Monday, September 29, 2008

L'Shana Tova

Happy new year everyone

A reason to read the Daily Mail

Bob sez: This isn't going to convince me to either start reading the Daily Mail or to start like Peter Hitchens, but the item here, at least, is essential.

Jogo writes:
... is for this horrifying report from Peter Hitchens on the Chinese "slave empire" in Africa.

Other than among a small nut-population, where is the call to boycott China? It's not on any large scale because one simply CAN'T boycott China. If you boycotted China you'd have to throw out half of the stuff you own.

When you read this dreadful account, you'll see that we have an incomplete idea of what Chinese "goods" represent. We imagine them to be the product of Chinese materials combined with Chinese labor. But the very MATERIALS with which the Chinese create their products and their technology .... where does China get them? Hmm ... Maybe we don't want to know. We figure, hey, China's a big country -- they probably dig all this stuff up, or make it in labs, or maybe they buy it from other countries.

Well, Peter Hitchens discovered something. You should read his article. And tell all your friends who may not have seen it because they don't read the Daily Mail. Or think Peter Hitchens is disreputable.

Also in the Daily Mail we learn about Omar Bakri's daughter. VERY interesting, you must check it out.

Bob adds the first couple of sentences of the latter article, in order to generate some gratuitous google hits:
As the daughter of firebrand cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, Yasmin Fostok might be expected to share his fanatical beliefs. But the radical Muslim's daughter has ditched his extreme interpretation of Islam - as well as most of her clothing. The busty blonde has been revealed as a topless, tattooed pole dancer.

Eleanor Marx in Sydenham

Via Transpontine

Also read: John Rose in Socialist Worker on Eleanor's Jewishness (rather too kind to papa Karl in my opinion); Hayes People's History on the 1889 strike wave, which jointly involved the Jewish rag trade workers and Catholic dock workers, in which Eleanor played a major role; Ellen Leopold on Yvonne Kapp, Eleanor's biographer.

Previous: Karl Marx, Rudolf Rocker, Bill Alexander, Sylvia Pankhurst.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Posted too much today, so here's some navigation help:

Take your pick! I'll be back after the weekend, I expect.

Jean-Charles would be turning...


And here's a picture to get you through the credit crunch.


I’ve been reading Deptford.TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies, the second publication coming out of the Deptford.TV project, which uses open source and collaborative tools to visually document urban change in Deptford. Deptford.TV organised a number of short films to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Battle of Lewisham, the defeat of the fascist National Front in the area, which you can watch here.

Pirate Strategies is dedicated to the memory of my late friend Paul Hendrich, who was involved in the Deptford.TV project. The first part, local strategies, is on New Cross and Deptford, with Brianne Selman on the pirates of Deptford, Ben Gidley on the idea of the regeneration of Deptford, and the University of Openness on walking the Olympic Sacrifice Zone. The other sections, on economic, technological and social strategies, explore various aspects of open source and Web 2.0 utopianism, copyleft and the creative commons, by Duncan Reekie of Exploding Cinema, Armin Medosch and others. You can read some of the book on-line here.

A highlight, for me, as someone who is relatively digitally illiterate, is a history of cinema in New Cross and Deptford by Neil Gordon-Orr. The book’s publication this month is the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the area’s first cinema, although not the area’s first experience of the moving image. The chapter tells wonderful stories of the nineteenth century fairgrounds in the area, Charlie Chaplin’s mother’s last music hall performance at the Hatcham Liberal Club, the massive 2,300-seater cinema in New Cross in the 1920s (that's the one in the picture above, which I took from Odeon Cavalcade), the General Strike meetings and May Queen crownings in the Empire and other local picture palaces. Neil also tells stories of some of the films made in New Cross, such as the Dirke Bogarde Once a Jolly Swagman, filmed at the New Cross speedway stadium, as well as traditions of DIY and community-based film-making and film-screening in the area.

It is striking to read about the huge number of movie theatres in the area in the golden age of film, from the vantage point of 2008 when Lewisham has not one single cinema left – the only London borough, I think, without one.

The last cinema in the borough was the Odeon in Catford. A couple of years back, this became an outlet of the United Church of the Kingdom of God, a Brazilian-based global church. UCKG received some notoriety earlier in the 1990s, when they were involved in the violent exorcism of Victoria Climbie, who was later killed by her abusive aunt, a UCKG congregant, the social workers having been terrorised via a degenerated version of racist multiculturalist ideology into accepting that her treatment had something to do with “African culture”. UCKG preach a very particular Protestant theology, which focuses entirely on this-worldy reward (primarily material) being achieved through personal faith, which can be best demonstrated by commitment (including financial) to the Church, rather than by ethical acts. Their followers in South East London are mainly, but not exclusively, African, and that sort of theology seems to be gaining ground in other African churches in the area.

The UCKG takeover of the cinema was fiercely fought by some local residents, in a campaign led by the South London Solidarity Federation, the anarchist group featured in this blog when they were fighting the closure of Lewisham’s Post Office. I seem to recall that Lewisham Council also tried to stop it, but had few legal weapons at their disposal – perhaps Andrew can tell that story better.

To its credit, Lewisham council runs the Lewisham Film Initiative, which funds and publicises some of the local venues screening films. One such venue is the Broadway Theatre in Catford, where I watched one of the best films of recent years, the Ray Charles biopic Ray, which I wrote a little about in my Jerry Wexler obituary. The audience was predominantly black, and the atmosphere was fantastic, with a big round of applause at the end.

Another such venue is Café Crema in New Cross, which has its own film night, as well as a wonderful occasional Brazilian night. Class Acts, associated with the afore-mentioned local anarchists, puts on films there too, including Dolly Parton’s great 9 to 5 (which, if I remember right, Class Acts described as a “communist-feminist comedy classic”) and The Free Voice of Labour (the lovely Pacific Street Films documentary about the last days of the Yiddish anarchists of New York, featuring the late Paul Avrich, who The New Centrist has written about).

The Lewisham Film Initiative also subsidised the purchase of licences for the first two Brockley Jack Film Club screenings, which are organised on a totally self-managed voluntary and non-profit basis by local cineastes. The first screening, early in the summer, was sold out, but the next, Little Miss Sunshine, was not, and the Club is now financially on its own, so it needs your support if you live in this manor – by getting a ticket for Night of the Hunter on Monday October 20th*, or joining the Club.

*Note change of date

Related blog link: Transpontine on film.

Alice Walker: loving the people

Note: This post makes has been percolating in my head since the weekend I read the article in the print edition of the Saturday Guardian, so I feel the need to get it down, even though it makes points quite similar to ones Noga has already made here.

“I love the Jews really only en masse, en détail I strictly avoid him.” – Wilhelm von Humboldt, quoted by Hannah Arendt

Luckily, Alice Walker will almost certainly never read this post. “Sometimes, reading a blog, which I do infrequently, I see that generations of Americans have been crippled, and can no longer spell or write a sentence.” Oh well.

Ms Walker provocatively opens her recent piece on the American presidency like this:

I remember seeing a picture of Fidel Castro in a parade with lots of other Cubans. It was during the emergency years, the "special period" when Cuba's relationship with the Soviet Union had collapsed and there was little gas or oil or fertiliser; people were struggling to find enough to eat. It was perhaps Cuba's nadir, as a small Caribbean island nation considered a dangerous threat by its nearest neighbour, the United States - which, during this period, tightened its embargo. Fidel, tall, haggard, his clothes hanging more loosely than usual from his gaunt frame, walked soberly along, surrounded by thousands of likewise downhearted, fearful people...

However poor the Cubans might be, I realised, they cared about each other and they had a leader who loved them. A leader who loved them. Imagine. A leader not afraid to be out in the streets with them, a leader not ashamed to show himself as troubled and humbled as they were. A leader who would not leave them to wonder and worry alone, but would stand with them, walk with them, celebrate with them - whatever the parade might be.

This is what I want for our country, more than anything. I want a leader who can love us.

Now, I have some admiration for Fidel Castro and what he has achieved, against all the odds. And I think that the American trade embargo on Cuba has been a cruel, counterproductive, vindictive policy, which has done nothing to further democracy and only helped immiserate the people of Cuba.

However, Castro’s regime has been a brutal authoritarian dictatorship. If Castro loves the people of Cuba, his love does not extend to letting them choose who should rule them, or letting them listen to or read any dissenting voices, or letting them access the internet or have a free press or borrow books from their libraries which challenge his worldview. If Castro loves the people of Cuba, his love is expressed through a system of neighbourhood informers who ensure political conformity, through the imprisonment of dissidents, through the outlawing of homosexuality, through allowing the sex tourism industry to flourish to bring in hard currency. If Castro loves the people of Cuba, he does not love them enough to let them form free trade unions, to let them go on strike or to let them travel abroad.

Whatever Bush’s faults, none of these things can be said about him. But Bush, Walker says, is all about “killing, under order, folks we don’t know; abusing children of whose existence we hadn’t heard; maiming and murdering animals that have done us no harm.” That, she says, is how we know Bush loves neither us nor himself.

John Kennedy, in contrast, Walker says, did love the American people. Maybe I’ve read too much James Ellroy and Gore Vidal to have a clear view of Kennedy, but he was the man who ordered the ridiculous Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Castro’s government, the man who declared a war on Communism and turned a tiny military operation into the Vietnam war, the man who authorising the bombing, burning and napalming of Vietnamese civilians. In other words, sending Americans to kill folks they don’t know, abuse children, and, yes, maim animals.

Regardless of which picture is more accurate, though, I don’t think it is right to ask for a president who loves the American people. As soon as someone invokes The People, with that definite article, I get worried.

Hannah Arendt was famously rebuked by her friend Gershom Scholem for not loving the Jewish people enough. She replied (addressing him in her letter, I think, by his original German name Gerhardt): “I have never in my life ‘loved’ any people or collective – neither the German people, nor the French, nor the American, nor the working class or anything of that sort. I indeed love ‘only’ my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons… I do not ‘love’ the Jews, nor do I ‘believe’ in them; I merely belong to them as a matter of course, beyond dispute or argument.”

As I’ve said before, those who most love Humanity en masse, as von Humboldt puts it, in the abstract – The People – are those who least love actual humans en détail, in the flesh – who care least for real people, including real Americans. In fact, those who most love The People in the abstract are often those most able to kill and abuse and maim real people in the flesh.

Alice Walker, it seems, is a woman who cannot love her own daughter or grandson, yet loves the whole American people, despite their inability to write a sentence, despite them being “racist and sexist and greedy above all”. If I were an American, I would not want a president who loved me as Fidel loves the Cuban people or as Alice Walker loves the American people. I would want a president who loves her friends and her children.

If I were an American, I would vote for Barack Obama, but, as Noga says, his strongest supporters don’t make that easier.

The normblog profile 262: Karl Marx


Some of my favourite bits:
What is your favourite song? > 'Common People'. (14)
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Monopoly produces competition. (31)
If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Johannes Kepler, Philip Roth and Merle Haggard. (45; 46)


Great music: Avre Tu by Sephardic band Los Desterrados, at Poor Mouth

An extraordinary poem: The Necklace by Iran's Simin Behbahani, at Poor Mouth

Some theoretical contextualisation: Noga on Zizek on the tolerance of Islamic regimes (plus my comments)

Images from Jews in Persia and Pictory

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Brockley Jack Film Club: Night of the Hunter

Bob's correspondent at the Brockley Jack Film Club writes:
Last week's showing of Little Miss Sunshine by the Brockley Jack Film Club had the audience leaving with a smile on their faces. The next screening offers a chance to see the classic Night of the Hunter. If you've never seen this film it has to be one of the 'must sees ' on any film lover's list. I am looking forward to seeing it for the third time.

There is still an opportunity to join the membership scheme which offers a 50% discount on ticket prices and a chance to have an influence on what films are shown. Don't miss out on being part of this great local experience.
Bob adds: I will be writing more on Night of the Hunter in the coming weeks.
P.S. I just realised that I should have posted this the night before last, which was actually the night of the hunter - the Autumn equinox.

Blog links:
Local: Green Ladywell, Brockley Central 1, Brockley Central 2
Filmic: Lost in a Scene, And Your Little Blog Too, Extracurriculars


I thought I blogged about Mazen Kerbaj playing the trumpet in Beirut as Israeli bombs fall, but can't find it. It's quite extraordinary: go read at Metal Jew (and follow the links to listen).

Monday, September 22, 2008

A dialect is a language without a navy [found music post]

In Yiddish:
In Ladino:
  • I already mentioned DeLeon: Sephardic indie-rock, lifted from run-of-the-mill indie-rockness by a superb brass section, reminiscent of the mariachi/spaghetti western feel of Calexico or Blasco Ballroom. DeLeon're currently touring with Balkan Beat Box. Hear "Porke Yorach" at Instrumental Analysis, "Serena" at SoundRoots, and "Be Still, Angelino" at Friday Afternoon. DeLeon are another JDub band.
In Hebrew:
  • I have also mentioned Antibalas before. Their tenor player is a member of an Arcade Fire- and Balkan Beat Box-related supergroup called Sway Machinery who are currently playing cantorial music for JDub with "Malian guitars, Saharan beats, Afro-pop horns and the B-L-U-E-S". Listen to "P'sach Lanu Sha'ar" at I Guess I'm Floating or at Quiet Color. And more on their own site. You can listen to their non-cantorial music - bluesy madness reminiscent of Captain Beefheart, late Tom Waits or perhaps John Zorn (and far too extreme for me) - at Vibromonk.
  • Tomer Yosef is yet another JDub artist, one of the associates of Balkan Beat Box. His "Underground", a somewhat bland-sounding political folky/punky reggae song, is at The Tripwire.
  • "Svefn-G-Englar" by Sigur Rós, Hebrew version at JP's Blog: dreamy and glitchy
  • Italo-Disco version of "Hava Nagilah" at Best Foot Forward
In English:
Other languages:
In lots of languages:
  • Watcha Clan's new Diaspora Hi-Fi seems to be in several languages, including their native (if that's the right word for these nomadic people) French. Listen at So Relevant, Instrumental Analysis, Comfort Radio, Anyone's Guess, Alankomaat. "Quinto Regimiento", from their mySpace, is in Spanish, a traditional folk song, also performed by the great Lila Downs, celebrates a Communist/Socialist volunteer militia in the Spanish Civil War. Watcha Clan play it straight, with some gentle turntablist flourishes in the background. "Marashtein", in Yiddish, is fun and dancey, with a North African/Gypsy feel and wacky vocals. Their website is very nicely put together. Highly recommended for fans of Manu Chao. To be honest, I think I would like them more if their vocalist, Sister Ka, had a less abrasive voice.
  • Balkan Beat Box themselves can be heard at Get the Curse, Quiet Color and My Crazy Music.
Without words:
Previous: A stress on the ish, DeVotchKa/Hazlewood, Our humanly race.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lauren Booth can't tell the difference between a concentration camp or famine and a well-stocked grocery store

Contentious Centrist: Lauren Booth's Concentration Camp Chic

UPDATE (Friday lunchtime):
Lauren Booth's actions have dramatically backfired. Her claim that Gaza is one big concentration camp or as bad as Darfur rings hollow when she is photographed buying a Snickers bar in a well-stocked shop. Some of the commentary: "not even a useful idiot", "because everyone needs a little 3 o'clock pick-me-up when you are trying to rescue the oppressed!", "yes we have no Hummus", "the shelves were not quite so well-stocked as Bergen-Belsen".

It also appears that she is being economical with the truth about her forced stay in Gaza. Lisa Goldman writes:
In an interview with PJM, Ms. Booth says she has tried three times to leave Gaza — once via Erez Checkpoint, which leads into Israel, and twice via the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. She was turned away by both the Israelis and the Egyptians, but told me she holds Israel solely responsible for her predicament. I pointed out that both a senior IDF spokesman and several well-informed Palestinian journalists confirmed that Israel has “zero control” over who crosses the Rafah border. In other words, perhaps Egypt was at least as responsible as Israel for forcing her to remain in Gaza. This elicited an angrily dismissive response from Ms. Booth, who claimed that “high up sources told her” that Israel is pressuring Egypt into keeping her trapped in Gaza. She would not reveal the source of her information, nor did she explain how it would serve Israel to have her stay indefinitely in Gaza.

The Egyptians have controlled the Rafah border, keeping it mostly sealed, since Hamas took power in June 2007, following a bloody civil war with rival Fatah. EUBAM-Rafah (European Union Border Assistance Mission) pulled its multi-national monitoring staff out of Gaza immediately after Fatah was routed, in accordance with the EU’s policy of no contact with Hamas. A skeleton staff of 18 remains “on standby” in the Israeli town of Ashkelon. Spokeswoman Maria Telleria said that the EU is “not involved in Rafah border decision in any way right now.” According to Ms. Telleria, the Egyptians have opened the border crossing 60 times since June 2007. Most recently, Egypt’s President Mubarak ordered the border open over the two days preceding Ramadan, which is when Ms. Booth tried to cross and was turned back.
(Read the rest of this excellent report, from an Israeli leftist who opposes the blockade of Gaza.)

But, as they say, a lie is half-way around the world before the truth gets its shoes on - and, in the age of the internet, the velocity of lies seems to have increased.

More blog links: Footprints: Weather Changing, Fred Stopsky, Jewlicious, Elder of Ziyon

Tony or Lauren?, Cavorting
Keywords: Lauren Booth, Gaza.

"Nigger lover"

Freeborn John: Subversive Elvis

Rudolf Rocker on video

From On A Raised Beach

(Background here)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Camillo Berneri - Against the Racist Delirium

Camillo Berneri - Against the Racist Delirium « Robert Graham’s Anarchism Weblog

Berneri was an Italian anarchist and anti-fascist, and one of the first volunteers to fight on the side of liberty in the Spanish Civil War, before meeting his death, almost certainly at the hands of Soviet agents.

As Robert Graham mentions, Berneri stands alongside Rudolf Rocker in developing a critique of fascism and nationalism. I think Berneri's writings here stand out as way beyond his time. They stand up particularly strongly against both Marxist (including Trotskyist) analyses of fascism at the time, which could not get beyond its economic/class dimension. They also stand up well against the ultra-left position common within anarchism at that time (and today) that Nazism/fascism is merely an authoritarian variation on capitalist misrule, and thus not worth defending democracy from.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rudolf Rocker

This month is the 50th anniversary of the death of the great Rudolf Rocker, one of my heroes. The Jewish East End Celebration Society (JEECS) is holding an event at Toynbee Hall on Sunday to mark this. There is a walk in the morning (details below) and a celebration in the afternoon.

Rocker was a non-Jewish German anarchist bookbinder who lived for a couple of decades in the East End of London as the "rabbi" of the Yiddish anarchist and labour movement there. He later lived in Germany, where he was a key figure in the syndicalist movement, and then in upstate New York, where he was associated with the Freie Arbeiter Stimme group and the libertarian education movement. His great works include The Tragedy of Spain, The Truth About Spain, Anarchism or Sovietism and his magumn opus Nationalism and Culture.

At the afternoon celebration, chaired by Anthony Rudolf, the keynote speaker, if his health allows, will be great Bill Fishman, Cable Street veteran, author of the wonderful East End Jewish Radicals and well-known tour guide.

He will be followed by Ben Gidley on "Why Rudolf Rocker matters". Ben Gidley is a researcher at the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths, University of London. He has researched Jewish radicals in East London, focusing on the period around World War I, and has written about British Jewish responses to the Kishinev pogrom. He has contributed to Limmud’s New Voices in Jewish Thought, Jewish Socialist, Democratiya and other periodicals.

Brian Morris will speak on "Rocker as an anarchist". Brian Morris, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Goldsmiths,
University of London, is a leading intellectual historian of anarchism. His works include Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom (1993), Kropotkin: The Politics of Community (2003), the essay collection Ecology and Anarchism (1996), and several key works in anthropology and ethnobotany. He has also contributed to periodicals such as Anarchist Studies, Freedom, The Raven (on Tolstoy and anarchism), Green Anarchist (on Rocker) and Philosophy Now (on Nietzsche and anarchism).

Julia Weiner will also speak, on Fermin Rocker, Rudolf's son, a great artist and illustrator, whose 100th birthday would have been last Autumn. (His painting of his family, from AskArt, is on the right here, and his engraving of his father, from Jon's anarchist librarian web page, is above.)

The event is at 2.30. It is £10 to get in (£8 for JEECS members), including ham sandwiches - the food of choice for the East End Jewish anarchists. Further details from Jeecs chairman Clive Bettington, 07941 367882 or mail to:

Walk details:
Walk – Rudolf Rocker and the Radical History of the Jewish East End.
Clive Bettington looks at the life of anarchist leader Rudolf Rocker and the general history of radical politics in the Jewish East End. 10.30 am from Aldgate Tube. £8/£6. 07941 367 882

Also, BBC Radio 3's Sunday Feature will be broadcasting "The First War on Terror" on Sunday 28th September, on the policing of anarchists in early twentieth century London, presented by Hari Kunzru and featuring JEECS' Clive Bettington, Ben Gidley and others.

The Spanish Civil War in SF, Alexander Schapiro, Chaim Weinberg, Sacco & Venzetti, Itzik Manger, A Voice from the Aliens, Majer Bogdanski.
Blog links: Rocker on Bakunin, Fermin/Rudolf at EastLondonHistory, Fermin at whitelightblacklight, Asher in London, Donnacha D on anarchism in the NUJ, Revolutionary Yiddishist, Telexism on Rocker and Kropotkin, Charlie Pottins on Rose Witcop.

Monday, September 15, 2008

partisans 2

1. Bill Alexander: Sydenham's International Brigade veteran (Transpontine)

2. Anti-Nazi partisans not Stalinist dupes (TNC)

3. On a Raised Beach: Durruti speaks, Italian liberation, From Franco's Spain to the Liberation of Paris (h/t: Poumista)

Previous: Partisans 1 (in Yugoslavia), The International Brigade vs Durruti in San Fran, The persecution of partisans in Lithuania.

Hebrew hip hop/Sephardic indie rock

Asher Roth at Passion of the Weiss:
What have you done for me, Asher Roth? Other than lifelessly mimic Eminem’s flow circa '99 and further entrench my belief that other than Edan, the Jewish people will never produce a great rapper.
and Blood of Abraham:

While we’re on the topic of Hebrew rappers….

But really, Blood of Abraham, not all that bad, and certainly far better than a bunch of Valley Jewish kids had a right to be. Plus, getting put on by Eazy at Ruthless is infinitely cooler than having DJ Drama co-sign you. Or the “thinking man’s DJ Khaled” as he is also known.

Listen: "Niggaz & Jewz (Some Say Kikes)”

Brad Frenette on DeLeon:
Fifteenth-century Spain is not a place most American indie bands look to for inspiration, but that’s exactly where the New York-based band DeLeon went digging on their self-titled debut album. The band, founded and fronted by Dan Saks, takes pre-Inquistion Sephardic Jewish folk songs and recasts them as indie rock compositions.
Watch: "La Serena"

Previous: a stress on the ish.

Democracy demands...

Further to my post on believers and unbelievers last week, I just read this passage from a speech by Barack Obama, which I find profound, wise and absolutely right:
Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Little Miss Sunshine/DeVotchKa/Lee Hazlewood

As promised, following yesterday's post about Little Miss Sunshine, being screened on Sunday by the Brockley Jack Film Club, here are three songs.

>mp3: Devotchka La Llorona 5 MB
>mp3: DeVotcchka How It Ends 8 MB

These two tracks by DeVotchKa are from the soundtrack of the film. "How it Ends" is a thing of shimmering beauty. "La Llorona" is my favourite DeVotchKa song, a kind of mariachi/spaghetti western epic, not a million miles from Calexico. DeVotchKa broadly fit into the "Balkan" genre of music I have mentioned a few times on this blog - e.g. A Hawk and a Hacksaw. Like much of that genre, DeVotchKa are often a little too exuberant and punky for me at the age I am now, but on these songs, and on the rest of the soundtrack, they are in more restrained mode, which suits me.

Buy the soundstrack from Amazon. DeVotchKa official site, at, MySpace, wikipedia.

> mp3: Lee Hazlewood Little Miss Sunshine (Little Miss Rain) 4 MB

Lee Hazlewood died a year ago, and I never managed to write a tribute to that great man. He is best known for his work with Nancy Sinatra - notably "These Boots are Made for Walking". "Little Mis Sunshine", a lovely song, is from his wonderful 1970 album Requiem for an Almost Lady. Why isn't Lee Hazlewood as big as Cat Stevens or Neil Diamond?

Buy album on Amazon.

Previous: Our humanly race

A taxonomy of believers and unbelievers

Hilary Mantel wrote a great book review in the London Review of Books earlier this year. She's a great writer, and this article really perfectly articulates some of my feelings on today's great culture wars between believers and unbelievers. As she makes clear, there are both credulous fools and dogmatic fundamentalists in the camp of "rationality" - although they tend not to have the murderous power of the credulous fools and dogmatic fundamentalists in the ranks of the religious.

Similar pathologies of incredulity and dogmatic forms of skepticism also fuel the cultic movements around 9/11 Truth, the New World Order, the Israel Lobby and other modern myths. And, of course, the internet, with its extraordinary ability to circulate lies, has fuelled these pathologies.

Most recently, we have seen these phenomena attached to the figure of Sarah Palin, who the internet rumour circulation machine has wrongly branded as a Creationist and a book-banner - lies generated by dogmatic "rationalists" and swallowed by the incredulous faithful in their camp. (Much as even more far-fetched untruths have been circulated about Obama's secret Islamic identity, for example, by the dogmatists in the other camp.)

Anyway, here are the bits I liked the best:

Thursday, September 11, 2008


From the Brockley Jack Film Club, a wonderful addition to SE4's social life:

Don't miss the screening of Little Miss Sunshine this Sunday night at 7 pm, brought to you by the Brockley Jack Film Club. Last month's film sold out so book your tickets early on 020 8699 6685, £6 or £3 for members.

In this road movie-cum-comedy, an eccentric, dysfunctional family drives up to California from New Mexico in a battered VW van so that seven-year-old Olive can take part in a pageant contest. The film won two Oscars and two Baftas for Best Supporting Role (Alan Arkin) and Best Original Screenplay. "Hugely enjoyable" - The Times.


To all the Brockley readers. If you like film, don't forget to take advantage of the new film club at the Brockley Jack. This is a welcome addition to the Brockley arts scene. Get a membership which offers a 50% discount on tickets and a chance to input into the programming. See for more details.

Bob adds: check back tomorrow for mp3s from the soundtrack of this lovely movie. And please do support the Film Club, which is run by local residents. It is shocking that Lewisham is one of the only borough (the one annd only?) in London without a cinema.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Arthur Szyk

A while back, The New Centrist presented some wonderful images by the great Arthur Szyk. Today, Jogo sent me this NYT article on a new exhibition of his work, illustrated by three striking pictures, including the one here.


The 14th issue of Democratiya is out. I hope to write something about it. For now, here's three bloggers of the Indecent Left.

First, class warrior Tony Greenstein demonstrates a bit of good old-fashioned academic elitism by describing Democratiya's editor as "a lecturer in an obscure Merseyside college", as if we should only take seriously the political views of Oxbridge careerists. As Tony himself might say, "Elitism doesn't die it just takes on the jaded colours of 'left' [anti-]Zionism."

On possibly the most badly formatted blog I've seen this week, he cuts and pastes the entire debate between Martin Shaw and David Hirsh on the relationship between antisemitism and an Israel boycott. Surely a link would have done? But that might open up the danger of anti-Zionists actually reading any of the rest of the issue.

Second, Martin Sullivan of IslamophobiaWatch utterly misses the point of Max Dunbar's excellent review of Caroline Fourest’s book on Tariq Ramadan. Dunbar points out that, far from being a figure of reform, Ramadan can be identified with a "fear of women"... morbid obsession with what lovers do behind closed doors... paranoid conspiracism regarding external forces... the desire to impose an impossible past upon the rest of us... [a] wish for Islamic education in schools,... approval of the fundamentalist regimes of Iran and Sudan, [and] apologia for Hamas and the jihadis in Iraq". Dunbar asks "Why is this man regarded any more favourably than Pat Robertson or Stephen Green’s Christian Voice?" Sullivan claims:
This sort of thing does our job for us. As we've remarked in the past, those who promote the view that Professor Ramadan represents some sort of fundamentalist threat to Western society discredit themselves more effectively than we ever could.
However, Sullivan does not explain why Ramadan's violent misogyny and jihadi politics deserve a place in our public sphere. Dunbar's answer to his Pat Robertson question sums up the IslamophobiaWatch project:
The racism of low expectations; the tendency to think of people in terms of monolithic blocs, defined entirely by race or religion, instead of individuals with a diverse range of competing identities; the anaemic machismo of street politics and prejudice; the creepy servility to unashamed power; and the vicarious thrill of being able to ‘contextualise’ fanaticism and misogyny.
Sullivan also criticises Tom Gallagher for, among other things, quoting Munira Mirza. It is not clear why this is automatically bad: because she is a former member of the RCP, or because she is an apostate from Islam?

Finally, the ur-text of the Indecentists is, of course, the snidey Bruschetta Boy of AaronovitchWatch, replete with not-quite-amusing ad hominem attacks on most of the authors (but letting Ben Gidley and Martin Shaw off the hook, as slightly less Decent than the other contributors). The Boy seems to have read most of the issue, for which we have to feel sorry for him, as it can't have been much fun. Having saved you from having to go through the same torture, he declines to add a link.


Some Decentist blog links:


I just read two long and extraordinary pieces on the blog, thin wild mercury thought, about the author's Yugoslav Communist partisan grandparents: Panta Rei: My Grandpa's Rags-to-Socialist Glory Tale of War and Peace and Partisan Women: Bloodthirsty Harpies of National Liberation?. Recommended.

I said I wouldn't say anything else about Jenna Delich...

... but I just saw this at Tony Greenstein's blog:
Ms Delich, quite inadvertently, posted a short message on the activist list of the University & College Union [UCU] which referred to an article written in 2006 by Joe Quinn The article ‘Racism, not Defence, at the heart of Israeli politics was, as are many things that people on the Left write, purloined by ex-Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist, David Duke. It is an unfortunate fact that the far-right, having few ideas of their own, often steal articles of their opponents to bolster their own academic credentials.
Two things struck me here. Trivially, I am not sure how you "quite inadvertently" post something.

More importantly, the far right "purloin" things from the far left not to "bolster their academic credentials" but only when far leftists say things that bolster their worldview. In other words, if you take a consistent line against all forms of racial thinking and against conspiracy theories, then you are unlikely to find your words purloined by the far right. However, if you constantly attack Israel in racist language, or suggest that a Jewish world conspiracy was responsible for the 9/11 attacks then, yes, you might find your articles purloined by the Klan.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Monday afternoon miscellany

Well, I'm back and still wading through a pile of e-mails and so on. Here's some things that have caught my eye so far (more to be added before the day is out). (Last added to 15:59 GMT)

From the blogs

From the press

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

From Bob's archive: The 2005 UK election

I am away for a few days, so am publishing some old posts from the archive while I'm absent. This one (abridged from the original posted here) was written the morning after the May 2005 UK General Election. This was around the time that my readership leapt from a daily dozen to a daily 40 or so, and I started actually writing longer posts.

I found it quite interesting re-reading this, as I believe the problem it touches on - Labour ignoring their core support in a bid to win Middle England - has reached crisis point, as working class voters are now deserting Labour en masse, not for any left alternative, but for the Scottish Nationalists and the BNP, and even for a Tory party portraying itself as socially conscious.

It is also worth adding that my optimism about democracy in Belarus, Iraq and Palestine was rather premature, and in Kyrgyzstan only slightly less so!

*** *** ***

After agonising for a while, I voted yesterday for my sitting Labour MP, Joan Ruddock. She is a good local constituency MP as well as being generally a progressive voice in Parliament. I was tempted to vote for Ian Page of the Socialist Party. Ian Page, a Brockley resident, is a good local councillor. The penalty and the luxury of living in a multi-ethnic working class inner city constituency is that the Labour majority is so big that you can vote for who you want and it makes little difference. I am often tempted to vote for Ian Page and similar candidates as a warning to Labour that they cannot keep on taking their core voters for granted in their bid to seduce middle class Little Englanders.

However, after last week with war returning to centre stage in the electoral debate, I decided I couldn't afford to not vote Labour and let in the appalling Liberal Democrats - or even worse the Tories. I kept thinking of Bush/Gore in 2000, where it wasn't really all of the Florida shenanigans that gave Bush victory so much as all of the leftists voting for Nader.

I like voting. I like walking to the end of my street in the sun (it's usually sunny on polling day) to the local school and passing my neighbours, clutching their ballot papers. I like feeling part of something, feeling part of something local and something national at the same time. I especially like to see older people with their ballot papers - and there are a lot of old, working class people on my street, of all colours - because the older people seem to appreciate the gravity of what they are doing.

I felt particularly good to be voting this year, the year of
Kyrgyzstan, of Palestine, of Iraq - hopefully maybe the year of Belarus.
Walking away from the polling station, I was suprised to see a Socialist Workers Party sticker on a lamppost, a slogan along the lines of "Blair must go". It seemed mad to me to put that up in Lewisham, where the sitting Labour MP is anti-war and the second party in the previous election was Conservative. That is the madness of gesture politics.