Friday, June 28, 2013

Why the widow in Helmand is no different to the widow in Kettering

When you try to find out how many people have been killed in Afghanistan since the Coalition started its operations there after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York and go, for example to iCasualties.org, you’ll get all kinds of figures: deaths broken down by nationality, by province, by year and by month, and you’ll even, if that’s the kind of info you’re after, find the names of those who have died. It’s pertinent, however, that all these deaths are ‘Coalition’ deaths and what you won’t find is a figure for the number of Afghanis killed, whether they were ‘hostile’ or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Try googling the phrase ‘Afghanistan deaths’. That’s pretty comprehensive, isn’t it, and should surely take you to the sites giving you the information you want.

If like me you want to find out specifically how many Afghanis have been killed - whether ‘hostile’ or who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - you’ll come up empty-handed. Listed are sites giving you ‘military deaths’, ‘Coalition deaths’, the number of UK soldiers killed and the number of US soldiers killed. For anything else, you’ll have to dig a little deeper. I did, and this is what I have found: Wikipedia’s page ‘‪Civilian casualties in the War in Afghanistan (2001–present)‬’ begins ‘The decade-long War in Afghanistan (2001-present) has caused the deaths of thousands of Afghan civilians directly from insurgent and foreign military action, as well as the deaths of possibly tens of thousands of Afghan civilians indirectly as a consequence of displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment, and crime resulting from the war.’

The Coalition mission, let me remind you, is called ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’. For the record a total of 3,343 of the Coalition forces have died, of which 2,245 were from the US, 444 from the UK and the rest - 654 - were ‘others’, that is members of a force from other countries who were strong-armed to take part by the US and its junior partner - let’s not kid ourselves - the UK to give the whole bloody pointless exercise a spurious respectability - you couldn’t otherwise really call it a ‘coalition’, could you.

Now you have the figures, let me pose a simply question: how does 3,343 compare with ‘thousands, possibly tens of thousands’? It doesn’t, does it. Oh, and an estimate by a former British ambassador to Afghanistan, ‪Sherard Cowper-Coles‬ (that’s Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles to you Americans and no, he didn’t grow up on a council estate in Northamptonshire, not with a name like that), is that the whole shooting match has cost the UK around £40 billion since 2001. Lord knows how much it has cost the US.

There have been a great many critics of the West’s invasion of Afghanistan - I might as be honest and call a spade a spade - and I am by no means the first. In response our governments here in Britain are always on the back foot. They will try to justify their action - started by Blair who, as far as I can see, never let pass an opportunity to suck up to Uncle Sam, such is his mysterious pathology - by point out out ‘how many schools have now been built’, that ’30,000 girls now attend school’, that Afghanis can now take part in elections’.

These three points, and others they make, are undoubtedly true - and admirable - but don’t take us for fools, please. Those justifications are all post-hoc. Dubya Bush didn’t wake up one day and realise that his mission in life was to ensure girls as well as boys in Afghanistan deserved a good education, and that, by jingo!, he was going to make sure they got one, whatever the cost in human lives and hard cash. He sent in US troops - would invaded Afghanistan really be inappropriate here? - because

Success! The Coalition can demonstrate progress is bringing enduring freedom to the people of Afghanistan


‘intelligence’ suggested one Osama bin Laden, the evil genius behind the destruction of the Twin Towers was holed up in a cave in the mountains on the Afghani/Pakistani border. And Blair, ever eager for the brownie points and with one eye on his epitaph went in with him. It was only when - yet again - the West came horribly unstuck in Afghanistan, as did the Soviets before them, that in view of the mounting number of Coalitions deaths and other casualties it began coming up with all kinds of bullshit to ‘justify’ its military action there - making sure Health and Safety legislation was adequately observed, clamping down on blatant disregard for planning laws, that kind of thing. Ordnung muß sein!

It was always going to end in tears, of course, and now the Coalition, finally acknowledging that it is on a hiding to nothing, is trying to persuade the Taliban to enter ‘peace talks’. The Taliban, of course, who know a three-legged racing stallion when they see one, aren’t really that bothered. Why should they be? OK, so they have ‘an office’ in Doha, Qatar (and, I don’t doubt, adequate expenses accounts to go with it) and a website, but it will take all the skills Sir William Todger and Trent Buckweed (a the British and American diplomats leading the talks) can muster to avoid giving the impression that ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ is just another embarrassing fuck-up in a long line of embarrassing fuck-ups.

What of those Afghanis deaths, both ‘insurgent’ and civilian? Our oh-so fragrant Margaret Thatcher went purple with rage during the Falklands War when BBC observed that that ‘the widow in Portsmouth is no different from the widow of Buenos Aires’, but I am on the side of the BBC and as far as I am concerned the widow in Helmand province is no different from the widow in Cardiff or Scunthorpe or Wichita’ or wherever else the dead squaddie was from. And this might also be a good point to record that if you want to blame anyone for the fuck-up don’t blame servicemen and woman sent out there: blame the politicians and their PR folk who like to think a conflict or two always looks good in a biography.

I am, of course, pissing in the wind. By railing against the rampant hypocrisy conveyed by casualty figures that record ‘Coalition’ deaths in minute detail but don’t record a single Afghani death I am doing nothing more than making myself look like a naive twat. It’s life, Patrick, it’s the way of the world, dear boy, has always been thus and shall always be thus, no go and lie down and think no more on it.

But...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

(Not for the first time) I earwig. And very little joy with the Prince track, thanks to Warner's no bloody piracy policy. Well! Then there’s more middlebrow ‘original British drama to whinge about and I have a good word to say about Richard, Duke of York, better known as Richard III

I am currently sitting in a pub after work and eavesdropping on another conversation and I can’t say it makes fascinating listening. What it does do is remind me how people – and I’m sorry to say that also includes me – are so able to believe their own bullshit so easily. I try not to, but I’m certain I don’t succeed.

At the next table (we are outside the pub under large umbrellas, which is all for the best because it is also raining, with me here because I want to smoke a cigar with my pint of Addlestones cider, though why the two I am eavesdropping on are out here, I can’t say, because neither is smoking) is a middle-aged woman and a young chap. He is 26. I know that because he has said so. From what I can gather he is a friend or acquaintance of her son Justin. I first notice her when she jumped the queue at the bar (it’s the Devonshire in Marloes Road, Kensington) while I was waiting to be served. We Brits are always at a loss when that happens and don’t know what to do. Well, actually, I do know what to do, but in the interests of peace and quiet I don’t do it. But it did rather piss me off. It wasn’t that I was desperate for that pint, it’s just I don’t very much like folk who jump queues.

I went outside and sat down and only then noticed it was the same woman. What made my ears prick up (and a word to those who might not have gathered: hacks eavesdrop – it’s sometimes called earwigging – a lot. We don’t do it for any particularly reason, but we do do it) was when the young chap, who seems to be on some course or other – from what he has does said he’s at ‘art school’ - declared that he wasn’t yet to convince that his plan to get an education was necessary who his career path would pan out – he might well decide at some future date to ‘open a shop’. The next thing I hear is that he is working – I assume as an intern, but I don’t know how these things are arranged – as   MP’s researcher. A little later he was talking about perhaps guiding his ‘career path’ into becoming a ‘special advisor’, though quite how that works out with also ‘opening a shop’ I really don’t know.

Here are a few more details in no particular order: later this year he’s off to New York where his brother now lives (and presumably he’ll be staying with his brother. His brother is only a year and a half older than he is, studied art history, but decided to get a ‘real job’ and now works for Vogue. His brother has his own office. Through his father, the young chap has relatives in Italy, and his mother is – in his words – from a well-to-do family in Ireland. While he was talking about his family, the woman – and I still can’t work out exactly why she is having a drink with him (she’s no looker, but might have been about 30 years ago). He, and presumably his brother, went to Westminster, her son, presumably Justin, went to St Paul’s. She is, for some reason, definitely flattering him.

He’s planning to do a Phd, but he hasn’t started yet, but apparently ‘people start to take you a little more seriously’ when they know you are going to do one. He got a First. He’s thinking of applying to Harvard. She has some kind of ‘network’ and he is going to be added to her ‘big list’. No idea what it is. At all. It doesn’t help that my hearing isn’t what it was. And now I’m getting bored with earwigging/eavesdropping. I’ve not heard anything interesting, and all really. He’s now talking about possibly joining the Civil Service or perhaps ‘going into lobbying’. I’ve always been rather baffled by folk who plan a ‘career path’. I never had one, but then that is possibly no surprise. They are now leaving. They’ve now gone. So much for earwigging.

. . .

Well, posting the Prince track here was a waste of time. It seems – quite understandably – Warner don’t like folk listening to tracks for free which they otherwise would have to pay for. But you can still hear the track I’m talking about here.

. . .

A new three-part series has started on the BBC here in Britain which confirms the BBC’s undoubted ability to produce middlebrow drama with high production values. So high are those values, in fact, that they remind one of nothing less than the sumptuously filmed ads for Hovis and other well-known products.

The series is called The White Queen and follows the fortunes of Lady Elizabeth Woodville, a ‘commoner’ with whom King Edward IV fell in love, Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, and Lady Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwich, known as ‘the Kingmaker’, and wife of Richard III, he of the gammy arm - apparently - and a crooked spine - definitely (his skeleton was recently dug up from a car park in Leicester.

I’ve only so far seen the first episode, the one about Elizabeth Woodville, and I might - or might not - be bothered to see the second. My reluctance is due to the fact that however much the BBC might like to trail the bloody series as ‘original British drama’, it is pretty average stuff. (‘Original British drama’ sounds like one of those descriptions invented by the bright lads and lasses in the publicity department which, on reflection, means less and less. As opposed to what: ‘unoriginal British drama like, for example, Hamlet and Coriolanus? The Rivals? Lady Windermere’s Fan? Forgive me for pointing it out, but in their day all these plays, and many more, both good, mediocre and bad, were ‘original’. So what does ‘original’ mean? But in Middlebrow Land it does sound good.

The Sunday Times did the same (and perhaps still does, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t read it) when they would trail something as ‘an important new series’. Important? How would we know? And the Sunday Times is also responsible for its crass ‘Rich List’. In a similar way the Guardian, Observer and The Independent compile spurious list such as ‘the 50 most influential gays and lesbians in Britain’. Who, except those on the list and their friends and hangers-on, gives a fuck?

But back to The White Queen, or rather Richard III. I am no historian (the only ‘important’ date I know is November 21, 1949. It’s the day I was born in the Peppard Road, Caversham), but from what I know of Richard, it seems unlikely the his character suddenly underwent some kind of transformation and that a man renown for insisting everyone - his nobles as well as his commoners - being subject to the rule of law while he was governing the North of England for his brother Edward IV and generally being known for his loyalty and courage, should suddenly become an absolute bastard. He was, let us remember, proclaimed king by the majority of nobles because they felt he was the only man able to keep the peace in a country which was fed up to the back teeth with war.

So what about the ‘Princes in the Tower’ you ask, and the fact that he stuck them there? Well, we should remember that the Tower of London was used as a sanctuary as much as a prison, and one - for me quite convincing - suggestion is that Henry Tudor, something of a opportunist, had the two princes murdered once he had beaten Richard at Bosworth as he regarded them as future trouble. If you are looking for two-faced, paranoid, murderous bastards, Henry Tudor, better known as Henry VII, is a far better candidate than Richard III, and England being the dangerous place it was for many more years to come, it was the victor who wrote the history. But the fact is we shall never know.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Finally: I give you Prince and one of his songs which (for me) stands above the rest (and perhaps it's not quite what you might expect)

There was are recent entry here in which I trailed Prince, but so far never got around to writing it. So here it is. Prince was once one of my bands (the others were The Kinks, The Beatles and Steely Dan), but like almost everyone else, including those three, he seemed to go off the boil just a little as time went on, though it has to be said that Prince off the boil is still ahead of many at their best. Someone once pointed out that after the few years around When Doves Cry and Kiss, he seemed to have lost his gift for striking lyrics.

Then there was the problem - well, I regarded it and regard it as a problem, that because he was so musically gifted, ironically he had a tendency to coast when, for example, he was doing a funk workout (or what was thought of as funk in the Eighties and early Nineties). Perhaps, like too many ‘stars’, he began to believe his own bullshit. Something similar seemed to have happened to Stevie Wonder, who, as far as this punter is concerned really lost his way after. Anyway I gave up buying ‘the latest Prince’ a long time ago, mainly because he had stopped stretching himself. But I still have quite a few of his CDs though I must admit I don’t listen to them half as much as I used to.

This track is from a CD called The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale, which was just a collection of recordings he had knocking around which he allowed
Take a listen (and, by the way, I think the UN, the Yanks, the Brits, the Russians, the Chinks, the Frogs, the Krauts and whoever else is available should put aside their differences for a moment and get together to institute a universal ban on the use of the word ‘reality’ in any song. Ever, even if it does rhyme neatly with ‘spoke to me’ and ‘fantasy’).

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Syria? Leave well alone. If they want a punch-up, stay well clear. And what about those rumours of affairs and sex: Alastair Campbell, Andy Coulson, Rebekah Wade, Tony Blair and Wendi Deng?

The word in these parts is that Cameron is planning to ask Parliament here in Britain to agree to Britain supply the Syrian rebels with materiel rather more ‘lethal’ than the various bars of soap, advice and toothbrushes that have so far been flown out of RAF Wherever, and that when he does so, a sizeable number of Tory MPs as well as a sizeable number of Lib Dem and Labour MPs will oppose him. And good for them. I am also opposed, though I feel rather uncomfortable with being in agreement with Tory MPs for one and Lib Dems and Labour MPs for another.

Some say it is sheer madness for Britain to throw its hand into the ring militarily while it is actively engaged on reducing Britain’s armed forces to a chap in a tin hat and a pop gun on Brighton beach. But that is not the reason I am against it: I am against it because at issue here is that, as is glaringly obvious to me, though to loads of other people as well, that what began a couple of years ago as protest by some Syrians fed up with the regime has now evolved into being nothing less – but nothing more either, if you get my drift – than a murderous sectarian punch-up between Sunnis and Shi’ites. And why the bloody hell should Britain or anyone else in Europe for that matter pick sides in that one?

As usual, the standard arguments are being trotted out: ‘People are dying, children are being massacred’ (by both sides as it happens – there are no ‘good guys’ in this particular spat). OK, so where as the Western World’s conscience when people were being killed and people were being massacred – and, by the way, still are – in the Congo? Nowhere. The most we could do was to wring our hands as in organising innumerable United Nations resolutions ‘deploring in the strongest possible terms’ the situation in the Congo. And you always know the United Nations and its members simply haven’t a clue what to do when they get around to ‘deploring in the strongest possible terms’ anything.

Admittedly, they did organise the mobilisation and deployment of a UN peace force, but as it was under strict instructions ‘not to get involved’ and in the event was obliged to stand by as villagers were massacred, it was as useful as a chocolate teapot. The best interpretation I can put on the most recent Western moves is that at the end of the day it is all just a game of chess, that they believe that if Assad can be convinced we are ‘serious’, he will be more prepared to take part in peace talks.

However, the trouble with that particular argument is that with the new involvement of – Shi’ite – Hezbollah and the pledge, yesterday, by Iran to send 4,000 soldiers to Syria to bloster Assad’s forces, and the subsequent announcement that Saudi Arabia will now also step up is – which, you can bet your bottom dollar, will amount to more than a few maps and those non-lethal bars of soap and it is now promising to supply the rebels with anti-aircraft guns – it is now so glaringly obvious that neither side is interested in reaching some kind of accommodation and that the idea that the Western world could achieve anything by imposing pressure on Assad is dead in the water.

Then there’s the rather uncomfortable, though pertinent, fact that no side in any conflict will be in the slightest bit interested in ‘talking peace’ unless they have reached the point where they are persuaded that they can no longer win militarily. And even then both sides must be so convinced for peace talks to start and to have any chance of succeeding. So what the hell is Cameron up to? What difference does it make whether or not he – or anyone else – is using chemical weapons? Is massacre just a tad more acceptable to our precious liberal conscience if it is achieved by non-chemical mean? This might sound horribly cold-blooded, but it isn’t intended to be. Let me get back to my original observation: that the ‘civil war’ in Syria is now no longer anything of the kind. It is now most certainly a sectarian.

Even that begs the question: exactly why does either side – the Sunnis and the Shi’ites – even want to get involved in a sectarian conflict now? I don’t know, and I can’t even begin to speculate. So let me bring this back closer to home: why for the sake of God does Britain want to get involved? Why. When it comes to killing, torture and massacring both sides have proved themselves to be as bad as each other. And a supreme irony is that thug that he is, Assad is actually more tolerant of his minorities – Christians, various Muslim sects and gays – than most of the militias making up the rebel forces ever promise to be.

. . .

Years ago when I was still in short trousers I would occasionally hear a news bulletin on the radio and would hear talk of the Baghdad Pact. What it was is now no longer relevant. And that is more or less the point. A little later – this would have been in the late Fifties, when I was still in the first decade of my life – a certain Col Grivas was operating and his struggle for EOKA was giving Britain a good deal of grief and costing it a good many lives. I remember at the time being a little bit worried.

It wasn’t that I knew what was going on, it was just that I didn’t have much of a sense of geography or proportion, and I was concerned the troubles would eventually land up on my own doorstep. But then again: who, a great many will be asking, was Col Grivas and what was EOKA? And that question is also the point. I have a 14-year-old son whose main interests, as far as I can see, are computer games.

What is the ‘Syrian conflict’ to him. I’m sure, in between killing zombies while playing Call Of Duty VI and Portal, he will have gathered that something is going on, but is he worried? Certainly not at all as much as me. And, given that all the horror – for most certainly is was horror for many Cypriots at the time Col Grivas was operating – connected with EOKA is now largely forgotten, will young Wesley (for that is his name) be writing a blog in 40 or 50 years time in which he records as I did about Col Grivas that there was an awful stink in Syria, but that ‘is now all forgotten’? I really don’t know, though I pray to God it will be. Perhaps I am fretting too much. Perhaps Cameron and Obama and Hollande have got some subtle game plane underway and that it will all come good in the end. But, you know, my immediate comments not withstanding, and given the very different dynamics of a far more globalised world, I’m really not that too certain it will.

. . .

When I first came to London in 1990, I was, in a sense, overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city, and became acutely aware of just how insignificant I was in the scheme of things. Admittedly, I was suffering from a period of depression (though, I must add, nothing quite as bad as many others suffer, however horrible it was for me at the time), but I don’t think that was the reason. The reason was that the circumstances I found myself in, looking for somewhere to stay, simply highlighted that I was insignificant, utterly insignificant. But then we all are. Most certainly most of us do have some signifance in some context or other, the context, for example, of our families and our immediate work colleagues, but at the end of the day we are nothing more important than the smoke I puff out each time I take a drag on my cigar.

Similarly, we bloggers, from the most basic blogger such as myself, to the ‘informed’ such as all those media correspondents who are also obliged to blog, are, at the end of the day, utterly insignificant. What I write here is trivial with a capital T. My concerns about Britain getting itself stupidly involved, however apparently admirable its motives, in a war which is none of its business, are equally insignificant. What do they – my views and opinions – matter? How do I matter, except to my two children, my wife, my stepmother, my brother and sister. What do you matter, except to your family and friends? Admit it: you don’t.

. . .

Finally, I can’t resist passing on a rumour, and I stress it is merely a rumour. A week or two ago, Cameron hit the headlines in on Sunday paper when he was told of an affair which affected Downing Street. The first rumour I heard was that the affair which so disturbed Cameron was between Andy Coulson, once his press bod and formerly an editor of the News of the World, and the then editor of the Sun, one Rebekah Wade (aka Brooks). Today I heard another rumour, which adds a little spice to the whole shooting match. It is that not only was Rebekah screwing Coulson, she was, at the same time, also screwing one Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s press bod. Though whether this was before, during or after Blair was rumoured to be screwing Rupert Murdoch’s soon to be divorced wife Wendi Deng I really haven’t heard. And nor do I know.

Friday, June 14, 2013

And what do the Men With A Conscience do about Erdogan? Ponder that while we all prepare for World War III and Obama and Cameron opt for equal-opportunity slaughter. And purely in the interests of universal prurience, I pass on a rumour. I stress ‘rumour’ (I know which side my bread is buttered on)

Given that one of this blog’s many self-imposed tasks it to test to the limit the integrity of all those who think of themselves as Having A Conscience and Knowing What’s Best For The World (even if the world disagrees), here’s a cracker: what should be the official Man With A Conscience line on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, he of the OTT response to the protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square?

By all accounts he’s a bit of a tough nut and shows every sign of getting tougher. Universally acclaimed by all Men With Conscience’s (aka Thinking Men) when he was first elected, he strengthened the economy, improved the living standards of many in rural areas whose living standards were in dire need of improvement and pledged that, although he had islamist inclinations and his was a kind of vanilla islamist, soft and cuddly, that kind of thing, he would demonstrate that islamist bods such as himself could be just as democratic as non-islamist bods. He set about neutering The Generals (sorry, that’s Greece - I mean the Army) whose democratic credentials weren’t half as well-defined as his apparently were and who were far to fond of grabbing power ‘in the interests of the country’ (isn’t it always?).

(NB - ‘?).’ - without the quote marks, of course, they are just intended to isolate the ‘?).’ - is that allowed? Looks horrible, but strictly I think it’s correct. One for the pedants. Back to Mr Erdogan.)

These were thought to be Good Things, and another Good Thing he undertook was to come to some kind of arrangement with the Kurds, who until then had been imprisoned. Erdogan decided there must be a more fruitful way of dealing with the issue. He had also been imprisoned himself under a previous regime, so that, too, helped to burnish his credentials among those Men With A Conscience for whom that kind of thing is important.

Over the years, however, Erdogan has become something of a headache for his liberal champions. He was first elected in 2003 with a rather attractive majority, and has since been re-elected twice, each time with an increased majority. That, surely, is a Good Thing. The people have spoken and what they said was ‘Erdogan’s the man’. The trouble is that over the past ten years our hero - well, not mine - has grown rather fond of being in charge. I’ve read that more journalists are languishing in jail in Turkey than in China and that you have to be rather careful in public with what you say if it isn’t something along the lines of ‘that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he’s the man, isn’t he, aren’t we lucky to have him!’

In the past few weeks it has all come to a head: as far as I know there were two catalysts for the unrest in Turkey. The first was when folk heard that the government planned to build a shopping mall in one of Istanbul’s parks, and the second was when the government brought in restrictions on the sale of alcohol (and Erdogan declared rather loftily that people who drank were ‘alcoholics’). You wouldn’t think either issue was great enough to spark off the protests and, of course, it wasn’t. Not only were there protest rallies in Istanbul and Ankara but in several other cities, and it would seem reasonable to assume that it was Erdogan’s autocratic approach to power which they were protesting about.

Now here’s the rub for all those who like to think they are on the side of the angels: there was never a suggestion during any of Turkey’s previous general elections that they were in any way fixed. And at those elections, Erdogan was returned each time with an increased majority. In other words more Turkish voters thought he was a good egg than didn’t. And what’s the liberal line on elections: why, the people must be heard. The dilemma, of course, is what does the Man With A Conscience do when he doesn’t like what the people have to say?

 . . .

From my small and insignificant corner of the world here in rural, rustic, delightful and today rather chilly North Cornwall, the arrangements for staging World War III seem to be progressing rather well. Today’s news that America Is Going To Get Involved in the civil war in Syria is surely a turning point. Given that the forces of president Assad are now known almost certainly to have used chemical weapons in attacks on the rebels, they have crossed ‘a red line’ and president Barack Obama is finding it nigh-on impossible to resist calls for the US to assist them.

The official line is that the US (and Britain, because our homegrown Good Guy, one David William Donald Cameron) are keen that the slaughter now underway in Syria should take place evenly and fairly: we
Just a reminder of what dead children look like, in this case Syrian children (though whether they are victims of the Good Guys or the Bad Guys I really can't tell you)

can’t have Assad chalking up all the deaths. Putin and Russia (in Putin’s eyes the same thing these days) are broadly backing Assad, though they are under no illusions as to what a nice chap he is. It’s the naval base they have in the Med, courtesy of Assad, which might be a factor. I have to say that, Putin notwithstanding, I’m rather more in favour of the Russian insistence that the only way to settle the Syrian civil war is by diplomacy rather than giving the rebels enough weapons and assistance to ensure they can kill as many people as Assad’s forces. But then holed away in my small corner of rural, rustic, delightful and today rather chilly North Cornwall as I am, no one has yet seen fit to consult me.
 
There were two interesting and rather depressing items on BBC 2’s Newsnight last night, which each have a bearing on the war in Syria. The first, and by far the most serious, was how Lebanon is being sucked into the conflict, with the Shi’ite Hezbollah ensuring Assad’s forces could get
More dead children

off what was increasingly looking like the back foot and the backlash from Sunnis to this involvement. And that, really, highlights, a crucial element of it all: the continuing - since just a few years after The Prophet died - clash between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

The second was the vote in Iran - today - for a new president. The choices seem pretty narrow: a moderate hardliner, a hardline moderate and a hardline hardliner, although who eventually is given the rosette and gets to take home the cake is pretty irrelevant because the Supreme Leader has the final say on almost most things.

Now there’s a thing: a world war yet not a German in sight. Marvellous. And at least they are off the hook for a change.

. . .

Here is a rumour I really can’t resist passing on. I have no idea at all whether or not it’s true and must stress - with one eye on Britain’s libel laws and the other on my balls - that it is only a rumour I have come across (prominently publicised variously, for example here). But it it this: Mr Murdoch, who some of you know as Rupert and others merely as Mr Murdoch, but who all of us know is a leading light in the publication of our esteemed parish magazine The Truth, is reported to be about to divorce his third wife Wendi, known to many of us as that exotic bird who runs the local Chinese takeaway.

That, so far, is common knowledge. Now for the rumour. It is this that: Mr Blair, who some of you know as Tony and others as a former chairman of our parish council, has not just been swapping recipes for sweet and sour chicken with the delectable Wendi. Oh no. Far, far more. Pork is reputed to have been involved, too. But, as I say, it’s just a rumour.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Doom, doom, doom, that’s what I predict, doom, damnation, pestilence, grief, death and more doom. And if I’m wrong this time, who knows? I might be right the next

There’re really no secret to being a successful prophet of doom: all you have to do is to stick with it for as long as it takes, and sooner or later you’ll be proved farsighted. After all, a broken clock is right twice a day. And the public being the brain-dead set of cruds who will remember nothing whatsoever for more than a minute or two except what they saw on TV last night soon forget all the prophesies of disease and pestilence – or what in our modern world passes for disease and pestilence - which come to nothing. Eventually, of course, one will. And then one can jump on one’s high horse and speed through the massed ranks of dimwits boasting ‘I told you so! I told you so! Now see who was right!’

I mentioned once before watching a BBC documentary called The Great War – narrated by Laurence Olivier no less, so it must have been important – which was an in-depth, not to say interminable account and analysis of that terrible conflict, what led up to it – vanity mainly in Germany, conceit in France and pique in Britain – and what then happened. And what has stayed with me all those years was a shot of a crowded Brighton beach (Brighton beach in Sussex, England, not New York) taken in August 1914 when the country apparently did not have a care in the world. Then, when the first shots were fired – and the French cavalry went to war in full, colourful dress uniform – there was a general feeling that it would all be over within months if not weeks.

I’m not suggesting that we here in the West are in the same kind of insouciant devil-may-care state, but for a period when we are being persuaded that ‘times is ‘ard’, times are patently not all that hard. (Moral:

 

Don't forget, you read it here first! 

 
don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers.) But then we here in the West are a rather mollycoddled bunch and times is most certainly hard in Syria. But then, you say, that conflict has been running for almost two years. Well, it has, but what strikes me as very ominous is the trouble in Turkey.

News programmes tell us that it was all sparked either by government plans to build a shopping mall in a site which until now had been a green park or government plans to stop people drinking. Well, to be honest neither explanation strikes me as good enough to account for five days of vicious rioting and an extremely brutal police response. And nor does it explain why rioting has taken place in three major Turkish cities. There are quite obviously far deeper feelings at play here which have now been given an outlet.

A Turkish commentator on the radio pointed out yesterday that when Recep Tayyip Erdogan was first elected, he was regarded, or at least, marketed as the democratic face of Muslimism (I won’t say Islam because that would be misleading). He was praised for neutralising the political instincts of the army and generally regarded as a Good Egg. The turning point came when it was made very clear to him by the EU that Turkey wasn’t really wanted as a member, and, says the commentator, he took this personally and gradually became more autocratic. Those who support the prime minister point out that he has been re-elected in what are accepted to be democratic elections three times. Would a reputed ‘dictator’ manage that? they ask.

The rioters respond by criticising him for an increasingly autocratic style of government, though I, of course, am in no position to comment on either claim. So far it’s all more or less a domestic affair in Turkey. What strikes me as dangerous, however, is that to the south of Turkey is Syria and that Turkey, which once had good relations with Syria, is now growing increasingly hostile.

In the past Turkey has stressed that it rules out no action at all if it wants to retaliate to Syrian aggression (this was after a few ‘mystery explosions’ in a Turkish village on the border with Syria. Should matters threaten to get a little out of hand in his cities, Erdogan might well consider taking Caesar’s sage advice to deal with domestic troubles by creating trouble abroad and taking the plebians’ minds off matters.

Then there’s Hezbollah’s increasing involvement in Syria, and for Hezbollah read Iran. Russia has already broaden the conflict rather by giving its support to Assad, and the fact that Syria hosts a Russian naval base will have something to do with the matter. Britain is getting all very gung-ho and is apparently champing at the bit to fight the good fight, but the U.S. – thank goodness - is very, very reluctant to get involved, not least because any involvement will clash with the coming presidential election the Democrats would rather not be at war when the country goes to the polls. Good to see Uncle Sam doing the right thing for a change, even if it is for the wrong reasons.

So there you have it: I predict doom. (Of, course, if you live in Somalia or the Congo, you probably don’t give two hoots what happens in Syria, you’ve got troubles enough of your own.)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bowie, buggery, plastic soul, ones-off and the rest - this blog takes a trip down memory lane (not that I, you know...)

The other night I had an idea for an entry – about David Bowie – and in order to post a few songs on this blog, I prepared several videos (which can be posted on YouTube, then linked to this blog). The trouble is that at the time – last Friday night leading into yesterday morning - I cracked open a bottle of wine while I was working, drank rather a lot of it and then got sidetracked into the Julie London version of Cry Me A River which I subsequently posted with a few words to try to make the whole thing a little less incomprehensible. So I’ve now completely forgotten what I wanted to say. It was going to be a little more than ‘Bowie’s fab man, the biz!’ (mainly because I don’t think he’s necessarily always fab and there’s quite a bit of his music which doesn’t do a lot for me. On the other hand, there’s quite a bit I do like) but what point I was hoping to make I really cannot recall. But what the hell.

I have to admit that Bowie is a one-off who has always ploughed his own furrow – which I always admire in anyone - and who gives the impression that he regards himself as the sole arbiter of the worth of his songs. I first came across him when his fourth album, Hunky Dory, was all the rage in



1971 while I was at college in Dundee, Scotland. But it was more than just the music which caught our attention: just 14 years after gays were no longer thrown in jail for shagging, Bowie – who is apparently not gay and never was – made a point of coming on as the wildest swinger in town. There was just no one like him and no act like his. Forget Marc Bolan, who always struck me as more of a clever opportunist than in any way original.

Like him or loathe him Bowie was utterly different to anything which had gone before. These days, and for many years now, getting dragged up, wearing make-up, coming on gay and the rest of that schtick is just another, increasingly more than hackneyed, weapon in the music industry armoury, especially since MTV made the music vid centre stage. But Bowie was something else: he was a first. Anyone hearing about Led Zeppelin these days might be equally unaware of just how much of a first they were. The same was true of, musically, of Wagner and Stravinsky. Before Led Zeppelin released their first album (‘LP’), we had not heard anything like the music they were producing. Afterwards, of course, everyone ripped off every trick Jimmy Page came up with (although, it has to be said, I’ve still never heard anyone play his kind of music quite like he does. Listen to Since I’ve Been Loving You, for example).

There is not a single weak track on Bowie’s Hunky Dory, though ironically one aspect of it I like – it’s artificiality – is an aspect of many of his songs I don’t much like, for example Wild Is The Wind. But then Bowie has always trodden a fine line, though even when he doesn’t pull it off, as he didn’t with Tin Machine, you can’t but applaud him for not resting on his laurels and developing a fine pair of clay feet.

A few years later, I was working as a reporter in South Wales and a young girl working on a local weekly sold me Young Americans. This young lass and her husband (people did still get married at 23 in those days) were


I’ve not gone for an old – to my mind pretty hackneyed – piccy of Bowie, but prefer this one, as his two children and wife will know him

both folkies and lived the complete knitting with youghurt lifestyle. It seemed she had bought Bowie’s Young Americans thinking it was a folk album, though it took just a few seconds of the first track for her to realise she had got something very wrong, although quite how she could have made the mistake in the first place is pretty odd. So I bought it from her. Bowie refers to Young Americans as ‘plastic soul’ and that’s a pretty good description.

The track I am posting here, Right, is one of my favourites and which I am convinced, for no very good reason, is about buggery, though that’s not why I like it (nothing queer about me, old bean, though the reference



to Julie London in the post before this one might have made one or two of you pause for just a moment). It’s just a gut feeling and I think so every time I hear it. Maybe it's just a simple description of various music biz practices, sexual and financial.

I must admit here that I was once an enthusiastic whacky-baccy smoker and Win, another track posted here, is one hell of a track to get high to. Even now, in my non-whacky-baccy days, it makes me feel like I am high, high, high up in some luxurious Manhattan apartment looking across



New York at night. Don’t know why, it just does. The guitar is just gorgeous, though that sound is these days very non-U.

After all that praise, I have to admit that a lot of Bowie’s later work leaves me cold. Early on in his career, with songs such as Life On Mars and Space Oddity, he showed such a melodic gift. That seems to have gone by the board in later years. Obviously, given his continued popularity, a great many still like the later music. I happen not to.

Bowie once said that Life On Mars was based on the chord sequence of Sinatra’s My Way, but the other day I found out there’s more to it. It seems a French singer brought out a song called Comme d'habitude which had the same melody as My Way and Bowie’s publisher wanted to release an English version and asked Bowie to write some English lyrics. He did, but admits they were awful. His publisher thought so, too, and rejected Bowie’s lyrics and instead asked a certain Paul Anka to write some lyrics. He did, these were accepted, and made a great deal of money from them. That, at least, is Bowie’s version. I’ve just looked up My Way on Wikipedia and Anka gives a completely different account. So who knows which is true. Christ, nothing’s simple, is it.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Just to keep you going (with a special mention to all Broken Hearts. Weep, weep, weep - it won't do you any good at all, but at least you'll enjoy it) To come: David Bowie and Prince

Not written a thing here for a week or two, and tonight I was engaged in preparing an entry. But it involves recording some songs, and then some, and is taking a while, I can’t do it now and I know how much you all pant for my latest pontifications and whimsies. The entry I was preparing involves songs by David Bowie and Prince, but if you can’t wait till then (just a few days, though) here’s a beautiful song to be getting on with. OK, it doesn’t have much to do with their kind of music, though Bowie might be inclined to raise his hand, but who’s testing?

Actually, this song, Cry Me A River, can be rather ordinary, but sung, as it is here, by Julie London, it’s bloody great. Just listen to those gorgeous, though simple, guitar chord changes (Barney Kessel playing guitar) and her voice. If it doesn’t want to make you scr*w her - well!

When you think of it don’t just think of all those who have broken your heart, give a little thought to the hearts you have broken. In my case I like




to think it’s fifty-fifty, though with a special mention going to Mary Slocombe in Dundee, who not only loved me to high heaven, but was also one of the nicest girls I ever met. It’s a shame I didn’t realise it at the time (and if you read this, Mary, get in touch because I’d like to say sorry.)

There are, of course, loads of other versions of this song, notably by Ella Fitzgerald, for whom it was written, and Diane Krall. But I think Ella Fitzgerald’s version is too elaborate for such a simple song and too much of ‘a song’ given the subject matter, and Diane Krall’s just a tad too slow.

Then there is - believe it or not - a version by Sheffield’s one and only Joe Cocker, which is, believe it or not, uptempo and complete bollocks. A special mention must go to a completely and utterly fucking ludicrous version by that arch dick Michael Buble which is beyond belief it is so bad and misjudged. It is like a Bond theme in a nightmare. Get Spotify and listen to it, if only to gag. It is unbelievably awful. And if you disagree with me on the last point, you’re officially banned from this blog. You are really not the kind of guy or gal I want to have reading this blog.