Trump needs a trim

We live in a world dominated by peculiarly dull politicians, so it ought to make sense that those with a little eccentricity get support. Trump, sadly goes too far. He is an engaging speaker but he is not a politician: he is more of a fairground bouncer, a barnum and bailey carousel barker, but the joke has worn thin as I suggest has his hair, and it is time to call time on this playground parody. He needs a trim.

I have issues with The new Mayor, Khan, but I like the way he has responded to Trump’s offer that Khan might be the new Jesse Owens, the single blessed exception to his pernicious anti-Muslim rule. Khan knows the concession validates the underlying rule -and we can never dignify the ravings of a man hiding beneath a bird’s nest. Heaven forbid that he might win- that would be one weird cuckoo taking over the Whitehouse!

trumping

Hair and history

History has often savaged political leaders blessed with a luxuriant mane. Heseltine, Foot and Alexander the Great all tripped up and lost the game when they seemed to be winning, and Boris’s mop may well prove to be his downfall too. The spectre of Samson looms large but we cannot go too far with this imagery because it was undue criticism of Trudeau’s hair that gave him some sort of advantage and La Clinton’s hair barely merits a mention these days which may well usher her back into the Whitehouse.

At the beginning of the current US campaign, the Obama team tried to rubbish Trump’s hair with claims that it was all fake. There has been talk about Trump’s use of an ointment called Rogaine (he handed it out to one of his employees apparently who was suffering hair loss), of his having had a surgical flap (a form of hair transplant) and grafts like some sort of cranial rose. But surely we are beyond that now- can floppy hair ever explain his rudeness, racism and bigotry? can so many wives and girlfriends be combed away so easily? I am with Cameron and Khan in sniffing at his bonce. Can these teflon locks really explain why Trump gets away with the worst excesses of follicular audacity? Is it hair, or does Trump conceal some sort of blond rodent presumably whispering inanities into his hidden ear – a bit like the rat in “Ratatoille” – is he in short, the Davy crocket of the 21st century-  It may not be a hairpiece- it may be an earpiece, or maybe Trump believes it is the word of God. Moses had long hair too, remember?

And is that Trumping racoon dangerous?

The answer regrettably is yes, and if Trump says we need to get out of Europe, there can be only one sane response. We need to stay, but we need to make sure we’ve got a sturdy pair of scissors to hand for all the trimming we will need to do. We have to remember the History of Europe- but we have to be mindful of recent scissoring too. Can we ever forget the haircuts given to Greece? Unless Mrs Merkel wants to present herself as a modern-day Dalilah, a trip to the barber should be a joy, not a punishment.

louis XVI

Roman soldiers had short hair- probably a reason why St Paul promoted haircuts in the New Testament, though, of course, the rabbis might tell a different story- and certainly in Hassidic Judaism, it would be the women (the wig wearers) who shave their hair while the men still grow it in elegant tassles, as indeed do Orthodox monks (the man bun is not just for John Snow). British history, meanwhile, pitches the long-haired Royalists against the sturdy Roundheads, suggesting that short hair means business (Nicola Sturgeon?). But short hair historically has also been associated with slavery and long hair has been tied up with liberation and the urge to rebel (remember the musical “Hair”?).

Moving from politics, there have been some notable long haired men, often scientists- Robert Boyle (as in Boyle’s law), Dmitri Mendeleev, the periodic table man, Carl Linnaeus (the “Gorilla Gorilla” man from Biology), Da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein of course and Isaac Newton, but also artists like Jim Morrison, Bob Marley, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Oscar Wilde, Franz Liszt, Leif Segerstam (who puts me to shame) Stokowski, Jesus, Brian May and so on. But then there is Richard Branson, and immediately we start to think again of Mr Trump and of the desperate need for both a decisive tonsure and a monastic vow of silence.

Whatever nonsense might be in his head, whatever words he utters, the curse of Trump’s excessive hair never really goes away. It has becoming an icon of insanity, whether ours or his I suppose will be decided at the Presidential election.

branson.

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The Bacchae

Many years ago, on the slopes of a mountain range overlooking Sparta, I wrote a musical version of the Greek play “The Bacchae” by Euripides. Here are a few choice lines!

dionysosdis

Chorus:

Feet flood past

We dance the Asian dervish

Never last to praise the fruit we service!

Fruit we seize to squeeze into wine.

Mine, an idle idyl passing the time.

 

The night is brighter

For the fighter downs the sword

To down a jug of wine

And praise the Bacchic lord

Come, join the praises

Of the legend of the ages –

Dionysos.

 

Pentheus:

Why have you come here

You insolent man in a dress?

Too freely festive, your hair in a mess.

 

If there is a message from this play, it must surely be that the gods are greater than we are, and laugh at them or love them, we should still be respectful of them. Isn’t that how we should treat the media?

 

 

Her majesty’s leak

Every other day there seems to be a story emerging from the Palace – private views on Europe, on China and now on Nigeria. Surely there should be a review of the Palace plumbing because this is becoming absurd. It is almost as if there is a secret organisation determined to undermine the dignity of our monarch!

buhari.jpgStill, what Cameron said seems fairly legitimate: Nigeria is demonstrably corrupt. However, what has happened is a home goal because President Buhari’s brilliant, evasive and commendably concise response has had the effect of turning attention from his country’s dodgy dealings to questions about the lingering impact of Empire and the slow progress of restoring money after it is confiscated by the British legal system. More than that, Buhari readily admits his country is certainly corrupt- or rather, as a representative of the new Nigerian Administration, he says this is something he has discovered himself. “He was telling the truth. He was talking about what he knew.” The previous government had stolen an estimated £10 billion through arms trafficking. Buhari is determined to tackle corruption which he calls a “hydra-headed monster”.

I think this requires some comment:

The most obvious assets still held in the UK belonged to Diepreye Alamieyeseifha, who, rather like a recent ISIS fighter, fled in a yashmack, to avoid trial, though his accounts were frozen and assets held. The ISIS man was captured near Cairo, looking rather silly in a skirt. There was also Abdul Aziz Ghazi who rather hypocritically ordered his followers to fight to the death and then crept out of Masjid en travesti. Of course, the desire to cross-dress as part of the escape plan, while it seems to belong to “Carry on” films, “Dad’s army” and “Allo Allo” or, more seriously in films like “Triple Echo”, actually has a very long pedigree. I gather that Ehud Barak dressed up as a woman in a covert operation against the PLO in 1973- that must have been a sight to see, but Amin el-Husseini escaped the British in Palestine in 1937, sliding down a rope from temple mount, and romping off to Lebanon where he started a pro-Nazi cell. Neuri al Said tried the same thing in Iraq in 1958 but was given away by his shoes, and shot. Ignominious end. There was also Mullah Mahmood in Afghanistan and Yassin Omar from the UK, the latter also carrying a brown handbag, so going for accessories as well. Bonnie Prince Charlie did it after the battle of Culloden and of course Achilles did it to prevent his being conscripted into the Trojan war.

Oddly, while alot of attention has been given to France’s decision to ban the veil in public, the Ottomans dealt with this issue in the late 19th century, banning the Burqa (the extreme form of veiling) after a man disguised in a burqa attempted a robbery in 1892.

War-time cross-dressing is better served by women dressing as men, of course, and “the trouser-part”or breeches role, like Cherubino, seems altogether more gallant. From Epipole, to Joan of Arc, Phoebe Hassel and Zoya Smirnow. Though probably the best example today would be Eowyn the white lady of Rohan.

As for literature and theatre- the place is littered with cross-dressers. Indeed, until Rudolph Nureyev butched up male dance in the early 1960’s, ballet had a reputation for fey men- and with good reason – the male role in Coppelia, for example, was actually created by a woman, Eugenie Fiocre, and of course it was only recently that Peter Pan (my own production in Oxford was among the first examples, incidentally) was played by a man. Pantomime continues the music halls’ obsession with cross dressing.

But back to Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseifha who was the governor of the oil-rich Bayelsa State, and who was accused in London of money laundering in 2005. He was found with nearly £2.5 million and property in excess of £10 million. He jumped bail disguised as a woman and was then sentenced in Nigeria to be later pardoned by Goodluck Jonathan. He died in 2015.

He had to dress like a woman

All these men in frocks! It was Nietzsche who popularised “the Bacchae” and what a play that is! The main character even does a Pantomime turn on stage as he is persuaded by the (disguised) god to try on women’s clothing – “Go on, it suits you. Sir!” and then his head is ripped off by his crazy mother, Queen Argave. the reason for all this? Dionysos demands respect: “Can you, a mortal human, dare to fight a god?” (πρὸς θεὸν γὰρ ὢν ἀνὴρ ἐς μάχην ἐλθεῖν ἐτόλμησε.) This is one side of the equation and the other is the fight many LGBT campaigners have waged so that they can be taken seriously. This is to say nothing about the prohibition in Islam, but then, as we know, terrorists read the sacred texts very selectively when they want to:

عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما قال: لعن رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم المتشبهين من الرجال بالنساء، والمتشبهات من النساء بالرجال. صحيح البخاري.

This is what President Buhari said, “He (Alamieyeseigha) had to dress like a woman to leave Britain and leave behind his bank account and fixed assets which Britain was prepared to hand over to us. This is what we are asking for. What would I do with an apology? I need something tangible…Our experience has been that repatriation of corrupt proceeds is very tedious, time consuming, costly.” He also thanked Britain for helping in the impeachment process of Alamieyeseifha. But Alamieyeseifha was really just the tip of the iceberg, with Sani Abacha apparently looting more than $5 billion while in power, and huge amounts of oil stolen more recently according to a 2013 report.

The foreign secretary has added,

“The Prime Minister was merely stating a fact. These are both countries (Afghanistan and Nigeria) with serious corruption problems and the leaders of both those countries know they have those problems and are determined to deal with them.”

 

 

Andrew Marr

AndrewMarr.jpg

 

I was horrified by the story that Andrew Marr had been abused in the Daily Mail. Quentin Letts should have known better and it should not have been down to Roy Greenslade to get him to apologise, but that is the world we are living in. We are back to the same discussion we have had before (Jonathan Ross, for instance)- when is a joke no longer funny?

There have been many times when I have drawn something I later decided was too direct or simply did not work. Trying to be topical and humorous can often get us all into trouble, but there are some lines we should never cross. Racism is of course an absolute, but I think also we have to salute those people who are brave enough to stand up in public – Marr is particularly brave, to come back to prime time TV after suffering a stroke. He shows that this is possible. But that wider thought about public life is what makes me pause to admire even those public figures with whom I disagree- I am delighted Sadiq Khan, for example is now the first Muslim Mayor of London: it sends out a tremendous message, though I disapprove of many things Khan and his supporters have said and done (as I hope is clear from previous blogs). Nigel Farage might espouse views I dislike and behave in an appalling way (he still owes me a letter incidentally) but he must be saluted as one of the three great orators in the UK today (the other two are Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson).

Here is the best Farage speech: brilliant, cruel, and probably not something I would say (I balk at the reference to Belgium, for instance) but certainly not poking fun at someone with a disability:

Jeremy Corbyn may not be a man who leads from the front, but I recall on the Andrew Marr show, what a convincing and positive performance he gave. I salute that too, while at the same time bemoaning his inability to control his own cabinet and form a decisive and genuinely loyal opposition. In the absence of real political leadership, we in the conservative party have begun to form our own loyal opposition on our own backbenches! Not good for the Conservatives, not good for Labour and certainly not good for our wider parliamentary democracy.

But praise where praise is due, and frankly, I cannot find a word to say against Andrew Marr. It is fairly shameful that the Daily Mail peddles this sort of filth.

Florence

florenceJust to point out- I have not yet seen the film though it strikes me that Hugh Grant looks more like the pianist Cosme McMoon than St Clair Bayfield! I await the film with great joy! But I wanted to scribble a few thoughts first about Florence Foster Jenkins whose image I recall from reading about her in “Look and Learn” in the early 1970s, but whose voice I first heard when a friend called Gerald Dowler showed or gave me the record. It was a great pleasure. Even more so because on the flip side was a New York cabbie destroying Faust.

La Jenkins was supposedly “the worst singer of all time” (“Her singing at its finest suggests the untrammelled swoop of some great bird,”) and she drew crowds from the 1920s until her famous debut at the Carnegie hall during the 2nd World war.

“She clucked and squawked, trumpeted and quavered. She couldn’t carry a tune. Her sense of rhythm was uncertain. In the treacherous upper registers, her voice often vanished into thin air.” She had a heart attack two days after the show and died.

She was certainly eccentric, confident, hopelessly pursuing a fantasy of herself, a camp  stylist with a vision that was entirely her own, and she remains an inspiration to anyone who follows a dream.

I love her determination. I am sure she would have done much of what she did even without her escort, “Whitey” St Clair Bayfield (who called her “Bunny”). She was disowned by her father after she ran off with her first husband Frank Thornton Jenkins. Frank gave her syphillis so when her hair fell out and she was forced to wear wigs. Then she badly injured her arm and could no longer play the piano. Still, she did not give up. She was supported by her mother who encouraged her daughter’s pursuit of music and society.

She may have been practically tone deaf, “the queen of dissonance”, but she had guts and determination: her line was, “people may say I can’t sing but no one can ever say I didn’t sing,” suggesting she was more aware of her failings than the stories suggest. She also had inherited buckets of money and while pursuing her own benighted career, promoted others, and, for instance, put on a series of privately funded and fully staged operas for the Euterpe Club in english during the 1st World war often in Hotels; she continued to patronise the arts generally through the Verdi club.

The picture is after one of the photographs of her in a costume she had designed especially for  her to perform “the glory of the human voice”.

here she is crucifying both Bach and Pushkin and finally the Queen of the Night::

 

It only gets worse

It might seem ungallant to bash a man when he is down, but Livingstone brings it on himself. On Friday, he was on the radio attempting an apology to Jeremy Corbyn- but actually it was an aggressive swipe at “embittered old Blairite MPs who he claimed had started the crisis. Anti-semitism? What anti-Semitism, he might have added.

Not content with his claims last week, then, he has now given an interview to an Arabic news channel repeating what he still wrongly believes are “facts” and adding that “The creation of the state of Israel was fundamentally wrong, because there had been a Palestinian community there for 2,000 years.” Livingstone may not go as far as Hamas in saying it wants to eradicate the State of Israel, but it is a very short step from saying “its creation was fundamentally wrong” to saying “it should be wiped out”. This is dodgy rhetoric, Ken! In addition, he wants an international boycott of Israeli goods including dates (which he says he likes); this is a reference to the BDS or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions originally called in 2005, and certainly not supported by his predecessor Tony Blair . Well, he is late in answering this call anyway – I think even the glorious Vanessa Redgrave gave up on this sort of nonsense years ago. She, like most sane people, supports the two-state solution.

gove

 

Michael Gove, incidentally, rejects BDS too, calling for “solidarity with the Jewish people – and in solidarity with their right to national self-determination.”He said  BDS “re-introduces into our world and into our society a prejudice against the Jews collectively that should have vanished from the earth generations ago.” What is particularly interesting, and fleshes out this statement, is that there has been a rise in anti-semitic attacks in the UK in recent years. So, while we might condemn (as indeed the current British government has already done) the ruthless acquisition of West Bank land, this is not the same as calling the State of Israel “fundamentally wrong”.

Livingstone’s analysis of the way the West should have dealt with the post-holocaust world is as follows and is equally worrying, “We should have absorbed the post-World War II Jewish refugees in Britain and America. They could all have been resettled, whereas 70 years later, the situation is still very tense, and there is potential for many more wars, potential for nuclear war.”

I think we, as a Nation, did our fair share, in fact, to absorb Jewish refugees, and this is something we should take great pride in, but the flourishing of Zionism is also something that the “historian” Ken Livingstone must know was actually supported by his own  socialist party in Britain. (In 1948, Christopher Mayhew records that “behind me wide awake, well-informed, passionate, articulate and aggressive, would be a group of twenty or thirty pro-Israeli Labour members. Most of them would be Jewish … and also Israel’s most brilliant non-Jewish supporter, Dick Crossman.” Later, it was Harold Wilson who supported Israel against the UN’s November 1967 Resolution 242.) There is no doubt that Israel is in a fragile territory and that Palestinians urgently need our support, but none of this means the establishment of the State of Israel was “fundamentally wrong”.

Certainly, there is potential for war and, indeed, nuclear war at that- but that fact does not mean the founding of the State of Israel was either “catastrophic” or “fundamentally wrong”. Similarly, the claims that a Palestinian community had lived in Israel for 2000 years is a fairly vacuous comment in the face of the occupation of the Americas, the establishment of the US, to say nothing about the former State of Judea, that was quite evidently a Jewish kingdom, and more than that, sanctioned by God!

This is not to excuse or condone the treatment of Palestinians by the current Israeli government.

Livingstone observes, “there were large Jewish communities that never suffered threats or attacks. They lived in peace alongside their Arab neighbours. But all of this was destroyed with the establishment of the State of Israel, and all the Israeli [sic] communities in the Arab world were deported to Israel.”

This is really where he gives himself away because he fails to distinguish between Israeli and Jew. There were no “Israelis in the Arab world” before 1948, so it could never have been Israelis who were deported. It is simply untrue that all Jews are zionists and all zionists Jews! There are, for example Jewish groups dedicated to an anti-zionist philosophy- like Neturei Karta and some of the Haredim. This simple slip of the tongue identifies Livingstone beyond a shadow of doubt as racist. Racism is as much about the inappropriate use of language as it is about active attacks on peoples of a different race. A politician of Livingstone’s stature and experience should be careful about the language he uses. Livingstone should remember that someone who hates Jews in Israel is still an anti-semite even if his anti-semitism is geographically restricted. Racism is racism.

He goes on, “I have always believed that the failure to resolve the [Palestinian] problem fuels the terrorist attacks. What makes a 15- or 16-year-old boy go and fight with ISIS, or carry out the barbaric attacks that we saw in Paris or Brussels? They don’t do it because they enjoy killing, but because they believe that they are the victims of injustice. The West must deal with the injustice, or will continue to fuel terrorism.”

Indeed, he is right: our failure to sort out the Palestinian problem has caused anger throughout the muslim world and beyond and I am sure it fuels terrorism. But we should not turn the aggressors, the bombers, into the victim here: nothing can condone terrorism and injustice is never solved by a bomb. I worry, furthermore, that Mr Livingstone claims to have some great insight into the minds of terrorists – but he does them and us no good by suggesting their actions are logical.

Lord Dubs

dubs1Last week, I wrote to Lord Dubs to express my concerns that his amendment had been defeated to take into Britain 3000 Syrian children who have already made it to mainland Europe. The Government is prepared to take children directly from Syrian refugee camps by 2020, but I think this rather misses the moral issue and the urgency involved. This is not really a numbers’ game. We cannot- or should not- pick and choose how we do our charity and how we respond to those in need. When someone turns up on the doorstep asking for help, I think this is a God-sent opportunity, and it is also of course a political hot-potato. We can take it or leave it- that is about us, and that aspect of charity has always seemed a bit self-centred. Instead, we should ask- how about the Refugee child? How many parents can really imagine what it would be like to know their own children are stumbling across a foreign continent without much hope? I think, very few. We cannot expect others to suffer what we would not.

The 3000 Syrian children are our moral responsibility whether we help them now or not- indeed, more so now Labour is increasingly emerging as a party riddled with anti-semitism. We have to take a stand for what is right. We have to learn from the mistakes of the past.

I also wrote last week to Humza Yousaf. If Westminster will not take the lead on this issue, maybe Scotland will! Lord Dubs was instrumental in Necati’s fight for justice 15 years’ ago and his kind words and support are something I will not forget. While other MPs and Lords wrote to us, Lord Dubs picked up the telephone and called us.

Dubs was also a kindertransport child. When twits in the BBC and senior positions in our society like Livingston, are prepared to misrepresent the details of the rise of Nazi Germany, it is all the more vital that we learn the harsh lessons that history should be teaching us, and we should always listen to a man who has personal experience of that time. Bottom line- we did something but we could have done much more to help Jews in Germany. We cannot change the past but we can certainly do something about the future and our current mealy-mouthed numbers’ game is beneath contempt.

And a small point about self-preservation: if we really want to breed further resentment across the muslim world, then rejecting these children can only help to make things worse and here, instead, is an opportunity to send a message of goodwill. We should be building bridges, not erecting barriers.

 

 

26th April 2016

Dear Lord Dubs,

I am writing to express my deep regret that the support for refugee children failed in the Commons last night. I am writing as a current Tory candidate in local elections in Daventry, but also as the partner of Necati Zontul, a man who you kindly helped when our back was against the wall in Greece in 2003. Your amendment yesterday went beyond party politics and was a call to moral responsibility that has been misread by the Home Office and ignored by too many people in my own party. I am afraid History will judge this decision very harshly. If there is anything I can do in the meantime to support the wider campaign to give aid to refugees in need, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Tim Wilson

Dear Humza,

I am afraid some time has passed, and I am also standing in local elections next week: the outcome is not a certainty and the former incumbent is a labour councillor I much admire: she has set a standard for local politics that would be very hard to follow.

However, I have been following the amendment of Lord Dubs in the Westminster Parliament, and I have just written to him to express my great regret that this failed last night. You may not be aware of the story of my partner Necati Zontul, who was a torture victim in Greece in 2001. We owe a great debt of gratitude to many MPs and members of the Lords who wrote letters of support at the time. Lord Dubs very much led the way.

I know that you are very supportive of the refugee cause and I wonder if there is any progress that can be made on this issue after the election through the Scottish parliament?