dummy. The Utah firing sqaud had five members, five guns, and only four real bullets, so that every exceutioner could tell himself that maybe his bullet was the ineffective one and he had killed nobody. How sick is that? That lowers the members of the firing squad below the moral level of Ronnie Lee Gardner, who at least acknowledged that he had shot a man and killed him.


I was interested to see from the report in the Independent (linked above) that the Utah state press pack explained that "Organ donation is not an option for condemned inmates". Not only does that seem a little harsh on the only people who could possibly benefit from this unnecessary death, it also shows that procedures have changed since Utah resumed shooting prisoners to death, back in 1977 when it killed Gary Gilmore. Accoridng to Gilmore's Wikipedia entry most of his organs were used for transplantation. How many more backward steps will Utah take before the death penalty is purged from the statutes and America moves from the nineteenth century into the twentieth?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's marvellous watter, this.......

The sadly-missed Rikki Fulton, without whose television shows for many years Hogmanay would have been unthinkable.

Stanley Baxter, happily still with us, became a seasonal fixture both on television and on stage. In both cases one of the highlights of his show was the language lesson:

Nobody Does It Better

Mentioning the Mindbenders brought this song to mind:

The lyricist for that one was the wonderful Carole Bayer Sager, who has a track record nearly as distinguished as Don Black's. Here are a few more of my favourite CBS lyrics:

To Sir, With Love

And as the first series of Glee has just finished with an episode including a marvellous cover version of To Sir With Love, here is the original, in the film with Sidney Poitier, Judy Geeson and of course Lulu. It's slightly shorter than the version that became a hit (and look out for the Mindbenders backing her).

And here is a later clip of Lulu singing the longer version.

Thank you, Don Black and Mark London, for giving us one of the greatest pop songs of the 1960s.

Can you believe it? (Er, no.)

This sounds like good news. So why has it not received much press attention outside Israel (except from Uncle Jimmy, who simply parrots the Israeli government line on every issue anyway)?

Well, let's read some other reports on the Blair-Netanyahu talks. Here's Tony Blair himself, talking to Time magazine.

Blair said that Netanyahu's plan calls for the question of the borders of the Palestinian state and the fate of Jewish settlements and Jerusalem to be deferred to the final stage. The first step would concentrate on the consolidation of Palestinian institutions, strengthening security forces and reconstruction of the economy in the territories.

Hmm. So the principal obstacles to peace in the region - Israel's illegal occupation of the West bank, its illegal settling of its population in conquered territory, and its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem - these are to be "deferred" until such time as Netanyahu is ready. And when will that be, one wonders? Forty-three years on from Israel's opportunistic land grab, one wonders just how much longer the world will give Israel to start behaving like a real country and obey the same laws that other real countries are obliged to observe.

Of course Tony Blair, whose remit covers economic reconstruction, would welcome having that and similar infrastructure matters in the first stage: it increases his own importance in the whole affair. That it kicks into touch all the issues that are actually holding back peace seems to have escaped his attention.

Netanyahu reportedly is not opposed to the Palestinian Authority assuming attributes of statehood at this stage.

And why should he be? The unelected Palestinian Authority, chosen and imposed on the people of the West Bank by the USA and Israel: yes, let them have the "attributes of statehood". Yet despite Blair's sensible insistence (in a Newsnight interview linked by Jimmy) that any Palestinian state had to include Gaza as well as the West Bank, and that "any strategy that’s based on putting Gaza to one side is not going to work" there seems to be no matching suggestion that Hamas, the elected government of the whole of Palestine, should have any such attributes. It is not necessary to like Hamas's policies to concede that it has a right to govern. I loathe Netanyahu and Likud and everything for which they stand: but I do not attempt to pretend that they are not the elected PM and government (or senior coalition partner therein) of Israel. Yet Blair happily acquiesces in Netanyahu's sidelining of Palestine's elected government until... well, until he's good and ready.

Another thing that has apparently escaped Tony Blair's attention is the timing of this "good news" story, impeccably planned to distract the press from the announcement of the cover-up, sorry the enquiry, into the attack on the aid flotilla. This is the entirely predictable Israeli internal affair, conducted by a retired israeli Supreme Court judge, a retired army officer (mmm, sounding impartial already) and a professor of international law (the kind of law which Israel refuses to recognise, so presumably despite being 93 tears of age he won't ever have had to do much work so should be nice and fresh for the cover-up enquiry. The tribunal will feature two international observers, one of them David Trimble who will be familiar to British readers. Yet they will have no input into the final verdict; they may not even be allowed to see all the evidence (a funny kind of observer, then). And of course the soldiers who took part in the attack which left nine dead and many more injured - they are to be exempt from appearing at the enquiry at all. So what is this farce intended to achieve other than a glorification of Israel's "moral" armed forces? I could write its conclusions now, though as the IDF has undoubtedly already done so what would be the point? Blair is so far up Netanyahu's backside that he can't even see that he has been used as a distraction from this shameful farrago, as a way of giving some legitimacy to the Israeli government's Gaza policy.

As an aside, so far as I can tell from extensive scanning of the Israeli and foreign online press, there may still be passengers on the Mavi Marmara unaccounted for, neither released nor dead. if the sums do add up it is strange that the Israelis are allowing the uncertainty to continue when they could simply publish the passenger lists and tick off all the members. Perhaps the enquiry will establish the fate of all the passengers, though only of course if it shows the IDF in a good light. If any missing people turn out to have been shot in the back of the head and dumped overboard, or if they are are presently being tortured in a secret prison somewhere, we will undoubtedly never find out about it from the cover-up enquiry.

It would be lovely to believe that Netanhyahu was sincere in wanting to progress towards peace, as I am sure Tony Blair is. Yet at the same time that he was gulling Blair with his talk of wanting to ease the privations of the Gazan people by allowing them, perhaps, to receive newspapers, pens and paper, and by increasing the amount of food Israel allows them to receive to maybe half of what they require - at the same time his soldiers were firing live ammunition to harass unarmed women attempting to harvest their crops. And this wasn't an isolated incident but part of a co-ordinated series of attacks.

Perhaps if the IDF were as valiant in their dealings with actual armed opponents as they are in shooting at Gazan women and Turkish peace protestors, there would be fewer tales of wicked terrorist attacks on innocent Israelis. But then, the tales of woe are the whole point: if the IDF defeated the "terrorists" the whole supposed we-have-the-right-to-defend-ourselves justification for the occupation would evaporate.

Anyway, it would seem that outside the compliant Israeli press (and camp followers like Uncle Jimmy) nobody gives any more significance to Netanyahu's manipulation of Blair than I do.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Music and Dogs: What's Not to Like?

Here is a piece of music for clarinet and orchestra which deserves to be better known.

I always liked this picture of Ferruccio Busoni with his St Bernard.

Wagner used to have a Newfoundland which he brought to Britain with him, but as he pre-dated the era of photojournalism we have no pictures of the Wagnerian pooch. Busoni's, though, we have. Maybe we need a website for Composers And Their Dogs.

Anyway, cool music and cool dog.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A useful corrective

A friend of mine was sent this in an email a couple of days ago by one of her South African friends. I thought it deserved a wider audience:

Open letter to the Foreign Media visiting South Africa

Dear World Cup visitors,

Now that you are safely in our country you are no doubt happily realising you are not in a war zone. This may be in stark contrast to what you have been bracing yourself for should you have listened to Uli Hoeness or are an avid reader of English tabloids, which as we all know are only good for wrapping fish 'n chips and advancing the careers of large-chested teens on page three.

As you emerge blinking from your luxury hotel room into our big blue winter skies, you will surely realise you are far more likely to be killed by kindness than by a stray bullet. Remember that most of the media reports you have read, which have informed your views on South Africa, will have been penned by your colleagues. And you know what journos are like, what with their earnest two thousand word opuses on the op-ed pages designed to fix this country's ills in a heartbeat - based on exhaustive research over a three-day visit.

Funnily enough, we are well aware of the challenges we face as a nation and you will find that 95% of the population is singing from the same song-sheet in order to ensure we can live up to our own exacting expectations.

We are also here to look after you and show you a good time. Prepare to have your preconceived notions well and truly shattered.

For instance, you will find precious few rhinos loitering on street corners, we don't know a guy in Cairo named Dave just because we live in Johannesburg, and our stadiums are magnificent, world-class works of art.

Which is obviously news to the Sky TV sports anchor who this week remarked that Soccer City looked 'a bit of a mess'. She didn't realize the gaps in the calabash exterior are to allow in natural light and for illumination at night, and not the result of vandalism or negligence.

The fact that England, the nation which safely delivered Wembley Stadium two years past its due date, is prepared to offer us South Africans advice on stadium-readiness should not be surprising. The steadiest stream of World Cup misinformation has emanated from our mates the Brits over the past couple of years.

If it's not man-eating snakes lurking in Rooney's closet at the team's (allegedly half-built) Royal Bafokeng training base, then it's machete-wielding gangs roaming the suburbs in search of tattooed, overweight Dagenham dole-queuers to ransack and leave gurgling on the pavement.

In fact what you are entering is the world's most fascinating country, in my opinion. I'm pretty sure you will find that it functions far more smoothly, is heaps more friendly and offers plenty more diversions than you could possibly have imagined.

In addition to which, the population actually acts like human beings, and not like they are being controlled by sinister forces from above which turns them into bureaucratically-manipulated robots.

Plus we have world's most beautiful women. The best weather. Eight channels of SuperSport. Food and wine from the gods themselves. Wildlife galore. (Love the Dutch team's bus slogan: "Don't fear the Big 5; fear the Orange 11").

Having said all that, Jo'burg is undoubtedly one of the world's most dangerous cities. Just ask those Taiwanese tourists who got out of their hire car to take close-up snaps of tawny beasts at the Lion Park a few years back. Actually, ask what's left of them. And did you know the chances of being felled by cardiac arrest from devouring a mountain of meat at one of our world class restaurants has been statistically proven to be 33.3% higher in Jozi than in any other major urban centre not built upon a significant waterway? It's true. I swear. I read it in a British tabloid.

Having recently spent two years comfortably cocooned in small town America, I'm only too aware of how little much of the outside world knows about this country. The American channel I used to work for has a massive battalion of employees descending on World Cup country. It has also apparently issued a recommendation to its staff to stay in their hotels when not working.

Given that said corporation is headquartered in a small town which many say is "best viewed through the rear-view mirror", I find the recommendation, if it's true, to be utterly astounding. In fact I don't believe it is true. Contrary to the global stereotype, the best Americans are some of the sharpest people in the world. The fact they have bought most tickets in this World Cup proves the point.

Of course I have only lived in Johannesburg, city of terror and dread, virtually all my life, so don't have the in-depth knowledge of say, an English broadsheet journalist who has been in the country for the weekend, but nevertheless I will share some of my observations gleaned over the years.

Any foreign tourist or media representative who is worried about his safety in South Africa should have a word with the Lions rugby fans from last year, or the Barmy Army cricket supporters (lilywhite hecklers by day, slurring, lager-fuelled lobsters by night). They managed just fine, just like the hundreds of thousands of fans who have streamed into the country over the past fifteen years for various World Cups, Super 14 matches, TriNations tests and other international events. Negligible crime incidents involving said fans over said period of time.

Trivia question: which country has hosted the most global sporting events over the past decade and a half? You don't need me to answer that, do you?

In addition. Don't fret when you see a gaggle of freelance salesmen converge on your car at the traffic lights (or robots as we like to call them) festooned with products. You are not about to be hijacked. Here in Mzansi (nickname for SA) we do a lot of our purchasing at robots. Here you can stock up on flags, coat hangers, batteries, roses for the wife you forgot to kiss goodbye this morning and a whole host of useful merchandise.

Similarly, that guy who runs up as you park the rental car outside the pub intends no malice. He's your car guard. Give him a buck or two and your vehicle will be safe while you refuel for hours on our cheap, splendid beer. Unless someone breaks into it, of course.

We drive on the left in this country. Exercise caution when crossing the road at a jog-trot with 15 kilograms of camera gear on your back. Exercise common sense full stop. Nothing more. Nothing less. If you want to leave wads of cash in your hotel room like our Colombian friends, don't be surprised if it grows wings.

Bottomline. Get out there and breathe in great lusty lungfuls of this amazing nation. Tuck into our world-class food and wines. Disprove the adage that white men can't dance at our throbbing, vibrant night-clubs. Learn to say hello in all eleven official languages. Watch at least one game in a township. You will not be robbed and shot. You will be welcomed like a lost family member and looked after as if you are royalty. Ask those Bulls rugby fans who journeyed to Soweto recently.

With a dollop of the right attitude, this country will change your life.

It's Africa's time. Vacate your hotel room. Join the party.

Waka waka eh eh.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The other R Saunders

This has been a good week (and a bit) for my son Ruairidh.

A week ago I attended the prize-giving ceremony for Stevenson College to see him receive the Easton Forbes Watt Composition Prize for his piece The Fireworks (of which more anon).

That same evening I saw him on stage as the Usher in Gilbert & Sullivan's Trial By Jury, along with fellow Stevenson College students and under the baton of my wife Hilary. The performance I saw was the second night, and Sophie Brett was outstanding as Angelina (with Bruce Whitehead excellent as the Judge too).

Then last night was the Stevenson College end of term concert, which featured Ruairish in the Wind Ensemble (playing the 4th horn part of the Mozart K361 Serenade on a saxophone), in the Saxophone Quintet (playing 2nd alto in Summertime), in the choir (singing Burns songs), in the jazz band (on drums) and finally drumming in his own prize-winning composition The Fireworks. This was a piece of "orchestral rock" (think Tubular Bells, sort of) and this was its first public performance. The most frequently heard comment was that it would make fantastic ad music: I confidently expect to hear it behind some future Scottish Tourist Board ad. I hadn't heard it before, and while full of enthusiasm for my son I hadn't necessarily expected that his piece would be that good. While it's not a work of towering genius, The Fireworks works really well. Sometimes it sounds more like Steve Reich than Mike Oldfield, which is funny as I'm fairly certain my son has never heard any Reich. Someone described it as "advertising music", and it's certainly easy to imagine it playing behind a Scoittish Tourist Board ad. Watch this space.......

Anyway, a good week for my son.

Going for Baroque

If your only experience of Leopold Stokowski's arrangements of Bach is his Toccata & Fugue in D minor (as heard in Walt Disney's Fantasia) I recommend this one.

My own orchestra has pencilled this in to be programmed some time over the next few seasons. I've played it before and it's a tremendously uplifting piece to play. Not to mention the sheer visceral pleasure of sitting inside an orchestra putting out that much sound. Why should organists have all the fun?

Here's another great organ piece (more recent) arranged for orchestra. Funnily enough my orchestra plans to do this too.

Not all racists are risible

Not content with hanging out a "War Criminals Welcome Here" sign, it seems our new government of Conned_Liberals has found other ways of driving to the bottom of the human rights league. NuLabour, for all its manifold sins and wickedness, put in place some excellent policies to protect the rights of one of Britain's most put-upon racial minorities. Barely a month into office, and the new government has not only reversed them but is considering changes to the law to add further discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers.

First they came for the travellers, but I was not a traveller so I said nothing.
Then they came for me, but they had to park ten miles away and walk because all the motorways were blocked by gypsy caravans.

I wish the gypsies all the best in their fight against the resurgent racism of the new government.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Heads you lose

A couple of weeks ago I was waiting in line in the post office and ahead of me there was an elderly lady of the old-fashioned kind one sees alo tin my poart of Edinburgh. She was wearing a headsquare just like the one my mother used to wear when we went out shopping in the 1950s and early 1960s. Indeed, all our female neighbours wore similar head coverings when they went out. It was what you did. It was considered proper. It was a social norm, and clearly for some Edinburgh ladies it still is.

So why is there so much fuss about Islamic headscarves (hijabs)? I can understand why there is controversy over face veils (niqabs), but headscarves? They're no more alien to our own traditions than wearing underwear.

I would have liked to see one of our self-styled defenders of women's freedoms trying to persuade my mother that she was oppressed by a religious patriarchy. My mother had four older brothers, a husband and two sons. She was intensely Christian (in the Church of England way), highly energetic (in defence of her family and her religion) and took absolutely no crap from anyone, ever.

Here are a few good articles on the hijab:

and here.

Video fun

Here's the late great Phil Harris doing his classic Woodman Spare That Tree. While I have it on CD now, for many years I owned a 78 just like the one in the video and used to belt it out in Durham for the edification of my fellow-students.

This one I only acquired when I got the CD:

And in a wonderful example of serendipity, I found this next clip in a Youtube sidebar when watching the Phil Harris pieces. As I'm currently reading I Found My Horn, I couldn't resist it:

And then there's this:

My orchestra is doing a concert next year including Henk de Vlieger's The Ring: An Orchestral Adventure. This means our principal horn will have to play all those calls (as well as a LOT of non-solo horn work). It is said that when the great German horn player Gerd Seifert played in the pit for Siegfried, he agreed to take a pay cut of some substantial amount for any note he split in the horn calls. I don't know if he was ever called upon to make good on his promise, but as a way of both psyching himself up and advertising his skill it seems pretty good.

And as for advertising one's skill, here is an extract from a recent BBC documentary about Luciano Pavarotti. We hear him singing Pour Mon Ame from Donizetti's La Fille de Regiment, an aria notorious for containing nine (9) top Cs. And then for extra pleasure we hear and see Juan Diego Flores repeating the feat at Covent Garden forty years later. It doesn't seem that either gentleman would have been out of pocket had he taken on a bet such as Gerd Seifert's.

Tilting at Windbags

Oh, I got an email the other day from a reader. I shall omit the parts that might lead to her identification, but in part it ran:

Dear Rob

I discovered your blog recently and just wanted to drop you a line to say well done and keep up your work against Blair Supporter (aka "BS" or "Uncle Jimmy"). I came across this waste of space a while ago........

and ended

So, once again, well done for standing up to him and keep up the good work!

Well, I aim to please. Though it's more fun laughing at his inconsistency, his gullibility and his wannabe-Nazism than being outraged by his lack of basic decency.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Friday morning's "Ridicule The Racist" slot

There have been some extraordinarily unpleasant posts on Uncle Jimmy's blog lately: he really should find himself some better writers.

This one ends up with a long list of links to pieces of anti-Muslim hysteria and hate, including one article which tells us that the Gazans don't need an aid convoy because generous Israel allowed in 637 truckloads of aid last week. Unfortunately the weekly requirement to keep the people of Gaza fed is 2,400 truckloads.

Before that Jimmy posts a little list of his own (his own! Ha!) of questions Muslims should be asking themselves. I hope you're feeling strong:

- Which religion suicide-bombs innocents weekly, even daily? (Oh yes. OURS.)

- When was the last time Israel ‘massacred’ innocents? (Apart from the alleged murder of our brother, the innocent Hamas operative.)

- What do we really care about Human Rights, when Allah knows what is right? (Or does he?)

- Why do we need democracy? Look what it has done to the west. (How do I get asylum?)

- When are we going to get a grip on our wayward “religion”? (Allah knows!)

Now this is funny in a sick way. A few months back Jimmy got very cross with me when I accused him of hating Muslims, and said he was only against Muslim extremism. Well, "Which religion (sic) suicide-bombs innocents weekly?" sounds an awful lot like accusing all Muslims of being suicide bombers, does it not? (And WE ALL KNOW, do we not, that no terrorists are fundamentalist Christians or Jews? Well, except these ones, obviously.) The answer to the second question, of course, would be Operation Cast Lead, last year, which fits anyone's definition of a massacre of innocents. Oh, wait, no, silly me, every inhabitant of Gaza is a "Hamas operative", whatever that might be, so no innocent civilians there.

Still, you have to admire Jimmy's efficiency: while accusing all Muslims of being suicide bombers he still manages to slip in the accusation that they're queuing up to get asylum in the UK (Swamped! by hordes! of immigrants!) Of course one can't be too careful about hate-filled extremists lying their way through immigration to get asylum so they can squeeze money out of gullible western democracies and use it to spread their poisonous attacks on our values and freedoms. It does happen.

Earlier in the same post, this little piece of racist dogshit moans that the Turkish PM described the murder of the flotilla passengers (mostly Muslims) as a massacre, when WE ALL KNOW that a real massacre involves English people being gunned down in Whitehaven. Not the same thing at all.

In fairness, he also draws attention to a story otherwise rather overshadowed last week, of 98 Ahmadis murdered in Pakistan. Of course, this too is a real massacre because the ones doing the killing were Muslims (sorry, MUSLIMS!), not Jews. But if you thought that this story would lead Jimmy on to sympathise with the plight of a persecuted Muslim sect, think again. he quotes an article about Mirza Masroor Ahmad, leader of the Ahmadis, and asks

"Mirza Masroor Ahmad lives in London, the capital of MY country! WHY?"

His answer is that "such as Mirza Masroor Ahmad needs somewhere calm and reasonably civilised to prepare for the Kaliphate. In Britain we’re happy to help him along that path."

Ah, of course, the Kaliphate. Muslim rule of the entire world, the goal of all Muslims (and if they say otherwise, that's because they're instructed to lie to infidels). Just imagine how the leader of a sect considered by both Sunnis and Shias as non-Muslims - and subjected by them to deadly attacks such as the one Jimmy reports - imagine how he must be looking forward to that. And while "prepare for" in Jimmy's first sentence might have meant "barricade myself away from", the second sentence rather spoils that interpretation.

Funny: Jimmy quotes an Ahmadi spokesman as saying "Its followers believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who lived between 1835 and 1908, was sent by God as a prophet “to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace”. You'd think if it was only violent Muslim extremists Jimmy hated, he'd be all in favour of having these folk in London. Ha! Pakistanis? Not in the capital of HIS country.

Maybe Jimmy should stick with the posts he gets from the Israeli government: the ones from the BNP aren't nearly as good.

Fighting Fantasy Chequebook

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian can be irritating and arrogant, and quite often I disagree with him. (Though not as often as I used to disagree with Michael Gove when he write for the Times: his Europhobia and Islamophobia were the main reasons I switched from the Times to the Guardian several years ago.)

This week, though, he published a piece with which I find myself wholly in agreement.
("My once-in-a-generation cut? The armed forces. All of them.)

A sample:

Each incoming government since 1990 has held so-called defence reviews "to match capabilities to policy objectives". I helped with one in 1997, and it was rubbish from start to finish, a cosmetic attempt to justify the colossal procurements then in train, and in such a way that any cut would present Labour as "soft" on defence.

Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and George Robertson, the then defence secretary were terrified into submission. They agreed to a parody of generals fighting the last war but one. They bought new destroyers to defeat the U-boat menace. They bought new carriers to save the British empire. They bought Eurofighters to duel with Russian air aces. Trident submarines with nuclear warheads went on cruising the deep, deterring no one, just so Blair could walk tall at conferences.

Or this:

Despite Blair's politics of fear, Britain entered the 21st century safer than at any time since the Norman conquest.

There can be no possible justification for the obscene amounts being spent on keeping our army in Iraq (where it was sent to protect us against imaginary WMDs) or Afghanistan (where it went to find Osama bin Laden - see how well that worked out). When Blair was Prime Minister and was up to his adding machine in British Aerospace's fake accounts, it was at least pretty clear why we were lining the pockets of arms dealers for no benefit to the nation. But now? We may not have cleaned the Augean stables, but we've got rid of the most egregiously dung-bespattered horse. If Cameron and Osborne really want to cut waste and save money, there's £45 billion a year being pissed away on totally inappropriate "defence".

No doubt we need some of it. No doubt it's a tiny fraction of that collosal sum. Let's review every penny and see what value we're getting.

(End credits: thanks to Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone for providing the inspiration fot my title.)

And there was I thinking the USA was in the West. Oh wait, New Jersey's in the East so that doesn't count

I recently described the seldom-consistent Uncle Jimmy as reminding me of Private Eye's Glenda Slag. Today he has posted an interminable anti-Hamas rant culled from a number of sources, but he does add some comments of his own. Commenting on a video (admittedly very unpleasant) for schoolchildren by Hamas he asks:

Is there a western equivalent ANYwhere? No, of course not. We do not indoctrinate our liberalised children.

Yet only last September Jimmy was bleating about the "brainwashing" of American children who were filmed singing songs in praise of their president. Here's what he had to say about it:

Schools and the malleable minds of young children are not suitable material for this atrocious brainwashing. It is reminiscent of a period of national condition that we Europeans, at least, will and should never forget.

Well, it didn't take Jimmy long to forget his accusations of atrocious braiwashing of schoolchildren when he came to claim that "we don't indoctrinate our liberalised children".

The Helen Thomas Affair

One of Uncle Jimmy's recently copied posts (this time from FresnoZionism.org, though it has the look of an Israeli press office job and seems to be doing the rounds of the American right-wing bloggers) was on the enforced retirement of Helen Thomas from the White House press cops following her ill-judged remarks about Israel's occupation of Palestine. In his only original contribution to his own post, Jimmy reckons she won't be missed. But she is missed, for a number of reasons. There are other good, balanced articles on the affair here and here.

Here in Britain we don't force journalists to "retire" when they make one dumb remark: if we did we'd have very few journalists. However, Israel is the third rail of American politics: touch it and you die.

A different kind of peace dividend

I remarked here that I thought the attack on the aid flotilla might be a turning point after which Israeli hasbara would lose all credibility, and certainly the amount of Israeli government fakery that they've been forced to apologise for has been gratifying. But there may be other ways in which the peace activists turn out not to have died in vain. It seems that a by-product of Turkey's fury at Israel's killing of its citizens may be an end to Israel's continual blocking (via AIPAC) of any attempt to have the US Congress discuss the Turkish genocide of Armenians last century.

If it's true, that's excellent news. Of course, any war criminals pursued by the USA will soon be able to flee to safety in Britain.

But it's all about the rockets, isn't it?

A UN report on, among other things, violence against Palestinian civilians by both soldiers and "settlers" (aka extremist Jewish terrorists).

And just last week we have a peaceful Israeli "settler" "gunning down a couple of schoolchildren.

UK set to become a safe haven for war criminals

This is an utter disgrace which deserves wider publicity. The new coalition shows its true colours.

From the land where street protestors are shot dead and where opposition politicians fear for their lives.

In the renowned Middle Eastern "democracy" that is Israel, we have death threats being made against opposition members of parliament by a member of the ruling party, with no protest from the party leaders.

Remember this is a government which not only shoots its own peaceful political protestors dead, it sends death squads into other countries so these are scarcely empty threats.

More here. Oh, and there's a Facebook group (which has now been taken down) dedicated to making death threats against Haneen Zoabi. Sweet.

Isn't it strange that Uncle Jimmy, who comes down so heavily on entirely imaginary "death threats" or "incitements to kill" against Tony Blair, has nothing to say on this? Fictional threats against a sacked politico, unelected and unaccountable, are worth pages of his bile. Genuine death threats against an elected opposition politician? Well, if they had occurred in Iran you can be sure he would have had something to say about them, but in Israel? Catch UJ saying anything he hasn't been sent by the Israeli government? Not likely.

Here's a good article on how Israel has treated political dissenters over the years.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

I sentence you to have £200k of law-abiding citizens money spent on you.

Here is The Sun on the case of a child molestor who quite rightly got sent down for five and a half years. Or then again, "will cost taxpayers more than £200,000".

Jeez. When al-Megrahi was released, did the Sun cheer at all the taxpayers' money we were saving by sending him to Libya? Were they campaigning for Myra Hindley to be set free so as to save us all the cost of her accommodation at Holloway? (Oooh, ooh, I know that one!)

I'm certainly not condoning sexual abuse, whether of adults or children. But I would be interested to know what the abuse consisted of (not rape or he would have been charged with it) and why the judge thought he wouldn't pose a threat to the public. He may have been wrong, and certainly Judge Hall has form when it comes to minimising the seriousness of sexual assaults. But on this occasion he gave what for him would seem to be a fairly stiff sentence, so he seems to have separately considered the offence committed and the likelihood of re-offending (as he is supposed to do).

None of this will interest the folk at the Sun, of course, whose connection with news and facts is so loose that they describe Bob Spink as a UKIP MP. Now I knew UKIP didn't win any seats at the recent election, and had no MPs before that, so that seemed odd. However, not only has Spink never been a UKIP MP, he was never even a member of UKIP.

But then it is the Sun we're talking out there....

They Con The World

When Uncle Jimmy posted this piece of bad taste recently I felt it was best ignored, though my first thought was "How like an American to post a parody of a song hardly anyone on Britain would know". (Turns out it briefly hit number one back in 1985, but was very much seen as the USA's answer to Band Aid. A quick straw poll among British friends of suitable ages found nobody who remembered it now.)

Anyway, now I know why he posted it: it was because the Israeli Government told him to. And now that they've apologised and say that sending out the clip was a mistake, will he take it down? Or apologise? Look lively, Jimmy, your masters are calling!

Mind you, he still maintains that the famous fake "Go back to Auschwitz" video clip is genuine even though the Israeli government has admitted faking it. If he isn't careful, the Israeli government will stop sending him his blog posts and he'll have to go back to writing them himself. (With a crayon held in his foot......)

It seems ironically appropriate that the post where he links to the Flotilla Choir clip is headed up "In case it hasn’t dawned on you yet we have been lied to by our media".

Inspired by Muhammad

This campaign is long overdue.

Meanwhile, American Christians show those pesky Muslims all about women's rights.

While a few hundred Islamophobes crawled out from under their rocks at the weekend to wave idiotic placards in New York.

No, actually Jesus was a holy prophet to Mohammed, as he is to Muslims today. I am aware that it's supposedly anti-semitic to mention this, but in fact Jesus was nailed to a piece of wood by Roman polytheists, loudly cheered on by Jews. This guy needs to read his Bible.

Protestant churches in NYC : thousands
Synagogues in NYC: thousands
Protestant churches, synagogues, mosques etc in the Vatican CIty: 0

Start with the Vatican!

It's no more stupid a comparison.

The fools even set on a couple of Christians who were part of their protest because they looked Arab. Racist, much?

And for all those other racists who imagine that all modern terrorism is Islamic, it's interesting that from 1980 to 2005 there were more religiously-inspired terrorist attacks on US soil committed by Jewish fundamentalists than by Muslim ones. From 9/11 to the end of 2009 not a single civilian was killed in an act of Islamic terror in the USA. Not one.

Meanwhile, in Europe where we're supposedly all soft on terrorism because we don't all buy into the fiction of creeping Jihad, the situation is even worse (for those trying to sell the "War" on "Terror"): only 0.4% of terrorism is Islamic. This of course will come as no surprise to those of us who trust the evidence of our eys, ears and memories and can recall that there was plenty of terrosism from Basque separatists, the IRA, the Baader-Meinhof group, the Animal Liberation Front and plenty of others long before 11 September 2001 when the USA suddenly realised what the rest of the world had been suffering for decades.

He may not have sought asylum but it found him....

Any shred of coherence Uncle Jimmy ever had has completely deserted the poor lad. Not only does he turn up here, signing his comments as "Uncle Jimmy's Nephew", but he goes and posts this, of such magnificent meaninglessness that while clearly it is composed of English words one could plough through the thing for hours without finding a single notion of any relevance to anything in the real world.

Poor Jimmy. Presumably the dual realisations that his beloved Israel has committed a crime it can neither deny nor spin its way out of, and that it may therefore (just possibly) be forced to begin to comply with international law by the rest of a world whose patience with its lawlessness has finally run out, have sent him round the bend. I imagine him like Inspector Dreyfus at the end of Return Of The Pink Panther, scrawling KILL MUSLIMS with his toes on the wall of his padded cell. (And probably having shot off his own nose as well.)

Monday, June 07, 2010

If you're too lazy to write a blog, the Israeli Government will do it for you, apparently.

I was about to draw your attention to another piece of rubbish on Gaza from Uncle Jimmy, but to be fair I became confused (as I was doubtless supposed to) by the fact that most of his prolific posting for the past several days has consisted of cut-and-paste jobs from either Israeli government sources or from Cif Watch (which is the same thing in effect). Here, then, is a particularly unpleasant lie cheerfully propagated by Uncle "oooh no, it's not me at all, somebody else wrote it and I just posted it all" Jimmy.

It comes just after the bit where he/CifWatch/the IDF say that:

I can say that when the goods were unloaded from the Marmara at Ashdod, toys were immediately transported , along with much of the rest of the cargo except outdated medicines (a favorite “gift” of the Free Gaza crowd) and proscribed materials to Gaza, where Hamas refused to allow the goods in:

Flotilla aid refused by Hamas

“Hamas has refused to allow those trucks to go in,” the [Israeli] official said, “and if the aid is so urgent, my question is, why are they not allowing it into Gaza?”

which, as we have already seen, means the toys (proscribed materials) were unloaded from the Marmara and not transported anywhere, except presumably into the local IDF/corrupt Israeli bureaucrats' pockets. As for Hamas refusing to allow the goods in, the source for this is the immensely believable "Israeli official" , probably the same one who ensured that the goods were never taken to Gaza in the first place. But poor naive Jimmy takes it all as gospel (sorry, Torah) truth.

Next he copies this piece of unpleasant innuendo:

Then Irvine adds an enormously over-the-top citation form (sic) Mary Robinson:

“Their whole civilisation has been destroyed. I’m not exaggerating … It’s almost unbelievable that the world doesn’t care while this is happening.”

“Civilization destroyed”? Really? Well, not exactly – perhaps she said that while selecting her food from the 15 page menu at the exclusive Roots Restaurant, unaware that for a fraction of the price she could get a felafal round the corner from a more representative, and still flourishing, member of the Gazan traditional “civilization”. Or purchase a Mercedes Benz smuggled in via the tunnels after a hard day bargaining in the souk.

As for the “world doesn’t care”, this crowd of parasites on the world’s largesse has been supported for over 60 years by UNRWA, the only organization ever set up to provide global assistance to just one particular group of people.

I only know one "group of parasites" supported by the UN for over 60 years, and that is the state of Israel. And as for the UNRWA being the only organisation set up to provide global assistance to just one group of people, Israel does that for Jews from all over the world (if they wosh to relocate to Israel) , and for nobody else. I don't have a problem with either in principle: however it appears that for CifWatch and Jimmy, taking the world's money and giving it to one group of people is OK as long as it's Jews and not Arabs.

But that's not the unpleasantless I was referring to, though it tells you all you would ever want to know about the creeps at CifWatch. It was the reference to the Roots Restaurant. Its funny they should happen to mention that just after an Israeli government propaganda piece pointed it out to them. But then, Jimmy steals from CifWatch, CifWatch steals from the Israeli goverment and nobody gives a shit whether any of it is true because it's critical of Muslims, so it must be valuable, right?

Here, for the hard (or in Jimmy's case, absent) of thinking, is a post describing blogosphere reaction to the flotilla attack. Note especially the following remarks by Ashley Bates quoted in a comment:

The flotilla story has ignited a fierce debate, particularly within Israel, about the extent to which Gaza is suffering a humanitarian tragedy. Articles about the elaborate menu offerings at a high-end Gaza City restaurant called the Roots Club widely circulated in the Israeli media this week. Today, I visited the Roots Club for the first time. It was nearly empty (except for five patrons, including me) at 7 p.m. on a weekend night and has not turned a profit in four years, according to co-owner Wael Al Shorafa (pictured above). “I believe we have the best food in Gaza—better than Ramallah and Israel—but we don’t have customers,” he said. “You can see that we have no customers. Most of the people who have money aren’t [in Gaza] anymore. We pay our workers pocket money.”

Gaza’s economy has been devastated by two intifadas against the Israeli occupation, by the 2007 civil war between Hamas and Fatah, by last year’s war between Israel and Hamas, and by the continued Israeli blockade. I’ve met no one who is starving here (most Gazans receive staple foods from UNRWA) and many items forbidden under the blockade—including cement— come into Gaza through the tunnels.

Most Gazan families cannot afford the smuggled luxury items, nor can they afford a meal at the Roots Club. While the specific numbers are disputed, the unemployment rate is astronomical. Those who do work usually share their income with their extended families. Many, including children, have resorted to dangerous, back-breaking work ferrying goods through the tunnels or collecting rubble from destroyed, unstable buildings. Among the highest paying jobs are those with the alphabet soup of NGOs and development organizations currently operating in Gaza.

There is a housing crisis in Gaza. Everywhere I go, I meet people whose homes have been destroyed by Israel and not rebuilt. Some moved in with relatives and live in cramped quarters. Others rent apartments that they can barely afford. And many, including the three sisters pictured above, live in partially destroyed houses. And it should go without saying that there is a crisis of psychological trauma in Gaza, particularly following last year’s war.

However, a minority in Gaza—including me—do live in comfortable apartments and dine in Gaza City’s coffee shops. My one-bedroom apartment came with a fully furnished living room and bedroom, a satellite television, wireless internet, electricity, and a hot water tank. It had not been rented in over a year when I moved in, I signed no extended contract, and I pay only $300 per month. Since the power goes out in my building (and across Gaza) for at least eight hours per day, I’ve purchased an electric generator that gives me electricity whenever I need it. Most Gazans cannot afford these generators and have structured their lives around the electricity schedule. Some Gazan children have died when faulty electric generators smuggled from Egypt overheated and exploded.

And again:

One such location, the Roots Club, was recently featured in an Israeli government press release on the better-than-reported living conditions in Gaza. It highlighted the restaurant’s posh atmosphere and elaborate menu offerings. Last week, on a weekend evening at 7 p.m., only five patrons dined at the Roots Club. Co-owner Wael Al Shorafa said the restaurant has not turned a profit in four years and pays its workers “pocket money.”

No doubt the Israeli authorities, while banning the import of fresh meat, vinegar, cumin or ginger for the general population , make use of the totally arbitrary nature of the prohibitions to allow the Roots Restaurant to have the ingredients for its "elaborate menu offerings". No matter that it has no customers and loses money: they can then point to it as a success story. Hell, I expect Tony Blair will be taking personal credit for it soon.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The flotilla, the blockade, the hasbara, the coffee beans

On last week's Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla, Mark Steel in the Independent has a good piece on all those weapons the activists had.

And Mark Elf at Jews Sans Frontieres quotes an editorial from the Financial Times which accords 100% with my own views on the matter (I haven't linked to it directly as you need to register).

Antony Lerman in The Guardian discusses the fact that even with almost total control over what was reported by the mainstream media concerning the attack, Israel appears for once to have lost the PR battle.

They try hard though.

Uncle Jimmy continues to drain his cesspit of victim-blaming (for example here), spiced with dozens of IDF press releases and videos including the fake one listed above (which he proves isn't a fake, because the IDF changed their story about what it showed. So there.) Nothing at all like the Exodus, bla bla bla, the IHH are a terrorist organisation, yada yada yada, Israel has no control over Gaza, israel has control over Gaza, Israel hasn't banned the import of children's toys from the flotilla but has passed them on into Gaza, Israel only stops the import of "prohibited items", bla bla di fucking bla.

On that last lie, where Jimmy rubbishes the idea that the toys on the flotilla ships have been confiscated, he insists that all the goods were sent by the Israelis into Gaza except "prohibited items". That would be items on this list. And there, nine lines up from the bottom, we see "toys". Pausing only to laugh at Jimmy's naive repetition of every lie the Israelis feed him, let us examine that list in a little more detail. The Israelis, who we have to remember have relinquished all control over Gaza so everything that goes wrong there is the fault of Hamas and the wicked Ay-rabs who elected them, keep out such dangerous terrorist raw materials as:

musical instruments
fabric for clothing
fishing rods
size A4 paper
writing implements
potato chips

I was especially struck by "It is not possible to verify this list with the Israeli authorities because they refuse to disclose information regarding the restrictions on transferring goods into Gaza."

Basically the Israeli authorities act in a completely arbitrary way, because they have the guns and so they can. Here is a good article about that arbitrariness.

"Two weeks ago they stopped coffee beans," says Raed Fatouh, who co-ordinates with the Israelis on the crossing points. "I called them, and they said they couldn't allow in beans, only ground coffee."

The reason, he said, was that beans require grinding and that could be categorised as an industrial process.

"It's the same with butter. If it comes in a 20kg slab they won't allow it because it needs to be cut up. But they will allow in small packets of butter. They won't let anything in that could provide work for a small business."

So the Israeli blockade is deliberately aimed at damaging the Gazan economy rather than having anything to do with terrorism or "defence". Gosh. If only someone would speak up for the Gazans and demand an immediate end to the blockade. If only Western governments had someone on their payroll whose job it was to promote the development of the Palestinian economy. If only.

Oh, I know he talks the talk:

Blair, who has publicly stated that he opposes the economic blockade of Gaza, said that one of the main issues facing the Palestinian territory was a lack of proper access.

“I’ve been saying that for the best part of two years that this (the blockade) is a policy that doesn’t work,” Blair said.

“At the present time it’s very hard to get materials into Gaza. We need to get not just humanitarian materials but materials that can rebuild the infrastructure.”

But what has his (well-paid) opposition actually accomplished? Not only has the blockade not been lifted, or even eased, it seems that it has now been broadened to include attacks on vessels in international waters. To think that the man who according to Uncle Jimmy was responsible for bringing peace to Northern Ireland has been unable, in two years, with all his diplomatic expertise and with almost bottomless funding from the UN, EU, USA and Russia, to persuade Israel to allow newspapers, toys, pencils or writing paper into Gaza. Meanwhile, the personal effects of unwanted visitors are simply stolen.

On board the plane, the air hostess gives me a pair of socks. Because mine were stolen by one of the commandos who attacked the boat I was on.

The myth of the brave and utterly infallible Israeli soldier is shattered. Now we can add: they are common thieves. For I was not the only one to be robbed of my money, credit card, clothes, MP3 player, laptop; the same happened to many others on the same ship as me, which was attacked early one morning by masked Israeli soldiers, who were thus in fact nothing other than lying pirates.

One final point. I do find it amusing when the Zionist crazies at CifWatch moan that the Guardian's Comment Is Free allows any kind of antisemitic and anti-Isral comments, while censoring out their (perfectly reasonable) pro-Israeli ones. Meanwhile, at Jews Sans Frontieres, they complain that Cif allows only pro-Zionist propaganda and censors out any critical comments. Methinks they both protest too much: if Cif is managing to offend extremists on both sides it's probably getting it about right.

Also These

While I'm posting Eurovision worthy non-winners, here's Bosnia-Herzegovina's Maja Tatic in 2002. I always thought she should have scored better:

That year, of course, Ira Losco of Malta got the "We wuz robbed" prize, placing second with one of the all-time best non-winners (and miles better than the Latvian entry which won):

I used to think Swedish pop music was an arcane interest until I attempted to track down any Ira Losco albums. Just shows I should have picked some up when I was in Malta at Easter.

And as for Eurovision...

I was performing a concert of Nielsen and Sibelius while the 2010 final was on, but recorded it, as indeed I did both semifinals. While I know the results, I've so far only watched the first semifinal in full.

I must say I don't think the German entry deserved to win, nor do I think the UK deserved to come last. Funnily enough the entry from Belarus did nearly as badly as we did and I really liked that:

I enjoyed Moldova's entry as well. In the semifinal they still had the fluorescent violin though they seem to have lost that for the final. Ah weel....

Albania's entry was fun:

While Slovakia's Kristina (who sadly didn't make the final) had a reasonably nice song and is possibly the most beautiful woman to grace the competition since Nicole, who won it for Germany 28 years ago: