Sunday, August 31, 2008

From Bob's archive: Authoritarian Leninists against real human emancipation

I am away for a few days, so I am scheduling to publish a couple of things from my archive while I'm absent. This is a cut down version of something I wrote in February 2005, my second month of blogging. I had a tiny readership then (possibly single figures) and I tended to just post links. This was one of my first - rather unambitious - attempts at some kind of polemic. Comments welcome.

Alex Callinicos
, a theorist of the British SWP, has produced this reflection on the third European Social Forum (ESF), held in London in 2004. In this post, I will concentrate on what he says in section 2, arguing with those (mainly French) within the ESF who wanted to prioritise neo-liberalism over the Iraq war.

I wholly disagree with Callinicos. I think that, first, the war in Iraq is far less important than what should be the real issue for the Social Forum movement: the everyday and structural violence built into the present organisation of world capitalism.

A focus on the war evades thinking through the real issues around globalisation. Worse, in the current climate, a focus on the war appeals opportunistically to various constituencies who do not care at all about dealing with these issues (Little England and Little Europe isolationists, liberals, etc) or who are straightforwardly reactionary (political Islamists and their fellow travellers). This opportunism, typical of the SWP and their patron Ken Livingstone, puts getting a good turnout (which is then read as a sign of some sort of upturn in class struggle) over thinking through - or acting on - the real issues. This opportunism is disingenously described by Callinicos as 'the movement expanding' to 'embrace' more people.

Second, obviously, I agree with these French folk who think that political Islam is not the voice of the most oppressed, but is in fact a dangerous, reactionary, oppressive ideology, which is not only anti-woman, anti-gay, etc, but is fundamentally anti-freedom and anti-human. In other words, it has no place in the broad movement for another world.

Friday, August 29, 2008

From Bob's archive: Four-letter words acorss the Atlantic (Jogo)

I am away for a few days, so I'm publishing a couple of things from the archive while I'm away. This is the second ever Jogo guest post, from my second month of blogging, Febraury 2005. Comments welcome.
Fans of La Brigada Jogo know that we are not terribly impressed by European claims to superiority over Americans -- especially moral superiority. European moral failure, past and present (and from all indications, well into the future) is so enormous that it would take a lot of evidence to convince us that, all things considered, Europe is even slightly more advanced than we are.

But we must say, while reading The Observer this morning, we were impressed by something that popped out at us from an article titled "Fallen City star claims gay bigotry," about a man who alleges that unrelenting homophobia at Deutsche Bank, his employer, caused him so much distress that he has become seriously ill, clinically depressed and suicidal.

The man, Sid Saeed, says he was called a "fucking fag," and that one of his managers, who was aware of his sexuality, talked openly about "shit stabbers."

We know this because The Observer printed it, word for word. An American paper would not have done so -- even today when what Americans call "four-letter words" are routine and unremarkable in the conversations of almost all people, educated and not, in all sorts of company, polite and otherwise, and in almost every social situation.

Not only do American media not print or speak these words, they are unlikely to do so in our lifetime or even fifty years from now. That's really stupid, but there is nothing anyone can do about it because these prohibitions are deeply installed in The Split (which is what we call the irrational space between what is actually so and what is publically admitted to be so).

Of course every society has its version of The Split. It is not possible for any society to exist without Split of some kind. It is just that this particular one is very annoying, and really has no good or useful purpose; quite the contrary actually.

However, none the above should be taken to mean that we think anything goes in the public domain. We do not think that. For example, everyone got that Janet Jackson breast-business completely wrong. It was not an issue of "breast prudery." Her costume did not "fail" out of nowhere. It "failed" because the dance number being done at that moment by her and Justin Timberlake was miming a man ripping a woman's blouse off. This imagery -- more than slightly suggestive of sexual violence -- is not appropriate for family-day entertainment like the Super Bowl halftime show.

So that's the root cause of why Janet Jackson's breast became exposed. Liberal social critics cannot see it because they're aesthetically shallow, dialectically programmed, and too invested in showing how we're a bunch of hicks over here. Boy, are they wrong. And boy, are they gonna lose another election if leftist intellectuals don't start being honest.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Probably my last post on the UCU activist list scandal and Harry's Place libel threat

HP is back up, with this reflection on events by David T, this one by Brett, and this one by Lucy Lips. I'll leave the last word to Cyrus:
"Telling, isn't it, that the 'you can't criticize Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism' brigade turn out to to be the ones who react to criticism by trying to gag the critics?"
My previous posts:

Keywords: Jenna Delich, David Duke, academic boycott of Israel

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Some comments on the UCU list's David Duke link

I have just changed the title of this post, after a chat with Ms Flesh is Grass, because I think that it is important to be clear that Janna Delich is not the issue here. Delich may either be a racist and conspiracy theorist, or very ignorant. Either way, she's not that important. What is more important is that, supported/goaded by Mike Cushman, an experienced socialist trade unionist (who also makes a big deal of his Jewishness), she, or a UCU activist acting "in solidarity" her, attempted (successsfully - for the moment at least) to shut down Harry's Place, simply for exposing her.

A couple of other points worth stressing. The sane anti-Zionist left - and even some Indecent leftists I might think of as irredeemable - have come out in solidarity with Harry's Place. For example, Andy Newman, to his great credit, asked Phil (AVPS) to repost his statement of solidarity on the widely read Socialist Unity. Some of these anti-Zionists have expressed solidarity with a large pinch of salt - that they are doing so despite HP being "imperialist", a member of the "B52 left", etc. That's fair enough; HP - and especially its comment posters - are open to criticism on plenty of topics.

But some of the pinches of salt are pretty big. The Exile talks about HP's "smear machine", which I am evidently part of. Dave The Void's support is similarly qualified, e.g. by mentioning an anti-Jenna witchhunt and pointing out the undeniability of a Zionist lobby and . Richard Seymour ("Lenin") does not even go this far. His attitude is basically: fuck the Zionists, they've had it coming.

The SWP and its supporters made a big deal of Engage and its supporters using anti-racist law to "muzzle" pro-boycott voices in UCU; now they are using, or supporting the use of, libel laws actually (though thankfully not literalyl) muzzle anti-boycotters. And Britain's libel laws are among the worst examples of Britain's antiquated "bourgeois" (or, actually, semi-feudal) legal system.

More links about the UCU list David Duke link

A note on the change of title of this post.

Just a few more links to add to yesterday's. Updated 16:52 GMT.
  • And a rather different view from WillKeywords: UCU, academic boycott of Israel, Mike Cushman, Jenna Delich, Harry's Place, libel, David Duke

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pete Seeger

The bard of trade unions, at Martin M's blog, in honour of the trade unions of Israel and Palestine.

Previous: Pete Seeger and Stalin (by Jogo)

Jenna Delich, the UCU and David Duke

If you haven't already read about British academic and trade union member Jenna Delich, who cites David Duke's website in support of a boycott of Israel, and about the UCU activists who have threatened action against Harry's Place for publicising the scandal, then below are some places you can read about it.

It is worth noting that the article to which Jenna Delich linked is not by David Duke. It is by one Joe Quinn and originally appeared on a 9/11 Truth Cult site called It would not have reflected well on Jenna D if she had found the article there, but she didn't; she found it on a Ku Klux Klan site, which reflects on her rather worse.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

our humanly race

In a short time a city can swing from open to closed, from something fluid & made of multiples to occupied, divided, entrenched. What awaits us?
jace at Mudd Up has a very good short post (with mp3) about the real and mythopoetic Baghdad, and its music, which pointed me to this great NS article, "A Lost World":
Yeheskel Kojaman's Baghdad is a city of dust roads, alley markets, minarets and palm trees. Muslim, Jewish, Armenian and a few European coffee drinkers lounge in cafes where you can pay - in Indian rupees - to pick and eat fresh salad or have a fish pulled from the Tigris and grilled in front of you. The streets, nightclubs and houses are full of music. "The singer Hdhairy Abou Aziz has a radio programme every Friday from 12 noon till one," says Kojaman. "For this hour, all movement in Iraq stops. Everybody is in the coffee shop or the house, listening to Abou Aziz."
Honest Jon's - probably the best compilation album guy in the world - have just released Songs Of The Brokenhearted - Baghdad, 1925-1929.

Excavated Shellac has more here (with mp3). The same site has a nice piece about Moe Asch of Folkways, soundtracked by a Central Asian song about Stalin: an Azeri folk song. I don't know if he was talking about this track in particular, but Woody Guthrie said:
I can’t understand one single word of this Central Eastern lingo, but by hearing these songs I know more about our humanly race than I could learn by reading a thousand Congressional Reports.
Sticking with Central Asia, Unfashionably Late is in Armenia, and posts this thought-provoking piece on musical tourism, inspired by the ghettotech bangers s/he's found in Yerevan.

The consistently excellent Ceci N'Est Pas Un Blog has a great post about three songs about injustice and migration: Randy Newman's awesome "Sail Away"(including a version by the late Kirsty MacColl of Croyden), Woody Guthrie's "Deportees" and Ry Cooder's "Across the Borderline". Listen to the words. See also "How to Write A Political Song" at Star Maker Machine.)

Staying with America, but in a more humorous mode, Boogie Woogie Flu has a post, "Not Kosher", filled with songs about pig meat, including Red Foley's hillbilly jive and Blind Boy Fuller's country blues. Between Woody's "Deportees" and Bessie Smith singing "Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer" you have the cruelty and the grandeur that is America.

(The image here, by the way, is not from America, but Brixton market, Sarf London, the place I most identify with pig's feet. It's from Ben Sicluna on flickr.)

I mentioned Woody in my "Cocaine Blues" article. Related to "Cocaine Blues" is "Willie the Weeper", which features in this fantastic post by snuh, "Steal This Post", on Picasso's dictum that "Good artists copy. Great artists steal." "Willie the Weeper" also relates to the Louis Armstrong drug song "Kicking the Gong Around" in this post, which I linked to back here.

Having got us back to trad jazz, I can mention Mezz Mezzrow, the Jewish hepcat who, when he was in prison, asked to be put on the coloured wing, that's who hep he was. We've talked about him before, but you can hear one of his songs at this wonderful Moistworks post (which I had originally planned to use to introduce the topic of my innumeracy, which would have segued into a response to this post, but that'll have to wait...).

Isn't the internet wonderful? When my friend Daniel introduced me to Mezz, many years ago, I had no way of knowing what he sounded like - as when I read about Slim Gaillard in David Toop's Rap Attack - without enormous effort. Now, a few clicks. But there's something lost too, isn't there, when it's that easy.

A stress on the ish, Found music.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Saban Bajramovic z''l

Another loss to the world of music, Serbian gypsy icon Šaban Bajramović died a couple of months ago, although his death not suprisingly passed by most of the British media, so I only just found out. Bajramović was an extraordinary, larger than life figure, and a great vocalist.

His style drew on deep sources in Balkan Roma song, but blended it with jazz and Latin. Although less well known, he is in the same league as Khaled, Camarón de la Isla or Ibrahim Ferrer.

Here, on a lovely YouTube video, is him singing a salsa song about emmigration to America. Here, another nice video, is him in his late, Buena Vista mode, doing a kind of gyspy swing number. Here is his most well-known song, "Djelem, Djelem", live with Josipa Lisac, the great Croatian singer. Here he is in party mode with Esma, from Macedonia, one of the most extraordinary vocalists ever.

See also Punch the Sun, Rummage Through the Crevices. Listen to more at

Previous: Balkan Brass, Kosovo travelogue.

Leo Abse Z''l

Leo Abse, Welsh lawyer and Labour MP best known as a campaigner for gay rights and for his sartorial elegence in grey Westminster, has died aged 90.

He achieved notoriety of taking up the then unfashionable cause of homosexual rights (is it fashionable now?), he added a little more aged 83 when he married Ania Czeputkowska, a Gdansk electrician and textile designer half a century his junior.

Less well known is his role in a splendid example of proletarian democracy, the 1944 Cairo Forces Parliament, as related here by Andy Newman and in Tam Dalyell's obituary. Arguably, the working class self-activity embodied by the Forces Parliament was the motor behind the great reforms of the Atlee government after the war. After the war, he became heavily involved in the Labour movement, in the Bevanite wing. Paul Flynn MP writes:
I first met him in 1948 when he stood unsuccessfully as a Labour council candidate for the Grangetown ward in Cardiff. He made an indelible impression. To a twelve year old, it was a shock to confront anti-Semitism from the local Tories. Leo Abse remained a hero for my brother and me ever since that unforgettable campaign.
According to wikipedia, Abse "clandestinely visited Spain during the closing months of the Spanish Civil War, in 1939." Also according to wikipedia, he fiercely attacked on those Labour MPs who took the Arab side in the Six Day War, although he sharply condemned what he called the "unjust war" in Lebanon in the 1980s, for which he received censure from the Board of Deputies. In general, partly beacause of his time in khakhi, his default position was against all wars.

Of his later period, Flynn writes:
He turned his fury against Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Waspishly his attack on Thatcher was as “Daughter of Beatrice’ because she failed to mention her mother in her Who’s Who biography. When Tony Blair named his son Leo, Abse said ‘He has stolen my party, now he has stolen my name... He worked with the enthusiasm, energy and chutzpah of an enfant terrible until his final days.

Abse had Jewish heritage. In a fantastic interview, he said
One grandmother was an Orthodox Jew, the other a secular feminist. Their influence on me was enormous and they gave me a very different sense of identity
But - unlike his brother, the wonderful poet Dannie Abse - he did not identify with this:
When people call me a Welsh Jew, I say: “Don’t be silly. Being born in the stable doesn’t make you a horse.”
Nonetheless, according to The Times obit (which also says he "was opinionated and eloquent in a characteristic Welsh-Jewish manner." Hmmm...), when his 1962 Matrimonial Causes and Reconciliation Bill provoked an unprecedented joint statement by the different churches in Britain, leading Abse to comment “It took a Jew to found the Christian Church, and it’s taking another to unite it.” He also desribed himself to Nye Bevan as a "Pheonician", according to Dalyell (who is known for his less than progressive views on Jews). His later books also frequently address Biblical themes.

Leo was the father of Toby Abse, one of the organisers of Lewisham '77, and an occassional socialist candidate in local elections in Brockley. Toby Abse is a historian by trade, and his work on the role of the Comintern in subverting the anti-fascist cause in Spain is important.

Leo's brother is Dannie Abse, a fantastic poet.

For more, see Jonathan Fryer, More Intelligent Life, Derek Wall. Added: Jim Denham.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Flesh is Grass rocks!

Flesh is Grass has a Normblog profile up, which is, of course, witty and interesting and wise (and includes a nice compliment to me, which I appreciate).

I finally added me second lot of comments to the great discussion thread at her blog here (carefully timed to coincide with her being away) on a one-state solution, anti-Zionism, anti-racism and the Guardian's Comment is Free.

Totally unrelated, I also added my tuppence worth to a discussion about Jerry Wexler, Ray Charles and the birth of soul, and Willie Nelson's high and low points, at

(You might have noticed I have taken a leaf out of Noga's book: the comment trail.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It is noh mistri / we mekkin histri

Great post at Another Nickel in the Machine on the 1981 Brixton riots, featuring music by the Clash, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Willie Williams and others.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jerry Wexler

Tom Thurman: What do you want written on your tombstone, Jerry?
Jerry Wexler: Two words: More bass.*
Just days after losing Isaac Hayes, soul music has another devestating loss: Jerry Wexler. Even more than Hayes, Wexler was a backroom guy in the music industry. Not famous, not a celebrity performer, but someone who changed the world of music fundamentally, and thus dramatically helped shape the world we live in.

Born in the Bronx, brought up in Washington Heights, a City College drop-out, Wexler was a New York Jewish kid, yet he somehow managed to gain an incredibly deep understanding of black music. I didn't know that it was him who coined the term "rhythm and blues", while working for Billboard magazine. He served in the US Navy in World War II.

Born in 1917, he was already close to 40 when he produced his first records at Ahmet Ertugen's and Herb Abramson's Atlantic Records, including the incredible music of Professor Longhair, then Ray Charles (meaning he was there at the birth of soul music) and Big Joe Turner (meaning he was there at the birth of rock 'n' roll). Leiber and Stoller, East Coast Jewish kids a generation younger, were also writing and producing for Atlantic in this period, also helping to reshape black music and invent rock 'n' roll. People like Wexler, Abramson, Leiber and Stoller give the lie to the image of Jewish people in black music that Spike Lee peddled in Mo' Better Blues. Far from the parasites embodied by the Flatbush brothers (as played by the Turturro brothers), Jews in black music played an important creative role. (See also Doc Pomus.)

The great Ray Charles biopic Ray features the lovely Richard Schiff, in a rare clean-shaven role, as Wexler, and I think it gets it exactly right, the importance of Wexler's contribution to Charles' music. Apparently, Wexler played the tambourine which opens Ray's "Ain't That Love"

In the 1960s, Wexler gave us Aretha's "Respect" and "Do Right Woman", Wilson Pickett's "Midnight Hour" and Dusty in Memphis. In the 1970s, he gave us Dr John's Gumbo and worked on Etta James' best (and funkiest) records. And he enabled Willie Nelson to reinvent country music, . Nelson's Shotgun Willie - co-produced with Wexler's friend, the Turkish Arif Mardin, half recorded at Atlantic in New York, half in Memphis - was the key record in "outlaw country", one of my favourite genres. Part of what the album did was reconnect country to its close relation, blues. Many of the white musicians - like David Bromberg and Wexler's close friend Doug Sahm, were well-versed in blues tradition, and there were string arrangements by Wexler's close associate, the (black) musical genius Donny Hathaway. [Added 19 Aug: Just listening to the title track at Popdose: incredibly funky, totally Wexler, deep soul - which is not what most people associate with Willie Nelson!]

At the end of the 1970s, Wexler worked with Deptford's Dire Straits in Nassau, fuelled by meat courtesy of Lobel's of Manhattan, allowing them to prove that, as Jools Holland once said, South London is Britiain's Mississippi Delta! He also took Dylan to Muscle Shoals for his wonderful, underrated Slow Train Coming:
"Dylan was in an evangelical mood, trying to convert me. He was in his Christian phase. And he's got the New Testament there, and he said, 'Did you ever get into this?' And I said, 'Bob -- forget it. You're talking to a 62-year-old, card-carrying, atheistic Jew.'"
As Ben Lazar writes:
He was an intellectual misfit, voraciously reading and loving the work of American writers like Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald - yet he was an underachieving student. His identified completely as a Jew, yet he was a vociferous atheist. He distrusted authority, but he spoke with certitude of taste. His opinion was not just another opinion.

Appreciations and mp3s at: Adios Lounge, The B Side, Star Maker Machine, Popdose.
Added Aug 19: Amie St.

Also, read this lovely interview from 2006.

Bar Kokhba Sextet

A quick link to Undomondo's post (with two mp3s) on John Zorn project the Bar Kokhba Sextet: "traditional Sephardic music meets, surf music meets jazz meets cinema".

Friday, August 15, 2008

Non-violence, Hugo Chavez and Gene Sharp

I just linked to this Airforce Amazons post in relation to South Ossetia, but am linking to it again for the issue it discusses in the later part of the post: non-violence. I had missed Kellie's comments on Gene Sharp at TNC when I mentioned him in this post. My basic view is: that non-violence when taken as an absolute law is dangerous, but when used as a strategic tool can be positive, and is certainly better than many alternatives.

Kellie's mention also makes me take action on something that's been bugging me since I posted it: my characterisation of the Venezuela Analysis crowd as "Marxist Leninists". I took this from Stephen Zunes, who said:
One reason [that leftists spend their bile on gentle Gene Sharp] is that some critics of Sharp subscribe to the same realpolitik myth that sees local struggles and mass movements as simply manifestations of great power politics, just as the right once tried to portray the popular leftist uprisings in Central America and elsewhere simply as creations of the Soviet Union. Another factor is that many of the originators of the conspiracy theories regarding Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution are Marxist-Leninists who have traditionally downplayed the power of nonviolence and insisted that meaningful political change can only come about through manipulation by powerful external actors or privileged elites.
Much as I hate Marxist Leninists, I think this characterisation is unfair to Marxist Leninists. The Venezuela Analysis crowd use some Marxist Leninist terminology to justify (a) insane anti-American conspiracy theories (theories which they share with the very un-Leninist anarchos at Indymedia who shout "COINTELPRO" every time an anarchist does something self-destructive (i.e. often)) and (b) the vulgar or bogus anti-imperialism that divides the world into bad imperialists and good "anti-imperialist" caudillos like Chavez. Nothing to do with Leninism, and even less to do with Marxism.

Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia: the propaganda war and the real war

Airforce Amazons: They're all the bloody same takes on the "Georgia is no saint"/"plague on both your houses" meme that I've slightly contributed to, as well as rethinking the oil issue.

Kellie also cites a NYT report on a Human Rights Watch ivestigation that shows that our media has swallowed Russian propaganda lies about Georgia atrocities. Far from the 2,000 dead in SOuth Ossetia claimed by Russia, HRW has found evidence for only ("only") a twentieth of that number.

On the other hand, as I accepted here, The Exile* made a strong case that the Western media swallowed Georgian propoganda lies about Russian excessive force. Our news outlets reported as fact that Russia had ground troops in Gori when it seemed that in fact they had only ("only") bombed it. Subsequently, of course, Russian ground troops have entered Gori, after the cease fire, although they might now be withdrawing again.

And they have said they are "near" to Senaki, which, like Gori is part of "Georgia proper" south of Abkhazia (the other Russian-controlled breakaway region). The Georgians reported the Russians had taken it, which the Russians ignored, then denied, and seem now to be admitting.

A propaganda war is still raging over whether the Russians have taken the port of Poti (near Senaki), as was reported to a Reuters reporter in Poti (who had not himself seen them) by two eye-witnesses, both with managerial roles in the harbour. The Russians deny it, but say it would be legitimate if they were there. Al-Jazeera has video footage of what they say are Russian-sunk ships at Poti, but no real evidence that this is the correct story.

Similar propaganda wars continues over whether various other Georgian sites have been taken or not. What is clear is that the Western media is not simply accepting Georgian lies, but accepting lies from both sides, to satisfy our thirst for news, in the context of a lack of decent coverage on the ground.

*Can't link, because the internet cafe I'm in says this site has spyware on it! If you dare, follow link from my original post, and find out if The Exile has modified his view now that reality on the ground has changed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tony Blair or Lauren Booth? Ben at ZWord

Previously: Cavorting

History is Made at Night

History is Made at Night is another blog I've neglected recently. Here are two great posts: From Tehran with Love, on blogging, Selma, Sting and the dissappeared in Chile (following on from the second go around of the Seven Songs meme) and Music from the Death Factory, on music in the concentration camps.

More South Ossetia links

(I'm adding a fourth and fifth right now, and might add more through the day.)

1. Dave Osler: the left doesn't have to take sides on South Ossetia. Final words:
The only solution to the underlying problem is a political settlement based on the freely expressed wishes of those living in the territories concerned. That includes the right to affiliate to the Russian Federation if that is what the people wish. But vicarious cheerleading for the Red Army will not get us there any faster.
I completely sympathise with Dave's sentiments, but the problem with the argument is how you define "the people": how small a unit of people do you pick? What if the people at the end of one road vote to become an indendent republic? Do you let them? With "national self-determination" there is never unanimity; there is always a minority. And, as Aamir Mufti has written, once the minority has been identified, they become moveable or eliminatable, in order to achieve unanimity. Hence the population transfers (ethnic cleansing) that always accompany these sorts of conflict: the Partition, the Nakba, the massive population transfers that made Greece Greece and Turkey Turkey...

2. Francis Sedgemore: Black poison and hubris in the Caucasus. Closing words:
For now, however, a volatile combination of the black stuff, nationalism and hubris is tearing the heart out of the Caucasus.
3. History is Made at Night: War in Georgia. Introduces a musical dimension to the coverage. Final words:
Must admit I am not particularly interested in various leftists/ex-leftists trying to decide whether to support 'plucky little Georgia' or 'anti-imperialist Russia', both states are implicated in this war and both seem to have targeted civilians.
4. Terry Glavin: The Land Democracy Forgot. This is from back in July, and is about Putin's Russia. Final words:
Like us [Canadians], Russians are a northern people, in a vast country, immensely rich in cultural diversity. Their democrats and reformers would very much like to hear from us. We should not let them down.
5. IWT: Autocracy and Orthodox Chauvinism. A polemic against the vicarious Russian social patriotism at "Stalinist Unity". H/t: Terry. Final words:
If the feeble-minded really must draw facile comparisons, they should look to the example of a powerful well-armed state (Serbia/Russia) threatening a much smaller state (Kosova/Georgia) using the pretext of a very small minority (Kosova 5%, Georgia 2%) and blood-curdling rhetoric emanating from far-right pan-Slavic nationalists.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008



Debates I've involved myself in, or posts where I've commented in the last week or so:

A debate I almost joined, but decided against:

Nothing to do with me:
  • George Orwell is blogging. (Like Samuel Pepys before him.) Today (in 1938), George noted the blackberries are reddening. Yesterday, that the first the first Beauty of Bath apples arrived. In 2008, we get every fruit and vegetable in our supermarkets all year round, and we have none of Orwell's sense of connection with seasonal change. Plus, of course, our produce tastes terribly bland, and is killing the planet... Pepys, by the way, hasn't blogged today, but yesterday he wrote: "I to the Exchequer, about striking new tallys, and I find the Exchequer, by proclamation, removing to Nonesuch. —[Nonsuch Palace, near Epsom, where the Exchequer money was kept during the time of the plague.]" Obviously, financial crisis is not so 2008 after all (but endemic to capitalism). (Hat tip: Freeborn John.)

A blog I've neglected recently:

Anyone who thinks Marxism is no longer relevant...

... should read this.

(Found at Martin M)
Previous: Arguments for Marxism no.85.
Keywords: child labour/child labor: Thousands of children work in African gold mines By Rukmini Callimachi and Bradley Klapper (International Herald Tribune)

Russia, Georgia and South Ossetia

No extra analysis from me today (see yesterday's post), but some links to others' analysis and information.

  • The Georgian Foreign Ministry appear to have set up a blogspot news service, which the BBC are linking to. It's got an hour by hour timeline (e.g. this morning: "02:05 Russian aviation bombarded Kaspi 30 Kms from Tbilisi out of conflict zone. 3 bombs were dropped near the Heidelberg Cement factory (one of two cement factories in the country). No damage was reported.")
  • Reuters Alertnet is always one of the best sources in conflict and crisis situations, distilling information from the Reuters wire and adding depth via serious experts, and other features. Here's their Georgia, Abkhazia, S. Ossetia page. For example, you can click on basic background or a detailed background.
  • Joshua Kacera's long despatch from Ossetia and other former Soviet colonies, from May, is excellent background (recommended by Michael Totten)
  • Flesh is Grass has done some research, so you don't need to.
  • Clearly, the oil dimension is important. Michael Klare writes here on petro-power and energo-fascism (reached via TNC)
Added: Good regular round-ups at Amused Cynicism.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rogue states and police states - and their defenders

The Anschluss in South Ossetia has been harrowing. The numbers dead are disputed, but probably in four figures. The numbers of displaced are so far in five figures. Russia has accused Georgia of wanting to initiate genocide. Certainly, what we are seeing now is ethnic cleansing, as ethnic Georgians flee areas the Russians have occupied or are near.

Putin's offensive has been defended by Stalinophiles like Neil Clark, who describe support for Georgia as Russophobic and/or neocon war-mongering. The Clark analysis is fuelled by many conspiracy theories, many of which lean close to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, such as those promoted by the antisemitic Truth Culters.

Martin Meenagh, a blogger who is very knowledgeable about the geopolitics of Central Asian oil and who I regard very highly, has given some credence to some of the conspiracy theories, although he puts very clear blue water between his view and any possible antisemitic view.

I am wary of articulating the sort of strong solidarity with Georgia that Marko Attila Hoare has put forward, because Saakashvili's government is not exactly a model of democracy. But my basic sympathy for their position is only strengthened by the disreputable red-brown alliance that has sprung up in defence of Putin's invasion: alongside Clark, the semi-fascists Justin Raimondo and Lew Rockwell and his Ron Paulista supporters. And my sympathy is strengthened too by the decent advocacy of people like Dennis MacShane and Mark Kleiman.

Clark (who also defends genocidaire Karadzic) describes Western criticisms of Russia as the application of "double standards". This "double standards" meme is common in the left. While it is true that the West has done horrible things, the "double standards" argument effectively means we cannot criticise anyone else who does bad stuff, an issue Nation of Duncan takes up from a Harpymarx post I commented on. There, the issue is the Chinese Olympics, an issue that Modernity has had a couple of good posts on (1 and 2). My bottom line in that instance is that China is a police state, and we need to oppose it.

Last week I commented on the critics of Solzhenitsyn, who often turn out to be defenders of the Stalinist regime he criticised. Sultan Knish returns to that issue here, compellingly making the case that Solzhenitsyn is a detestable figure:

Solzhenitsyn was an informer who pinned his crimes on others drawing thinly disguised literary sketches in his writing of the men who had helped him, as despicable figures. He died just too soon to see Russia invade Georgia, but it is exactly the sort of thing that Solzhenitsyn who praised Putin and put Russian nationalism above the freedom of the former Soviet republics would have wanted and celebrated. The true legacy of the dissidents of the USSR is opposition to the current Russian tyranny, a legacy that Solzhenitsyn betrayed, just as he betrayed the dissidents under the USSR and his fellow inmates who rose up against their tormentors in the Gulag.
I was wrong to defend Solzhenitsyn because his critics included Stalinists and their apologisers. Similarly, anyone who defends either Beijing or Putin because their attackers are "neocons" is wrong.

Distantly related: Thanks to Arieh for this article on Lithuania, a country which hunts down octogenarian (Jewish) ex-Partisans, for alleged war crimes in the fight against Nazi occupation, while letting at least three real Holocaust war criminals go free.

Jewish music (a stress on the ish)

I am very glad to see the wonderful music blog Office Naps back after a long hiatus. (Hiatus - a word I often type but would never dream of using in conversation.) The most recent cocktail jazz exotica post, "The Sea" is pretty Jew-tastic. Apart from a brief mention of Zappa's manager Herb Cohen, a big chunk of the post concerns “Nature Boy” Eden Ahbez, Brooklyn Jewish boy, possible Yiddish theatre alumnus, and bizarre proto-New Age guru. Ahbez was sued by Herman Yablakoff, Yiddish songwriter better known for the wonderful "Papirosen", for stealing the melody of his song "Nature Boy", a hit for Nat King Cole, Sinatra and others. The song featured here, "Tobago", is pretty insane. If you're interested, here is the story of Ahbez's hillbilly mentor, Cowboy Jack Patton, AKA Frank ALoysius Piecuch of Amsterdam, NY.

To celebrate the Beijing Olympics, Music for Maniacs posts some offensive Chinese-related songs. "Chinatown, My Chinatown" was written by William Jerome and Jean Schwartz, the Tin Pan Alley songwriting duo that gave us "If It Wasn't for the Irish and the Jews" (1912): "Talk about a combination, hear my words and make a note / On St. Patrick's Day, Rosinsky pins a shamrock on his coat." MfM posts the Al Jolson version and Milton Brown's Western swing version. (Also, further back in time, here's Mickey Katz's "Yiddishe Mambo".)

I've been meaning to blog about ultra-hip '80s-retro electro act Chromeo for a while, as they make the cultural demographic I belong to (unshaven, white ethnic, academic (one's a literature PhD student, the other an accountant), around 30) look cool. And because they're a neat Jewish-Arab collaboration. So, the release of their single "Momma' Boy" is a good an occassion as any. Hear it at Janimation.

On Pitchfork TV: Azeda Booth, dreamy, glitchy, synthy indie on Absolutely Kosher records. The video is found footage of a Jewish wedding from a more innocent era. ("
Applying the language of fairy tales to actual personal history can create a poignant twinge by evoking how real life fails to match up to our stories. Did the happy couple stay happy, stay together, make happy babies together? Who here died in Vietnam?")

From Berkeley Place: C Rayz Walz and Kosha Dillz-Freestyle vs. Written: "A new Jewish rapper meets an underground rapper with years of street cred behind him. Give it a chance. It's amazing stuff." Song title: "I Love Jews".

And, finally, Sonic Slang present's the Muppet Show's The Count - "as you've never seen him before. (Jewish and horny)"

Previous: Jew-ish music

The greatness of Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes died over the weekend, just 65, apparently while exercising. I heard on Radio 4's Today programme this morning, and it was wonderful to hear a snippet of "Shaft", and the words "Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?" interrupt the staid blandness of that august institution of the British middle class breakfast.

When I was about eighteen or nineteen, I bought a copy of Joy from a charity shop (that's a thrift store, to my trans-Atlantic readers). Having been a blues and jazz fan for years, I was very familiar with the founding generation of soul music artists, but was shockingly ignorant of what I now know to be soul's golden age. When I got the record home, I played it on 45 rpm, assuming it was a 12 inch (there's only one track, "Joy", on one side). What I then got was a pretty good upbeat funk record, which could have been Tina Turner. Only after a while did I think about the vocal contribution of the rather overweight, bald, bearded man on the cover, wearing a gold chain mail string vest - and tried playing it at 33 rpm. Although the record is naff - and close to self-parody, almost Theophilus P Wildebeest-esque, complete with the sound of a jacuzzi and of champagne corks popping - I was hooked instantly.

One of the reasons I love Isaac Hayes - and a reason he is both incredibly important and underrated - is that (like Neil Diamond and Carole King) he was essentially a backroom person in the music industry for many years before recording music in his own right. His songwriting partnership with David Porter is up there with Bacharach and David, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Leiber and Stoller, Goffin and King, Lennon and McCartney, or Rogers and Hammerstein in terms of the great song-writing teams. The Sam and Dave classics - "Hold On" and "Soul Man" - are among their better known products, but other songs (like Rufus Thomas' "Sister's Got A Boyfriend") ought to be equally well known.

As a studio musician at Stax, he was as important as Booker T and the MGs in defining the sound of Southern soul. He can be heard, in fact, on Lattimore Brown's "I'm Not Through Lovin' You", which I linked to the other day.

But the single format and relative genre orthodoxy of Stax soul, though loose compared to Motown, was too constricting for Hayes' music genius. His first album, a total flop, demonstrated his musical ambition, exploring jazz. His breakthrough, Hot Buttered Soul, reinvented soul as a genre, extending the length of a soul song, using the spoken monologue that would ultimately mutate into rap music, and with incredibly complex orchestration and instrumentation. The opener, the nearly quarter hour "Walk On By" is amazing. Lots of fancy Bacharach and David covers lose the perfection of the pop versions by pushing them too far - but Hayes pushes them further than anyone could imagine.

And then there was "Shaft", one of the most plagiarised pieces of music ever (not least in Bollywood and the porn industry), which defines Hayes for most people. And, later, of course, Chef in South Park...

Less well-known about Hayes is the Isaac Hayes Foundation, through which Hayes worked to promote literacy, in America's black community and globally, and other good causes. He was also heavily involved in development work in Ghana - where many more publically "afrocentric" African-Americans limit their engagement with Africa to nostalgically recreating some imaginary African civilization of the past, Hayes was involved in the real, here-and-now Africa.

He has been musically active in the last couple of months, performing with the Pittsburgh Symphony, doing benefit shows for a Credit Union, playing Vegas, leading a public health campaign in his hometown Memphis.

Tributes, obituaries and mp3s from: Soul Sides, Bongo Jazz, Funky 16 Corners, LouderSoft, Manifest Destitute.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Like Chamberlain we will have prepared the banquet feast for tyranny's table

Yet another from Sultan Knish: on why we should care about South Ossetia and the Russian invasion of Georgia. Good background, from back in May, from Marko.

Bashing the SWP

Two vigorous and well-aimed punches at the Socialist Workers Party.

1. The pro-faith left
Max Dunbar's demolition of SWP intellectual Ian Birchall's defence of the SWP's alliance with religious reactionaries.

2. Countering the SWP's lies in Stoke
AVPS's demolition of an article in Socialist Wanker about Stoke, and the death of Keith Brown. The SWP (and Unite Against Fascism)'s endless parroting of the line "the BNP are Nazis" is one of the most politically infantile propoganda lines out there. First, it plays into British xenophobic patriotism: for many Brits, "Nazi" simply means our WWII enemies, the Germans. ("Two world wars and one World Cup.") Second, because of this, the accusation is meaningless to the Person in the Street, who looks at the BNP in their nice suits, listening patiently at the doorstep, and thinks, "er, they're not like the baddies in Escape from Colditz." The Socialist Party's strategy in Stoke - taking on the politics of the BNP, addressing their electorate's actual concerns - is the correct strategy. [Previous: Hope Not Hate.]

Boris and his lies

Neil Harding: Politically incorrect means lying Tories. Extract:
Boris had all the press telling us about Ken's cronies - the truth, even a kangaroo court of Tories (costing £500,000) found nothing corrupt and Boris then goes and starts wasting money left, right and centre - giving £7m to Venezuala to scrap the half price travel for the poor, giving £125,000 to a 'headhunting' agency when Boris is supposed to do the recruiting, giving £400,000 to Porsche, £1.2m to employees sacked for no good reason, £120,000 jobs to a host of dodgy deputies he has to immediately sack (no doubt on good severance terms) and £126,000 jobs to people who donated to his political campaign (and still Tory Brian Coleman continues to run up £10,000 taxi bills). Of course none of this is reported as cronyism!
Keywords: Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone

Part II

1. Read Jams' next installment of the Red Cushing story, with Red's role in the death of Stalin's son! Part I, part II. (And there's more to come, check here regularly.)

2. I think I wrote my Solzhenitsyn post too hastily. Noga's comments and Sultan Knish's excellent post are spot on. You don't have to be a Stalinist or apologist for Stalinism to attack Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. But there is a certain relish with which apologists for Stalinism seize on Solzhenitsyn's flaws, as if that validates the system he criticised - even if he could have criticised it more sharply!

I have to say too that there is one thing I agree with in the evil Lenny's post: "
Yet, those leftists who had been acquainted with the texts circulated by David Rousset, Ante Ciliga and Victor Serge, all from the anti-Stalinist left, could hardly pretend to be shocked by revelations of the barbarism of Stalinism." People like Rousset, Ciliga and Serge - and CLR James, Boris Souvarine, Voline and countless others - had been telling the truth about the gulag for years, but their criticisms did not fit so well into the conservative worldview as Solzhenitsyn's would.

3. This is another recommendation for Sultan Knish's piece on Gandhi and non-violence, as I think it was a little buried in the post I mentioned it in, and it's really worth a read.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn has received a very good obit in the Guardian (h/t Jogo, who quite rightly says "I daresay many of its older readers cannot truthfully claim always to have loved and respected him"). The Indy publishes his last interview.

Predictably, the Stalinists and neo-Stalinists highlight his antisemitism and reactionary nationalism - Lenny here in the UK, or Andrew Austin in America, who calls the US prison system the American gulag (nearly as offensive in my mind as comparing it to the concentration camps).

For a more nuanced view, read Christopher Hitchens (of course) and Ross Douthat. They get a better measure of both his grandeur and his flaws.

Viva Durruti y Orwell

More on the International Brigade (following the Frisco vandalism incident):

Three unrelated items

1. The Guardian: Nazi-descended Jews in Israel (via Jogo, who says "Isn't this one of the strangest wrinkles in the Jewish quilt?")

2. Debate on non-violence advocate Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution and their involvement in Venezuela (h/t: Arieh) This is extraordinary: the rabid politics of the Idiot Left, the Marxist-Leninist pro-Chavistas, so locked in conspiracy theory that they see gentle leftist Gene Sharp as a CIA stooge. (I'm ambivalent about the politics of non-violence. See Sultan Knish's sharp attack on it here.)

3. Causes for hope: Palestinian and Israeli trade unions reach historic agreement (h/t: Arieh)

Found music addenda

Following up Acid Brass's KLF cover, check out Justified Ancients of Mu Mu "Grim Up North" via Popdose.

Following up Marc Ribot, check out his Ceramic Dog at Undomondo.

Cocaine blues

A couple of days ago, my iPod played me Hank Thompson's "Cocaine Blues", an insanely cheerful Western swing song about killing a woman and ending up in jail - the darker version by Johnny Cash live at Folsom Prison is better known. The song is a version of the old folk song "Little Sadie".

Then, a day later, my computer played me Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne playing "Cocaine Blues", a completely different song of the same name. My curiousity was piqued, and I rooted about on the web, and ended up half-rewriting the song's wikipedia page. Here is the part I edited, on the versions that aren't the Johnny Cash one. Obviously, it is not all written by me, but based on a skeleton provided by previous editors. I imagine it will in turn be edited out of recognition, so I thought I'd put it here to preserve it, with all its flaws (already I notice I've mis-typed Ramblin' Jack Elliot), for posterity.

"Cocaine Habit Blues"/"Take a Whiff on Me"

Another song is often known as “Cocaine Blues” but is completely different; it also known, in its different versions, as “Take a Whiff on Me” and “Cocaine Habit Blues”. This song has three families of variants.

One of the most familiar, usually known as “Cocaine Blues” is Reverend Gary Davis’ arrangement, an eight-bar blues in C Major. Davis says he learnt the song in 1905 from a travelling carnival musician, Porter Irving.[2][3] This version is made up of rhyming couplets, followed by a refrain “Cocaine, running all around my brain” or “Cocaine, all around my brain”).[4] The song is sometimes known as “Coco Blues”, as on Davis’ 1965 album Pure Religion and Bad Company.

Gary Davis was a key influence on the folk revival singers of the early 1960s, including Dave Van Ronk, who learnt this version of “Cocaine Blues” from Davis (it features on his 1963 album Folksinger) and Bob Dylan (a 1961 variant features on The Minnesota Tapes, a 1962 variant is on Gaslight Tapes[2] and third version is on more recent live album Lovesick[3]).[4] (However, on Van Ronk’s record, the song is wrongly credited to Luke Jordan, who recorded a completely different of the same name, see below.)[5][6]

Davis’ version of “Cocaine Blues” was subsequently recorded by a number of artists in the folk revival/singer-songwriter tradition, including Dick Farina and Eric von Schmidt (1963), Hoyt Axton (1963 on Thunder 'n Lightning)Davey Graham (1964, on Folk, Blues and Beyond), Nick Drake (on Tanworth-in-Arden 1967-68), Warren Zevon (1976, on The Offender Meets The Pretender[5]), Jackson Browne (1977, on Running on Empty), Stefan Grossman (1978, on Acoustic Guitar), Townes Van Zandt (1993 on Roadsongs) and Ramblni' Jack Elliott (1995, on South Coast), as well as by the punk band UK Subs[7]. “Sweet Cocaine” by Fred Neil (1966) is loosely based on the same song.[8]

The refrain, “Cocaine runnin’ all ‘round my brain”, was used by reggae artist Dillinger in "Cocaine In My Brain" (“I've got cocaine runnin' around my brain”) and more recently in turn by hip hop group Poor Righteous Teachers in the song “Miss Ghetto” on the album The New World Order (“She's like cocaine, running around my brain/Miss Ghetto be like cocaine, running around your brain”).

Secondly, “Take a Whiff on Me” (again often known as “Cocaine Blues”) shares chords and many rhyming couplets with this song, but with the refrain “Honey, take a whiff on me” instead of “Cocaine runnin’ all ‘round my brain”. This version is most strongly associated with Lead Belly, whose version opens with “Walked up Ellum and I come down Main.” (“Ellum”, “Elem” and “Dep Elem” in various version, refers to Elm Street in Dallas, in that city’s red light district.[9])The song was first published by John Lomax in 1934 as "Honey, Take a Whiff on Me". Lomax stated that its origins were uncertain.[10]

Variants on the Lead Belly version have been recorded by Blind Jesse Harris (1937), Woody Guthrie, Roy Bookbinder, Merle Travis, The Byrds (1970), Mungo Jerry (as “Have a Whiff on Me”, 1971 single), The White Stripes and others.[6]

A third, very closely related to this version is the one also commonly known as “Cocaine Habit Blues”, recorded by the Memphis Jug Band in 1930 (credited to Jennie Mae Clayton).[11] It was a jug band standard, later recorded by the Panama Limited Jug Band and by Jerry Garcia in Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions in 1964.[7] It has an introductory verse “Oh cocaine habit mighty bad”.[8]

The song “Take a Drink with Me”/”Take a Drink on Me”, recorded by white old-time musicCharlie Poole in 1927 and collected by various folklorists[12], is a variant on “Take A Whiff On Me”, with alcohol rather than cocaine as the drug of choice. This in turn has been performed by a number of artists in the folk music and country music traditions, including the New Lost City Ramblers.[9] It shares some words with Frank Hutchison’s 1927 ballad “Coney Isle”.[13] performer

“Tell It to Me”

“Tell It to Me”, another traditional song of unknown authorship, is often known as “Cocaine Blues”.[14] Also called "Let The Cocaine Be", some musicologists see a relationship to "Take A Whiff On Me" since some versions share the same lines.[15] It has a similar structure to “Take A Whiff”/”Cocaine Habit Blues”, and some versions share couplets (e.g. “Cocaine's [dose] is not for a man/Doctor said will kill you, but he don't say when” and “You know I walked down Fifth and I turned down Main/Looking for a nickel for to buy cocaine” [10]), but the refrain is darker: “Cocaine that killed my honey dead”. It may also share some relationship to the Western swing version; its chorus contains the lines:

Tell it to me, tell it to me.
Drink corn liquor, let the cocaine be.

A version was collected (as “Cocaine”) by folklorist Mellinger Edward Henry (1873-1946) in his Folk Songs from the Southern Highlands from the singing of Barnet George, Lithonia, Georgia, July 1931[11]. The earliest recorded version is by white Tennesse band The Grant Brothers in 1928 (Columbia 15332-D).[16] It has been recorded by numerous folk revival artists[12][], including David Grisman and the New York City Ramblers at the Newport Folk Festival. Grisman collaborated with the Grateful Dead[13] It has more recently been covered by The Old Crow Medicine Show and White Ghost Shivers. in 1970, and they included it in their live repertoire at that time.


Another song of the same title (sometimes called simply "Cocaine" or "Simply Wild About My Good Cocaine") was recorded by black bluesman Luke Jordan in 1927 (lyrics are here[17] This song was also recorded by white bluesman Dick Justice in 1929/30 (lyrics are here: A version was recored, under the title "Good Cocaine (Mama Don't Allow It)" by the Kentucky Ramblers. David Bromberg recorded a version as "Cocaine Blues". The Luke Jordan lyrics share some lines ("Cocaine's for horses and not for men/Doctor says it'll kill you but don't know when") with "Take a Whiff on Me" as recorded by Lead Belly and the Reverend Gary Davis version of "Cocaine Blues" as recorded by Bob Dylan.