Thursday 16 August 2007

Rock'n'Roll heresy

Heresy. I realise that I am inviting death threats from the army of fanatical fans who are marking the thirtieth anniversary today, but I have to say that when Elvis died on the 16th August 1977 it was not ‘the day the music died.’.

Instead I find myself agreeing with John Lennon that Elvis’s career pretty much died that day in 1957 when he was conscripted into the army.

Before that the day, the early Sun recordings with the three piece band and the clean minimal guitar sound of Scotty Moore, defined the classic rock’n’roll sound. Even so, it would be wrong to say that Elvis created that sound: a previous generation of black artists have the rights on that claim.

Ironically Robert Johnson also died this day in 1938. But I doubt somehow that next year there will be the same fuss about his 50th anniversary, despite his influence on the development of rock music being every bit as significant if not more so than Elvis.

For Elvis it was all downhill after his military service:

There were the Hollywood years of those awful musical movies. And then his return to live performing at Las Vegas in 1968. These were the bloated years that bordered on self parody – the white jump suits, the fake karate dance moves, the deep fried peanut butter and hamburger sandwiches and the bizarre Camelot at Gracelands.

It seems a sad travesty that this is the era that the fans and impersonators want to preserve and not that brief period when Elvis truly set the music world alight for the first time.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

60 years on

George Orwell said that you could tell a lot about a country by how their army marched. He contrasted the British stylised walk with the Nazi goose-step. I'm not too sure about the accuracy of his theory but this picture doesn't reflect too well on India or Pakistan. Maybe they are just fans of John Cleese, but generally the goose-step is a universal image of authoritarianism.

This week there are a number of family history programmes on TV to mark the 60th anniversary of Indian / Pakistani independence. Painful and poignant stories of those who came to this country fleeing sectional persecution and displacement. Making these stories understandable in human terms can only be a good thing at a time when suspicion of immigrants and refugees is on the increase.

This history ‘from below’ is great at giving voice to those who are otherwise seen as the chorus-line on the great stage of history. But there is also a danger; such history tends to miss out the big ideas. And when you look at the independence struggle and the partition of India the big idea that stands out is quite how badly the region was fucked over by the twin forces of empire and religion: Partition left 1 million killed in sectarian violence and 12 million made homeless.

We can easily forget that religious bigotry does not become any more palatable because it comes dressed up in exotic oriental garb. The sectarianism of Jinnah’s vision for a Muslim state was as ugly as anything seen in the Balkans or on the streets of Ulster. It created a logic that was the basis for the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs - mirrored on the other side by those Hindu nationalists who drove Muslims from Bengal and the Punjab out of ‘their’ India.

A classic policy of divide and rule permitted a tiny British presence to control a huge area; a policy Churchill called "a bulwark of British rule in India". In this they were very sophisticated imperialists. They weren’t interested in settlement as had been done in the American colonies, or in integration and assimilation as the French did in North Africa. The driving motivation was trade and profit and everything else was secondary.Before the mutiny of 1857 British rule was a private venture (an early version of PFI ?)in the hands of the East India Company. The British were generally quite happy to use client states to do their dirty work until these local rulers got either too strong (and bolshie), or too weak (and ineffective).

And sixty years on, in many ways this seems to remain the same; religion and empire continue to blight this part of the world.

The situation in Kashmir, exists only because at the time of partition the British supported the local native ruler (a Hindu ruling over a Muslim population), in joining India. As a result it is now the focus and symbol of Indian-Pakistani conflict and a tinder-box that could ignite the whole region.

The new imperialism is off-shoring and globalisation as the sub-continent becomes the call centre / sweat shop of the West. And the result of this unprecedented growth is not a ‘trickle-down effect’ that raises the living standards of even the poorest layers of society. Science-parks and business areas so advanced that they would shame anything in this country, co-exist with dirt roads, villages without essential utilities, and beggars forced onto the streets because of a lack of a welfare safety-net.

The consequences of this are not hard to predict: A minority will benefit from economic growth and new elites will look to the West. But there will also be another much larger section who will miss out on this growth and will resent the winners.

In the past these people would have been drawn to the national liberation movements and radical parties. But these movements at the moment are weakened across the world. Instead recent experience shows that those who miss out will assert and defend their traditional culture and values.

And that can only mean more religious fundamentalism and sectional nationalism. And more goose-stepping at the border.

Tuesday 14 August 2007

Heathrow protests

Air travel is too cheap.

It is not an inalienable human right to travel to a sunny destination overseas for half the cost of a train ticket to the other end of this country.

Easyjet and RyanAir are not philanthropic organisations set up with a charter to bring low cost transport to the masses thereby broadening our minds and making us a more civilised society.

In fact they are money grabbing bastards who treat their passengers like cattle and don’t give a flying fuck about the environmental impact of their operations.

And all this is facilitated by the government who, by not taxing aviation fuel allow an absurdly low price of 26p per litre. Lobbying by the aviation industry internationally has ensured that this is protected by Chicago Treaty, which we are told makes it
sacrosanct. Strange how the same logic doesn't extend to the Kyoto Agreement isn't it ?

Having myself grown up in the shadow of
Heathrow I can clearly remember how lessons in school would be constantly interrupted whilst we waited for planes to pass over and how my mum couldn’t put out washing in the garden without it being blackened by pollution. And that was thirty years ago – I pity the poor sods who have to live at the end of the runaway nowadays.

Which is why I fully support the
protesters at Heathrow.

And yes - I do use air travel; in fact I will do so this week. But I expect to pay a reasonable price for it, and for it to be punitively taxed both as a deterrent and to help repair some of the damage it will cause.

Monday 13 August 2007

M40 Shooting

I didn't go to the Bulldog Bash this year; largely because I really didn't want to see the headline act Status Quo (again).

With an HA member shot dead on his way home from the festival, the news coverage would have you think that the three day event was something like a cross between Sodom and Gomorrah and the gunfight at the OK Coral.

The papers are again full of hysterical stories about imminent gang warfare coming to Britain, and 'background' pieces about back patch clubs. There's even references to Sonny Barger and Altamont.

I've been going to these festivals on and off for years and can vouch for the fact that they are more genuinely laid back and less commercial than anything else on the festival circuit. I still remember the first time I went to the HA's Kent Custom Show - having worked on the Saturday I arrived pretty late at night - the HA on the gate took pity and only charged me half the entrance fee. Try arguing that one at Glastonbury or WOMAD.

And I know it's a cliche that you can leave your tent unlocked and your helmet on your handlebars without fear of theft, but it is also TRUE. And with the HA vetting the price lists of the various food and drink vendors there is not the same shameless rip-off of other festivals either.

I'm not naive. Anyone with any sort of knowledge of the bike scene knows that when the shit comes down with the clubs it will undoubtedly be some very bad shit. What happened yesterday, was I'm sure, in one way or another, a part of that. But that is a matter for the guy's family and his club brothers. To suggest that it is representative of what goes on in the UK biker scene or that we now face an escalating 'biker war' is hysterical bollocks.

Friday 10 August 2007

With all due respect; this does't deserve respect

I believe that unquestionably the best way to challenge stupid things is to take the piss out of them. Which is why I also believe that their should be no blasphemy laws. As one of the more fundamentally stupid things that people can believe, religion is the last thing that should be off-limits.

And don’t talk about ‘respect ‘, any belief system that condemns those who don’t share it are pretty fucking disrespectful themselves and so forfeit the right to protection.
Which is why Pat Condell, atheist comedian has some genius insights – check out his website.

As enjoyable as Pat is, some of the comments there from mentalist religious types are even better.
And close after religion, one of the other stupidest belief systems is nationalism. Also ripe for ridicule.

Which is why comedian Dave Jones is currently being hounded for this superb one-liner aimed at some Israeli’s in the front row at a recent Comedy Store gig:

‘Are you the Israeli students? - I’ve just been in the box office and there’s a group of ten Palestinians who say you’re occupying their seats.’

Tuesday 7 August 2007

Crap Christian driving & stupid symbols

Infuriated to be stuck behind an appalling driver this morning with one of those Christian fish symbols that people stick on the back of their vehicles.

What is the idea of these symbols ? Does he not have to worry about his driving because Jesus is looking after him - and if so what about me as a potential victim of his dangerous incompetence - as a non-believer presumably I don't get the benefit of Jesus' protection and have to look out for myself.

When I was young one of my more devout relatives gave me a St Christopher (patron saint of travelers) key-ring, I think it was for my first communion or possibly confirmation, but either way some time before I was driving or riding.

Even at my young age this key-ring posed some interesting theological questions. Was it the medallion of St Christopher that protected me or was it actually St Christopher; and if so why did I have to carry it all the time ? If I left it at home would St Christopher get the hump and withdraw his protection ? There was an egg-timer type buzzer built in to the key-ring which you could set to remind yourself to return to your parking meter. This posed fresh questions; why was a mechanical device necessary ? Were parking meters too trivial for St Christopher to bother with himself; if so where did you draw the line ? A puncture, broken fan belt, minor scrape or a multi-vehicle pile up ?

Apologies to any Protestants reading this who might interpret this as idolatrous and polytheistic mumbo-jumbo. They would be absolutely right.

As an historical aside the prat of a driver with a fish on his bumper was at least being historically accurate in choosing that particular symbol rather than a cross. The fish was used by the early church as a symbol, and when the emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion he used the Greek initials of Christ's name, the 'chi-roi' to decorate official insignia. The later adoption of the cross seems a curious choice; the heretic Cathars hated the symbol seeing it as a celebration of Christ's suffering. Of course they were predictably persecuted and wiped out for their logic.

Bill Hicks put it nicely when he asked Christians what the idea was with the cross - 'if Jesus comes back that's going to be like the last thing he wants to see - you guys are really missing the point'. I don't care what symbol a crap driver sticks on their car - the cheery 'Smile Jesus loves you' or the more melodramatic ' I am covered in the blood of Jesus'. He could have the entire fucking Sistine chapel ceiling sprayed on his car; I'd rather he put less faith in divine intervention, kept his eyes on the road and tried not to kill any innocent bystanders on their way to work.

Monday 6 August 2007

History by the winners.

History as we know is written by the winners.

Which is why nobody is making much noise about an anniversary today that marks the start of the modern age:

The first dropping of an atomic bomb - on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

In the immediate aftermath of the dropping of the bomb 70,000 largely civilian Japanese were killed. Estimates vary, but up to double this number were casualties by December of 1945. And within days, a similar bomb was also dropped on Nagasaki. Apparently there were plans for a third bomb that were cut short by the Japanese surrender.

And this is the great lie that is propagated to justify the bombing as a necessary evil to shorten the war and thereby halt the casualties that would otherwise have followed the Japanese refusal to surrender. (Notice how Churchill's refusal to surrender in 1940 was heroic determination but Japan's refusal in 1945 was oriental fanaticism ?)

But at the time this rationale was not universally accepted within the US military. Eisenhower. McArthur and even the US Strategic Bombing Survey were all of the opinion that the Japanese war machine was on its last legs and that actually surrender was likely within months, even without an invasion. In fact in the tentative communications before the bombs were dropped, the main obstacle to surrender was that the Japanese emperor be able to retain his title. This of course was something that the US readily agreed to after the bomb had been dropped.

With the benefit of forty years hindsight we now know that dropping the bomb didn't mark the end of one war so much as the start of a new one; the Cold War. It sent a very un-ambiguous message to the Soviets who having defeated the Nazis in Eastern Europe were poised to invade Japanese Manchuria and were now asserting themselves as a superpower.

So the last word should go to Einstein, grand-father of the bomb who was appalled at his progeny:

"Let me say only this much to the moral issue involved: Suppose Germany had developed two bombs before we had any bombs. And suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs she would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them?"

Friday 3 August 2007

NOT just a tragic accident

If you squint hard enough, there is possibly a vague similarity between these two men. The one on the right is Osman Hussain, the bloke that the police had identified as a suspected terrorist, and the bloke on the left is, of course, Charles de Menezes, the bloke they actually shot.

To be fair, the CCTV operator who had been staking out the block of flats were both men lived did ask for verification of the identity from his superiors before they decided to follow the man on the left. There was a delay though because the officer in question had stepped out to take a piss. As a result the authorization was given anyway. And of course this led to a chain of events that culminated in the wrong man being shot dead when he was followed onto a crowded tube.

On the basis of this narrative, I would be willing to concede that the affair was a tragic accident. I would also be loathe to criticize the guys who actually pulled the trigger (albeit seven times); whether they were armed police, SAS , SRR or whoever else. Never having personally confronted someone who I had been told was a suicide bomber, I wouldn't presume to know what constitutes an acceptable level of force.

But none of that is really the issue.

The inquiry has made it clear that within minutes of killing Charles de Menezes the police realised that they had got the wrong bloke.

And then lied systematically about it.

• They said that he was dressed in bulky clothing (possibly concealing a bomb) - inappropriate for a hot July day.

• They said that he was running.

• They said that he vaulted the ticket barrier.

• They said that they identified themselves as armed police and that he ignored their warning.

All of which it now appears according to the inquiry, was total bollocks.

The correct outcome of this revelation should be very straight-forward. Every police officer who colluded with this deceit should be removed from their post and prosecuted . And the eye-witnesses who appeared on the TV news to confirm the police lies should be traced and prosecuted.

Quite simply nothing less is adequate in a democracy; if authority is entrusted with the power of life and death it must be subjected to the strictest scrutiny. After this scrutiny it might be accepted that operatives on the ground made an honest but tragic mistake. But a conspiracy to conceal the truth from the public can never be accepted.

If it is, we are taking a step towards a police-state (an over-used phrase but the only one appropriate).

And finally:

It is utterly unbelievable that Commissioner Ian Blair was not aware that his own organisation was lying. According to the inquiry within hours of the shooting there was gossip around Scotland Yard to this effect. A competent manager in touch with his organisation would have picked up on this gossip and investigated it; so if he didn't Ian Blair is at very least a pretty poor leader for the Metropolitan Police. One way or another he facilitated a calculated piece of arse-covering, and now is dishonourably trying to duck out of his responsibility.

Thursday 2 August 2007

Stuck-up NIMBY snobs

Residents of Ashtead in the Surrey stock broker belt have being trying to oppose planning permission for a hostel in their area.

What is it that have got these Not-In-My-Back-Yard bigots up in arms ?
A half-way house for released sex offenders, somewhere for recovering addicts, or emergency housing for asylum seekers ? No - it's a hostel for the families of injured servicemen who are patients at a local military hospital / rehabilitation centre.

Ashtead is the sort of area where you get a funny look if you're not wearing a poppy in November and old gits in blazers pontificate in saloon bars about the merits of national service. I would also imagine that support for the war in Iraq is also probably higher than average as well.

No doubt if it had been any other sort of hostel the residents would be reaching for their hoods, getting out the old fiery cross and preparing a lynch party.

These people are small minded NIMBY scum whose greatest concern in life is the level of house prices.

And before anyone asks - yes, actually we do ourselves live opposite a hostel for people with mental health problems. In all honesty I would rather it was something else but, contrary to the great Thatcher lie - there IS such a thing as society and I AM my brother's keeper, so I wouldn't dream of opposing it.

And if you don't feel the same way, frankly you should just fuck off and live on your desert island somewhere.