Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

‘Neighbourhood Bully’

‘Neighbourhood Bully’ is the title of a song on Bob Dylan’s brilliant 1983 album, Infidels.

Released shortly after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, it was intended as an ironic response to the growing international condemnation of Israel for its tendency to retaliate with brutal and disproportionate force against attacks on its citizens and frequent Palestinian raids into its territory.

The central message was that despite how things appeared through the global press, Israel’s fundamental right to exist, and to defend itself when attacked, should not be denied:

“Neighbourhood Bully, he’s just one man

His enemies say he’s on their land…

He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin

He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in”

Today, given the absolutely horrific situation in Gaza, the title seems less ironic. However, the song itself still serves a reminder that there are two sides to most stories and that we ought to be careful not to allow our judgement to be influenced by state sponsored media.

However, even if you were to take the message of ‘Neighbourhood Bully’ seriously in the 1980’s and find a way of justifying Israel’s heavy handed behaviour at that time – and I think you would need to have been extremely charitable to do so – the utter devastation and unforgiveable loss of innocent life caused by Israel’s current campaign would now make this impossible.

Without question, the situation in Gaza is utterly shameful and the Israeli attacks need to be stopped with immediate effect. Hamas militants also need to stop. Beyond that, however, it is difficult to imagine what a permanent solution would look like that would be agreeable to all parties.

In order to understand the enduring nature of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, it is worth taking a quick look at both sides of the argument, however weak or strong they may be. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. When you start to dig beneath the surface, it becomes very difficult to unravel the various strands that form this very complex and highly volatile relationship.

Whilst the majority of us may never fully understand the subtleties of each side’s position, either because there are deeply cultural and religious matters at stake that outsiders will always struggle to penetrate, or simply because global politics often obscures local truths, it is nonetheless clear, and worth repeating a hundred times over, that there can be no justification whatsoever for the mass murder of innocent children and families. 

Israel might argue that it is justified in its campaign against Gaza on the grounds that the security of its citizens is under threat due to the intricate network of tunnels used by Hamas militants to gain access to Israel and because of the incessant rocket fire into Israeli territory.

Hamas might argue that these tunnels are necessary to secure access to vital supplies that have been denied to Gaza by the continued blockade of its borders. If Israel states that it wants to neutralise the effect of these tunnels, Hamas states that it simply wants the blockade to be lifted. This is too simple and we are obviously talking about short term objectives.

Scratching beneath the surface, Israel’s bigger concern would appear to be that lifting the blockade would allow Hamas to build up its military capabilities in order to achieve its longer term aim of destroying Israel – “Israel will exist until Islam will obliterate it” – because, as a radical Islamist political party with a militant wing, Hamas refuses to recognise the legitimacy of Israel and considers it a religious duty to struggle against Zionism and its expansionist philosophy.

Hamas’ concern is therefore that Israel wants to achieve a Jewish majority across the entire area within a single and unified state, reaching from Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. This only hardens the resolve to put right the wrongs of 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their ancestral homes and forced to flee consecrated lands, which the Islamic Resistance Movement describes in its Covenant as the Jewish “usurpation of Palestine”. It is most unlikely that they will ever be able to return to their home land, despite the Jewish diaspora being welcome with open arms.

It is all very complicated and there is no obvious solution to the problems here. There is too much distrust on either side to reach a peaceful solution within the existing framework. A radical rethink is required. A new overarching philosophy is needed, which would divorce nationalism from religion on the one hand – which seems impossible in this context, given that they are intrinsically connected in the Covenant – and which would embrace a different understanding of sovereignty and statehood on the other, allowing a complete reorganisation of the political communities in this part of the world – again this seems impossible in this context.

In the meantime, the ‘single state’ and ‘two state’ solutions will be proposed and rejected over and over again, Hamas will continue to attack Israel and Israel will continue to retaliate disproportionately. The rest of the world will continue to look on in horror as Israel continues to hem displaced Palestinians into a tiny strip of densely populated and blockaded land, destroying its economy and infrastructure, and murdering innocent children and families just trying to go about their daily lives.

Bob Dylan’s 1983 album Infidels contains another very powerful song, ‘Union Sundown’, a stinging condemnation of the political and economic practices of capitalist societies and their consequences for ordinary people and their families.

Dylan goes deep to the heart of this particular issue to remind us that those who hold the real power in this world do so, not because they have observed proper democratic process, but because they have the frightening capacity to control, bribe, manipulate or destroy whoever, or whatever, happens to be an impediment to the world being organised in exactly the way that suits their own despicable ends:  

“Democracy don’t rule the world

You’d better get that in your head

This world is ruled by violence

But I guess that’s better left unsaid”

It is worth thinking about this: perhaps there are other significant political communities in other parts of the world which, for a long time, have been content to allow the situation between Israel and Palestine to continue as it is, for whatever reason, and despite what they would have us believe when called to comment.

As long as the ‘world is ruled by violence’, the prospect of a permanent and peaceful solution will never be on the cards, and that is regrettable, shameful and unforgiveable.

I am delighted that the Scottish Government has offered to welcome refugees from Gaza and has also given £500,000 funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to provide water, food, shelter and medical assistance to the people of Gaza.

The Scottish Government has also urged the United Kingdom Government and the international community to do more to achieve a permanent ceasefire and have the blockade lifted…    

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‘All the Truth in the World Adds up to One Big Lie’

By which criteria do we satisfy ourselves that we have reached the truth?

That a particular account of events is true is something that we too often take for granted, particularly when it is given to us ‘as the truth’ by those in positions of authority, leadership and power.

In an ideal world, of course, the role of police officers, politicians, bankers and journalists should be sufficient to confer a high degree of trust in their actions, automatically and without reservation; it should be sufficient to justify the naïve assumption that their motives are always entirely innocent and without agenda.

But we live in an imperfect society. It is one in which positions of authority are now widely regarded with suspicion and distrust. Our common outrage at the ugly catalogue of corruption and deceit that has been published in the form of apologies over the past couple of years – which includes several back copies from years gone by – has been testimony to that.

Here are just a couple:


Hillsborough papers: Cameron apology over ‘double injustice’ –

Gordon Brown to apologise for UK’s role in child migrant scandal –

David Cameron condemns Bloody Sunday killings and makes apology –

Barclays apologizes for Libor scandal –

Rupert Murdoch ‘sorry’ in newspaper adverts –


The list goes on and on. The worrying thing is that we are force-fed whichever version of events best suits the prevailing political agenda, usually created for those individuals who have the means and the money to sustain them, and which the rest of society is normally just expected to take as correct.

And most of the time we do, until something significant that could no longer be contained, or something very small that had been overlooked, finally makes its way to the surface and brings everything to a crashing halt.

We are led to believe that certain groups of individuals are decent, honest and upstanding, whilst others are not; we are led to think that certain historical troubles were caused and perpetuated by one particular religious or ethnic group, and courageously and rightfully managed down by another.

The despicable cover up of truth that we witnessed with the Hillsborough disaster, and the unforgiveable manner in which the people of Liverpool were treated and portrayed in the aftermath, must surely be one of the final nails in the coffin of this country’s utterly corrupt constitution.

This country has happily created its own version of the truth for centuries in order to conceal the sheer extent of the hatred, prejudice and contempt with which the elite minority regards even the rest of its own society.

Bob Dylan once wrote that ‘all the truth in the world adds up to one big lie’.

And I think it is fairly obvious how important that one big lie has been to successive Governments.

It is that without which they would not exist.

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George and Dave Meet Bob, Singing To Himself, on Desolation Row

George: “Ah, Bob! We were down here looking for you last week, but couldn’t find you.”

Bob: “What Was It You Wanted?”

George: “Can I confide in you?”

Bob: “Tell Me.”

George: “I…we are really struggling with this economy thing. What’s the solution?”

Bob: “God Knows”

Dave: “The thing is, Bob, we can’t seem to find a way out of this bloody mess. And it’s all Labour’s fault. Smug bastards. Not the Tories. It wasn’t us. We didn’t spend all the artificially created money. We inherited this mess. So what do we do?”

[Dave looks desperately at George and then both look desperately at Bob]

Bob: “There must be some way out of here, said the joker to thief.”

George: “Excellent. But which one of us is the joker and which is the thief. What are you thinking?”

Bob: “Wasn’t thinking of anything specific, like in a dream, when someone wakes up and screams.”

Dave: “You are confusing us now Bob. Keep it simple. We just want to know, is it really, really, really bad; is the economy completely f**ked?”

Bob: “Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn?”

George: “Yes! For goodness sake Bob, that’s exactly the question. We just want to know, have we reached our darkest hour yet?”

Bob: “Well, it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”

George: “Ok, then, so I need to know Bob, what is the biggest problem with our economy? I can’t seem to work it out.”

Bob: “Everything Is Broken.”

Dave: “Spiffing…but that’s always been the case. That’s how this good old country works. And my chum George’s job is to make people think we’ve jolly well fixed it. He’s like the ‘Jokerman’…do you see what I did there?”

[Bob just stares into the vacuum of his eyes]

George: “Ok, anyway, I will lose my prestigious position and my nice little political perks if I can’t make it look like I’ve fixed this, quick smart. Dave will shuffle me around to a stupid little position, with very little power, just to keep the snipers happy. Can you help me with that?”

Bob: “Deep in my heart I know there is no help that I can bring.”

George: “Of course you can, Bob. You must have the answer.”

Bob: “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”

George: “And then there is also the problem of Vince Cable. He wants my job. How do I deal with him and make it look like I’m fixing the economy at the same time. What would you do?”

Bob: “I’d have paid off the traitor and killed him much later, but that’s just the way that I am.”

George: “I can’t do that, Bob. Dave and I are trying to build a big society to fool people into feeling good about the country and not notice what is really happening. They haven’t noticed yet, have they? People feel good, don’t they? We’ve had Royal Weddings, Jubilee celebrations, Wimbledon, and now we’re giving them the Olympics.”

Bob: “There’s a whole lot of people suffering tonight, from the disease of conceit.”

George: “Yeah, well, that’s Labour’s fault. And they have got the audacity to tell me to slow down my austerity measures. But I won’t. I am too proud to admit I’ve got it wrong. Why should I go back on that? I believe the plan is working. And so does Dave.”

Bob: “Well, there ain’t no going back when your foot of pride come down.”

George: “Yes, that’s it, Bob! No going back. You are a genius. I will keep pressing on with austerity. It is a credible plan and it will eventually work. I really believe that.

Bob: “If you really believe that, you know you’ve got nothing to win and nothing to lose.”

George: “Exactly, it’s no longer a gamble. It is a certainty to work. Thank you, Bob. I will think about you when I am making some nice tax avoidance deals with the famous, rich and wealthy, if you know what I mean…”

Bob: “Don’t think twice, it’s alright.”

[Bob finishes his drink, gets up from the table, singing ‘OK boys I’ll see you tomorrow’]

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‘My Back Pages’

Up until now, forty was always someone else’s age.

But today, the much celebrated milestone has arrived. Happy Birthday to me!

I have to admit, it came much quicker than I was expecting. It definitely turned up without much encouragement. But then again, time doesn’t need any encouragement, does it? I remember turning 30 and thinking ‘how the hell did that happen?’

I have a vague recollection of having my fifth birthday on my final day at nursery school. The teacher asked me how it felt to be five. I replied, ‘just the same as it felt to be four’. I was given a row for being cheeky. I should have been encouraged for being philosophical.

Philosophy aside, time passes, whether we like it or not; it does its own thing, whether we are ready to go along with it or not. Time and change are inextricably linked. They are uncontrollably, inevitably there, together. Our lives sit slap bang in the middle of time and change, whether we feel different as a result of it or not.

There is no sense in talking about life without talking about change, and there is no sense in thinking that changes can occur in our lives without the passing of time. Unless you have a magic wand; but who in their right mind would want one of those clever things?

It might seem like a good idea to have everything you want in an instant. But there would be a risk of turning into a King Midas type character. It sounds good, but probably wouldn’t be worth it. You would risk losing the really important things in the process.

One thing I have learned in the past few years is that everything you once believed in can change in the blink of an eye; including the absolutes, the constants, the unshakeable certainties. But that is a good thing. It opens your eyes to new possibilities. It forces you to think about new ways of being you.

Some beliefs and attitudes remain with you throughout your life; whereas others age much more quickly than the person who holds them. There comes a time when they no longer fit in your life.

Recognising that it is time to change certain beliefs is the wisdom that comes to you as you grow older. It is the recognition that you are no longer unshakeably bound to old beliefs that have no cash value in your life.

It is the recognition that a belief with no cash value in your life is one that is not worth holding. Despite what you were previously led to believe.

I was given a birthday card today with the inscription, ‘the best years are ahead’.

I know they will be.

Because, despite the gloom all around us, this is an exciting time to be alive and feel rejuvinated.

And as Bob Dylan says, ‘I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now’…

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The Idiot’s Wind

Imagine waking up one morning to hear some real news.

I mean REAL news; news that hasn’t been tampered with in any way; news that actually is news and not a particular media group’s agenda (paid for by people who need a certain story to be told, because it lets them do what they do without the rest of us noticing it).

That would be refreshing, to say the least. Or would it? Are we so used to sugar coating that we have lost the taste for hard facts? Would we even be able to cope with what could leave a vile and bitter taste in our mouths?

Are we so used to admiring the gloss finish that we have lost the memory of what was underneath it, if we had ever been allowed to know it in the first place, that pointless lump of wood with the knots and the skelves?

The problem with being denied access to reality, to the facts as they actually are, rather than a particular version of them, is that the story that is wrapped around them tends to be taken as given by the vast majority of people.

And then the story becomes the truth, and the truth, should anyone have the audacity to bring it up, becomes ridiculed as an obvious and blatant lie. It becomes a lie touted by idiots intoxicated by paranoia. It becomes the idiot’s wind, particularly when it is blowing hard against the establishment.

Wherever there is money to be made, wherever there are reputations to be created and protected, wherever there is power and influence to be won, there we will find countless obliging story tellers and idiot objectors (and to adapt an infamous boast: for every five idiot objectors, there will be ten obliging story tellers).

Football, religion, economics and politics – the mainstay of large sections of our society – are all ripe for this type of activity. The goal is never to seek the truth, but to get away with an approximation to the truth, so long as a particular approximation serves someone’s purpose.

And it usually does; until the cash runs out.

In Bob Dylan’s brilliant ‘Idiot Wind’, he used this phrase to describe, among other things, some of the nonsense people take for fact because it has been put out as such by the media, in whom we trust.

But this turn of phrase is also particularly useful to describe the way in which we are encouraged to think about those who dig deep enough to get at the facts that others have tried to conceal.

And ironically, it is usually the gullible concealers, and those who are taken in by them, who brand the idiots as such….

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