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FRIDAY MARCH 19

WHO-DUNNIT?

I finally got to see the Rock'n'Roll Myths TV show this week, thanks to a kind iJamming! reader who sent me her own VHS tape across the Atlantic. The short Channel 4 broadcast aimed to establish once and for all the truth behind Keith Moon's 21st birthday party in Flint, Michigan (August 23 1967), specifically: Did or did he not drive a car into the Holiday Inn swimming pool? In my Moon biography, I insisted that he didn't: I was therefore taken aback last year, when listening to the Moon tribute on the NPR show All Things Considered, to hear Roger Daltrey emphatically declare, "I know it happened and I just remember the car in the pool," and then disparage a certain un-named "biographer" for suggesting otherwise. (Access to the full interview with Daltrey, the full interview with myself, and the actual broadcast is here.)

Rock'n'Roll Myths did not interview Daltrey or Townshend. But three members of Herman's Hermits, with whom The Who were touring at the time and all of whom were partying with Keith than night, deny that Moon drove a car into a pool. One of those three, Karl Green, I had already interviewed for the book. The other two, Peter Noone and Barry Whitham, now join Green and the several other people present that night whom I interviewed for my biography - Chris Stamp, John Entwistle and Nancy Lewis – in insisting that no car ever went in a pool. Who Tour manager Tom Wright offered a third point of view on VH1 a few years back, claiming Keith dove in to an empty swimming pool, thereby knocking out his tooth. But still no mention of the car. Can we consider the case now closed, the myth dispelled? Probably not. But we can hope.


THE HOMO-WHO?

Still dealing with old press, I was approached by Chuck Warner of hyped2death, a 'record label' of sorts I'd written about a few months back. Warner is putting out a 3-CD retrospective of The Homosexuals and wanted my memories of the group. (A 21-track single CD was just released by Morphius.) Warner tells me that The Homosexuals' coverage in Jamming! (#s 7 & 8) was the only, that is, the only press the band ever received. Apparently, it was something of a 'mistake' by the group's 'manager' that I was invited to write about them in the first place. Undoubtedly, 99% of readers here will be saying 'The Homo-who?' But their 7" single 'Hearts In Exile' and 12" 'pink' EP remain two of the best records to come out of the experimental post-punk DIY era. I'm glad archivists recognize as much, 25 years after the event.


ON MY RADIO

While we're on a slight nostalgia trip, here's an interim hitlist, some older music I've been listening to for one reason or another:


ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK: TOMMY (More on Tommy here)

THE UNDERTONES: HYPNOTISED (More on the Undertones here)

VARIOUS ARTISTS: RAW SOUL (More on Raw Soul here)

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: TUNNEL OF LOVE (More on the Boss here.)

MY BLOODY VALENTINE: LOVELESS (More on MBV here.)

ON MY BOOKSHELF

And because I don't have time to review them any more, here are some of the books I'm reading. Click on book cover for a web link.

What are you listening to or reading? Stop in The Pub and let us know. There's a lot of you signed up and a lot of you reading other peoples' posts. Start your own thread…

The only book of the above five that I'm not still reading is Them, which I finished the other day. A marvelous piece of work; kudos to Jon Ronson for managing to make terrorism funny.


EVER-SHIFTING ROOTS

If only we could always write terrorists off as hapless cartoon characters. I only just came across Christopher Hitchens' piece for Slate on the Madrid bombings, published last Monday but clearly written before the election 'shock' the previous day and before it was entirely clear that ETA was not behind the attacks. That makes it all the more interesting as he raises two points I brought up for myself this week.

1) Root causes. "Nobody any longer argues that there is a "root cause" of ETA's atrocities," writes Hitchens. "However, it seems that some Spaniards, and some non-Spanish commentators, would change on a dime if last week's mass murder in Madrid could be attributed to the Bin-Ladenists. In that case not only would there be a root cause—the deployment of 1,300 Spanish soldiers in the reconstruction of Iraq—but there would also be a culpable person, namely Spain's retiring prime minister. By this logic, terrorism would also have a cure—the withdrawal of those Spanish soldiers from a country where al-Qaida emphatically does not desire them to be.

Which leads to

2) Meeting terrorist demands. Says Hitchens, "I thought it was a good idea to remove troops from Saudi Arabia in any event (after all, we had removed the chief regional invader). But, even with the troops mainly departed, bombs continue to detonate in Saudi streets."

Hitchens thereby joins Fareed Zakaria in telling us that American troops have "mainly departed" Saudi Arabia. Why, why, why is this not being more strongly publicized by the media, everywhere? American occupation of the land of Mecca was, as Zakaria reminded us in Newsweek, the first item on Bin Laden's shopping list of grievances. Many people around the world were similarly unhappy at the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, not because they desired to appease Bin Laden, but because they didn't like the idea of American military force being seen to support a totalitarian, sexist, backward regime. And, of course, because it gave the appearance that the troops were there merely to protect American access to Saudi oil.

I understand why the Bush Administration can't make a big noise about the troops' removal (if indeed, it has taken place: I want some proof): it would look like they were giving in to terrorist demands. But why would the media as a whole not seize on this truly seismic shift? After all, any media outlet even remotely opposed to Bush could present it as evidence that, while publicly refusing to give an inch, privately the Administration is satisfying terrorist demands. On the other hand, they would have to admit the following, also: That 1) if the troops have indeed been removed from Saudi Arabia; and 2) if Bin Laden, through any of his interconnected Islamic terrorist organizations, has not publicly acknowledged this concession; and 3) if the terrorist attacks are continuing nonetheless, then 4) it sadly proves that there is nothing to be gained from negotiating with terrorists, because any attempt to cut off one 'root cause' will merely encourage another to sprout and take hold. Surely there are media outlets willing to admit all this?


FAIR AND BALANCED...

A quick final note on the issue of editorializing on news shows, something the BBC continues to do with alacrity (as referenced here and here), making it very hard for those of us who rely on the Corporation's excellent resources to separate fact from opinion. The Village Voice reports this week about a recent flap on PBS' nightly television show Newshour With Jim Lehrer, in which a reporter from the magazine The Nation made certain comments about the "reconstruction" efforts in Iraq. Two nights later, according to the Voice, "Lehrer returned at the end of the show and read the following statement: "For those who were watching two nights ago, a discussion about Iraq ended up not being as balanced as is our standard practice. While unintentional, it was indeed our mistake and we regret it."

The Voice seems to suggest that this was some kind of censorship, or at the very least, that calls came down from above demanding a retraction. Maybe. Or maybe it's just that Jim Lehrer, who carries certain domestic influence though nothing on the level of the BBC, has a strict editorial standard. According to the Voice, he insists that his producers "carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories."

At least in the case of Newshour, the transcript of the shows remain online for anyone to read and reach their own conclusion. I don't believe the BBC offers the same resources with its World News. Allowing that it provides access to all its radio shows for one week after broadcast, is there any reason it could not do the same with its televised World News?


THURSDAY MARCH 18

MORE ON MADRID

In this week's Village Voice, James Ridgeway offers a detailed account of how the Spanish government misled people after the bombings in Madrid last Thursday, by trying to convince the public (home and abroad) that the attacks were the work of the Basque separatist terror group ETA, not that of Islamic terrorists. Was Ridgeway watching the BBC World News as I was, last Thursday night, when that broadcast's two hired experts each themselves loudly proclaimed that the bombings had to be the work of ETA? And when the second expert went so far as to suggest that the Spanish Government's decision to ban ETA's political wing from the General Election was probably the final straw for the Basque group – at which the BBC Anchor congratulated his own (British) nation for not making the same 'mistake' with the IRA and Sinn Fein?

I raise this for the second time in three days because it seems to me that reaction to the Madrid Bombings has not fallen according to political affiliation - the BBC hardly had any reason to tow the Aznar official line, after all - but according to geographic location. The Europeans, on left and right, did not want to believe that Islamic terrorism had come to European soil on such a scale, because then they would have to confront it with a whole different set of attitudes than they've been doing thus far. They were therefore much more comfortable treating the attacks as part of their ongoing 'internal' disputes which, European policy-shapers widely believe, they've handled adroitly over the years. (This despite the collapse of Yugoslavia and the resultant mass slaughter.)

The BBC Radio World Service, meanwhile, which I listen to almost every morning, asked its listeners last week to suggest their own cures for terrorism. Surprise, surprise, two of three e-mail responses read out on-air the other morning insisted there would be no end to terrorism until we eradicated the 'root causes'; the third compared train bombs to tomahawk missiles. Here's a question to those whose comments made it on air: had the attacks indeed been launched by ETA, as so many have been in Spain these past 30 years, would you have offered the same critiques? Or, allowing that the Madrid bombers appear now to have been Moroccans, do you profess to know enough about the political situation in that North African country to suggest that this instance of terrorism had justifiable 'root causes'? Or is it that when you say 'root causes' you're using it as a thinly-disguised euphemism for the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and you actually believe that Islamic terrorism is justified for as long as the Palestinian people insist it's their last resort? I'd like to recommend a couple of books that discuss these supposed 'root causes' along with the growth of Islamic fundamentalist terror groups such as Al Qaeda. The first, reviewed here, is Why Terrorism Works by Alan Dershowitz. The other, briefly reviewed here is Holy War, Inc. - Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden by Peter Bergen. Or better yet, just read today's column by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, entitled The Axis of Appeasement.

BACK TO IRAQ, AGAIN

Meanwhile, the bombs keep going off in Iraq, perfectly timed to coincide with the first 'anniversary' of the Invasion, and fully intended to make the War seem a fiasco. The plan has worked with regard to switching the political landscape in Europe. It pays no regard to the will of the people in Iraq, the absolute vast majority of whom, time and again, and every time you hear them speak, want only the chance to build and live in a peaceful country, free of psychopathic dictators, occupying military forces and, yes, terrorists.


BLOOMBERG'S EDUCATION BLOC

Closer to home, I've given New York's Mayor Bloomberg a lot of leeway at this site. He inherited a city in crisis and was forced to make budget cuts that were bound to be unpopular. He had the courage to push through a smoking ban even though the State Legislature was doing precisely the same thing just months behind him; he could have sat back and avoided the flak. And he's had the courage to try and do something about the failing public schools system.

Unfortunately in this last regard he's acting as if still working in the business sector by which he made his fortune and not as a democratically elected politician representing the people. He's already managed to do away with the dysfunctional Board of Education and effectively taken control of the school system himself. Many of us are eager to see how he can indeed improve things. One plan has been to do away with Social Promotion, the automatic moving on with your class mates to the next year in school, regardless of your results and intellect. He's decided to halt automatic Social Promotion beginning with the current 3rd Grade, the 7-8 year olds. Our son is in the 3rd Grade in a New York City Public School so obviously we have a vested interest in what's happening.

I don't know any parents who believe that automatic Social Promotion is inherently a good thing. We don't want our own kids held back in class by other kids that are struugglng, nor do we want our own kids to struggle if they're being taught way beyond their abilities. Most of us would prefer that those who are struggling are caught through a variety of means, including their class work, at a good age – and 3rd Grade appears to be the optimum point – and then given focused education (including one-on-one if that's what it takes, but certainly put in special classes) to ensure that they're brought up to scratch and that the system doesn't fail them.

Bloomberg's proposal sadly appears to be more simplistic than this. All 3rd Graders are taking a brand new standardized reading and writing test this year: those who only score at Level 1 (out of 4 Levels) will be held back. Until now, 3rd Graders have never taken exams. (I certainly didn't take them at that age; actually, I didn't take exams at all while in London's primary school system.) All sides agree that at current standards, around 15,000 3rd Graders will only score Level 1 and thereby be held back. But to what? To special classes financed by newly-released money? No, they'll be added to next year's 3rd Grade classes, which of course means larger class sizes and less individual attention. Which will – you don't have to be a genius here - lead to more failing children and yet larger class sizes as more and more 3rd Graders are held back in future years.

(Yes, there's a system of appeals, and yes, children who go to summer school will be allowed to retake the exam at the end of the summer, but those kids won't even know what grade they'll be in until the start of the school year. It's a recipe for chaos.)

Bloomberg's plan to end social promotion went before the 13-member Panel for Education Policy last Monday. The PEP is a new entity that Bloomberg replaced the Board of Education directors with; the Mayor picks 8 members, each of the five Borough Presidents one other. Shortly before Monday's vote, it was clear that many PEP members, despite their loyalties to Bloomberg, disagreed with his plan as it stood, and intended to vote against it. At the very last minute, Bloomberg sacked two of his own appointees, the Staten Island Borough President did likewise, and they were replaced by yes-men and women. The plan to scrap Social Promotion was passed, by a vote of 8-5. You don't have to be Level 4 Maths to know that, had three PEP Members not been sacked and replaced at the last moment, the vote would have been 8-5 AGAINST. No wonder the parents who attended the public vote, to register their opposition, were heard chanting, "We want democracy, not this hypocrisy."

Speaking out against Bloomberg's plan, or voting against it as a PEP member, does not mean blind support for Social Promotion, though Bloomberg is trying to paint his detractors that way. Instead, it represents discontent at the extent to which Bloomberg has thought through his plan, anger that 8-year old kids will be held back based on a one-off brand new test rather than their teachers' overall evaluation, and the fear that the end result will be larger class sizes and less individual attention, when just about every study shows that it's smaller class sizes and more individual attention (especially for troubled, struggling children) that results in higher standards of education. Surely, if eight out of thirteen of the Mayor's handpicked rubber-stamp PEP members have doubts about the plan, it needs further work?

So, prior to this new scandal (and it is a scandal), when would kids in New York normally take their first exams? In 4th Grade. The results of those exams are used by the students themselves for applying to their next school, after Fifth Grade, by the schools themselves for rankings and ratings, and at a higher level, by the School Districts and the City as a whole. With Bloomberg's plan to scrap Social Promotion rubber-stamped by a committee that would have done Soviet Russia proud, next year's Fourth Grade tests will be taken by a disproportionately higher standard of children. (The Level 1 kids will be held back in 3rd Grade, remember?) By rights, the 4th Grade results should therefore show significant positive increase. No doubt, these improved figures will be trumpeted from the rooftops by the Mayor as proof that his takeover of the education system is working. Kind of convenient that he'll be seeking re-election at the same time, isn't it?


SHOW HIM SOME PASSION

To prove I didn't get up on the wrong side of bed this morning, here's one of those news stories you couldn't make up if you tried. Up in the State of Maine last week (that's New England, quiz fans)

"A man was treated at a hospital after he nailed himself to a cross. The 23-year-old man apparently was trying to commit suicide.

Lt. Pierre Boucher said the man took two pieces of wood, nailed them together in the form of a cross and placed them on the floor. He attached a suicide sign to the wood and then proceeded to nail one of his hands to the makeshift cross using a 14-penny nail and a hammer.

"When he realized that he was unable to nail his other hand to the board, he called 911," Boucher said.

It was unclear whether the man was seeking assistance for his injury or help in nailing down his other hand."


WEDNESDAY MARCH 17

TRANSMISSION

At Southpaw last Tuesday night, for a sold-out show launching their debut full-length album Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, Brooklyn's TV On The Radio did more than deliver a live show equal in inspiration, perspiration and outright entertainment. They also completely defied any lazy reviewer's attempt at pigeonholing.

Here's how hard it is to place them… TV On The Radio have been regularly lumped in with The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, for a number of good reasons. Vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, an accomplished painter and film-maker, directed the video for the YYYs' single 'Pin.' Guitarist David Andrew Sitek (also a painter) produced that band's debut album Fever To Tell; YYYs Brian Chase and Nick Zinner returned the favor by appearing on TVOTR's debut EP Young Liars. Both bands have recorded for the Touch and Go label; you might have guessed by now that they share management. But don't even think of comparing them musically: while the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are full-throttle white-noise abrasive, TV On The Radio are carefully, funkily cerebral.

TV On The Radio have also been compared to The Fall, for the more simple reason that they toured with Mark E. Smith's long-standing contrarians. Though the two groups do share in common a willful disregard for convention, musical similarities are otherwise non-existent.

And TV On The Radio are also thrown in with The Pixies, for the initially understandable reason that they finished off their Young Liars EP with a live cover of Doolittle's 'Mister Grieves.' But they did it completely a capella, rendering it nothing so much as like an out-take from the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack.

Or follow this line of fruitless thinking: when I heard the buzz about Young Liars, I tracked down a few cuts online. But the uncredited Kraftwerk pastiche 'Robots' seemed so unlike the EP that I couldn't believe it was the same band. Turns out it wasn't, really. It was the result of David and Tunde jamming with David's brother Jason Sitek on drums and releasing the results as part of the comically conceptual OK Calculator album, of which only 300 copies were produced, though all were supposedly hand-printed. (Anyone want to burn me a copy?)

Kyp Malone, guitar, and Tunde Adebimpe, vocals, of TV On The Radio, Southpaw, Mar 9.

But that was then. TV On The Radio have long since found their groove. Second guitarist Kyp Malone has been on board since Young Liars; he, David Sitek and Tunde Adebimpe dominate the front of stage while a new (permanent?) rhythm section holds down the back line with fidgety aplomb. Sitek plays like a long-lost member of Ride, all psychedelic shimmers and colorful textures. Adebimpe switches from standard vocal mike to secondary distortion mike as he sings poetic streams of sub-conscious paranoia with a powerful drawl not entirely unlike Michael Franti. (Try these lines, from 'King Eternal': "Afraid of thunder children, so hide your eyes/hope your fortress holds up for many many many years.")

But then Malone joins Adebimpe in high-pitched harmony (most resoundingly on the superb 'Poppy'), lending a sexy, Prince-like glamour to an otherwise resolutely streetwise sound, all the while delivering sharp funky shards from his own guitar that jar as much as they gel with Sitek's textural wash. Samples and synthesizers flutter in here and there (though not as overtly as on record); percussion is widely favored and wisely used. Confused? You want to be.

The overall effect is a stoner's delight: one wag at Southpaw screamed out "Let's smoke some pot!" between songs. But it's far from catatonic. TV On The Radio want to make friends; they'd probably be happy to see you dance. (Though the Southpaw crowd was just a little too cool on that score.) They're engagingly affectionate and thoroughly addictive. You'll love them. Trust me.

Malone, Adebimpe and David Andrew Sitek get down to business.


For all that that should be that, it's impossible to review TV on The Radio live, especially in their current five-piece format, and not comment on some simple cultural demographics. Four of the band are black. The audience at Southpaw was at least 90% white. Memories of the Black Rock Coalition and Living Colour's Vernon Reid playing to a room full of white Hendrix fans quickly returns to haunt. But TV On The Radio are far less voluminous than those antecedents, far more rooted in experimental American indie rock of the last 20 years. The fact that they emerged from Adebimpe and Sitek's involvement in the arty Williamsburg scene explains a lot about their sound and their audience.

Yet vocally and rhythmically, they still bring something to the show that funky white Brooklynites simply can't manage on their own. When I say that 'Bomb Yourself,' with its dub bass lines, falsetto vocals, and flecks of scratched guitar, could almost be an out-take from post-punk Britain, that doesn't mean it could be mistaken a Rapture-like take on PiL. It's darker than that; those of you who ever heard Don Letts' band Basement 5 might just understand where we're coming from here. The rest of you, take my word on this one.

Ultimately, TV On The Radio are a one-off. The New York indie audience seem to have grasped that fact. A wider audience is waiting in the wings. TV On The Radio are touring their arses off – sorry, their asses off – across America through the middle of May. Tune in and get turned on.


TUESDAY MARCH 16

TRACKING TERROR

It's impossible (and immoral) for someone living in the States to pass judgment upon the reaction of the Spanish people to last week's terror attacks, which culminated in the surprise election of the opposition Socialist Party in Sunday's General Elections. Not without living in Spain, not without understanding more of the peoples' history (they were suffering under fascism as recently as the 1970s), not without knowing the daily interaction between the public and the government of José María Aznar's Popular Party should we attempt to understand the peoples' every rationale.

Still, that doesn't forbid us some reactions. (Having visited Madrid for two glorious days last October, I felt a particular pain upon hearing of the bombings there.) As far as I understand from absorbing much news on the subject, the Spanish people felt that Aznar's government lied to them about the bombings: it pointed the blame toward the Basque separatists ETA (whose culpability would probably have aided Aznar in the Elections), rather than toward Al-Qaeda or similar Islamic terrorists (which would take votes away from the Popular Party: Aznar had, after all, backed the USA in its War on Terrorism, including the Invasion of Iraq, even though the latter was opposed by 90% of the Spanish public).


A MIS-LEAD... FROM ALL ACROSS EUROPE

If the Spanish government did initially believe it was dealing with an ETA attack, so did the people, who immediately flocked to the streets denouncing the Basque separatists. Friday morning I read an editorial by a Madrid-based Spanish writer in the New York Times equally keen to blame ETA. And Thursday night, I watched the highly influential, much treasured BBC World News, which hosted not one but two experts on the subject, both of whom emphatically declared the bombings the work of ETA rather than Al-Qaeda. The second of these experts, a Brit who was in the studio with the host (yes, I should have jotted down his name), was quite patronizing in his disdain for any suggestion that Islamic terrorists may have been responsible. When he noted that Prime Minister Aznar had only further incited ETA by banning their political wing from taking part in the General Elections, the BBC anchor was quick to note, and I'm very close to verbatim here, "At least we (i.e. Britain) didn't make that mistake with the IRA."

Hmmm. Perhaps not. Though as it now appears that ETA weren't involved in the attacks, the point is surely moot. Either way, BBC News appears to have made a very big mistake of its own between choosing its experts, and its anchor's ready rush to judgment. Following the scandal of Andrew Gilligan's 'sexed-up' WMD documents last year, you would have thought the Beeb might be more careful about blanket statements and editorializing. Guess not.

The public rush to judgment: A protester holds up his hands with "ETA No" written on them during a demonstration in Almeria.


NEWSWEEK PICKS THE WRONG WEEK

Of course, the BBC are not the only revered members of the media to get things wrong. (I love the BBC; I'm listening to a Radio 1 archive as I type.) Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, an expert on the Middle East and a ready critic of Bush into the bargain, wrote in last week's magazine, published just two days before the bombings:

"Consider the progress of Al Qaeda and affiliated terror groups over the past three years. For a decade they had attacked high-profile American targets only—embassies, a naval destroyer, the World Trade Center. Once the United States mobilized against them, and got the world to join that fight, what have they hit? A discotheque, a few synagogues, a couple of restaurants and hotels, all soft targets that could not ever be protected, and all outside the Western world. As a result, the terrorists have killed mostly Muslims, which is marginalizing them in the world of Islam.

Every few months we hear of a new "message" from Al Qaeda and analysts ponder what it portends. By now surely it is clear that Al Qaeda can produce videotapes but not terrorism."

How does Zakaria feel about being so far off-target at such a critical juncture? Well, at least he has another column today to try and put things right. And it's a mark of his skill as a writer that he can appear just as convincing in his arguments this week as he did last week. (Though sadly, his current column makes no mention of his previous one's enormous faux pas.)

Thomas Boldt of the Calgary Sun sees the obvious similarities. More cartoons viewable at Cagle's Cartoons.


THE A WORD...

Returning to those most immediately affected last week, the Spanish people were understandably upset that the Government appeared to be something less than forthright in its investigations and, in the manner by which political campaigning was suspended for three days of national mourning, the public may well have smelled something more sinister, something reminiscent of their days under Franco. These are good reasons to demand a change of power.

However, those do not appear to have been the only driving forces behind the sudden swing votes. Rather, as blame shifted from ETA to Al Qaeda or a similar Islamic terrorist group on the very eve of the election, a broad swathe of voters resurrected their opposition to Aznar's involvement in the Iraq invasion, and decided to punish him for apparently bringing Spain into the terrorists' sights. This is not conjecture on my part; even with all the young people coming out to vote Socialist in an increased turn-out, there were widely reported instances of voters switching their vote at the last moment, and for one very simple, publicly stated reason. They wanted to opt out of the war on terrorism. They hoped that a vote against a leader who had vowed to fight terrorists, would somehow excuse them from further attacks.

This is the part I can't understand. There only seems to be one word for this attitude: appeasement. I'm not singling out the Spaniards for this. We heard exactly the same argument after the Bali Bombings, which took place, if you recall, before the Invasion of Iraq. Australia was being 'punished' at the time for supporting the removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan. No small number of Australians blamed their Prime Minister, John Howard, for the Bali Bombings, based on an assumption that if they had left the USA to fend for itself, their own people would not have been a target.

A government worker attached a black ribbon to the Spanish flag on the balcony of a government building in Madrid, Thursday.

This does actually raise an extremely important point: that Al Qaeda appears to be one step ahead of the USA in its thinking. After 9/11, there were many of us, especially here in New York, who felt that Bin Laden's terrorists were merely waiting for the Americans to react before moving into a new phase of war that would unleash all manner of attacks on the North American mainland. But they didn't. Al-Qaeda waited longer, instead, to see who would support the USA most vociferously in its military campaigns and went after those nations instead. The people or the troops of Australia, Spain, Italy, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have all been rendered targets and in every case, large sections of the public have demanded that their leaders withdraw from any 'coalition' to excuse themselves from further attacks. Should this Al-Qaeda policy continue to be effective, the USA will be fighting the Islamic terrorists on its own. Which is exactly what Bush threatened to do in the first place. That makes me think it's precisely what Bin Laden wants – and therefore must not be allowed to happen.


IF 9/11 WAS A WESTERN CONSPIRACY, THEN SURELY, SO IS 3/11? UNLESS....

Even here in the States there are plenty people who feel the same way as do citizens of other coalition countries. If we could only understand the 'root causes' of Islamic terrorism, they say, if we would only give Al-Qaeda whatever it is that it wants, we will somehow, blissfully, automatically remove ourselves from their line of fire.

That's wishful thinking. In fact, it's make-believe. Fareed Zakaria writes this week that:

Al Qaeda's declaration of jihad had, as its first demand, the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden does not seem to have noticed, but the troops are gone—yet the jihad continues. The reasons come and go, the violence endures.

I was aware that the USA had announced it would be withdrawing troops from Saudi Arabia. I did not know the withdrawal had taken place. If it has, it should be shouted from the rooftops for the reason Zakaria states. If it hasn't… surely Zakaria would not make a mistake of such immense proportions? Especially after last week's column...?

As he states, nothing is good enough to satisfy the terrorists, nor sadly, the misguided sympathizers among their victims. I should note that some of my 'friends' still insist that 9/11, here in their New York hometown,

a) could have been prevented, or
b) was planned all along by the CIA/the Bush Administration/the Military-Industrial Complex.

And that either way, at the very least the attacks were allowed to take place to generate public support for the Bush Administration and its radical international policies.

To point a), yes, 9/11 could possibly have been prevented, with more information shared between intelligence agencies, along with a clearer focus on Al Qaeda's murderous intentions and the inevitability of an attempted attack on the American mainland. The same should be said of the attacks in Spain. News that the Swedes have been sitting on a document from last June, in which Al-Qaeda declared its intent to affect the outcome of the Spanish general election, but that the information was not shared with the Spanish, does little to posit the idea of European unity.

Those who believe argument b) should also, by right, apply the same theory to Spain. If the Bush Administration, or the CIA, or the faceless Military-Industrial Complex, planned 9/11 to influence public opinion, surely Aznar and his Popular Party were using the same tactic in Spain? Or, at the very least, as some New Yorkers believe of 9/11, Aznar must have allowed the attacks to happen to generate support for his party's policies, in this case with the intention of holding onto power in the upcoming General Election. Except… the Popular Party were voted out of office three days later.

That means either the supposedly murderous web of the western international power structure completely misgauges its own public's reaction when launching or allowing attacks on its own people...or that these were indeed attacks by bloodthirsty terrorists intended to inflict maximum casualties on innocent civilians. Sometimes, as I've tried telling my 'friends' to the point I wonder if I even believe myself (but I do), it's this plain: bad people do bad things. Stop trying to excuse them.


SHOULD TERRORISTS BE ALLOWED TO SWING ELECTIONS?

Still, if the attacks of 9/11 succeeded in splitting American public opinion down the middle, making for an uncomfortably disharmonious country, the Madrid bombings were yet more effective in Spain. There is no other way to say it but that the bombings served to change the Government. And, allowing the Spanish people every reason to vote Aznar out, this is a frighteningly dangerous precedent to set.

Prior to last Thursday, the Popular Party was destined for re-election. After the Madrid bombings, the Socialist Party was swept into office. Prime Minister Elect José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero 's first point of call was to promise withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq by the end of June unless the United Nations takes over control of the country. If Al Qaeda, or its partners, indeed were responsible for the Madrid bombings, they can take satisfaction that they have swung the entire European political system in the stopping of 200 heartbeats.

The horror at the heart of it all: a memorial at the Atocha railway station.


ISOLATION OR INTERNATIONALISM?

Andrew Sullivan argues vociferously about the dangers of this Spanish reaction in a posting entitled Bin Laden's Victory In Spain:

"If the appeasement brigade really do believe that the war to depose Saddam is and was utterly unconnected with the war against al Qaeda, then why on earth would al Qaeda respond by targeting Spain? If the two issues are completely unrelated, why has al Qaeda made the connection? The answer is obvious: the removal of the Taliban and the Saddam dictatorship were two major blows to the cause of Islamist terror. They removed an al Qaeda client state and a potential harbor for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. So it's vital that the Islamist mass murderers target those who backed both wars. It makes total sense. And in yesterday's election victory for the socialists, al Qaeda got even more than it could have dreamed of. It has removed a government intent on fighting terrorism and installed another intent on appeasing it. For good measure, they murdered a couple of hundred infidels. But the truly scary thought is the signal that this will send to other European governments. Britain is obviously next. The appeasement temptation has never been greater; and it looks more likely now that Europe - as so very often in the past - will take the path of least resistance - with far greater bloodshed as a result. I'd also say that it increases the likelihood of a major bloodbath in this country before the November elections. If it worked in Spain, al Qaeda might surmise, why not try it in the U.S.?"

I don't agree with everything Sullivan writes. I strongly hope the new Socialist government in Spain finds a way to improve European solidarity and match it with concrete steps against terrorism. If it shows signs of success in the next few months, it will be all the more reason for Americans to vote Bush out and indicate that this country, too, needs to find a different way forward - as long as we don't use the A word.


BACK TO IRAQ

Michael Ignatieff is, like Fareed Zakaraia and Andrew Sullivan, a slippery writer to pin down to a political persuasion. Essentially a leftist and the author of many interesting pieces about American imperialism, he nonetheless supported the war in Iraq. In this week's New York Times magazine, for which he is a contributing writer, he re-examines his reasons a year after the Invasion. It's an interesting article not without self-recrimination and criticism for the Bush Administration's planning (or lack thereof). But this is a part that I consider crucial:

"Supporting the war meant supporting an administration whose motives I did not fully trust for the sake of consequences I believed in. That was not the only difficulty. Since Bosnia and Kosovo, there has been a slowly emerging consensus that intervening to stop ethnic cleansing or genocidal massacre can be justified as a last resort. And yet many states still seem to believe that the aspiration to free a people from a tyrannical regime is an ever expanding rationale for American aggression. Besides, regime change has obvious costs -- dead Iraqis, dead Americans and an America divided from many of its allies and from the United Nations. I could respect anyone who argued that these costs were simply too high. What I found harder to respect was how indifferent my antiwar friends seemed to be to the costs of allowing Hussein to remain in power. The costs -- of doing what they saw as the right, prudent, nonviolent thing -- would be borne by the Iraqis alone. It was Iraqis who would remain locked inside a police state. What this meant was no abstraction to anyone who had actually been in the country. So when people said, ''I know he's a dictator, but . . . ,'' the ''but'' seemed like a moral evasion. And when people said, ''He was a genocidal killer, but that was yesterday,'' I thought, Since when do crimes against humanity have a statute of limitations? And when people said, finally, ''There are a lot of dictators, and the U.S. supports most of them,'' this sounded to me like a suave alibi for doing nothing. Now, a year later, I hear the same people tell me they're glad Hussein is gone, but..."

Ignatieff may take some comfort from a new poll in the UK, conducted by ICM for a BBC Newsnight special, One Year On – Iraq. 48% of those questioned thought taking military action was the right thing to do; 43% thought it was not.


A NEW OPTIMISM?

But the final word for today goes to the Iraqis themselves. A poll by Oxford Research International finds that 57% of Iraqis believe that life is better now than it was a year ago. A solid 70% of Iraqis believe life will be better yet in another year. (Just over 50% oppose the presence of coalition troops.) Obviously, those who died in the Invasion or in subsequent terrorist attacks didn't get to cast their opinion. Then again, neither did those who died under Saddam's rule...

2004 MUSINGS
MAR 8-14: The Undertones live, Winemakers Week, Madrid Bombings, Just In Jest
MAR 1-7: Rhone-gazing, Pop Culture Quiz answers, Who's Hindsight, March Hitlist
FEB 16-29: Lad Lit, American Primaries, New York novels, Candi Staton, the Pop Culture Quiz, World Musics In Context
FEB 9-15: Grammy gripes, Spacemen 3, Replacements, Touching The Void, Moon myths, Voice Jazz & Pop Poll
FEB 2-FEB 8: Suicide Girls in the flesh, Johnny Rotten's a Celebrity...So's Jodie Marsh
JAN 26-FEB 1: Starsailor/Stellastarr*/Ambulance live, Tiswas, Wine Watch, Politics Watch
JAN 19-25: Brooklyn Nets? LCD Soundsystem, Iowa Primary, The Melody, TV On The Radio
JAN 12-18: The Unicorns live, New York w(h)ines, Sex In The City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, S.U.V. Safety, Bands Reunited
JAN 5-11: Tony's Top 10s of 2003, Howard Dean and his credits, Mick Middles and Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones and Don Letts,

2003 MUSINGS:
DEC 22-JAN 4: Blind Boys of Alabama live, Joe Strummer, Year-End Lists, Finding Nemo, The Return of The King
DEC 15-21: Placebo live, Park Slope, Angels In America, Saddam's capture
DEC 8-14: The Rapture live, Guardian readers change lightbulbs, Keep iJamming! Thriving
DEC 1-7: Cabaret Laws, Ready Brek, Kinky Friedman, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Jonathan Lethem, Julie Burchill, Blizzard running
NOV 17-30: Lost In Music, Lost In Translation, Neil Boland, Political Polls, Press Clips, Australian Whines
NOV 10-16: Ben E. King live, Hedonism readings, A***nal, Charts on Fire
NOV 3-9: Brother Bear, Oneida, P. Diddy, Steve Kember, Guy Fawkes, Iraq, the Marathon
OCT 27-NOV 2: CMJ Music Marathon report, NYC Running Marathon preview, Prey For Rock'n'Roll, Yellow Dog, Gen Wesley Clark, Halloween
OCT 20-26: Television Personalities, defending New York rockers, Bill Drummond Is Read
OCT 6-19: LCD Soundsystem live, Renewable Brooklyn review, Blind Acceptance is a sign...
SEP29-OCT 5: New York w(h)ines parts 1 and 2, Bruce Springsteen at Shea Stadium.
SEP 22-28: Atlantic Antic, Pacifists for War: General Wesley Clark and the Democratic Debate, Danny Tenaglia, Running Wild, Steppenwolf
SEP 15-21: Radio 4/DJ Vadim live, Manhattan Mondaze, Circle of Light, Renewable Brooklyn
SEP 8-14: Central Park Film Festival, Roger (Daltrey) and me, September 11 Revisited, The Raveonettes/Stellastarr* live, Recording Idiots of America,
SEP1-7: Film Festivities, Party Monster, Keith Moon RIP
AUG 25-31: Punk Planet, Carlsonics, Copyright Protection, Cline Zinfandel, BRMC
AUG 18-24: Black Out Blame Game, John Shuttleworth, British Music mags, Greg Palast, The Thrills live.
AUG 11-17: The New York blackout, Restaurant reviews, The Media as Watchdog, What I Bought On My Holidays
AUG 4-10: Step On again, Shaun W. Ryder, Jack magazine, the BBC, the Weather, Detroit Cobras, football and Rock'n'Roll
JULY 28-AUG 3: De La Guarda, The Rapture, Radio 4, Stellastarr*, Jodie Marsh, A Tale of Two Lions, Hedonism launch photos,
JULY 14-27: Manchester Move Memories, Hedonism is Here, Holiday postcard
JULY 7-13: Chuck Jackson live, Step On, Beverley Beat, British Way of Life
JUNE30-JULY6: David Beckham, Geoffrey Armes, Happy Mondays, Step On at Royale
JUNE 23-29: Ceasars/The Realistics live, weddings and anniversaries, Cabaret laws.
JUNE 9-23: Hell W10, The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite, Nada Surf live, Field Day debacle
JUNE 2-8: Six Feet Under - Over, Field Day, Siren Fest, Crouching Tigher Hidden Cigarette
MAY 19-JUNE 1: Ian McCulloch live, New York's financial woes, Six Feet Under, Hedonism, Tommy Guerrero.
MAY 5-18: Live reviews of The Rapture, De La Soul, Carlsonics, Laptop, The Libertines, Echoboy, The Greenhornes; observations on Chris Coco/The Blue Room, The Apple Music Store, Alan Freed, Phil Spector, The Matrix Reloaded, Rare Earth, Tinnitus and Royale!
APRIL 28-MAY 4: Flaming Lips, Madonna, Bill Maher, The Dixie Chicks, the war
APRIL 21-27: Rotary Connection, War(n) Out, Cocaine Talk
APRIL 14-20: Belated London Musings on Death Disco and CPFC.
APRIL 7-13: London Musings: Madness, Inspiral Carpets, the Affair, the Palace, the Jam
MARCH 31-APRIL 6: Music be the spice of life, London Calling: Ten Observations from the Old Country
MARCH 24-30: Six Feet Under, Peaches/Elefant live, MP Frees and Busted Boy Bands
MARCH 17-23: Röyksopp live, Transmission, Worn-Out War Talk
MARCH 10-16: Live reviews: Stratford 4, Flaming Sideburns, Joe Jackson Band, Linkin Park. Why I Oppose The War (For Now).
MARCH 3-9: The Pursuit of Happiness, Weekend Players, U.S. Bombs, Al Farooq, A New Pessimism, Brooklyn Half Marathon
FEBRUARY 24-MARCH2: Orange Park, Ali G-Saddam Hussein-Dan Rather-Bill Maher-Jon Stewart TV reviews, Stellastarr*, James Murphy, The Station nightclub fire, the Grammys
FEBRUARY 17-23: Village Voice Poll, Singles Club, Smoke and Fire
FEBRUARY 3-16: Snug, The Face, Pink, Supergrass live, Keith Moon, Phil Spector, Gore Vidal
JANUARY 27-FEBRUARY 2: Communist Chic, Spiritland, Daddy You're A Hero, Keith Moon, State of the Union, CPFC and more on Iraq
JANUARY 20-26: Divisions of Laura Lee, Burning Brides, Words On War, Child Abuse of a Different Kind, Losing My Edge
JANUARY 13-19: Pete Townshend, Pee Wee Herman, South Park and more Pete Townshend
JANUARY 6-12: Interpol in concert, Tony Fletcher's Top 10 Albums and Singles of 2002, More on Joe Strummer and The Clash, Fever Pitch and Bend It Like Beckham.
DECEMBER 31 2002 -JAN 5 2003: A tribute to Joe Strummer, Radio 4 live on New Year's Eve
2002 MUSINGS ARE LISTED HERE:


iJamming! Site Copyright Tony Fletcher 2004




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