Archive for the ‘America’ Category

Literary Authors on the Occupation of Palestine

March 31, 2020

Michael Chabon, ed., Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation (Fourth Estate 2017).

This is another book I found in the Postscript catalogue for April, 2020. It seems to be a collection of pieces by prominent western literary types dealing criticising the occupation of Palestine. The blurb for it runs

Edited in cooperation with Breaking the Silence, an NGO of former Israeli soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories, this collection of essays reflects on the human cost of 50 years of occupation, conflict and destruction in the West Bank and Gaza. The contributors include such celebrated international writers as Mario Vargas Llosa, Colm Toibin, Eimear McBride, Hari Kunzru, Dave Eggers and Rachel Kushner.

It’s usual price is £12.99, but they’re offering it at £4.99.

Michael Chabon’s the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which seems to be a fictional version of the creation of the superhero comic by two Jewish lads in ’30s America. Which is how Superman started, and immediately became a massive success and icon of modern American popular culture. More recently, he’s the showrunner for Star Trek: Picard, the latest installment in the Star Trek franchise. This has been massively pilloried by fans because it has moved away from the Utopian optimism of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, to become dark and dystopian. It is also very heavy-handed in its treatment of contemporary politics, such as immigration, Donald Trump and Brexit. And it’s terribly written. But it seems that Chabon has done excellent work here in compiling this volume, with its contributions from some very prominent writers. Mario Vargas Llosa is a giant of South American literature, Colm Toibin is a favourite of the British and Irish literary landscape, as is Hari Kunzru, and Dave Eggers is another famous literary name.

As for Breaking the Silence, they’re one of the many Israeli groups against the country’s brutal maltreatment of the Palestinians, like the human rights organisation B’Tsalem, that Netanyahu has raged against and tried to silence. Because the extreme right-wing Israeli establishment, as it stands, really cannot tolerate criticism from Jews, even when they are Zionists and/or domestic citizens. They have to be monstrous autocrats like Netanyahu. Who I’ve heard described by one Jewish academic as ‘that bastard Netanyahu’. None of these writers are anti-Semites and the book seems to be a successor to previous volumes by historians, writers and personalities attacking the occupation of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. One of the Jewish voices condemning the bombardment of Gaza nearly a decade ago was the respected British thesp, Miriam Margolyes. She said she spoke ‘as a proud Jew, and as an ashamed Jew’. This lost her the friendship of Maureen Lipman, who has spent the last five years ranting about how anti-Semitic the Labour party is. She began spouting this nonsense back in 2015 or thereabouts when the-then leader of the Party, Ed Miliband, who is Jewish, utter some mild criticism of Israel and dared to take a few steps away from Blairism.

Books like these are necessary, and they do seem to have an effect. The woefully misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism was set up in 2012 because the Zionist faction in Britain were worried about the bombardment of Gaza had resulted in Israel losing the support of many severely normal Brits. It’s why the organisation seems to spend its time and energy not on pursuing and attacking real anti-Semites and Fascists, but mostly left-wing critics of Israel.  It’s why the Israel lobby is trying to close down criticism of Israel worldwide through contrived definitions of anti-Semitism like that of the IHRA, which include criticism of Israel.

It’s great that books like this are still being published despite the efforts of the Israel lobby to silence their authors and the principled Israeli organisations that work with them. And it’s a disgusting scandal that, in 2020, they should still be crying out against this glaring injustice.

Book on Vanished Jewish Communities of the Holocaust

March 31, 2020

Shmuel Spector, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, 3 vols. (New York University Press, 2001). 

I found this book in the latest Postscript catalogue for April 2020. The blurb for it goes

Profiling more than 6,500 Jewish communities, with over 600 photographs, 17 pages of maps, a chronology and glossary, these volumes are the product of three decades of work at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Authority of Israel. The alphabetically arranged entries provide details of the history, people and customs of communities, large and small, that thrived throughout much of Europe, north Africa and the Middle East during the early part of the 20th century, but were changed irrevocably by the Holocaust.

The price is beyond most people’s pockets. It was £173.00, but Postscript are offering it at £75. It might, however, be available from an academic library.

I’ve absolutely no problem with this book whatsoever. The college where I did my undergraduate degree, the College of St. Paul and St. Mary, which became part of the University of Gloucestershire, hosted an exhibitions of photos of the shtetl Jewish communities of eastern Europe. There is, however, a moral problem with Yad Vashem. While it’s entirely correct to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, critics of the museum have complained that it acts to sanitise some of the world’s worst political leaders when they turn up on an official visit to make a deal. These have included real Nazis and anti-Semites, people responsible for horrific crimes against humanity, authoritarians with absolutely no regard for the value of human life. But these people suddenly become worthy friends of Israel and its people by the simple act of making a visit to Yad Vashem as part of their itinerary and laying a wreath or making some other gesture of mourning.

The activity of Yad Vashem in researching and documenting the Jewish communities destroyed by the Holocaust in Europe also has a counterpart among the Palestinians. They are also active doing the same for the Palestinian communities destroyed during the Nakba, the term they use for their violent ethnic cleansing at the foundation of Israel. In contrast to the victims of the Jewish genocide, I very much doubt that any western publisher will bring out a book on these lost communities.

Because if they did, the Israel lobby and someone like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Board of Deputies of British Jews would almost certainly accuse them of anti-Semitism.

Mail on Sunday Blames EU for BoJob Catching Coronavirus

March 31, 2020

Here’s a question: how utterly bonkers and desperate is the Mail’s and its sister paper’s hatred of the EU? From last Sunday’s edition of the Mail on Sunday, pretty desperate and insane indeed. The paper devoted a two-page spread to claiming that the EU’s Michel Barnier may have infected Boris. No, there’s no evidence for this, no spokesman has come forward to say that it’s true. The paper just says that it’s a ‘theory’. Which I presume is the Mail on Sunday’s way of saying that they made it up, but want it to look credible. We officially left the EU at the end of January, though we’re still in the transition period. We really can’t blame the European Union for our problems any more. Or at least, we can’t blame them for Johnson coming down with the Coronavirus. It’s his own fault. He meets countless people every day, and shook hands with them against the advice of the experts. He knew better, you see, and decided that all you needed to stop yourself coming down with it was to wash your hands. Well, now that he’s got it and is self-isolating in No. 10, he knows better. But the MoS just can’t let all that hate go, and still has to blame someone for BoJob’s failings and illness. So it has to be the EU.

And if that wasn’t enough xenophobia, there was another two-page spread by the vile Iain Duncan Smith blaming the virus on China and demanding ‘a reckoning’. ‘We must stop kowtowing to these despots’, he thunders. The use of the term ‘kowtow’ is almost certainly deliberate. It’s from the Chinese word for the ‘nine knockings’, the traditional form of prostration before the Emperor or one’s superiors during the Chinese Empire. Naturally, the peeps on Twitter weren’t impressed with this display of blatant bigotry and attempts to deflect blame for the virus onto foreigners. Zelo Street in their article on this quotes a number of them. One of those was Annette Dittert, the London correspondent for German broadcaster ARD. And the Sage of Crewe also makes the point that this is all about trying to find someone else to blame for BoJob’s failure to tackle the disease. The Street comments

Our free and fearless press knows that the crisis response from alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was hesitant, slow – and late. He knew what was unfolding in Italy, the actions that were being taken in China, the mass testing that was being enacted in Germany, and he knew more needed to be done to properly equip the NHS for the onslaught of sick and indeed dying patients. He dithered and delayed.

Absolutely. But the MoS has seriously miscalculated the effect their pieces have had on the British public. I don’t doubt that many of their readers will have been taken in, and there is a certain section of the right that sides with Trump when he says that the Chinese should be made to pay. But for many other people, these two pieces have just shown how freakishly ridiculous the rag is. One commenter on Twitter, Martin Rowson, compared the newspaper to a mutant dog kept in pickle jar in Ripley’s ‘Believe It Or Not’ freak show. It’s a deformed creature that elicits amazement, disgust and laughter rather than being taken anywhere near seriously.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/mail-on-sunday-says-eu-done-it.html

Iain Duncan Smith Denounces Plan to Introduce Universal Basic Income

March 30, 2020

Universal Basic Income, the scheme by which governments give a specified guaranteed income to all their citizens regardless of personal wealth or employment, has been widely discussed in recent years. I think some countries may already have such schemes in place, and there might be a programme about it this week on Radio 4. It was also one of the ideas mooted to help people out of their financial difficulties caused by the Coronavirus lockdown. Ten days ago, on Friday, 20th of March 2020, Mike put up a piece reporting that Boris Johnson was then considering the idea. And not only that, the idea had the support of some British industrialists, like Liam Kelly, the chair of the Baltic Triangle group of companies. Kelly said that the scheme wasn’t quite as radical as dropping money from a helicopter, but was a plausible solution to the problem of the present crisis. He said “It will help stave off the unprecedented economic challenges we face and protect us from another. This is a sensible fiscal stimulus and it’s time it went directly to the people, not just to the banks.” This might be a reference to one of the criticisms of the government’s financial bailout of the 2008 banking crash. The money went to the banks, who have carried on as before. Some critics have said that what Brown should have done instead is given the money to the public, so that their spending would solve the crisis the bankers had created. Who would have to face the consequences of the massive financial bubble they had created, rather than expect everyone else to bear the costs imposed through austerity while they continued to enrich themselves.

One voice, however, spoke against this scheme: Iain Duncan Smith. The pandemic has had a profound personal effect on some people. It’s brought out the best in them, as friends and relatives rally round to look after those, who are too vulnerable to do things for themselves like go shopping. IDS, however, has remained untouched by this. He still remains a shabby, deplorable excuse for a human being. In an article in the Torygraph stuck behind a paywall – because the Tories don’t let the proles getting anything for free – IDS issued his criticisms of the scheme. He blandly stated that the scheme would make no difference to the financial problems of low-income households and would not alleviate poverty. For which he provided no evidence whatsoever. He also said that it would disincentive work, and cost an astronomic amount of money. This is despite the scheme being budgeted at £260 billion, which is £70 billion less than the £330 billion Rishi Sunak has already imposed.

Mike says of … Smith’s appalling attitudes that they come from a man, who seems to believe that the solution to poverty is killing the poor themselves. Why else, Mike asks, would he have imposed policies that have pushed the vulnerable so deeply into poverty that many have died.

Mike also makes the point that he’s also trying to protect his own political vanity projects, like the Bedroom Tax, Universal Credit, PIP and ESA assessments, which would all become redundant with the introduction of UBI. Mike concludes

And he wants to ensure that we do not get to see the beneficial effects of UBI, even if it is only brought in for a brief, experimental period.

It seems clear that, while the Tories are claiming to be doing what they can in the face of the crisis, the evil that motivates them remains as strong as it ever was.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/03/20/coronavirus-trust-iain-duncan-smith-to-try-to-wreck-our-chances-of-survival/

This is absolutely correct, though it can be added that the Gentleman Ranker isn’t afraid of seeing his own political legacy discarded, but the whole Tory attitude to poverty and the question of wealth redistribution. The Republicans in America and the Tories over here hate redistributive welfare policies. The rich, they believe, should be left to enjoy their wealth, ’cause they created it and its all theirs, and the poor should have to work for their money. If they can’t work, or are poor, it’s because of some fault of their own – they’re idle, or simply don’t have the qualities to prosper in the meritocratic society created by unfettered market capitalism. And since Maggie Thatcher, Tory and Blairite welfare policy is based on the assumption that a large percentage of people claiming disability or unemployment benefit are workshy scroungers. Hence the fitness to work tests, in which it has been claimed that the assessors are instructed to find a certain percentage fit, because Tory ideology demands that they do. Even if in reality they are severely disabled, terminally ill, or in some cases actually dead. This also applies to Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit, and the system of sanctions attached to them. It’s all the principle of less eligibility, by which the process of claiming benefit is meant to be as harsh, difficult and degrading as possible in order to deter people from doing it. It is designed to make them desperate for any job, no matter how low paid or degrading. Or if they cannot work, then they are expected to find some other way to support themselves or die. The death toll from benefit sanctions runs into hundreds, and the total death toll from Tory austerity is 120,000, or thereabouts. And many of these deaths are directly attributable to IDS’ wretched, murderous policies.

If Universal Basic Income were to be introduced and shown to be a success, it would effectively discredit Tory welfare policy. The idea that state welfare stops people from looking for work has been a Tory nostrum since before Thatcher. But with Thatcher came the belief that conditions for the poor should be made harder in order to make them try to do well for themselves. I can remember one Tory, or Tory supporter, actually saying that on the Beeb during Thatcher’s tenure of No. 10. But these ideas would be seriously damaged if UBI were successfully implemented. It would also help undermine the class system the Tories are so keen to preserve by closing the gap between rich and poor through state action, rather than market forces. Which, indeed, have never done anything of the sort and have only created glaring inequalities in wealth.

Iain Duncan Smith couldn’t bear to see this all discredited. And so to stop this, he blocked UBI, even though it offered a plausible solution to some of the financial difficulties people are suffering.

Which shows you exactly how despicable he is, and how devoted to the maintenance of a welfare system that has done nothing but push people into poverty, starvation and death.

 

 

The Coronavirus and the Death of the Dream of a Disease-Free Future

March 30, 2020

There has been one other consequence of the Coronavirus, apart from the immense toll its taken in tragic deaths, its disastrous impact on economies and social life around the world as trade and personal contact has been reduced to a minimum as countries go into lockdown. I doubt few people have noticed it, but I believe that the pandemic has finally killed the sixties dream of the conquest of disease.

It was an optimistic decade, and although the high hopes of technological, social and economic improvement and expansion ended with the depression of the 70s and its fears of overpopulation, ecological collapse, and the running out of resources, coupled with global terrorism, labour unrest and the energy crisis, some of that optimism still continued. And one of the sources of that optimism was the victories that were being won against disease. Before the introduction of modern antibiotics, diseases like tuberculosis, polio, diptheria and cholera were common and lethal. In the case of polio, they could leave their victims so severely paralysed that they had to be placed in iron lungs in order to breathe. Their threat was greatly reduced in Britain and the West through the introduction of antibiotics, as well as the improvements in housing, working conditions and sanitation. And these advances appeared to be global. Yes, there was still terrible poverty in the Developing World, but these emergent nations were improving thanks to the efforts of charities and the United Nations. The UN was helping these nations become educated through schools, setting up wells and other sources of clean water, teach their peoples about the importance of sanitation. Most importantly, it was actively eradicating disease through immunisation programmes.

The UN and the charities are still doing this, of course, often working in hostile conditions in countries wracked by dictatorship, corruption and civil war. But in the 1970s the world won a major victory in the struggle against disease: smallpox was declared extinct in the wild. Humanity had overcome and beaten a major killer that had taken the lives of countless millions down the centuries. Cultures of the disease still remain in laboratories, just in case it returns. But outside of these, the disease was believed to be finally extinct.

It was the realisation of the optimistic ideas contained in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. The series envisaged a future in which humanity had set aside its national and racial division, and become united. It had joined other extraterrestrial races in a benign Federation, a kind of UN in space, and embarked on a wave of space colonisation and exploration. It sent out ships like the Enterprise ‘to seek out new life and new civilisations’, and boldly split infinitives which no-one had split before. And part of that optimistic future was the victory over disease. It was still there, and there were instances where it ravaged whole planets. But by and large humanity and its alien partners were conquering it. That optimism continued into the subsequent series, like Star Trek: The Next Generation and the films. Serious diseases, which now regularly afflict humanity would be easily treatable in this future. In the third Star Trek film, The Voyage Home,  the crew of the Enterprise journey back to the 20th century to save the whale and thus the Earth of the future from an alien spaceship that somehow causes advanced technology to shut down. Entering a hospital to rescue Chekhov, who has been captured by today’s American army, McCoy finds an elderly lady awaiting dialysis. ‘What is this!’, he characteristically exclaims, ‘the Dark Ages!’ And gives her a pill. When next we see her, She’s fit and well and raising her walking stick in thanks to McCoy as he and the others rush past. Around her two doctors are muttering in astonishment about how she has grown a new kidney. And in the Next Generation pilot episode, ‘Encounter at Far Point’, McCoy is shown as an elderly man in his 120s.

Now medical progress is still being made, and people in the West are living much longer, so that there is an increasing number of old folks who are over 100. And some scientists and doctors believe that advances in medical science, especially geriatrics, may eventually lead to people attain the age of 400 or even a thousand. The last claim appeared on a BBC 4 panel game over a decade ago, in which various scientists and doctors came before the writer and comedian Andy Hamilton and the Black American comic, Reggie Yates, to argue for the validity of their theories. And one of these was that the first person to live to a thousand has already been born.

But such optimism has also been seriously tempered by the persistence of disease. Just as humanity was eradicating Smallpox, SF writers were producing stories about the threat of new killer diseases, such as in the films The Satan Bug and The Andromeda Strain, as well as the British TV series, Survivors. I think public belief in the ability of humanity to conquer disease was seriously damaged by the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s. This was so devastating, that some viewed it in terms of the Black Death, though mercifully this wasn’t the case. And after AIDS came bird flu, swine flu, and now the present pandemic. And unlike these previous health emergencies, the world has been forced to go into lockdown. It’s an unprecedented move, that seems more like a return to the response to the plagues of the Middle Ages and 17-19th centuries than the actions of a modern state.

The lockdown is necessary, and this crisis has shown that states still need to cooperate in order to combat global diseases like Coronavirus. Medicine is still improving, so that it’s possible that some people, the rich elite who can afford it, may enjoy vastly extended lifespans. But the current crisis has also shown that serious diseases are still arising, illnesses that now spread and affect the world’s population as a whole. And so the 60s dream of a future without serious disease now seems very distant indeed.

Cartoon: The Dead Thatchers – Eton Uber Alles

March 28, 2020

Hi, and here’s another of my cartoons satirising the Tories and their utterly reprehensible politicos and other members. In this case, the cartoon takes the form of a sleeve image for a non-existent punk band, the Dead Thatchers, and an equally non-existent song, ‘Eton Uber Alles’. It shows David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson and George Osborne in front of the gates of Auschwitz, which bears the infamous slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ and the cartoon’s punchline, as you can see, is ‘You will row for the master race’. It’s a reference to the Eton boating song,which itself got poached and revamped in the 1980s by Paul McCartney into the Frog Chorus.

The cartoon’s inspiration is the American punk outfit, The Dead Kennedys, and their song, ‘Kalifornia Uber Alles’. As punks, the Kennedys really hated hippies, and so the song’s just a rant about how California is some kind of hippy Third Reich. I was never a fan of the Dead Kennedys, but I do remember the song had the lines ‘Hippy Nazis will control you, you will jog for the master race!’ Which in the context of a Britain dominated by Eton would obviously be boating.

Now there’s a lot that can be said about hippies both pro and con, but they definitely weren’t Nazis. There was, apparently, a Hippy Nazi party, but they were in Florida, and from their name sound like a rather tasteless joke. They sound like an attempt to wind up the straights, rather than any serious Fascist organisation. Unfortunately, with the way so many of the British ruling class were initially very sympathetic towards Nazi Germany, flocking to organisations like the Anglo-German Fellowship, it’s probably a fair bet that the fathers or grandfathers of many of the boys now at Eton really were Nazi sympathizers. Though I’m not, of course, claiming that those of the four depicted above were.

And there is a serious point for my placing them in front of the slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, and it’s the same reason people have scrawled it on the walls of Jobcentres and put up photoshopped images of the same. The pro-Israel fanatics and Tories attacked those images and graffiti as anti-Semitic, claiming that they were somehow turning the Holocaust into a joke. However, as Mike explained in his piece last Saturday about the appearance of the slogan on another Jobcentre, this certainly isn’t a case. The phrase translates into English as ‘Work Makes (You) Free’. According to Tony Greenstein, the slogan was on the gates of all the Nazi camps, including those housing gentile prisoners. It was not used exclusively for the Jews, and first appeared on a concentration camp for non-Jews. It’s been applied to the Tories and their administration of the DWP, particularly by Iain Duncan Smith, because they really do seem to have a very Fascistic attitude to the poor and disabled.

The Tories have a mantra about ‘making work pay’, and have deliberately adopted a policy of ‘less eligibility’ towards the disabled and the unemployed in order to deter and punish them for claiming benefit. It takes five weeks after someone has signed on before they receive their first payment under Universal Credit. This is also less than the amount they would have received under the previous, benefit systems. There is an extensive system of sanctions, in which claimants can be thrown off their benefits on the flimsiest of excuses. The disabled are subjected to work capability tests, in which a certain percentage are always found fit work, even when the poor souls are severely disabled and even in several cases terminally ill. Grieving relatives and friends have even found their loved one’s receiving letters from the DWP informing them that they have been found fit for work, and so no longer liable for incapacity and related benefits after they’ve died. It has also been revealed that Maximus, the organisation responsible for administering the tests, like its predecessor Atos, has regularly falsified the results in order to get claimants thrown off benefits.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/03/14/firms-that-falsified-thousands-of-benefit-assessments-set-to-get-contracts-to-falsify-thousands-more/

Mike in his article on Sunday, 8th March 2020 put up this meme reminding everyone how IDS started an article for the online edition of one of the papers actually praising the slogan and defending it against its use by the Nazis. The offending paragraph disappeared soon after, but not before shocked and horrified people had taken screenshots of it and put them back up so everyone could see just how low Iain Duncan Smith is. Here’s the meme:

As one tweeter, Paula Peters, quoted by Mike in his article points out, the language used by the Tories about the disabled is very much the same the Nazis used in the Third Reich. They’re denounced as ‘useless eaters’ and scroungers. The term ‘workshy’, used to describe the long-term unemployed, is also taken from the Nazis. It’s the English translation of ‘arbeitscheu’. And the habitually or long-term unemployed were also branded ‘asocial’ and placed in the concentration camps.

The Tories do this because they have a fundamentally eugenicist view of the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. They are biologically inferior, ‘dysgenic’, who threaten the healthy purity of the rest of the human race and particularly the biologically superior. Who are naturally the rich, especially the heads of big business. Hence the Tory policy of forcing them off benefits, even if it means the deaths of hundreds of thousands. It’s estimated that about 120,000 people have been killed by Tory austerity. But there is no apology nor any attempt to alter or improve conditions despite continuing revelations of the hardship inflicted on millions of people. Instead the Tories merely double down, repeated their lies about how, under them, the economy was booming and more people were in work than ever before. As for the deaths, they have done everything they can to hide the figures and prevent disability rights activists and carers, like Mike, from obtaining them. Hence putting the Tories in front of that slogan is very appropriate.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/03/08/hypocrisy-over-language-used-to-describe-dwp-oppression-of-benefit-claimants/

Here’s the cartoon. As always, I hope you enjoy it. And please, don’t have nightmares. It’s only Iain Duncan Smith!

 

Radio 3 Series Next Week on Paul Robeson

March 26, 2020

Radio 3’s The Essay next week is doing a series of programmes on Paul Robeson. The show’s called ‘The Essay: Paul Robeson in Five Songs’, and is on from Monday to Friday at 10.45 pm. The short description of the series by David McGillivray on page 122 of the Radio Times runs

The turbulent life of Paul Robeson, the American performer whose career was shamefully curtailed by racism and anti-Communist hysteria, is reflected in five of his songs in a series of essays through the week. His was one of the most magnificent bass baritone voices of the 20th century, and the story behind his biggest hit, Ol’ Man River, is told by his granddaughter tomorrow [Tuesday]. Robeson’s most sustained success in films was in the UK but mostly the roles offered him were demeaning and he turned to political activism. The trade union ballad, Joe Hill (Friday) provides a melancholic epitaph.

Here are the blurbs for the individual episodes by day.

Monday.

No More Auction Block

The life and struggles of New Jersey-born bass-baritone singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) are explored through five of his songs. Robeson’s signature performances include Show Boat and Othello, but spirituals defined his early career, and in 1925, Robeson and his accompanist Lawrence Brown turned them into “art music”. In this first installment, scholar and professor of black music Shana Redmond explores the ways in which Robeson’s performances of No More Auction Block map his own struggles.

Tuesday

Ol’ Man River

Susan Robeson explores the personal and political aspects of the song that is forever identified with her grandfather  – Ol’ Man River, written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein expressly for Robeson for their groundbreaking 1927 musical Show Boat. But the singer would not wrap his unique voice around it  until the following year in the London production. He would have a lasting and complex relationship with the song, especially as a black superstar performing for white audiences. “My grandfather transformed Ol’ Man River from a song of submission and despair into a song of resistance.”

Wednesday

The Canoe Song

Paul Robeson and film should have been a perfect fit. The 20th Century’s first black superstar had presence, voice and fierce intelligence that projected from the screen. British audiences adored him, but for Robeson cinema was a constant betrayal of his political idealism. Matthew Sweet considers the confusing threads that make up Zoltan Korda’s 1935 Empire flag-waver Sanders of the River, which still hummed to the astonishing power of Robeson’s voice in the Canoe Song, prompting British audiences to declare him as “our Paul”. 

Thursday

Zog Nit Keynmol

When Paul Robeson stood before a Moscow audience on the evening of 14th June 1949 in the Tchaikowski Hall, few expected to hear him perform the Yiddish Partisan song Zog Nit Keynmol (Never Say). His rendition of this fierce anthem of defiance, composed in the middle of Nazi slaughter, was thick with emotion, and at the end the crowd either fiercely applauded or booed. Robeson had sung for those he knew were already murdered, imprisoned or facing death as a new wave of Stalinist repression against Soviet Jews was underway. Nigerian-born actor and singer Tayo Aluko explores Robeson’s torment and contradictory emotions that make this performance so dramatic.

Friday

Joe Hill

London-based cultural historian Marybeth Hamilton summons up the ghosts of both Earl Robinson’s 1936 song Joe Hill – about the Swedish-American labour activist – and Paul Robeson as she explores the ways Robeson was so completely erased from culture and memory for many Americans. “If any one song in Robeson’s repertoire sums up those histories of denial silencing it is Joe Hill.

Paul Robeson – one of the left-wing giants of the 20th century. I had a very left-wing aunt, who was a massive fan of Robeson. She would have loved this. I also wondered if all the Israel-critical Jews smeared and vilified by the Israel lobby shouldn’t sing Zog Nit Keynmol. From what I gather from reading David Rosenberg’s and Tony Greenbstein’s blog’s, the greatest resistance against the Nazis, including the Warsaw ghetto, came from the anti-Zionist Bund. The Zionists all too often made deals with the Nazis, as when the Zionist newspaper, the Judischer Rundschau, praised the Nazi Nuremberg Laws and urged its readers to ‘wear your yellow stars with pride.” Or when Rudolf Kasztner, the head of the Zionists in occupied Hungary, cut a deal with the Nazis whereby tens of thousands were deported to Auschwitz in return for a few being allowed to emigrate to Israel.

A Multiple Language Dictionary for Archaeologists

March 26, 2020

Anna Kieburg, The Archaeological Excavation Dictionary (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Archaeology 2016).

This was another book I got from the bargain book mail order company, Postscript. It’s a dictionary of archaeological words, with over 2,000 entries, in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Turkish and Arabic. The Arabic and Greek words are also given in those languages’ alphabets as well as in an English transliteration.

I’m putting this up as archaeology truly is an international discipline. Both professionals, students and volunteers travel across the world to work on digs. There is a guide book, published annually, for volunteers wishing to work on various digs right across the globe, in Europe, America and elsewhere. Also, I’ve noticed that some of the books published by the archaeological publishers, like Oxbow, are also in foreign languages. In the case of Oxbow, it’s mostly French or German.

Archaeology is a truly international subject, with professionals, students and volunteers travelling to digs right across the world. There’s a guide, published annually, for people to wishing to work on them, listing sites in the Americas, Europe and so on, and what they need to take with them. I’m putting the book up on this blog as I thought it might be useful for other archaeologists, or ordinary people interested in archaeology, once the world’s recovered from the Coronavirus and everything’s started up again.

But thinking about archaeology and languages, I wonder if anyone’s ever published such a dictionary for the Celtic languages in the UK? I know the vast majority of people in Britain can speak English, and I doubt if anyone on a site has ever been asked if they could explain what they’ve found in Welsh, Gaelic or Erse, but still, there might be a demand by local people in areas where those languages are spoken for someone to say something about them in them, if only as a source of local pride and individuality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eugenicist Attitude to the Coronavirus: the Buck Stops with Boris

March 25, 2020

Earlier this week, I got a message from Labour leadership hopeful Lisa Nandy urging everyone to put their political differences,including trade unions and employers, and unite to tackle the current emergency. I’d agree with her, if I had faith in the current government. If I believed that Boris Johnson was a competent Prime Minister, who was also deeply concerned to protect the lives and livelihoods of everyone in this great nation. But I cannot honestly say that he is. And one of the reasons that he isn’t is that he let the government’s policy to the virus outbreak be determined by his pet polecat, Dominic Cummings. 

The Sunday Times astonished the British public last Sunday by revealing that the government’s attitude to the spread of the virus had been decided by Bojob’s favourite polecat, Dominic Cummings. And Cummings had decided that it should be tackled by allowing the British public to develop herd immunity. The virus was to be allowed to spread throughout the population, so that people became naturally immune. Biologists, doctors, and epidemiologists warned instead that this wouldn’t work. It has only ever been achieved using vaccination, and if the virus was allowed to spread, it could result in the deaths of a quarter of million people. Its victims would be chiefly the old and the already sick. Tragically, as we’re seeing now, its victims also include young, previously healthy people in their 20s and 30s. Cummings had told people privately that his chief concern was to protect the economy, and if a few old people died, too bad. It’s a disgusting attitude, and Zelo Street was exactly right in his article about it when he says that it places Cummings’ beyond the pale, and that he has to be removed and a public inquiry held afterwards.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/dominic-cummings-fan-hits-shit.html

Cummings’ attitude is rooted in eugenics. This views humans in very coarse, crudely Darwinian terms. For the race to improve, superior stock must be allowed and encouraged to breed. The inferior are to be weeded out through natural selection – they are either to be allowed to die through disease or their own mental and physical handicaps, or sterilised. In the 19th century, the American corporate elite advanced eugenicist arguments to prevent the government passing what would now be called ‘health and safety’ legislation. It was worse than useless to try to improve the condition of the poor with public welfare. The poor were sick and disabled not through poor working or living conditions, but simply because they were biologically unfit. Any attempt to improve their conditions would only result in the biologically inferior breeding, and so contaminating the rest of the human stock. By the 1920s, about 25 American states had passed legislation providing for the compulsory sterilisation of the disabled. The policy was enthusiastically adopted by the Nazis, who boasted that they were making absolutely no innovations. They took it to its horrific conclusion, however, with the SS’ murder of the insane and mentally handicapped in special clinics. A policy that prepared the way for the Holocaust and the wholesale murder of the Jews with cyanide gas.

And the Tories seem to be permeated through and through with eugenicist attitudes. They were forced to sack Andrew Sabisky as one of Bojob’s aides because he held similar noxious views. Toby Young, the Spectator journalist and media sleaze, lost his job on Tweezer’s board, set up to represent students, after it was revealed he was also a eugenicist. Tobes had attended conferences at University College London on eugenics, where real anti-Semites, racists and Nazis gathered. And Maggie’s mentor, the loathsome Keith Joseph, caused outrage in the 1970s when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’.

This doesn’t mean that the Tories actively want to round up the disabled and long term sick. But it does explain their absolute complacency about 120,000 deaths or so that have occurred through their austerity, including their obstinate refusal to abandon a policy that is killing people. Cummings should not, of course, have ever been allowed to decide that the government should favour the economy at the expense of ordinary people’s lives. But as Mike also pointed out in an article he posted on Monday, the buck ultimately stops with Bojob. It was Bojob who told the British people that many of them would lose loved ones before their time, when he had not then taken the ‘social distancing’ measures he’s now been forced to adopt to slow down the virus – the closure of schools, pubs, clubs, leisure facilities and social gatherings. And so while the media talked about the Polecat’s horrendous attitude, other peeps on Twitter knew where the real culpability lay. And one woman, MrsGee, probably spoke for many when she said Johnson should resign.

Bid to blame Tory coronavirus strategy on Cummings is baloney. The buck stops with Boris

There’s no question that people’s lives should come before the economy. They were debating precisely this kind of situation in the 19th century. The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, even wrote a piece about it. In one of his plays, the leaders of a spa town are faced with a dilemma. The spa is in the grip of a cholera epidemic, but they are unwilling to close the spa down because of the income it provides the community. Perhaps we would be better governed, and our leaders had been truly prepared for this crisis, if sometime during their education they’d actually read Ibsen or seen the play performed.

But I don’t think Johnson is any too interested in modern Continental literature. He’d rather see what the classics have to say about things and compare himself to Caesar and Churchill.

Radio 4 Adaptation on Saturday of Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’

March 25, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times, Radio 4 next Saturday, 28th March 2020, is broadcasting an adaptation of Jules Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’ at 3.00 pm. The blurb for it runs

‘Drama: To the Ends of the Earth: the Mysterious Island

Three very different people escape the American Civil War by stealing a balloon – which crashes near a deserted island. But perhaps it is not quite as deserted as they think. Gregory Evan’s dramatisation of Jules Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’

What struck me about this is that Captain Nemo is played by an Asian actor, Sagar Arya. There’s a bitter controversy at the moment over ‘forced diversity’, the term used for writers, directors and producers altering the gender and race of established characters in order to make traditional, or long-established stories, plays, films or TV series more multicultural, feminist or otherwise inclusive. It might be thought that this is another example, but it would be wrong.

In an interview with Alan Moore I found on YouTube a few months ago, the comics legend behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta and a series of other strips and graphic novels, explained why he made Nemo an Indian prince in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. The comic, which was made into a film a little while ago starring Sean Connery, imagines a kind of late 19th – early 20th century superhero group formed by Alan Quartermain, the Invisible Man, Dorian Grey, Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego, Mr Hyde, and Captain Nemo. The group travels on their adventures in Nemo’s ship, the Nautilus. The strip was drawn by 2000 AD art robot, Kevin O’Neill, whose art back in the 1980s for an edition of the Green Lantern Corps was judged too horrific for children by the late, unlamented Comics Code. So far, however, I have heard of no-one being left psychologically scarred by his art on The League. Moore stated that he made Nemo Indian, with O’Neill’s art consequently showing the Nautilus’ interior decorated with Indian art and architectural motifs, because that is exactly how Verne described him in The Mysterious Island. He wasn’t at all like James Mason in the Disney movie.

Now I dare say that the Beeb may very well have chosen to adapt The Mysterious Island for radio in order to give this favourite Science Fiction character a new, multicultural twist. But it is faithful to Verne’s original conception of the character. It’ll be interesting to hear what it’s like.

Here’s the video from the AlanMooreVids channel on YouTube, in which Moore talks about the strip. It’s a segment from the BBC 4 series on comics, Comics Britannia. The video shows O’Neill’s art, and the artist himself working. Moore praises his collaborator on the strip, saying that he take the most disturbing of his ideas and make them two or three times more upsetting. But he admires his skill for the grotesque, which in Moore’s view places him up there with the caricaturists Gilray and Hogarth. It’s high praise, but I think Moore’s actually right. If O’Neill had become a caricaturist instead of a comics artist, I think he would be admired as the equal of such greats as Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.