Not The Only One

I have always found Russell Brand to be an interesting sort of fellow. He is in a similar vein to the likes of Frankie Boyle and Charlie Brooker, satirists who think well beyond normal conventions, shining a much needed harsh light on our modern consumerist societies and our stagnant politicians. I have read his books My Booky Wook, Booky Wook 2, and Revolution, all strongly recommended.


Brand has a new book out that I am looking forward to reading, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions. As part of the promotional tour Brand did for this book, he appeared on the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher. He had the host, the guests, and the audience in fits of laughter as well providing deep insights into his own personal life:

In the interview Brand touches on subjects such as addiction and depression. These topics, along with the topics of loneliness, mental health, and suicide, are all unfortunately spread prominently across the news spectrum right now. With regards to all this, Richard Carlton-Crabtree, director of services with Insight Healthcare, provided the following stark reality of where society is right now:

The reality of it is that one in four adults will experience a mental illness at some point each year in the UK. Something we never hear is that we only expect to help 15 per cent of them…one in four of the UK’s adult population is roughly 13 million people. – Richard Carlton-Crabtree

It does really seem that these issues are everywhere right now…

Tuesday 10th October 2017 was World Mental Health Day.

Princes William and Harry, along with Kate Middleton, have been heavily involved in raising aware around mental health by promoting the Heads Together mental health campaign, the London Marathon’s charity of the year.

Recently the singer Sinead O’Connor posted a video online that offered raw insights into her daily battle to control her inner demons. Filmed in her hotel room in New Jersey, the weeping singer sobbed to the camera: “My entire life is revolving around not dying, and that’s not living.”

Other celebrities have also spoken about these issues, such as singer Selena Gomez, comedian Roseanne Barr, author Ruby Wax, boxer Frank Bruno, footballer Chris Kirkland, and actor David Harewood.

We also have continuous newspaper headlines such as British Teenagers Among Least Satisfied In Western World, Loneliness Is Harming Our Society. Your Kindness Is The Best Cure, and Man Down: Why Do So Many Suffer Depression In Silence? You need not search for too long to find such articles, especially in the age of Trump.

We have also seen the suicides of celebrities such as Robin Williams from a few years ago, to more recently Chris Cornell (lead vocalist for the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave) and Chester Bennington (lead vocalist for the rock band Linkin Park). I find it interesting that certain celebrities, including Kurt Cobain from over 20 years ago, were living their dreams, yet it seems the reality of that dream coming true did not fulfill expectations. Speaking about Bennington’s death, the journalist Richard Taylor said:

When you’re mentally ill, “normality” becomes meaningless and the world reflects the distorted and warped version of reality you project through bloodshot eyes…Suicide is the biggest killer of men in Britain between the ages of 20 and 50, but we seem only to talk about it when famous men die. – Richard Taylor

Aside from all this, it is the thoughts of Russell Brand that I find most interesting. Here is someone who has suffered from depression, anxiety, addiction, loneliness, and suicidal tendencies. Here is someone who has tried to find meaning and happiness in copious amounts of drugs, sex, money, and fame. None of these things fulfilled him in ways that made long lasting sense. Instead Brand has decided to focus on connecting with people through real emotions, “the drug of connection” as he describes it, something that seems to have worked for him.

Here are some short videos from Brand exploring in more detail some of the topics touched upon in this blog. Each video is interesting in its own right, but collectively they shed much needed sanitized light on ‘we’ as a society. Not sure if they are therefore enjoyable, but they are certainly enlightening…

Chris Cornell: Suicide Epidemic – Why?

Chester Bennington: What Does The Suicide Epidemic Say About Our Culture?

Sinead O’Connor: Do We Live In A Mentally Ill System?

Addiction Epidemic – Why Is The World In Pain?

Why Are Mental Health Issues Increasing?




Ali Fist

Early October 2017 saw the release of the book Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig. The publishers, Simon And Schuster, describe the book as:

The most comprehensive and definitive biography of Muhammad Ali that has ever been published, based on more than 500 interviews with those who knew him best, with many dramatic new discoveries about his life and career…a ground-breaking biography…a stunning portrait of one of the most significant personalities of the second half of the twentieth century…An epic tale of a fighter who became the world’s most famous pacifist…does full justice to an extraordinary man. – publishers Simon And Schuster describing the book Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig

The book certainly looks impressive and has definitely made it to my must-read-bucket-list. Seeing the book reminded me that I was hoping to do a blog post based on the memorial service of the great man himself. I know it is more than a year overdue, but here goes…

2016 was a year that saw the passing of of many celebrities and VIPs. In these 12 months the world lost Prince, George Michael, Dame Zaha Hadid, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Fidel Castro, and many more. Arguably the most famous loss was that of Muhammad Ali.

It has been well over a year now since the great Muhammad Ali passed away. Shortly after his passing I wrote a blog post as a tribute to the Greatest, followed by a blog post of quotes from his moving funeral service. Ever since I have wanted to do a blog post about his amazing and uplifting memorial service.

On June 10th 2016 the town of Louisville, in the American state of Kentucky, held a memorial service for one of its own. Muhammad Ali, the towns most famous resident, had passed away some 7 days earlier on June 3rd in Scottsdale, Arizona, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Now it was time for the world to come together at his memorial service, to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of the greatest sports personality the world will ever know.

His status as a 20th century icon is in no doubt, alongside the likes of Elvis, Sinatra, Brando, JFK, and Michael Jackson. After all, he was named the athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. Just how prominent his stature was and still is could be seen by the luminaries attending his memorial service. Just some of those in attendance included:

Former President Bill Clinton, King Abdullah II of Jordan, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Reverend Jesse Jackson, comedian and actor Billy Crystal, actor Will Smith, actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, boxing promoter Don King, former NFL player Jim Brown, former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muslim scholar Imam Zaid Shakir, comedian Dave Chappelle, actor Whoopi Goldberg, director Spike Lee, Muslim scholar Sherman Jackson, leader of the Nation of Islam Louis Farrakhan, rapper Common, singer and song writer Yusuf Islam, musician and actor Kris Kristofferson, and former boxing champions Sugar Ray Leonard, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, and Bernard Hopkins.

With such a vast array of celebrities in attendance, the award winning journalist and author Jim Dwyer made the following point:

Ali was eulogized in a grand sports arena by, among others, a priest and an imam, a rabbi and a monk, a former United States president and a famous comedian. Protégées and daughters and his wife remembered him. As they spoke, all stood beneath the flags of the United States and the Olympic Games, symbols of a man who saw himself as a citizen of America and of the world. – Jim Dwyer

The memorial services began in Louisville on June 9th 2016, during the holy Islamic month of Ramadhaan, with an Islamic Janazah prayer service at Freedom Hall on the grounds of the Kentucky Exposition Center. The following day included a public funeral procession that saw Ali’s body carried through downtown Louisville, along the same streets as the homecoming parade that celebrated his 1960 Olympic gold medal win, back when he returned home from the Rome Olympics to a city that greeted him as a hero but still remained divided on racial lines.

Ali Procession Smith

After this procession there was a public memorial service held for Ali at downtown Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center in the afternoon, with more than 15,000 in attendance. The day would end with the funeral procession arriving at Cave Hill Cemetery, where the boxing legend was interred during a private ceremony alongside Union and Confederate soldiers, and President Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, among others. His grave is marked with a simple granite marker that bears only his name.

Ali’s funeral had been pre-planned by himself and others for several years prior to his actual death. Ali and his innermost circle started a document years ago that grew so thick they began calling it “The Book.” In the pages the boxing great planned in exacting detail how he wished to say goodbye to the world. “The message that we’ll be sending out is not our message, this was really designed by The Champ himself,” said Timothy Gianotti, an Islamic studies scholar who for years helped plan the services. The 74-year-old three-time heavyweight champion wanted the memorial service in an arena as he wanted multiple religions to have a voice. He also wanted ordinary fans to attend, not just VIPs.

Ali also wanted his memorial service to honour his Islamic faith, which is why the very first words spoken at his service were in Arabic and from the Qur’an. The American Muslim scholar Imam Zaid Shakir said, in translation, “In the name of God, most Compassionate, most Merciful.” The service ended some 3 hours later, again with Imam Zaid Shakir, saying “God bless, and blessings and peace upon Muhammad. Good evening.” One would assume he meant Muhammad Ali and not the Prophet Muhammad, or perhaps even both.

In between these first and last words the service saw many amazing heartfelt eulogies, eulogies that took place before the world was dragged kicking and screaming into the era of the heartless Trump presidency, eulogies that somehow seem to have more resonance today than they did when they were originally delivered.

Whilst the full 3 hour plus memorial service can be seen here, presented below are my favourite moments. With so many to choose from I have tried to pick those that I found funny or uplifting or insightful. So, in honour of the GOAT (Greatest Of All Times) who will always FLABSLAB (Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee) I really do hope you enjoy!

Ali Procession

Reverend Doctor Kevin Cosby

Before James Brown said “I’m black and I’m proud” Muhammad Ali said “I’m black and I’m pretty.”

Rabbi Michael Lerner

The way to honour Muhammad Ali is to be Muhammad Ali today.

Rabbi Joe Rapport

The living, breathing embodiment of the greatest that we could be.

Imam Zaid Shakir

I witnessed the power of sainthood.

Ambassador Attallah Shabazz (eldest daughter of Malcolm X)

When you believe in God, you should believe all people are part of one family.

President Obama (statement read by Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett)

Ali was a radical even in a radical’s time; a loud, proud, unabashedly black voice in a Jim Crow world.

Lonnie Ali (wife of Muhammad Ali)

Muhammad Ali wants us to see the face of his religion, al-Islam, true Islam, as the face of love…It was his religion that caused him to turn away from war and violence. For his religion he was prepared to sacrifice all that he had, and all that he was, to protect his soul, and follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

Natasha Mundkur

I am the disturbance in the sea of your complacency, and I will never stop shaking your waves.

John Ramsey

To me, he is the finest example of a great human being that I have ever seen.

Billy Crystal

It’s very hard to describe how much he meant to me; you had to live in his time. It’s great to look at clips and it’s amazing that we have them, but to live in his time, watching his fights, experiencing the genius of his talent, was absolutely extraordinary…He never lost his sense of humour, even as he lost everything else.

Bryant Gumbel

What does it say of a man, any man, that he can go from being viewed as one of his countries most polarising figures to arguably its most beloved? And to do so without changing his nature or for a second compromising his principles?

Bill Clinton

I think he decided very young to write his own life story. I think he decided, before he could possibly have worked it all out, and before fate and time could work their will on him, he decided that he would not be ever disempowered.

Imam Zaid Shakir

If reindeer could box, he would have fought Donner and Blitzen.

If presidents could fight, he would have fought Richard Nixon.

If Only Stephen Paddock Were A Muslim

Vegas Spent

Because of the media drenched age in which we live, where we float around in our biased digital bubbles, whenever an incident such as the shooting in Las Vegas occurs we are inundated with opinions, facts, and alternative facts. Ignoring all the idiotic conspiracy theories that abound whenever something like this occurs (such as Alex Jones and his claims of a ‘deep state’ cover up), it can be hard to find nuanced points of view that shed light on the madness that just occurred.

This particular tragedy is made even harder to digest because the shooter was a white, middle aged, retired, multi millionaire, former accountant, not on any watch list, and with no prior inclinations of such atrocities. In other words, he does not fit any known profile. No beard, no brown skin, no calls for jihad, and therefore no established narratives to politicize. Queue the usual discussions of why white skin equals lone wolf with mental health issues, whereas brown skin equals terrorist:

In my quest to find answers, to find solace, I came across two articles that really made sense. Journalist Jennifer Williams wrote an article explaining why in America white American men are more of a threat than Muslims:

White American men are a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners…in the eight months since Trump took office, more Americans have been killed in attacks by white American men with no connection to Islam than by Muslim terrorists or foreigners…In fact, between 2001 and 2015, more Americans were killed by homegrown right-wing extremists than by Islamist terrorists, according to a study by New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC…The average American is more likely to die from their own clothing or a toddler with a gun than an immigrant terrorist. But we’re not banning guns and T-shirts from coming into the country. – Jennifer Williams, 02 Oct 2017, from an article at

The article gives at least five examples of horrific attacks that have occurred in America in 2017 that did not involve Muslims. Well worth a read. Another article well worth reading is from the Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author Thomas L Friedman. Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times controversially entitled If Only Stephen Paddock Were A Muslim. The article begins with this bold and daring proclamation:

If only Stephen Paddock had been a Muslim…If only he had shouted “Allahu akbar” before he opened fire on all those concertgoers in Las Vegas…If only he had been a member of ISIS…If only we had a picture of him posing with a Quran in one hand and his semiautomatic rifle in another…If all of that had happened, no one would be telling us not to dishonor the victims and “politicize” Paddock’s mass murder by talking about preventive remedies. – Thomas L Friedman, 03 Oct 2017, from an article at

The article only gets more daring after this, with Friedman pointing out the blatant hypocrisies of the American governments approaches to ISIS and the NRA:

On crushing ISIS, our president and his party are all in. On asking the N.R.A. for even the tiniest moderation, they are AWOL. No matter how many innocents are fatally shot — no matter even that one of their own congressional leaders was critically wounded playing baseball — it’s never time to discuss any serious policy measures to mitigate gun violence. – Thomas L Friedman, 03 Oct 2017, from an article at

Vegas Steps

This cycle of violence that America has just experienced is nothing new. We have unfortunately been here too many times before. To try and make some sense of it all, not only do I read from well established journalists, I also find myself increasingly turning away from politicians and instead turning to our comedians and satirists, to see what their take is on events. The reason for this is simply put thusly:

Our problem is our leaders are clowns and our ‘clowns’ (Frankie Boyle, Russell Brand, etc) should be our leaders! It’s just too tragic to be comedy. – YouTube comment from grassfuse3

In this light please find below 9 short videos that I found illuminating and moving, with personal comments from the biggest names in American TV talk shows. Real Americans (apart from James Corden), real voices, real emotions, all trying to bring some sort of hope into and make some sort of sense out of the tragic events of Las Vegas. As much as one can in these troubled times, enjoy…

Ellen DeGeneres

Jimmy Kimmel

Stephen Colbert

James Corden

Conan O’Brien

Seth Meyers

Trevor Noah