DAY 59

September 13th, 2013 § 0 comments

Let’s take a breathing space. Urged to present the case against the iniquitous Prawer Plan (you know, the one which involves depriving most of the Beduin in the Naqab/Negev of their lands, and demolishing their houses

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 23.31.18
– but more of that later) by some; and besieged by requests for obituaries, most recently of Seamus Heaney; I thought in a spirit of good news, it would be better to start by listing some people who hadn’t died. (I was going to list some iniquitous plans the Israeli Government hadn’t adopted, but couldn’t think of any.) So:

1. Chuck Berry, obviously.

2. The Queen.

3. B. B. King (this is going to be easy).

4. Jean-Paul Belmondo.

belmondo(Tragically I learn that Jean Seberg died in 1979 – barbiturate overdose, says Wik. Whom the gods love.)

5. Chico Hamilton (Born 1921, so older than the Queen, and Chuck Berry for that matter).

6. Lulu

7. Joe Hill.

8. Elvis Presley.

More to follow. The rock stars seem to be easiest – they just go on and on long after you’d have thought their life-style would have wiped them out. Is the same true of tenors? More research needed.

Holding our breath while the Russians have apparently outmanoeuvred the ‘let’s bomb Syria’ axis, we should include at least some of George Monbiot’s Guardian piece (9th September), one of his best:

You could almost pity these people. For 67 years successive US governments have resisted calls to reform the UN security council. They’ve defended a system which grants five nations a veto over world affairs, reducing all others to impotent spectators. They have abused the powers and trust with which they have been vested. They have collaborated with the other four permanent members (the UK, Russia, China and France) in a colonial carve-up, through which these nations can pursue their own corrupt interests at the expense of peace and global justice.

Eighty-three times the US has exercised its veto. On 42 of these occasions it has done so to prevent Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians being censured. On the last occasion, 130 nations supported the resolution but Barack Obama spiked it. Though veto powers have been used less often since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the US has exercised them 14 times in the interim (in 13 cases to shield Israel), while Russia has used them nine times. Increasingly the permanent members have used the threat of a veto to prevent a resolution being discussed. They have bullied the rest of the world into silence.

Through this tyrannical dispensation – created at a time when other nations were either broken or voiceless – the great warmongers of the past 60 years remain responsible for global peace. The biggest weapons traders are tasked with global disarmament. Those who trample international law control the administration of justice.

But now, as the veto powers of two permanent members (Russia and China) obstruct its attempt to pour petrol on another Middle Eastern fire, the US suddenly decides that the system is illegitimate. Obama says: “If we end up using the UN security council not as a means of enforcing international norms and international law, but rather as a barrier … then I think people rightly are going to be pretty skeptical about the system.” Well, yes.

Never have Obama or his predecessors attempted a serious reform of this system. Never have they sought to replace a corrupt global oligarchy with a democratic body. Never do they lament this injustice – until they object to the outcome. The same goes for every aspect of global governance.

Obama warned last week that Syria’s use of poisoned gas “threatens to unravel the international norm against chemical weapons embraced by 189 nations“. Unravelling the international norm is the US president’s job.

In 1997 the US agreed to decommission the 31,000 tonnes of sarinVX,mustard gas and other agents it possessed within 10 years. In 2007 it requested the maximum extension of the deadline permitted by the Chemical Weapons Convention – five years. Again it failed to keep its promise, and in 2012 it claimed they would be gone by 2021. Russia yesterday urged Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control. Perhaps it should press the US to do the same.

In 1998 the Clinton administration pushed a law through Congress which forbade international weapons inspectors from taking samples of chemicals in the US and allowed the president to refuse unannounced inspections. In 2002 the Bush government forced the sacking of José Maurício Bustani, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He had committed two unforgiveable crimes: seeking a rigorous inspection of US facilities; and pressing Saddam Hussein to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, to help prevent the war George Bush was itching to wage.

The US used millions of gallons of chemical weapons in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It also used them during its destruction of Falluja in 2004, then lied about it. The Reagan government helped Saddam Hussein to wage war with Iran in the 1980s while aware that he was using nerve and mustard gas. (The Bush administration then cited this deployment as an excuse to attack Iraq, 15 years later).

Smallpox has been eliminated from the human population, but two nations – the US and Russia – insist on keeping the pathogen in cold storage. They claim their purpose is to develop defences against possible biological weapons attack, but most experts in the field consider this to be nonsense. While raising concerns about each other’s possession of the disease, they have worked together to bludgeon the other members of the World Health Organisation, which have pressed them to destroy their stocks.

In 2001 the New York Times reported that, without either Congressional oversight or a declaration to the Biological Weapons Convention, “the Pentagon has built a germ factory that could make enough lethal microbes to wipe out entire cities“. The Pentagon claimed the purpose was defensive but, developed in contravention of international law, it didn’t look good. The Bush government also sought to destroy the Biological Weapons Convention as an effective instrument by scuttling negotiations over the verification protocol required to make it work.

Looming over all this is the great unmentionable: the cover the US provides for Israel’s weapons of mass destruction. It’s not just that Israel – which refuses to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention – has used white phosphorus as a weapon in Gaza (when deployed against people, phosphorus meets the convention’s definition of “any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm”).

It’s also that, as the Washington Post points out: “Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile results from a never-acknowledged gentleman’s agreement in the Middle East that as long as Israel had nuclear weapons, Syria’s pursuit of chemical weapons would not attract much public acknowledgement or criticism.” Israel has developed its nuclear arsenal in defiance of the non-proliferation treaty, and the US supports it in defiance of its own law, which forbids the disbursement of aid to a country with unauthorised weapons of mass destruction.

As for the norms of international law, let’s remind ourselves where the US stands. It remains outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, after declaring its citizens immune from prosecution. The crime of aggression it committed in Iraq – defined by the Nuremberg tribunal as “the supreme international crime” – goes not just unpunished but also unmentioned by anyone in government. The same applies to most of the subsidiary war crimes US troops committed during the invasion and occupation. Guantánamo Bay raises a finger to any notions of justice between nations.

None of this is to exonerate Bashar al-Assad’s government – or its opponents – of a long series of hideous crimes, including the use of chemical weapons. Nor is it to suggest that there is an easy answer to the horrors in Syria.

But Obama’s failure to be honest about his nation’s record of destroying international norms and undermining international law, his myth-making about the role of the US in world affairs, and his one-sided interventions in the Middle East, all render the crisis in Syria even harder to resolve. Until there is some candour about past crimes and current injustices, until there is an effort to address the inequalities over which the US presides, everything it attempts – even if it doesn’t involve guns and bombs – will stoke the cynicism and anger the president says he wants to quench.

During his first inauguration speech Barack Obama promised to “set aside childish things”. We all knew what he meant. He hasn’t done it.

Resisting the temptation to give my recipe for tarte tatin 

tatin(easy, I don’t have one), here are the answers to my other two questions.

2. Q. Why is the sky blue in the daytime?

A. In the daytime, most of the light which reaches us come from the sun, I expect you’ll agree. However, the light has to pass through the atmosphere. This is thin (forgive the childish language), but does have the odd molecule of gas here and there; so that, while most of the sun’s light rays reach you directly – I can’t find the percentage – some hit a gas molecule and get bent or ‘scattered’.

At this point, I have to ask for forgiveness again – which just shows that things are never as easy as you think. Anyone will tell you that light gets scattered; and that blue light gets scattered more; and that that’s why the sky appears blue. This is obviously inadequate. Why does the light get ‘scattered’ by the molecules anyway? What is it to be scattered? And so on. The only explanation I’ve found which treats the reader like an adult, without simply throwing formulae at her, is here; and it’s pretty technical, with some hard stuff about dipole moments and so on.

blueskybut some nice pictures.

3. Q. Why do fools fall in love? Here, rather than the superficial freudian analysis you probably expected of me, I’d suggest that we draw on Alain Badiou, the admirer of Lenin, Haydn, St Paul and Abelard. Centring on the encounter which initiates the fall, he points out that:

‘the encounter is, in effect, the name of the amorous chance, inasmuch as it initiates the supplement. It is, of course, the encounter guided by the obscure star of the object, but in excess of it, since it goes straight to that aspect of the object from which the subject draws its little bit of being. And, through a reversal contained completely in the declaration “I love you” (it’s you I love, and not exclusively the object you carry), love comes to assert — this is its constituent excess — that it is from the being of the subject that the object, as cause of desire, has the singularity of its presentation, and finally the charm of its appearance.’ (lacanian ink vol. 22).

I think that this is more limpid and comprehensible than the answers to the other two questions; even if it doesn’t help you or any other love-struck fool.

My classicist friends have drawn my attention to the possibility of getting the news in Latin via the programme ‘Nuntii Latini‘ from Finland, of all places. As they say, ‘Audi Nuntios Latinos per interrete. Programmata circa unum mensem audiri possunt. Potes programmata etiam in tuo computatro deponere.’ How have they been treating the Berlusconi story, that typical Roman chronicle? I look forward to news programmes in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse.

Today’s poem is inspired by the heartbreaking news – back to obits – that Brian Sollitt, the inventor of the After Eight (and the Yorkie bar! which seems an unlikely combination) has died, aged 74. Same age as me and Seamus Heaney, I don’t suppose that means anything.  So, anyway, here’s the poem, by Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye; a doctor in Harley Street, but we shouldn’t hold that against him.

Untitled I (2010)

I am not, you see, a poet
but, sometimes, after eight
I wonder if I might be

My allusions are transparent
it is all apparent
most of the time
my lines do not rhyme

My images do not soar
on the winds of heaven
high above the places
where condors might dare
or bind you in beauty
that sears like lightning
until you cry out with joy

The music of my phrases
falls short of symphonic
my words do not take you
to that golden place, that golden place
where you may find, you,
every poem that will be written
every poem that will be written

I am not, you see, a poet
but, sometimes, after eight
I wonder if I might be.

Music: I’ve held out for ever so long against demands to play Ray Ventura’s ‘Tout Va Très Bien Madame la Marquise’ the anthem of the Popular Front. Why? Here it is.

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