DAY 62 A Modest Proposal

September 29th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

More on the petition addicts.

Day after day I get loads of emails – as you do, I’m sure, gentle reader.

Trompe-l'oeil-letter-rack-with-a-miniature-portrait-of-a-young-man-in-armour,-1697Trompe l’oeil of a letter rack

But recently, instead of offering me rewarding, if unpaid, employment in international human rights law (say), they are increasingly the genre of ‘junk petitions’ which I have so often complained about, starting with post 2, about a year ago. These  outfits have, this week, sent me two petitions to sign EVERY DAY. They are for causes so obviously admirable and anodyne (e.g. the NHS) that any other old fart in my street would sign them too. So, LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY! I would say, apply a filter and only send me petitions which I’d sign and others wouldn’t (universal nuclear disarmament, including Israel; a national minimum wage for single mothers; free beer and tobacco rations for jobseekers; pay reparations for slavery to the Caribbean countries; nationalize the banks, the electricity, the railways, Ryanair, and the fashion industry). But regarding this as utopian, here’s my suggestion. There are about six of you organizations – Avaaz, Causes,, 38 Degrees, usw. – sending out a stream of this stuff 24/7. You should, to economize on your efforts and lower my blood-pressure:

1. All meet together (say in a bar in Dalston) every Sunday night.

2. Decide on one good cause which you think is really important for the week ahead, to the exclusion of all other causes.

3. On the next day (Monday), send one email to the recipients on your lists whipping them up into a frenzy about this cause and exhorting them to sign a petition about it.

4. LEAVE EVERYONE ALONE for the rest of the week.

It doesn’t look too difficult, does it? Why do I think it won’t happen?

At the Movies

Your critic this week went to see Margarethe von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt, a’difficult’ film about ideas, radical evil, and the influence of what has been called the ‘Jewish lobby’ in the USA back in the sixties. However, from the start he was distracted from paying attention to the découpage by the fact by the fact that it was the first film he had seen with a warning that it contained scenes of smoking. Quite rightly: the tough-minded theoretician was shown lighting up more or less continuously, in lectures even (remember those days?) – and surrounded by a circle of friends all sharing her habit. (Except for her pipe-smoking husband Heinrich.) Many of the audience were feeling restless and toying with their lighters well before the end.I suspect a ploy to endear Arendt to the smoking minority, particularly since Eichmann was not shown smoking. In which case, the character blew it by telling the New Yorker editor that his readers should learn Greek.

A message from Desmond Tutu (pictured below, with our other celebrity contributor, Alice Walker)

(On the Syrian refugee crisis. For more facts, see here.)

Noor – not her real name – is a heavily pregnant 22 year old Syrian with an air of relief about her. Just two weeks ago she arrived, hungry and exhausted, to the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, with her three children in tow.

Hunger finally did what continuous violence hadn’t so far and forced the family from their home because there simply was no more food to be had. They trudged for five nights to escape their homeland, afraid to travel during the day for fear of shelling.

Noor carefully holds her baby in the camp, Yazan (also not his real name), who is thin. Too thin. Diagnosed with severe calcium deficiency, Yazan has yet to develop any teeth – despite being over a year old.

Since the war started in Syria, the country has slowly disintegrated. More than one-third of hospitals have been destroyed, according to the World Health Organisation. According to Save the Children, 3,900 schools have been destroyed, damaged or are occupied for non-educational purposes since the start of the conflict.

Syria today is no place for a child and, outrageously, over one million have already been forced to flee with their families to camps and host communities in neighbouring countries. Those are the lucky ones: for thousands upon thousands have already been killed. Where is the outrage?

save_the_children_syriaAnd every child forced out of education, or forced to flee, or whose development is stunted like little Yazan’s because of this conflict is a thorn in our collective conscience. The international community is not only failing to bring a peaceful end to this conflict but we are compounding that failure by neglecting to address its dreadful consequences. In our failure to ensure that people in Syria are getting the food and basic supplies they need, we condemn children to hunger on top of the horrors of war.

Families trapped inside Syria are today witnessing some of the worst violence yet seen in the two-and-a-half year conflict. Whole families cannot get access to the aid they desperately need and when their voices are heard they tell of a desperate struggle to survive, living under bombardment, the threat of violence and ever dwindling supplies as the war chokes Syrian cities.

The situation is bleak for families trying to feed their children. Save the Children this week releases a report that shows how a lack of food combined with soaring prices is exposing the children of Syria to a serious risk of malnutrition. Until recently a food exporter, now four million Syrians – half of them children – are in need of emergency food assistance. As the destruction continues, this number will grow: children who three years ago could rely on with three healthy meals a day will now go to bed hungry, afraid, and all too aware that they have been abandoned by the world outside. There are already cases of children dying in Syria because they couldn’t get enough food or medical support. Where is the outrage?

Even where there is food available, Syrians face an appalling choice: slide into hunger or put themselves in the line of fire. There are widespread reports of people being targeted while queuing for bread. Imagine it: hungry, desperate and under fire.

At the United Nations General Assembly this week, our leaders must recognize the human cost of this war. They must recognize the need to use their global platform to bring the world’s attention to this crisis and get agreement for lifesaving aid to get to all those in need throughout Syria. They must recognize our outrage over how thousands of our bright and innocent children are being flung into the chasm of human hatred.

In Syria, they have an old saying: a narrow place can contain a thousand friends. The children of Syria are in a narrow, dark place. We must be their friends. We must get them help. And we must end this war.


What Does It Take To Be Happy?
© 2013 by Alice Walker

Even on those days
the news is fully bad.
And all you can do is get out of bed

and failing that
give thanks you have a bed not to get out of.

What does it take to make us smile
when we feel the sword of anger
and hatred
sharp against the backs
of our peaceful necks?

What does it take
to make us stand together
as if we just grew that way?

What does it take to know
the day of peace and justice
will one day come?

No matter who
is so badly
directing traffic?

What does it take
to feel a joy so strong
you can almost levitate?

All it takes, really,
is presence,
knowing that you, and those who feel
as you do,

ignoring roadblocks

will arrive.

Will brave the flights, the slights,
the nights of wondering
if and why:

the years of pain sometimes required
to know
where it is most essential
to appear.

Back to Iran for our music corner;  a rather brief piece described as ‘Hamidreza Afarideh – Shayda Ebadat Doost : Kamancheh Duet‘ 

and the more popular ‘Song of Gaza




DAY 61: Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?

September 26th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Having started branching out in exotic languages, I thought I’d try Aramaic, allegedly spoken by Our Lord and most Palestinians around that time and accordingly used in Mel Gibson’s bloodstained biopic The Passion of the Christ.  » Read the rest of this entry «

DAY 60 Eст, стреляет, и отходит

September 19th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s always happening in bars, this eat-shoot-leave pattern, and pandas aren’t the only offenders. » Read the rest of this entry «

DAY 59

September 13th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

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.

DAY 58 – We won!

September 4th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

No, comrades, I’m not referring to the fact that the Lacan of the Premier League, resisting the temptations of a shopping splurge during the transfer window, has nonetheless seen Arsenal achieve a resounding 1-0 defeat of the spendthrifts from White Hart  Lane.







(In the sage’s own words: ‘They try very hard (to bridge the gap) of course, that is normal. In our job, there is always a technical risk when you buy more than three players because you unbalance a little bit the stability of your squad.’)

Rather, this post is a reflection on last Thursday’s vote in the House of Commons, and the possible renewal of British politics. The backdrop to the vote was, after all, the news that 70% of the public were opposed to air strikes; and this was underlined by MPs  – notably Jack Straw – who recalled the lies which had fuelled the case for the Iraq war, and who didn’t see how they could be asked to accept a case which had every chance of being just as mendacious, simply because the US demanded it. It was heartwarming after the vote that thousands marched past the House of Commons shouting ‘We won’ – hence this post’s title; not so much because of the particular vote as because of the ten years’ uphill struggle since the original march in 2003 to make public hostility to such pointless and dangerous military adventures count for something.

Predictably, parliamentary hacks such as Lord Ashdown have claimed that Britain would ‘lose influence’ by not It was, of course, heartwarming joining in a US led offensive, as it has so often in the past. (Remember the last time a British government kept out of a US led war was in Vietnam, in the 1970s. Was our world status diminished as a result?) On the contrary, most of those polled said a) the vote wouldn’t affect relations with the US and b) they wouldn’t care if it did. The Green speaker in Trafalgar Square on Sunday (who was she? I can’t find the report) proposed that Britain should open a new era of influence in world affairs by stepping up humanitarian aid, stopping arms sales, and scrapping Trident. Sounds a good start.


This leaves, of course, the question of whether the US and its new ‘oldest ally’ France will take action. But increasingly they seem to be getting bogged down in domestic law which demands that the executive can’t just go ahead and wage wars without some ‘popular’ endorsement; and international law, which lays down those old rules for war to be ‘legal’: self-defence (not really), or UN Security Council endorsement (they won’t get the support of the Russians and the Chinese, having fooled them in Libya). See interminable discussion on ‘Opiniojuris

cvr2-goya-disasters-of-war-3The disasters of war (Goya)

Enough. I’m now falling into a state of despair about keeping abreast of events, since facts on the ground – and in the air – seem to be proceeding faster than I can type, as idle as I am and cramped in the fingers with it. Worst, my opening salvo about parsimony in the Premier League has been negated by the news that Arsenal have splashed out a breathtaking £42.4 m. for one Mesut Ozil. ‘To have or to Be?’ I hear you say, echoing the words of Erich Fromm. Surely the Poznan Homeless World Cup could have provided better bargains – even if the Mexican goalkeeper who’s cited as saying ‘Losing shouldn’t make you feel bad’ might not be popular at the Emirates.

So, let’s move on to those questions whose answers don’t change from day to day, three of which I raised recently. I promised to deal with them – unwisely. Particularly the first, ‘Why is the sky dark at night?’ This seems to have been raised by Kepler, but for some reason is known as Olbers’ Paradox after some 19th century dude. The point being that there are stars in every direction you look; so there should be light coming at you from all those directions; so it should be as bright as day.

Here I have landed myself deeper than I thought. While perfectly competent to explain why there are 7-dimensional spheres which are not like the standard 7-dimensional sphere (just boasting), it seems from Wiki a


nd other well-informed sources that the explanation of Olbers is still a bit fragmentary. No exact figures. What we have are two facts, and I suppose I believe them:

1. The Universe has finite age. (Genesis 1.)

2. Light has finite velocity. (Ole Rømer, 1676.)

I can see that these facts help – if you look far enough in any direction, you go back so far in the past that there’s nothing there, if you see what I mean. I can’t give much more ‘explanation’ than that, but maybe some astronomer among the small but select group of readers of these pages can do better.

Never mind. One of Rilke’s poems to, or about, God:

 Alles wird wieder groß sein und gewaltig.

Alles wird wieder groß sein und gewaltig.
Die Lande einfach und die Wasser faltig,
die Bäume riesig und sehr klein die Mauern;
und in den Tälern, stark und vielgestaltig,
ein Volk von Hirten und von Ackerbauern.

Und keine Kirchen, welche Gott umklammern
wie einen Flüchtling und ihn dann bejammern
wie ein gefangenes und wundes Tier, –
die Häuser gastlich allen Einlassklopfern
und ein Gefühl von unbegrenztem Opfern
in allem Handeln und in dir und mir.

Kein Jenseitswarten und kein Schaun nach drüben,
nur Sehnsucht, auch den Tod nicht zu entweihn
und dienend sich am Irdischen zu üben,
um seinen Händen nicht mehr neu zu sein.

English (in my version it’s attributed to ‘Admin’. Not this Admin, mate!

All will come again into its strength:
the fields undivided, the waters undammed,
the trees towering and the walls built low.
And in the valleys, people as strong and varied as the land.

And no churches where God
is imprisoned and lamented
like a trapped and wounded animal.
The houses welcoming all who knock
and a sense of boundless offering
in all relations, and in you and me.

No yearning for an afterlife, no looking beyond,
no belittling of death,
but only longing for what belongs to us
and serving earth, lest we remain unused.

Today’s classic anti-war song comes from Country Joe & the Fish; I don’t think it’s often been bettered.



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