Monthly Archives: December 2009

Thomas Wiggins: The Battle of Manassas

Thomas Wiggins was born blind, but at an early age his ability as a pianist to reproduce sounds he heard meant that he was taken on tour and put on show. Thomas was from and African family taken into slavery in the USA.
One of his compositions was “The Battle of Manassas” with the pounding bass sounding like gun fire. He uses tunes to represent the opposing sides as Beethoven had done in “Wellington’s Victory” and Tchaikovsky was to do in his 1812 Overture.

Happy Holidays!

I was particularly pleased to hear from my old friend Carlton Duncan after quite a long period of silence. Now settled in Jamaica, Carlton was moved by the election of Barack Obama.
Carlton had a distinguished career as a teacher and Head in the UK, a career which to date remains largely unrecognised by the nation. He was the first black head teacher of a secondary school at Wyke Manor in Bradford, and subsequently at George Dixon Secondary School here in Birmingham. He served on many national bodies, including the Swann Committee which produced the noted report in 1985.
Carlton was a leading figure in the multicultural education movement which started in the 1960’s through the seventies. He wrote books and articles and was sought after as a speaker
I send my best wishes to Carlton, Dawn and their son Kyme, now 7.

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Copenhagen and the blame game

According to an eyewitness account Obama was on a hiding to nothing taking on the Chinese. The writer believes It was a deliberate ploy to discredit the US and leave the President empty handed while making it look like it was the fault of the US.
Presidents Chavez and Morales of Venezuela and Bolivia were also present and commented on the way documents were being circulated without allowing the possibility of discussion. Morales, who had arrived early in Copenhagen, referred to the lack of democracy being displayed at a high level. Chavez refers to this in his report back on the summit.
Does this let global Capitalism off the hook? At the conference I attended in Cuba in 2008 on Marxism in the 21st Century the question was asked whether China was following a socialist path or not. The consensus believed it was not. Interestingly Chinese delegates there appeared to come from marginal parts of the nation. They dodged the question.
What I saw of China in Zimbabwe and Botswana made it seem like a new colonial power. What was being offered to African countries in return for the loot seemed to be more destruction of the environment. Regrettably governments encouraged the Chinese imperial alternative.
The Latin American states included in ALBA had put climate change high on their agenda and President Lula of Brazil spoke of his frustration as the talks unfolded. So the refusal of China to accede to any formal agreements put forward at the last minute, including by Obama, were clearly against the wishes of the ALBA countries. Yet China is conspicuous by its absence from analyses of their spokesmen. The question of whether China is adopting a socialist course or copying the imperialism of the west is not being addressed.
Whether the blame rests with the USA, China or elsewhere is a matter of debate. In any case climate change will not be answered by vested self interest of western capitalism or a Chinese variant is painfully clear.

Black soldier picture emerges from the Spanish Civil War

A picture has come to light of a black American soldier who was involved in the Spanish Civil War. The invisibility of black people in history continues in so many areas, that is until evidence like this emerges. Sometimes their absence from films depicting events is deliberate, as was the case of a fairly recent account of Iwo Jima.
The matter of awareness has been raised a notch higher by the fact of Barack Obama as President of the United States. A portrait of the soldier will be presented to him when he visits Spain shortly.
No one knows who the so;dier is: ” ‘All we know is that he arrived with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of American volunteers and that he died in the battle at Brunete [in July 1937],’ said Sergi Centelles, whose father, Agustí, took the picture.” (Source Guardian).

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Cause of Mikey Powell’s death established at last

I was unable to get back to the Mikey Powell inquest at Sutton Town Hall due to illness so I was anxious to hear if there was a verdict of the cause of his death after a long 6 year wait. This has left his family in considerable distress and leaves not a little lack of confidence in the community. The hearing at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall which had run through November had delivered an outcome. The well-known poet and cousin of Mikey, Benjamin Zephaniah, attended the hearing and said that while they were relieved to know the cause of death they would be taking legal advice on further action.
We were used to getting overtly racist jokey notices that it is said were pinned to the notice boards at Thornhill Road Police Station, right in the centre of Handsworth, an area well connected with African Caribbean settlement. We believed that these days were long gone and that associated attitudes to the welfare of people in the community had changed alongside. Mikey it emerged died from “positional asphyxia” lying on his side in the police van. He, along with a friend who was trying to restrain him, got an overdose of CS gas fired into their faces, batons were used as well as considerable force including sitting on him. He had already been hit by a police car. Mikey Powell’ sister Sieta Lambrias made the following observation:
“A chilling feature of this Inquest is that Mikey died in police hands. Officer after officer told the Court that they would do the same thing again. Most expressed no regret for Mikey’s death. We are alarmed about this, and think the community should be too. We will continue to fight to secure police accountability and stop future custody deaths.”

“If climate was a bank it would already have been saved”

Latin American countries, like African and many others feeling the effects of industrialisation most, have commented on the outcome of Copenhagen. Evo Morales of Bolivia spoke of the mandate given to him by the Bolivian people.
When Hugo Chavez. President of Venezuela arrived he found that a document had been issud but it appeared not to be available to everyone. He spoke about this. He referred to slogans written on walls around Copenhagen which included “If climate was a bank it would already have been saved” and “It’s not climate that needs changing, it’s the system.”
It appears that old habits die hard with the patronising attitudes of the powerful developed nations, ie the ones doing the damage to “Pachamama” (Mother Earth – Bolivian version). Members of the African delegation made the point first by withdrawing earlier on.

Blackwater reported again

Blackwater emerges in a Guardian report following the New York Times. These appear to be retrospective reports at least as far as action in Iraq is concerned . The Nation recently reported that Blackwater, or Xe as it is now known since its reputation became somewhat tarnished as an anti-Islamic front, currently operates in Pakistan. Regrettably this is another area where regime change in the US appears to be no different from the far right forces that allowed the private sector to enter combat in its wars. This includes killing and torture involving innocent civilians, but combat regulations don’t apply to these mercenaries.

Cadbury’s and ethics

Doesn’t matter how good your ethical credentials are it seems when it comes to the possibility of a takeover, however hostile it might be. Cadburys are trying to hold off Kraft although shareholders are not likely to give a stuff. It’s the cash what matters. According to the Guardian “Cadbury chief executive Todd Stitzer believes a deal with Hershey would be a better cultural fit for the company than one with Kraft.”
Todd Stitzer? Who is he? Is he English? Cadburys is a name which is as English as you can get and has a reputation for social concerns from the time it constructed the Bourneville estate providing a good quality of housing and environment for its workers and others in the community. Associations with the Quakers continues.
Also engaged in the battle is John Cadbury’s great great granddaughter, Felicity Loudon, who with her Basset Hound Wee Wee is making a case for the “manufacturers of plastic cheese” to be prevented from succeeding in its bid.
Today emphasis is put on Fair Trade although looking a early advertisements Cadburys were never immune from colonialism.

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