Monthly Archives: August 2014

‘Touts Will Be Shot’

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It is believed that the deaths yesterday of three high-ranking commanders of Hamas’s military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, were facilitated by intelligence given to Israel by Palestinian spies inside Gaza.

The trio are Raed Attar, imprisoned for five years by Israel and who, Israeli intelligence sources claim, was the mastermind behind Hamas’s tunnel network, as well as overseeing the operation that led to the 2006 capture of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Abu Shamala, South Gaza Military Operations Commander and Mohammed Barhoum, a senior quartermaster and finance chief.

US news agencies also report that the targeted strikes killed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades Commander-in-Chief, Mohammed Deif. While Hamas have yet to confirm this, it is known that Deif’s wife and baby son perished in the attack.

In response Hamas has executed a number of people in retaliation for allegedly spying for Israel. Twenty-one suspected informers were executed in three batches with a Hamas spokesman stating that “The same punishment will be imposed soon on others.”

A press release issued in the name of the ‘Palestinian Resistance’ said the executed were “collaborators who betrayed their religion and sold their people and land for a cheap price, and achieved many missions for the enemy”.

As with much surrounding the conflict, these events have been liberally seasoned with predictable cant and double-standards.

Hamas has been condemned in Western media outlets and by various human rights organisations yet many of these same organisations have remained silent on Israel’s extra-judicial murders.

It would be naïve to automatically assume Hamas has ensured a strict application of due process and natural justice for the accused spies, prior to their executions, and should such be the case, then the organisation will be in contravention of the relevant international statutes governing conduct during times of war. That said, the New York Times quotes a Hamas official saying, “The judiciary procedures and measures were completed against the accused.” However, much of the outrage is focused on the executions themselves, as much as the presumed absence of fair trials for the accused.

Palestinian law provides for the execution of spies and traitors, in much the same way as many states around the world. The Geneva Convention allows the execution of spies as do The Hague Convention and the International Criminal Court. All of which state that non-uniformed combatants engaged in espionage shall not be treated as prisoners of war and may be prosecuted by the country against which they are spying. This can include the death sentence for those convicted.

Regarding any abuse of due process, one can only wonder at Israeli and Western bourgeois hypocrisy. After all, if true, Hamas is merely emulating the governments of Israel, the UK and USA. Extra-judicial killings, rendition flights, torture and detention without even charge, never mind trial, at Guantanamo Bay, all appear to be perfectly acceptable.

Interestingly, Israel’s use of Palestinian collaborators is widely known to rely on extreme pressure and blackmail. Which in itself is a serious breach of Article 82(b)(XV) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which explicitly proscribes, “… compelling the nationals of a hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country.”

All the above aside, the issue, in essence, can be reduced, yet again, to oppressors insisting that those who they oppress follow rules advantageous to their oppressors. Israel and its Western allies aren’t satisfied with occupation, murder and imprisonment of the Palestinian people; they even want to dictate how the Palestinians resist.

Under the circumstances, there is only one rule that should morally inform Palestinian resistance and that can be summed up by the following slogan – By Any Means Necessary. If that means, to borrow an old Irish Republican slogan, that touts will be shot, then so be it.

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Heil Herbert?

A mate of mine, Nottingham poet Neil Fulwood, got a few of us talking about Herbert Von Karajan, recently. With tongue firmly inserted in cheek, I referred to the late HVK as the ‘Nazi conductor.’ Not, as it quickly transpired, a particularly wise move as one devotee of the departed maestro quickly took up arms – figuratively, that is – in defence of his hero.

For the record, Von Karajan’s membership of the Nazi Party is generally accepted by most historians and musicologists to have been prompted by an amalgam of self-preservation, expediency and shameless opportunism, rather than any sort of ideological commitment. Certainly, his biographer Richard Osborne goes into fascinating detail about this period of the great maestro’s life and does not spare his subject. There is no one more authoritative than Osborne and he also tells of Von Karajan very courageously resigning his Party membership during the war, following his marriage to second wife Anita, who was of Jewish heritage (as an aside, Osborne’s book, at a gargantuan 900-odd pages, is simply fascinating and well worth the parting of a few of your readies).

So, with that potentially divisive issue behind us, our attention turned to HVK’s legacy. Positioned by Neil’s friend as that of, “… a great conductor whose musical legacy continues to inspire listeners the world over some 25 years after his death?”

Now I’m a man of peace and my ways are the ways of peace but somethings simply cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. My own take where HVK is concerned is a tad more qualified. Certainly, he had greatness within him and some of his contributions to recorded music are peerless. Both his Mahler 9ths are probably the best ever recorded by anyone, Strauss (another Nazi, by the way. JOKE!!!) never sounded better than via Herbert Von Karajan and his ’63 Beethoven set is, for my money, still the best recording of that over-recorded ubiquitous symphonic cycle ever committed to vinyl, tape or disc (I think Herbert recorded the complete cycle an astonishing five times, too).

He also deserves huge respect for his humility and good judgement where Mahler is concerned. Too many maestros assume they need to record the complete cycle when they just aren’t up to it. HVK, at least, eschewed such arrogance and the Mahler he did choose to tackle is amongst the very finest you will hear.

However, he suffered from Deutsche Grammophon’s (successful) efforts to market him as classical music’s first rock star. There are dozens of howlers forced out to make a buck and to hear him rushing an under-rehearsed, lead-footed and elephantine BPO through the Brandenburg Concerti is to know pain at its most real and acute.

I can live quite happily with Neil’s counter-take when he said, “I can happily write off the baroque stuff for the utter majesty of the Bruckner cycle, the ’63 Beethoven set (only Bernstein’s VPO cycle on DG really compares), the Strauss (his Vier Letzte Lieder with Janowitz is the finest I’ve heard), the Schumann (a composer HVK never got the due credit for his recordings of) … the list goes on. Sure, he was (and still is, in terms of reissues) DG’s licence to print money. But if some dodgy baroque recordings were the quick buck that got the magnificent symphony cycles recorded, then who’s counting?”

Whatever your take, there is no doubt that Von Karajan was responsible for some of the greatest interpretations of some of the greatest music ever written. So, with that said, here he is doing what he did best. And better than most. Enjoy.

Darkness, Darkness

photo 1One of the more enjoyable aspects of the promo work for my book, earlier this year, was crossing paths with other writers whose work I admire. One such was John Harvey. Connoisseurs of British crime fiction will know Harvey well, of course. In a lengthy and impressive career, taking in poetry, broadcasting and much else, John is, perhaps, most celebrated for his creation Detective Charlie Resnick, the Nottingham-based copper,  who I can’t help thinking of as the English John Rebus.

I met John in May when he was speaking at Waterstone’s in Nottingham about his final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness. I’d held a signing there myself, a couple of weeks previously, and the Events Manager, knowing of my fandom, generously furnished me with some tickets for John’s event.  Mr. Harvey was a delight; witty, engaging and interesting. The event was pretty much sold out and he fielded a variety of questions from the punters before concluding with a long queue of eager readers clutching copies of Darkness, Darkness to be signed.

My publisher, Ross Bradshaw, the Managing Editor of Five Leaves Publications (and, more recently, the proprietor of the thoroughly excellent independent and radical Five Leaves Bookshop) has had a long professional relationship with John. When the two did a couple of additional promo events in the County, Ross very kindly had John sign me a shiny 1st edition of Resnick’s last case and his dedication very kindly references my own book; a great honour!

photo 2Of both personal and professional interest to me, the book is set during the miners’ strike, thirty years ago. The research is first-rate and John conveys an authentic and accurate flavour of the times. That said I was amused when Ross observed, “It’s not often I can say that I changed the course of literary history, but after I read a proof copy of John Harvey’s book I emailed him to say he had got a small but important detail of the aftermath of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire wrong and that he was not as conversant with the history of the local Robin Hood Railway Line as he could have been.

John received the comments on the last day it was possible to make changes, and, rather than responding “nobody likes a smart-arse, especially one who knows about trains”, he was able to get the publisher to make the changes. There we have it then, another novel saved from sin… or at least two small sentences amended that perhaps nobody else would have noticed, but still.”

It falls to me, then, to point out that both John and Ross still managed to miss a couple of things. Firstly, no Notts strikers marched back to work behind a brass band, with the Area firmly under the control of the scabs. And secondly, John cites the Area as having twenty-five pits; it actually had twenty-seven, at the time of the strike, with a further four workshops, making a total of thirty-one NUM Branches.

Neither of which detracts from what is a superb swansong for Charlie Resnick. Nuanced, rich and beautifully evocative, Darkness, Darkness is easily among the finest British crime novels published this year. Highly recommend.

Black Dog

black dog

Following the death of Robin Williams, it’s been truly moving to see the outpouring of compassion, empathy and understanding with regard to depression.

I clearly underestimated the well-informed nature and generosity of spirit of the average person in the street.

Which is nice because now we can all look forward to an immediate cessation of the attacks on and sanctions of ‘benefit scroungers’ suffering from exactly the same condition, right?

Listen Without Prejudice

As all fathers know, life affords few opportunities for deep satisfaction comparable to embarrassing one’s spawn. My love for My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade being a particularly apposite case in point.

My sixteen year-old son, Satanicus Maximus, seems to find no contradiction in his recent worship of Black Veil Brides while pitilessly mocking his auld man for numbering The Black Parade among his all-time favourite albums.

Lurch, however, the Elder Spawn, at a Methuselahian twenty-four might, you’d think, be above such things. You’d be wrong, of course. He is still unable to restrain the sardonic curl of his upper lip when, on a visit to his old home stead of Patersongrad, he encounters my bad self happily spinning the offending disc.

Such genre snobbery is, of course, not new. I well recall my early 80s self keeping my passion for the work of Marc Almond firmly in the closet, lest my teenage metal creds be dashed forever. The admiration I had (still have) for the supremely talented Mr. Almond and Soft Cell being, to continue the rather tasteless metaphor, very much the love that dared not speak its name.

Be all that as it may, to return to the album in question, I will say this: it is a brave, imaginative and superbly-executed piece of work. The young band deciding, in the midle of the digital, disposable, attention-wrecking noughties, to release a concept album inspired by the great dinosaur rock acts of yore. The listener, therefore, will find a deliberate and brilliantly-wrought homage to Queen, Pink Floyd, ELO, Yes and others.

But it’s the powerful and distinctive voice of a young band at their peak that really scores. All the stereotyping and scorn the too-cool-for-school poseurs heaped upon the band’s collective head count for nought in the face of one of the very best albums of the last thirty years.

Gerard Way, far too frequently maligned as a self-indulgent, self-pitying emo poster boy, turns in a career-defining performance and the lyrics, all bitter asides, witty irony and biting cynicism; nestle snugly with moments of real heart, real beauty and a humanity that moves. Once described as The Dark Side of The Moon for the Tim Burton generation, The Black Parade is angry and celebratory, tender and bitter and very special indeed. Haters gonna hate, of course, but listen without prejudice, my friends. The Black Parade deserves nothing less. And so do you.

Israel: You Only Sing When You’re Winning

israel

They say you should never meet your heroes. As a man in his forty-seventh year, I reckon I’m a little long in the tooth and too world-weary to have heroes anyway.

Having said that, there are those who once were but are now simply people I admire and respect. Usually for the integrity, honesty and high-quality of their work. Mainly writers – both fiction and non-fiction writers – and would include people like Mick Wall, Seumas Milne, John Harvey and David Pratt. To name just a few. Some of these I’m proud to call close friends and their work and their friendship enriches my life.

Charles Shaar Murray, who I won’t insult by introducing here, is also someone who I’ve grown to hugely respect. Obviously the man’s work is an important part of our cultural landscape and is as innovative and influential as anything by, say, Lester Bangs and, for the most part, superior to that of most of his contemporaries. Certainly enough there for a writer to admire and respect.

However, there is a further reason. CSM consistently displays great humanity on wider social and political questions. A Jew himself, he consistently defends the Palestinian cause and has been principled and consistent in his unsparing critiques of Israel.

It was, then, as disappointing as it was disgusting to see the man insulted to a particularly appalling degree by none other than Nick Cohen.

Cohen has certainly been no hero of mine and his previous makes it a cast-iron certainty that he never will. His bizarre insistence that the left is anti-Semitic, his support for the invasion of Iraq and his US apologia place him in a political space somewhere to the right of Blairite fundamentalists. Which, as you might have noticed, isn’t really how I roll.

Even so, to brand CSM a “… fascist-loving fucker” during a Facebook exchange, earlier today, was unworthy even of the red-baiting Islamophobic Cohen.

On one level, it’s just Facebook though, right? Not a medium renowned for inculcating sober and reflective contemplation of weighty geopolitical issues. On the other hand, however, Cohen’s outburst is typical of the increasingly hysterical denunciations meted out to those who oppose the brutality, immorality and illegality of the Zionist terror state. They’re desperate to make Jews synonymous with Israel; ergo any criticism of the latter is de facto anti-Semitism. Look no further than the Zionist outrage currently levelled at the hapless members of the Tricycle Theatre Company.

Notwithstanding the discomfort and upset caused to the Charles Shaar Murrays and Tricycles of the world, in one sense all this is actually good news. The increasingly shrill protestations of Israel’s apologists are because the mask has slipped. They’re losing the PR war and they know it. When even natural allies like Boris Johnson are forced into making criticisms of Israel’s literal and figurative overkill, you know the tide is turning.

You only sing when you’re winning and you’re not singing anymore.

Not singing but whining.

When Pigs Fly

Good evening and here is the news from the BBC.

Talks between Palestine and Israeli militants are entering their second day.

But Likud, whose armed wing continues to bomb Gaza, says there is no agreement and there is a big gap between the two sides’ positions.

The armed wing of Likud – the Israeli Defence Force – has warned of renewed fighting if Palestine does not end its resistance to the blockade of Gaza’s port. Four weeks of fierce fighting between Palestinian forces and Israeli militants has claimed more than 1,900 lives.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State told the BBC, “The armed wing of Likud – the Israeli Defence Force – is a terrorist organisation and Palestine has the right to defend itself. We support that right. Meanwhile, we are hopeful that progress can be made by continuing dialogue over the next seventy two hours.”

The issue of human shields continues to cause controversy. BBC reporter, Jeremy Bowen, recently returned from Gaza, said, “I saw no evidence of Palestinian forces using Israelis as human shields.” By contrast, Israeli militants have been condemned for their use of human shields. Recent photos of a captured Palestinian teenager, handcuffed to the bonnet of an IDF vehicle, drew statements of condemnation from several world leaders.

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said, “Any organisation which exploits and abuses civilians in this way is a terrorist organisation and until such people renounce violence and these heinous acts there can never be a lasting peace.”

In other news Oceania is still at war with Eurasia.

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