Cascade Range, California; with lenticular cloud:
This dates from 1958, two years after the Louvin Brothers' recording, some 20 years after the recording by the Blue Sky Boys, and over thirty years after the first commercial recording from 1925 by the delightfully-named Arthur Tanner & His Corn Shuckers.
It's the stark simplicity of the song, contrasted with the extraordinary brutality described, that makes it so powerful. There's no explanation, no excuse:
I met a little girl in Knoxville
A town we all know well
And every Sunday evening
Out in her home I'd dwell
We went to take an evening walk
About a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground
And knocked that fair girl down
She fell down on her bended knees
For mercy she did cry
Oh, Willie dear, don't kill me here
I'm unprepared to die
She never spoke another word
I only beat her more
Until the ground around me
Within her blood did flow
I took her by her golden curls
And I drug her 'round and 'round
Throwing her into the river
That flows through Knoxville town
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl
With the dark and roving eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl
You can never be my bride...
There's an excellent piece here by Paul Slade which looks at the history of the song, tracing it back to 17th Century England when gallows ballads, often claiming to be an authentic record of the killer's last confession or his dying words on the scaffold, were printed out by opportunist publishers to be sold at the site of the execution.
What's missing in the story as it ended up transposed to Knoxville is the obvious background: the poor girl has clearly been knocked up by this man, and she presses him to do the right thing and marry her, taking reponsibility for his child. In response the swine gets out his club and kills her. As such it all makes a kind of horrible sense. It's true that the familiar male justification for rejection and denial - that the girl is a slut who sleeps around, and how does he know he's really the father of the child - is hinted at in the line about the "dark and roving eyes", but apart from that strange note the removal of the matter of the pregnancy, plus that little twist at the end to the effect that he really did love the girl, replaces a fairly standard moral tale with a kind of mystery which makes the song that much darker and more compelling.
“If Obama bombs the believers here, we will bomb you there,” Abu Amran told me. We have our Tomahawk missiles too, they said, referring to human beings. Over the last 22 months, I had stopped being surprised when Nusra Front commanders introduced their 8-year-old sons to me by saying, “He will be a suicide martyr someday, by the will of God.” The children participated in the torture sessions. Around the prisons, they wore large pouches with red wires sticking out of them — apparently suicide belts — and sang their “destroy the Jews, death to America” anthems in the hallways. It would be a mistake to assume that only Syrians are educating their children in this manner. The Nusra Front higher-ups were inviting Westerners to the jihad in Syria not so much because they needed more foot soldiers — they didn’t — but because they want to teach the Westerners to take the struggle into every neighborhood and subway station back home. They want these Westerners to train their 8-year-olds to do the same. Over time, they said, the jihadists would carve mini-Islamic emirates out of the Western countries, as the Islamic State had done in Syria and Iraq. There, Western Muslims would at last live with dignity, under a true Quranic dispensation.
Theo Padnos on his capture, imprisonment, torture and eventual release by Syria's Nusra Front.
The Great Marshal's mysterious disappearance is quickly forgotten as life in North Korea returns to normal. From Richard Lloyd Parry in the Times (£):
North Korea has executed 50 people, including ruling party cadres, for crimes such as watching imported soap operas, according to the South Korean intelligence agency.
South Korean television programmes, smuggled over the border from China, are regarded as gravely subversive in North Korea, where TVs and radios are incapable of picking up foreign broadcasts and most citizens are kept in almost complete ignorance of the outside world.
According to the South Korean national intelligence service, ten officials of the Korean Workers’ party have been shot by firing squad for such crimes this year, as well as for offences such as bribery and “philandering”.
At least one senior military officer was demoted by two ranks for inaccurate artillery fire, according to South Korean members of parliament who were present at a closed intelligence briefing in Seoul.
Meanwhile, as the people go without water, the flow continues uninterrupted at Kim's special waterpark project, despite the fact that no one goes there - especially in the cold weather:
Despite the severe water shortage in North Korea from the spring drought that has even suspended operations at major power plants, the country has been busy supplying water to Pyongyang’s Munsu Waterpark and other leisure facilities rather than to its people, according to a local source. The Munsu Waterpark and Neungra Theme Park are venues widely promoted by the state as “legacies”of its leader Kim Jong Eun.
“We’re not simply talking about your average household, the central district apartments have not even been able to receive a proper supply of water,” a Pyongyang-based source told the Daily NK on Wednesday. “The water from the Taedong River is being supplied first to the theme park or waterpark.”
The severe drought this spring crippled North Korea’s water supply, even disrupting train services. Pyongyang, known as the “revolutionary capital,” which always receives priority when it comes to public resources, has also been struggling with a lag in power and water, according to the source.
This has led to criticism that the state only focuses on promoting Kim Jong Eun’s projects, instead of improving the lives of its people as it vowed the waterpark would help achieve. Since assuming power, Kim has ordered construction of multiple leisure facilities in his effort to build up a “people-friendly” image.
“As the weather gets colder, no one is even visiting these waterparks, but the water supply is the same as in the summer,” the source said. “Summertime operations aside, more people these days are questioning why the park is open at a time like this.”
And, at the BBC, a 21-year-old defector, Yeonmi Park, describes the executions she was forced to witness, her diet of grass and insects, and her eventual escape to China - where, shockingly, the brutality continued as she had to witness her mother's rape.
China's culpability in the survival of the North Korean regime is a long-standing issue; now given new relevance as attempts are made to refer Pyongyang to the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. The Chinese will almost certainly use their UN Security Council veto.
Architectural photographer Peter Dazeley was granted access to some of London’s secret and underground locations for his new book Unseen London. Here, from a gallery at PDN, is the main pump room at Crossness Pumping Station, designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette:
Although the outside of Crossness is described as being "in the Romanesque style", there's an undeniable orientalist feel to the elaborate interior decor here.
Its partner on the north side of the Thames in Bazalgette's great Victorian sewage modernisation, the Abbey Mills Pumping Station, is described as Byzantine in construction, but has a definite Moorish feel. Originally it was graced with two minaret-style towers, but these were demolished in 1941 as it was feared that they were too obvious a landmark for German bombers - and, if hit, could have toppled onto the pumping station. Till then a comparison with, say, Istanbul's Blue Mosque would not have been too far-fetched.
Both Crossness and Abbey Mills are nevertheless referred to as "cathedrals of sewage". Not - most definitely not - mosques of sewage, despite the resemblances. I'm sure the Victorian designers had no intention of denigrating Muslim art or culture with their appropriation of Islamic decorative themes for their sewage pumping stations: it was just what was fashionable at the time. I doubt Edward Said would have agreed, though.
I think it's fair to assume that any campaign to reconstruct the Abbey Mills minaret towers would be a non-starter nowadays.
Saudi "scholar" Dr. Sami Habib on local TV:
Don't you know that Israel is responsible for all our afflictions? Israel is involved in all the crises of the Arab and Muslim world, including 9/11. […]
This is not only the opinion of a small group of people. There is a lot of technical and scientific evidence. For example, on 9/11, two towers were hit. Each tower was hit by one plane. The fuel of a plane burns at 850° C, whereas steel melts at approximately 1,500 degrees. Therefore, the fact that a plane hit the building does not explain its collapse. […]
There is a strategic plan to divide the already divided Arab world. The plan is to establish the Greater Israel, and to give it regional hegemony. This is the plan that they pursue vigorously.
Does Russell Brand know about this?
This is probably as near to the truth as we're going to get:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is recovering following an operation to remove a cyst from his right ankle, though there is a chance that the condition could recur, lawmakers said Tuesday, citing South Korea's spy agency.
Kim received the operation between September and October by inviting a foreign doctor into the communist country, according to Lee Cheol-woo of the ruling Saenuri Party and Shin Kyong-min of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.
The two lawmakers made the comments to reporters after a closed-door parliamentary audit of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in southern Seoul.
The NIS said that there is a chance that the condition could recur due to Kim's obesity and frequent inspection tours, according to the lawmakers.
Disappointingly prosaic - though of course it's an interesting comment on the leadership's real belief in North Korean health professionals, outside the rhetoric, that a foreign doctor was felt necessary.
Russell Brand rumbled at last:
Comedy genius Sacha Baron Cohen has created arguably his most brilliant satirical character yet – the commie-tragic buffoon Russell Brand.
The comic creation – criticised by some who claimed Cohen was mocking people with narcissistic personality disorder – won millions of followers with his heart warming portrayal of a man suffering from delusions of grandeur.
One independently minded Guardian book reviewer aside, the entire staff of both The Guardian and the BBC were taken in by the Russell Brand character. He was granted audiences with news editors, publishers and TV producers. His opinion was sought out by Parliamentary Select Committees and quangos set up to combat drug addiction and over crowding in prisons. He regularly held court on issues of politics, economics and global warming, with people far more knowledgable and experienced than himself. And yet, incredibly, everyone was taken in....
The damning UN Human Rights Report on North Korea, released earlier this year, has proved impossible for Pyongyang to ignore. Since abuse and denial haven't worked, and with a referral to the International Criminal Court very much a possibility, the next step might well involve the North Korean equivalent of a charm offensive:
North Korean officials said Monday they met for the first time with a United Nations special investigator on human rights and "envisage" him visiting their country. A UN official confirmed the meeting.
A visit by a UN human rights official would be a breakthrough in international efforts to have a firsthand look at the way the deeply impoverished but nuclear-armed country treats its citizens. But the North's offer likely is another attempt to stop a growing international call to refer its dismal human rights situation to the International Criminal Court.
The UN special rapporteur is "very optimistic" about the possibility of a visit, "and very happy to hear from our side," Choe Myong Nam, a North Korean foreign ministry official in charge of human rights issues, told The Associated Press shortly after the meeting.
Choe said no date had been fixed, but his country is looking for a "new and objective report" on North Korea's human rights situation. "Previous reports he has prepared have been based on rumors and fabrications, as well as distortions," he said.
The meeting comes a day before Marzuki Darusman presents his annual report on North Korea to the UN General Assembly's human rights committee. An advance copy of his report, obtained by The Associated Press, "strongly urges" that the U.N. Security Council refer the country to the International Criminal Court over its human rights record.
The North has been on the defensive ever since a groundbreaking UN commission of inquiry report early this year laid out widespread abuses, including a harsh system of political prison camps holding up to 120,000 people.
Darusman, a former member of the commission, echoes the commission's call for an ICC referral by the Security Council. A resolution now with the General Assembly's human rights committee, drafted by the European Union and Japan, calls for the same.
A UN official said the North Koreans on Monday wanted the language about an ICC referral removed from the resolution, but they did not directly link that to the idea of a visit by Darusman. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
An ICC referral would be the global community's strongest effort so far to take action on the North's documented record of sprawling political prison camps, starvation and mass executions.
And if, as seems likely, the UN official demands to be shown one of these notorious prison camps? Well yes, that can be arranged:
North Korea is secretly moving political prisoners out of its most notorious concentration camp in Yodok, in apparent preparation for a PR exercise showing that conditions are not as bad as reported, a source claimed.
"The regime is transferring the inmates one by one during the night so that their movement can't be detected by satellites," the source said Monday.
The regime aims to show the camp to foreigners looking like little more than a collective farm, the source added. "The regime will probably send farmers to the political prison camp to do the labor there," the source said.
So the UN inspector turns up at the notorious Yodok camp only to find....not emaciated prisoners, but happy farmers hard at work!
Charm offensive? Well, hoax, more like.
Stephanie Saldana reviews Gerard Russell's “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East":
It is difficult to imagine a more timely book than Gerard Russell ’s “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East.” Equal parts travelogue and history, Mr. Russell’s meticulously researched book takes readers into some of the region’s least-known minority communities: the Mandaeans of Iraq, the Copts of Egypt, the Zoroastrians, the Samaritans, and, yes, the Yazidis.
These religious groups are often ignored in public debate about the Middle East because of their esoteric beliefs and their size—there are only an estimated 750 Samaritans left in the region—and because they have often survived by living in isolated mountains, marshlands and villages far outside the traditional seats of power. Tragically, many of these remote areas in Syria and Iraq are now under ISIS control. And in countries throughout the region, ancient faiths—including Christianity—are disappearing as believers flee Islamic extremism, civil war and poverty. As Mr. Russell writes: “There are no safe places anymore.”...
The book’s subtitle calls these religions “disappearing,” but a decade from now that may no longer be accurate. In his epilogue, Mr. Russell travels to Detroit, noting that the city today has more Aramaic speakers than Iraq thanks to the scores of Iraqi Christians who have left their homeland. While Arabs—particularly Christians—have long been emigrating to America, the horrors of the last decade have led to a dramatic spike in the number of those fleeing.
Thus the author visits the Yazidi community in Lincoln, Neb., where they worry that their children will soon celebrate Christmas. He references the Mandaeans baptizing not in the Euphrates but in Boston’s Charles River. Most authors would have stopped their story in the Middle East, but Mr. Russell rightly understands that any attempt to grapple with these communities today means meeting them where they are: in exile.