Tag: lbc

Kind To Be Cruel: Female Judge Blames Women For Rape

By Daniel Margrain

Image result for judges hammer

As recently as fifty years ago, the courts in Britain didn’t recognize marital rape. In other words, during that time it was legal for married men to have sex with their wives without their consent. A recent rape case  in Manchester presided over by a female judge appeared to suggest there is still a long way to go before attitudes to the crime of rape perpetuated against women are satisfactorily addressed.

Judge Lindsey Kushner’s claim that women are at greater risk of being raped if they get drunk, was rightly condemned by Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird. In her final line in her final criminal trial, Kushner said:

“I don’t think it’s wrong for a judge to beg women to take actions to protect themselves. That must not put responsibility on them rather than the perpetrator. How I see it is burglars are out there and nobody says burglars are OK but we do say: Please don’t leave your back door open at night, take steps to protect yourselves.”

However, this analogy falls apart because it fails to recognize there is a history in Britain of blaming women for sexual assaults committed against them rather than putting the blame where it belongs – on the attackers. The same line of reasoning is not applicable to drunk men who, for instance, happen to get mugged in the street. In such cases, judges will rarely place the onus for such attacks on the male victim.

In jailing the rapist in Manchester, Kushner said there was “absolutely no excuse” for sex attacks. But she contradicted herself moments later after adding the caveat, “Men gravitate towards vulnerable women.” She insisted that while women were entitled to “drink themselves into the ground”, their “disinhibited behaviour” could put them in danger and they were “less likely to be believed” than a sober victim.

The implication that women can do as they please with their own bodies by drinking themselves silly, but that this scenario means they are more likely to get raped, effectively shifts the onus for the crime from the perpetrator to the victim and will almost certainly prevent the latter from coming forward in the future.

Despite judge Kushner’s contradictory comments that appear to be more suited to 1967 than 2017, there have been no shortage of men and women who have come to her defence. Others, that include a victim of rape, seem at best confused about the issue, perhaps understandably given the trauma involved. Nevertheless, it’s inexcusable how anybody else in the sober light of day (excuse the pun) could regard the judge’s comments as anything other than outrageous.

The fact that the controversy was not regarded as being worthy of prominent coverage on mainstream TV news channels is indicative of how societal attitudes regarding such matters seem to be in reverse. Thankfully, the issue was covered in some length by LBC broadcaster, Maajid Nawaz, whose clarity of thought was a welcome counterbalance to the illogical and contradictory points made by some of the callers to his show.

Nawaz’s opening salvo was lucid and convincing. Exposing Kushner’s false burglary-rape analogy, the LBC presenter remarked:

“There isn’t a history of hundreds and perhaps thousands of years of homeowners being blamed for burglary. But there is a history of hundreds and perhaps thousands of years of women being blamed for rape.”

Nawaz continued:

“The problems I have with the kind of remarks uttered by the judge in public, is that victim-blaming is part of a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line? Do we say if a woman’s skirt is too short, should she also bear a level of responsibility for a man (or woman) sexually abusing her? Where does this stop? Where is behaviour ever acceptable for somebody to say, ‘well you shouldn’t of done that'”?

The LBC presenter added:

“For me, this comes down to the following question: What sort of country do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a country where women have to take increasing measures to stop being sexually attacked, or do we want to live in the kind of country that encourages women to wear, eat and drink what they like, and don’t expect to be attacked for doing so?

The alternative is the slippery slope [towards fascism and religious extremism]. In other words, why stop with being drunk? Should women be prevented from wearing short skirts and, if they resist and are subsequently raped, are they to be held responsible? Why stop there?

Why not insist that women wear their hair in a bun or be prevented from wearing make-up and lipstick on some spurious basis that rapists might find it attractive? Why stop there? Isn’t it possible that rapists will justify their predatory actions on the basis they find women’s faces to be attractive and therefore they should be forced to cover them up with a veil like the women who are under the control of the Taliban? “

In other words, the corollary of the illogical line of reasoning of judge Kushner is that the right of women to be able to go about their everyday business should be restricted in order to prevent them from being raped. The attitudes of judges, both male and female, to sexual assaults on women, continue in 2017 to belong in the dark ages.

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Osborne’s Budget of Irresponsibility

By Daniel Margrain

Chancellor Gideon Osborne’s budget last week that represented a culmination of six years of government failures and which slipped the UK into a deeper recession, amounted to another massive transfer of wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest in society. This was reiterated by both the Institute for Fiscal Studies (see chart below) and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). The Economist projects that by the end of this parliament, levels of investment – which are already one of the lowest in Europe – will fall to just 1.4 per cent of GDP, under half of what it was when the coalition government came to power. It is also half of what the OECD said is necessary just for the UK economy to stand still. But despite these facts, an alternative narrative has emerged in many of the editorials of the corporate controlled media which bare no resemblance to reality for the vast majority of the British people. As Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell put it on LBC last week, “If press releases built things, Cameron would have rebuilt our country.”

 

The main thrust of the budget was Osborne’s cut in funding to the disabled by £4.2 billion in order to pay for three separate tax cuts to the rich against a backdrop in which the national debt is rising by £45 per second or £2,700 per minute. Paul Mason summed up the mood in the House:

“Osborne’s glum face during Jeremy Corbyn’s speech — an uncharacteristically angry barnstormer — was matched by the glum faces of Blairites as they realised their own party was actually going to inflict moral and political damage on the government.”

Osborne’s inhumane and fiscally irresponsible budget was preceded by the fiscally responsible alternative version outlined by his opposite number, John McDonnell who, in a speech on March 11 (as well as in various interviews to the media and public meetings), laid out his parties fiscal credibility rules. The shadow Chancellor stated that he will eliminate the deficit and tackle the national debt within a five year period on the basis of the implementation of a progressive and ambitious investment programme that he said will provide the stimulus for growth and demand in the economy.

McDonnell insisted that a future Labour government would invest in skills, infrastructure and above all, technology. The speech was subsequently praised by a wide range of economists and some media outlets in addition to business organizations that included the CBI and the Chamber of Commerce. As a committed socialist, McDonnell is aware of the importance planning is to the economy and the ruthlessness that is required to properly monitor how governments’ spend and, more importantly, earn money. The whole debate is how the country earns its future which McDonnell has said ought to be focused on investment.

The difference between McDonnell’s approach and that of one of his often cited predecessor, Gordon Brown, is that the latter never went for an investment-growth strategy and relied too much on unregulated finance sector growth and the revenues generated, as the catalyst for the subsidizing of public services. This policy strategy proved to be an abject failure. Similarly, the approach under McDonnell’s immediate predecessor in opposition, Ed Balls, was firstly to underplay the drive toward investment and, secondly, was marked by his failure to recognize that governments’ have to borrow to invest in the long-term in order to grow the economy.

But equally as important, was Balls’ inability to grasp the important role organizations like the IMF and OECD play in diagnosing economic problems and how best to solve them. Specifically, Balls appeared to have underplayed the scope the combination of fiscal and monetary policy plays in combating low or negative interest rates. In contrast to the incompetence of Balls and Brown, McDonnell has expressed awareness that when government’s reach the limits of monetary policy in terms of low or negative interest rates, they have to combine the monetary with the fiscal. What McDonnell acknowledges, is the importance the building of a balanced economy plays to the modern democratic nation state.

The problem under previous government’s – both Conservative and Labour – has been that the investment in the manufacturing base, predicated on new technology, has been largely sidelined at the expense of the finance sector. On LBC, McDonnell used the analogy of a small company to outline his case. “An owner of a new company will need to invest in new machinery in order to compete against his rivals otherwise he or she will go out of business”, he said. He continued: “Government’s, like businesses, need to invest in the future otherwise their economies will fall behind.” The lack of investment is precisely what has beset the UK economy over recent decades, particularly under the latest Tory government which has overseen a widening productivity gap between the UK and its major European rivals.

McDonnell, correctly in my view, has made it clear that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) should be given the power to monitor the UK’s own application of its fiscal credibility. The OBR, according to McDonnell, should not report to the Chancellor as is currently the case, but instead it should go directly to parliament. The aim is not merely to raise the economic credibility of Labour among the public but to raise it among the political class too. It’s ironical that despite the public perception that Labour governments’ have been more economically incompetent in the 37 years since Thatcher was elected than their Tory counterparts, the reality is there have been only two years – under Nigel Lawson during the boom period of the 1980s – in which the Tories produced a balanced budget. Conversely, Labour produced three years of balanced budgets under Gordon Brown.

 McDonnell has been aided in his approach to countering Tory and media propaganda by some of the world’s renowned and leading economists who have not only openly backed the oppositions anti-austerity economic model but have played an active part in advising the Shadow Chancellor as part of Labour’s Economic Advisory Committee. A central plank of the fiscal responsibility rules that McDonnell and his team set out on March 11, relates to Labour’s intention to reduce debt as a proportion of GDP over the lifetime of the government. This will entail growing the economy over the requisite five year period, allied to a fiscally disciplined and controlled approach to spending. The alternative budget that McDonnell proposed emphasized the application of a process of rigorous budgeting so as to restrict the likelihood of public expenditure spiraling out of control. To this end, the Shadow Chancellor stressed the need for the treasury to return to its former role of managing public finances as opposed to signalling to government departments that they have a license to spend public money in a prodigious manner.

An example of the latter happened two years ago following the Tory government’s much criticised selling off and closing down of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) against the advice of all the relevant parties concerned. The treasury ignored the advice because they envisaged the closing of the service as being financially prudent in the short-term. Two years down the line, they decided to set it up again. It’s this kind of short-term based decision-making predicated on the top down authoritarian micro-managed approach of their principal overseer in number 11 Downing Street that inhibits not only the long term financial credibility of government, but undermines democracy and the well-being of society as a whole.

Then there are the secret and highly wasteful and expensive P F I funded projects that typified the Blair and Brown era that McDonnell says he wants to put an end to. A third example of how short-term policy approaches are counterproductive to the long-term financial well-being of the nation, is within the realm of housing. The most labour intensive form of public spending is affordable council house building which, year on year, since the era of the Thatcher government, has failed to meet the demand for them. Labour’s Housing Minister, John Healey, has stated that he intends, as a starting point, to use savings on housing benefit (which is beneficial mainly to the rich), to build 100,000 affordable homes.

Government investment in housing is not only beneficial to those in need of a home, but it also reduces the housing benefit bill. In addition, the cost of buying a house is reduced due to increasing availability more widely. Although on the surface the intention to bring greater scrutiny and accountability to bare within the public sphere sounds overly bureaucratic, the kinds of attempts to rein in government and treasury short-term excesses are nevertheless fundamental to the successful running of governments’ in the eyes of the electorate. It is this electorate that is increasingly aware of just how callous Gideon Osborne has been in the lead up to the decision to cut disability welfare benefits which allegedly prompted Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation letter.

The letter basically outlined every suspicion that voters, and indeed Tory MPs, have about Gideon Osborne in relation to his obsessive attempts to micro-manage government departments as the prerequisite to his cynical positioning as next in line to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader. In relation to Duncan Smith’s resignation, one theory espoused by former UK diplomat Craig Murray is that his conscience got the better of him and as such Osborne’s budget attack on the disabled was regarded by Duncan Smith as one attack too many. Personally, I don’t buy it.

I’m more inclined to believe John McDonnell’s interpretation as expressed on LBC yesterday (March 19). McDonnell claims that the former Work and Pensions Secretary went through a long consultation exercise which specified the new proposal for the qualification criteria for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). As a result of pressure from Osborne, McDonnell claims that Duncan Smith had no option other than to tear the agreement up.

In other words, a deal was allegedly done but Osborne is said to have reneged on it. This put pressure on Duncan Smith who, in turn, McDonnell claims, had taken the flack for something that was not ultimately his doing. Osborne had invented a fiscal rule that has been unable to withstand political scrutiny and the public, judging by the latest opinion polls, are wise to it. Let’s hope they will continue to be wise to the government’s various shenanigans prior to the forthcoming local elections and vote accordingly.

Assange’s stitch-up is a lesson for us all

By Daniel Margrain

Yesterday’s UN ruling (February 5) that deemed the deprivation of liberty of Julian Assange to be unlawful is a legally binding vindication of all those activists who have supported the quest of the Wikileaks founder to bring into the public domain the illegalities of Western power under the guise of democracy and freedom. Of course, establishment figures who represent the gatekeepers of the said powers, like Phillip Hammond, invariably attempt to undermine the findings of the UN body – of which the UK government is a signatory – when their conclusions fail to go in their favour and thus deny any wrongdoing on the part of the imperial powers that they represent.

On the other hand, praise will be heaped on the UN during the occasions they rule in their favour. This is, perhaps, to be expected. But what was shocking in terms of Hammond’s sheer Kafka-esque dishonesty was the extent to which he was prepared to sink in order to attempt to justify the unjustifiable at the behest of his masters in Washington. According to former UK diplomat, Craig Murray, Hammond’s lies were “utterly astonishing”. The official statement by the UK Foreign Secretary, states: “I reject the decision of this working group. It is a group made up of lay people and not lawyers. Julian Assange is a fugitive from justice. He is hiding from justice in the Ecuadorian embassy.”

Hammond’s statement belies the fact that every single one of the UN panel is an extremely distinguished lawyer. His statement was clearly made in order to undermine the UN ruling which by so doing, as Edward Snowden acknowledges, “writes a pass for every dictatorship to reject UN rulings...and hence sets a “dangerous precedent for UK/Sweden to set.” Craig Murray states that: “Countries who have ignored rulings by this UN panel are rare. No democracy has ever done so. Recent examples are Egypt and Uzbekistan. The UK is putting itself in pretty company.”

Previous rulings by the panel have gone against countries with some of the world’s worst human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Egypt. Recent cases where the UN has ruled in circumstances in which individuals have similarly been detained, include the Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian in Iran in December last year and former pro-democracy president Mohamed Nasheed last October (both subsequently released).

The contextual underpinning of the ruling vindicating Assange stems from the fact that he has never been charged with any offence. The UN findings confirm that his detention has been unlawful since his very first arrest in the United Kingdom in 2010 and that there has never been any genuine attempt by the Swedish authorities to investigate the allegations against him. For all those commentators who have been following the case closely, it has been obvious that from the outset the establishment have had it in for Assange. The rape allegations were merely the Casus Belli.

This was given credible weight early on by Naomi Wolf, a prominent American writer, feminist and social commentator, who argued that the allegations against Assange bore all the hallmarks of a set-up. This was further elaborated on by Craig Murray who thoroughly demolished the case against Assange. As John Pilger outlined, the reality is, there was no genuine judicial process in train against Assange in Sweden, a point that was advanced by Assange’s lawyers before the UK supreme court:

“The Assange case has never been primarily about allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden – where the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the case, saying, “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape”, and one of the women involved accused the police of fabricating evidence and “railroading” her, protesting she “did not want to accuse JA of anything” – and a second prosecutor mysteriously re-opened the case after political intervention, then stalled it.”

justice4assange.com provides some background:

Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, has been detained without charge in one form or another since 7 December 2010…In Sweden, Julian Assange is not charged with a crime. But in a highly unusual move, Sweden issued an Interpol Red Notice and a European Arrest Warrant, immediately after WikiLeaks began publishing a cache of 250,000 US Diplomatic Cables on 29 November 2010. Such warrants are usually issued for persons whose whereabouts are unknown. But Julian Assange’s whereabouts were known (he had given a press conference and hundreds of interviews in London). His lawyers were in communication with the prosecutor and had communicated that he was available to answer questions from the Swedish prosecutor through standard means.

Questioning people within European borders is a routine and uncomplicated process, which is standardised throughout the European Union. Sweden often uses these means to question people. In the initial ten days after 20 August 2010, the police opened the ’preliminary investigation’, it was assigned to three different prosecutors in quick succession. The penultimate prosecutor found that the case had no basis, and that there were no grounds to place Julian Assange under a criminal investigation.

The final prosecutor however, Marianne Ny, took over on 1 September 2010 and reopened the investigation. The Swedish investigation has been frozen since 2010. In November 2014, Sweden’s Svea Court of Appeal ruled that the prosecutor had failed her professional duty to progress the investigation against Julian Assange.

Given the astounding level of media misinformation, demonization, smears, deceptions and outright lies in the mainstream corporate media’s reporting of Assange, one might be under the impression that the man in question is the devil incarnate, a misogynist, who is using his work as a cover in order to avoid facing justice for the crime of rape that some commentators have seen fit to pronounce a verdict of guilty on the head of the whistle blower in advance of any hypothetical future trial. The self-appointed Witch finder General, Joan Smith of London Women against Violence, for example, was allowed to express her opinion, unchallenged, that he was guilty of the crime he has been accused of.

Much of the vitriol stems, not from the traditional right-wing of the media terrain, but rather from what many people consider to be the liberal-left of the political spectrum. Owen Jones, for example, who appears to be the latest poster boy for left wing opinion throughout the liberal media, penned, in August 2012, an article for the UK’s Independent newspaper, titled “There should be no immunity for Julian Assange from these allegations.”  But Jones’ inference that diplomatic immunity is a feature of the Assange case is, in reality, a red-herring since neither he, his supporters, legal team or anybody else outside the media bubble, have ever suggested that his case is predicated on a claim of immunity.

The lie was repeated by the Guardian’s legal expert, Joshua Rozenberg, presumably in an attempt to add a certain degree of gravitas to the claim. The truth is that all Assange has ever requested from the outset, is a guarantee from the Swedish authorities that if he agrees to travel to Sweden to answer the rape allegations made against him, he won’t be extradited to the United States. Assange’s request for this assurance from Sweden is supported by Amnesty International. However, the Swedish authorities have consistently failed to give Assange such an assurance.

Despite all this, the Sky News journalist and LBC stand-in presenter, Tim Marshall, implied that callers to his programme on February 5 who suggested that should Assange step foot outside the Ecuadorean embassy, he would ultimately be extradited to the U.S predicated on the trumped up charge of rape and subsequently be imprisoned, were mad conspiracy theorists. The incandescent, Marshall, is apparently unaware of the case of Chelsea Manning who was imprisoned for 35 years in 2013 for leaking information to WikiLeaks.

He is also seemingly unaware that, according to Edward Snowden, Assange is on a US “manhunt target list” or that the Independent revealed that both the Swedish and American governments’ have already discussed Assange’s onward extradition. If Marshall had bothered to avail himself of the views of Mats Andenas, the Norwegian chair of the UN Working Group for much of its investigation, he would have realized that the panel had to resist intense pressure from the US and UK to arrive at a decision contrary to the one they actually reached.

Marshall’s tone throughout was one of incredulity that the “liberal” Sweden would place Assange at risk of extradition to the US or for that matter that the latter under the liberal-progressive Obama, could ever preside over an administration that has imprisoned more whistle blowers than all his predecessors combined. In terms of the former (something else that Marshall is apparently oblivious to), is the subject matter of Amnesty International’s 2013 report which highlights Sweden’s damning record of extraditing people to other countries and its cooperation with the US in extraordinary renditions.

Jonathan Cook sums up just how far down the perilous road towards fascism our governments’ and their accomplices in the media are prepared to go in order to augment the interests of the powerful:

“The degraded discourse about the UN group’s decision does not just threaten Assange, but endangers vulnerable political dissidents around the world. The very fact that…[liberal media commentators]… are so ready to sacrifice these people’s rights in their bid to tar and feather Assange should be warning enough that there is even more at stake here than meets the eye.”

 

David Bowie: sound, not vision

By Daniel Margrain

The eulogizing in the media of David Bowie since his death last week has predictably been widespread. The consensus view is that Bowie was a trailblazer of musical trends and pop fashion, an innovator and visionary, an artist of unparalleled significance within the musical landscape of rock and roll and electronic music. Adam Sweeting in the Guardian, said of Bowie: “His capacity for mixing brilliant changes of sound and image underpinned by a genuine intellectual curiosity is rivalled by few in pop history.”

The obituary section of the Telegraph, described Bowie as “a rock musician of rare originality and talent”, while Jon Pareles in the New York Times claimed that “Mr.Bowie was his generation’s standard-bearer for rock as theater: something constructed and inflated yet sincere in its artifice, saying more than naturalism could”.…According to Pareles, “He also pushed the limits of “Fashion” and “Fame,”

Mark Beaumont of the NME appeared to go one further by claiming that Bowie’s influence on popular culture:

“simply cannot be overstated. From psychedelic folk rock to glam rock, plastic soul, avant garde experimentalism and beyond, Bowie’s relentless innovation and reinvention was one of the great driving forces of modern music and his impact reached into fashion, performance art, film and sexual politics. While his songs, consistently accessible no matter how difficult the style he explored, inspired countless musicians across a vast tapestry of rock music which he helped weave as he went.”

On the morning following Bowie’s death, and in echoing the kinds of platitudes of superficial pop stars like Madonna and Lady Ga Ga, LBC host James O’Brien devoted half of his three hour programme eulogizing about the alleged innovator and genius, inviting fans to phone in and reminisce about the pop star. With an apparent straight face, O’Brien, a former music critic, stated that Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory was “probably the greatest rock album of all-time.”

These kinds of comments have been the excepted wisdom in mainstream critical circles since Bowie hit super stardom in 1972 with the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, a work that in many ways came to define him. Under the tag line, David Bowie: Visionary singer and songwriter who for five decades exerted a huge influence on pop and rock, Chris Salewicz reminded his readers of the historical continuum that underpinned the iron clad critical consensus:  “The man is a stone genius,” effused New York’s Village Voice, in the parlance of the times, “and for those who have been waiting for a new Dylan, Bowie fits the bill. He is a prophet, a poet – and a vaudevillian. Like Dylan, his breadth of vision and sheer talent could also exercise a profound effect on a generation’s attitudes.”

In Britain, the critical acclaim bestowed on Bowie is arguably only second to the Beatles. But in the cold light of day, to what extent does the man and his work stand up to proper investigative critical scrutiny? The independent music critic, Piero Scaruffi, whose words I transcribed and edited below, offers some invaluable (and corrective) insights into the mythology that surrounds the man, his music and his art. This is Scaruffi’s critique of Bowie. It’s a critique that I share:

“David Bowie turned marketing into the essence of his art. All great phenomena of popular music, from Elvis Presley to the Beatles, had been, first and foremost, marketing phenomena (just like Coca Cola and Barbie before them); However, Bowie  turned it into an art of its own. Bowie with the science of marketing becomes art; art and marketing had become one.

There were intellectuals who had proclaimed this theory in terms rebelliousness. Bowie was, in many ways, the heir, no matter how perverted, of Andy Warhol’s pop art and of the underground culture of the 1960s. He adopted some of the most blasphemous issues and turned them upside down to make them precisely what they had been designed to fight: a commodity.

Bowie was a protagonist of his times [who] embodied the quintessence of artificial art, raising futility to paradigm, focusing on the phenomenon rather than the content, and who made irrelevant the relevant, and, thus, was is the epitome of everything that is wrong with rock music.

Each element of his art was the emblem of a true artistic movement; However, the ensemble of these emblems constituted no more than a puzzle of symbols, no matter how intriguing, a dictionary of terms rather than a poem, and, at best, a documentary of the cultural trends of his time. As a chronicler, the cause of the sensation was the show, not the music.

In fusing theatre, mime, film, visual art, literature and music, the showman Bowie was undoubtedly in sync with the avant-garde. However, Bowie merely recycled what had been going on for years in the British underground, in what in particular had been popularized by the psychedelic bands of 1967. And he turned it into a commodity: whichever way you look at his oeuvre, this is the real merit of it.

Arguably, his most famous album, Ziggy Stardust (1972) represented a relative quantum leap forward from what went before. The culmination of a behind the scenes refining of his image by a new manager, his signing to a new and more powerful label, the utilization of a much more sophisticated production and, with the talents of Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Mick Ronson on guitar at his disposal, Bowie’s “art” represented the peak of the fad for rock operas.

The album is nevertheless a cartoonish melodrama that recycles cliches of decadent and sci-fi literature. Its popularity was due as much to the choreographic staging as it was to the music. The latter relies on magniloquent pop ballads (such as Five Years , the piano-heavy Lady Stardust , almost a send-up of Warren Zevon, the shrill gospel hymn Ziggy Stardust, Moonage Daydream (with a folkish sax solo reminiscent of the Hollywood Argyles and a shower of strings), arranged in such a manner to make the baroque ‘Tommy’ by the Who sound amateurish.

Bowie’s melodic skills shone in the grand soaring refrains of Starman and Rock And Roll Suicide, that were de facto tributes to the old tradition of Tin Pan Alley. The album displayed the half-hearted stylistic variety of latter-day Beatles albums, from the soul-jazz tune Soul Love to the martial folk-blues shuffle It Aint ‘Easy. Hang On To Yourself is a whirling boogie dance as is Suffragette City. The latter, in particular is a quintessentially hysterical breathless Who-style boogie and perhaps his career standout.

The track exudes the languid existentialism of the ballads, confronting Bowie’s erotic futuristic cabaret from the vantage point of teenage angst. Certainly the whole worked well as a postmodernist analysis of show business’ cliches. Credit for the production quality goes to Ken Scott (who Bowie defined as “my George Martin”) and new guitarist Mick Ronson: all the arrangements were designed from them (the string arrangements are all Ronson). Scott did all the mixing alone.

Bowie’s “heartbreaking” vocals were so exaggerated that they sounded like a parody of sorts. Ditto the kitschy arrangements. The concept was, first and foremost, a caricature. By fusing Scott Walker’s melodramatic style, Jacques Brel’s weltschmerz, Zen mysticism, McLuhan’s theory of the medium, Andy Warhol’s multimedia pop art and Oscar Wilde’s fin de siecle decadence, Bowie coined the ultimate revisionist and self-reflective act of the most revisionist and self-reflective decade.

For better and for worse, Ziggy marked the end of the myth of rock sincerity and spontaneity: the star was no longer a teenager among many, a “working-class everyman,” and, above all, the star was no longer “himself” but rather a calculating inventor of artificial stances and attitudes. His stance indirectly mocked and ridiculed the messianic aura of rock music.

Not much of a musical genius, but certainly a terrific showman, diligent student of Hollywood’s mythology, living impersonation of the Gothic iconography (Dorian Gray) and of the Parnassian iconography (Pierrot), Bowie owed ​​little to his frail and easy compositions: he owed ​​almost everything to the “image” that he had created and was nurturing with non-musical factors.

Although the music was almost always banal and embarrassing, the scene in which it played out was at least funny while at the same time solemn and murky. Bowie’s world was a frightening one, devastating and senseless, populated by outcasts and alienated human wrecks. Bowie’s vocal tone resembled an existential horror that could modulate detachment, cynicism and yearning.

Bowie had rediscovered the “crooning” of pop and soul singers of the ’50s, perhaps a less innovative style of singing that one could have imagined in 1975, that nevertheless also managed to combine a form of cabaret in the service of the theatre of Brecht. Mindful of the dramatic experience and clearly with Lou Reed in mind, Bowie consciously evoked “Brecht-ian” alienation that was fashionable in those years. The songs of Bowie deliberately calculated a striking contrast between music, text and image which would lead the public to think critically about “illusions” as presented.

Inspired by the alienated rock of Reed, the Dionysian like performance of Iggy Pop and the meticulous electronics of Brian Eno, Bowie forged a new type of ritual mass that paradoxically conceptually morphed into a kind of kitsch Hollywood entertainment. Skilled at riding fashions, as opposed to creating them, Bowie always arrived one or two years after someone else had invented the phenomenon (for example, decadent rock, soul-rock, electronics).

As with the Beatles before him, Bowie knew how to best present the phenomenon to the masses via the bourgeoisie media and turn it into an international “fashion”. Essentially, Bowie’s major contribution to the annals of rock music was his popularization of the notion of the eclectic and refined musician. Many other rock musicians have explored and referenced pop art, literature and painting in a more thorough and original way than Bowie but have not garnered the critical recognition that came his way.

Bowie was said to have written the first “space ballad” but space-rock had been invented a few years earlier. Before the release of Space Odyssey, the Rolling Stones had recorded 2000 Light Years and the inventors of space-rock, Pink Floyd had, in 1967, released Interstellar Overdrive and Anno Domini. Moreover, long before the media had coined Bowie as being the inventor of the ‘glam’ concept, Mick Jagger, and many other contemporaries of the period, had been sexually ambiguous and had worn make-up.

Also decadent rock had long preceded Bowie with the likes of the Velvet Underground and the Doors. Bowie’s “uniqueness” was that his antics were the first to be publicized by the media. As often happens with the pop star, Bowie has falsely been attributed with creating the merits of an entire population of musicians. One of the most overrated artists of his generation, Bowie’s sound was largely Visconti’s (or Eno’s). Without that Sound, Bowie was a second-rate pop vocalist singing for a second-rate audience. 

For more analysis and reviews, go to: http://www.scaruffi.com/

 

Duncan Smith, Duplicity And The Deficit

Regular bloggers who have followed the career of the government minister for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, will be familiar with his propensity for sophistry, obfuscation and obtrusiveness. If by chance you are not familiar with the man, you might be forgiven, having seen the recent interview he gave with Dermot Murnaghan regarding the ‘fake letters’ row, that his portrayal by critical bloggers and others has been unfair.

I was astonished just how much of an easy ride he was given by the Sky News anchor. Thankfully, a small minority within the mainstream media are actually prepared to undertake the job that they are paid to do by bringing power to account, as opposed to acquiescing to it. One journalist worthy of the name is LBC Radio’s James O’Brien.

Up until a few days ago, I wasn’t aware of the 2013 interview Duncan Smith gave with O’Brien following the court of appeal Poundland scandal. In the interview Duncan Smith is exposed for the compulsive liar he is.

What follows is an edited transcript of the interview which is illuminating, not least because it would tend to support the assertion by blogger Mike Sivier that Duncan Smith is incompetent in his role as work and pensions secretary. After reading the 2013 interview transcript below you might actually be inclined to question his sanity:

JOB: ” Current figures suggest that 2.5 million people in the UK are claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) while job vacancies stand at around half a million.Today eight available jobs at Costa Coffee in Nottingham attracted 1,700 applications. There appears to be something of a disconnect between these two states’ of affairs.”

IDS: “The figures show that 83% of those seeking full time work are in full time work. 17% of those who are looking for full time work can’t find it and are taking part time work.”

JOB: “No Mr Duncan Smith. There could be 2.5 million people looking for full time work. You are confining yourself to people who have found it.”

IDS: “No, I’m talking about those looking for work. The reality is, those who seek full time work are finding full time work.”

JOB: “But 2.5 million people haven’t found work.”

IDS: “But those are the people who are seeking work. That’s what I’m saying.”

JOB: “The people who are finding jobs are finding full time work, but there are still millions of people who are not finding jobs….The woman who was stacking shelves [at Poundland] wanted to be paid for it.”

IDS: “But she was paid for it. The tax payer was paying her for Gods sake.”

JOB: “Let me read you the official Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) response to an official petition to abolish workfare. ‘We do not have work for your benefit or workfare schemes in this country’. This is a further response to a freedom of information (FOI) request from your department. ‘Benefit is not paid to the claimant as remuneration for the activity’. So explain to me how she [the Poundland shelf stacker] can ‘earn’ her Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) in a country where benefit is not paid as remuneration’?”

IDS: “Because the work experience programme is one you volunteer to do. We do not have a workfare programme…We changed the rules so that young people can do work experience for up to two months and still receive their JSA benefit.”

JOB: “But the court of appeal has ruled that they are forced into these programmes.”

IDS: “What the court of appeal found is that it’s not against their human rights to do it.”

JOB: “I haven’t mentioned human rights.”

IDS: “This is a voluntary scheme. Most people want it, enjoy it, and get something out of it.”

JOB: “I need to clarify this point. You used the word ‘earn’ to describe the payment of JSA to somebody working for a highly profitable company like Poundland. That’s your phrase. But then we learned from your department that benefit is not paid to the claimant as remuneration. Those two positions are completely irreconcilable”.

IDS: “No they are not. Listen, they volunteered to do this. We’ve allowed them to continue to receive JSA at the same time they are doing their work experience.”

JOB: “What she was saying is she wasn’t paid.”

IDS: “But she was. The taxpayer paid her JSA. We have allowed people to do work experience and not lose their JSA.”

JOB: “So it’s remuneration for working?”

IDS: “In the past she would have lost her JSA.”

JOB: “So the benefit is payment for the work.?”

IDS: “I don’t understand what you are concerned about.”

JOB: “She is getting paid for doing the work at Poundland with her JSA. It is a pay packet.”

IDS: “It is work experience. She has volunteered to go on the work experience programme.”

JOB: “Because she had been lied to about what it would involve, as the court of appeal found last week.”

IDS: “They did not find that she was lied to.”

JOB: “They said they needed to clarify what the regulations were.”

IDS: “The regulations were around the withdrawal of benefit if she failed to comply with what she agreed to do.”

JOB: “Which only works if the benefit is a reward for doing the work experience.”

IDS: “You clearly haven’t read what the judgement said.”

JOB: “I’ve read every word of it.”

IDS: “With respect, you need to understand it.”

JOB: “With respect to you, I do. Insulting me, doesn’t advance the argument in any way.”

IDS: “This debate is going nowhere….Are you saying these kids shouldn’t be doing work experience.”?

JOB: “I’m saying, if they are working, they should be paid for it. It’s quite straightforward. You are, why shouldn’t they”?

IDS: “They are on JSA. The taxpayer is paying them.”

JOB: “So What’s the minimum wage legislation for”?

IDS: “This is work experience for up to two months….”

JOB: “The bottom line is, you are using benefits to pay an incredibly cheap workforce to subsidize incredibly profitable companies at the tax payers expense, and passing it off as some kind of assault on a feckless generation.”

IDS: “I don’t agree with that.”

JOB: “Of course you don’t. 17,000 people in Nottingham applied for eight jobs.”

IDS: “Look, there are more people in work today than at anytime since records began.”

JOB: “What a strange observation. There are many more people alive today. What would you say to the 1,692 people who failed.”

IDS: “The reality is that in that area there are 15,000 vacancies and the claimant count their is still falling.”

JOB: “Is that really what you would say to them”?

IDS: “I would say that you have to keep looking for jobs. We are moving in the right direction and that’s a positive.”

JOB: “Sorry, you’ve lost me. To the 1,692 people who have failed to get a job in a coffee shop, you say it’s a positive”?

IDS: “I didn’t say that.”

JOB: “Yes you did.”

IDS: “The positive figures today are a good indication that the private sector is creating jobs, there are more people in work, more vacancies and the claimant count is falling. These are positives…There are half a million vacancies on a daily basis in the UK.”

JOB: “For two and a half million job seekers. The astonishing thing is you think that a benefit is a payment for work done.”

IDS: “I think that the work experience programme is a great success and I’m very proud of it.”

JOB: “Apart from the little wobble in the court of appeal last week.”

IDS: “We’ve changed the regulations going forward.”

JOB: “So the thing you are proud of has now been changed”?

IDS: “No, the programmes are the same.”

JOB: “But the regulations have changed”?

IDS: “The court of appeal has said that the regulations need tightening up and we’ve tightened them up.”

JOB: “Iain Duncan Smith, many thanks for your time.”

Perhaps Duncan Smith believes that subsidizing multinational companies to take on cheap labour will help reduce the deficit the Tories are constantly pontificating needs reducing.