DAY 239: The box of all boxes

January 31st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve been thinking, as I expect you often do late at night when there are no phone calls to Lebanon to keep you awake, about Russell’s paradox – you know, the one about sets which are not members of themselves. With which, year after year, I’ve had the third year mathematicians in stitches. It’s the usual problem of going round in circles which afflicts us all, and I met it in a particularly acute form when I was looking for the files which another volunteer (call her Zenobia) had placed in a secure place called ‘Dropbox’ and posted me the link to. A brilliant idea, and I had great fun with the files until I realised that I’d only been given access to a part of a much larger whole, and there were fascinating documents that I couldn’t reach. Why? I’ve hinted at it in another place: but the essential idea is that there is (in our huge system which interests me not at all) a folder called ‘Dropbox’ which contains everything interesting. The reader will surely understand what I mean.  crivelli
[A picture by Carlo Crivelli which has nothing particularly to do with what I've
been saying but fills up a bit of the page.]

The point, if I can ever get to it, is that the folder called ‘Dropbox’ which I was sent (are you still with me, reader? Good) is part of a much larger folder called confusingly ‘Dropbox’. The latter had loads of amazingly cool stuff (don’t expect me to tell you what that was) and I hadn’t been given the link to that! I am, of course, too old and daft to grasp these smart lawyers’ tricks, so it’s taken me some time to work out a strategy for evading what’s being done here; I think that, following Russell, I’d have to make a copy of the big dropbox inside the small dropbox and then construct a new box of all boxes which… Could I avoid an infinite regress which would make the laptop explode? I’d certainly then be
boxes

Chinese box

breaking some law, and not just a logical one.

You may remember (probably not) Malvina Reynolds’ ‘Little Boxes‘, a hugely popular song when I was quite a lot younger, involving boxes and doctors and universities and, of course, lawyers. It has the same elements of regress, and the same inevitability. I’d dearly love to be given the key (the dropkey?) to this conundrum.

[Since I am not an intellectual property lawyer, more’s the pity, I’m unable to pronounce on the popular and dangerous TickBox add-ons for streaming loads of stuff through your TV for free. Very profitable lawsuits, in which I can only play a spectator role are on the way.

DAY 238: Palestinian weddings

January 21st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m not as you expect going to go all political about this; my thoughts are naturally prompted by the fact that at St Pancras and a lot of churches up and down the

1082-the-marriage-at-cana-drawing-from-codex-5-a-15th-c-illuminated-bp26gmcountry Anglicans (and maybe others) have been commemmorating the real downer of a wedding which took place quite a while back at a place called Qana; where in 1996

Qana

the Israelis under one Naftali Bennett shelled the UN compound killing 108 civilians; but a) it’s not clear if among half a dozen places called Qana this is the site of the original wedding, b) I said I’d keep off politics. Anyway, this couple from Galilee turn up and the mum (I assume she was called Om Isa) is pretty rude as she points out that they’ve run out of wine – after all it’s not the hosts’ fault, it’s the guests. Her son Isa when she tells him is even worse, as he’s equally rude to Om Isa (‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’). Om Isa ignores this unfilial behaviour and takes over the place, telling the servants to do whatever this boorish Wedding-at-CanaIsa tells them to do. Amazingly they do it and he produces some cheap Lebanese conjuring trick which results in gallons of high-quality Bekaa vino on the spot; the guests presumably are soon legless, the wedding is legendary.

Luckily a few hundred years later another prophet, Muhammad, comes along and, realising that this drinking at weddings is pretty irrelevant to the business of getting to heaven, bans it. Since when they’ve become a lot drier at Qana, although that hasn’t saved them from being bombed – but let’s not go back there.

What’s nice about this story, although the St Pancras folk didn’t seem to cotton on to it, is that it’s pretty useless going to the Bible for a guide to how to run weddings, or anything else; that’s not what it’s there for. Aside from not being, as Gershwin reminded us, necessarily reliable, that’s not the point. What the point is, if any, I leave you to work out for yourself. Here’s a little help from James Joyce.

The Ballad of Joking Jesus

I’m the queerest young fellow that ever you heard.
My mother’s a jew, my father’s a bird.
With Joseph the joiner I cannot agree.
So here’s to disciples and Calvary.

If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine
He’ll get no free drinks when I’m making the wine
But have to drink water and wish it were plain
That I make when the wine becomes water again.

Goodbye, now, goodbye! Write down all I said
And tell Tom, Dick and Harry I rose from the dead.
What’s bred in the bone cannot fail me to fly
And Olivet’s breezy — Goodbye, now, goodbye!

Jesus is known to have attended a baptism (his own), a wedding (the Qana affair) and, one has to assume, his own funeral though it would take someone more knowledgeable than me to answer the question of what he was doing during his funeral. (Harrowing hell?). Here, since we’ve ventured on the James Joyce trail, is the Dubliners’ recording of ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, which has a great deal to do with drink if nothing really with weddings.

DAY 237: Where am I from?

January 18th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

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This was beginning to be a thoughtful summing up of my ideas about borders, gleaned  from my experience (not much), and musings. I share the same ideas as many of you, I expect, about the pointlessness of borders and border controls, and I was trying to set it all down , pointing out that the question of what you’re from is constantly shifting in its meaning. According to who’s asking, for example, I had some pretty good examples.

Gauguin

Gauguin: Where are we from? What are we? Where are we heading?

And then I found that François Crépeau, formerly of the OHCHR, has done what I wanted to do, much better, and at much greater length. I refer you to his CBC broadcast http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/the-sunday-edition-december-24-2017-1.4451296/why-nothing-will-stop-people-from-migrating-1.4451437, which I’ve been promoting here and there. He makes all the points which I and other right-thinking people have been making all along; admittedly over ten pages which various self-imposed rules stop me from copying and pasting. But – OK, the scale of migration at present is something quite new. But essentially, the migrants are the future. They are the hope of their families; they can achieve something for them, they keep the family’s hopes alive.

I urge you to read the whole of his piece. The arguments may simply agree with what you believe already. But it’s so worth while to read an honest, humane and realistic setting out of what we can expect, and what we, and others, can do.

I quote on the sheer scale of legal and illegal migration:

‘Two separate examples. In the 50s, 60s, and early 70s, millions of Africans and Turks entered Europe. No one died. There was very little smuggling, because everyone could buy a ferry ticket, and you could enter Europe with either a visa that you could obtain at the consulate or without visa. People came, looked for a job, got a job, and then went to the préfecture in France, asked for a work permit, obtained it within 24 hours and started working. It was a very simple system which was governed by the Department of Labour.

Second example — In 2012, I was in Djibouti. The 30 nautical miles between Djibouti and Yemen is called Bab-el-Mandeb and

images-1it’s a passageway from eastern Africa to the Middle East. It was estimated at the time that approximately 100,000 people were crossing every year irregularly into Yemen, and then going essentially to Saudi Arabia to become undocumented gardeners, maids, waitresses, etc. 100,000 people crossed every year, and it was estimated that about 10 percent died. We don’t have proper statistics – the Mediterranean, everyone knows, because since it’s European it’s considered global. I was on that beach next to someone who was working for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). I suggested that maybe they could buy ferries from Norway and operate a ferry service with two or three ferries per day going back and forth. The response by the IOM person was, “I don’t think the member countries of IOM would approve of such a plan.” I’m not blaming her at all. I’m just saying that states — and I’ll say bluntly: states are ready to accept that their policies will kill a number of people in order to prevent others from attempting to come. The problem I see with that is, first of all, the human cost — but also the fact that it doesn’t prevent or deter anyone. You still have thousands and thousands of people trying their luck. In 2014, Britain stopped taking part in rescue missions in the Mediterranean, and the argument was saving refugees from drowning just encourages people.

At the time you characterized Britain’s position as a ‘let them die’ policy.

Yes. [laughs] I got a lot of flak for that. A quarter of all migrants worldwide are children.’

It must have been around the middle of 2016, I suppose,  (perhaps a bit late) that it dawned on me as I suppose it dawned earlier on Crépeau that it simply didn’t matter what measures the authorities in Calais (or elsewhere) took to stop refugees from coming – they’d come anyway. As they have, and they will. There are still refugees in the woods around Calais, freezing, gassed, they keep coming. And they’ll go on, for the many good reasons that Crépeau sets out. How mush better to make a world in which we and they can live together. Indeed, (and this too is one of Crépeau’s strong points): it isn’t even a question of ethics, though it is that – it’s a question of realism. What’s the point of spending vast resources trying, at vast human cost, to prevent something which is going to happen anyway? King Canute’s refutation of his courtiers comes to mind.

download

The more I think about the history of the 20th century (don’t start that now), the stranger it is. The powers of Western Europe were involved in two horrendous wars, creating vast numbers of refugees. They saw that this was unwise, and that they should be outsourcing conflict by creating (e.g.) unviable entities like Yugoslavia and the Sykes-Picot agreement; and (oddly) the 1951 refugee convention which stated that if the conflicts born of their unviable boundary definitions created refugees, they would  be decently treated. But the said refugees would, and did, inevitably come flooding to the countries which were responsible for their existence in the first place. Who are now trying pointlessly to keep them out. Is not this a mad world? As the Sufi poet Rumi says

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?

I cannot stop asking.

If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home

And here are some Kurdish musicians playing near the Macedonian border. (I don’t know when – but it’s the kind of thing which is going to go on happening.)

 

 

DAY 236: 2017

January 1st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Oh 2017! Who at can I say about you and remain coherent? I’ve recently been told off for, unintentionally I’m sure, insulting a bunch of my friends merely because they wouldn’t answer me on messenger – [which seems to be a particularly badly designed means of communication since
e in my experience you're always finding that your friends have left the virtual room and hung up in mid-conversation without so much as a phrase of excuse like 'Gosh is that the time? Must rush, it's been great catching up with you' -  but that's another story.] I suppose to be fair, though I can’t see why I should be, 2017 has basically not introduced dramatically nastier aspects to the global scene than its two disastrous predecessors called, if you remember, 2015 and 2016; the first bringing us first the so-called refugee crisis and second, the Trump-Brexit turn in politics.

Crisis? What crisis? The use of such language suggests that in 2015 we arrived

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 19.11.01

Children in Calais, with RYS

at something we’d have to solve and move beyond. Aside from the fact that ‘we’ (our governments) have made pathetically, ridiculously small attempts  to come to terms with the needs of refugees – that Lebanon, Jordan and Uganda have been shining examples of at least making an effort to act with humanity - the whole language of ‘crisis’ neglects the glaringly obvious fact that the pressure on Europe from its outsiders has settled in and is here to stay.  Given the sheer size of the change, given the depth of Europe’s involvement in exploiting its outsiders over centuries, I predict that it will be a very long time before the inevitable takes place, and it becomes accepted that this continent has no specialprivileges, and that the refugees – who will continue to come

 

libya

 

Libyan detention centre

 as long as we go on visiting wars upon them – become a natural and accepted part of our culture. This is no crisis, this is our continuing condition; and the more we accept that, the nearer we will come to a reasonable and decent state of affairs.

Given this, you only need to watch the news every week to see what new depths of misery will arrive. One such in 2017 was surely the attempt to institutionalise Libya, where the violent exploitation of migrants is open and

lib2

well-known, as a dumping-ground for Europe’s lost and unwanted, via agreements between the Italian authorities and the Libyan coastguards, ongoing through the summer and still under discussion despite being denounced by all human rights organisations.

It seems a sensible (what does that mean?) place to return to Marlow’s reminder in the Polish migrant Conrad’s story Heart of Darkness that Britain (or Western Europe) does not have its comforts by right, hasn’t long had them, and -by implication – may lose them:

“And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth…I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago–the other day. . . . Light came out of this river since–you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker–may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine–what d’ye call `em?–trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north; run overland across the Gauls in a hurry; put in charge of one of these craft the legionaries,–a wonderful lot of handy men they must have been too–used to build, apparently by the hundred, in a month oHr two, if we may believe what we read. Imagine him here– the very end apocalypse‘Heart of Darkness’, the movie, aka ‘Apocalypse Now’

of the world, a sea the color of lead, a sky the color of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina– and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sandbanks, marshes, forests, savages,–precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay–cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death,– death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here.’

As we see Palmyra and Aleppo (beautiful and cultured cities) and Calais (a handy place to pick up twenty litres of Beaujolais) sinking into the chaos of violent misrule and what Agamben – him again – calls the state of exception, we might reflect on a) the fact that nothing – not even the Zionist rule in Israel – lasts for ever, and b) that our aim is both to survive the injustices and to confront them. This gets us some way towards dealing with the horror (which the Polish migrant Conrad described, which Chinua Achebe condemned as a colonialist narrative, and Edward Said praised – for what?); but only marginally towards facing up to the challenges of 2018.  But did I say I was going to help with that?

 O for a time when the enlightened Muslim rulers may, as in Mozart’s immortal Die Entfuhrung, set everything straight, replacing torture by love!