March 21st, 2009

Chris Keeley

Galloway barred fron Canada - sad day

Canada Bars ‘Infandous’ British Politician, Journalists Reach for Dictionaries

Muhammad Alostaz,/Hamas, via Associated Press Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, right, handed British MP George Galloway a symbolic Palestinian passport during a meeting in Gaza City on March 10, 2009.

Five weeks after the British government barred a controversial Dutch politician from entering Britain to screen a film about Islam at the House of Lords, the Canadian government has decided to stop a Scottish member of the British parliament from entering Canada to make a series of speeches.

As The Toronto Star reported on Friday:

Canadian officials have denied outspoken anti-war British MP George Galloway entry into Canada on grounds he poses a threat to national security.

Alykhan Velshi, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, said today Galloway has openly supported Hamas, classified as a terrorist group in Canada, as well as other terrorists. And for that reason, Velshi said the minister is refusing to override the decision by Canada Border Security Agency officials under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

“What we are not going to do is give special treatment to someone who has bragged about providing ‘financial support’ for Hamas … and who sympathized with the Taliban terrorists who are killing Canadians overseas,” Velshi said.

As Britain’s Press Association adds, Mr. Velshi also called Mr. Galloway an “infandous street-corner Cromwell.”

Sue Turton of Channel 4 News called Mr. Velshi to find out more about the thinking behind the ban and what led him to use the long-obsolete word “infandous” — which the Oxford English dictionary defines as a word that once meant “Unspeakable, not to be spoken of; nefarious,” but apparently fell out of use some time after 1708.

In video of the telephone interview Ms. Turton conducted on Friday with Mr. Velshi (embedded below), he suggested that he just might be “behind” the times in word usage, but strongly defended the decision to bar Mr. Galloway, who is a member of the Respect party in Britain and represents the Bethnal Green and Bow district of London in the House of Commons.

In the interview, Mr. Velshi charged that Mr. Galloway has “expressed sympathy for the Taliban murderers who are trying to kill Canadian and British soldiers in Afghanistan.” He added: “It is actually quite odious and I think it is entirely appropriate for our security agencies to say that if they have advanced notice that Mr Galloway is going to come to Canada to pee on our carpet, that we should deny him entry to the home.”

As The Guardian reported, Mr. Galloway said on Friday that he will fight to have the ban overturned, calling it: “a rather desperate election ploy by a conservative government reaching the end of line, or by a minister who has not cottoned on to the fact that the George Bush era is over.”

Mr. Galloway is scheduled to speak on March 30 at an event called “Resisting War from Gaza to Kandahar,” organized by the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War.

Earlier this month, Mr. Galloway met Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza during a visit to the Palestinian territory. Mr. Galloway’s planned speaking tour led Meir Weinstein, the national director of the Jewish Defence League of Canada to write an open letter to the Canadian government urging it to “do everything possible to keep this hater away from Canada.” In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Weinstein told The Lede that he is “very pleased,” by the government’s decision to bar Mr. Galloway.
Chris Keeley


The Lobby Falters

John Mearsheimer

Many people in Washington were surprised when the Obama administration tapped Charles Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council, the body that oversees the production of National Intelligence Estimates: Freeman had a distinguished 30-year career as a diplomat and Defense Department official, but he has publicly criticised Israeli policy and America’s special relationship with Israel, saying, for example, in a speech in 2005, that ‘as long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected.’ Words like these are rarely spoken in public in Washington, and anyone who does use them is almost certain not to get a high-level government position. But Admiral Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence, greatly admires Freeman: just the sort of person, he thought, to revitalise the intelligence community, which had been very politicised in the Bush years.

Predictably alarmed, the Israel lobby launched a smear campaign against Freeman, hoping that he would either quit or be fired by Obama. The opening salvo came in a blog posting by Steven Rosen, a former official of Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, now under indictment for passing secrets to Israel. Freeman’s views of the Middle East, he said, ‘are what you would expect in the Saudi Foreign Ministry, with which he maintains an extremely close relationship’. Prominent pro-Israel journalists such as Jonathan Chait and Martin Peretz of the New Republic, and Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, quickly joined the fray and Freeman was hammered in publications that consistently defend Israel, such as the National Review, the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard.

The real heat, however, came from Congress, where Aipac (which describes itself as ‘America’s Pro-Israel Lobby’) wields enormous power. All the Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee came out against Freeman, as did key Senate Democrats such as Joseph Lieberman and Charles Schumer. ‘I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him,’ Schumer said, ‘and I am glad they did the right thing.’ It was the same story in the House, where the charge was led by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Steve Israel, who pushed Blair to initiate a formal investigation of Freeman’s finances. In the end, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, declared the Freeman appointment ‘beyond the pale’. Freeman might have survived this onslaught had the White House stood by him. But Barack Obama’s pandering to the Israel lobby during the campaign and his silence during the Gaza War show that this is one opponent he is not willing to challenge. True to form, he remained silent and Freeman had little choice but to withdraw.

The lobby has since gone to great lengths to deny its role in Freeman’s resignation. The Aipac spokesman Josh Block said his organisation ‘took no position on this matter and did not lobby the Hill on it’. The Washington Post, whose editorial page is run by Fred Hiatt, a man staunchly committed to the special relationship, ran an editorial which claimed that blaming the lobby for Freeman’s resignation was something dreamed up by ‘Mr Freeman and like-minded conspiracy theorists’.

In fact, there is abundant evidence that Aipac and other hardline supporters of Israel were deeply involved in the campaign. Block admitted that he had spoken to reporters and bloggers about Freeman and provided them with information, always on the understanding that his comments would not be attributed to him or to Aipac. Jonathan Chait, who denied that Israel was at the root of the controversy before Freeman was toppled, wrote afterwards: ‘Of course I recognise that the Israel lobby is powerful and was a key element in the pushback against Freeman, and that it is not always a force for good.’ Daniel Pipes, who runs the Middle East Forum, where Steven Rosen now works, quickly sent out an email newsletter boasting about Rosen’s role in bringing Freeman down.

On 12 March, the day the Washington Post ran its editorial railing against anyone who suggested that the Israel lobby had helped topple Freeman, the paper also published a front-page story describing the central role that the lobby had played in the affair. There was also a comment piece by the veteran journalist David Broder, which opened with the words: ‘The Obama administration has just suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the lobbyists the president vowed to keep in their place.’

Freeman’s critics maintain that his views on Israel were not his only problem. He is said to have especially close – maybe even improper – ties to Saudi Arabia, where he previously served as American ambassador. The charge hasn’t stuck, however, because there is no evidence for it. Israel’s supporters also said that he had made insensitive remarks about what happened to the Chinese protesters at Tiananmen Square, but that charge, which his defenders contest, only came up because Freeman’s pro-Israel critics were looking for any argument they could muster to damage his reputation.

Why does the lobby care so much about one appointment to an important, but not top leadership position? Here’s one reason: Freeman would have been responsible for the production of National Intelligence Estimates. Israel and its American supporters were outraged when the National Intelligence Council concluded in November 2007 that Iran was not building nuclear weapons, and they have worked assiduously to undermine that report ever since. The lobby wants to make sure that the next estimate of Iran’s nuclear capabilities reaches the opposite conclusion, and that would have been much less likely to happen with Freeman in charge. Better to have someone vetted by Aipac running the show.

An even more important reason for the lobby to drive Freeman out of his job is the weakness of the case for America’s present policy towards Israel, which makes it imperative to silence or marginalise anyone who criticises the special relationship. If Freeman hadn’t been punished, others would see that one could talk critically about Israel and still have a successful career in Washington. And once you get an open and free-wheeling discussion about Israel, the special relationship will be in serious trouble.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Freeman affair was that the mainstream media paid it little attention – the New York Times, for example, did not run a single story dealing with Freeman until the day after he stepped down – while a fierce battle over the appointment took place in the blogosphere. Freeman’s opponents used the internet to their advantage; that is where Rosen launched the campaign. But something happened there that would never have happened in the mainstream media: the lobby faced real opposition. Indeed, a vigorous, well-informed and highly regarded array of bloggers defended Freeman at every turn and would probably have carried the day had Congress not tipped the scales against them. In short, the internet enabled a serious debate in the United States about an issue involving Israel. The lobby has never had much trouble keeping the New York Times and the Washington Post in line, but it has few ways to silence critics on the internet.

When pro-Israel forces clashed with a major political figure in the past, that person usually backed off. Jimmy Carter, who was smeared by the lobby after he published Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was the first prominent American to stand his ground and fight back. The lobby has been unable to silence him, and it is not for lack of trying. Freeman is following in Carter’s footsteps, but with sharper elbows. After stepping down, he issued a blistering denunciation of ‘unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country’ whose aim is ‘to prevent any view other than its own from being aired’. ‘There is,’ he continued, ‘a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government.’

Freeman’s remarkable statement has shot all around the world and been read by countless individuals. This isn’t good for the lobby, which would have preferred to kill Freeman’s appointment without leaving any fingerprints. But Freeman will continue to speak out about Israel and the lobby, and maybe some of his natural allies inside the Beltway will eventually join him. Slowly but steadily, space is being opened up in the United States to talk honestly about Israel.

John Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

Chris Keeley


Spain: The Drug That Came to Dinner

The Spanish police said Friday that they had detained a man who received in the mail a 42-piece dinner set made with 44 pounds of cocaine. The man, 35, was arrested as he received a package containing cups, plates and bowls at his home in Barcelona, the police said in a statement. The package was sent in mid-February from Maracaibo, Venezuela, via London. The police suspect that the man had been recruited by a Venezuelan drug trafficking gang to receive the package and hand it over to associates who would extract the compressed cocaine from the dinner set.

In separate cases at Barcelona’s airport this month, the police said they detained an Ecuadorean woman who tried to enter Spain with liquid cocaine hidden in spray cans of cleaning agents, and a Chilean man whose broken leg was covered in a “cast” made of cocaine.
Chris Keeley


Lionel Ziprin, Mystic of the Lower East Side, Dies at 84

“We are not after all intended to be consumed.”

So begins Lionel Ziprin’s “Sentential Metaphrastic,” a “poem in progress” of more than a thousand pages. “I reduced it to 785 pages,” Mr. Ziprin told The Jewish Quarterly in 2006. “I call it the longest and most boring poem since Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost.’ ”

Many more poems by Mr. Ziprin remain to be discovered, inscribed on spiral-bound notebooks and stuffed into a closet in his apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And that is nowhere near the half of it. Also in the apartment are the Jewish liturgical chants intoned by Mr. Ziprin’s grandfather, untold hours of sacred music that Mr. Ziprin tried for more than half a century to bring to the wider world.

This legacy now passes to his family — whether to delight or puzzle posterity, no one knows. Mr. Ziprin, a brilliant, baffling, beguiling voice of the Lower East Side and the East Village in all its phases — Jewish, hipster and hippie — died last Sunday in Manhattan. He was 84. The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his daughter Zia Ziprin said.

For decades, Mr. Ziprin, a self-created planet, exerted a powerful gravitational attraction for poets, artists, experimental filmmakers, would-be philosophers and spiritual seekers.

He ran his apartment, on Seventh Street in the East Village, as a bohemian salon, attracting a loose collective that included the ethnomusicologist Harry Smith, the photographer Robert Frank and the jazz musician Thelonious Monk, who would drop by for meals between sets at the Five Spot. Bob Dylan paid the occasional visit.

There the art of conversation took a backseat to the art of listening to Mr. Ziprin hold forth for hours at a stretch on magic, interplanetary rhythms, angels, apparitions and Jewish history.

“He was larger than life and so far beyond a certain kind of description that I am bamboozled,” said Ira Cohen, a longtime friend. “He was much larger than a poet, though that’s hard for me to say, as a poet. He was one of the big secret heroes of the time.”

Often categorized as a beatnik, he created an artistic circle that overlapped with the worlds of jazz and beat poetry but remained distinct and apart. A poet prey to visions and hallucinations, a philosopher, a Jewish mystic with a deep understanding of the kabbalah, an enthusiastic consumer of amphetamines (legal at the time) and peyote (also legal) — he was all of these, and something else besides.

“He combined Old World mysticism and New World craziness,” said the poet Janine Vega. “He really was one of the great white magicians of the era.”

Mr. Ziprin was born on the Lower East Side and, after his parents separated when he was a small child, lived with his mother and her parents. The decisive influence on his life was his maternal grandfather, the rabbi Naftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, an immigrant from Galilee who founded the Home of the Sages of Israel, a yeshiva on the Lower East Side.

The home atmosphere was devout.

“I thought I was living in the Bible,” Mr. Ziprin said in a documentary produced by Jon Kalish for public radio in 2006. “ My grandparents were like biblical people. The only problem I had as a child, I looked outside, and there were automobiles. There’s a big contradiction.”

While undergoing a tonsillectomy, young Lionel — called Leibel or Leibele by his family — was badly overanesthetized. After emerging from a 10-day coma he developed St. Vitus’s Dance and epilepsy. He was seized by fits of uncontrollable laughter and experienced hallucinations. For the rest of his life, he saw visions and conversed with the spirit world.

Physically unfit for military duty, Mr. Ziprin began writing poetry after attending Brooklyn College and worked at an assortment of extremely odd jobs. He helped create a short-lived puppet show called “Kabbalah the Cook” for television. For $10 apiece, he wrote the text for a series of war comic books published by Dell.

In 1950 he married Joanna Eashe, a dancer who made a living as a hand and foot model. In the early 1950s the couple started a totally unsuccessful greeting card company, Ink Weed Arts. She died in 1994.

In addition to his daughter Zia, of Manhattan, he is survived by a brother, Jordan, of Phoenix; another daughter, Dana Ziprin of Richmond, Calif.; two sons, Leigh and Noah, both of Berkeley, Calif; and three grandchildren.

Mr. Ziprin’s poems, including “Math Glass” and “What This Abacus Was,” appeared here and there in magazines like Zero, but he barely bothered to pursue a career. A poet in the prophetic tradition, he did not so much write as open himself up to otherworldly voices.

“He would read the stuff we published and would have no idea that he’d written it,” said Judy Upjohn, who, with Sandy Rower, published a selection of Mr. Ziprin’s verse in “Almost All Lies Are Pocket Size” (Flockaphobic Press, 1990).

Clayton Patterson, who is writing a history of the Lower East Side, filmed Mr. Ziprin reading his “Book of Logic ” and organized a screening of 10 two-hour installments at Anthology Film Archives in 1989. “The first night there was a full house,” he said. “By the third night there were three people, besides Lionel and myself. That ended the series.”

Mr. Smith, the ethnomusicologist who produced the seminal Anthology of American Folk Music for Folkways Records, heard Mr. Ziprin’s grandfather chanting at a public celebration and became obsessed. Setting up sound equipment in the rabbi’s yeshiva, he spent two years recording hundreds of hours of Hebrew liturgical chants, along with Arabic songs and Yiddish stories, which were distilled into 15 long-playing records.

Shortly before his death in 1955, the rabbi begged his grandson to bring the records to a wider audience, inspiring a half-century quest whose end remains uncertain. Folkways released one album from the set, but for religious reasons, family members objected to further distribution of the material.

In the late 1960s Mr. Ziprin’s wife took the children and moved to Berkeley, Calif., plunging Mr. Ziprin into a spiritual crisis. It was resolved when, acting on instructions from his grandfather in a dream, he returned to the Judaism of his youth and to the Lower East Side, moving into his mother’s apartment on East Broadway to care for her until her death in the late 1980s.

From the mid-1970s until his death, Mr. Ziprin spent his days studying the Torah and other texts at what was once his grandfather’s yeshiva. He held court at his apartment. He scribbled thoughts on postcards and sent them to just about anyone.

He also searched for someone willing to produce his grandfather’s records. As the years went on, and some of the tapes were lost to fire, flood and theft, the mercurial and often cantankerous Mr. Ziprin often seemed to be sabotaging his own cause, eager to disseminate his grandfather’s legacy but reluctant to let it go.

Briefly it looked as if the composer John Zorn had secured the rights to release the records, but Mr. Ziprin could not let go. At his death, the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation had made a compilation CD from the material that seemed to please Mr. Ziprin, clearing the way for the production of a full boxed set.

A man of many words, he managed to write his self-portrait in just a few:

I have never been arrested. I

have never been institutionalized.

I have four children. I am in

receipt of social security benefits.

I am not an artist. I am not an

outsider. I am a citizen of the

republic and I have remained

anonymous all the time by choice.

Chris Keeley


A Guest Guitarist Who Needed No Introduction

Eric Clapton got right down to business with the Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theater on Thursday night. Taking the stage to a welcoming roar — his guest turn, while unannounced, was by no means an airtight secret — he picked up his light blue Stratocaster and dug into “Key to the Highway,” a Big Bill Broonzy tune. As a blues shuffle, it was a good fit all around, and Mr. Clapton, on vocals as well as on guitar, gave it purpose and presence.

There was also a calculated weight behind the song, which Mr. Clapton recorded with the guitarist Duane Allman in 1970 for the Derek and the Dominos album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.” Allman, who died the following year in a motorcycle accident, was Mr. Clapton’s original connection to the Allman Brothers. And so Mr. Clapton’s feverishly anticipated walk-on — arriving halfway through a 15-night run at the Beacon, the band’s traditional spring residency — gave the impression of a survivor paying his respects, airing a private sentiment in an extravagantly public setting.

The commemorative mood reached well beyond Mr. Clapton’s shift, which constituted the last six songs of the show. At the outset, after the lights dimmed, a written invocation appeared on a large screen above the stage: “Welcome to the 40th Anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band.”

Then came a dedication “to the man who started it all,” and a succession of photographs of Duane Allman, at work and at play. “Little Martha,” a ballad he recorded shortly before his death, provided a wistful soundtrack for this reverie; the band’s guitarists, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, played it with all appropriate care.

Duane Allman was just shy of 25 when he died, and his tenure in the Allman Brothers barely lasted a few years. But he was the founding father of the republic; its sound still bears his signature. The current lineup includes his younger brother, the keyboardist and lead singer Gregg Allman, along with the drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe — all charter members. And in their frontline interplay, Mr. Haynes and Derek Trucks (Butch’s nephew) bring their own voices, but with a profound awareness of tradition.

The first half of the show was an affirmation of bedrock values, with some of the sturdiest songs from the Duane Allman era: “Statesboro Blues,” “Revival,” “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin,’ ” “Done Somebody Wrong.” Gregg Allman was in strong vocal form, and the rhythm section (also with the bassist Oteil Burbridge and the percussionist Marc Quiñones) chugged along expertly. The set kept gathering steam as it went on: “Whipping Post,” the last salvo before intermission, felt both inevitable and unassailable.

When it was his turn onstage, Mr. Clapton seemed acutely conscious of his role, careful not to throw the tone off balance. This was probably a necessary measure, even in the wake of a satisfying first half. (Surely he understood that there were fans preparing themselves for a celestial event.) It meant something that he played “Dreams,” a somewhat ethereal staple of the Allman canon, in addition to several songs from the “Layla” files.

Mr. Clapton was impressive, thoroughly himself, on every song. But the best thing about the appearance was his camaraderie with Derek Trucks. During an extended interlude in “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad,” they improvised a duologue with no extraneous sparks, pushing each other but also yielding, on an equal plane.

Their rapport — forged when Mr. Clapton brought Mr. Trucks on tour a few years ago — was just as deep on “Little Wing,” which occasioned a fiery solo by Mr. Haynes, and “Anyday,” which featured Susan Tedeschi, Mr. Trucks’s wife, on background vocals.

The encore was “Layla,” the song itself, and while it started as a gold medal showcase for Mr. Clapton, its mellower coda became a concerto for Mr. Trucks. Playing with a slide, he was melodic, vocal, imploring. That he was expanding on a part originated by Duane Allman only made the gesture feel all the more like an offering.

The Allman Brothers continue through next Saturday at the Beacon Theater, 2124 Broadway, at 74th Street; (212) 307-7171,