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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Surely we sing of no little thing

Phil recently posted a piece on Pete Bellamy, who died just over nineteen years ago. I first saw Pete when my brother Martin took me to see The Young Tradition (they were one of the supports for somebody like Tom Rush ). I thought they were great: Martin and I had already had our "Why hasn't this guy got a guitar?" introduction to unaccompanied solo singing when we saw Cyril Tawney at the Manchester Folk Festival a year or two earlier. In an afternoon concert, I might add, featuring the Ian Campbell Folk Group (including Dave Swarbrick), Dominic Behan, Phil Ochs on a rare if not unique British appearance, and Doc Watson. They don't make them like that any more. The YoT kicked off as ever with Cyril Tawney's "Chicken on a Raft", as good a mock sea-shanty as you'll hear anywhere.

And they looked exactly as in that picture, in full Edwardian rig.

As far as I remember I only saw Pete solo on one occasion, which must have been when I was a student in the mid-seventies. He did a programme which was mainly if not entirely Kipling settings: I think Pete saw the rehabilitation of Kipling for our generation, who largely viewed him as a jingoistic old fogey rather than a Nobel Prize-winning poet, as a necessary righting of an unbalanced view as well as an aesthetic project. Certainly it would be hard to overstate the impact of his first Kipling settings. My personal favourite has always been Oak, Ash and Thorn, for the recording of which the Young Tradition reformed. Sadly I have been unable to find a clip either of Bellamy doing it or even a decent cover. It's hard to say now whether the impact of Pete's Kipling songs was more because of the sense of recovery (or at least re-evaluation) of neglected treasures or simply because his settings - literally - made the poems sing. Here is one of them:

(I've just realised Phil used the same clip. But there are, sadly, so few of Pete available.)

Quite a lot of what Phil has to say about Pete was familiar to me. I hadn't known who his father was, but I knew of his right-wing politics from an infamous duel with Leon Rosselson in the letters pages of Folk Review: the spat was over the validity or otherwise of the singer-songwriter as against the singer of traditional songs rather than anything expressly political, but from some of his criticisms of Rosselson it became clear where Pete stood. I remember the affair because it inspired me to write my first ever letter to a publication, which was duly printed (and was on Rosselson's side, though it was Steve Ashley I cited). Bellamy was clearly playing devil's advocate to an extent: while nobody picked him up on it, his greatest hit (at the time) was the above-mentioned Cyril Tawney song, a perfect example of new creation within an existing tradition. In due course Pete would create The Transports, straddling the two worlds of "traditional" and "contemporary" folk, and making the polarisation between them (which was a serious matter to some folk) seem irrelevant. (I remember an article by Peggy Seeger berating university folk clubs in the early seventies as being "full of these dreadful singer-songwriters" - a bit rich from the wife of Ivor Novello award-winning singer-songwriter Ewan McColl. Perhaps she had come to think of Dirty Old Town and First Time Ever Saw Your Face as traditional. That in turn reminds me of a spoof poll in Melody Maker listing best recording of a traditional song as Peter Paul & Mary's Blowing In The Wind, and best recording of a contemporary song as Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair. Enough said.)

Phil mentions Pete's ability to get on with the most unlikely people, and for me this was shown best by his wonderful review of Al Stewart's Past, Present and Future. He talks about Al's drift into writing highly subjective songs which had earned him a large following of devoted teenage girls before writing a glowing review of the album ending with the words "You may disagree with me (especially if you're a teenage girl) but I think he should have made this record years ago." What made the review especially interesting was Pete's revelation that some years earlier he and Al had shared a residency at a London folk club, whose customers were thus exposed to (in Pete's words) a mixture of "Ewan McColl with flu and Bob Dylan on benzedrine". It's hard to imagine two more disparate approaches to "folk singing". Though some of us began to suspect that Pete wasn't quite the purist his usual persona made out when the YoT brough out their last album Galleries, including Pete doing Robert Johnson's Stones In My Passway with very competent bottleneck guitar (and fake 78 hiss).

A true giant of the folk revival who transfigured everything he touched.

Tony Curtis R.I.P.

The media are full of tributes to Tony Curtis who died today, and as is right and proper most of them mention The Defiant Ones and of course Some Like It Hot. So I would like to pay my own tribute by way of a clip from the other comedy in which he starred with Jack Lemmon: Blake Edwards' The Great Race. This excerpt has surely the greatest pie fight in cinema history: and through it all (almost to the end) Curtis in his white suit remains utterly spotless. No mean feat of special effects in the days before CGI.

Sorry I couldn't find a clip without the aspect ratio squashed. Yes, there are two Jack Lemmons: this scene is part of a subplot sending up The Prisoner of Zenda. And the music is by Henry Mancini.

Amazingly, when I went to buy the film on DVD a few years ago it was only available as a Region 1 American import. I see that now there are a small number of copies of a German version available as Region 2 DVDs, though whether they have an English language track I don't know. That appals me. This was the second film I saw by myself at the cinema as a child, and I have loved it ever since. My children in turn grew up with my video from a TV transmission, and the film has become part of our lives, with "Push the button, Max!", "If we'd turned right back there we'd have ended up on the Montmartre steps", "Rise and Shine!" "And now, car number 5, the engine falls out", "Brandy! More brandy!" and "I'd like to see the Great Leslie try THAT one!" receiving many an airing chez Saunders. I don't know anyone who has seen the film and not thought it was hilarious, so why no proper Region 2 British release? A mystery.

What do you call a man with no arms or legs in the sea? Bob

And what do you call a man with no arms or legs swimming the Channel? Clever dick.

Or possibly Philippe.

And which theocracy is run by people who believe the killing of infidels is divinely ordained?

OK, that one was too easy.

Question: What kind of "democracy" prevents its citizens from leaving?

So one of the restrictions now imposed on Hanin Zuabi (Israeli Arab member of the Knesset who took part in the Gaza flotilla) is that she is not allowed to leave the country. Sounds a lot like the kind of democracy they used to have in the GDR: perhaps, like the German wall, the one Israel has built in the OT can serve to stop people escaping Israel as well as getting in.

Answer: the kind that is scared they might taste freedom and never come back.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Blair was never the sharpest knife in the drawer but this is imbecilic even for him

Oh, this is brilliant.

Earth to grinning moron: the West Bank is in its 43rd year of a brutal and illegal military occupation (not that the illegality of military occupations ever bothered Blair). Tourism in the West Bank ought to be nothing whatsoever to do with Israel, and for him to involve Israel in it serves only as a shoddy attempt to give the occupation legitimacy. BlairSupporter (Uncle Jimmy) loves it, of course: it's an eye-catching initiative with which his hero is personally associated, it pretends that Israel has rights over the West Bank, AND it fucks over the Palestinians. It is precisely analogous to organising joint tourist operations between Poland and Germany to run tours to Warsaw in 1942. And in the same way that the Germans would have made sure no messy ghettos or extermination camps were on that tour itinerary, we may be certain that the "occupation tourists" won't see anyone being shot by the IDF or by the heavily-armed terrorists who have been "settled" in the West Bank, nor will they see the wanton detruction of Palestinian crops, businesses and homes in the majority of the West Bank which is a closed military zone. Perhaps if Blair was really interested in the Palestinian economy he could address some of those issues: but where's the money in that? Why spend time talking to nobodies in Palestinian villages (some of whom are even - ugh- trade unionists) , when there are photo-opportunities with Richard Branson to be had at luxury hotels? On the one hand, doing the job for which we pay him: on the other, looking as though he is important and relevant. You always know which one Blair will pick.

What next from the failed politico? Perhaps he'll jet off to Lhasa and organise joint Chinese/Tibetan tourist trips to show the world how sweet the Chinese troops are. Or organise trekking holidays in Helmand to show how the local people really love the US and British occupiers.

Then again he could just keep his stupid mouth shut until he has at least a basic schoolboy understanding of the region in which he "works" for us.

For more sensible perspectives on Palestinian tourism, see here, or here.

If Blair really wants people to visit the West Bank in order to improve the lot of the inhabitants, these are the people he should be dealing with. I recommend them.

Health & Safety Gone Global (Part Deux)

The remainder of the European Work Hazards Network conference was very interesting. I've left my notes at work so can't provide names for everyone, but anyway. Most of Saturday was occupied with workshops: I attended a stream on Sickness Absence Reporting and Return To Work Procedures. We had a presentation on how the system works in the Netherlands, where - unsurprisingly - there is a very slick government-mandated IT system which companies have ti use, meaning that all the relevant data gets captured every time, all the right people (doctors, Occupational Health guys, physiotherapists, whoever) are brought in when they're needed. The main advantage, apart from saving managers' having to diarise things themselves, seems to be that the system works many times faster than the UK's more primitive manual one. In our groups we discussed the experiences of delegates from Norway and Denmark (who have slicker procedures than ours - again, with much more laid down by law - but nothing quite like the Dutch). As one of the guys who was in my group advises the STUC on Health & Safety we were able to draw up a list of suggestions to go to the Scottish Government for possible improvements to our own reporting and data gathering.

There were also "information meetings" where foreign speakers gave short talks. I attended one by a Mexican academic who was talking about safety in Mexico and the role of trade unions there. You know, every so often you come across a scam so brilliant you wish you'd thought of it yourself . In Mexico there are unions with a total membership of zero. How do they survive? They hire themselves out to unscrupulous employers who want to set up a business without pesky unions. The employer signs an exclusive representation deal with the fake union, which makes sure it's so difficult to join that nobody ever does. Brilliant. He also mentioned the ABC nursery fire in Mexico City (5 June 2009) in which 49 children died. This nursery had received fire safety inspections, but because of corruption and incompetence these failed to spot that the fire exits were totally inadequate (someone had to smash down a wall to get the kids out - and was charged with damaging property!), that the fire alarm buttons were just buttons, not connected to any alarm system, or that the smoke detectors were all empty plastic casings.

There was also a good presentation by a couple of Danish researchers who had been studying trade union involvement in promoting businesses in the Occupied West Bank. While they had very positive tales to tell about progress and co-operation with the unions, as the businesses rhey were studying were mostly in one of the Closed Military Zones that make up much of the West Bank, the omens were not good for their futurem as the IDF have a history of arbitrarily destroying businesses in such regions if they actually begin to improve the conditions of the inhabitants. This would seem to be an area our highly-paid representative in the region, the ubiquitous Toe-Nibbler, might address when he is supposedly earning his salary by promoting opportunities in the Palestinian economy. However, anything requiring His Thatcherite Holiness to come into contact with rude mechanicals such as trade union members is presumably too much for his sensitive nose. (UPDATE: and now we know what Blair has been doing instead of such basics.)

A final note: all through Saturday we kept hearing strains of Tristan and Isolde coming out of one of the small halls. On investigation this turned out to be the Northern Wagner Orchestra, a bunch of enthusiasts who put on a concert performance of a Wagner opera each year. Not only is that what Edinburgh Players Opera Group do (we're doing Siegfried this very weekend, in fact), but it seems the NWO was set up by someone who had been involved with EPOG and liked the idea. And they use many of the same singers (Tristan was Jonathan Finney who will be our Siegfried, for example). Finally, one of our players (Carolyn Dyson) had actually travelled down and was playing with NWO. She was very surprised when I turned up in one of their tea-breaks for a chat! I don't know how the performance went (I was on my way home by then) but the rehearsals sounded very competent.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Video Fun: Sex Pistols and Kursaal Flyers

I suppose this ought to be Video No Fun, except that it's actually Pretty Vacant. I always thought this gave the lie to the critics who said the Pistols couldn't play: it's pretty tight actually. But, as someone once said of them, Blimey, these boys were CROSS.

Only a matter of months earlier the Kursaal Flyers had a hit with Little Does She Know. The lyrics are well worth listening to: the most deliciously tortured rhymes since Tom Lehrer. In this Top Of The Pops performance from 1976, the lads are wearing the same costumes they wore for the Golden Mile album cover.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Haaa-aa-aar, blogmates, ahoy there! Pirate stuff here!

Yes, it be Talk Like A Pirate Day again, me hearties, an' if I hadn't had it in my diary already me old messmate Joe (now livin' so far from the sea it must hurt 'im baaad) reminded me on his blog.

Since the last TLAPD yer ol' blogger chum Rob 'as discovered as 'ow 'e 'as a captured French privateer as an ancestor. OK, so mebbe an uncaptured one might have bin an improvement but then yer ol' chum would never 'ave bin born to 'is Dorset parents. Which would 'a' bin saaad. Aye it would. Any'ow, beggars can't be choosers, an' neither can pirates. But per'aps we should be spikking in ze cod French accents instead of ze Robert Newton piratical ones, n'est-ce pas? Per'aps zere is a French equivalent of ze piratical talking? J'sais pas. Alors.

Strange but true, blogmates, I was gonna post a link to this very piece on pirates even before I noticed the date. So here it is, a piece on 'ow pirates be not always the bad guys, and 'ow we were a force for social change, an' sometimes still are. Course, there be plenty o' the baaad kind runnin' around causin' mayhem: some of 'em Somali, some flyin' the blue an' white o' the IDF an' murderin' folk on the open sea. To Davy Jones wi' the whole evil crew of 'em, I say. But Master Hari 'as 'imself a point, an' some o' the "pirates" are more what ye might call "environmental activists". Mebbe they should get theyselves a Livery Company up in Lunnon Town, like the Environmental Cleaners. Mebbe that's what we pirates need, a Worshipful Company Of Pirates. Mind ye, the International Bankers and the Management Consultants would prob'ly 'ave sump'n t' say about that development: musclin' in on their pitch, as 'twere.

I know it's all part of my English heritage but after a while it just puts me in mind of The Mikado. (Which of course is also part of that heritage.)

This story is the usual guff intended to keep the sheep (i.e.us) in a state of perpetual panic from which only the security forces (i.e. him) can save us. (Oh no! people are being let out of prison when they have served their sentences! If only we had enlightened leaders who locked people up forever without trial!) (Or possibly: since this goon admits his department screwed up over the terror threat in Northern Ireland, part of his own country, just how much time should we waste on his opinions of the threats from Somalia and Yemen? Just asking.)

What really caught my eye, though, was where the speech was delivered: The Worshipful Company of Security Professionals.

I am familiar with plenty of City Livery Companies: the Worshipful Companies of Bakers, Goldsmiths, Plaisterers, Butchers, Clockmakers, Carpenters, Masons, Makers of Playing Cards, etc. which have been around for hundreds of years. I hadn't been keeping up with the more recent additions to their number. Apparently the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals are the 108th, and most recent, livery company. It's all set out here, and interesting reading it makes. I had to smile at some of the more recent additions, though I suppose The Worshipful Company of Management Consultants is no more intrinsically risible than, say, The Worshipful Company of Girdlers. Oh all right then, a little more risible.

I was interested in the possible origin of the expression "at sixes and sevens". It sounds as though the expression may have originated as a dicing reference (as I'd always assumed) but settled on those specific numbers as a result of the Taylors' and Skinners' dispute.

An anagram of 'Radical Islam Is World's Greatest Threat' is ' "I Lied: So What?" Screams Littlest Ra-Ra Grad"

Apologies to all those of you who feel that Blair's freedom of speech should be bakanced by a freedom from Blair's speeches for the rest of us. How much airtime is this political retread worth?

Anyway, sacked ex-premier Blair made even more than the usual fool of himself in a BBC interview a couple of weeks ago. The inventor of the "War" on "Terror" is still trying to spread terror among the population in support of a political agenda over which - thank whatever God you choose - he no longer has any influence. According to Blair The Pretty Straight Guy, the greatest threat we face isn't from climate change, increasing global wealth inequality, or rampant nuclear-armed Zionism, but from radical Islam. WTF?

Blair-The-Only-One-Who-Gets-It-Y'Know still can't see that his policy of fucking about with other peoples's governments promotes support for the crazies, or that the puppet regimes he installed in Iraq and Afghanistan (or for that matter Kosovo) have nothing to do with democracy. The man has learned precisely nothing from his time in office. If that's what education at Fettes and Oxford leads to, then I'm glad I went to Stockport and Durham.

And while no doubt we all have skeletons in the cupboard labelled "Student Days" (I have several and and still trying to work out whose bones are whose and what the charred sheep's pelvis is doing in there) I wonder whether Toe-Nibbler's "Journey" stops off at any of these places?

Call It Freedom

Uncle Jimmy accuses the folk at Open Democracy, when discussing ToeNibbler's right of free speech, of using the discussion as a way of airing once more their arguments that the Iraq war was illegal and Tone therefore a war criminal even though untried. Jimmy considers this an unacceptable muddying of the water over the free speech issue, and I'm inclined to agree with him on that point. *

Which is why it's rather funny to find that a few paragraphs further on Jimmy falls into exactly the same trap, being unable to resist bringing in one of his betes noires (or brunes), Binyam Mohamed. BM to Jimmy can't be simply a British resident, but he has to be a "non-British" British resident. (I assume that senseless locution is meant to inform us that BM isn't a British citizen, as if anyone but the racist Jimmy - not definitely a British citizen himself - gave a toss.) Binyam Mohamed is apparently "known to have trained for jihad", in exactly the same way that Tony Blair is "known to be a war criminal", i.e. because some people who don't like him say so. If Jimmy has evidence to back his allegation it is his duty to produce it for the authorities. Unlike Blair, BM was tried, imprisoned, tortured, and then released because the evidence used to convict him was found to be a pack of lies with the odd statement extracted under torture thrown in for good measure. It has always seemed to me that if Blair is as innocent as Jimmy makes out the best thing he could do would be to submit to a trial which would presumably exonerate him (if, for example, there was insufficient evidence). But Jimmy, like Blair himself, seems unwilling to take the risk. Heroism? Leadership? Spare us. Perhaps they think that Blair's supporters would be tortured until they gave the "right" evidence the way his opponents were (with Jimmy's enthusiastic support). Let me comfort the lily-livered faint-hearts: they don't do that in the Hague the way Blair's cronies did it in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

* If folk want to waste their money buying a pile of tripe from a disgraced ex-politician, let them. Protesting against Nibbler's book-signings is just giving the oxygen of publicity to one of history's greatest publicity-seekers. As nobody was to be allowed to talk to Blair during the signings, which were to be all about shifting product, with no photographs, conversations, personal messages or any other human contact, the flocks of faithful sheep might have wondered what kind of "speech" was having its freedom upheld. But that would have been their problem. Even though, as the writer at Open Democracy points out, Blair was responsible for many dramatic restrictions in freedoms of speech and association when he was in power, we should have shown him that British people are better than that - indeed, that we're better than him. As it is, the Blair machine won again. He didn't have to spend unproductive time (remember he isn't making money out of this book) pretending to be interested in "ordinary people" who actually buy their own books; he got to be a victim of censorship who selflessly put the public good before the rights of his audience to see him; and he took no risks whatsoever.

A Few Good Men

A decent American expresses horror at some other decent Americans who have been so cowed by thoroughly un-American Americans that they apologised for showing pictures of other decent Americans celebrating.

Further juxtaposing decent Americans and pieces of shit, here is Michael Moore (one of the former!) with a piece on the "Ground Zero Mosque" (all together now, "They're building a MOSQUE in the middle of the PENTAGON?"). Be sure to scroll down through the comments: about halfway down is one from 'Riq' which is priceless.

Say no to racism,. Islamophobia, fascism and Blairism

If I lived in London I'd be there.

When I see that only Ed Balls and Diane Abbott from the Labour leadership contenders are backing the demonstration, I am doubly glad that I gave them my first and second preferences in the ballot. What makes it even more disgusting that the others couldn't be arsed is that Unite are backing Ed Miliband for the leadership, presumably under the misapprehension that he loathes trade unions less than his brother. Wake up and smell the Blairism, people!

The BBC - indoctrinating children with Zionism

If I have any readers who subscribe to the conspiracy theory (exemplified by CIFWatch) that the BBC is a hotbed of antisemitic propaganda and always takes the Palestinian side, one hopes that the recent airing of a piece of Israeli-funded propaganda on prime-time BBC television would have brought them to their senses. Before that, of course, we had Bad News From Israel, exposing the systematic bias in news reporting, again especially from the BBC. But if you want to see how deep the tendrils of pro-israeli bias go in the BBC's output, have a look at this. The CIFWatchers love to complain about the anti-Israel propaganda fed to Palestinian schoolchildren: well here's our anti-Palestinian domestic product.

? thinking they were What

And this xkcd cartoon amused me because it stirred a memory. I don't know how widespread the backward-writing thing is in the States, but it's very unusual in the UK. Which is why the instance I encountered in the mid-sixties in Cheshire, near to where I lived (specifically in a place called Hawk Green just outside Marple) made such an impression on me. There was a church of some kind there, and outside it, on the road, was written


I thought it hilarious then as even in my teens I realised that people coming along the road (I was generally on a bicycle when I passed the sign) would see all three words together and take them in as a single picture.

Does anyone have other good examples? Especially from Britain?

Emily's Island

This xkcd cartoon is, as usual, great. Even better is the comment that comes up when you hover your mouse over it.

Shortly after reading it I Googled the lyrics for "Gilligan's Island" and was amused to find a comment there welcoming everyone who had come via xkcd.....

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Simile is an anagram of "I Smile"

I have to share this. I'm reading a book: no, not the new Alice Turing - that's next in the queue - but Pratt à Manger by David Nobbs. Nobbs is best-known for the creation of Reggie Perrin (and indeed the original Uncle Jimmy) and for scripting various TV comedy series. Pratt à Manger is the fourth in a series of novels taking us through the life of Henry Pratt. They're not masterpieces in any sense, but they are nicely observed. Like the Reggie Perrin books, they manage to explore some quite dark subject areas without losing their lightness of touch, or their humour (though they aren't generally as funny as the Perrin books).

Anyway, on page 42 there is a marvellous simile. Henry Pratt is a first-time panellist on a TV quiz show, and before filming he is talking to the woman who talent-spotted him for the show. She is insistent that he has to meet a major celebrity on the other side of the room, and he is extremely reluctant and shy.

"Come and talk to Denise. She's longing to meet you"

"That I doubt."

"She is!"

She pulled Henry across the Green Room like an owner dragging a dog that has found a good spot for a crap.

Which conjures up such a vivid and specific picture of reluctance that, as I said, I felt I had to share it.

Happy Christmas (Replay Is Over?)

When you consider the history of (British broadcaster) Channel 4's Alternative Christmas Message, there seem to have been some rather good ones. I did blog posts on the ones by Katie Piper and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So now what I want to know is: why is it that when you go to Channel 4's 4OD site, the only one you can watch as a replay is the Ahmadinejad one? The Katie Piper one is more recent and had more viewers. If you Google up the Episode Guide for the programme, there is an entry for the Katie Piper one but you can't watch it.

Something funny going on here. OK, Ahmadinejad's message was a good one, but why is it the only one still available? What's wrong with Marge Simpson FFS?

Having trouble getting it to play down my S-L-O-W dial-up link, but this (on Katie Piper's own site) seems to be the video of her 2009 message. So where has C4's copy gone>


I know, it's been a week since I posted. My excuses are, firstly that I had a load of stuff to do ready for the start of Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra's new season, and that took priority. Secondly, I've been off work sick, which might have proved a great blogging opportunity but actually I just wanted to spend the time either asleep or vegging out in front of the TV. I'm back at work now, still coughing and spluttering a bit and still pretty tired, and this weekend I'm up at the Ballater flat. Again, a good blogging window given the dreadful weather today, except that (a) still tired and (b) on the end of the world's slowest wireless dial-up connection (yeah, I'm talking about YOU, Vodafone) so having trouble even reading my email. (Not helped by Virgin Media's having such a busy, stupid-ad-and-irrelevant-picture-laden front page that simply logging on takes about 20 minutes.)

OK, ranting and apologies over. Lots of goodies to come.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Synecdoche, New York

Today is September 11th and there are all kinds of posts I could write.

I could say how over here in Europe we've put it behind us, got a life, and moved on. ("Daddy, what happened on 9th November?") But this isn't that post.

I could point out that today is the anniversary of the CIA-backed coup that overthrew (and murdered) Salvador Allende and replaced democracy in Chile with vicious dictatorship for more than 16 years; that it's the anniversary of William Wallace's defeat of the English at Stirling Bridge, of Marlborough's victory at Malplaquet, of Cromwell''s entry into Drogheda, of the abandonment of the attempted invasion of Russia by Charles II of Sweden. I could say how every one of those events is of greater historical significance than the business with the planes. But I'm not doing that one today either.

I could go off on a rant about how 9/11 was used as an excuse to launch the "War" on "Terror", a vast piece of human folly which has earned a place well up the league table of those episodes of mass slaughter which stain human history. Not today though.

So am I going to post about the manufactured controversy over the Park 51 Islamic centre in Manhattan? Maybe, but not here.

It was, though, the faux-outrage over the "desecration of Ground Zero" by idiots like Rudy Giuliani and Pamela Geller that made me stop and think. Every time we hear about 9/11, the image we see is of the twin towers burning, or perhaps the one with the metal ribs of the WTC sticking up through the ruins. Or we see the film of people jumping, or the clip of the second plane hitting the tower. And I thought, what is missing from this picture?

Well, omitted entirely are the 184 dead in the Pentagon:

Not to mention (and hardly anyone does) the 40 dead from Flight 93:

The motto on that memorial, "We Will Never Forget" seems sadly ironic in view of the way in which the New York attack has come to mean, not simply journalistic shorthand for the days' events, but the whole story. (Which is one of the meanings of "synecdoche." Charlie Kaufman was simply ahead of his time.) I assume that for those who live in Washington, or Pennsylvania, or who lost family members in either of those crashes, the totality of 9/11 is still remembered, but take a look at today's news coverage and then see whether you think New York has carried out its own hijack of the world's sympathy and grief.

So I'm dedicating this post firstly to the 224 victims of 9/11 who did NOT die in the Twin Towers. Not so much Ground Zero as Ground One, and Ground Two.

Another group of 9/11 victims (partly overlapping with those 224) airbrushed out of history is the Muslims. Their families not only have to put up with media neglect, but have to live in a climate of Islamophobic hatred brought about by the very thing that killed their loved ones.
I once commented on a thread about the Park 51 centre to the effect that a mosque would hardly be disrespectful when you consider the many Muslims who died in the WTC. I had some ignorant oaf actually respond to the effect that the only Muslims who died in the attack were the hijackers. Now THAT is stamping on the memory of the victims. This post is also dedicated to them.

And finally, the whole "Ground Zero" business is not exactly sensitive to the feelings of the survivors and families of those who died at the World War Two originals:

To be fair, a number of commenters on threads discussing the Park 51 project have mentioned the tastelessness of the appropriation of the label by New Yorkers such as Giuliani. And while researching for this post I discovered that in an example of DoD black humour, the space in the middle of the Pentagon was colloquially referred to by staff there as "Ground Zero" back in the 1960s, because they figured it was probably programmed into a bunch of Russian and Chinese ICBMs. Perhaps when people start wittering on about the "Ground Zero mosque" I should respond with "they're building a MOSQUE in the middle of the PENTAGON?"

Of John Maclean, Hamish Henderson and Sir Edmund Shaa

Browsing through the Alistair Hulett Youtube clips, I noticed one of him singing Hamish Henderson's John Maclean March. Henderson was one of the founders of Edinburgh University's School of Scottish Studies, whose recorded folk song collections I devoured as a teenager (Music From The Western Isles, as well as having one of the most beautiful cover photographs ever seen on an LP (it's of Rum), was a total revelation to me as a English schoolboy with no more exposure to Gaelic culture than a reading of Whisky Galore). It was therefore a great thrill for me when in 1992 I received my MBA degree from Edinburgh University (conferred on me by the then Rector Donny Munro of Runrig - how cool is that?) at a ceremony which began with the award of an honorary Doctor of Letters to Hamish Henderson. And when you get an honorary degree at Edinburgh they pull out all the stops, and the university's official Orator gives a speech in Latin explaining what it is that makes you a worthy recipient. There are universities, and then there are medieval universities: compare and contrast. (In a similar way, there are schools and there are fifteenth-century grammar schools: at mine we all had to sing Psalm 130 - sorry, CXXX - in Latin once a year to a catchy plainchant melody in honour of our founder Sir Edmund Shaa. If I put my mind to it I can probably still dredge it up: De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domine, exaudi vocem meam, etc. etc. Not a cheery ditty, but then my school's motto is "Vincit qui patitur", or "No pain, no gain".)

Hamish Henderson also wrote some great songs which have been covered by thousands of singers around the world. In an interview he was once asked which of the many recordings of his songs he was fondest of, and the somewhat surprising answer was this one (embedding doesn't seem to work properly for it).

It's Health and Safety Gone Global!

I'm currently staying at Leeds University for the European Work Hazards Conference 2010. You know, the kind of thing that makes the Simon Hoggarts, not to say the Tony Blairs, of the world start chewing the carpet. Trade unionists! Many of them from other countries! Coming over here to talk about health and safety! And agreeing that we need better enforcement of the existing laws rather than more deregulation! But that's ..that's....Communism! Internationalism! Old Labourism!

Yes, the kind of conference where there is little sympathy for Lord Young's recent pronouncements that “people occasionally get killed, it’s unfortunate but it’s part of life” and “do you know anything dangerous in offices?”

This morning there were workplace visits organised, and I went to the Spinal Injuries Unit at Sheffield Northern General Hospital. We also got to see the kitchens where food for half a dozen big Sheffield hospitals is prepared: an interesting visit in many ways but not one that gives you an appetite. The food is cooked at 75 degrees plus, then blast-chilled down to 3 degrees and kept below that temperature all the way through the combination and serving processes until just before the patients eat it. And there is something unappealing - probably even for its intended consumers - about chicken pureed to a mush for those unable to swallow normally and then served up in moulds shaped like pieces of chicken. That just seems wrong somehow. (Though it did spark subversive thoughts of what might happen if the worker on pureeing duty decided to get creative with the choice of moulds and serve up chicken-shaped cabbage, or pineapple-shaped steak.)

Anyway, this afternoon the conference proper began with a series of speakers from third world countries on the dangers of work in India, China, South Africa, Indonesia, Bangladesh and elsewhere. The biggest surprise for me, as a left-wing folk music fan living in Scotland, was that it took a Korean campaigner against the asbestos industry to introcuce me to the work of the late Alistair Hulett.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Bishop of Buckingham gets it

Here's a delightful post which I meant to draw attention to before. It comes from the blog of the Bishop of Buckingham, and describes how the press fuels anti-Islamic bigotry.

Video Fun - Jean-Jacques Goldman

Here is JJG, appearing in a rather surreal video with his occasional band Goldman, Fredericks & Jones. I rather like the semaphoring blokes.

A Bore

You may have noticed that Tony Blair has published his memoirs. First of all, let me say that I haven't read them and have no intention of reading them, not even if someone gave me a free copy. Blair was a bad Prime Minister, and now he's gone. Good. I don't find the man interesting - not nearly as interesting as he finds himself - and we get enough of his opinions plastered across the media without my going out of my way to read more of them.

Still, I note from those who have read the book that Blair reckons that labour lost the 2010 election because it stopped being New Labour. Er, Earth to buffoon: Labour lost the election because it was still perceived as being packed with Blairites and hadn't ditched the NuLabour lunacy (and its perpetrator) nearly soon enough. For someone who considers himself to be in touch with the people, Blair is utterly in denial about just how much of a liability he had become by the time he was sacked. (Though, to be fair, he does admit that Labour would probably have won the 2007 Holyrood election had he not been leader.)

An interesting poll result here.

Interesting analyses from those who have read the book here and here (in the Economist) and here in the Independent.

On the recent mob killing of the two teenaged boys in Sialkot

You may remember the lynching a couple of weeks ago of two teenaged boys suspected by a mob of being involved with an armed robbery in which a shopkeeper had died.

Not that you'd know about the widespread revulsion throughout Pakistan, calls for the murderers to be hanged, disgust at the police involvement, etc from Uncle Jimmy's post on the matter (lip-smackingly furnished with video footage).

If you read the comments underneath his ppost, Jimmy does at least print one from a Muslim who complains that murder is always un-Islamic but that blaming this kind of atrocity on "Sharia law" is sadly typical of British media. Well, Jimmy not only blames it on "Sharia law" (clearly in his fevered imagination the mob hastily convened a court with an Imam or two, called witnesses and passed sentence) but claims that the mob "killed kids for Allah". But no, of course he doesn't hate Muslims, goodness me no.

Blair continues to disgust

More emetic nonsense from Tony Blair. When I first read this as a cut-and-paste on Uncle Jimmy's site I worried that the basic spelling and grammatical errors had been introduced by Jimmy's spellchecker, but no: Blair simply can't be arsed to write decent English on his own website. If there hadn't been a million better reasons to sack him as PM, that would have sufficed.

"In 2005 it got out of Gaza i.e. ceased occupying it, took over 7000 settlers with it and in return got rockets and terror attacks. Now I know all the counter-arguments about the unilateral nature of the withdrawal, the 2005 Access and Movement agreement and the closure of the crossings."

If he knows all the counter-arguments he will know that it was Israel, not Hamas, which breached the cease-fire and caused the resumption of rocket attacks.

"The problem is that though this is true in theory, in practice they wear Nelson’s eye patch when they lift the telescope of scrutiny to the Israeli case. In a very real sense, they don’t see it. "

If anyone is refusing to see the truth it's Blair.

"I remember the bomb attacks from Republican terrorism in the 1970’s. There weren’t many arguing for a policy of phlegmatic calm."

Nor were there many arguing for a policy of bombing Belfast and Armagh to rubble, or blockading it into starvation. Is there a point to this, or is he just flapping his face?

"I was pleased and heartened when the Government changed policy on Gaza. The truth is you can justify restrictions in Gaza taken for reasons of security. But with a Gazan population, half of whom is under the age of 18 and 300,000 of whom are under the age of 4, security is the only arguable basis upon which to put such restrictions."

Let me get this straight. Blair is pleased that Israel has at last found a way of justifying the wanton murder of civilians, predominantly children, that doesn't upset his conscience. How delightful. It would have been such a worry for him to have had to confront the issue. But once you realise that half of Gaza's population is under the age of 18 and 300,000 of them under the age of 4, then the security threat to Israel becomes clear. All those high-pitched screams could damage the eardrums of the poor victimised IDF soldiers.

"It is our collective duty – yours and mine – to argue vigorously against the de-legitimisation of Israel. It is also our collective duty to arm ourselves with an argument and a narrative we can defend and with which we can answer the case against Israel, with pride and confidence."

Now that's funny, because I believed we were paying his enormous salary to promote peace, not merely to "answer the case against Israel" however well-argued reasonable that case might sometimes be.

(Regarding democracy in Israel) "Its people have rights and they are enforced".

Indeed, the rights of Israeli Jews are enforced repeatedly against the unfiortunate Israeli Arabs who wish not to have their houses demolished, would like to be allowed to buy property in areas designated only for Jews, or to be permitted to have consnesual sex with Jewish women. And political parties which do not explicitly endorse the legal inequities between Jews and Gentiles in Israel are banned from contesting seats in the Knesset. That's democracy, Israeli-style.

"I had an argument with a friend about Israel. I said to them: ‘ok let’s assume you are charged with a crime you didn’t commit and the penalty is 20 years in prison. And you’re a critic of the Government. Tell me: under which country’s legal system, in this region, would you prefer to be tried?’ He struggled for a bit and then said: ‘that’s not the point.’ ‘But it is’ I replied."

Personally I would hate to be tried under any, but I'd probably go for Syria's. (That's not just rhetoric: I truly would.) I have no "struggle" at all in rejecting Israeli "justice". At least Syria is a secular state rather than a Judaic theocracy. And if the penalty is 20 years in prison I would have a better chance of release after those 20 years almost anywhere other than Israel. Look at Mordechai Vanunu, who served his sentence in appalling conditions and was immediately re-arrested when his sentence was up, and has been kept either in prison or under house arrest ever since. Look at Adolf Eichmann, hanged by an Israeli court despite the Israeli constitution's explicit ban on the death penalty. And of course if you were a critic of the Israeli government you'd end up on trial in Israel even if you lived thousands of miles away and there was no evidence on which you could be extradited, courtesy of a Mossad snatch squad. (Evidence? Process? Ha! At least if I were a critic of the Iranian government they'd just send someone to have me killed without the hypocrisy of a rigged show trial.) Blair's stupid friend may not have realised it, but that IS the point.

"Look around the world about what we admire about the Jewish people: their contribution to art, culture, literature, music, business and philanthropy. "

And now we get to the crux. Because when I look around the world I see an amazing contribution to all those things (and to science and mathematics: why did he forget those?) by Jews. But not by "the Jewish people" - by individual Jews. Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka, Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Feynmann, Marcel Proust, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Fritz Haber, Arlo Guthrie, Gustav Mahler, Paul Simon, Jonas Salk..... all Jews, and all great human beings.But they were great because of what they did, no because of their Jewishness. "Friends of Israel", when trying to justify the unequal treatment of Israel's Jews and Arabs, are always at pains to stress that Jews are a religion, not a race, so Jewish supremacy can't be a racist policy. So what is this "Jewish people" which lays claim to the contributions of all those Jewish geniuses? It's as though I were to claim that Shakespeare, Beethoven, Michelangelo, James Joyce, Isaac Newton and Cervantes showed the contribution of "the Christian people" to the world: it would serve only to make me feel good about myself. If the people of Israel, and their government, want to feel good about themselves, then rather than looking to Neil Diamond and Noam Chomsky they should take a look at their own contribution to the world rather than complacently relying on some perceived virtue in their religion or their ethnicity. As of course should we: Britain has produced - and still produces - great figures in many fields, but Tony Blair serves as a reminder that we are still capable of producing arrogant idiots.

The official state breakfast of Eine Kleine Nichtmusik is Fru-grains

I was reminded by the rather splendid Google doodle today that it's 25 years since the first fullerene (buckmisterfullerene C60) was synthesised. See here, and in more detail here.

I didn't know until a few minutes ago that the buckyball is the state molecule of Texas. Though it's rather cool that Texas has an official state molecule. I wondered whether any other states had one: they don't, but they have all kinds of other official state stuff.

In Scotland we have trouble agreeing on a national anthem (the one they use at the Commonealth Games is Scotland The Brave, but Flower of Scotland seems to have caught the popular imagination more). Just think of the fun we could have with these official designations if we applied them to the haggis (and the fish supper), whisky, Irn-Bru, Buckfast wine, Rab C Nesbitt, Runrig, the haddock, the golden eagle, the gannet, shinty.....