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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A couple of musical gems from Wondermark.


And here.

How to dissuade Muslims from acts of kindness; defaming the name of a great Indian journalist; and a wonderful article on Islam by that same Indian

While wading through my steaming heap of bons mots culled from the Islamophobic cesspits of the world, I came across a series of comments under a post at BareNakedIslam. The first took my breath away:

cranky.white.woman says:
July 4, 2011 at 9:59 PM

OT, but I have an 18 year old daughter who has a part-time job at a local grocery store. The other day a Muslim man showed up at her place of employment with her wallet. She told me he found it in his shop, where she’d accidentally left it at the check out counter, and he recognized her photo ID, knew she worked at the grocery store and took it to her. She said “See Mom? They’re not all bad.” Naturally, after castigating her for spending money in this guy’s dollar store, I told her he probably has ulterior motives and to stay the hell out of his shop!

As if that demonstration that for these evil people no act of kindness by a Muslim can be left unpunished were insufficient, here is BarenakedIslam's response:

barenakedislam says:
July 4, 2011 at 11:47 PM
CWW, I’d be worried about what she has in that wallet in the form of ID or personal information like address/ phone number.

And finally....a later comment under the same post consists mainly of a series of quotations from famous people slagging off Islam. One caught my eye:

“The most successful lecherous man who used religion for his personal gain is Prophet Mohammed. Islam is a cult with its complete irrational belief in Allah created by Muhammed who was a liar, thief, murderer and rapist till his last breath.”
—- Dr. Khushwant Singh, prominent Indian novelist and journalist, Professor, former lawyer and parliamentarian

It caught my eye because I used to read KS's newspaper column regularly when I was working in India, and he hadn't struck me as an Islamophobic bigot. Nor is he: when I Googled "Khushwant Singh" and "Muhammed" I found this. It is, I think, worth quoting in full:

The Telegraph
Saturday , February 16 , 2008

Prejudice is like poison. Unless purged out of one’s mind in early stages, it can spread like cancer and make one incapable of differentiating between right and wrong. Of the many kinds of prejudice, the worst is to believe that one’s own religion is superior to all others, which may be tolerated but never taken seriously or accepted as equally valid as one’s own. The most misunderstood of the major religions today is Islam, which, after Christianity, is the second most widely practised religion in the world. It also gains more converts than any of the other religions. Prejudice against Islam was spread in Christendom from the time Muslims gained dominance in the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. Christian crusaders failed in their missions to crush Islam in its homeland but continued to vilify its founder, Mohammed. The emergence of militant Islamic groups like al-Qaida and taliban gave them reasons to do so. The attack on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on September 11, 2001 provided fresh ammunition to vilifiers of Islam. Since then Islamophobia has been deliberately spread throughout the non-Muslim world. The two principle contentions of the anti-Islamists are that Islam was spread by the sword and that its founder-prophet was not the paragon of virtue that Muslims make him out to be. It can be proved by historical evidence that Islam was not forced upon the people; it was readily accepted by millions because it offered them new values, principally equality of mankind and rights to women th at were unheard of in those times. In countries like Indonesia and Malayasia, Islam was not forced on the population by Muslim invaders but by Muslim missionaries.

Muslims are extremely sensitive to criticism of their Prophet. A popular adage in Persian is: ba khuda diwaana basho, ba Mohammed hoshiar! — “say what you like about God, but beware of what you say about Mohammed.” They regard him as the most perfect man who ever trod upon the earth, a successor of Adam, Moses, Noah, Abraham and Christ. He was the last of the prophets. If you honestly want to know how Muslims see him, you ought to take a good look at his life and teachings, which he claimed had been revealed to him by God. It would be as wrong to judge him by the doings of al-Qaida and taliban or by the fatwas periodically pronounced by Ayatollahs and half-baked mullahs. You do not judge Hinduism of the Vedas and Upanishads by the doings of Hindus who, in the name of Hindutva, destroy mosques, murder missionaries and nuns, vandalize libraries and works of art. You do not judge the teachings of the Sikh gurus by the utterances of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and by the murder of innocents by his hooligans. Likewise, judge Mohammed by what he taught and stood for and not by what his so-called followers do in his name.

Mohammed was born in Mecca in 570 AD. He lost both his parents while still a child and was brought up by his grandfather and uncle. He managed the business of a widow, whom he later married. She bore him six children. He took no other wife until she died. He was 40 years old when he started having revelations while in trance. They proclaimed Mohammed as the new messiah. Such revelation kept coming at random, sometimes dealing with problems at hand, at other times with matters spiritual. They were memorized or written down by his admirers and became the Quran, which means recitation. It should be kept in mind that Mohammed was not preaching ideas of his own but only reiterating most of what was already in the Judaic creed. Allah was the Arabic name for God before him. Similarly, Islam was ‘surrender’ and salman was ‘peace’. Mecca was the main market city of the Bedouin tribes. They gathered at the Kaaba, the huge courtyard with the black meteorite embedded in it during two pilgrimages — the bigger Haj and the lesser Umrah. Mohammed accepted Judaic traditions regarding food which is halaal (lawful) or haraam (forbidden, such as pig meat), names of the five daily prayers and circumcision of male ch
ildren. Mohammed only asserted the oneness of God that did not accept of any equal such as the stone goddesses worshiped by different tribes. Mohammed never forced people to accept his faith and indeed quoted Allah’s message of freedom of faith. “There must be no coercion in matters of faith — la ikra f’il deen.” Further: “And if God had so willed, He would have made you all one single command; but He willed otherwise in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then with one another in doing good works!”

As might have been expected, Mohammed’s mission roused fierce hostility. Many attempts were made to assassinate him but he had miraculously escaped. Ultimately, in 622 AD he was advised to flee from Mecca to Medina. This is know as the Hijra (emigration) and recognized as the beginning of the Muslim calendar. Meccans made a few attempts to capture Medina but were ousted. Muslim armies led by Mohammed triumphed and returned to Mecca as conquerors. By the time Mohammed died in Medina in 632 AD, the Arabian peninsula was united as a confederacy of different tribes under the banner of Islam.

Most of the ill-founded criticism against Mohammed is directed towards the number of women he married after the death of his first wife, Khadijah. This has to be seen in the perspective of Arabian society of the time. Tribes lived by warring against each other and looting caravans. There were heavy casualties of men, creating serious gender imbalance. Widows and orphans of men killed had to be provided with homes and sustenance. Otherwise they took to prostitution or begging. So they were given protection by being taken in marriages. Also, matrimonial alliances were a good way of creating bonds between different tribes. Mohammed did nothing not acceptable to his people. He went further: he was the first teacher to proclaim that the best union was a monogamous marriage and fixed the maximum limit to four, provided a man could keep all of his wives equally happy — which was most unlikely. The pertinent verse in the Quran reads: “And if you have reason to fear you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among other women who are lawful to you, even two or three or four; but if you have reason to fear you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then only one.” Bear in mind that at that time polygamy was the norm in patriarchal societies all over the world.

To make a beginning in clearing your mind of anti-Muslim prejudices, I suggest you read Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time. Armstrong is the leading writer on comparative religions today. She is not Muslim.

That doesn't sound like someone who would have written the "quotation" in the BNI comment. All the (numerous) references to that one occur on Islamophobic sites, and not one gives a source for the quotation. How odd...it's almost as though someone had invented it and decided it would have been nice if Khushwant Singh had said it. It seems safe to say that he never said any such thing, and that this is yet another lie being peddled via BNI's disinformation site. (Though of course, to Uncle Jimmy, "This site often uses colourful language, but it invariably links back to reputable sources." LOL! Just shows you can indeed fool some of the people all of the time, as Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have said.)

Lies, Damned Lies, and Opinions

Inept Ann herself is beyond parody. She reports on a Palestinian who drove a car in to a police roadblock and then started stabbing people. Fair enough, and certainly an act to be condemned. Even, perhaps, one justfying the label of a terrorist attack, especially if his intended target was a nightclub, as seems likely.

Before going on to Inept Ann's comment, keep two things in mind. Firstly, the attacker was arrested, not killed. Then remember that, as in the piece quoted by IA, the eight people injured in the attack were all Border Police officers and security guards.

Now let's see how the Inept One describes this:

Such brave people, those Palestinian martyrs, attacking a crown of unarmed teenagers.

Clearly to Inept Ann the words "martyr", "unarmed" and "teenager" have different meaning from their normal English ones. "Crowd" she simply can't spell.

Anne isn't just a figure of fun, though. Oh, no, she's a far more toxic piece of filth than that. Take the last story in this post, for example:

And to top off today’s Israeli Idiocies, I present you: The Supreme Court. These Wise Men have decided to permit Mustafa Dirani, a Hezbollah terrorist captured by Israel and later released, to sue the State of Israel for mistreatment during his imprisonment.

Dirani, a Hezbollah operative, was captured by Israel in 1994 and held until a swap deal in 2004. Before his release he filed a claim for NIS 6 million ($1.75 million), claiming he was raped by one of his Israeli interrogators.When Dirani returned to Lebanon he announced that he would continue to work for Hezbollah, prompting the state to file an appeal against his suit, claiming that the court was debating a terrorist’s claim.

But Justice Procaccia explained in her decision that “even an enemy can appeal to the Israeli justice system, and present claims on the state’s interference with his basic rights while in Israel and under the supervision of the government”.

She added, “There is no danger here to the power of the state, but rather evidence of its ethical and moral prowess, seeing as a state’s strength is not measured only in the power of its arms and military, but also in the upholding of the rule of law.”But Justice Meltzer holds the opposite opinion. He explained that once Dirani announced his return to terrorism and submitted to an enemy state’s sovereignty, he forfeited his right to make claims against Israel.

“Sometimes it is right for us to learn from other justice systems based on the wisdom and experience of democratic and cultured countries,” he said.

Read it and weep. One could easily reach the opinion that our esteemed judges have such open minds that their brains have fallen out.

Yes, one of "Anne's Opinions" is that it is perfectly acceptable for a prisoner in an Israeli jail to be raped by one of his guards, and that for him to be permitted to complain about it appears, from her lofty intellectual eminence, stupid. I mean, just listen to the judge:

"...a state’s strength is not measured only in the power of its arms and military, but also in the upholding of the rule of law."
“Sometimes it is right for us to learn from other justice systems based on the wisdom and experience of democratic and cultured countries."

Clearly the ravings of a lunatic. To Anne, Israel has nothing to learn from democratic and cultured countries, as neither democracy nor culture has any place there.

Clearly they got the table upside down, since Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia have all been given the priceless gift of democracy by US forces

Regular readers may recall my earlier visit to Anne's Opinions, the blog of a Crazionist who goes by the name of anneinpt (or as I shall henceforth call her, Inept Ann). Well, passing by her silly little blog the other day I spotted a link to this, which is utterly hilarious.

I mean to say, OBVIOUSLY if a collection of the most respected human rights organisations in the planet, including several Nobel peace laureates, find that Israel's (sorry, "liberal-democratic Israel' - this was after all before Israel's subordination of democracy to theocracy became official policy) human rights record is on of the worst on the planet, then the fault is not with Israel's human rights record but with systemic anti-Israeli bias in the global NGO community. If successive Israeli governents have differed from the rest of humankind over what behaviour towards its own population and that of other countries is acceptable, then it is the rest of humankind which is in error.

Laughable though such an attitude is, it is a sad fact that the most serious threat to Israel's continued existence doesn't come from Iranian nukes, or from the wicked Islamic hordes we are forever being told are massed on Israel's borders (does Israel have borders, BTW? or are they like a game of Grandmother's Footsteps, continually creeping outwards as long as nobody is watching?) and sworn to its destruction. No, the most serious threat to Israel's continuation is the arrogant creeps in its government and elsewhere who insist that rules, laws, treaties and the like are for lesser beings, not for Israel. Because eventually a planetload of Untermenschen will lose patience and simply dismantle it. Remove it from the map. Terminate the experiment.

Personally I'd sooner see Israel behaving like a normal nation and continuing to thrive. But it's not my call.

Enough already!

This story gets my goat somewhat.

Here you have Dolly Parton, who has braved demonstrations by the KKK over the annual "Gay Day" at her Dollywood theme park, getting grief from a lesbian couple for homophobia? Grief which has been picked up and echoed around the gay blogosphere (fagosphere?)

The problem was a T-shirt reading "Marriage is so gay". Now I would read that as being (a) a derogatory use of the word "gay" and (b) anti-marriage, and therefore I'm not remotely surprised that the wearer was asked to cover up the slogan. That the slogan was intended to be ironic (being worn by a lesbian, after all, albeit an unmarried one) doesn't change that.

I have a wide variety of sloganned or humorous T-shirts myself. If I wore my Bob Dylan Free Trade Hall one to Dollywood (it proclaims "I don't believe you...you're a liar! Play it fucking loud") I would expect to be asked to cover it up, and not just because (as I noticed some time after buying it) that it is a day wrong in the concert date!

I'm not sure what the T-shirt wearer's agenda was here. 15 minutes of fame for making out that a famous gay icon is supposedly homophobic? Hope of financial compensation? Or just to be in-your-face and annoy the heteros? In any event, she got an apology from Dolly herself, which was nice: after all, the wearer may have been genuinely unaware of how the T-shirt would be viewed.

The comments under this story demonstrate both how the homophobic right has picked this up and run with it, and that stupidity is not solely the preserve of the straight.

While a commenter under this one compares the fuss over this T-shirt as being like opposition to feminism in the 1960s. No, strictly speaking it's like opposition to a woman (ironically, natch) wearing a T-shirt reading "A woman's place is in the kitchen".

However inappropriate it may be in a universe the size of ours, is it too much to expect the gay advocates (and the homophobes) to strive towards a sense of proportion?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Flowers of Scotland : Weeds of England and the USA

This recent story brought together morons from Britain (Robert Halfon) and the USA (Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand) in a splendid display of ignorance.

1) Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was legally released by the Scottish government. If foreigners don't like it, are we supposed to care?

2) He has not breached the terms of his license so there are no grounds whatsoever for rearresting him. Perhaps Halfon, Schumer and Gillibrand should acquaint themselves with the ancient (pre "war" on "terror") idea of the rule of law. We still have it in Scotland.

3) It is deeply ironic, but almost certainly al-Megrahi's survival when he had been expected to die shortly from prostate cancer is because he has been receiving better medical treatment in Libya than was available to him in Britain.

This update shows that:

4) al-Megrahi's whereabouts are known;

5) the Scottish government will not be moved by the vengeful viciousness of the ignorant to shy away from doing what is right;

6) many people, including victims' families, believe that al-Megrahi was either wholly innocent or only the lowliest of a number of killers: are their wishes to be subjugated to those of a small bunch of vigilantes? (I see Mr Pastry has stuck his stupid face into this affair too.)

Sometimes - almost always in fact - I am very proud of the country which is my adoptive home.

Monday, August 29, 2011

De mortuis

There have been a few noteworthy dead folks recently.

Jerry Leiber, half of Leiber and Stoller who gave us Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Love Potion #9, Yakety Yak, I'm A Woman (and collaborated with other writers on Stand By Me, Pearl's A Singer and On Broadway). Most people would be happy to have one of those songs to their name.

Professor Paul Wilkinson, an academic expert on terrorism who advised the British government (and advised them that their response to it should always be guided by the rule of law). He was appalled by the Bush regime's establishment of an extra-legal gulag in Guantanamo and elsewhere. Now he's gone, while Bush, Blair and their fellow human rights abusers live on (though thankfully out of office). Unlike them, he will be missed.

George Band, who along with Joe Brown ensured that one of the world's fourteen 8000m peaks (Kangchenjunga) would be climbed first by a British team (in May 1955, just before I was born).

And finally, more locally but no less significantly for South Edinburgh, Derek Cameron, proprietor for many years of our local cinema, the Dominion. While the Saunders family make use of pretty much all the Edinburgh cinemas from time to time, if a film we want to see is on at the Dominion it's normally where we go: it's very close to where we live, very comfortable, and an enterprise well worth supporting. It also frequently keeps new blockbusters on show for a weeks or two after the big multiplexes have discontinued them. We have seen the various Harry Potters, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings and the like there. It's good to know that the Dominion's future is in the safe hands of his children.

Take that final step.....

In view of Uncle Jimmy's paranoia craziness confusion over the BBC's description of a video from one location as being from another, it may help him to abjure the racist filth of BareNakedIslam if he notes that she/it too is not averse to labelling a video clearly referring to Rochdale (in case he needs help with British geography, that's in north-west England, something a Brit would instantly realise from the provenance of the report from Granada television) as relating to London. (Oh, and as for the "unrelated court case in the Midlands", London isn't in the Midlands either. Thought I'd better clear that up.)

Ready to disavow those wicked extremists calling for the murder of their opponents and systematically practising taqqiya yet, Jimmy?

A good start

I was very lax about reviewing last year's festivals, so never mentioned Shappi Khorsandi whom I saw in the Book Festival promoting her (very funny and very interesting) book A Beginner's Guide To Acting English. Shappi was born in Iran but her family had to flee after the Islamic revolution because her father's branch of political satire made him a likely target for assassination. Shappi tells in her book how as a child she wrote to Ayatollah Khomeini asking him not to kill her Daddy, in particular because a bomb in his car might hurt her big brother Peyvand or her Mummy. In her festival talk she said that years later, when some member of an Iranian hit squad was being interrogated, he said that he'd had instructions to kill Hadi Khorsandi (Shappi's father) but that the children were not to be harmed: her first thought was "Aww, bless, the Ayatollah got my letter!"

What reminded me of that story was not the fact of Shappi Khorsandi's appearing on this year's Fringe (undoubtedly one of the good acts, and if I'd been better organised I might have booked to see her, stand-up though she is). No, it was the fact that Uncle Jimmy clearly reads this blog. Why else, after studiously ignoring Tony Blair's excellent article on the recent riots, would he suddenly post a link to it? Of course, he has to downplay the fact that he utterly disagrees with TB's trashing of the "moral decline" theory to which Jimmy is so wedded, pointing out merely that he thinks a forthcoming Channel Four satire about Blair demonstrates such a decline.

Still, there we are, he's been shamed into acknowledging the article. And FWIW, Jimmy, while I don't think the forthcoming "Comic Strip" satire demonstrates moral decline, I do think it demonstrates a decline in comedy standards. I didn't like the "Comic Strip" bunch the first time round, so why would a reunion be any better? I won't be watching it, not because it's unfair to Tony Blair but because to me it doesn't sound even slightly funny.

Now I'm left wondering whether his hate piece on Robert Fisk (a brave journalist whose boots Jimmy is unworthy to eat) is likewise a response to my poking fun last year at his total misunderstanding of what "fisking" meant.

Anyway, happy to see that you pay attention, Jimmy. Now how about a "moderate" Islamophobe like yourself coming right out and dissociating yourself from the violent extremists you espouse,such as BareNakedIslam, who on Sunday wrote that she/it would like to see New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who just happens to be Jewish, and whom she/it considers insufficiently filled with hatred of Muslims, beheaded on YouTube?

A little off the Fringe

Comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe is a rather hit-and-miss affair, ranging from the odd real game-changer down through a host of pretty good acts to a sea of mediocrity and an ocean of utter dross. I don't, therefore, often go to Fringe comedy, and pretty much never to stand-up. So letting other people do the heavy lifting and viewing the results is what I mostly do. As in:

According to a poll by TV channel Dave, the ten funniest jokes from this year's Edinburgh Fringe are as shown below.

1) Nick Helm: "I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."

2) Tim Vine: "Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many different levels."

3) Hannibal Buress: "People say 'I'm taking it one day at a time'. You know what? So is everybody. That's how time works."

4) Tim Key: "Drive-Thru McDonalds was more expensive than I thought... once you've hired the car..."

5) Matt Kirshen: "I was playing chess with my friend and he said, 'Let's make this interesting'. So we stopped playing chess."

6) Sarah Millican: "My mother told me, you don't have to put anything in your mouth you don't want to. Then she made me eat broccoli, which felt like double standards."

7) Alan Sharp: "I was in a band which we called The Prevention, because we hoped people would say we were better than The Cure."

8) Mark Watson: "Someone asked me recently - what would I rather give up, food or sex. Neither! I'm not falling for that one again, wife."

9) Andrew Lawrence: "I admire these phone hackers. I think they have a lot of patience. I can't even be bothered to check my OWN voicemails."

10) DeAnne Smith: "My friend died doing what he loved ... Heroin."

I don't think #6 is especially funny but like the others. Alan Sharp (#7) is a Facebook friend of mine, though I can't for the life of me remember why. (That's social media for you.)

I did, though, rather like the joke voted worst on the Fringe, from Paul Daniels:

"I said to a fella 'Is there a B&Q in Henley?' He said 'No, there's an H, an E, an N an L and a Y'."

Wham, bam, thank you tram

As you might expect at this time of year, most of my Edinburgh-related posts concern artistic events. But there has been a major non-arty news story there over the past week, regarding Edinburgh's ill-starred tram scheme. Back in the 1950s Edinburgh had trams, and like everywhere else in Britain except Blackpool (which turned them into a tourist attraction in themselves) it got rid of them in favour of the "more modern" buses. Hah!

For longer than I can quantify without Googling there has been a proposal to build a new tram line in Edinburgh, and it was decided that it would run from the airport (about 7 miles out of town to the West) through the centre, along Princes Street (if you picture Edinburgh it's probably Princes Street you imagine) and down to Leith, the old port of Edinburgh (now home to the former Royal yacht Britannia, it's a newly-fashionable suburb full of upmarket flats and eateries, though it's also where the characters in Trainspotting came from in earlier days). All well and good, though the good folk of Edinburgh moaned rather a lot as the roads began to be dug up to lay tram lines. An early and especially disruptive stage of this was the digging up of Princes Street, now duly tram-enabled. There were also moans from tram-sceptics and councillors alike at the spiralling costs of the project, with the prime contractor being sued (successfully) for huge delays and cost over-runs.

So the decision last week to abort the whole thing except for the Westernmost segment form the airport to Haymarket station caused a huge outcry. Haymarket is Edinburgh's second station and lies on the lines to Glasgow and the North, but not the lines Southwards. It is situated just under half a mile west of the end of Princes Street, which is to say, in tourist terms, the middle of nowhere. It was predicted that such a line would lose around £4 million every year. Even worse, all the digging up of Princes Street would not only have been a total waste but would have to be repeated to tear up the already-laid track.

It appears that the Scottish government is to order a public enquiry which might, one hopes, have the power to over-rule this bizarre decision. I am as opposed to public waste as the next person, but saving a few million of capital spend in order to create a £4 million pa loss-maker and laughing-stock seems hard to justify.

To be continued, sometime.....

Sie sind siebzehn Berliner

While I'm posting music clips, here's one I put up on Facebook recently by a Berlin band called 17 Hippies. I was drawn to this album (Phantom Songs) by the thought of a band described on Wikipedia as "mostly folk-influenced" doing a cover of the Captain Beefheart classic Gimme Dat Harp Boy. And I was clearly right to be so attracted. Just listen to the instrumentation, for Pete's sake: strings, flute, French horn, bass clarinet.....these guys ain't no ordinary folk group.

Here's another track from the same album. Well worth getting.

Egypt....Egypt....let me tell you 'bout Egypt

A couple of Egyptology-themed musical clips. First, a distinctly ahistorical look at Tutankhamun:

He's recently re-recorded this with his bluegrass band but all the clips I can find have either too little of it (beginning missing), too much else (buried in a lonfg clip) or are out of focus. Heigh ho.

Here is a rather more accurate (though equally funky) Egptological ditty by Richard Thompson (from "between the two Memphises"):

And finally a classic song about Egypt that has nothing to do with Egyptology. Until putting this post together I'd totally forgotten this one:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

For Uncle Jimmy, it's a wicked deception. For the rest of us, it's a blooper.

Sorry to return to Uncle Jimmy so soon, but this story isn't really about him. His paranoia about the BBC does lead him to make himself look ridiculous, though. Look at this recent post.

Yes, a blatant continuity error caused pictures of an Indian anti-corruption protest to be shown when they should have been showing pictures from Green Square, Tripoli. But why, you say, did the announcers not spot the error? If you're Jimmy, it's because they are all part of a wicked left-wing plot to exaggerate support for the rebels and belittle that nice Colonel Gaddafi. (At least he doesn't go quite as far as some of his fellow American wingnuts and claim that all the footage of the celebrations in Green Square was faked in a Doha studio by al-Jazeera.) For the rest of us, it's because they're idiots, and it's fair to say this footage will be linked as much as a classic blooper as it will as an example of New World Order deception.

I spotted this one myself recently. Presumably they went to dig out a clip of I, Claudius and got one of Claudius and his great-aunt rather than his mother. Careless, certainly, but not malicious.

As BBC bloopers go it isn't as good as this one, where a taxi driver turned up for a job interview as a Data Support Cleanser (no, me neither) and was rather taken aback to find himself being interviewed, not by HR, but live on air by Consumer Affairs correspondent Karen Bowerman.

Rival broadcaster GMTV tracked down the cabbie and interviewed him, this time intentionally:

From which you will deduce that while I have no time for conspiracy theorists like Jimmy with their paranoid hatred of the BBC, I am perfectly happy to poke fun at some of their idiotic reporting. (Note however that the other people in the GMTV clip have their own tales of mix-ups on both the BBC and Sky.)

And errors of the "we put up the wrong picture" kind are not confined to the BBC:

Finally, a different kind of newsroom foul-up:

...which was swiftly followed by....

Keep up the good work, apprentice racist

Somehow I don't think Uncle Jimmy will be posting about Tony Blair's eminently sensible view of the recent riots any time soon. He prefers to copy an article by some journo living in Sofia (so clearly an expert on the British). Why? Because it blames the riots on blacks and Asians, that's why. The Bulgarian hack reckons that the reason there were no riots in places like Newcastle and Edinburgh is that we're more "homegenous" (i.e white). And he loves David Starkey's pathetic recent diatribe.

Elsewhere in his post, in the bits not entirely lifted from a Bulgarian blog, Jimmy shows that he is learning the art of dissimulation (perhaps we should call it "taqqiya") from his mentor BareNakedIslam. He posts a photograph (which looks distinctly staged for the camera and apparently comes from someone's Twitter feed) of a big scary black man watching as a white youth removes his trousers. The link is entitled "See TNT Magazine: London riots: civilians forded to strip". Apart from the obvious typo, that is indeed the title of the report at TNT magazine (whatever that is) where the picture appears. The accompanying text "Strip. I want your jeans too." is however pure Jimmy invention and appears nowhere in the article. And you know what else appears nowhere in the article, despite its title? Well, take a look.

Any suggestion that "civilians" (as opposed to what?) were being relieved of their clothes by rioters in London is wholly absent. The article refers only to "allegations on the Internet" that this happened in Birmingham, and makes it clear that the police have not confirmed this.

SO: a nice picture to make blacks look scary, some made-up dialogue to make blacks sound scary, allegations about blacks presented as fact, and Birmingham presented as London. Pretty good, Jimmy: soon you'll be up there with BNI who describes a planned Muslim conference as a planned Muslim hijacking.

Here's another example of his, er, selective reporting, from another crazed attack on the BBC:

"The BBC has an agenda which prevents it from mentioning anything which may make people conclude that Tony Blair was not such a bad guy."

Ahem: from the BBC news website on 21 August (i.e. four days before Jimmy's rant).

Yes, there they have a positive news story about Tony Blair: the one that Uncle Jimmy continues to ignore because it doesn't accord with his racist agenda (which he clearly views as more important than the views of the man he wishes was still PM).

It's hard to tell whether there is actually a point to Jimmy's diatribe unless it's that public service broadcasting is dreadful and the BBC should be shut down and replaced with unbiased coverage from Fox News. After all, that's where he gets all his news about Britain (along with American white supremacist sites and Bulgarian bloggers, of course).

What utter hypocrisy

This is a bit rich, coming as it does from our old friend Uncle Jimmy. (And relating to our other occasional Zionist troll, Stan.)

For those of you who wonder why I post criticisms of this racist, homophobic buffoon on my site rather than as comments on his own, it isn't simply that more people are likely to read then here. It is that over a year ago now I suffered the fate of all who dare to criticise Jimmy and was banned from his site.

Will Index On Censorship act?

My failure to know my place and cease all criticism of the faux-British fool once he censored me has led to his terming me an "Internet stalker". Mind you, he thinks BareNakedIslam is a reliable source of factual information so I'm not too bothered about his opinion.

FWIW neither Stan nor Jimmy is banned from this site, though Jimmy has been warned that I will take down his comments unless they make him look sufficiently idiotic. I don't think I've had to delete any yet!

Friday, August 26, 2011

So good they named a cloned sheep after her

Still in Dolly Parton's orbit, so to speak:

A great interview in the Guardian.

Sesame Street have a character Polly Darton, who made her first appearance with this splendid song:

And here are the other two-thirds of the Trio collaboration doing one of my all-time favourite songs, Telling Me Lies by Linda Thompson:

And finally, here is Dolly herself singing one of Woody Guthrie's greatest songs, on the 9 to 5 soundtrack. I'd forgotten this one until I was Googling for this post. It doesn't get better than this.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dolly Parton, Glasgow SECC, Sunday 21 August

And so to Sunday, when we demonstrated that Edinburgh doesn't have a monopoly on music-making in August in Scotland. This was Dolly's second night in Glasgow, which was the first stop on her "Better Day" European tour.

Hilary and I were a little alarmed by the concert description on the tickets:

but rest assured, when that warm front swept in across the Atlantic it was surrounded by as much armour as the crew of an Abrams tank. In the first half she wore a red dress, in the second a turquoise culotte set (she had different costumes on the Saturday, it seems). When she sat at the piano she had a "Whoops, I sat on a rhinestone" moment. (Incidentally, DP evidently plays a lot of instruments, some like saxophone, harmonica and banjo to a fairly basic level, others like piano, dulcimer, autoharp and guitar pretty damn well.)

Here's her setlist:

Light of a Clear Blue Morning (instrumental intro)
Walking On Sunshine
Baby I'm Burning
Rocky Top
Duelling Banjos/Mukeskinner Blues
Help/Shine/Stairway To Heaven
My Tennessee Mountain Home
Precious Memories
Coat of Many Colors
Smoky Mountain Memories
Son of a Preacher Man
Better Day
Together You And I
Holding Everything
Joyful Noise
Queen Latifah Rap
He Will Take You Higher
He Is Everything
Two Doors Down
Country Is As Country Does
In The Meantime
The Sacrifice
Little Sparrow
River Deep, Mountain High
Here You Come Again
Islands In The Stream
9 to 5
Light of a Clear Blue Morning
Encore: I Will Always Love You

What can I say? Dolly Parton, at the age of 65, still looks amazing: not natural, but amazing (we liked the fact that when she changed costumes at the interval she switched wigs as well). As an Irishman I worked with before going to college used to put it, "You wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating biscuits". No indeed. She is still a fabulous live performer by every measure you could wish to apply. She's still writing great songs, as the material from her new album "A Better Day" demonstrates. She has a charming line on self-deprecating humour: the "Queen Latifah rap" was a pseudo-rap piece celebrating Dolly's co-starring with QL in a forthcoming film Joyful Noise. It contained the immortal lines "I don't hip and I don't hop / I'd black both eyes with this big top". OK, not the best part of the evening, but that line was quite funny. It also demonstrated Dolly's famous business sense: nobody left that concert unaware of Dolly's new album/forthcoming film/smartphone app/her Imagination Library project (books for kids initiative, whose Scottish launch was the next day). Nothing aggressive, nothing pushy, but you couldn't fail to be aware of all those things. There is nothing dumb about this blonde.

Let's have the video for her new single:

(Embedding disabled)

I've read comments on country music forums that reckon the video is too optimistic and 1960s-ish for DP's fans. Well, I reckon a good part of her fan base grew up in the 1960s (the age range in the audience was enormous - and there were slightly more women than men). Her new album is deliberately upbeat. And a woman who has shrugged off protests from the KKK and others because of her championing of gay marriage and her institution of an annual "Gay Day" at her Dollywood theme park will be neither surprised nor fazed when she inevitably gets protests at the inclusion of women in hijabs in that video. Certainly when right-wing loonies try to tell me that multiculturalism is un-American I now have an utterly American icon to tell them otherwise.

And watching DP with the kid right at the end reminds me that she is Miley Cyrus's godmother, which must be hard work but has led to some fun collaborations:

The thing about Dolly Parton, everyone agrees, is that she really is as nice as her image makes out. It may seem impossible that anyone could be quite so genuine and unaffected by having a fortune the size of J K Rowling's (about half a billion pounds, give or take a small country), but then again it might seem impossible that a 65-year-old woman could have those boobs and that waist. There you are.

I could happily have listened to her for another two hours, another night, another lifetime. She is up there with Neil Diamond as someone I couldn't imagine having too much of, either live or on record. And for anyone wishing to poke fun at me for being a Dolly Parton fan, here is probably my favourite of her songs:

OK, I like sad songs, but someone who can both write and perform "9 to 5" and "Mountain Angel" deserves respect, if not awe.


Here is a review of the concert.

It also appears that Dolly is looking for a flat in Rotherham, which is where her Imagination Library had its UK launch a few years ago. What I can't understand is how, when Jonathan Trew was desperately creating "Yorkshire" versions of country songs, he missed the obvious joke that was staring him in the face. Dolly Parton. In Yorkshire. All together now: "Where There's Muck, There's Bras".

Edinburgh Festivals Friday 19 August: Yogyakarta Palace Gamelan Orchestra

To the Hub (a converted church on the Royal Mile, near the Castle) on Friday evening for a concert by a Javanese gamelan. As you might expect for an ensemble which plays for the Javanese royal family, this was a BIG gamelan: twenty-five players or so, and I counted sixteen massive gongs at the back, each of which would take several people to shift. To my surprise, as well as the normal gongs and assorted metallophones (a gamelan looks like an orchestra made from casseroles and woks with the odd bank of saucepans thrown in, with chime bars and things that look like Jurassic vibraphones) the royal gamelan had a rebab player (a stringed instrument I previously associated with North Africa and the Middle East), a flautist, and a singer. Gamelan music is based on two Javanese scales, pelog with seven notes and slendro with five. Each of the percussion instruments (at least, the ones that played melodies) came in two versions, one for each scale, laid out at right angles. So you could tell which scale a piece was in because for slendro the guys in the front row were facing the audience, while for pelog they were sideways-on. Similar rotations happened further back in the orchestra.

A momentary digression: to remind myself which was which of pelog and slendro I went onto Wikipedia, where I couldn't help noticing the wonderful description of Balinese modes in pelog, whose note names are ding, dong, deng, dung, dang. Bear in mind that this music is being played primarily on gongs, and you'll see why I liked this!

The Yogyakarta Palace Gamelan Orchestra was VERY LOUD, as you might expect from twenty-odd people bashing gongs. All very reminiscent of Michael Bentine's classic sketch "Welcome, Stranger" (sadly no longer available online) where a reporter visits a temple for an interview, and in successively greeted by louder and louder instruments until at the end it's quite impossible to do the interview, leading to the pay-off "I'm sorry, stranger, I can't hear you. You'll have to come back when we know you better.

We were agreeing with a friend that the overall sound was less energetic than we'd expected form previous experience of gamelans, and we thought that was because in the acoustic of the Hub the middle row instruments, the ones which play the fast-moving parts, were somewhat muffled. Thus it was the slower-moving melodic lines which dominated. Maybe that's how it should be: any gamelan experts or Indonesian bloggers out there want to express an opinion?

The gamelan was accompanied for one number by a dancer, Kridha Mardhawa. She was extremely flexible (especially her wrists), and Hilary commented that her dance moves were far less symmetrical than we would expect from Western dance traditions.

All in all, a fascinating concert. Oh, I forgot to mention that one of the pieces was inspired by hearing a clock with "Big Ben" type chimes: it was called Gendhing Westminster, and yes, you could detect the familiar chimes in there.

See the sculpture of the book

Thanks to Joe for drawing my attention to this story which I'd missed. There have been half a dozen of these amazing little paper sculptures left anonymously in places which appear to be linked via Ian Rankin's Rebus books (though as someone from the Scottish Poetry Library pointed out, "every bloody location in Edinburgh is Rankin-connected").

Whoever is doing them is quite a talent. The one left at the Filmhouse is amazing.

Edinburgh Festivals Thursday 18 August: Jasper Fforde; Iain Banks

And yet again to Charlotte Square for the Book Festival, and two more highly popular authors of fiction.

I say "highly popular authors of fiction" rather than "authors of highly popular fiction", not because their books don't sell in huge numbers but because both Fforde and Banks are regulars at the Book festival (though apparently this year was the first that Jasper Fforde was promoted to the Main Tent). It was my first encounter with Fforde in the flesh, and I found him utterly charming. The author of the "Thursday Next" and "Nursery Crime" series - as well as the (so far) stand-alone Shades of Grey explained how he had started out writing short stories (his recommended route into professional writing, incidentally). He is a great believer in what he terms "narrative dares", where the author comes up with an unlikely opening scenario and then has to write his/her way out of it. (He contrasted this with the "X-Files Syndrome", where an ingenious set-up leads on to a "so-what?" denouement.) As an example, he gave one of his own first stories, in which a man wakes up in suburban London to find a gorilla in the tree in his garden. He goes down, confirms that it is really a gorilla, then remembers receiving a flyer a few days earlier offering help with "Primate Problems (gibbon work undertaken at surcharge)". Fforde stressed the importance of the telling detail such as the gibbon remark to build up the reality of the situation. Anyway, the man calls the number, a workman comes round in a van, confirms that it's a gorilla and gets out a cage. He entices the gorilla down but can't get him into the cage, so suggests that the garden's owner holds the fort while the workman fetches some bananas. Not wishing to be left with a gorilla, the householder says that he'll go for the bananas, and does. He has trouble: there seems to have been a run on bananas and he has to visit several shops. When he gets back, there's no gorilla, not workman, no van: also his house has been stripped of everything valuable, and his car has been stolen. It dawns on him that he has been had, so he calls the police, who tell him there's been a spate of such crimes and they're trying to trace the culprit. The man starts to describe the workman and the police say, oh no, he's just the accomplice. It's Bonzo the gorilla they're after: he's the one who nicks the cars, and they're certain he doesn't have insurance.

What more can I say? Fforde described growing up in a very academic family with two elder brothers who got in to Oxbridge when he didn't (but ha-ha! he now earns ten times as much as them). They were always discussing literature, which led him to digress that families seem to be divided into Austen versus Bronte, or Tintin versus Asterix (mine is definitely Austen and Asterix).

In the evening, Iain Banks was introduced by Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, and they formed a great comedy double act. I've lost track of how often I've seen Iain at the festival, but Salmond was a great foil for him. I don't mean by that that Alex Salmond was simply the butt of Iain's humour, or that he was just a straight man: he was just about as entertaining in his own right as Banks, which is saying a lot: Iain Banks must be just about the most engaging author I have ever seen. I always think he's the sort of person I'd like to be: all the nice bits of me, plus money. The conversation ranged hither and yon, but covered:

- names of Culture spacecraft (IB's , or I suppose that should be IMB's, favourite is the warship A Frank Exchange Of Views)
- comparison of the Culture's policy of intervention in other societies with the attitude of the USA in Iraq (the Culture, because of their large bank of historical statistics and their expert systems, can be almost 100% certain that their interventions will actually be benign - sadly not the case yet on Earth)
- why he uses the M initial as an SF writer (complicated)
- why he treats AI in his fiction as a good thing rather than a threat (high intelligence leads to imagination, which leads to empathy, which leads to liberal attitudes, "whereas right-wingers are basically just stupid" - that got a cheer!)
- his favourite of his SF novels (Consider Phlebas, whose design brief was to "out-Star Wars Star Wars" - though he reckons Use of Weapons is the best written because of his editor at the time)
- his favourite of his mainstream novels (The Bridge)
- whether he'd like to write an episode of Dr Who (no - the constraints within which you have to write in a context like that would irk him)

I could have watched him - both of them, actually - all night.

Edinburgh Festivals Wednesday 17 August: T'ang Quartet; Shlomo Sand

The T'ang Quartet are from Singapore, and while they are very good they don't rise yet to the heights of the greats (Hungarian, Amadeus, Melos, Arditti, Kronos). That said, they opened up this recital with a belting rendition of the Schubert Quartettsatz. The Barber quartet which followed (and from whose slow movement the famous Adagio for Strings was arranged) contained nothing to dislike but was perhaps a little uninspired.

Many of the audience seemed to have come only to hear the first half and never reappeared after the interval: their loss. The second half opened with a favourite of mine, the Aulis Sallinen Third Quartet (Some Aspects of Peltoniemi Hintrik's Funeral March), and they did a good job on that, swaggering where swaggering is called for and being cold and clinical where that's required. The final work was another Third Quartet, this time by the Chinese composer Bright Sheng. I liked the opening, but then it transformed itself into mere dissonance. I don't have a problem with dissonance per se, but this was more irritating than interesting. The last five minutes of the (one-movement) work were however remarkably beautiful, all flowing contrapuntal lines which felt as though they could go on forever. So not a work I shall be seeking out for a second hearing, but not a total waste of time.

In the afternoon I made yet another Book Festival visit, this time for Shlomo Sand, author of The Invention of the Jewish People whose thesis is that Jews (like Muslims, I suppose) are a racially disparate group united by a shared religion (and associated cultural elements). His point, basically - and he is a Jew - is that there is no such thing as a "Jewish race" or "Jewish people": just Jews. He has inevitable attracted criticism for his views, some of it scholarly and based on DNA profiling: those critics may have a point but I don't think they have done more to date than show that European Jewry has more DNA in common with Middle Eastern Jews than with Asiatic ones. In other words they may have knocked down some peripheral details of his argument but they have not refuted his main point. Most of his critics, however, are Zionists who wish to have their cake and eat it. On the one hand they claim that only a lunatic fringe ever supported the idea of Jewish racial continuty, and that for Sand to attack it is to imply that it has a centrality it never had. That may be true for mainstream Jews of my age or thereabouts, or for Jews in Israel, but it conveniently ignores Jews in the USA (centre of gravity of modern Zionism) for many of whom whom the idea of racial continuity is absolutely central. On the other hand, they claim that his theory is anti-Semitic (yawn....), though if they claim that nobody disputes it that must make everyone an anti-Semite. (Actually, that's a pretty good summation of the extreme Zionist position: nobody like me, everybody hates me, I think I'll go and eat lox....)

Shlomo Sand in the flesh was very engaging. He apologised that English was only his fourth language (after Yiddish, Hebrew and French - he teaches in Paris). He talked extensively about Israel and the fact that there is no such thing as Israeli nationality. Israeli Jews have ID cards which show their origin (or their parents'), for example Hungarian or Yemeni, while Israeli Arabs have cards identifying them as Arab. he pointed out that Zionism had created two states, the Israeli one and the Palestinian one. The Israeli government acknowledged the existence of the latter (according to what Sand called the doctrine of "I shoot, therefore I am": there are people called Palestinians who shoot rockets as us) but not of the former. There is no "Israeli state" of all Israelis, merely a "Jewish state". Ironically - and conveniently forgotten by the Western media - the Arab League recognised the state of Israel (with its internationally accepted 1967 border) and its right to secure and peaceful existence back in 2002. Israel itself has yet to reccognise such a state. Now that really is ironic.

Sand criticised the recent flood of extreme right-wing laws in Israel. Arabic has ceased to be one of Israel's official languages, despite being the first language of millions of Israelis. Mention of the Naqba is forbidden in official history texts (for example those used in schools). Sand compared this in principle to Holocaust denial, though he was at pains to explain that he did not equate the Naqba with the Shoah, not only because of their hugely different scales but also because the primary purpose of the Shoah was genocide while that of the Naqba was displacement. (It was interesting - and to me surprising - that a large part of the audience had to have the terms "Naqba" and "Shoah" explained to them - in the former case not just translated but defined. I had expected that Sand's audience would comprise mostly people familiar with Jewish and Palestinian history.) He found cause for hope in the recent Israeli anti-government protests, not just because they showed that ordinary Israelis were beginning to question the vast proportion of their national expenditure which was used for military purposes, but because the protests spanned the Jew-Arab divide. He described himself, in the words of Roman Rolland, as a "pessimist in the head but an optimist in the heart", and encouraged us all to support the declaration of a Palestinian state in the UN in September. Not because this would be good for the Palestinians, but because he believes it offers the best chance for the survival of Israel itself: and as an Israeli he wants that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Edinburgh Festivals Monday 15 August: Melvyn Tan; Simon Sebag Montefiore

Melvyn Tan was at the Queen's Hall in the morning playing John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano, which he interspersed with some Scarlatti sonatas. Looking at the stage I had imagined that the full-size concert grand would have been prepared for the Cage and that it would be the baby grand that was used for the Scarlatti, but it was the other way round. I was surprised how many setas were still empty: I'd had to get a restricted view seat when I booked, so there must have been several no-shows (good news for me as I could slide along to get a better view).

The way the Scarlatti was introduced into the cage was oddly asymmetrical, and shouldn't have worked, but did: it pointed up the parallels between the two sets. It's not simply that they share a binary structure, but as the excellent programme notes by W Dean Sutcliffe for the Scarlatti made clear, the earlier pieces are quite mould-breaking in their way. Scarlatti, like Cage, was fascinated by games of chance, and his way of reflecting this in his music was to write amazing leaps into some of the sonatas which even after much practice remain literally hit-and-miss. One such is the Sonata in B flat major K529 which Melvyn Tan played: as if to demonstrate the point, he did miss one of the jumps.

While I already knew and loved the Cage, the Scarlattis were all new to me. I had slight misgivings about hearing them on a piano, as I prefer my baroque music on harpsichords or other less-anachronistic keyboards. Not that I'm a total purist: my introduction to Scarlatti's sonatas came via Walter (later Wendy) Carlos (of Switched-On Bach fame) on an album entitled The Well-Tempered Synthesiser. But the piano really suited these pieces, at least when Melvyn Tan was wielding it. A couple of the sonatas were described as harking back to an already-dated style of keyboard writing, but funnily enough it was these most archaic ones (K69 and K87) which sounded most pianistic, Romantic even, to my ears.

One one of his trips between pianos Melvyn said "Back to the nuts and bolts", which I thought was a nice (if literal) expression. He gave an excellent performance of Cage's magnum opus for the instrument he invented. The prepared piano is a piano with bolts, screws, pieces of rubber, strips of aluminium etc inserted between the strings in a precisely-specified manner. This alters the sound of some of the notes in a determinate manner, so that the piano becomes a percussion ensemble in a box. (It was invented as a way of fitting a percussion ensemble into a small theatre orchestra pit space.) Here is an example from the Sonatas and Interludes, played by Boris Berman.

A great concert, very well received. His encore was a piece of Debussy (I think - maybe Ravel) which I didn't recognise.

In the late afternoon I returned to the Book Festival for Simon Sebag Montefiore who has written a "biography" of Jerusalem, by which odd phrase he means that his book attempts to write a history of Jerusalem and its inhabitants rather than focusing on specific historical or political themes. He was born in Jerusalem, and his family have roots there: his ancestor Moses Montefiore built the very first suburb outside the city walls, whose mock-Dutch windmill can still be seen. Simon pointed out that it's hard to imagine, viewing sprawling modern Jerusalem, that nothing outside the walls existed 150 years ago. He took us through a number of turning points in Jerusalem's history, of which the most important were the expulsion of the Jews by the Romans, the recapture of Jerusalem during the war of 1948, and the 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem. The (literally) shattering violence of the Romans left the Jews bereft of their spiritual centre (and much of its population: the Romans were crucifying Jews at a peak rate of 200 per day). The retaking of Jerusalem in 1948 was a moment whose significance, he told us extended beyond Israel, beyond Zionism, but was felt by Jews all over the world. He reminded us that strictly speaking neither Israel's claim to West Jerusalem nor Jordan's to its Eastern part were valid under the original partition agreement, which stipulated international (UN) control of Jerusalem: but even if the international community had not subsequently recognised Israel's claim it would have been politically and culturally inconceivable that Israel would ever have relinquished control totally. East Jerusalem was the most contentious part of the territory occupied by Israel in 1967, and almost the only part of the OT which it has formally (and illegally in the eyes of all other countries) annexed into Israel. I got the impression that while not a big fan of Israel's treatment of the Arabs in occupied Palestine, SSM would not be campaigning for Jerusalem to be repartitioned. In answer to a question about the increased pace of settlement-building around East Jerusalem, he said that while he had no problem with the building of settlements he was unhappy with how it was being done: settlements are gradually hemming in East Jerusalem so as to cut it off completely from its Arab hinterland.

SSM was full of such juxtapositions, which I imagine make him unpopular with Zionists and anti-Zionists alike. He defended the First Intifada for example, as it brought Israel back to the negotiating table. "Terrorism works, sometimes", he said, citing the Zionists own use of terrorist tactics to force the British to leave as another example. The Second Intifada, though, had been "a disaster which destroyed the Left in Israel". In yet another complication, I read an interview with SSM just before seeing his talk, in which he pointed out that Ariel Sharon's famous walkabout on the Temple Mount which was the immediate trigger for the Second Intifada was not merely insensitive but actually illegal under Israeli law as the Temple Mount was a closed area requiring special IDF clearance before any entry was allowed.

I think his book sounds fascinating. Apart from anything else, his family sound amazing. But it is very rare to find a commentator of any kind on Israel whose position is impossible to characterise as either "pro-Israel" or "pro-Palestine": one who accepts that on both sides there are considerations other than legality or illegality, and that these considerations are valid in themselves. I'm sure when I read his book there will be times when I want to scream: but there will be times when I simply marvel at the almost-unbelievable story (made believable) of an almost-unbelievable city (made real).

Daughters of the Brothel

I thought this was an interesting story. Can't find much else on Jugnu, the magazine, though.

Pots and kettles

A propos Muhammed as a paedophile, by the way, this link is well worth reading.

Orthodox Jews strictly follow all the dictates of the Talmud (the non-Orthodox do so selectively). According to the Talmud, “a girl of the age of three years and one day may be betrothed by intercourse " (Niddah 44b, Yebamoth 57b). For the Talmud, the legal age of sexual maturity for girls is three years and one day -and for boys 9 years of age.

As New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind observed,

“If you’re a pedophile, the best place for you to come to are some of the (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish communities,” Why? Because you can be a pedophile and no one’s going to do anything.” (FORWARD, March 13, 2009).

Bare Naked Invention

Uncle Jimmy, as we know, is a huge fan of BareNakedIslam, the white supremacist website run by a supposedly female faux-Jew. According to Jimmy's puff piece for her/it,

This site often uses colourful language, but it invariably links back to reputable sources.

OK then. Let's take a look at a recent BNI post.

That's right, the headline says "Muslims in America planning another hijacking around the tenth anniversary of 9/11". Gosh, that's terrible. Let's find BNI's link to a "reputable source"....

...crickets chirping....

....or any source?......

because nowhere in the article is there a single mention of hijacking. It describes a planned anti-bigotry conference. That's it. Period

Perhaps to BNI's ill-educated brain a conference is the same as a hijacking? Wow, what a mess those agendas and standing orders made of the WTC, huh?

Yet Uncle Jimmy links to this clown while censoring his supposed idol Tony Blair for being insufficiently Islamophobic. LOL.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In which I outdo Uncle Jimmy as a fan of Tony Blair, and am proud to do so

It's funny, really: also very revealing.

Uncle Jimmy, aka Keep Tony Blair For PM, is undoubtedly a fan of Tony Blair, or at least of Tony Blair as he likes to imagine him. He complains incessantly (literally: at the foot of every post on his blog is a quotation reminding us of it) that the British press give TB a hard time: and so they generally do (for the most part a well-deserved one).

So you'd think if the British press made a fuss about a Tony Blair story and Jimmy ignored it totally, it must be a wicked fabrication, or at the very least something showing TB in a bad light, surely? Well, actually, not a bit of it.

Take this story from back in June, which was widely reported. Now nobody ever agrees with another person's Desert Island list of anything, but speaking both as a non-fan of Mr Blair and someone with strong opinions on books, I rather liked his list. The books I knew on it I liked, and the ones I didn't know sounded interesting. It didn't show any tell-tale signs of having been carefully crafted to make him look clever, or to show the common touch: no Jeffrey Archer or Da Vinci Code!

So why did Jimmy completely ignore it? I don't know, of course. I could make a joke about Jimmy the American pseudo-Brit forgetting to take his head out of Fox News that day to have a look at the European news: but I shan't. Because I think the real reason is even more revealing: I think Jimmy is embarrassed by some of his idol's choices. I mean, here is the man who purged the Labour party of any links with socialism picking a three-volume biography of Leon Trotsky? Jimmy must have shuddered when he read that (even TB makes a joke about it!) Worse still, he includes a book on the Crusades as viewed from the Arab side, implying that Muslims have a point of view that is as valid as that of Christians. For TB "It neatly corrects the myth prevalent in 
the way that history used to 
be taught in the West – that we were the civilised folk struggling against the barbarians". But that is precisely Jimmy's point of view, not just about the Crusades but about the present day. And as for Arab medicine being more advanced than that of the crusaders, and talk of "savvy and cultured Muslim counterparts": that kiond of talk gets you labelled by Jimmy as someone who values Muslims over the "indigenous British" (whoever they are).

But the absolute oh-my-god-we-must-hush-this-up-at-all-costs entry on Tony's list is the last: a biography of the Prophet Muhammed by Martin Lings. I've heard excellent things of this book, but what on earth must Jimmy have made of this choice? After all, to him and his fellow-racists at BareNakedIslam, Muhammed was not only a false prophet but a murdering paedophile rapist who founded a death cult. To Jimmy, it must feel as though Blair had selected The Protocols Of The Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf. So Tony Blair has shown himself insufficiently Islamophobic to meet Uncle Jimmy's exacting standards: thus his book selection must be swept under the rug.

And now, this week, Tony Blair makes a statement (in the Guardian's Comment Is Free section) on the recent British rioting. Understand this: Jimmy normally considers the Guardian, and especially the CiF section, as irredeemably mired in socialism, multicultural political correctness, and hatred of Tony Blair. So for it to give TB a platform, which he then used to give his opinion on a very topical and important issue, would surely rate a mention in Jimmy's blog, yes?


And again, I don't think it's just Jimmy's understandable disinclination to say something nice about the Guardian. After all, he wouldn't have to make a habit of it. I mean to say, I actually agree with Tony Blair's article and I'm not ashamed to say so: but I wouldn't wish it to be taken as a general precedent.

No, I fear once again TB has failed to live up to Jimmy's expectations. In his article on the riots, TB doesn't blame the riots on black and Asian immigrants. Nor does he delude himself that the rioters were symptomatic of a general decline in moral standards in British society. They were a small minority of criminals: and Tony Blair gets it. Even better, and possibly a first for TB, he admits that he made a mistake when Prime Minister:

In 1993, following James Bulger's murder, I made a case in very similar terms to the one being heard today about moral breakdown in Britain. I now believe that speech was good politics but bad policy.

Wow. Tony Blair admitting that he promulgated bad policy (on one occasion at least). Tony Blair refusing to toe the line of David Starkey and assorted racists and blame the riots on immigration. Once again, this must be hushed up. It didn't happen. Nothing to see here, folks: move along.

Well, for once (or I suppose twice, counting the book list), I shall stick my head above the parapet and support Tony Blair, unlamented ex-PM though he is. Sometimes he gets it right: and if KeepTonyBlairForPM doesn't like that, he can piss off back to the USA and take his false idea of Tony Blair back to his Texan racist cronies.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

John Bolton Compares Ricin Toxin to Sarin Gas

.....yes, so similar...five letters ending in "-in". (See also "lupin".)

Or as it says here,"People sometimes confuse ricin with sarin because the names are somewhat similar."

Typical of Bare Naked Islam to propagate the "ricin bomb" scare: after all, she/it never allows the facts to get in the way of a good Islamophobic rant. Actually the scariest thing about this story is that John Bolton, sacked as US Ambassador to the UN for being an embarrassing waste of space even by the standards of the Bush administration, is still being consulted by the likes of Fox News as though he knew anything about anything.

Here is a pretty good demolition of the whole thing, which for anyone with 20% of a working brain stank to high heaven at first sight.

And John Bolton will need to be careful: if he starts reminding people of the Tokyo Subway sarin attack they might realise that most terrorism is not, as Fox would like us to believe, carried out by Muslims.

P.S. Anyone remember Mr Pastry on British children's TV in the late 1950s?

John Bolton Totally Looks Like Mr Pastry

P.P.S. When I read that wikipedia entry I nearly died when I got to the bit about Dr Who!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Edinburgh Festivals Saturday 13 August: Bettany Hughes; Alexander McCall Smith

So, in the afternoon, fortified by a panini from the George Street Starbucks, I returned to the Book Festival to join my wife and mother-in-law for a talk by historian Bettany Hughes whose most recent book The Hemlock Cup is all about Socrates. She told us that when she'd mentioned to the author Mark Haddon that she was planning a book on Socrates, he said how fascinating that would be because Socrates' life is like a doughnut: we know a lot about his teachings, and about his contemporaries, but very little about the man at the centre of it all, as he never wrote anything down. Indeed, all we know of Socrates the man we learn from three authors, all with rather different slants: Plato, Aristophanes and Xenophon. You can see the problem: trying to learn about Socrates from his appearances in The Clouds and The Birds is like trying to write a biography of Michael Heseltine based on Spitting Image. Still, Hughes has made a good job of her huge task, and explained how much we now know (and are continuing to learn) from archaeology about life in Socrates' Athens: many little details in Plato that seemed fanciful have been confirmed. She talked about the "curse dolls" found recently, used for cursing enemies. Some recently-discovered ones were clearly used as teaching aids for children learning to read and write, listing inventive curses to put on your foes. For example, someone trying to sue you - and Athenians were as litigious as present-day Americans - could be cursed so his arms and legs would drop off as he entered the court-room, though not before his eyes had fallen out and he'd stepped on them. Not exactly The Very Hungry Caterpillar.....

She discussed Athenian democracy and Socrates' trial, as well as the parallels with another teacher who left no writings and was condemned to death by a religious court, to wit Jesus. Nobody knows whether Jesus was exposed to the teachings of Socrates, but it is a tantalising idea, with universal love - a fierce, cathartic kind of unsentimental love - at the core of both men's teachings.

After that we adjourned to the Spiegeltent for a coffee. There is a Matthew Algie coffe bar in there, and the staff all have appropriately literary puns on their T-shirts:

Lawrence of Arabica
A Midsummer Night's Bean
Pride and Percolate
Murder on the Orient Espresso
Lord of the Coffee Rings

There was also a large poster of To Kill a Mocha Bird.

Moving on.... our final event of the day was Alexander McCall Smith, who is a regular at the festival. (McCall Smith, J K Rowling and Ian Rankin: three millionaire novelists, all living in the same part of Edinburgh a mile or so away from us.) Last year he had book-ended his talk (as it were) with performances by a player of the musical saw. This year he had The Refrains, an a capella choral group from London who opened up with Over The Rainbow and Loch Lomond. His conversation ranged over his various series of books, and is impossible to convey in print. We discovered, though that the people of Argentina are obsessed by Freudian psychoanalysis (seriously - read Freud In The Pampas, by Mariano Ben Plotkin). Also that after giving W H Auden's literary executor an appearance in an Isabel Dalhousie novel, giving a lecture on "Freudian Guilt in the works of W H Auden", he decided that it would be fun to gather together a number of people who had made such guest appearances for a dinner party. Having brought the Auden guy over from New York, he persuaded him actually to give the lecture he had imagined fictionally. The session closed with another appearance from The Refrains, who did a wonderful version of The Teddy-Bears' Picnic.

And the evening and the morning were the first day......

The past is a foreign station

A friend of mine posted a Facebook link to this site of Ghost Station Tube Maps. I was familiar witht he idea of ghost stations: the ones that closed long ago and now can just be glimpsed in the wash of light from the carriages as you pass through them. This site provides a comprehensive list and a lot of additional information about the stations. (You may need a magnifying glass or some jiggery-pokery to enlarge the images.) What struck me, though was how many have closed since I lived in London. Take Aldwych, for example, on the Piccadilly Line. this was at the end of a spur from Holborn, the station I used every day when I commuted by tube and pretty often when I didn't, as it was only a hundred yards or so from my work. I remember going on a training course for something or other that was based at Aldwych, so I spent a few days actually using the Aldwych shuttle. And now it;s gone. However, I discover from the tiny print that the Kinks made a video there. For a song I didn't even know!

Nemo nos impune lacessit and don't you forget it, pal

I see that while we in Scotland have been spared the worst excesses of the English Defence League's neo-Nazi thuggery, we have home-grown racists who don't wish to be outdone.

While the "Scottish Defence League" have been banned from holding a "9/11" march beginning outside the US Consulate on September 10th (it seems they are calendrically challenged, poor dears) they evidently intend to challenge the ban in court (let them waste their money, I say) and also to hold an illegal "static protest" instead. I wonder if the police in Edinburgh can get hold of those water cannon that are being made available now......

Then again, maybe they should just have been allowed to go ahead and make fools of themselves. After all, their protest was on the wrong day, and would have gone from the US Consulate to Princes Street, well away from the Edinburgh mosque which one might have expected to be its target. Oh well.

Edinburgh Festivals Saturday 13 August: Alasdair Gray; International Exhibition of Photography

My journey through the 2011 Edinburgh festival scene began a week ago with the first of many visits to the Book Festival in Charlotte Square. Walking from my bus stop to the festival site I had to run the usual gauntlet of folk handing out fliers for Fringe shows. It reminded me of this:

So to the Book Festival itself, and the opening event of the adult programme (as in not children's, not as in X-rated) which was Alasdair Gray. He had been invited in part because it was the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of his first (and best-known, also probably best) novel Lanark. He hadn't wanted to talk about Lanark particularly though, so was doing a talk "A Life In Pictures" concentrating mainly on his parallel career as an illustrator and mural painter.

Evacuated from Glasgow to avoid the blitz, he grew up as a small child in Wetherby (Yorkshire) where his father was a leading light in the new Youth Hostel Association. Returning to Glasgow after the war he found that it seemed enormous and unsettling. He studied at Glasgow College of Art. His painting tutors, though, found his style too post-impressionistic (he liked bright colours), so suggested he concentrate on mural painting instead. An early (unpaid) commission as a student was to do a mural for the Scottish-USSR Friendship Society, which he duly did (a contemporary reimagining of the Crucifixion set in Glasgow, it is now covered up like so many of Gray's early murals). He showed a picture of its unveiling which was attended by the treasury Minister Anthony Cairncross, who later turned out to be a Soviet spy in the same ring as Burgess and Maclean. Later on, when he was a struggling artist living by subletting his council flat illegally and painting murals for The Ubiquitous Chip for which he was paid in food, he was asked by the Glasgow People's Palace museum to do some painting documenting Glasgow's streets, at a time when there was much slum clearance and redevelopment taking place. This work, eventually running to nearly forty pictures, was funded by the government as part of its Job Creation Scheme. This meant that Gray had to sign on as unemployed, something he'd never previously bothered to do. He told his delighted audience about his interview at the Employment Exchange when he was trying to explain to a civil servant how he was presently living, as well as explaining that he had a job lined up and was only signing on to enable him to take it up. (You can see where that might get confusing....) Gray also told us about a mural he had painted of the Book of Jonah (apparently he had made a stain of some kind on a friend's living-room wall at a party, and this was his way of covering it up!) His hilarious description of the story of Jonah culminated in his summary that this showed the God of the Old Testament beginning to grow up.

I had a few hours to kill before my next event, so wandered down to Great King Street to take in the International Exhibition of Photography hosted every year by the Edinburgh Photographic Society. This is one I always go to, and every time there are a few truly brilliant pictures. For example, this one, this one and this one (a few others from Anne Greiner were in the exhibition too). A couple of enigmatic picture from China caused much discussion among viewers: Dangerous Way 01 by Huiyi Liu showed a large number of dead bodies in combat gear being watched over by a gas-masked figure in slightly differently-coloured combat gear (you could tell the recumbent figures were dead by the blotches beginning to appear on their skin), while Jiangho Wang's Through The Poison Zone showed a group of gas-masked soldiers advancing though a whitish mist and appeared to have been taken at a similar time. I have no idea what incident they relate to. But that's the thing with this exhibition, you keep getting surprising perspectives.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Music Time

A few musical clips for light relief. Here are Tuvan marvels Huun-Huur-Tu with an especially catchy piece of throat-singing:

Here is one of the Scarlatti sonatas I so enjoyed when Melvyn Tan played them on Monday. It sounds more Romantic on the piano, perhaps, but I still like this music best on the harpsichord. Astonishing stuff.

And here's another that Melvyn Tan did. Apparently this one is pretty well-known, though not to me.

Strange to think that music that sounds (especially on a piano) as though it could almost have been penned by, say, Schumann was actually a harking-back by Scarlatti to an already-outmoded style of keyboard writing. What goes around comes around.

And here, finally, is a wonderfully silly piece by Bohuslav Martinu.

Edinburgh Syndrome

In case you were wondering, I have been making copious notes for blog posts about the various festival events I've been attending. With a dozen or so entries so far it's getting quite daunting: a similar backlog last year defeated me totally.

Still, I have a cunning plan. I have to go into work this weekend to provide cover for a test of account migration. I'll be there for seven hours on Saturday, of which a couple will be busy and the rest decidedly not. Last time I did this I caught up with my reading: this time I think I'll take my personal laptop in and catch up with EKN's festival reportage.

BMW: condoning third-world industrial relations in the USA

A message from Unite (my trade union).

Unite has been notified of a serious dispute in Ontario, California between members of International Brotherhood of Teamsters and BMW.

BMW plans to dismiss all its employees at its Ontario, California parts distribution centre on August 31st, and will re-open the facility the following day with a subcontractor managing the site and hiring new outsourced employees. This is something that BMW in Germany and the rest of the EU could not do.

The company has also engaged a well known union busting US law firm Jackson Lewis.

The Teamsters union has appealed for global union support.

Unite reps and members at BMW in the UK have been pressing the UK and European senior management to intervene on this disgraceful situation. The have also taken part in a day of solidarity with the IBT members. They have been instrumental in getting the matter raised with the companies European Works Council, and Unite has also raised the matter with the German union IG Metall and through the International Metalworkers Federation. In addition Unite has written to BMW's CEO's in the USA and Germany about the matter.

Len McCluskey has written to the IBT expressing our unions full support in the campaign.

We now understand that the BMW EWC is setting up meetings in order to try to assist the IBT in its dispute.

In the meantime the IBT has began picketing BMW dealers in the USA.

The IBT have set up a special website where more information and the full details of the dispute and the role of union busters can be found.

Please visit the site and email messages of support can be sent to Teamsters union official Tim Beatty at tbeaty@teamster.org

Any help you can give our brothers and sisters in Ontario, California would be appreciated.

PLEASE SEND ANY RESPONSE DIRECT TO tony.burke@unitetheunion.org

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Good News From The Hague

This is excellent news. While I have never doubted that the UK and USA were right to intervene to prevent genocide by the Serbians, I have never been under any illusion about the nastiness of the Kosovars. Innocent victims they weren't: the KLA were a bunch of terrorist thugs, and until it became clear that the Serbs were - not worse, perhaps, but more devastatingly efficient - I couldn't understand why the UK seemed so keen on them.

The retrial of Haradinaj, after his earlier acquittal was overturned because of witness intimidation, will send a message to the KLA: you can name as many babies as you like after Tony Blair, but you can't hide. And if, as seems likely, he is convicted, it will help to bring closure to this most troubled region.

It won't satisfy some folk of course.....

I missed the bus and walked twelve miles home and it really didn't seem far

When reading the report of the flooding this week in Dorset, I noticed a reference to flooding in the Lower Gardens in Bournemouth, and my mind (powered by musical memory as it so often is) flashed up the recollection that here was where Al Stewart lost his virginity according to "Love Chronicles". (Jimmy Page's wah-wah guitar was added in the studio, however.)

The reference in question is at 2:26 in this clip.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Riots and Responses

Like most people I've been watching the TV footage of the riots in London, and subsequently elsewhere, with mounting horror. What began as a peaceful demonstration against a police shooting was first hijacked and then escalated in a crazy way. I'm glad there seems to be plenty of good CCTV footage which should help the police catch a lot of the perps, but that's no consolation when your flat has been burned out, or someone in your family murdered.

The police have been criticised for being slow to act, but one must remember that the riots very quickly spread over a large geographical area, and the combination of looting and arson streched then to the limit.

So who is to blame?

David Starkey, as we have seen, blames it all on "whites becoming black" and adopting such features of black culture as hip-hop and torching furniture showrooms.

James Delingpole, in an article praising Starkey to the heavens for his honesty, declares that "Like the Guardian – and the Labour party – the BBC created the culture that led to these riots".

Likewise, Uncle Jimmy blames the riots on the "moaning, politically correct press", "left-wing literati" and "liberal loony pressure groups". To his Daily Mail-addled mind, "human rights/civil rights/rights/rights/rights" are to blame. Still, I had wondered whether his delay in finding anything to say about the riots on what he stubbornly pretends is his doorstep was a result of the annoying absence of Muslims to pin them on. (In the same way as he has so far said not one word about the greatest terrorist murder of the year, presumably because it was carried out by a fellow fan of Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller and Melanie Phillips.) In a comment, though, he clutches gratefully at the straw offered by Starkey and blames it all on the blacks, of whatever skin colour. Once again the I-haven't-a-trace-of-racism-in-my-DNA pose is shredded by his actual attitude.

Let's move across the Atlantic, to Jimmy's favourite American fellow-travellers at BareNakedIslam. "There’s a site called Bare Naked Islam. It is single-minded in its niche; single-mindedly anti-Islam. And it makes no bones about it – it is anti-Muslim too. Some might take exception to such a site, or even to my linking to it. Tough. While the British liberal press seems to ignore these sorts of stories for fear of upsetting good, honest, law-abiding Muslims, and while they continue to hunt down Tony Blair as though he is the world’s most wanted escaped criminal, I will find room for the stories at Bare Naked Islam."

So just remember that as long as the British press is insufficiently Islamophobic for Jimmy's taste, and fails to fall into line with his cheer-leading for the Bush/Blair disater in Iraq, Jimmy is a supporter of these guys (I have a number of posts on BNI lined up, showing things which would have embarrassed anyone with a normal moral compass, or indeed any sense of right and wrong, into abject disavowal. Not our Jimmy.) Jimmy continues to post comments there, for example equating being gay with being left-wing.)

BNI, inevitably, blames the riots on "blacks and Muslims" and claims that there has been a media cover-up to hide this. She/it celebrates - there is no other word - the murder of three Muslims by a hit-and-run driver because he was black. (And the Muslims couldn't be "martyrs" because they died trying to protect their families' shops, oh no: "Why are the 3 dead Muslims considered martyrs? They didn't kill any Jews.") Of course, for BNI, "Muslims vow revenge". How unfortunate that even in the article she/it quotes, the father of one of the dead "urged people not to seek revenge". How sad that thousands of people of all faiths turned out for a peace rally today in Birmingham. How sad, in short, that reality is utterly at odds with BNI's racist agenda. How sad that Uncle Jimmy still believes that her/its whacked-out End Times conspiracy theories are the unvarnished truth.

(Why do I refer to BNI as "she/it"? Because I don't believe "her" purported gender any more than I believe "her" purported Jewishness. The BNI site contains some of the most viciously anti-female and anti-Semitic material I have ever encountered.)

So there you are. Britain would be safe from riots forever if only all the wicked leftists, journalists, and people of non-white skin colour could be locked up / expelled / murdered. Which is pretty much the policy of the BNP and their Euronazi chums already.

If I have a wish, it is that the attempts by the ultra-right wing racists to exploit the riots for their own wholly selfish purposes receives the two-fingered (British!) gesture they deserve.