Saumur, France, 1928:
Good piece by Rory Stewart on Syria, and why the use of chemical weapons makes a difference, apart from the purely political matter of having crossed an arbitrary red line set in place by President Obama:
There was however one good reason to respond, despite what Parliament decided on Thursday night. This was because Bashar used chemical weapons – a uniquely horrifying weapon, which the international community has outlawed....
The Syrian regime’s apparent use of this unholy weapon shows a willingness not just to ‘cross red lines’, but also to flout international law, which is terrifying in its implications for its people and the region. The question of how to respond, and whether this might include for example, strikes against Syrian command centres, should have been determined by three conditions. First, any proposed response should not have made the situation in Syria worse for the civilian population. Second, it should have sought to deter Bashar from ever using chemical weapons again. Third, even if it failed to do that – and it might have – it should have sent a clear message to deter any other regimes, which were tempted to use chemical weapons.
The question of whether Britain should respond militarily is now hypothetical. Yesterday’s vote means that Britain will not participate in military action. But our moral instincts about the humanitarian catastrophe, and the use of chemical weapons, should not be forgotten just because we have decided to avoid military means.
Worth reading in full.
On the other hand, there's Simon Jenkins:
Syria: it takes more courage to say there is nothing outsiders can do.
Whatever you may think of yesterday's decision in parliament, it strikes me as particularly nauseating, in the face of the suffering of the Syrian people, to claim that to do nothing is the more courageous decision. It may be for the best - who can say? - and it seems clear that it's in accord with the majority of British opinion, but courage, frankly, had little to do with it.
May 1941. "In the convict camp at Greene County, Georgia." Buddy Moss on guitar:
The Blues and prison have a long history, from the call-and-response of the chain gangs and the early recordings in places like the Angola State Penitentiary, right up to those concerts by the likes of BB King (here at Sing Sing Prison in 1964). And of course one of the earliest figureheads of the music was Leadbelly - Huddie Leadbetter - who was spotted and recorded by Alan Lomax in Angola in 1934, before being touted around New York as a genuine authentic primitive - and slightly dangerous - Negro folk singer, despite the fact that he himself wanted to do popular tunes of the day instead of the same old songs night after night to leftist folkies.
Here's the same Buddy Moss, recorded in Atlanta in 1963. Not live, but with a nice selection of stills from the likes of Robert Frank, Frank Oscar Larson, John Vachon, Yves Tremorin, Fernand Fonssagrives, Robert Doisneau, Brassai:
Moss was supposedly imprisoned for shooting his wife:
In an incident that has never been fully recounted or explained, Moss was arrested, tried, and convicted for the [shooting] murder of his wife and sentenced to a long prison term. With the death of Blind Boy Fuller in 1941, his manager, J.B. Long, made efforts to secure Moss's release as a Fuller replacement, all to no avail until 1941, when a combination of Moss' own good behavior as a prisoner, the bribery of two parole boards, coupled with the entreaties of two outside sponsors (Long and Columbia Records) willing to assure his compliance with parole helped get him out of jail. J.B. Long finally effected his release to his custody with the understanding that Moss stay out of the State of Georgia for a decade. It was while working at Elon College for Long under the parole agreement that he met a group of other blues musicians under Long's management that included Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
He was reputedly a disciple of Blind Blake, and so provides a link between that earlier generation of legendary bluesmen and the next generation - like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee - who took the Blues out to the world in the Sixties.
Blind Blake was very much a street entertainer, best known for his astonishing guitar virtuosity on tunes like Spanish Rag, or Police Dog Blues, rather than the more straightforward 12-bar blues as it came to be known, with some rough-voiced existential loner moaning about his miserable life ("I woke up this morning / The blues all around my bed / I woke up this morning / The blue's all around my bed / I didn't have nobody / To hold my aching head"). [More on Blind Blake and a recently rediscovered track of his here.]
Doubtless in that prison shot Moss was playing something lively in the ragtime style of Blind Blake rather than a standard blues like Cold Rainy Day. Or at least that's what the action suggests - though no doubt it was all pretty much staged anyway.
More on Syria, this time from an "ambivalent" Michael J Totten. About those chemical weapons: yes, if the White House is saying Assad was responsible, then very likely Assad was responsible:
The idea that Barack Obama is ginning up a fake excuse to bomb Syria makes no kind of sense. He has clearly been against getting involved if he can help it. He ran as the opposite sort of president from George W. Bush and he wants to govern that way. It must drive him crazy that he’s weighing an intervention against an Arab Baathist dictatorship over weapons of mass destruction, but that's what's happening.
David Romano agrees:
The most likely explanation has the Syrian government mounting a chemical attack that was simply much more effective than originally intended. Since May 2013, in fact, Western intelligence agencies publically stated their belief that the Assad regime has been using chemical weapons on a limited scale. It was not in the White House’s interest to admit this, since they had no desire to be forced over Mr. Obama’s red line into a meaningful Syrian intervention. The evidence was just too clear to deny, however, so the United States fudged its red line by claiming that the chemical weapons had been used in such a limited way by the regime that real intervention in the war was not merited.
It also makes good sense for Damascus to make limited use of chemical weapons, provided Mr. Assad thinks he can get away with it. The weapons terrorize civilian populations supportive of the rebels. At the first mention of a possible chemical attack on civilian areas, rebel fighters have a tendency to abandon their posts in order to go check on their families. The recently attacked suburbs south of Damascus endured as a real headache to the Assad regime, which needed to maintain control of the city at all costs. Yet assault after assault over the past year had failed to dislodge rebels from these suburbs. The regime also appeared to have gotten away with previous, limited chemical weapons attacks elsewhere in the country. Given the extent to which Mr. Assad’s forces shell rebel-held civilian areas with conventional weapons, we should not assume any real moral compunction against weapons of mass destruction. So last week the order was probably given to mount a limited chemical attack, and a local unit commander of the Syrian army let fly with a few too many chemically-laden shells, or displayed a bit too much accuracy, or both.
So what now? Back to Totten:
This is about enforcing the Obama’s red line on the use of chemical weapons. He told Assad there’d be hell to pay if he used them, and if he doesn’t enforce it, he’ll lose credibility. It’s really not okay if a state sponsor of international terrorism thinks he has a green light to use weapons of mass destruction against civilians. It’s not okay if anyone does. Even if you don’t care a fig about Syrians, well, they aren’t the only ones within range.
If Obama doesn’t enforce this, he’ll also lose credibility on the other red line he’s drawn in the Middle East—the one against Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
He desperately wants to convince Iran to abandon that program without going to war. The only way that’s even remotely possible, however unlikely, is if the Iranian government believes he’ll declare war if it doesn’t stop at some point. So if Assad gets to step over his red line, Tehran’s rulers will have every reason to believe they can step over theirs.
That’s the theory, anyway. That’s what this is about. I am not going to get in the way (not that it would make any difference), and I am not going to protest.
But a much better case could be made that the very existence of these chemical weapons stocks pose a threat not only to Syrians, but also to Syria’s immediate neighbors and even to people in more distant parts of the world. Because if Assad is overthrown by the rebels, that country will disintegrate into absolute chaos. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah are already running around, and without the government in place to secure its stockpiles of weapons, anybody could go in there and get them and use them against whoever they feel like using them against.
The US, however, isn’t making that case and apparently plans to do nothing about it. So nothing on the ground is likely to change. Military action should be used to advance some kind of strategic objective, but unless the White House is keeping its plan a secret from everyone, it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen.
Michael Young today, at Lebanon's Daily Star:
Amid the frigid talk in Washington about why President Barack Obama might order a strike against the Syrian regime, one word is never heard. U.S. officials describe a possible military action as “punishment” for the use of chemical weapons, and “deterrence” against the future use of such weapons, but none have used the word “justice.” You would have thought it would come naturally when mentioning the consequences of a crime against humanity.
But rendering justice means doing more in Syria than the United States is prepared to do. U.S. officials are saying that Obama plans a “limited operation,” one that may last two days. Such a response to the mass killing of civilians will probably achieve nothing. In seeking to avoid a campaign affecting political outcomes in Syria, Obama will effectively allow the carnage in the country to continue.
When retaliation for a terrible crime only helps perpetuate a larger crime, something is off kilter, especially from the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. In his defense Obama may state that he is not responsible for the Syrian war. That’s true, but he is also the president of a country that has been at the center of the post-World War II international system, with its laws, norms and treaties (indeed Obama claimed he respected the rules of this system, unlike George W. Bush). But today Obama has reinterpreted this legacy in such a minimalist way as to make the U.S. sense of responsibility negligible....
For Obama to refuse to integrate a military component, direct or indirect, into his political planning is irresponsible. As American intervention in the Bosnia war showed, well-measured American military action can facilitate a political arrangement. But doing nothing in Syria will only perpetuate chaos, possibly facilitating the creation of a terrorist haven, threatening regional stability further, exacerbating the refugee crisis, and leaving American allies to fend for themselves, which will lead them to make bad choices.
Firing a few Tomahawks will not benefit the Syrians in whose name the U.S. is acting. If matters remain contained, all will go back to normal soon thereafter, America having declared victory and again turned its back.
Well, that's show business:
Kim Jong-un's ex-girlfriend was among a dozen well-known North Korean performers who were executed by firing squad on Aug. 20, reports said Wednesday.
Sources in China said singer Hyon Song-wol as well as Mun Kyong-jin, head of the Unhasu Orchestra, were arrested on Aug. 17 for violating North Korean laws against pornography and were executed in public three days later.
The victims of the atrocity were members of the Unhasu Orchestra as well as singers, musicians and dancers with the Wangjaesan Light Music Band.
They were accused of videotaping themselves having sex and selling the videos. The tapes have apparently gone on sale in China as well.
A source said some allegedly had Bibles in their possession, and all were treated as political dissidents.
That would seem to cover all the bases.
Kim met Hyon about a decade ago, before either of them was married. But he was later ordered to break off the relationship by his father Kim Jong-il and she married a soldier. Since then there have been rumors that the two were having an affair.
Kim's wife Ri Sol-ju was also a member of the Unhasu Orchestra before she married him. Whether she had any hand in the executions is unclear. The Unhasu Orchestra and Wangjaesan Light Music Band have apparently been disbanded due to the latest scandal.
"They were executed with machine guns while the key members of the Unhasu Orchestra, Wangjaesan Light Band and Moranbong Band as well as the families of the victims looked on," the source said.
The source added that all of the families of the executed appear to have been sent to prison camps under North Korea's barbaric principle of guilt by association.
The Unhasu Orchestra were last featured here back in 2011, when they entertained Dear Leader Kim Jong-il in a concert under the title "“We’ll Travel One Road Forever”, including such stirring numbers as “The Embrace of Mother Party” and “We Miss the Benevolent Embrace”.
And here's her big hit, the unforgettable "Excellent Horse-Like Lady".