Monthly Archives: August 2006

‘Islamo-fascism’ – an emotional term

An excellent piece in The Nation’s September 11 2006 issue criticises the misuse of the term ‘fascism’ in today’s political dialogue, as well as the nonsense of a concept of ‘Islamic-fascism’ (or ‘Islamo-fascism).

“Islamo-fascism” enrages to no purpose the dwindling number of Muslims who don’t already hate us. At the same time, it clouds with ideology a range of situations–Lebanon, Palestine, airplane and subway bombings, Afghanistan, Iraq–we need to see clearly and distinctly and deal with in a focused way. No wonder the people who brought us the disaster in Iraq are so fond of it.

Crystalising perfectly my feelings about this silly term, Katha Pollitt only hints at what I’ve said before about who precisely is closer to fascism if one compares Osama bin Laden and George Bush, Jr. At least I can be sure of one thing: some people out there continue to care about the meaning of words.

Oh, and while I’m here, I’ve a nice article in the works about Melanie Phillips, the sour-mouthed darling of the right-wing blogging world.

Why does everyone hate the BBC?

There is a widespread trend in the so-called ‘blogosphere’ which consists of bashing the BBC for an alleged bias behind their coverage of home and international news. Sites like ‘Biased BBC’, ‘Busting BBC Bias’, and several others are dedicated to highlighting a perceived anti-conservative or more often anti-Israeli agenda.

Analysis of state-run news agencies is important. I have witnessed plenty of occasions when the BBC has taken up its ‘public service – unite the people’ mantle with a bit too much enthusiasm. Golden Jubilees and other uninteresting royal events leap to mind.

However, I have never detected anything in their coverage of the Israel-Palestine or Israel-Lebanon which amounted to anti-Israeli bias. Every news report I’ve watched over the last few weeks has matched Fox News for the amount of content broadcast from the Israeli side of the frontier, spending plenty of time talking to Israeli civilians in shelters, inspecting damage to houses and shops, asking for the opinions of shoppers and holidaymakers in Tel Aviv. All of this was done in a sensitive, humane way with absolutely no hint of malice or put-downs on the part of the BBC.

Of course, the BBC also showed images of devastation in southern Lebanon. Blocks of flats which had collapsed, two-storey-deep holes in Beirut, dead women and children. Several times, it was noted that the BBC weren’t allowed to enter Hezbollah-controlled zones. It was made clear at these times that this might have been because Hezbollah had ‘command and control bunkers’ or ‘armed fighters’ on the streets. Continue reading Why does everyone hate the BBC?

The CIA in Solidarity with Cuba

A comment piece in today’s Guardian included a link to the delightfully titled blog, – a site which advocates and salivates for the death of the old dictator. There are plenty of sites like this around. Many are run by Cuban emigrés (or refugees) who – often for the right reasons – tirelessly campaign for an end to the island nation’s 40 year communist regime. Nothing new there then, you might think… and you’d be closer to the mark than you might expect.

A link on pointed to a Spanish website called Solidaridad Española con Cuba (Spanish Solidarity with Cuba), which the blogger had found linked to from the site of the right-wing Spanish daily ABC (which the author describes as ‘a great paper’). Solidaridad has the appearance of an ONG site… full of campaign information and advice for tourists who want to visit the families of political prisoners in Cuba. Obviously, the name of the site is beguiling. The left do not own the term ‘solidarity’… but it is fair to state that it’s usually used in socialist rhetoric. A right-wing site using solidarity as its name ensures that it achieves a high ranking on Google, whoever decides to search for it.

So, Solidaridad Española calls for democracy and freedom for Cuban people. I decided to find out a little more about who runs the organisation, just out of interest you see. The association’s president is one Ricardo Carreras Lario. A quick Google search on Sr. Lario finds that he is employed by a firm called The Rendon Group (TRG).

TRG defines itself as ‘an international strategic communications consultancy’ based in Boston, MA. This intrigued me. Just what does an ‘international strategic communications consultancy’ actually do? The description struck me as the sort of euphemism that lobbying firms and gun-runners use when they describe themselves as ‘corporate advocacy groups’ and ‘contingency security specialists’. And it doesn’t look like I was far off the mark. Looking into TRG’s abridged list of clients, several US government agencies feature prominently (including the Dept. of Defense, the US Air Force’s Air Intelligence Agency, the US Army, US Strategic Command… you get the picture). So some dude who runs an organisation which describes itself as a NGO also works for a company who work closely with the US military? So what?

So what is when you look further into the sort of things that TRG have done for the US government in the past. The Rendon Group is described in an award-winning piece of journalism as being run by ‘the man who sold the war’. That is to say, TRG played a significant role in ‘selling’ the Iraq war to the American public. So that’s what international strategic communications consultancy involves!

TRG’s founder, John Rendon is the guy who was given millions of dollars by the US government to try to install that notorious ass, Chalabi, as Iraqi president. He is directly implicated in the story of how a proven liar’s false claims were sold to the public as ‘reliable and significant’. He takes money from the CIA to get us to believe the right version of events… and sometimes, to make those events happen.

Now I’m no fan of Castro. Beyond the faint respect I have for a man who has successfully survived decades of attempted assassinations, invasions, blockades and universal hatred outside (and, if we trust Solidaridad, inside) his own country, I strongly disapprove of his attitude toward a free press, free speech, homosexuality and numerous other issues. At the same time, I recognise that things might have been different in Cuba if they’d been allowed to trade with their neighbours over the last few decades.

I also know enough of US-Cuba history to know that a pro-democracy ‘ONG’ run by a man who works for a firm who get huge contracts from the CIA for propaganda and regime-change operations might not be as trustworthy as it seems. As always, this issue is clouded by the number of people on either side with an interest in a certain state of affairs. I wouldn’t trust Castro to protect my freedom of speech… just as much as I wouldn’t trust a future Cuba that’s been brought about by people like Solidaridad and The Rendon Group.

Review: Great Moments at Di Presa’s Pizza House

Combining heart-breaking tragedy and side-splitting comedy is a hallmark of great writing. Neil Hamburger’s album from last year, Great Moments At Di Presa’s Pizza House has enough of both to make it a classic barely a year after it was released upon an unsuspecting world.

Charting Hamburger’s early days as he starts gigging in a pizza parlour, this album manages also to tell the tale of an America which was; pizza houses with pipe organs, pizza houses with AA meetings-cum-poetry recitals, pizza houses with wet t-shirt competitions that got out of hand. And there, in the midst of it all, our only remaining link with those great old days: Neil Hamburger himself.

Hamburger’s material in this album is often directed at celebrity and is often far more up-to-date than in much of his other work. Launching into his set with three quick jabs against Mick Jagger, Madonna and Robin Williams, Hamburger stakes his claim as the last of the great comics: the man who, despite compromising massively with his style and material, never sold out. Of course, he was never given the opportunity to sell out but that doesn’t really mean anything.

Along the way, we meet a host of other characters, new and old, who played a role in the life of both Di Presa’s Pizza House and Neil Hamburger. Such as Leroy Brothers, another comic hired by the pizza house – this time just when controversial ‘afro-American’ stand-up was becoming mainstream. His muddled racial stereotypes and clumsy, awkward style – all in hock ‘black man’ accent is rudely interrupted by a customer denouncing him as the white son of a lawyer for Kraft Foods.

Hamburger, though, is on ebullient form. At points, he refers to the proprietors of Di Presa’s Pizza House as ‘pricks’, and asks a critic of his last two albums to ‘go fuck yourself’. He insists that the last few albums were poor because of the messy divorce he was going through at the time. For more information on this, check out ‘Left For Dead In Malaysia’ where Neil, realising that no one in the Kuala Lumpur karaoke bar can understand him, spends several minutes in morose discussion of his wife, divorce and suicide.

Great Moments At Di Presa’s Pizza House is a tour-de-force, and is highly recommended either as an introduction to Hamburger or to complete your collection.  1 out of 1

To find out more about America’s Funnyman, Neil Hamburger try this unofficial homepage.