Monthly Archives: November 2006

A picture of Gaza now

Today a ceasefire was announced, but even after this morning’s start Palestinians accused Israel of continuing it’s occupation while missiles were fired into Israel from Gaza in response. With exits from Gaza continually blocked Gaza is a prison.
The link goes to Al Jazeera’s portrait of Gaza now with a range of illustrations and articles, including an interview with Uri Avnery. Avnery is Jewish who was born in Germany and formerly a Zionist. He is now passionate about the plight of the Palestinians and an outspoken critic of the Israeli Government.

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On the treadmill

They say we need to save the planet. To reverse global warning we cut down on carbon emissions. More people want to fly so more planes are being built and airports expanded.
Here in the Midlands, with Birmingham at the centre of things, a group of people are busily lobbying parliament for a replacement to New Street Station. The new 125 mph service to London Euston is to be expanded, but “meltdown” is expected in 8 or 9 years time.
So there is success in getting people onto trains, but there isn’t the infrastructure to cope. The huge cost of the West Coast mainline seems already obsolete. If we want to get to the continent Eurostar starts in London. That need to reach out and joining with other cities: Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow for a start.
In Germant the tragic crash of the magnetic levitation trial reminds us of that technology which I thought was once being developed in the U.K. Hydrogen fuels. Where are they? I saw it being developed in Italy around Venice but it all seems out of view. We are on a treadmill to destruction which we are unable – an unwilling to get off. The problem is that the Haves consume a growing amount which, we’re told, will need three planets to sustain. The Havenots want to catch up so China and India are polluting their atmosphere more and more to do so. Instead of jumping to new available technologies they are using those that so damaged the west. Birmingham has lost MG/Rover to China and are building cars to block and pollute their cities.

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Twinning Birmingham with Ramallah

A group of Palestians are visiting Birmingham and on the agenda is twinning Birmingham with Ramallah. Birmingham City Council has continued to ignore the plan. When seven City Councillors visited Ramallah in 2004, five of us in the Cabinet, we were told firmly that our trip was not recognised. What would the press make of it? In the event we issued a press statement which was ignored. We were welcomed by both Palestinians and Israelis – by Yasser Arafat in Ramallah and by the Labour group on Tel Aviv Council (including Yael Dayan, daughter of the famous eye-patch wearing General. She was a member of the Green Party, rather more radical than most Labour members, advocating Israel return to the 1967 borders.)
The press were interested in me because I was Cabinet Member for Transportation when Birmingham’s road froze over. I spoke from Jerusalem to them a number of times. Yasser Arafat told us that it was good that we had come, and some young Palestinians offered to come to Birmingham to help deal with the ice.
I have been invited to meetings in Sparkhill and Handsworth areas of Birmingham. I shall report on the Handsworth meeting (see below).

Israel violates its own law

An Israeli peace group has stated that Israel is clearly violating her own laws by allowing setlers to remain on land stolen from Palestinians.
“The data was leaked to Peace Now via an official in the Civil Administration. The group says the government had refused to give this information to it.
The group says that the data it has received has been “hidden by the State for many years, for fear that the revelation of these facts could damage its international relations”.
According to the report, 86.4% of the Maale Adumim settlement block, the largest in the West Bank, is built on private Palestinian land.”
(Source BBC News)
The study by Peace Now shows that 40% of settlement land is Palestinian owned.

Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de St Georges c 1745 – 1799

Joseph Boulogne was born of Christmas day, 1745. His father was George de Boulogne de Saint-Georges, a French plantation owner on the French West Indies island of Guadeloupe, his mother, a young woman, Nanon, of African descent who worked as a slave. He heard the violin played by an old man who once performed in cafes in Paris and now gave Joseph lessons.
The family moved to France at the time Louis XV was King. Since Joseph’s father had the title “Chevalier” (= “Sir”) he was able to give his son an education at one of the best schools in Paris where he learned mathematics, history, foreign languages, music, drawing and dance. Joseph excelled good in many things but in fencing and in music he became famous for his skills.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited Paris at this time he must have heard Joseph’s music because he used a section of one of his works in his Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola. It was Joseph who had invented this form of music designed to show off more than one instrument.
A newspaper report says that 
”During the 1772-1773 concert season, Joseph directed and played his first two violin concertos at the Amateurs. Le Mercure [The Mercury] reported that they ‘received the greatest applause as much for the quality of playing as for that of the composition’.”

He played for Marie Antoinette at the Palace of Versailles and was favourite to become head of the paris opera. He was stopped by prevailing racist attitudes. Joseph was involved on the commissioning of six symphonies by Josef Haydn. Among these “Paris” Symphonies one is called “La Reine” (The Queen) in honour of Marie Antoinette. Joseph conducted their first performances.
The monarchy was unpopular and a reform movement was gaining strength. Joseph became interested in politics after meeting a new friend who believed in equality and the abolition of slavery. Joseph went to London to where the movement was more advanced and met other campaigners. Back in France he was made a military leader and formed a regiment of 1000 black soldiers. Other European countries who supported the King tried to invade France. Joseph’s regiment fought against them with considerable success.
Instead of being thanked, Joseph was thrown into prison. Reform had turned into revolution beginning a “reign of terror”. The leader, Robespierre, had those connected with the King and Queen executed using the guillotine. King Louis XV and Queen Marie Antoinette were among them. Joseph was thrown into prison.
Luckily for Joseph Robespierre was himself overthrown and he was eventually released living the rest of his life as an commoner. The new government wanted to know what was happening in the French colonies so Joseph was asked to go back to the Caribbean. There he met Toussaint L’ Ouverture who led a revolt to free Haiti from colonial rule.
Joseph’s music was no longer in fashion because of its associations with the former aristocracy. It took 200 years for it to be heard again.
Vital Link Educational

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Juan de Pareja 1606 -1670

The portrait of Juan de Pareja by the Spanish artist Diego (James) Velazquez was painted when on a visit to Rome in 1648. He was going to paint a picture of the Pope, Innocent X, and so he asked his servant and friend Juan to sit for him to practice. The portrait of Juan is now world famous.
Juan’s mother was African who came to Spain as a slave, his father was Spanish. He was born in Seville in about 1610 and worked for an aunt of Velazquez. When she died he came as an assistant to Velazquez and helped him mix his paints and stretch the canvasses. It was forbidden for servants like Juan be an artist himself, but in spite of this Juan learned by watching Velazquez.
There is a story that Juan put one of his paintings with others by Velazquez. The King of Spain saw it and when he found out it was painted by Juan he said “this man can’t be a servant”. After this Velazquez made him a free man and they remained good friends for the rest of their lives.
One of Juan de Pareja’s paintings is “The Calling of St Matthew” which was finished in 1661. If you look carefully you can see that Juan has painted himself. He is standing on the left.
Juan de Pareja’s painting can be seen at the Prado Museum in Madrid. Velazquez’ portrait of Juan de Pareja is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This picture was in England until it was sold for $5.5 million (US dollars) in 1971.
Some think that Juan might have been the painter of pictures once thought to be by Velazquez.

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In the Middle East it’s oil: in Africa it’s diamonds which put a gleam in Western eyes.

There have been democratic elections in the Congo, but it appears that rather than settle the issue the country may well return to civil war. In a series of entries to this weblog I have linked to articles considering what is happening to the mineral wealth of African countries.This is the Congo’s story. In the article in the Guardian (15/11/2006) the Roman Catholic archbishop in the Congo believes that there is a link to western interests to mine for diamonds and other precious minerals:
“…the European presence only confirms for many in Kinshasa that foreign governments are backing Mr Kabila just as they propped up Mobutu Sese Seko as dictator when the country was called Zaire, in order for western business interests to mine diamonds and other valuable minerals. That view was reinforced on Monday when the archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Frédéric Etsou, told Radio France International that “results that are coming out are not the results that are being published”.
‘I ask the international community to abstain from all attempts to impose on the people of Congo he whom they have not chosen as their president … just to satisfy gluttonous and predatory appetites like those of a foreign dictator,’ he said.”

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Deputy leadership contest comes to Birmingham

Last night (10/11/2006) we had the Perry Barr Constituency AGM which takes place rather less than annually it seems. Anyway we didn’t have to elect any officers because that had already been taken care of. If I’d read the letter more carefully I would have ssen that nominations were to be sent in writing well beforehand, so there was a good opportunity for the unelected paid officers to make the necessary arrangements.
We had new rules for the operation of constituencies on our chairs. I made the point that since we hadn’t had a chance to read/debate the rules I would abstain. The chair said it was vital that they were agreed so that we could proceed with business. Dutifully most put up their hands irrespective and we got on with the appointed business.
The proceedings were out of the way in no time which left time between the arrival of the guest speaker, none other than Harriet Harman, with Khalid Mahmood, MP for Perry Barr. This left Neena Gill, MEP to fill the gap with an account of what her work entails. Other than by chance this gave us a rare opportunity to get any information about what our elected representatives get up to. This is evidently democracy and transparency in action.
Khalid Mahmood foolowed up with his report which consisted of a similarly glowing response to Harriet’s tribute to his greatness. We had a written report and a very glossy document including mnay photographs of him in company with a variety of people. The one article which caught my eye was about improvements to the (dire) public transport system. This simply stated that he had opposed the “ridiculously expensive” tram. I asked him what his highly secret plan for transform transport was when we were facing crisis with “Gridlock” Gregory, the current Cabinet Member responsibility for Transportation having not a clue what to do either.
Harriet began with an effusive tribute to Khalid other than which I have great difficulty in remembering what was said. She promised that since there were no local elections in London she would be lending a hand in Perry Barr at the next local elections in May 2007. Mick Archer, a comrade who has managed somehow to remain in Labour, reminded those present the reason why Harriet was here and asked what she had done to stand out against discredited policy. The reply was exemplary, a perfect answer saying the necessity for Labour to stand together in the light of the re-emerging Tory threat. No outrage at what has recently happened in Gaza, the increasing violence in Iraq or explanation why Britain was apparently high on the agenda from a terrorist threat, a clarficaton of which the large Muslim presence would have doubtlessly appreciated. Oh yes I do remember what she said about the need for democracy and transparency which wasn’t always apparent in the Labour Party, but of which Perry Barr was a shining example.
There followed a meal at Azim’s in Lozells which I’m afraid I missed, retiring to a pub in West Bromwich which was a bit cheaper than the £15 asked for the privilege of attending among such distinguished company. While I agree with Harriet about the desirability of a woman high in the Labour leadership I’m afraid she didn’t convince me.
The main topic of conversation in West Bromwich was when we would return to a democratic structure and processes where members determined the egenda. We have witnessed those brought in throughly discrediting the party. Six were kicked out in Aston, others were brought in without the necessary requirements of current membership, or very short times (only months) in tthe party. There was a feeling of total frustration of what was going on. Harriet Harman had spoken of the loss of 200,000 members and the need to rebuild the party. The obvious question is why anyone should want to come back in if their contribution counted for so little and there was so little opportunity to debate and discuss issues? The former Sandwell Ward had monthly meetings but with boundary changes things fell apart and the new Handsworth Wood hardly meets. When it does the officers coan’t be bothered to inform members about when it meets. We noted that at the AGM there were delegates selected somehow from the ward. When and where remains a mystery.

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