Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Cartoon Heroes: Origins





Stuck at home recovering from the flu it crossed my mind to trace the family tree of my interest in cartoons and comic strips. It was always my dream as a child to have a career as a syndicated cartoonist. The minor obstacle to the fulfilment of that dream was that I'm not very good at drawing. Not that this is a definitive obstacle. The main reason has more to do with not putting in the time and effort, i.e., I created a character but did not develop his world.

The very first cartoons that I remember were Peanuts. Old paperback collections with crumbling yellow pages on my father's desk, and once a week in colour on the inside back page of the Observer Sunday magazine.

First Peanuts comic October 1950

Charlie Brown was hapless but loveable, Lucy was a smart and grumpy girl just like the women in my family, and Snoopy was so cool. Curse you Red Baron! I drew Snoopies and Charlie Browns all over my rough books at school. They've been with me all my life. My character - Pomme de Terre - is clearly related to that round-headed kid. When Charles M Schulz died in 2000, many cartoonists dedicated a strip to him. This one made me cry:


Those Sunday newspaper glossy magazines were the source of the other cartoons that got my attention as a pre-teen. Jules Feiffer was also published in the Observer magazine, although nearer the contents page at the front. I loved his spiky drawings. I was probably a bit full of myself for having such grown-up tastes.

Feiffer started out in the mid-1940's as an assistant to the Parent of graphic novels Mr Will Eisner, and got his first strip in the Village Voice in 1956.


Feiffer's coverage of US politics, and focus on President Richard M Nixon, coincided with my political awakening thanks to Bonnie & Henry teaching me about Watergate.


It also helped that Feiffer illustrated one of the greatest books of all time, i.e., The Phantom Tollbooth.


These were the cartoons with which I began. Otherwise, I was a Marvel comics fan, saving my pennies for the monthly import of The Fantastic Four, and regularly reading Spiderman, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and the Silver Surfer.

To this day Peanuts rules, even in reruns. The Observer stopped publishing Feiffer in 1978, but I got his book Tantrum (1979). It's considered by many to be one of the first graphic novels. And Neil Gaiman loved it also :-)

Cheerio Dave


Minor good news on a day when a terrible story of evil people dominates the headlines - Dave Whelan is stepping down from his position as Chairman of Wigan FC. He will still own the club, but let us hope that his chosen successor - apparently 23 years old - will have a slightly more enlightened view than his grandfather.

BBC report
The Guardian report
The Daily Mail recounts the whole story, and presents a perspective that suggests Mr Whelan still does not accept or understand how he caused any offence and continues to show no remorse that people have been offended by his language and views.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Googling Oneself


Head all puffed up with another couple of my 15 minutes this week, after a lovely evening at the premiere of "R Story"followed by a couple of hours of Twitter interest in the event plus a mention in a Guardian blog … and decided to have a look at what my current Google profile reveals:

1.  Woman's Hour (7th November 2014)
Rose Neelam, Vicky Beeching and me being interviewed by Jenni Murray re faith and being gay.

2. Memorial Scrolls Trust (8th February 2014)
Rabbi moment - taking part in the 50th Anniversary service marking the arrival of the Czech Scrolls in London.

3.  It Gets Better (February 2012)
Video for Keshet UK as part of the worldwide project to support LGBT youth.

4. Out 4 Marriage (May 2012)
One of the first videos uploaded by the Out4Marriage campaign supporting what was to become the successful campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in England. Even got a namecheck in the Independent and the Huffington Post :-)

5. Rainbow Jews Oral History (June 2013)
Apparently I'm a wry American - soundbite and transcript of my interview available for you to make up your own mind.

6. Jewish Chronicle interview (September 2009)
JC version of why I became a rabbi.

7. Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here?
Anthony Clavane includes me in the revised introduction to his book.

8. Diva Debate at Homotopia (12th November 2014)
Recording of the debate in Liverpool with Vicky, Rose and Peter Tatchell.

9. Four Four Jew (February 2014)
First appearance as an artefact with items on display as part of the exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Camden as well as being part of the film that ran on a loop in the main room.

10. Memorial Service for Professor Dorrit F Friedlander z"l (June 2014)
Noted as one of the speakers at Lawrence University celebrating the life of my beloved Auntie Dorrit.

That's about it, really. Mainly I'm delighted to see that the unpleasant memories of my unfortunate experience on Long Island have been pushed waaaaaaaaaay way down the list.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Football "fans" in Paris, Rome & London


It comes as no surprise to anyone in Europe who loves the sport of football that another group of thugs has been spotted behaving egregiously while supposedly following their beloved team. If you live in the UK you might assume I'm referring to the so-called Chels*** fans filmed on the Paris Metro repeatedly pushing a black man off a train as he tried to board. While our print and online media here were full of reports and responses regarding this incident, I recall no reference or links to reports about the Dutch thugs who damaged the Bernini fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Police battled hundreds of "fans" and arrested 29. Perhaps because they follow Feyenoord of Rotterdam rather than an English team they were not considered newsworthy.

Not a football problem but a social problem blah blah blah times of economic uncertainty reflected in social unrest blah blah blah we've been working hard for years to eradicate racism in football BLAH BLAH BLAH

Lucia is right when she questions why I would put my passion, my time and my money into such a corrupt and damaged system run by a bunch of old white men - I find it almost impossible to defend. At the same time, another side to this debate is expressed in the new film coming out next week - The Story of QPR. It's full of QPR fans explaining the reasons for their attachment. I'll see it at a premiere on Thursday so I'm not yet sure which part of my interview was used, but the film-makers have promised me a copy of my rough footage :-)


Meanwhile, the news that broke today about more disgusting behaviour by so-called football fans is shown in another amateur vid , shot on Sunday, of WHammers on their way to the derby game with Spurs. The bleeping makes it hard to understand all the words but it sounds like "I've got a foreskin. Haven't you, Jew?"

Some time last year, Lucia and I were on the District Line heading for the East End one Saturday afternoon, sitting in a carriage full of WHam fans. A group of young men started singing a song about running up and down White Hart Lane saying "We got foreskins, we got foreskins - you ain't!". I'd not heard that one before and in my innocence (not having a clue about the benefits, or lack thereof, of having a foreskin, or not) thought it was just a bit of banter. Lucia was scared, and I said to her that as long as the nice middle-aged couple in WHam colours sitting across from us seemed calm, we didn't need to worry. We got out at Whitechapel and had a lovely afternoon together.

Listening to the version of the "song" presented in this new vid with the addition of swearwords and the vicious tone in which "Jew" is said shows me the hate such statements represent. I didn't get it on the train. But that was before last summer, and the public response to events in Israel and Gaza. Now I  really need to be more aware about our physical safety. There's no such thing as banter any more, or at least I'm an idiot if I think so. I am too old and fat to escape trouble. It is cliche time:  better safe than sorry, because I would rather soothe the guilt of betraying my liberal principles than heal the cuts & bruises of an antisemitic attack.

PS for my WHam friends I should also note the spoof vid some WHam fans made this week in response to Paris - the Mail includes it in this article. Russell Brand tweeted his support of using comedy as a "weapon against hate". I'd like to see it like that, rather than just a way to wind up some West London rivals.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Holocaust Memorial Day 2015


This year marks the 70th since the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. I suppose that I should be glad that national television stations think it is important to put on programmes marking this occasion, e.g., Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah", a documentary about Alfred Hitchcock's forgotten film and "The Eichmann Show". It's so hard to see them, and to sleep afterwards. However, since there are still those around us who feel able to make the ridiculous claim that the Holocaust never happened, I guess we must keep on telling the story.


Never again!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Terrible Day of Terror

After the terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo office on Wednesday I found this picture to post:


After the murder of the hostages in the kosher supermarket these are the hashtags:


Much has been said and written already, and certainly there will be much more. Tonight I can only weep, and hold my arms out to those I love.


Saturday, January 03, 2015

What is Wrong With This Picture?


Ready to be eaten!

I've always loved Ribena. I've also been a vegetarian since I was 11. Nobody mentioned, however, that  I need to watch what I drink as well as what I eat. Have you seen any Ribena ads recently (here is an example)? Look at all the jolly blackcurrants just dying to get into the bottle. They've been anthropomorphised to make them appealing, like cute little kiddies … and all they want is to be part of our pleasurable experience, i.e., drinking the little darlings, i.e., ingesting and digesting them. Unless they expect to come out whole the other end of my colon, this means bye bye berry.

The ad that first made me think about this was for butter, and featured a butter man flying a butter plane straight into a baked potato. Maybe it's ok for a carnivore to eat a butter human but this veggie couldn't bear it. I searched online just now for that old ad but could not find it. However, the Country Life butter ads aren't much better. Here's one where the men made of butter make sandwiches with butter and enjoy them heartily. Isn't that cannibalism? And here's a Lurpak ad that ends with the guy actually spreading himself on the bread. Che schifo!

I hate it when people don't think things through. Rant over. And to say sorry, here's a good old-fashioned butter ad complete with earworm.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Back, Looking Forward


Hoping that we may hold on to the good things from 2014, let the bad ones go, and enter the secular new year with optimism.

best wishes to you all!

Dave Whelan is Punished


This story has hopefully reached its conclusion as the Football Association bans Wigan chairman Dave Whelan for 6 weeks from all football-related activities and fines him UKP50k for having made antisemitic and anti-Chinese remarks. Here is the report from the BBC online:


This story contains language which you may find offensive.

Wigan owner Dave Whelan has been given a six-week ban from all football-related activity and fined £50,000 for making racist comments about Jewish and Chinese people.
The 78-year-old, who has a week to appeal against the punishment, was also ordered to attend an education programme run by the Football Association.
Last month, Whelan accepted a charge but denied remarks he made during a newspaper interview were racist.
The FA Disciplinary Commission said it was "satisfied" Whelan "is not a racist" and did not intend to cause offence by his comments. 
Whelan stated in November that he would resign as Wigan chairman if he was "found guilty of being a racist".

BBC Sport's David Ornstein:

"It is understood Wigan have strongly advised Whelan not to appeal against his punishment.
The Latics do not feel the ban affects their business because the owner is not involved in the day-to-day running of the club. It is understood he is not involved in transfers and is not a signatory on deals, limiting the impact of this in the January transfer window."
Whelan said he was misquoted in an interview with the Guardian last month, during which he used the term "chink". The Guardian also reports the businessman said: "Jewish people chase money more than everybody else."
Whelan subsequently apologised for any offence caused by his comments, in which he was defending the appointment of Malky Mackay as the club's new manager.
Mackay is currently under investigation by the FA regarding allegations the Wigan boss sent "sexist, racist and homophobic" text messages during his time in charge at Cardiff.
Earlier this month, the FA ruled Whelan's comments constituted an aggravated breach of rule E3[1] in that his comments were "abusive and/or insulting and/or constitute improper conduct and/or bring the game into disrepute". 
The governing body also looked into other comments made by Whelan about Chinese people in a December interview with the Jewish Telegraph.
The FA Commission said in a statement: "We are satisfied on the evidence before us that Mr Whelan is not a racist. 
"We are equally satisfied on the evidence before us that Mr Whelan did not intend to cause any offence by his comments."
But the commission added that it had to "view the comments objectively and Mr Whelan's subjective intentions were irrelevant as far the ruling was concerned".
Simon Johnson, a former FA director who is now chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council,  welcomed the governing body's action.
He said: "The decision is an important one because it establishes, and I agree, that Mr Whelan is not racist but that is irrelevant. He came out with comments that were racist and therefore they have issued this punishment for a breach of the rules.
"I have never called for him to resign. I simply called for him to withdraw his comments and apologise for them and that is what he has done."