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Thursday 29 August 2013

Australian Aboriginal community 'bombed': Australia shrugs

On Tuesday a report flickered across Twitter that an Aboriginal community in Western Australia had been "bombed". Wait, What!? The ABC report was that a bomb had been thrown at a group in the One Mile community outside Broome. Three had been injured, one very seriously.

This, one day after the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington. An event whose relationship to this report is not fanciful.

I dug around. There was no further reporting. But others, a very few others, had noticed. Bree Blakeman, a Canberra based anthropologist, was tweeting background. There had been another attack, arson, on emergency housing used by Aboriginal people. Local Aboriginal people did believe that their people had been attacked and were scared, she wrote.

Shift forward one day and the event was still not being widely reported. The local ABC then reported that the local police were calling it not a 'bombing' involving "explosives" anymore but 'pyrotechnics'. A 'firework' had somehow caused spinal injuries, burn or blast injuries which exposed bone and a 43 year-old woman had lost the use of her hands. Among the others injured was a 13 year-old girl. They repeated a comment made the previous night, emphasising that it may all have been a "prank" and played down a possible racial motivation.

This comment from the initial report suggests serious police apathy (my emphasis):
I'm looking forward to catching up with the people responsible for this and bringing it to their attention, and also bringing them before the judicial system.
The local ABC radio ran a call-in asking listeners if there 'should be more measures in place to stop fireworks and crackers coming into WA [Western Australia]?'

The infrastructure of Aboriginal Australia is a legacy of colonialism and dispossession. Communities which are former missions, gulags originally built for Aboriginal people in the 19th and early 20th centuries where they were to be trained as a second-class workforce. Shanty towns on the fringes of rural towns, like Broome, where segregation existed just like in Dixie and led to 'freedom rides' by Aborigines and concerned whites inspired by the American civil rights movement. Continuing this tradition of segregation, in Broome some white locals still want the 'Aboriginal problem' to be 'out of sight'.

One Mile in Broome is a legacy of what came before. It is part of a impoverished local community, where up to a quarter are homeless, in one of the richest parts of the world, and where sub-standard housing is the norm and its development constantly stalled. A community made poorer by sky rocketing rents and living costs.

Western Australia is rich from mining. Broome is no longer just a very isolated tourist and fishing town but a service centre for vast mines, oil and gas.

Blakeman suggests that one place to look for possible suspects could be "rednecks" flown in from the rest of Australia to work in the nearby giant gas works. She notes that swastikas have been daubed at One Mile.

She also points out that Australian police have form on dismissing attacks, even killings, of Aboriginal people as 'non-suspicious'. It is not just police in rural Australia. Police in Melbourne were caught using racist beer holders and their failures around racist attacks on Indian students caused an international incident. In Sydney, police treatment of Aborigines caused riots in 2004 in the inner-city suburb of Redfern, whose impact continues in the claimed persecution of the family of one of the youth whose death caused the rioting.

That the local police would underline that the Broome attack could be a 'prank' sets off warning signs for many as so many other violent, racist attacks in the past have been thus dismissed.

I will note that what exactly happened in Broome, let alone why, is unclear. A local freelance, Chris Campey, has been reporting and has been careful to simply report and not speculate. It may turn out to be a 'fiework' and a 'prank', though one which definitely has caused serious injury.

But physical attacks on Aboriginal communities are not rare. What they never are is 'terrorism'. If a "bomb" had been reported being thrown at parishioners of Sydney's influential Hillsong church, or at people outside Melbourne's Stock Exchange, it would dominate local media, we would know the names of those hurt, and international media would descend.

Those attacked in One Mile are the most marginal people in Australia. These communities are raw with violence, abuse and death. This is often the only view both Australians and the rest of us see of Aboriginal Australia. That can be damaging, dispiriting and inaccurate. I have written about the other side: the magical collaboration with scientists on Australia's unique history; on the great work being done in building Aboriginal enterprise and economic opportunity; on the breakthrough into the media and artistic mainstream.

But that a "bomb" can be reported as going off in Australia and it simply be ignored because of who it targeted speaks volumes about how far Australia has to go to tackle its ingrained racism.

Update, September 10: Police have ruled out racial motive and describe an "ignited object".

As I wrote, this situation may well have not been racially motivated. This does not take away from the initial and total absence of any reaction to the initial reporting, which would have been different if those reports were coming from anywhere but an Aboriginal community.

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Wednesday 28 August 2013

Music · Mahalia Jackson · How I got over

This is the great Mahalia Jackson performing at the conclusion of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, fifty years ago today.

She almost didn't get to perform, having been barred by the Daughters of the American Revolution. This was reversed after intervention by Eleanor Roosevelt.

24 years before the black opera singer Marian Anderson had also performed at the Lincoln Memorial, after those same Daughters of the American Revolution had barred her from singing in Washington’s Constitution Hall.
In response, a broad coalition of civil rights advocates, with support from Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes, organized a concert on the steps of the memorial. More than 75,000 people attended the performance, and millions more listened to the live radio broadcast.  Anderson opened by pointedly singing “My Country Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty.”  The concert lasted less than an hour, but it honored Anderson’s talents as a black artist and forever fixed the Lincoln Memorial as a symbolic shrine to civil rights.
How I Get Over was written by Clara Ward in 1951. According to her sister, Willa Ward, the inspiration was an experience Ward, Willa, their mother, Gertrude, and members of their singing group had traveling in the racially segregated South in 1951.
En route to Atlanta, Georgia, they were besieged by a group of white men. The men were enraged that Black women were riding in a luxury vehicle (a Cadillac), and surrounded their car and terrorized them with racist taunts. The women were rescued when, in a burst of inspiration, Gertrude Ward feigned demonic possession, spewing curses and incantations at the men, who fled.
Video of Jackson after the jump:

Tuesday 27 August 2013

The death of satire – an important appeal

This is a repost from Steve Walker's SKWAWKBOX

As 38 Degrees and other campaign groups have highlighted, the government’s “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill” threatens (among many other bad things) to make it practically impossible to expose government lies and misdeeds in the run-up to an election, not to mention hamstringing the main form of organised representation left to ordinary people, by inflicting yet another evisceration on unions.

If the letter of the law is applied, even satire, as a tool of highlighting the absurdity of government attitude and policy, could be prosecutable if it can be considered as attempting to influence people’s voting intentions. This move by the government will effectively make dissent illegal – and has been condemned even by Conservative blogs such as The Spectator.

But while stifling dissent by members of the public, it would be incredibly naive to think that this bill will prevent the main reason given for its introduction – the influence of lobbyists. Big Corporate will still spend huge sums influencing politicians – effectively buying policy.

The death of satire and the continuing, even growing, influence of wealthy companies and individuals on government policy – that’s our future if this bill is rammed through Parliament, as seems likely.

So, while satire is still legal, film-maker and SKWAWKBOX reader Jon LeBrocq, whose excellent guest post ‘Love letters to a Tory MP‘ can be found here, has decided to use it to highlight the real problem – and hopefully to raise funds to promote awareness of it even further.

In a stroke of genius, John has launched a satirical – yet deadly serious – crowdfunding appeal to raise funds to buy back some government policy.

After all, buying back what should be ours in the first place is hardly without precedent – only this month, £53 million of public money was spent to ‘buy back’ a privately-run NHS surgical centre because of several avoidable deaths (strangely without the media fanfare that accompanies fictional avoidable deaths in proper NHS hospitals).

The satirical appeal to buy the government’s interest in our wellbeing, which should have been ours all along, is a crucial means of raising awareness of what’s being done by this robber-government as it exploits a corrupt politics. Its nominal aim, to raise £100,000 to buy some policy, echoes the infamous offer that £100k is a ‘premier league’ donation that will guarantee serious attention from the PM.

You can visit it here – and I encourage you to do so. It’s a humourous moment that will bring a bitter-sweet smile to your face – with a deadly serious message that needs to be spread.

And if you can afford to chip in a few quid, please do. Any money that is raised will go toward continuing and enlarging the satire – for example by making a film on the appeal that should go viral to the embarrassment of this government and any corrupt or venal politician.
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Murdoch punks Australian election

I wrote the other day about how the collapse of Julian Assange's electoral project in Australia seems to have attracted little attention, even among Assange's detractors. Australian stories don't get attention unless they involve crocodiles or missing backpackers. The BBC's former Australian correspondent Nick Bryant has bewailed on that very subject.

Here's another being missed story, the blatant attempt to swing the Australian election by Rupert Murdoch.

According to Neil Chenoweth, a senior writer with The Australian Financial Review, and who is described by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists as "the world’s most substantive writer on the public and hidden worlds of the Murdoch business empire", Murdoch's campaign against the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is in large part because the ALP dared to try to regulate, or rather reign in the excesses of, Murdoch's Australian newspapers.

Following the revelations in the UK of systematic law-breaking by Murdoch's papers, which culminated in the Leveson Inquiry and the closure of the News of The World, Australia's government grabbed the opportunity and instituted their own inquiry and devised new media laws. They failed (and the proposed laws didn't even tackle media centralisation in Australia, the worst by far in the Western world).

Murdoch then dispatched his most vicious attack dog, Col Allen, and, says Chenoweth, "what politicians in Britain and the US can draw from this is that leaving Rupert Murdoch with a flesh wound is like writing a suicide note. He is taking names. He will come after you."
Under Col Allan, News Corp Australia has unleashed an extraordinary campaign to denigrate the Labor Prime Minister at every opportunity, while endlessly praising [opposition leader] Tony Abbott.
In the face of unrelenting negative coverage from the News Ltd papers the Gillard government came to believe News had crossed the line. It sought to pass media reform which would disadvantage News but failed to get it up. The election campaign was always going to be bloody.
Another Murdoch foe, Tom Watson MP, has flown into the election to support the ALP and specifically to highlight Murdoch's relentless campaign. Murdoch's newspapers' response has been to report Watson as "fat" and ignore his actual criticism and reason for being in the country.

Watson's thesis is that the ALP's National Broadband Network (NBN) is a threat to Murdoch's business interests. Murdoch has cable TV interests and the government plan for super fast national Internet is a threat to NewsCorp in a world where Netflix is now reportedly a third of internet traffic in the US.

Watson said he decided to travel after he saw what the BBC has reported (as a one-off), one Murdoch paper's front page rubbishing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (pictured above, second from top right). Chenoweth points out that this front page is an example of a tactic that Col Allen honed in the bearpit that is politics in the state of New South Wales:
His photographers dogged state and local politicians until they caught them drinking in the wrong place, jaywalking or breaking road rules. As a merry jape he would superimpose politicians’ faces on film characters with outrageous headlines.
Watson's numerous media appearances since he arrived seems to have at least tweaked Murdoch's mates. So there's that.

Watson has pointed out that the Murdoch paper's coverage need only swing a few voters to deliver a right-wing victory in a very tight election. The sustained anti-Labor campaign has been going on since early 2011. Although the ability of Murdoch to swing elections has been questioned many times before, most famously his own newspaper The Sun's claim that they were 'what won it' for the Tories in Britain in 1992, even skeptical media academic Peter Chen points out that media spin/bias does empirically have an effect, though maybe in ways you mightn't think it would and maybe just at the margins.

Chen, like Chenoweth, also sees Murdoch's actions as less, or not just, about NBN and more, or equally, about payback and "the greater ideological alignment between the aging patriarch and Tony Abbott." Murdoch's praise for Abbott on Twitter has been almost cringe-worthy.

Warns Watson:
Politicians should know that they are commodities to Murdoch. He moves them around. They should think again if they think they will enjoy his loyalty forever.
Underlines Chenoweth:
There is a cost to this. First, Murdoch will demand his price . . . every year. It’s what he does.

Second, it looks like Col Allan isn’t going back to New York. He’s hanging around. He has six big papers to play with but only one style of journalism: it’s about brute force. It doesn’t really matter which government is in power. He has no other model. So he’ll be coming for you too.

News Corp Australia, whether overtly or not, will claim that it got Abbott into government. This puts Abbott into an impossible situation.

It undermines the legitimacy of his incoming government. This is not a partisan thing. You may or may not feel Abbott deserves to be PM. But whether you are a Liberal or Labor supporter. it’s absolutely unacceptable for a foreign company to be able to claim that it determined the Australian government.
Or, for that matter, any government.
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Sunday 25 August 2013

Where's Bayard Rustin's statue?

Mug shot of Bayard Rustin.
Mug shot of Bayard Rustin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is especially pleasing to see as part of the remembrance of the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom the rehabilitation of Bayard Rustin, a lost gay hero or a lost hero full-stop.

As, of all people, Robert Turner of Log Cabin Republicans put it in the Washington Blade:
It is important that we in the gay community observe and honor our heroes of all nationalities, races, and genders. Rustin deserves a place in the annals of history right next to Frank Kameny and Harvey Milk.
Rustin was a gay liberationist, a socialist, a civil rights leader and a pacifist. And he was the March's organiser. A week after the March it was he who was on the cover of Life Magazine, not MLK.

His leadership almost didn't happen. After being jailed as a 'conscientious objector' in World War II, and jailed again in the 1950s after being caught having sex with two men in a car, and having briefly been a communist, it is to their credit that MLK and other civil rights leaders overruled objections to Rustin as organiser. This was despite three weeks before the March on Washington, segregationist senator Strom Thurmond entering into the congressional record a picture of "pervert" Rustin talking to King while King was in a bathtub.

Gary Younge, who has a new book on the March (I've posted video of a fascinating interview with Younge after the jump), quotes Roy Wilkins of the NAACP saying:
I don't want you leading that march on Washington, because you know I don't give a damn about what they say, but publicly I don't want to have to defend the draft dodging. I know you're a Quaker, but that's not what I'll have to defend. I'll have to defend draft dodging. I'll have to defend promiscuity. The question is never going to be homosexuality, it's going to be promiscuity and I can't defend that.
In 1960, shamefully, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., of Harlem, had threatened that he would say King was having an affair with Rustin unless he cut him out of the top civil rights leadership, his inner circle. King complied.

According to John D'Emilio, author of 'Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin', Rustin had expected that he would be defended.
When he wasn’t defended, it was — it was painful. It was very painful. And he spent a couple of years, mostly — in the early '60s, mostly involved in the peace movement rather than in the civil rights movement because of that rupture. And it's the March on Washington that brought him back into the center of things.
It was Rustin that had schooled King in organisation, says D'Emilio. Rustin began organising 'Freedom Rides' in the 1940s: "Rustin, with 15 years of experience, you know, breaking the law nonviolently, went down to Montgomery, Alabama, introduced himself to Dr. King, and began a process of mentoring and tutoring someone who was clearly destined to be a great leader."

Rustin, with A. Philip Randolph, had wanted to organise a 'March for Jobs and freedom' in 1941, 23 years before the 1963 March. This was canned after FDR ordered an end to discrimination in defense industries and federal agencies.

Edited to add: A correction from Stuart Elliott:
The 1941 march was simply "The March on Washington." After getting FDR to agree to integrate defense plant employment, Randolph continued with the "March on Washington Movement" during the war and until 1947, which voted to use non-violent action to integrate the military, which might have been the first adoption of civil disobedience in the US. Rustin was involved in those trainings and those of the organizations formed after the war to concentrate on ending Jim Crow in the military. (The MOWM had a broader agenda.) When Randolph succeeded and Truman issued an executive order, Rustin was critical of Randolph and avoided contact for a year or two.
MLK was not the only one though to have trouble with Rustin's remarkable, for its time, open homosexuality. According to Michael G. Long, editor of 'I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters': "Even A.J. Muste, the great pacifist of the twentieth century and a man deeply influenced by the principles of love and justice, advised Bayard to sacrifice his gay relationships for the sake of the peace movement."

Economic justice

Rustin was one of many socialists involved in the March and it is disappointing to see much of the anniversary coverage focused solely on King's 'I have a dream' speech, forgetting that the March was just as much about economic justice as it was for equality. Four of the March's ten demands were about economic justice, such as a national minimum wage, and also "a massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers, Negro and white, on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages." Video of Rustin reading the demands at the Lincoln Memorial is after the jump.

Adds Long:
Bayard was often asked whether the modern civil rights movement led by King really changed anything in America. And he would sometimes reply by saying that had the questioner lived through Jim Crow, with its segregated restrooms and swimming pools and schools, he or she would know beyond a doubt that life had become far better for African Americans. But he was also quick to point out the unfulfilled dream of full employment and adequate health care and education for all Americans.
Picture by @batmanWI from March on Washington anniversary
Although, writes Gene Demby, a report released by the Census Bureau for the March's anniversary shows enormous progress for blacks in income, poverty levels and education:
Despite those dramatic gains, the economic picture over the last 50 years for blacks has been a mixed bag: incontrovertible, substantial progress — a lot of it due in part to policies the march helped enshrine — while some troubling disparities remain stubbornly in place.
Aisha C. Moodie-Mills and Preston Mitchum of the Centre for American Progress argue that Rustin offers another legacy, one for the LGBT movement, that economic justice should be as central as equality, just as it was at the March on Washington:
Contrary to the myth of gay affluence, the LGBT community is economically insecure. After controlling for other factors known to influence the likelihood of being in poverty, same-sex couples and LGBT people are more likely than their non-LGBT counterparts to be poor. Within the LGBT community, women, couples with children, and black LGBT people have been shown to be particularly vulnerable. Women in same-sex couples, for example, are nearly twice as likely as married different-sex couples to be among the working poor.
They point out that in 2013:
Black men in same-sex relationships are more than six times as likely to be in poverty than white men in same-sex couples—18.8 percent to 3.1 percent, respectively—and black women in same-sex relationships are three times more likely to be poor than white women in same-sex relationships—17.9 percent to 5.1 percent, respectively.
Rustin's grand vision

Rustin's central role as a philosopher in the movement insisting on Ghandian non-violence and on the need for integration, not segregation, is shown in him being the one who took the debate to Malcolm X, video of which I also post after the jump. Says Long:
Bayard certainly had a grand vision. As an openly gay, African American, pacifist, socialist activist with roots in communism, he could see the interconnections of sufferings caused by various prejudices and discriminations. And because of this, he insisted on practicing coalition politics. While he understood the frustration and anger of individuals wanting to “go it alone,” he also believed that “frustration politics” does nothing constructive. What we need to do, he said, is to start building coalitions with like-minded people, including those in power, around the grand ideas of equality and justice for all. Bayard was the first to encourage King to build coalitions with labor and political liberals. And he was right about this — coalition politics centered on achieving rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone is the path to achieving our unique goals. As he put all this, we need to move “from protest to politics.”
According to Arch Puddington (who worked as an aide to Rustin) from Freedom House, for which Rustin worked during his last two decades, because of his opposition to linking the civil rights movement to the anti-Vietnam war cause, Rustin became "a pariah to the new breed of radical black personalities, who increasingly turned away from nonviolence, integration, and coalition-building while embracing black nationalism, Black Power, and (at least rhetorically) the use of violence."

Gay Liberation

It is also disappointing to see little mention in anniversary coverage of Rustin's role after the 70's, in his last two decades, as a supporter of the Gay Liberation Movement, although he wasn't really publicly outspoken until the 1980s: In 1986, just before his death, he gave a speech 'The New Niggers Are Gays':
Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “niggers” are gays. … It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. … The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.
Regarding his late joining in such public statements, Michael Bronski, in his interview with Long, points out that Rustin was a product of his times, seeing sexuality as a 'personal issue', and compares Rustin to Susan Sontag who was lesbian, and not closeted, "but never really came out and had little to say about LGBT rights". As Long points out though, Rustin did influence the Gay Liberation movement, because it was so heavily influenced by the civil rights movement Rustin had helped shape.

Rustin said of the Stonewall riot, where some reportedly chanted "We shall overcome!":
That was the beginning of an extraordinary revolution, similar to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in that it was not expected that anything extraordinary would occur. As in the case of the women who left the Russian factory, and in the case of Rosa Parks who sat down in the white part of the bus, something began to happen, people began to protest. They began to fight for the right to live in dignity, the right essentially to be one’s self in every respect, and the right to be protected under law. In other words, people began to fight for their human rights. Gay people must continue this protest.
As Turner puts it the documentary about Rustin, 'Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin', "should be required viewing for everyone in the [LGBT] community, right along with 'Before Stonewall' and 'Milk'."

Rustin's rehabilitation will continue as he has been posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor by President Obama. He is the last of the main civil rights leaders to receive this honour. Rustin has a few memorials. There is a plaque in a New York City park and schools in New York and West Chester named after him. He is on the walk in Chicago of gay leaders. A University gives out an award in his name. But despite his stature, no statue. Maybe that will now change.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Music · Mohammed Assaf · Two songs

I have only ever watched shows like Pop Idol when forced to. I find the manipulative staging off putting, for one thing. It's like they moved the wizard pulling the levers in front of the curtain.

So when I read of the dramatic story of Mohammed Assaf,  the Palestinian winner of the Arabic Pop Idol (make that legendary, how he climbed a wall and sang in the queue and sang at the Egyptian guards at the Gazan border .. almost a cliché), I thought I'd have a look at some video and wow. I have no idea what he is singing about but don't need to, his voice is just stunning.

Reem Kelani, a Palestinian singer, musician and broadcaster, explains:
As I quickly realized, Assaf’s musical talents are many and prodigious. Within the context of Arabic music, Assaf has perfect pitch vocals. The Egyptian musician Hassan El Shafei, by far the most professional of the four Arab Idol judges, described Assaf’s vocals to be as “precise as a ruler.”

Assaf has mastered the singing of maqamat or Arabic modes, and seemingly has the ability to travel effortlessly from one maqam to another (known as “modulation”).

Many Western listeners may not have known that the microtones which make up Arabic music vary in pitch from one country to the other. Thus, Assaf’s ability to sing songs from across the Arab world was all the more remarkable, encompassing linguistic and musical dialects.
Sounds good to me.
Assaf’s ability to employ long melismatic phrases — singing a single syllable in four or five notes — is exceptional, with his vocals at times sounding more like the refined Persian bolbol technique of nightingale-like trills.

His rich and yet measured use of vocal decorations, known as urab, is exemplary. All Arab singers are occasionally guilty of overuse of urab. Assaf’s precise use of them is a lesson to us all.
Trills? Yep, trills.
Assaf exudes an inner spirit, which some may call charisma, and others, stage presence. To Arabs, it’s the ability to create a state of tarab, which is similar to the Spanish duende, which the poet Federico García Lorca defined as something that “surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet … it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive.”

Sadly, Assaf’s duende was sometimes obscured by a hyperactive audience who constantly emitted wolf whistles, dissonant shouts and contrived sighs of praise.
It is a little off putting.

Kelani suggests that the Arab Idol people "re-learn how tarab should be celebrated."
As Lorca reminds us, “In all Arabic music, dance, song or elegy, the arrival of duende is greeted with vigorous cries of ‘Allah! Allah!’ so close to the ‘Olé!’ of the bullfight, and who knows whether they are not the same?”"
Of course he's Palestinian so there was the undignified sight of him being embraced by a slew of old men, one even leaping on stage after his victory. Kelani explains more about those who would manipulate the kid. Kelani says that Hamas had detained him several times before. Now the street has forced them to embrace/leave him alone. In this reaction show on Al-Jazeera a Palestinian Authority spokesperson is extremely careful not to over politicise Assaf. Assaf in interviews has been a proud Palestinian and managed to avoid sectarian politics and stick to an 'art bringing people together' type message.

There has been some mixed Israeli reaction. Avi Issacharoff in the Times of Israel said he was "moved", that Assaf's voice "managed to make its way into my soul." Then there were the complaints about a song's lyrics about longing to return to Haifa and other towns now in Israel. Netanyahu even complained to John Kerry, of all people.

These struck me as a bit hypocritical and hyper-sensitive and also insensitive. Assaf's grandmother was driven out of the town of Bayt Daras during Operation Lightning whose aim in 1948 was "to compel the Arab inhabitants of the area to 'move' and by striking one or more population centres to cause an exodus."

I'm not getting into the never ending weeds of that but the kid obviously feels a familial pull, whoever you want to blame for his familial history. Singing about the fact of something lost is a pretty long tradition in all cultures.

Two songs after the jump. The first one is gobsmacking but I couldn't work back from the Arabic description to an English title, did try, please feel free to inform me. The second is the anthemic Alli al-keffiyeh (Raise the keffiyeh, which upset some sensitive souls).

Friday 23 August 2013

No, Guardian, we can't have nice things

Oh, the irony.

In the Guardian Polly Toynbee argues for the new NHS database of patient records and the scheme whereby researchers can make us of it. (Toynbee is the Guardian's doyenne.)

She patiently explains that it will use anonymised data and people can opt out and there are layers of privacy protections. Any fears about privacy are overblown and we already see benefits such as identifying possible new cancer drugs.
The fear is that patients will be identified, losing control of their records and trust in their GPs. But the protections are many and thorough: patients records transmitted to the Health and Social Care Information Centre are fed through an automated anonymiser. The information commissioner has strict oversight over each stage. The Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association back the project.

Is there any risk? Yes, some rogue researcher always might – with difficulty – trace back to the probable patient. But that's only the same risk as with previous use of patient data. Next week's leaflets and posters will tell patients they can refuse to let their records be used: under the present system 750,000 patients do opt out.
She rails against other newspapers for their 'scare tactics' that the data will leak and could be sold.

From the comments below her piece, which are already overwhelmingly negative:
I find it a tad difficult to believe, given the current access, scope, range, and sheer computing power that GCHQ posses that however the data is anonymised, it almost most certainly begins life as extremely personalised and private, is attached to a name and to an nhs number and GCHQ should it decide to, would be capable of digging down to the individual.
As I pointed out in my article about the Guardian's promotion of Glenn Greenwald's linkbait, hysterical, debunked 'revelations':
Once you get people to distrust government in one policy area it is so much easier to turn them off in another - like healthcare or economic stimulation. This lets in corporate control which those banging on about the evil government have either shown little or no interest in (see the stupid pat response I just dealt with [corporations don't arrest or murder people]) or have cloaked, bait-and-switch style, their real positions [namely, libertarian, pro-corporate].
Et, voila. We can't have an obvious good from Big Data because 'government is evil!'

Nothing, no level of accountability or democratic oversight, nothing will ever be good enough. People want the whole thing torn down, even in the socially positive situation Toynbee highlights.
But it is difficult impossible to explain how the left would manage policing and security, let alone how we would reform them, when the atmosphere is dominated by falsehoods and lies. How can you reform something which is thought to be terminally broken and which people are being led to believe cannot be managed by the people - us - through a democratic system?
And, of course, no one is pointing out or railing against very similar use of corporate metadata, which has the same technical ability to breach privacy, by health care researchers.

I wrote that:
No one has polled this in the UK but I would be shocked if Greenwald's work has not impacted trust in government here as well. At least in the US there are some voices challenging the falsehoods, in the UK who is doing this?
To be fair it hasn't just been the Guardian doing this but for a leftie Guardianista who sees the good government can do to be seemingly ignorant of her own newspapers' role in destroying that trust is beyond ironic.

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Thursday 22 August 2013

Assange getting kicked in the nuts in Australia's election

English: Julian Assange at New Media Days 09 i...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since it does not involve crocodiles or stranded backpackers, the news that Julian Assange is set for humiliation in Australia's election is unlikely to get much traction, but it should.

There was never more than a faint chance that he would be elected to Australia's Senate from the state of Victoria in the first place, according to Australia's version of Nate Silver, Anthony Green. It was always smelling of stunt politics because Australia has rules which near certainly bar Senators who cannot actually sit in the Senate, who attempt to do their job from foreign embassies in foreign cities.

But the past few days there's been a trio of hits showing the party for what it always was: an extension of Julian's massive ego.

First came Assange's love fest with Ron and Rand Paul, thanks to a question from an Australian student activist at an election forum about their version of libertarianism. Assange said:
“So non-violence – don’t go and invade a foreign country. Non-violence – don’t force people at the barrel of a gun to serve in the US Army. Non-violence – don’t extort taxes from people to the Federal Government with a policeman. Similarly, there are other aspects of non-violence in relation to abortion that they hold.”
The guns statement hasn't got much traction, even though Australia is famously anti-gun, but the abortion one certainly has (the Paul's are anti-abortion and push for such measures as 'personhood' which would outlaw abortion and some forms of birth control). I guess Assange has to somehow twist to support the Paul's on that murky area of their politics, much as Paul supporters generally do. He avoided commenting on the Paul's racism.

Abortion is an issue in the election because Abbott, the opposition leader and likely next PM, is a Catholic like Mel Gibson is a Catholic. Former PM Julia Gillard made some noise about fears for what Abbott would do on abortion if elected. For women voters this isn't some minor issue.

Some of his other comments would no doubt rankle with most Australians, given that libertarianism holds little sway and Australians not only support free abortion access and gun laws but also their national health service. On taxes, he couldn't be more out of touch with voters concerns in an election being held in an economy going gangbusters where the potential PM's are outbidding each other on what programs voters' taxes should be spent on.

Then we had the Wikileaks Party preferencing the Greens last.

In the Senate you vote above or below the line, meaning that you either tick one box or write numbers in dozens of boxes. Above the line and that vote is allocated according to the party's ticket. This is how minor party candidates and independents get elected to the Senate, based on the preferences of people who voted 1 for someone else.

The Senate elections are actually descending into farce with some metre long ballot papers with candidates' names written in 8pt type and election officials buying up magnifying glasses. The host of minor parties now includes the Coke in the Bubblers’ party. Reforms are needed because these tiny parties actually wield some power when negotiating preference swaps with the big parties. So even though Assange must have known his election was unlikely, just setting up a party has had bought him a measure of influence.

Wikileaks claimed it was all a big typo and Assange put it down to teething pains and 'we're all volunteers'. It means they are preferencing last some of Assange's biggest supporters in Australian politics and putting ahead of the Greens far-right Australian parties including one which is allied to Greece's fascist Golden Dawn.

Now it has come out that the preferencing wasn't a mistake as there's been a spate of resignations, including Assange's #2 on the Victorian Senate ticket, the women who would have actually sat in the Senate if Assange had got up.
In a blistering statement, Ms Cannold said she could not remain as a candidate because to do so would be implicitly making a statement that the WikiLeaks Party was what it claimed to be - "a democratically run party that both believes in transparency and accountability, and operates in this way".
Oh, the humanity.

Anyone who has seen a documentary on Wikileaks or read Guardian journalist James Ball or followed the saga of Julian's flight from Swedish sexual assault charges will know that the organisation is now little more than a front for his ego. How anyone knowing that would think his party could be 'transparent' or 'accountable' must have been asleep the past two years.

Among the flood of resignations, Party National Council member Daniel Matthews said this:
The final straw for me was Julian’s explanation of the fiasco on Triple J [national public service youth radio station] hack on Tuesday night — after a full day of frantic communication within the party, including to his inbox.

He said the following, in flagrant contradiction of everything that had been happening within the party, going to him and his inbox.

“There was a decision that preferences would be done by the states, by the candidates in the states.”

This is wrong. Preferences decisions were made by the National Council and were binding on the party. It was only in Julian’s proposal that candidates were given free rein over preferencing — and that proposal also gave Julian veto power and reduced the National Council to a sham, and was rejected.
I can picture the scene in a cupboard in the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange ranting and raving as he contemplates the utter humiliation due to him in a fortnight's time.

If you'd like to continue having a laff at Assange's expense you can watch him 'dancing' after the jump.

Update: When in a hole ... Assange has now bitchslapped resigned Senate candidate Leslie Cannold and called her second rate.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Against Said on 'orientalism'

Margaret Katherine at Gabarnmung

After once more regretting going BTL (below the line) in a comments section of The Guardian I discover a fantastic demolition of Edward Said's 'Orientalism' on Jacobinism.

The lengthy, thorough post had lots which springs out. It quotes Ibn Warraq on practitioners "intellectual terrorism". It describes Said's hugely influential work as "an accusatory and deeply reactionary text" and describes the ill effects it has had, principally in the Arab world. Go read the whole thing.

But what most sprung out to me was this:
And while Said's work was a convenient cudgel with which to bash the West, it was often misleading and tendentious to the point of outright fraudulence. The Orientalists Said attacks in Orientalism were not the Imperialist stooges of his imagination. They were learned classicists and multi-lingual philologists motivated by a desire to know about and to understand cultures, traditions and peoples unlike their own. Their voluminous research and the translations of Arab texts they undertook have proven invaluable, not only to Western scholars but also - in spite of Said's claims to the contrary - to Middle Eastern scholars, who were grateful for the preservation of their own neglected pre-Islamic history.
I immediately thought of the scholars who documented Australian Aboriginal culture in C19th and early C20th. Who did this work at a time when the worst horrors were being inflicted on Aboriginal people.

Their records are now used by Aboriginal communities all over Australia to reconstruct or fill in the blanks about their ancient culture. They have been crucial to native title claims over land.

It also made me think of the four part series just finished on Australian TV, First Footprints, about how Aboriginal people transformed the environment. The series is a collaboration demonstrating this alive and wonderful connection between scientists and Aborigines.

Doug Anderson, the veteran TV critic now writing for Guardian Australia, describes one of the series' highlights, from a site which is at least 15,000 years older than Stonehenge:
The sight of Jawoyn elder, Margaret Katherine, learning factual details at an amazing rock art gallery near Kakadu from anthropologists and archeological experts is profoundly moving. You can feel her joy as she realises the stories she is custodian of not only have authenticity but are verified by tangible evidence thousands of years old. Her gratitude is as palpable as her dignity.
Indeed. Throughout the series we see a real exchange. In one highlight trackers from the central desert explain to scientists what is going on in ancient footprints found at Willandra Lakes. In another at the 'world's largest gallery' in the Kimberley, Western Australian, a scientist gives the date of rock art depicting a human face to an awestruck young Aboriginal local.
  • The whole of First Footprints is on YouTube, part one here. (Timelapse photography short after the jump.)
Another of the things I learned from the series was that there are probably more trees now in Australia than at first contact because Aboriginal people systematically burnt to create grassland and open woodland. This so impressed the first white settlers and it is now thought that the pictures painted of pastoral scenes once thought misleadingly reminiscent of Britain are accurate.

HT: Harry's Place.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Some comment on Russia and The Gays

Anonymous posters appeared this month in St. Petersberg quoting SS Heinrch Himmler on Gays

Since there's such vast verbiage on Russia and The Gays ATM I'm restricting myself to points which seem to be getting little or no airing.

The Red Menace

Richard Smith has rightly pointed out that Americans would have a particular thing with the Russians now wouldn't they?

It's not like they're running boycotts of products from Cameroon, or Tanzania, or numerous other places with active LGBT crackdowns/backlashes. Of course they'd have a thing for the special evilness of the commies Russians.

That may well be right but it's not the whole story. See this interview (video after jump) of the playwright and legend Harvey Fierstein talking on Chris Hayes show.

What I hear from Fierstein, whose New York Times fierce pro-boycott editorial started much of the furore, is a righteous anger that comes from many who lived through HIV/Aids. He sounds like Larry Kramer. It's a very particular New York style which comes from a 'no turning back' history, Russia is just the current place on the receiving end.
Fierstein told Hayes on his show Wednesday, “What’s going on in Russia is absolutely frightening. Even in your intro just now you talked about one law. There are three laws that have already come out, one saying that gay couples or singles may not adopt all. The other says that nobody in any country that allows gay marriage can adopt out of Russia. The third is the propaganda. The fourth law which was not passed which is rumored by the press to have been ready to be passed was one that said that children would be removed from gay and lesbian households.”

Hayes protested, “There are horrible laws discriminating against LGBT folks everywhere in the world.”

“You remember when the AIDS crisis first hit,” Fierstein said, “I would have people say to me, why are we spending so much energy on AIDS, there’s cancer too? One doesn’t negate the other.”

Fierstein went on to offer Hayes a history lesson.

“You must fight injustice wherever that injustice is,” he said. “You cannot just ignore evil. When evil shows its face you have to answer. When you don’t answer, look what happens. You were talking about Hitler, so we went to the Olympics in Germany, right? Yes, they took down the anti-Jewish posters for two weeks, and what happened? Owens won a gold medal and then 6 million Jews were killed.”

Monday 19 August 2013

The left must challenge Greenwald

A libertarian assault on the notion of government lies behind the reporting of the NSA 'revelations'. The left needs to step up, expose the con and defend government as a force for good.

The line (it's either Mark Twain or Winston Churchill) is never more true than now: "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Promoted ad nauseam by The Guardian and reproduced without question, the link-bait 'revelations' about the American National Security Agency (NSA) are convincing more and more people that we live in a conspiracy, Jason Bourne world rather than the mundane reality.

Real life spying, according to MI6 agents I've read, is more bland, actually boring, but we think differently because, as the brilliant film maker Adam Curtis puts it:
Journalists and spies concocted a strange dark world of treachery and deceit which bore very little relationship to what was really going on.
The "aura of secret knowledge", Curtis writes, is a con, a way of maintaining power. Which puts the journalist at the centre of the current imbroglio, Glenn Greenwald, in a whole different light, as does the fact that he seems to operate unmolested by fellow journalistic stars (more of that later).

N'est ce faux pas

What has been 'revealed' by The Guardian has either been debunked or is actually no 'revelation' at all or has already been reported. Or makes no sense. It 'could be' but there's no evidence it has been. That's Greenwald's entire schtick: Chicken Little, the sky is falling.

Take his first 'exclusive' from the Edward Snowden files, about how the NSA can literally - literally - search the massive databases of the big US Internet companies.