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Obituary

Christian Schreiber: 1965 – 2016

Thursday, 7 July, 2016 0 Comments

The death on Monday morning of Dr Christian Schreiber was a tragedy with many facets. Tania lost a loving husband, Ella and Alma a caring father and his colleagues at the German Heart Centre in Munich a brilliant cardiac surgeon who was doing ground-breaking work in the fields of paediatric and congenital heart surgery.

But that’s not the end of this list of tragedies. Christian was the victim of a truly terrifying disease: ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. This progressive neurodegenerative illness affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and those who are afflicted suffer unbearable physical and psychological pain. The suffering extends to family and friends, who are forced to witness its degradation of a person they love. All of this was amplified in Christian’s case because he was so young, so gifted, so multilingually charming and had so much to offer to those who needed his life-saving skills.

In the coming weeks, many personal and professional tributes will be paid to this wonderful man, but on the day when Germany play France in the semi-final of the Euro2016 tournament, it should be mentioned that football for Christian Schreiber was more than a game — each match was a morality play and the fans were his tribe. After completing an intricate operation in Kiev, or delivering a paper in London or attending a conference in Beijing, he would dash back to Munich to make the best use of his season ticket at the Allianz Arena, the stadium of his beloved FC Bayern. It was my good fortune to be his companion on some of these occasions and each one featured a non-stop assortment of scandalous stories, informed commentary, hilarious observations and a never-ending stream of questions that sprang from a curious mind insatiable for knowledge. One of the most memorable of these get-togethers was on Wednesday, 6 December 2006 when Bayern played a hard-fought 1-1 Champions League draw with Inter Milan. It was a bitterly cold night, but we were well insulated and had excellent seats near the half-way line. While the TV cameras followed the ball, we spent the evening watching the mighty defender Lúcio and the great striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic “get it on” in a terrific mixed martial arts battle. And all was well with our world.

For those who believe in such things, Christian will be looking down on tonight’s Germany-France game, enjoying every moment. For those who are broken-hearted by the loss, the memories of the moments are what we are left with now. The old Gaelic expression, Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann (“There shall not be his like again.”), sums up this unique, loving, loved, very much missed man. RIP

Christian Schreiber and his daughter Alma at the Allianz Arena, Munich

Dr Christian Schreiber and his daughter Alma at the Allianz Arena, Munich


Silence encourages the tormentor and the bully

Monday, 4 July, 2016 0 Comments

Elie Wiesel, who died on Saturday in New York City, survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps and devoted the greater part of his life to writing and speaking about those horrors. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and this part of his acceptance speech is as necessary as when he delivered it in Oslo 30 years ago:

“And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

It is said that silence is golden, and maybe there are times when it is valuable, but silence loses all its lustre when it means accepting bullying, especially the intimidation of the weak, the elderly and the defenceless. We should name and shame the oppressor and the tormentor, loudly and publicly in memory of Elie Wiesel.

Elie Wiesel


The art and aristry of Muhammad Ali

Saturday, 4 June, 2016 0 Comments

“I’m the greatest, I’m a bad man, and I’m pretty!” — Muhammad Ali

The April 1968 Esquire cover of Muhammad Ali posing as the martyr Saint Sebastian was one of the most iconic images of the Sixties, combining the provocative issues of race, religion and war. This is one of the greatest magazine covers ever because it illustrates the boxer’s persecution for his beliefs in a way that is visually elegant and economical.

Ali Esquire

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on 17 January 1942. He died yesterday, 3 June 2016. He was The Greatest Of All Time.


Helmut Schmidt

Wednesday, 11 November, 2015 1 Comment

The man who died yesterday aged 96, was West Germany’s fifth chancellor, and its most talented and competent post-war leader. Helmut Schmidt faced down the leftist terror of the Baader-Meinhof gang and he stood up to Russian imperial bullying at a time when most Germans favoured appeasment. “Intolerant of fools, he had the common German didactic and omniscient tendencies in full measure, along with frankness,” writes Dan van der Vat in the Guardian. In its obituary, the Telegraph highlights his Anglophilia: “To a modern German chancellor, he once remarked, the two most important newspapers were The New York Times and The Financial Times.” British novelist, Robert Harris, sums up the man’s arrogance and wit in this tweet:

Helmut Schmidt


The ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness

Friday, 13 March, 2015 0 Comments

Snippet from Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett, who died yesterday:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

bootsTake boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

In his writings, the ennobled Sir Terry Pratchet drew upon a noble literary heritage and his work encompassed the abundant genius of Charles Dickens, the enduring wit of P.G. Wodehouse and the stellar imagination of Douglas Adams.


Johnny Winter RIP

Thursday, 17 July, 2014 0 Comments

He did finger-picking blues and rock-star riffs. Along with his younger brother Edgar, Johnny formed a band when he was 15 and they made an unforgettable impression as both brothers were born with albinism and they grew their white hair long. On his website, he’s described as “the clear link between British blues-rock and American Southern rock.” RIP


The bullet came before the ballot

Friday, 4 April, 2014 0 Comments

AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus was shot dead this morning while reporting on tomorrow’s presidential poll in Afghanistan. Her images of the country’s people and poverty, rituals, fears, pride and barbarity fill the viewer with hope and despair.

Anja Niedringhaus


Mandela’s long walk to freedom

Friday, 6 December, 2013 0 Comments

Given South Africa’s resources, the late Nelson Mandela had the power to become an even greater tyrant than Robert Mugabe. Instead, Mandela decided to become a secular saint. We can only hope that all leaders would act as he did. In 1962, Nelson Mandela was transferred from Pretoria to the prison on Robben Island, remaining there for the next 18 years. This snippet is from his Long Walk To Freedom:

“June and July were the bleakest months on Robben Island. Winter was in the air, and the rains were just beginning. It never seemed to go above forty degrees Fahrenheit. Even in the sun, I shivered in my light khaki shirt. It was then that I first understood the cliché of feeling the cold in one’s bones. At noon we would break for lunch. That first week all we were given was soup, which stank horribly. In the afternoon, we were permitted to exercise for half an hour under strict supervision. We walked briskly around the courtyard in single file.

Robben Island had changed since I had been there for a fortnight’s stay in 1962. In 1962, there were few prisoners; the place seemed more like an experiment than a full-fledged prison. Two years later, Robben Island was without question the harshest, most iron-fisted outpost in the South African penal system. It was a hardship station not only for the prisoners but for the prison staff. Gone were the Coloured warders who had supplied cigarettes and sympathy. The warders were white and overwhelmingly Afrikaans-speaking, and they demanded a master-servant relationship. They ordered us to call them ‘baas,’ which we refused. The racial divide on Robben Island was absolute: there were no black warders, and no white prisoners.

From the first day, I had protested about being forced to wear short trousers. I demanded to see the head of the prison and made a list of complaints. The warders ignored my protests, but by the end of the second week, I found a pair of old khaki trousers unceremoniously dumped on the floor of my cell. No pin-striped three-piece suit has ever pleased me as much. But before putting them on I checked to see if my comrades had been issued trousers as well.

They had not, and I told the warder to take them back. I insisted that all African prisoners must have long trousers. The warder grumbled, ‘Mandela, you say you want long pants and then you don’t want them when we give them to you.’ The warder balked at touching trousers worn by a black man, and finally the commanding officer himself came to my cell to pick them up. ‘Very well, Mandela,’ he said, ‘you are going to have the same clothing as everyone else.’ I replied that if he was willing to give me long trousers, why couldn’t everyone else have them? He did not have an answer.”

Mandela


Mourning the silencing of normblog

Tuesday, 22 October, 2013 0 Comments
Mourning the silencing of normblog

On 21 August this year, Norman Geras posted a blog entry titled “Jack Geras 1912—2013,” and wrote: “My father died this afternoon. Out of respect for his memory I will be observing a brief silence here over the coming days.” He completed the entry by reposting a tribute he had written in 2012 on the occasion of his father’s hundredth birthday. Last Friday, 18 October, Jenny Geras (Norman’s daughter) posted an entry titled “Norman Geras: 1943—2013,” and wrote: “I am very sad to announce that Norm died in Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge in the early hours of this morning. Writing this blog, and communicating with all his readers, has brought him an enormous amount of pleasure in the last ten years. I know that since writing here about his illness earlier in the year he received a lot of support from many of you, and that has meant a great deal to him, and to us, his family. The blog and all its archives will remain online.”

The news stunned an international community of people who had come to admire his integrity and activity over the years. “Norman Geras — professor emeritus of government at Manchester University, philosopher, cricket fan, country music lover, Marxist, liberal socialist, democrat, political blogger behind the influential Normblog — has died of cancer aged 70,” began the obituary in the Guardian. To her credit, Eva Garrard added this:

“From his perspective, the response to the events of 11 September 2001 was appalling. He found the readiness of many to blame the US for bringing the terrorist attack down on its own head to be intellectually feeble and morally contemptible. He argued that this section of the left was betraying its own values by offering warm understanding to terrorists and cold neglect to their victims. He detested the drawing of an unsupported and insupportable moral equivalence between western democracies and real or proposed theocratic tyrannies in which liberty of thought and speech, and the protection of human rights, would play no part. Norm wanted to engage in this debate and not just with academics. So he went online, to provide himself with a space in which he could express these and other views, and Normblog was born.”

Rainy Day did not share Norm’s Marxist views, but we did agree wholeheartedly with his courageous defence of the West, his staunch support for Israel and his energetic condemnation of the cowardice of the liberal media in the face of Islamist barbarism. “Much of the so-called antiwar movement seems only to protest against wars waged by the US, Britain and Israel; wars waged by dictatorial regimes, whether externally, or internally against sections of their own population, don’t spur it to the same oppositional passion or mobilization,” wrote Norm, calling out the hypocrites with the inimitable clarity that we’ll sorely miss in the troubling times to come.

Over the years, Norm wrote hundreds of profiles of people he found to be of interest. We were greatly honoured when, on 18 March 2005, normblog profile 78 was devoted to Eamonn Fitzgerald. Norm’s generosity was a measure of the man. His loss is our loss.

Norman Geras


JJ Cale now knows what what it is all about

Monday, 29 July, 2013 1 Comment

The tributes have been fulsome and the better ones have captured a little of the man’s modesty: “Cale later claimed to have developed his eloquent, droll style on lead guitar from listening to rockabilly records, the single-string blues guitarists Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown and Billy Brown, Chet Atkins, Les Paul and Chuck Berry…Cale once said that he wanted his music to sound as though it had been recorded on the front porch of his home in Tulsa.” The Telegraph.

“After midnight, we’re gonna shake your tambourine.
After midnight, it’s all gonna be peaches and cream.
We’re gonna cause talk and suspicion;
We’re gonna give an exhibition.
We’re gonna find out what it is all about.
After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang down.”


Farewell then, Ravi Shankar

Wednesday, 12 December, 2012 0 Comments

“Pop changes week to week, month to month. But great music is like literature.” So said the musician and composer Ravi Shankar, who was born on 7 April 1920 and who died yesterday in California aged 92. George Harrison called him “the godfather of world music” and it was Shankar’s virtuosity that brought the sounds of the raga into the global arena, thereby bridging the gap between eastern and western music.

[iframe src=”http://player.vimeo.com/video/37778444″ width=”100%” height=”380″]

In 1966, he met the Beatles in London. Later that year, George Harrison went to India and underwent intensive sitar tuition. Performances at the great 1960s pop festivals — Monterey, Concert for Bangladesh and Woodstock — established Shankar as a pioneer of cross-over sounds. In later years he divided his time between San Diego and New Delhi, where the Ravi Shankar Institute of Music and the Performing Arts was the culmination of his lifelong dream. He is survived by his wife, Sukanya, and daughters Anoushka and Norah Jones. His son, Shubhendra, died in 1992.