Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice on stage

This video says about itself:

19 August 2009

Brandon Ewald performs a monologue as Gratiano from William Shakespeare‘s “The Merchant of Venice” Act I Scene 1 at the Globe Theatre in London.

By Gillian Piggott in England:

Timely note of tragedy

Wednesday 6th May 2015

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice has dark undertones which directly address issues of racism today, says GILLIAN PIGGOTT

The Merchant of Venice
Globe Theatre, London SE1

WITH the election battle waged in sections of the media dominated by the issue of immigration, The Merchant of Venice is the perfect Shakespeare play to mount at the present moment.

So it proves in Jonathan Munby’s engaging production in which Shylock, the tragic outsider at the play’s core, is given due gravitas by Jonathan Pryce.

He stands not only for Jews but for all immigrants — or their second-generation offspring — struggling to rub along with host nations while maintaining religious and cultural identity. British Muslims or eastern European immigrants, so maligned by the far right, spring readily to mind.

Munby makes a compelling case for Shylock’s descent into vengefulness in a production which underlines how Antonio (Dominic Mafham), Bassanio (Daniel Lapaine) and the rest of the Christians are a thoroughly racist lot.

Contemptuous and self-satisfied, they openly despise and bully the Jew, with Mafham’s creepily charming and self-regarding colonialist merchant resorting to physically assaulting Shylock before bargaining his flesh for cash.

Pryce’s Shylock has the integrity and dignity that invites audience sympathy in the trial scene. An actor of presence, his wonderful voice breaks into vibrato at moments of passion and his simple truthfulness make his refusal to show mercy convincing.

And it also makes the unravelling of Shylock’s case and the legal bias and conspiracy ranged against him by Portia (Rachel Pickup) all the more ruthless.

With the emphasis on the Christians’ culpability, Jessica’s betrayal of her father is even less intelligible. Munby attempts to address this by having Shylock’s enforced baptism — a violating and brutal ritual — witnessed by Jessica (Phoebe Pryce), who sings a threnody bewailing the destruction she has helped heap upon her father.

It’s a powerful echoing of sectarian violence but it fails to solve the mystery of why Jessica does what she does.

Another issue with the production is that Munby does not appear to know how to make the Globe space work. He obscures the back half of the stage with a trellis and all the action takes place in front of the pillars.

And, while experienced actors such as Pryce and Mafham know how to speak the verse and use their voices effectively in the space, younger members of the company are less technically accomplished.

Intelligibility, unlike the quality of mercy, is thus sometimes strained.

Runs until June 7, box office:

Solidarity with Baltimore in London

This video from England says about itself:

London Solidarity Assembly Vigil 5.5.15

4 May 2015

MAY 5th

We Stand with BaltimoreBlack Lives Matter from Bedford to Baltimore

Location: US Embassy, 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 2LQ

Date: Tuesday 5th May at 6pm

London Campaign Against Police and State Violence are calling for a solidarity vigil to stand with the family and friends of victims of police violence in Baltimore: Freddie Gray, Mya Hall and also victims of police brutality in the UK.
SUPPORTED BY: United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC), Defend the Right to Protest, nus black students’ campaign and Cole Family Truth Campaign.

By Joana Ramiro in Britain:

Solidarity with Baltimore as protests hit US embassy

Wednesday 6th May 2015

HUNDREDS assembled outside the US embassy in London last night to pay their respects to victims of police brutality, after a man in Devon died in circumstances similar to Freddie Gray.

The mass vigil was called after the IPCC confirmed it is investigating the death in police custody of a 38 year-old who had been restrained by Devon and Cornwall police during an altercation on April 29.

The unnamed man died in hospital this weekend leading to parallels being drawn with the case of Gray, which resulted in the recent Baltimore riots.

The brother of athlete Julian Cole, left paralysed after a brutal arrest in Bedford exactly two years ago yesterday, said ahead of the evening rally: “While the people who have done this to my little brother get to live their life, our family are fighting and hurting every day seeing him lay on the bed helpless, unable to talk or know we are there by his side.

“Those people have taken my brother away from me and I will never get to see him get old, have a family or even become a uncle.”

According to an investigation by the Independent newspaper, of the 3,000 police officers currently under investigation for abuse of force only 60 have been suspended.

In April, Home Secretary Theresa May was also forced to apologise to the families of Sean Rigg and Seni Lewis, admitting that mistakes had been made by the police when holding the men in custody. Mr Rigg’s sister Marcia told the Star that she understood Baltimore’s “grief and frustrations at the police and the judicial system.

“It is important to campaign peacefully together to tell our stories about these serious injustices that happen both in the UK and abroad.”

Speaking on behalf of one of the vigil’s organisers, London Campaign Against Police and State Violence activist Kojo Kyerewaa said they were fighting against “institutional racism.”

“We struggle against violence that is racial in nature, this violence is both physical and structural,” he said. “It results in the acceptable deaths of black and other racialised people. “The problem predates Mark Duggan and even the Metropolitan Police. “We want accountability for officers who have acted in ways that have led to deaths in custody and to an end of deaths in custody. “Without justice, there can be no peace.”

London: A democracy campaigner accused the Metropolitan Police of abuse of force yesterday after being left with a twisted knee, ankle and severe bruising following his arrest at a meditation session on Westminster’s Parliament Square. Donnachadh McCarthy was one of the three people arrested next to Gandhi’s statue on Monday evening as the Occupy Democracy camp defied the ban on camping equipment in an “act of Gandhian civil disobedience”: here.

In a massive and daunting attack on democratic rights, authorities in Baltimore detained some 250 people, without charge and in deplorable conditions, following protests on April 27 against the police killing of Freddie Gray. This unconstitutional round up and vindictive treatment received scant attention in the corporate media, with most coverage appearing only after a Facebook post by a public defender in Baltimore went viral, with almost 21,000 shares in fewer than two days: here.

Orchids saved by whisky

This video from London, England says about itself:

17 March 2013

Orchids Festival At Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is such a special place for me to visit every year. On 9th Feb. this year there was a four week celebration of Orchids held at the Princess of Wales Conservatory called Orchids Extravaganza which was extended till Mothers Day.

This exhibition gave us the opportunity to walk through archways of ornate flowers and to look at the towering pillars of stunning floral displays. I was so fortunate to see this brilliant display of orchids and spending the whole day with them.

As the people were relaxing and roaming freely in the exhibition area I had to capture these beautiful orchids with a fair amount of difficulty. In one section of the event there was an area of scented orchids and it was unbelievable inside it. I still feel the aroma around them. I just thought of sharing this wonderful world of orchids with you all and you will also see what a rich selection of orchids it was.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

How to encourage wayside orchids with a bottle of whisky

Friday 1st May 2015

There is a method – successfully tested on both sides of the Atlantic ocean – for stopping the destruction of road-verge flowers. PETER FROST has the unusual details

Lady Bird Johnson, widow of US President Lyndon B Johnson and her good friend British naturalist Doctor Miriam Rothschild both always kept a bottle or two of whisky in the boot of their cars.

The American would have good bourbon, the English woman? What else but a good Scotch?

The purpose was the same in both cases, to encourage wayside wildflowers growing beside the roads.

For Lady Bird it was the blue bonnets, so characteristic of her native Southern states, for Rothschild it was a whole posy of wildflowers in the lanes around her Northamptonshire home.

Snowdrops, primroses, cowslips, cornflowers and poppies and a whole cornucopia of other blooms fell beneath the crude onslaught to make the roadside clean and tidy.

Rothschild and Johnson both realised that modern agriculture had destroyed millions of acres of wild flower meadows both sides of the ocean and for a sustainable countryside we needed to do all we could to preserve wild flowers wherever they grew.

Rothschild died aged 96 in 2005, Lady Bird Johnson in 2007 aged 94. They had both dedicated their later years to conservation and environmental campaigning.

In the US Johnson promoted the protection of roadside flowers being enshrined in the Highway Beautification Act always known as Lady Bird’s Bill.

So how does the whisky work? Well, each of the ladies would, while out driving, watch out for either a farmer spraying herbicide or using mechanised flails and chain mowers or other infernal machines to cut back the roadside growth.

The whisky would be offered, as a bribe, if the rough-handed son of the soil would miss out locations where more rare and delicate specimens were struggling to survive.

Apparently the good ladies’ efforts were successful and many a country lane on both sides of the pond is more beautiful and bountiful today thanks to a drop of the hard stuff.

Sadly far too many roadside verges are still devastated either by chemicals or by cut and slash.

Local councils and private landowners who should know better still spray or cut at the wrong time.

In fact if mowing and trimming is left until the flowers have set their seed the long term beauty of the verges is actually enhanced. Kill-all herbicides have no place at all in the mantainence of our verges.

There are many miles of roadside verges in Britain and if they were looked after properly they would not just be nicer to look at they would also make a major contribution to biodiversity.

Today the most likely place to see a kestrel or sparrowhawk is hovering over a motorway verge. As it stoops on its prey it demonstrates just how valuable these roadside strips are as safe homes for small mammals like shrews, voles and mice and other creatures like large beetles, frogs, toads and even snakes.

Wild flowering roadside plants are also essential for pollinating insects including the much threatened honey and bumble bees. Songbirds feed on the seed-heads of many wild flowers.

If I needed proof of how things could be in a better ordered countryside a recent spring visit to Normandy provided it.

Here the lanes are almost entirely covered with wild flowers. In late April mile after mile — should that be kilometre after kilometre — of the verges were pale Normandy butter yellow with a close carpet of primroses.

Then the brighter and more ragged yellow of cowslips and the strange almost ghostly oxlip.

More shady verges will soon bring forth lily of the valley. The French celebrate May Day giving fragrant bunches of lily of the valley to friends, relatives and on the left to political comrades.

Most spectacular at this time of year are the frequent clumps of hundreds of bright purple pyramidal orchids. They really make a dramatic highlight to a walk, bike ride or country drive.

No Norman farmer or municipal authority would think of spraying or untimely mowing and if they did public opinion would soon put a stop to such unsustainable silliness.

Some parts of Britain seem to have learnt the lesson. On a visit to the Shetland Island of Yell we enjoyed hundreds of spring orchids and other flowers making a brave show beside the roads.

So next time you see someone mowing or slashing your local verge or hedgerow why not have a quiet word, or better still bribe them to leave the little flowers with a bottle of whisky?

Saudi war on Yemen means more terrorism, more refugees

This video from London, England says about itself:

Stop the bloodshed in Yemen is theme of protest in London

25 April 2015

Hundreds of Yemenis marched to the Saudi Embassy to protest against Saudi Arabia and US imperialism, and to stop the bloodshed in Yemen. Yemenis [should] choose their own government, not the Saudis or the West.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Patrick Cockburn

Sunday 26 April 2015

Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe’s problem

World View: Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign

Yemen is short of many things, but weapons is not one of them. Yemenis own between 40 and 60 million guns, according to a report by UN experts published earlier this year. This should be enough for Yemen’s 26 million people, although the experts note that demand for grenades that used to cost $5, handguns ($150) and AK-47s ($150) has increased eightfold. Whatever else happens, the war in Yemen is not going to end because any of the participants are short of weaponry.

Yemeni politics is notoriously complicated and exotic, with shifting alliances in which former enemies embrace and old friends make strenuous efforts to kill each other. But this exoticism does not mean that the war in Yemen, where the Saudis started bombing on 26 March, is irrelevant to the rest of the world. Already the turmoil there is a breeding ground for al-Qaeda type attacks such as that on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The collapse of the country into a permanent state of warfare will send waves of boat-people towards Western Europe or anywhere else they can find refuge. It is absurd for European leaders to pretend that they are doing something about “terrorism” or the refugees drowning in the Mediterranean when they ignore the wars that are the root causes of these events.

Yemen war has been left to the Saudis and the Gulf monarchies, with the US ineffectually trying to end it. The reality of what is happening is very different from the way it is presented. The Saudis allege that they are crushing a takeover of Yemen by the Houthi Shia militia backed by Iran and intend to return the legitimate president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to power. In fact, the Houthis’ seizure of so much of Yemen over the past year has little to do with Iran. It has much more to do with their alliance with their old enemy, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who still controls much of the Yemeni army. This enabled the Houthis, whose strongholds are in the north of the country, to capture Sanaa easily last September, though UN experts note that the capital “was guarded by no less than 100,000 Republican Guards and Reserve Forces, most of them loyal to the former president”.

The Saudi air campaign is geared more to inflicting severe damage on the units of the Yemeni army loyal to Saleh than it is to weakening the Houthis. The Houthi militiamen are experienced fighters, their military skills and ability to withstand air attack honed between 2004 and 2010, when they fought off six offensives launched by Saleh, who was then in power and closely allied to Saudi Arabia. It was only after he was ousted from office in 2012 that he reconciled with the Houthis.

The Saudi war aim is to break this alliance between the Houthis and the Saleh-controlled military units by destroying the army’s bases and heavy weapons. The more lightly armed Houthis are less likely to be hard-hit by air strikes, but without the support or neutrality of the regular army they will be over-stretched in the provinces south of Sanaa. In Aden, they are fighting not so much Hadi-supporters, but southern separatists who want to reverse the unification agreed in 1990.

The problem with the Saudi strategy is the same as that with most military plans. The 19th-century German chief of staff, General Helmuth von Moltke, said that in war “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. The same warning was pithily restated more recently by the American boxer Mike Tyson, who said that “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.

The danger for Saudi Arabia is that wars build up an uncontrollable momentum that transforms the political landscape in which they are conceived. Had the Saudis not intervened in Yemen, it is unlikely that in the long term the Houthis would have been able to dominate the country because they are opposed by so many regions, parties and tribes. Yemen is too divided for any single faction to win an outright victory. But the air war has been justified by Saudi Arabia to their own citizens and the Sunni world as a counterattack against Iranian and Shia aggression. It will not be easy for Riyadh to back off from these exaggerated claims to reach the sort of compromises required if Yemen is to return to peace. A further danger is that demonising the Houthis as Iranian puppets may well prove self-fulfilling, if the Houthis are compelled to look for allies wherever they can find them.

Yemenis insist that their society has not traditionally been divided along sectarian lines between the Zaidi Shia, a third of the population, and the two-thirds of Yemenis who are Sunni. But this could change very quickly as the Yemen conflict gets plugged into the wider and increasingly warlike regional confrontation between a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia and a Shia counterpart led by Iran.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been one of the main beneficiaries of the militarisation of Yemeni politics, because it can present itself as the shock troops of the Sunni community and its fighters are no longer under pressure from the regular army. As many Iraqis, Syrians and Afghans have discovered to their cost, Sunni-Shia sectarian hatred and fear is often only one massacre away.

The Saudis and the Gulf monarchies worry so much about Yemen because it is very much their backyard. But there is every reason for the rest of the world to worry too, because Yemen is joining Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia as places where warlords rule in conditions of anarchy. They are places where life has become unlivable for much of the population, who will take any risk to escape.

This is the sort of national calamity that is filling the boats and rafts crowded with desperate emigrants that are heading across the Mediterranean for Europe.

And this calamity is particularly bad in Yemen, because the country was in crisis even before the present conflict. According to UN agencies, malnutrition in Yemen is about the same as in much of sub-Saharan Africa and only half the population has access to clean water. The country imports 90 per cent of the grains used for food, but no ships are coming in because its ports are blockaded by the Saudis or caught up in the fighting. In any case it is difficult to move food supplies because of a chronic shortage of fuel. Lack of electricity means that essential medicines in hospitals cannot be stored.

This is not a short-term problem, Yemen is finally falling apart, but it may take a long time doing so, which means that there will be a vacuum of power. AQAP and other jihadi groups are already taking advantage of this. America’s much vaunted drone war against AQAP has not prevented the organisation taking over whole provinces.

The Sunni-Shia confrontation has a fresh injection of venom. Yemen has endured many wars that the rest of the world has ignored, but this one may well prove uncontainable.

The Saudi royal air force bombed Sanaa, capital of Yemen, again today: here.

SAUDI coalition warplanes launched dozens of air strikes on Yemen’s southern port city of Aden on Saturday: here.

Why Pakistan said no to King Salman. Pakistan’s unanimous decision to stay out of the conflict brewing in Yemen, and to push for a political resolution rather than a military one, puts significant strain on bilateral relations, complicating Saudi-Pakistani diplomatic relations: here.

How the U.S. contributed to Yemen’s crisis. Washington’s support for Yemen’s former dictatorship — and of Saudi efforts to sideline the country’s nonviolent pro-democracy movement — helped create the current crisis: here.