Archive for February, 2007

A Hardy fan for life.

February 28, 2007

This item has been lifted from the News in Brief column of today’s edition of The Guardian 

Hardy original to take another bow at 101
The only surviving member of Thomas Hardy‘s theatrical group is to tread the boards again at the age of 101. Norrie Woodhall, a member of the original Hardy Players, is to recite poetry by the writer as part of an event called Dorset Voices. Her performance will come more than 80 years after Hardy cast her as Tess’s younger sister Liza Lu in a production of Tess of the d’Urbervilles at the Corn Exchange in
Dorchester. She said: “I have been reciting Hardy’s works all my life and know a lot of it off by heart.” Dorset Voices is being staged at the United Church in Dorchester on March 11.
Steven Morris.

At 101? Keep it up, Norrie


Clive James keeps BBC Radio 4 programmes.

February 26, 2007

I am, with others, the recipient of an occasional newsletter from Pete Atkin  Clive James’s song-writing partner. In today’s letter he had this to say: 

(5) CLIVE’S A POINT OF VIEW    I hope you’re all catching Clive’s 10-minute weekly column on BBC Radio 4.  It’s everything you’d expect and hope for from him.  It’s broadcast at 8:50pm on Fridays after ‘Any Questions’, repeated at 8:45am on Sunday mornings before ‘Broadcasting House’, and then via the BBC’s online Listen Again facility for a week.  But, more important and more useful, Clive has (uniquely, as far as I can tell) been given permission to make them all available permanently in the Audio section of www.clivejames.comGo for it.

Pete is well placed to know whether or not the BBC given this kind of permission before. He was for a time Head of Network Radio with BBC Bristol.  

This is Clive’s introduction to the A Point of View audio section: 

At the kind invitation of Mark Damazer, controller of BBC Radio 4, in January 2007 I began preparing a set of broadcasts for the series “A Point of View”: each one running at just under ten minutes, or just over 1,500 words. The implications of an alliance between a website and an institution like the BBC are quite large, but all we need note at this point is that at least one contributor to a broadcast medium has now moved into a new world of here today and here tomorrow.
London, Feb. 2007

 Attitudes certainly are changing for the better at the Beeb. As Clive says, the days of “here today and here tomorrow” for programmes are beginning to dawn, and it’s about time. 

Just click on A Point of View if you want to listen to any of the programmes broadcast so far

Can Brown lead Labour to election victory?

February 25, 2007

It’s becoming clear that as we get nearer the time when Tony Blair steps down as prime minister and leader of the Labour party that Gordon Brown is probably not the man to take his place, or if he is, then, with him in charge, Labour is unlikely to win the next election.

John Naughton (see blogroll left) has been convinced of this for some time. Here is his latest diary posting on the subject.

Brown vs. Cameron: contd.

February 25th, 2007 [link]

Sorry to be a bore about this (er, see here, here and here) but the recent ICM poll for the Guardian confirms my suspicion — that Labour won’t win the next election if they are led by Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown is failing to persuade the public that he would make a better prime minister than David Cameron, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today which suggests the Conservatives could win a working majority at the next general election.

Voters give the Tories a clear 13-point lead when asked which party they would back in a likely contest between Mr Brown, Mr Cameron and Sir Menzies Campbell.

The result would give the party 42% of the vote against Labour on 29%, similar to its performance under Michael Foot in 1983. The Liberal Democrats would drop to 17%. The result is the highest that the Conservatives have scored in any ICM poll since July 1992, just after their last general election victory…

The Economist’s Bagehot column has some interesting reflections on this.

Three quite big and important things appear to be going on. The first is that a sort of positive feedback loop has been established in which the long-standing misgivings about Mr Brown within his own party are now being projected back to it by the voters. Senior Labour figures glumly go through the motions of declaring in public their utter confidence in Mr Brown’s prime-ministerial credentials. He is the most successful chancellor of the exchequer since records began, a political heavyweight of towering intellectual stature and soaring moral purpose. It’s a testimonial just close enough to the truth not to provoke sniggers, but they and we know it’s only half the story. What increasingly worries ministers, and those Labour MPs in southern seats whose majorities hang by a thread, is that, unless he can reveal a different side to his personality, dour, stiff, slightly odd Mr Brown will struggle to reach those aspiring middle-class voters whom Mr Blair could still just about deliver in 2005.

The second big thing is that the mood of the electorate seems to be swinging from apathetic boredom and irritation with the government to a feeling that maybe it’s time for a change. If that is right, Mr Brown, for all his admirable qualities, is the last person on earth who can deliver it. However much Mr Brown and his supporters insist that Labour will look very different when he is prime minister, the fact is that Mr Brown is universally recognised as the joint-architect of the government’s successes and failures. It is hard to see what sort of meaningful fresh start Mr Brown can offer.

That was the argument made last week by Frank Field, an independent-minded Labour MP. Mr Field reminded his colleagues that the Tories were able to win a remarkable fourth successive election partly because Margaret Thatcher’s replacement, Mr Major, emerged from nowhere. Even Mrs Thatcher, who backed Mr Major’s leadership bid, had only the haziest idea what he was really like (and was bitterly disappointed when she found out). But it meant that the Tories were able to claim plausibly that by choosing the obscure, untainted Mr Major they had already given the voters the change they demanded.

Mr Field went on to suggest that if Labour was serious about winning it should thank Mr Brown for his outstanding service and move on to the next generation in the shape of David Miliband, the 41-year-old environment secretary who for some time has been uncomfortably cast in the role of next-leader-but-one. That is where Mr Field’s line of reasoning runs out of steam…

Agreed. Miliband is a nice lad (and he’s driven around in a Prius*), but not Premiership material. Labour’s problem is that they have nobody else in Cameron’s generation who has leadership potential. Game over, I suspect.

* John has been driving the hybrid Toyota Prius since 2004. He likes to pretend that anybody else who drives one must have something going for them.

Martha defends “enemy” writers

February 22, 2007


Here is how The Delphian Adelphi University’s student magazine began its report on Professor Martha Cooley’s talk about the banning of Axis of Evil, collection of short stories poems and articles written by writers who come from countries such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, because it is considered enemy propaganda by the US government under the Patriot Act. 

Adelphi was given a glimpse of what our government may call propaganda on February 7th, 2007. In “Axis of Evil,” Professor Martha Cooley of the English Department and Professor Lawrence Sullivan of the Political Science Department spoke on the issue of the systematic breach of reader privacy, and free expression by the U.S. government under the guise of the Patriot Act.           

The Patriot Act states that all material that might aid and abet terrorist interest and goals is in violation of this act.  The bill has expanded the power of U.S authorities to use surveillance, unwarranted search and arrests, banning and censorship to detect and fight terrorism.  One of the tools Congress and the president have used to detect and fight terrorism is the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). According to OFAC’s website, they “administer and enforce economic and trade sanctions based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, and those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” In addition, they censor and ban information/books that they believe aid terrorists. ……….. 

Professor Cooley, who is a long-standing and treasured friend, has, with good reason, felt ashamed of what the present government is doing in the name of patriotiam. She can be counted as one of those decent Americans who think that Bush and his cronies have long ago stepped over the mark, and in doing so have managed to make the world not one whit safer than it was before they began their meddling .

It think its fair to say that she believes that in going about things the way he has, Bush has probably made the world a lot less safe than it was.  Interestingly, when asked how other nations think of the US she quoted the first four lines of a poem by Cuban poet Raúl RiveroIt has been translated as I Don’t Want Anyone Coming around to Save Me. 

I don’t want anyone coming around to save me

So, whoever is sending me those nice thoughts,

those smug little messages,

-take it elsewhere. 

The Delphian reporter attempts to get Professor Cooley to expand on that, but I would have thought it was self-explanatory. 

Corrections: The Delphian gives the Words Without Borders link as

This should read

Should Hillary say she was wrong about Iraq?

February 21, 2007

Paul Krugman thinks so.In an article published by The New York Times on February 19th and byThe Guardian on February the 20th  he goes to great lengths to explain why people of a Democratic persuasion think it’s  important that Senator Clinton  should say that she was wrong to vote for the Iraq war resolution. Senator John Edwards has already done so, and so should she. 

Why is it so important to admit past error? And yes, it was an error — she may not have intended to cast a vote for war, but the fact is the resolution did lead to war; she may not have believed that President Bush would abuse the power he was granted, but the fact is he did.

For the last six years we have been ruled by men who are pathologically incapable of owning up to mistakes. And this pathology has had real, disastrous consequences. The situation in Iraq might not be quite so dire — and we might even have succeeded in stabilizing Afghanistan — if Mr. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney had been willing to admit early on that things weren’t going well or that their handpicked appointees weren’t the right people for the job.

The experience of Bush-style governance, together with revulsion at the way Karl Rove turned refusal to admit error into a political principle, is the main reason those now-famous three words from Mr. Edwards — “I was wrong” — matter so much to the Democratic base.

The base is remarkably forgiving toward Democrats who supported the war. But the base and, I believe, the country want someone in the White House who doesn’t sound like another George Bush. That is, they want someone who doesn’t suffer from an infallibility complex, who can admit mistakes and learn from them.

And there’s another reason the admission by Mr. Edwards that he was wrong is important. If we want to avoid future quagmires, we need a president who is willing to fight the inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom on foreign policy, which still — in spite of all that has happened — equates hawkishness with seriousness about national security, and treats those who got Iraq right as somehow unsound. By admitting his own error, Mr. Edwards makes it more credible that he would listen to a wider range of views.

In truth, it’s the second issue, not the first, that worries me about Mrs. Clinton. Although she’s smart and sensible, she’s very much the candidate of the Beltway establishment — an establishment that has yet to come to terms with its own failure of nerve and judgment over Iraq. Still, she’s at worst a triangulator, not a megalomaniac; she’s not another Dick Cheney.

Krugman does not believe that any of the other major candatates are capable of admitting they are wrong about anything.

Senator John McCain, whose reputation for straight talk is quickly getting bent out of shape, appears to share the Bush administration’s habit of rewriting history to preserve an appearance of infallibility.

Last month Senator McCain asserted that he knew full well what we were getting into by invading Iraq: “When I voted to support this war,” Mr. McCain said on MSNBC, “I knew it was probably going to be long and hard and tough, and those that voted for it and thought that somehow it was going to be some kind of an easy task, then I’m sorry they were mistaken.”

But back in September 2002, he told Larry King, “I believe that the operation will be relatively short,” and “I believe that the success will be fairly easy.”

 And as for Rudy Giuliani, there are so many examples of his inability to accept criticism that it’s hard to choose.

Here’s an incident from 1997. When New York magazine placed ads on city buses declaring that the publication was “possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for,” the then-mayor ordered the ads removed — and when a judge ordered the ads placed back on, he appealed the decision all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Now imagine how Mr. Giuliani would react on being told, say, that his choice to head Homeland Security is actually a crook. Oh, wait. 

So Mrs Clinton has to prove to a wearied Democratic supporters that she is going to be radically different in her approach.

……. For some reason she and her advisers failed to grasp just how fed up the country is with arrogant politicians who can do no wrong. I don’t think she falls in that category; but her campaign somehow thought it was still a good idea to follow Karl Rove’s playbook, which says that you should never, ever admit to a mistake. And that playbook has led them into a political trap.

Taking the 9/11 conspiricy theorists seriously

February 20, 2007

Gary Monbiot has written a  a rather good piece in today’s edition in today’s edition of The Guardian taking issue with those people who, like the makers of the film Loose Change and the followers, claim that the 9/11 bombings were planned and executed by people who worked within the United States government  

Why do I bother with these morons? Because they are destroying the movements some of us have spent a long time trying to build. Those of us who believe that the crucial global issues – climate change, the Iraq war, nuclear proliferation, inequality – are insufficiently debated in parliament or congress, that corporate power stands too heavily on democracy, that war criminals, cheats and liars are not being held to account, have invested our efforts in movements outside the mainstream political process. These, we are now discovering, are peculiarly susceptible to this epidemic of gibberish…

I believe that George Bush is surrounded by some of the most scheming, devious, ruthless men to have found their way into government since the days of the Borgias. I believe that they were criminally negligent in failing to respond to intelligence about a potential attack by al-Qaida, and that they have sought to disguise their incompetence by classifying crucial documents.

I believe, too, that the Bush government seized the opportunity provided by the attacks to pursue a longstanding plan to invade Iraq and reshape the Middle East, knowing full well that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Bush deliberately misled the American people about the links between 9/11 and Iraq and about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. He is responsible for the murder of many tens of thousands of Iraqis.

But that is not enough to satisfy the conspiracy theorists.  To be  truly one of their number:

… must believe that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their pals are all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful, despite the fact that they were incapable of faking either weapons of mass destruction or any evidence at Ground Zero that Saddam Hussein was responsible. You must believe that the impression of cackhandedness and incompetence they have managed to project since taking office is a front. Otherwise you are a traitor and a spy.

I fully understand why Monbiot is incensed, but I find it hard to believe that the conspiricy theorists do as much damage to sensible discussion as he says. As far as I know, neither congress nor parliament has paid too much attention to their ravings. And I don’t believe for a moment that either pays little attention to those who have sensible points to bring up because they lump them in with the conspiracy theorists. They simply ignore what it suits them to ignore.  

George, who are you listening to?

February 19, 2007
What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine?
I learned that our government must be strong
It's always right and never wrong
Our leaders are the finest men
So we elect them again and again
And that's what I learned in school today
That's what I learned in school.

What Did You Learn in School Today by Tom Paxton 

Gary Younge has written a well-argued piece in today’s edition of The Guardian showing how the Bush administration is planning an attack on Iran by using very similar justifications as the now-discredited ones it used to go into Iraq.

George Bush is a man of conviction and clearly a hard man to change. When reality confronts his plans he does not alter them but instead alters his understanding of reality..

And so we watch the administration’s plans for a military attack against Iran unfold even as its official narrative for the run-up to the war in Iraq unravels and the wisdom of that war stands condemned by death and destruction. As though on split screens, we pass seamlessly from reports of how they lied to get us into the last war, to scenes of carnage as a result of the war, to shots of them lying us into the next one.

One moment we see the trial of Dick Cheney’s former deputy, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, revealing how the administration sought to discredit critics of the plans to invade Iraq; the next we see them discrediting critics of their plans to attack Iran. On one page, newly released documents reveal how the defence department contorted evidence to justify bombing Baghdad; on the next, the administration is using suspect evidence to justify bombing Iran.

“It is absolutely parallel,” Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist, told Vanity Fair magazine. “They’re using the same dance steps – demonise the bad guys, the pretext of diplomacy, keep out of negotiations, use proxies. It is
Iraq redux.”

The chances that Younge is far off the mark are rather remote. Bush has got to the stage that he really is beginning to listen only to the voices of  those who agree with him, or, more worryingly, the voices inside his befuddled head.

An “Unlearning Curve” is a good idea.

February 11, 2007

When in the introduction to his online diary entry The Steep “Unlearning  Curve” (February 10th, 2007), John Naughton says “ I love this idea — of an “Unlearning Curve” ….” I thought he was being ironic and that we, his readers, were being pointed and one those crazy new fads the turn up from time to time.  

Now that I have read the article he referred to and his last comments, I realize that he actually did like the idea, and I can see why.  

Pete Atkin sings Landesman and Wallace

February 10, 2007

I have long been an admirer of the songs that Pete Atkin composed  in partnership with lyricist Clive James – in fact it was those songs that convinced me that James was more than the “funny bunch of guys” everybody thought him to be.  Most of those songs have been performed by Pete himself, so I’ve always wondered whether or not he was he was capable of interpreting material provided by other writers. 

(Pete has said more than once that he had never really intended to be a performer and that if he could have sold the James/Atkin songs to another performer he probably would not have become one.) 

Now I have the opportunity of hearing him handle something that his not of his own devising by visiting the composer and accompanist  Simon Wallace’s My Space page and listening to A Magician’s Confession  which Wallace composed with his regular writing partner, the lyricist and poet Fran Landesman. There is nothing wrong with his performance as far as I’m concerned. Mind you, Landesman/Wallace compositions are not unlike  Atkin/James compositions, which might explain why Pete sounds comfortable enough.

Randy Newman on America.

February 9, 2007

In an article about the singer songwriter Randy Newman for Cream in June 1974, Clive James wrote:

At his wonderful Festival Hall concert last year it was disturbing to hear how easily the billows of laughter rolled when Newman, singing Political Science  got to the lines:

They all hate us anyhow
So let’s drop the big one now.

It is a funny song, but it doesn’t spring from mere hipness. It springs from a profound regret.

It’s some thirty odd years since Newman wrote Political Science,  but with his latest political song A Few Words in Defense of Our Country, he proves that once again he can write a a character – with Newman, it’s very unwise to presume that the speaker is the songwriter himself – who is full of regret, this time regret that that the rest of the world has come to view America as an evil. 

I’d like to say a few words
In defense of our country,
Whose people aren’t bad nor are they mean.
Now the leaders we have
While they’re the worst that we’ve had
Are hardly the worst this poor world has seen.

The reality, according to the speaker, may be that America predominance in the world may be ending. 

The end of an empire is messy at best
And this empire is ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free
Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

It’s the long goodbye then.