Street photography from the Melbourne-based Jesse Marlow:
The 2nd International New Horizon conference has opened in Tehran. From Press TV:
A number of senior investigative journalists, authors, filmmakers and renowned political activists took part in the gala.
The participants flocked to the three-day event from the UK, the United States, and several countries of Europe.
The first panel of the event hosted the presentations of several experts focused on the influence of the Zionist lobby on the West in the process of nuclear talks with Iran.
The Zionist lobby has its grip deep into different layers of the US government, American investigative journalist Wayne Madsen stated at the conference.
The Islamic Awakening movement, the role of Zionist lobbies in the European and US crises, introducing international anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist figures, and Islamic resistance against the Zionist regime are some of the topics of the conference.
Who are these "senior investigative journalists" and "renowned political activists"? From BuzzFeed:
A number of American and European antiwar activists and conspiracy theorists have gathered in Tehran for a conference aimed at addressing supposed Zionist control of the United States, according to Iranian press reports and the Anti-Defamation League.
Code Pink chief Medea Benjamin, journalist and former Cambodian genocide denier Gareth Porter, conspiracy journalist and 9/11 truther Wayne Madsen, and PressTV contributor Kevin Barrett are all reportedly at the conference. Other reported attendees include Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, the anti-Semitic French comedian whose performances have been banned in several French jurisdictions, several Holocaust deniers, and former congressman Mark Siljander, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to being an unregistered foreign agent for an Islamic charity that the government said was connected to terrorism....
PressTV’s video report from the scene includes interviews with Porter, who is also shown addressing the audience, and with Madsen, as well as Art Olivier, a former California mayor who is a 9/11 truther.
That's quite a collection.
Update: also attending: the Rev. Stephen Sizer.
Perhaps the only photo to show Burroughs actually smiling - or, at least, not looking gauntly morose.
Corso was one of the three Beat poets published in the Penguin Modern Poets series back in the late Sixties, alongside Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. That's how I first heard of him, anyway. It turns out he had quite a life:
Sometime in his first year, Corso's mother mysteriously abandoned him, leaving him at the New York Foundling Home, a branch of the Catholic Church Charities. Corso's father, Sam "Fortunato" Corso, a gruff garment center worker, found the infant and promptly put him in a foster home. Michelina came to New York but her life was threatened by Sam. One of Michelina's sisters was married to a New Jersey mobster who offered to give Michelina her "vengeance," that is to kill Sam. Michelina declined and returned to Trenton without her child. Sam consistently told Corso that his mother had returned to Italy and deserted the family. He was also told that she was a prostitute and was "disgraziata" (disgraced) and forced into Italian exile. Sam told the young boy several times, "I should have flushed you down the toilet." It was 67 years until Corso learned the truth of his mother's disappearance.
Corso spent the next 11 years in foster care in at least five different homes. His father rarely visited him. When he did, Corso was often abused: "I'd spill jello and the foster home people would beat me. Then my father would visit and he'd beat me again— a double whammy." As a foster child, Corso was among thousands that the Church aided during the Depression, with the intention of reconstituting families as the economy picked up. Corso went to Catholic parochial schools, was an altar boy and a gifted student. His father, in order to avoid the military draft, brought Gregory home in 1941. Nevertheless, Sam Corso was drafted and shipped overseas.
Corso, then alone, became a homeless child on the streets of Little Italy. For warmth he slept in subways in the winter, and then slept on rooftops during the summer. He continued to attend Catholic school, not telling authorities he was living on the streets. With "permission," he stole breakfast bread from Vesuvio Bakery, 160 Prince Street in Little Italy. Street food stall merchants would give him food in exchange for running errands.
Many years later...
After Allen Ginsberg's death, Corso was depressed and despondent. Gustave Reininger convinced him to go "on the road" to Europe and retrace the early days of "the Beats" in Paris, Italy and Greece. While in Venice, Corso expressed on film his lifelong concerns about not having a mother and living such an uprooted childhood. Corso became curious about where in Italy his mother, Michelina Colonna, might be buried. His father's family had always told him that his mother had returned to Italy a disgraced woman, a whore. Filmmaker Gustave Reininger quietly launched a search for Corso's mother's Italian burial place. In an astonishing turn of events, Reininger found Corso's mother Michelina not dead, but alive; and not in Italy, but in Trenton, New Jersey. Corso was reunited with his mother on film. He discovered that she at the age of 17 had been almost fatally brutalized (all her front teeth punched out) and was sexually abused by her teenage husband, his father. On film, Michelina explained that, at the height of the Depression, with no trade or job, she had no choice but to give her son into the care of Catholic Charities. After she had established a new life working in a restaurant in New Jersey, she had attempted to find him, to no avail. The father, Sam Corso, had blocked even Catholic Charities from disclosing the boy's whereabouts. Living modestly, she lacked the means to hire a lawyer to find her son. She worked as a waitress in a sandwich shop in the New Jersey State Office Building in Trenton. She eventually married the cook, Paul Davita, and started a new family. Her child Gregory remained a secret between Michelina and her mother and sisters, until Reininger found them.
Corso and his mother quickly developed a relationship which lasted until his death, which preceded hers. They both spent hours on the phone, and the initial forgiveness displayed in the film became a living reality. Corso and Michelina loved to gamble and on several occasions took vacations to Atlantic City for blackjack at the casinos. Corso always lost, while Michelina fared better and would stake him with her winnings.
Rumours have been spreading in China that the recent mysterious non-appearance of the Great Marshal is not so much because of illness - gout, or fractured ankles, or excessive cheese consumption - but because of a coup:
A state-run Chinese newspaper on Monday criticized Chinese Internet users for spreading "false" rumors of a coup in North Korea, after North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un missed a key session of the North's rubber-stamp parliament.
The Global Times, run by China's ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece the People's Daily, carried a commentary on its Monday edition as the rumors of a coup in North Korea have spread on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
The rumors that Jo Myong-rok, a late North Korean vice marshal who died four years ago, arrested Kim in a coup and sent his lieutenants to South Korea for negotiations, were quickly denied by South Korean diplomats in Beijing....
North Korean leader Kim has been absent from public view since Sept. 3 and South Korean officials say he is believed to be suffering from gout.
In an unusual acknowledgment about the leader's health, North Korean state television said last week that Kim has "discomfort" in his body.
A South Korean diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the commentary by the Global Times may represent an "unofficial stance" by the Chinese government about the rumors.
Even Washington has felt it necessary to issue a disclaimer:
The United States said Monday it cannot confirm rumors of a military coup in North Korea that have spread widely amid growing questions about leader Kim Jong-un's prolonged absence from public view.
Kim has not been seen in public for nearly a month, leading to rumors that a military coup has broken out in North Korea and Kim has been arrested. Other rumors have it that Kim suffered a sort of stroke just as his late father, Kim Jong-il, did in 2008.
"I can just say that I have no confirmation of the reports. We've seen them, but we don't have any confirmation," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters after a regular briefing. She declined to discuss the issue any further.
The rumors of a coup spread quickly on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
It has to be said that the whole non-appearance business is getting weirder by the day. A coup would certainly provide an explanation. The story would have slightly more credibility if the supposed coup leader had not died four years ago, it's true; but then again, why not?...with eternal rule by the Great Leader, North Korea is already a necrocracy.
After the disappointment of the cheering squad non-attendance, we were waiting for some of the usual petulance from the North Koreans to brighten up the 2014 Asian Games. There have indeed been problems with the Games, but so far the DPRK team - somewhat disappointingly - have behaved themselves. Their current tally of eight golds, putting them in sixth place, doesn't compare too well with the 126 golds for China, or indeed the 54 for South Korea, but the people of Pyongyang are, we learn, in "ecstasy of joy" at the successes:
Sportspersons of the DPRK are registering admirable successes at the ongoing 17th Asian Games. They won eight gold medals as of Sept. 27.
Their achievements have lashed the citizens in Pyongyang and other parts of the country into a great jubilee.
Jong Su Chol, a department chief of Korea University of Physical Education, told KCNA that the world public is struck with admiration at the progress of the DPRK's sports, which is rapidly developing under the deep care of supreme leader Kim Jong Un.
Yes, it's all down to the Great Marshal. Well-trained North Korean gold medal gymnast Kim Un Hyan was certainly in no doubt who to thank for her triumph:
After winning her medal, Kim was asked what the secret to the North’s strong performance in Incheon is. “In my country there is currently an unparalleled boom in sports, which can be found nowhere in the world,” she replied, shedding light on Kim Jong Eun’s aggressive push to invest in sports.
Showing no difference from other North Korean athletes, when asked how she felt about winning a gold, the gymnast referenced to the North’s Kim Jong Eun numerous times.
“Our Marshal [Kim Jong Eun] said only true athletes are able to win gold medals and winning in sports is like winning a war,” she said.
The gymnast also said, “I am so thrilled to know that the Marshal is watching this game,” adding with tears to her eyes, “Having our flag raised is a way of returning the love and kindness from our Marshal. I want to give him more glory and joy."
All of which is sadly ironic given that the Great Marshal has been out of the public eye for the past month, almost certainly because of problems to do with his overweight and excessive consumption of cheesy comestibles and other luxury items - hardly a fitting problem for a sporting inspiration. The Chosun Ilbo reports today that he had surgery on his fractured ankles:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had surgery in Pyongyang in mid-September to treat fractures to both ankles and remains in hospital, a source claimed Monday.
The source, who recently visited the North, said, "I heard that Kim Jong-un injured his right ankle in June after pushing ahead with on-site visits and ended up fracturing both ankles because he left the injury unattended."
I'm not a medical man, but I have to say that sounds a little odd to me. If you fracture one ankle, does that thereby increase the chance of fracturing your other ankle? How does that work? No, nice try, but gout is the more likely option.
In a country of rampant malnutrition I suppose we should be grateful that there does at least seem to be some embarrassment at the nature of the Great Marshal's health problems.
Frankie Boyle, the comedian who's made a career out being offensive, writes in the Guardian about the case of Mohammed Asghar, the mentally ill Edinburgh man currently under sentence of death for blasphemy in Pakistan. He wants David Cameron to intervene personally. Well, fair enough. Here's the Reprieve page with details of the Asghar campaign.
It's most unlikely Asghar will in fact be executed, with or without Cameron's personal intervention. No one has yet been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, despite the death penalty. The danger is from ex-judicial killings by zealots, who tend to go largely unpunished. Indeed Asghar was himself the victim of a shooting by a guard in the prison where he's being kept, as I reported last week. He was wounded, while a Christian pastor in the same cell, also charged with blasphemy for "sending text messages derogatory to the Prophet Mohammed's mother", was killed outright.
Frankie's anger is largely directed at Cameron. As far as the situation in Pakistan is concerned, well...for a man who's never knowingly understated when it comes to offending people he disagrees with - especially Christians - he's remarkably restrained:
To be critical is not the same as being anti-Islam – rather, it is to advocate for a rational, sensible interpretation of the religion. Islam does not allow for the execution of the insane; neither does it sanction those who, for their own reasons, take the law into their own hands. On the other hand, to fail to stand up for Asghar and others like him is to cede the ground to those who think it’s OK to kill people who say odd things.
Just to be clear, then...Frankie is in no way being anti-Islam. When it comes to offending, there are limits.
The Jews who campaign against Israel, and against Zionism, should not, according to Eylon Aslan-Levy, be accused of anti-Semitism. They're simply misguided....useful idiots:
Once one understands the place of Zionism on the historical palette of Jewish answers to the Jewish Question, one can rationalise its rejection by certain Jews: for them, the answer to Jewish emancipation lies in an affirmation of Diaspora identity – and nobody should belittle that aspiration. They are in many ways a relic of the Enlightenment-era hope — which went up in flames in the Holocaust — that anti-Semitism could be abolished by the integration of Jews as a religious minority in Western society, resolutely eschewing any claim to a national identity.
The problem arises when Jewish anti-Zionists try to impose their answer to the Jewish Question on people who believe this would spell disaster, by joining calls for the dissolution of the Jewish state. This recklessness arguably demonstrates a callous disregard for the wellbeing of Jews suffering the backlash of their incitement against the Jewish state – but calling it anti-Semitic helps serves no purpose.
There is an old Yiddish song that expresses this scorn for Zionism: “You want to take us to Jerusalem / so we can die as a nation / we’d rather stay in the Diaspora / and fight for our liberation”. Those who embrace the message of the anthem would to well to remember that the ‘Foolish Little Zionists’ belittled in the song survived, whereas those who sang it were wiped out. Some humility would be in order.
According to historian Tom Holland, author of In the Shadow of the Sword and presenter of the Channel 4 series Islam: The Untold Story, it's nonsense to suggest that Isis and the like have, as John Kerry put it, "nothing to do with Islam". On the contraray, they have everything to do with Islam. It's all there in the Koran. What's needed is for Muslim scholars to open their faith up to the same rigorous historical criticism Christianity faced in the 19th and 20th centuries, and to accept that much of the Koran, as with much of the Bible, is fiction.
Well, good luck with that. It's an interesting read nonetheless:
The grim truth is that sanctions can be found in the Qur’an, in the biographies of Muhammad and in the histories of early Islam for much that strikes the outside world as most horrific about the Islamic state. “Kuffar are afraid we will slaughter yazidis,” a British jihadi tweeted recently from Syria, “our deen [religion/ law] is clear we will kill their men, take their women and children as slaves insha Allah.” That this reading of assorted qur’anic verses and episodes from the life of the Prophet is the most brutal one imaginable does not necessarily invalidate it. To be sure, there are other, richer, more nuanced interpretations possible – and yes, the bone-headed literalism of those who would interpret the Qur’an as a license to maim, enslave and kill represents a challenge to everyone who prizes it as a revelation from God, supremely compassionate and supremely wise. That is no reason, though, to play the jihadis’ own takfiri game, and deny them a status as Muslims. The very appeal of their sanguinary interpretation of Islamic scripture is far too lethal to permit such a tactic. It is not enough to engage with the jihadis solely on the battlefield. They must be defeated as well in mosques, and libraries, and seminar rooms. This is a battle that, in the long run, can only be won by theologians.
"In the long run" is probably about right.
“Qur’anic studies, as a field of academic research, appears today to be in a state of disarray.” Such is the frank admission of Fred Donner, Professor of Near Eastern History at Chicago. “Those of us who study Islam’s origins,” he has confessed, “have to admit collectively that we simply do not know some very basic things about the Qur’an – things so basic that the knowledge of them is usually taken for granted by scholars dealing with other texts.” Its place of origin, its original form, its initial audience – all are mysteries. That being so, it is certainly no longer possible to presume that there is anything remotely self-evident about the birth of Islam. Indeed, it is hard to think of any other field of history so currently riven by disagreement.
In time, this inexorable process of historicisation is bound to have an impact upon the literalism with which many Muslims today are tempted to interpret their scriptures. When the evidence for what the historical Muhammad said and did is so patchy, and when the traditional explanations of how the Qur’an emerged are so contested, it becomes increasingly difficult to insist that the inheritance of Islamic scripture is not thoroughly contingent. At the moment, the notion that Muslim beliefs are as historically conditioned as any other ideology inherited from the past is seen by most Muslims as highly threatening; but in the long run this will surely change. Recognising that the stories told about Muhammad are fictions bred of a particular context and period, and that the potential interpretations of the Qur’an need not necessarily be circumscribed by traditional exegesis, should facilitate the emergence, over the course of the next century, of a clearly Western form of Islam. It is one, I suspect and very much hope, in which there will no longer be a place for ritual beheading.
Unfortunately all the signs of a Muslim reformation seem to suggest that the opposite is happening: faced with western scholarship, and the challenge of adapting to a secular society, the dominant trend is that of reaction and regression to a more hard-line version of Islam.
We have to hope Holland is right though....in the long term.
Merle Travis in a 1951 "soundie", in full cowboy gear, engages in some banter with vocalist Judy Hayden. The banter may be less than convincing, but it's all kind of fun:
Also featuring Speedy West (steel guitar), Eddie Kirk (guitar), Jack Rogers (bass), Harold Hensley (fiddle) and Alex Brashear or Danny Auguire (trumpet).
From the same session: Sweet Temptation.
He's game enough, old Merle, but his heart wasn't really into all that showbiz stuff:
A heavy drinker and at times desperately insecure despite his multitude of talents (including prose writing, taxidermy, cartooning and watch repair), he was involved in various violent incidents in California, and he married several times in the course of his life. He suffered from serious stage fright, though amazed fellow performers added that once onstage, he was an effective and even charismatic performer.
And one hell of a guitar picker.
The Pakistani blasphemy law strikes again. No one has yet been executed under the law, but with the number of deaths from extra-judicial killings there's really no need:
A Pakistani policeman shot two men in jail on Thursday, killing one accused of blasphemy and wounding another condemned to death on the same charge, lawyers and an activist said.
Christian pastor Zafar Bhatti was killed and 70-year-old Briton Muhammad Asghar, who has a history of mental illness, was wounded in the attack in Rawalpindi, next to the capital, Islamabad.
Bhatti, who worked to protect the human rights of the country's beleaguered Christian minority, was on trial after an Islamic leader accused him in 2012 of sending text messages derogatory to the Prophet Mohammed's mother.
His family say police investigations show the phone was registered to someone else.
In recent weeks, Bhatti had received death threats in prison from both inmates and guards, his family told Pakistan-based human rights group Life for All. He was being held in the same cell as Asghar.
Muhammad Asghar, you'll remember, is the British man who claimed to be a prophet, and is clearly insane. That, of course, is no excuse for the zealots.
Asghar, from Edinburgh, was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to death in January after a disgruntled tenant presented letters he had written saying he was a prophet.
Asghar had previously been detained under the mental health act in Britain and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, according to documents his lawyers supplied to Reuters.
His lawyers were barred from attending the last few months of his trial.
The law firm asked not to be identified for fear of being targeted by extremists....
This year has seen a record number of blasphemy accusations, according to an Islamabad-based think-tank, the Center for Research and Security Studies. Many analysts say the claims are increasingly used to settle scores or grab property.
Blasphemy charges are hard to fight because the law does not define what is blasphemous. Presenting the evidence can sometimes itself be considered a fresh infringement.
Those accused of blasphemy are often lynched and lawyers in defending those accused of blasphemy cases have frequently been attacked. Judges have been attacked for dismissing cases and many of the accused face years in jail as their trials drag on.
At least 48 people accused of blasphemy have been extrajudicially killed, including seven in prison or outside court, according to Life for All.
Earlier this year, a prominent human rights lawyer representing an English professor accused of making a blasphemous Facebook post was shot dead after prosecution lawyers had threatened to kill him in front of a judge.
Last week, gunmen shot dead a liberal professor of Islamic law in the southern city of Karachi. The killing followed years of threats from his colleagues and allegations of blasphemy.
Two prominent politicians who suggested reforming the law have been killed, one by his own bodyguard. Another politician who discussed reforming the law on television is now facing blasphemy charges.