DAY 241: Truth

February 24th, 2018 § 2 comments § permalink

We all of us have our problems with it, being constantly required in everyday life to tell it, the whole of it, and nothing but it, so help us God; and while reference to Pilate and jests, or the post-truth era may get us some mileage, there are situations where the existence of only two alternatives (truth and lies) seems unnecessarily
simplistic. (And I don’t want to get caught up in the sixteen alternative theories of what truth is which, according to Wikipedia, the philosophers have to offer – I’m sure that every one of them is too simplistic, and not naked enough.) Here is one of the most hilarious ones I came

Nuda-Veritas

The Naked Truth  (Klimt)

across recently, in which one Robert Mugabe (remember him?) and Amber Rudd – her again, I fear – find themselves on opposite sides of the truth-question. I refer to the recent SSHD v JM (Zimbabwe) [2017] EWCA Civ 1669. Mr Mugabe has had a pretty bad press for as long as I can remember; but one of his good points, I feel, was that he wouldn’t let the Brits deport people to his homeland unless they wanted to go. How many other rulers in his position have allowed the deportation to go ahead, the better to imprison or torture the deportees! Not so Mugabe; and the Home Office is naturally waiting to see if now he’s out of the way they can start deporting thousands of Zimbabweans against their will.

Which brings me to J.M., a man who has little in common with Mugabe except a belief  that you shouldn’t be deported if you don’t want to. This was unfortunate, since once the Home Office had decided it had enough of J.M. (his AIDS, his destitution, his dealing in Class A and B drugs), they tried to send him back ‘home’ asap. Annoyingly, the Zimbabwean authorities wouldn’t accept him unless he signed a statement that he wanted to go. This he refused to do. He was interviewed by immigration officers on 1 October 2014 who recorded him as being “polite and courteous throughout” but he explained that he did not want to return to Zimbabwe. The Home Office therefore faced an unusual ethical prublem: they needed to require J.M. to say something (‘I want to return’) which was untrue.

At this point, is there any wriggle-room? Ms Anderson (counsel for the Home Office) submitted that, even on the judge’s construction of the section, he had misdirected himself in concluding that the Secretary of State was requiring JM to lie to an Embassy official. She submitted that, as the two section 35 Notices indicated, the Secretary of State was seeking consent or agreement and was not seeking to dictate that JM should use any particular wording to Zimbabwean officials. She said it was not the Secretary of State’s position that JM had to lie. Furthermore, when the Court put to Ms Anderson that it could be said that by saying: “I don’t want to return, but I will if I have to”, JM was giving his consent or agreement, she was constrained to accept that the Court could well interpret what he said as sufficient. The trouble is that while J.M. would sign the truthful statement  ”I
don’t want to return, but I will if I have to”, the Zimbabwean authorities wouldn’t admit him if that grudging admission was the best he could do. What to do? Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive! In the outcome, the court decided that ‘the Secretary of State cannot lawfully require JM to tell Zimbabwean officials that he agrees to return voluntarily because that is seeking to use the general power in subsection (1) in a manner which is inconsistent with and contradicts the specific limitation in subsection (2) (g), under which JM can only be required to answer questions in interview accurately and completely’ (Got it?) And he even got damages for unlawful detention – which we could think of as a happy end except that he never should have been detained in the first place.

What do we deduce? Fist, as you might suspect, that the Government will stop at nothing, including forcing people to lie, in the hopes of getting rid of them. Second, that they can’t always get away with it – that given a nice judge on a good day, you might end up with a decision which has something to do with morality. But I wouldn’t count on it. Morality? Speaking truth to power? Among many examples recently, I suppose the one that comes to mind most strongly is high school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez telling a packed rally how much President Trump gets from his friends in the NRA.

The opposite of truth (or one opposite) is fiction; and fiction is what the minions of the Home Office usually think we are constructing when, traumatised and tempest-tossed, we get around to telling them our life-stories. Surely Dido

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 22.36.38

was more tolerant with Aeneas – to whom she had given asylum, despite his not being an obvious victim of persecution – when she (and everyone else, we’re told) listened raptly to his story:

Conticuere omnes intentique ora tenebant.
Inde toro pater Aeneas sic orsus ab alto:

Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem,
Troianas ut opes et lamentabile regnum

eruerint Danai, quaeque ipse miserrima vidi               5
et quorum pars magna fui.

and so on. Did she find him credible? The horse? Laocoon? I doubt if they’d get past even a novice in assessing asylum claims.

So I suppose we have to go on remembering that, alternative facts or not,as the Ink Spots remind us it’s a sin to tell a lie.

 

 

DAY 240: The snow

February 16th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Or have I referred to snow before, in these divagations? At least three winters have passed, I think, (2015-2017) since this journal started; and it would be surprising if at some point I hadn’t commented on its presence in a facile way, either as a news item because refugees were (as they are now) freezing to death in it in the streets of Paris while the state’s hirelings shut the doors of its shelters and rip their tents; or because I have used it as a metaphor for something (whiteness, blanketing, cold, stillness, it’s an easy game). [128 names of unaccompanied minors were listed as in danger in Paris by a group of concerned lawyers a week ago as temperatures plummeted. And of course the same is happening across Europe. Who gets to read about it?]

What does this social disintegration signify? I was reminded the other day that Jorie Graham, who I refer to perhaps too rarely, was notoriously caught in a snowstorm when bringing her daughter’s forgotten leotard, and saw a huge flockimages-2 of starlings, then tried to grasp the problem of unity in multiplicity:

Then I heard it, inside the swarm, the single cry

of the crow. One syllable – one – inside the screeching and the skittering’

inside the constant repatterning of a thing not nervous yet not ever still – but not uncertain – without obedience -

yet not without law – one syllable – black shiny, twining on its single stem,

rooting, one foot on the earth,

twisting and twisting -
I could go on, and as you will remember, Jorie does, in ways which I couldn’t begin to quote or analyse thank God. (Indeed, flicking through her writings she seems to draw on snow quite a lot, which leads me to think that she ‘s a denizen of the northern United States.) What I hadn’t realised, being pretty ignorant about poetry among other things (e.g. the classification of click-consonants or the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus or how to fix a leaky tap) is that Ms Graham in an earlier poem had touched on some of my own obsessions (not snow) viz. tear gas and the CRS. Yes! Writing about Paris in 1968 – you’ll remember – in a reminiscent mode in ‘The Hiding Place’ from ‘Region of Unlikeness’ – how much of it can I get in?

Marches, sit-ins, helicopters, gas

They stopped you at gunpoint asking for papers.,,,

and torn sheets (for tear gas) thrown down from shuttered windows

and bread; and blankets, stolen from the firehouse.

The CRS (the government police) would swarm in around dawn

in small blue vans and round us up.

Read it all! Particularly the man who started beating the girl in her eighth month.

In my own small way I’ve been having a similar problem with how you unify experience- haven’t we all? The weather (oh don’t let’s go back to that), refugees, buses, gigs in Islington, ballet, what’s on Netflix, getting phone credit for people in tents -yes I could write a good few lines on that. How can we be convinced that these multiple experiences are unified simply by the fact that one person is having them? I should go back to Husserl who probably thought either that they were or that they weren’t; but I lost my copy of Ideas I ten years ago, and I didn’t understand it too clearly even then. This person worries quite a lot about all his experiences and their seemingly amazing diversity. Is there any meaning to being part of so many different frames of reference? I could for example give you the benefit of my recent information about the long-running battle of our old friend the SSHD with a seemingly endless sequence of Sri Lankans, who are arrested, beaten up, and so have a not unreasonable fear of persecution, but can’t (of course) get asylum in the U.K. because they can’t produce the documentary evidence that they had the experience which led to the fear, indeed that they were even in court; notoriously, the British legal system currently operates on the assumption that all refugees’ stories are made up, and in particular that documents from Sri Lanka are probably forgeries and acquired for a few rupees in a not-unreasonable-fear document shop. (See for example P.J. (Sri Lanka) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] EWCA Civ 1011.) But why should I do that – it would probably needlessly distress you when there are so many other problems in the world? Did their persecution actually happen?

To change the subject if only slightly, Stand For Humanity, an outfit run by

yazzie

Yasmin Autwal, a friend of mine, has produced an 18-minute talk on themes which run on roughly parallel lines to some of my own usual ones – Calais, not being apathetic, connecting with your fellow humans and that; about halfway through the talk an impressively wise old 78-year-old geezer tells her that yes indeed things are now worse than they have ever been. (And, like Jorie Graham, he was around in 1968.) But how does he know – say about the time of the barbarian invasions, or the conquistadors? Was it snowing then – not to mention on the retreat from Moscow, on which I’ve quoted Victor Hugo’s snow-filled lines a couple of years back)

And, whatever the 78-year-old may say, there’s always (as Edgar says in King Lear), worse to come:

The worst is not

So long as we can say, This is the worst.

It’s easy, as Billie Holiday reminds us, to blame the weather when what is really responsible for the whole débâcle is neoliberalism; and that isn’t going to go away unless we give it a pretty good push.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 19.47.40
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!

DAY 235: Happy?

December 24th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink



I suppose very year everywhere in the past, there have been people who resented the enforced happiness of Christmas – when they had no reason to be happy. Whether because they were lonely or impoverished; or had lost someone they loved, or they were in hospital or a war zone.. the list is unending. In 1972, Nixon ordered the notorious ‘Christmas bombing’ of North Vietnam:

In just one night, more than 2,000 homes were destroyed around Kham Thien, a busy shopping street in Hanoi. About 280 people were killed and at least as many again injured. Ha Mi  who was 10 years old at the time and remembers sheltering under the stairs of her family home with her sister, listening to the bombers overhead). had a friend, whose house was hit.

bombing

“There were a few houses still standing, but most of it was just rubble, flattened on the ground – or even just a big hole. Houses were just gone, it was horrible. I remember seeing people just standing there looking at it – but there was nothing there. Everything was just gone.”

This year, I’d like you to turn your thoughts, however briefly, to the Tamimi family, many of whom will be in jail:

[From Al Jazeera] Bethlehem, occupied West Bank - Ahed Tamimi,

 tamimi

a prominent 16-year-old Palestinian activist, has been detained during a pre-dawn raid on her home by the Israeli army and border police in the occupied West Bank. Ahed’s mother, Nariman, was also arrested on Tuesday afternoon during a visit to Ahed at an Israeli police station.

What other examples could I come up with? The misery goes on from year to year – and it’s so various. How do we have the nerve to speak of good cheer, and listen – not by choice of course –  to Bing Crosby and Bono as we fight our way through Tesco’s searching for Christmas wrapping paper and (for God’s sake) Christmas sellotape. How many this Christmas will be homeless or in danger of losing their homes? (One in 25 people in the London Borough of Newham is homeless – the highest in Britain  That’s 13,607 people. And, as you might expect, you don’t count as homeless just by not having a home, you have to fill in forms at the town hall. And they’ll check on your immigration status. The best thing you can hope for is company in your misery. No, we have to accept a glaring disconnect between a number of things:

1) the birth of a child in an impoverished one-parent family (sort of) in occupied Palestine 2000 years ago

2) a church and (by association) state holiday which is therefore naturally

3) an excuse for a great deal of eating and drinking together with

4) an ideology which identifies all this with peace and goodwill

5) stockings

6) presents

It’s all a bit much to take on board.

nativity

The word humbug is hovering on the edge of my keyboard.

I hope you have a great time.

 

 

 

DAY 234: Anniversaries

December 21st, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

What an amazing end to the year! Although it’s inevitably steeped in gloom and desperation for those of you who don’t inhabit the small bubble where I live but are forced to pass their time in, say, Bethlehem (seasonal) or Myanmar or, as I said recently, Eritrea, or Texas – although all that, here because of my slightly manic accumulation of voluntary ‘work’, I’ve been out to no less than four parties in rapid succession, all I suppose celebrating the birthday of Jesus rrrrEthiopian_nativity_fabric_previewwhich happens to fall close to my own. All are grateful for the pitifully small amount of work I put in, and celebrate my success in managing to live so long without getting some terminal disease or becoming a rabid Islamophobe or frankly losing interest in the whole

circus

human circus. ‘Phone credit for Refugees’, easily the most excitable of my occupations, (whose members I’d never met irl, but who communicate online 24/7 in arcane references, pseudonyms, technical jargon, and a mixture of languages) followed their tradition of getting up a collection for my birthday – for them, not for me, of course; which led to delightful wishes (to me) from at least sixty people who I’d never met as they donated their tenner (to the cause). And threw a party – for Jesus, I suppose rather than me – in a posh place in WC2 and poured me into a taxi at the end. Haringey Migrants’ Support Centre, to whom I owe much more than I could possibly repay since they offer me a share of a room and company and are prepared to pretend that I’m some kind of low-grade lawyer, are throwing a drinks party. I feel amazingly lucky to be at the centre of all this

dolce

La dolce vita

activity when as we  know in the streets of Tottenham, never mind Beirut or Asmara or Brussels huge numbers are suffering, even freezing to death as a direct result of the actions of governments – any governments, the whole wretched lot of them – run by the rich at the expense of the poor.

But you must be used to hearing these rants, and not only from me. Let’s join in hoping (as we always misguidedly do) that the future will be no worse than the past… What are the angels up to? My mother was a particular aficionada of the carol ‘It Came upon the Midnight Clear’, written says Wikipedia by a Methodist pastor ‘at a time of revolution in Europe’ and looking forward clearly to the triumphant arrival of the angels to overthrow the bosses. It didn’t happen then and it’s even less looking like happening now. What blind faith, what foolish optimism keeps us trying to resist, keeping our eyes fixed, not on the angels but on the cold and misery all around us in the hopes that by raising money,making phone calls, selling t-shirts or tote bags, we can make any difference? Have we not just about run out of rhetorical questions? I rest my case, and wish you all as much rest as you can squeeze out of the season. Don’t give up, brothers and sisters, you are not alone – we are many, they are few! Why doesn’t it feel like that?

1. It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.

2. Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o’er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains,
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o’er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.

3. And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!

4. For lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world send back the song
which now the angels sing.

ugh rest

DAY 233: ርሑስ በዓል ልደትን ሓድሽ ዓመትን።

December 11th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

[PS I can't make Tigrinya characters come out on my phone except as question marks. I imagine people whose language actually is Tigrinya must have a workaround, and I wonder if they could share it.]

Hoping as I always do to expand our horizons beyond the narrow confines 0f Western Europe, I’m posting an early Christmas greeting in Tigrinya which I expect you know is one of the two main languages in Eritrea, as well as being spoken by quite a few people in Ethiopia, particularly Eritrean refugees. I know, and some pedant is sure to tell me, that in both the Orthodox and Ge’ez calendars Christmas is some way away, but you might as well start practising your greetings, particularly if you’ve been invited to any

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Eritrean Christmas parties. (Even worse if your Eritrean friends are Pentecostal or Jehovah’s Witnesses and so should be persecuted, and have a right to asylum which you can bet they won’t get.) Reader, I feel, as so often, appallingly ignorant. I thought the ‘refugee crisis’ was limited to the one at my back door, where 1.3 million refugees (roughly) – Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and others arrived in Europe in 2015 and made us feel generous and warm or besieged and hostile depending on our attitude to the Other. What I didn’t know was that a comparable number of Eritreans had already been making their way, via UNHCR’s  camps in Ethiopia, to Europe two years or more before.

Their situation – already in 2013 – was described in a UNHCR report as follows: ‘Eritrean refugees cross into Ethiopia through 16 entry points from which they are collected and brought to a reception station for screening and registration. Before departure from the reception centre, the refugees are issued with basic assistance items, including sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans, water buckets, soap and mosquito nets. They are also provided with tents and food rations once they get to the new camp.

As of the end of May, Ethiopia is hosting 71,833 Eritrean refugees in four camps in Tigray region and two others in the Afar region in north-eastern Ethiopia. Transfers to the new camp are taking place every second day.’ All these thousands, four camps (now five)  of whom I knew nothing; the refugees had to arrive on our doorstep to become a ‘problem’ which I had to worry about.

The huge number of Eritreans were driven not by war but by an

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authoritarian regime and particularly the forced conscription described in the Amnesty report ‘Just Deserters‘ and elsewhere. They have often survived – as you might expect – appalling dangers in Sudan, Libya and Egypt; they have sometimes arrived ironically in the ‘safety’ of Tel Aviv to be treated, naturally, as  dangerous black strangers.  They, like all other refugees, want in the long term to go home; looking out at the sleet driving past the window I felt sure that for an Eritrean something warmer would be preferable.

Their popular poet Keesom Haile, writing in Tigrinya, has been thinking – as I hope we all do. And why not start with Marx and Lenin?

Learning from History

We learned from Marx and Lenin:
To be equal trim your feet
For one-size-fits-all shoes.
We made their mistakes, too.

Equally, we all make mistakes.
The evil is in not being corrected
Aren’t we known
By what we do, undo and do again?

 

DAY 232: Incredible

December 7th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Ages ago, I started getting fascinated by the law, reading textbooks on tort and cases and so on; and (I was helping a friend with exams) studying old exam papers; in which things happened like:

‘On 31 December 2014, Jez was delivering some boxes of dental equipment to various addresses in Midshire. He was accompanied by his 18-year-old nephew, Lionel, who sometimes used to join Jez on his days off from college to keep him company. It was getting late in the afternoon, and Jez still had two deliveries to make. Lionel was keen to get home in order to go out that evening to a party. He, therefore, suggested to Jez that he use a short-cut, which involved driving down a short length of road restricted to use by buses and taxis only. Jez at first hesitated but, encouraged by Lionel, Jez agreed to do so. Halfway along the road Jez, who was driving too fast, lost control

van

of the van and collided with a bus coming the opposite way. Lionel, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown forward into the windscreen, which shattered. He suffered serious cuts to his face and now wishes to bring an action to recover damages for his injuries.’

What fun! Which cases did you have to remember were involved so as to decide whether Jez and Lionel could somehow escape the consequences of their folly and negligence, and carry on delivering dental equipment in Midshire without being banned as they deserved? I loved studying it; and I loved it even more ten years later when, getting serious, I took a course in Refugee Law, watching the Home Secretary getting clobbered for her failure to observe the Refugee Convention as it applied to A.H. or M.M. and trying to see how it might apply to P.Q. Needless to say, readers, I passed with flying colours (you can read some of my works from the period in the margin if you can be bothered).

Did I get a job as a refugee lawyer as a result? Get real, readers. In the first place, I was seventy, and who’d take me on for training? In the second place, there are no jobs anyway, in law as anywhere else. I have to tell you that, after a year’s hard graft and many disappointments, I’ve finally got a place working as a humble volunteer with some really fun lawyers, and I’ve made a couple of discoveries which I can share with you. (More to come, no doubt.) I’d welcome your views.

Law is not about cases. It’s about stationery. You have to deal with an unmanageable pile of papers going back maybe ten years. Most of what’s been said, according to the judges, who should know, is in those papers, and it’s incredible (hence the title of this post in case you were wondering), and you’re supposed to make it sound credible. You have to organise the papers in plastic folders, held by paper clips, oh how can you keep them separate? Get some more folders. Is the photocopier working? Get some coffee and don’t spill it. Why is that document dated 2009, it should be 2012? Why are those tenancy papers in among the leave to remain ones? Get a grip.

There are mysterious people called ‘clients’. By a convenient fiction, they”re supposed to be what it’s all really about (you’re trying to do something for them, to fight their corner); but they don’t turn up for appointments, having no credit on their phone, living in Ealing, having got the flu, not having got your message anyway. The moments of contact between lawyer and client are indeed the ideal which we strive for; but the contact is mostly via the photocopier and the voicemail.

I sort of feel it was different in the days of Atticus Finch.

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Anyway, having just, for the first time, met a ‘client’ (I’m professionally bound not to tell you what happened, but it didn’t involve sex or alcohol), I have more of an idea if what ‘it”s about. I expect next time will be different. As Auden pointed out, law isn’t what you expect.

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.