Sunday, August 31, 2014

Do be do be do ...

So apparently this interview has been doing the rounds in hipster circles on Facebook this past week, as they read Playboy for the articles and the interviews and they catch up on crooners like cranky Frank:

Playboy: Are you a religious man? Do you believe in God? 
Sinatra: Well, that’ll do for openers. I think I can sum up my religious feelings in a couple of paragraphs. First: I believe in you and me. I’m like Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in that I have a respect for life — in any form. I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don’t believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. I’m not unmindful of man’s seeming need for faith; I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. But to me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and God go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle. The witch doctor tries to convince us that we have to ask God for help, to spell out to him what we need, even to bribe him with prayer or cash on the line. Well, I believe that God knows what each of us wants and needs. It’s not necessary for us to make it to church on Sunday to reach Him. You can find Him anyplace. And if that sounds heretical, my source is pretty good: Matthew, Five to Seven, The Sermon on the Mount. 
Playboy: You haven’t found any answers for yourself in organized religion? 
Sinatra: There are things about organized religion which I resent. Christ is revered as the Prince of Peace, but more blood has been shed in His name than any other figure in history. You show me one step forward in the name of religion and I’ll show you a hundred retrogressions. Remember, they were men of God who destroyed the educational treasures at Alexandria, who perpetrated the Inquisition in Spain, who burned the witches at Salem. Over 25,000 organized religions flourish on this planet, but the followers of each think all the others are miserably misguided and probably evil as well. In India they worship white cows, monkeys and a dip in the Ganges. The Moslems accept slavery and prepare for Allah, who promises wine and revirginated women. And witch doctors aren’t just in Africa. If you look in the L.A. papers of a Sunday morning, you’ll see the local variety advertising their wares like suits with two pairs of pants.

George Pell and the angry Sydney Anglicans as witch doctors? Who can argue with that.

There's plenty more of cranky Frank here along with standard methodist objections that he was a drinker and a fornicator, but it has to be said that at least he wasn't a child molester - unless someone's determined to count Mia Farrow a child ...

There's nothing novel in Sinatra's arguments but they're well rehearsed and articulated, and they seem to have caught the hipsters by surprise - presumably the new age lounge lizards are only now catching up Sinatra's darker material, done in the late 1950s with the likes of Nelson Riddle (you can Greg Hunt Sinatra here).

Never mind, Sinatra serves this meditative Sunday well:

Playboy: But aren’t such spiritual hypocrites in a minority? Aren’t most Americans fairly consistent in their conduct within the precepts of religious doctrine? 
Sinatra: I’ve got no quarrel with men of decency at any level. But I can’t believe that decency stems only from religion. And I can’t help wondering how many public figures make avowals of religious faith to maintain an aura of respectability. Our civilization, such as it is, was shaped by religion, and the men who aspire to public office anyplace in the free world must make obeisance to God or risk immediate opprobrium. Our press accurately reflects the religious nature of our society, but you’ll notice that it also carries the articles and advertisements of astrology and hokey Elmer Gantry revivalists. We in America pride ourselves on freedom of the press, but every day I see, and so do you, this kind of dishonesty and distortion not only in this area but in reporting — about guys like me, for instance, which is of minor importance except to me; but also in reporting world news. How can a free people make decisions without facts? If the press reports world news as they report about me, we’re in trouble.

Which brings the pond to a favourite theme which is to do with Saudi Arabia and Islamic fundamentalism and Wahhabism, and the immense, enormous stupidity of the Bush years and those who chummed up with the fundamentalists that run the oil-rich country - aided and abetted by press reporting of the place, which has helped get the west into such a bloody mess in its middle east interventions.

Following the beheading of a western journalist, western news outlets finally began to pay attention to beheadings in general, and what do you know, even found space for Beheadings at 'record levels': Saudi Arabia executes dozens in deadly August.

What's more, these beheadings aren't necessarily carried out discreetly, behind closed doors, but rather in the manner of a good old fashioned hanging Victorian-era style, with watching mobs:

“That people are tortured into confessing to crimes, convicted in shameful trials without adequate legal support and then executed is a sickening indictment of the Kingdom’s state-sanctioned brutality,” Mr Boumedouha said. 
“It is clear that the authorities are more interested in threatening victims’ families to shut them up rather than putting an end to this grotesque phenomenon.” 
A deadly August is just the tip of the iceberg for Saudi Arabia which executed more than 2000 people between 1985 and 2013, figures provided by the human rights group reveal. 
According to them, trials in capital cases are often held in secret and defendants are given no or insufficient access to lawyers. 
And people in Saudi can be executed for a range of crimes including adultery, armed robbery, apostasy, drug-related offences, rape, witchcraft and sorcery. 
Most executions are done by beheading and many take place in public. 
In some cases decapitated bodies are left lying on the ground in public squares as a “deterrent”.

Now you don't have to head off to the loathsome RT, propaganda arm for and supporter of Vlad the dictator, with his talk of Nazism, to find that others have been paying attention, as in The Independent, with Saudi executes 19 in one half of August in 'disturbing surge of beheadings'.

And in the process it's not hard to work out where ISIS might have found some inspiration for its brutal tactics.

So what about the rest of the package? Which is to say the role that the Saudi government has played in exporting Islamic fundamentalism around the world?

Well here it's handy to have a read of Nesrine Malik's piece for The Graudian, Islamic State requires Saudi Arabia to rethink its support for extremism.

Now it's easy enough to be irritated by the surface nonsense that ensures the pond will never visit Saudi Arabia - the activities of the religious police, the refusal to allow women to drive, or to have any other rights of the kind assumed as normal elsewhere.

Malik goes lightly on Saudi salafism, but Wahhabism is a particularly virulent and dangerous sect - you can Greg Hunt it here.

For years, decades really, Saudi Arabia has gone down its peculiar path to fundamentalism, supported all the way by the likes of Bush and his cronies, and the Howard and the Abbott governments, who treated the state as a useful ally in the war on terrorism, ...when it's been as guilty as any country in middle east of the most appalling things and the most appalling fundamentalism.

Cue Malik:

Saudi Arabia is increasingly feeling the heat of the Sunni hardline blowback. While the Saudi government technically doesn’t sponsor Isis, it has promoted a fundamentalist Salafi interpretation of Islam that has encroached into the mainstream Sunni space. This has created the conditions, inside and outside the country, for extremism to breed. 
The clergy is a powerful force in Saudi Arabia. Its influence derives from the fact that the royal family has entered into a formal pact with the sheikhs, under which the understanding is that the House of Saud can hold on to political power, while the religious establishment gets to dictate the national character of Saudi Arabia, one that has remained doggedly extreme. This vision has also been exported abroad by both state and non-state actors, the former as a clumsy substitute for a coherent foreign policy, by which the Saudi government contributes funds for mosques and charitable organisations in Muslim countries as a way of purchasing influence; the latter via personal wealth and the zeal of private citizens. 
Osama bin Laden was a perfect combination of the two, a personally motivated non-state actor, radicalised in the schools and mosques of Jeddah, who managed to also rope in the Saudi establishment by selling a religious mission to them – pushing back the Soviet invasion – in the guise of a political project. 
But it seems even Saudis are beginning to see the foolhardiness of this arrangement. In a searing essay in the Saudi newspaper Al Riyadh last week, Hissa bint Ahmed bin Al al-Sheikh, a member of one of the most influential religious families in Saudi Arabia and a relative of the grand mufti, rails against the “farce of fatwas” in the kingdom, and records a litany of extremist measures introduced since the 1980s that have stifled public life and glorified a culture of “hatred and death” that she recognises in Isis. This is a culture disseminated via state media, the national curriculum and public order laws – legislation that many Saudi intellectuals warned against. 
The Saudi establishment has sacrificed its people, and the wider Muslim world that lies within its influence, in return for immunity from religious revolt of the type that threatened Mecca in the 1970s. While the immediate focus vis-a-vis Isis needs to be on practical counter-extremism measures, the west can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to Saudi’s internal contradictions. These have spawned a decadent and west-friendly royal family that preside over a society where clerics run amok, where imams rant against infidels, religious minorities are oppressed, education is heavily slanted towards religion and where people are beheaded for sorcery. As far as containing the radical Islamic threat, the status quo is increasingly no longer working – neither for the Saudis, nor the western governments who support them.

Unfortunately that link to the "searing essay" leads to a script foreign to the pond, and to a risible and pathetic Google translation, though you can catch the drift that Hessa Al-Sheikh isn't happy, and in that unhappiness might lie some hope ...

Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia is a symbol of just how ham-fisted and misguided western intervention the region has been in the past, and how it is unlikely to change in any significant way while the ham-fisted Tony Abbott begins to fancy his chances as an international statesman, shoring up domestic support by indulging in war mongering on the world stage.

If there was any better ironic guide to this incompetence, it surely had to come with Captives held by Islamic State were waterboarded.

Suddenly The Washington Post and other US outlets had no problem with the notion that waterboarding was a form of torture, and not the kind of "enhanced interrogation" that Bush and his cronies blathered about, while also running this line of defence:

“ISIL is a group that routinely crucifies and beheads people,” said a U.S. official, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State. “To suggest that there is any correlation between ISIL’s brutality and past U.S. actions is ridiculous and feeds into their twisted propaganda.”

Yes, and Saudi Arabia is a state that routinely beheads people and leaves bodies in the street as a warning ...

And when will the Americans pay attention to the way this state feeds and funds twisted Islamic fundamentalist propaganda?

So what did Frank expect by pointing out the ratbag ways of fundamentalists, whether in Saudi Arabia, or assembled in Melbourne to demonise women's rights and gays, or clustered in angry Anglican churches or working in Cardinal Pell's trucking country?

Playboy: Are you saying that . . . 
Sinatra: No, wait, let me finish. Have you thought of the chance I’m taking by speaking out this way? Can you imagine the deluge of crank letters, curses, threats and obscenities I’ll receive after these remarks gain general circulation? Worse, the boycott of my records, my films, maybe a picket line at my opening at the Sands. Why? Because I’ve dared to say that love and decency are not necessarily concomitants of religious fervor. 
Playboy: If you think you’re stepping over the line, offending your public or perhaps risking economic suicide, shall we cut this off now, erase the tape and start over along more antiseptic lines? Sinatra: No, let’s let it run. I’ve thought this way for years, ached to say these things. Whom have I harmed by what I’ve said? What moral defection have I suggested? No, I don’t want to chicken out now. Come on, pal, the clock’s running.

Yes the clock's ticking, and Tony Abbott is working out how fear and war mongering just might help keep him in power ...

What's the bet more follies will follow?

Do be do be do ...


  1. Pond, I only recently came across your blog but now check in every day. Your writing style, humour and insight are refreshingly different and interesting. The waters of the Pond are still but deep!

    1. Welcome to the pond TB. All we do is flash and splash the feathers for a little fun, and if any of it makes sense, you must blame Rupert Murdoch ...

  2. THis, DP, is one of your best.

  3. Great piece, and sorry that with excitement of various family gatherings, I missed it till now.

    Terry Bell uses an excellent analogy with. "The waters of the Pond are still but deep!" as this showed. There were indeed many treasures among Playboy articles and interviews in the late 60s and early 70s. The above is one I missed (I don't think I'd have forgotten such thoughtful Frankie views). For I was indeed one of the very few who bought Playboy for its articles along with its saucy sexy cartoons. I'd have a look at Playmate of the Month and enjoy some nude pics and the comic Little Annie Fanny , but it was mostly the articles. Let me explain.

    The 60s, especially the late 60s, was the time of the Protest Movement. The pop music of The Beatles and Bob Dylan, and the others liberated by the age communicated it in a way that social media is doing today. The Vietnam War, the morality of Western and allied commitment to it, and of drafting young people to fight and risk their lives in it, symbolised the gap between rulers and ruled. There were many other issues such as race relations, women's rights and fairness in our society.

    Rulers did not take well to questioning. Using excessive police enforcement at protests, control of news and information via censorship did not help. Playboy entered the fray originally through its struggle over censorship in a Puritan and church-dominated America. Originally it was about its right to publish its soft porn.

    It engaged academics and libertarian lawyers in its battles (which were successful in the enlightened Supreme court of William Douglas, Felix Frankfurter and others) and almost accidentally found itself a bastion for liberal thought. In the smug Menzies years of parochial and heavily censored Australia it was indeed a haven for anyone seeking alternative views. Some of its feature pieces and interviews with great thinkers and achievers were outstanding.

    The celebrity interviews likewise were different and more thought-provoking than might be expected, remembering that not all of us had hard then of the New Yorker. So Playboy along the UK's New Statesman and Private Eye filled a useful role in my reading.

    Glad to learn there was a bit of depth to Frankie. Most MSM just covered his Rat Pack and Mafia links.


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