Day 73 Happy 29th Kiahk!

December 27th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

I expect that many of my readers think that I’m becoming increasingly slovenly in my observance of religious festivals. It wouldn’t be surprising, given my advancing years, and the number of other things I’ve had to think about, such as the danger of mass immigration (see previous post). But this is far from the truth. You, friends, along with your benighted neighbours in the Roman church, not to mention the C of E, the Methodists, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Dutch Reformed Church and what not, may all celebrate the Nativity on the 25th December, and therefore think that I’ve forgotten to mention this important festival. But have you considered the equally valid position of the Copts,

nativity-icon1Serbian nativity icon

the Orthodox (Greek, Russia and indeed Bulgarian), the Ethiopians, the Jacobites and Nestorians? I think not. Many of these admirable people tend to observe the Nativity on or about the 7th January, the problem being the usual one about Pope Gregory XIII who reformed the calendar to some peoples’ satisfaction (but not to all) in the sixteenth century. The problem, you will recall, was the need to drop a leap year about every century, since ‘the equinoctial year (or solar year), which is the time the earth takes to revolve around the sun from equinox to equinox, was slightly shorter than the Julian year – in fact, 365.2422 solar days. Back in trouble with time again.

In the Coptic calendar, the 25th December (old style) is the 29th Kiahk, hence the greeting above; and you’ll find a hard-hitting discussion of the whole question at a Coptic webpage; which poses many awkward questions, such as: ‘Is it necessary that the liturgical calendar be adjusted to a scientifically correct solar year?’ What do you have to say to that, Mr Welby?

Anyway, whatever you’re celebrating (if you’re still reading this), enjoy your celebrations. Particularly if you’re a devout Armenian and have been fasting for a week. On Christmas Eve, Wikipedia informs me, you can let yourself go and have rice, fish, nevik (նուիկ, a vegetable dish of green chard and chick peas), and yogurt/wheat soup (tanabur, թանապուր). Don’t overdo it.

Meanwhile, if you live in London (U.K.), and are passing along Piccadilly, W.1., stop and  look at the life-size image of the Separation Wall that has been put up by the ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’ project at St James’ Church. ImageGen.ashxAnd you can draw on it!

Forgiveness seems to be very much à la mode in this festive season, with Preident Putin pardoning almost everyone, including Pussy Riot; and the Queen pardoning (sixty years late) Alan Turing. For the wrong reasons, as the New Statesman pointed out, i.e. if he hadn’t been a brilliant genius and saved us during the war, his conviction for gross indecency would remain. And in any case, the ‘pardon’ doesn’t overturn the conviction, as we can see in the case of the Armed Forces Act 2006 – which pardons those who were shot for cowardice etc. etc. while leaving the convictions in place. When are the Americans going to get into the pardoning game? What about Chelsea Manning, or even Edward Snowden?

Who incidentally sent an alternative Christmas message on Channel 4. You have quite a pick of such messages this year: we need time for quiet and reflection (the queen), we should stop being greedy and selfish (Welby), we should stop having wars (the Pope). Is anyone listening? No, our island is ruled by a coalition of Scrooge and the Grinch.

235px-The_Grinch_(That_Stole_Christmas)The Grinch

Why have they failed to stop DFS from selling all through the season?

Moving on from the last posting’s Bulgarian theme: the hysteria about Romanian immigrants is presumably linked to the British theory which connects Romanians with vampirism; and supposes that there will be unreasonable demands on the NHS from neck-wounds and such. As a whole series of recent movies have shown, we have more to fear from American teenagers than from Romanian counts these days. Let’s then turn, having cited the lessons we can learn from the Bulgarians, to the Romanian surrealists Gellu Naum and Gherasim Luca, who in 1940 were already trying to correct some of André Breton’s well-known excesses. To quote their manifesto:

Love. The Eroticization of the Working Class. “The Non-Oedipal Stand”

As a “general revolutionary method specific to surrealism”, love makes understanding the world possible. All the known states of love are both accepted and left behind, given the dialectic spirit: libertinism, unique love, complex-bound love, the psycho-pathology of love. Treading in the steps of Sade, Engels, Freud and Breton, accredited as authorities in the field, the Romanian surrealists proclaim “love freed from its social and individual, psychological and theoretical, religious or sentimental constraints,” whose characteristic features are “methodical exasperation”, “unlimited development”, “breathtaking fascination”.

Taking as an example the verbal construction “objective hazard”, they introduce a new phrase, as hazardous as can be: “objective love”, “dialecticized and materialized”. It goes without saying that such love would also have some social scope, which surrealists always try not to leave out:

“Even in its most immediate aspects, we believe that the boundless eroticization of the proletariat is the most precious warrant that can be found to ensure them a real revolutionary development in the miserable era we are traversing.”’

I can see that you don’t want such people hanging around the jobcentre, in this miserable era.

To cite a sample poem:

“Tell me how much you can hate

so that I know

if the volcanoes still have


The fever of your earrings

heralds the night

Your little smile

like a crab in an Attic combat

sleeps in my eye

like in a mold.”

(I can’t find the original; and my attempt at publishing an original Romanian poem by Mariana Codrut turned out to be potentially suspect.)

While here is a charitable recording of Romanian gipsy music. Let’s hear more of this in the streets of London in 2014!




Day 72.2 Samaritans

December 23rd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The other day I had a Good Samaritan experience, as I expect they are called. They are becoming more frequent in this country, and those who have them (as opposed to near-death experiences, or alien kidnappings)

langettiLangetti (that’s the current attribution, but the authorities seem to keep changing their minds):  ‘The Good Samaritan’. At the Holburne Art Museum, Bath.

are asked to text DEED, with an account of the experience and an expression of gratitude, to the popular journal ‘Metro’. I tried this, but haven’t yet seen any record of my text in print. So here, Sam, in case you are reading this: Many thanks for picking me up off the pavement when I had tripped in the rain and the dark and fallen over yet again, and was cursing profusely. You (I still mean Sam) helped me to a seat at a nearby café while you fetched a car, gave me a lift home, and even laid some Nurofen on me. Kindly people clustered around, advising me to put something on my cuts, go to bed, and steer well clear of A & E departments. As the neoliberals kill off our welfare system, the Samaritans are being forced to take over the services; maybe they should organize as a combination of church, trade union, and political party; and we/they could arrange joint conferences with the university of an-Najah in Nablus (where Jesus met the much-married Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well).

My attempts to keep up with the unending round of religious and pseudo-religious festivals has come another cropper owing to the unusually early date of Hanukah this year – three weeks and more before Christmas. Hanukah Harry must be long gone. Meanwhile, in a variant on the Samaritan theme, I hear news that increasing numbers of children are responding (moral blackmail from schools, or parents?) by opting to turn down the offer of an XBox One in favour of a goat, a snow leopard, or even a working well in an African village. But then, I hear you say, how will we keep them quiet on Christmas day? (It would be different if you had the physical snow leopard in the house – I expect the whole household would be quiet enough, what was left of them.)


Today I found myself with vast amounts of leftovers – not, of course, due to Christmas nor Hanukah (see above), but a party to celebrate my birthday, and my  sister’s safe return from South Sudan. Just in time, given the recent outbreak of fighting there

South Sudan ViolenceRefugees arriving at the UN compound in Juba

which featured the charismatic Riek Machar, who had previously – long ago – married the late Emma McCune, who had stayed for a few months with my mother, who… But I digress. The leftovers I was referring to (I expect you’d forgotten them) included about a litre of pheasant stock and some spinach. So, rather than dining on reheated sausage rolls and mince pies, I pirated Claudia Roden for the following recipe.

Spinach and Lentil Soup

Cook (say) a cup of brown lentils in a litre of pheasant stock (or, of course, any other liquid, but pheasant stock is what I had). When they are soft, fry a cup of chopped leftover spring onions – you can use ordinary onions, but that also is what I had – in olive oil. I recommend’Zaytoun’ Palestinian oil for flavour and political correctness – cheap substitutes will probably not be the real thing anyway, says my brother, who’s an olive farmer. Add some cumin seeds, to be safe. When the onions are golden, add a packet of washed spinach (Stop asking ‘How big a packet? This is cookery, not mathematics). Turn the gas down low, and cook the spinach till it’s done, wet and sad-looking. Add to the lentils, and season with salt and chilli powder to taste. I wouldn’t overdo the chilli, but that’s me. Mix well, simmer a bit more, and serve.

Stars, following.

Listening, perhaps for the first time, to the story of the three wise men or Magi (Matthew 2), I became troubled by an obvious question which may have struck others among my readers.

1. The Wise Men came from the east.

2. They saw a star in the east, and followed it.

Why, then, did they head west to Palestine, rather than east, to Iran (say), or China?

This blog would welcome any suggestions.

[A Mormon reader points out that you can actually get to the West by going East – cf Christopher Columbus, but vice versa, if you see what I mean. So the Wise Men could have headed east, following the star, and arrived at Bethlehem. A long journey, on just the worst night of the year; they’d have had to cross the whole of Asia, the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and the North American continent. Could it be, asks my reader, that they fetched up at Bethlehem, PA? I was referred to the third book of Nephi, but haven’t yet got round to checking it out.]

Finally, being as concerned as the rest of you that we are insufficiently prepared to welcome 100,000 penniless Bulgarians to our shores on the first of January, perhaps this extract of Bulgarian techno will make them feel at home. I’m told that Bulgaria’s population of 7.36 million people is predominantly urbanised; that’s less than the population of London, and used to city life. Why are we worrying? We accommodated all those penniless Russian aristocrats in the 1920s, even finding them picturesque. добре дошъл, folks! Groove to my sounds!

While this poem, by Nikola Vaptsarov, poet, communist and revolutionary. (executed in 1942), could serve either as a warning of what to expect in the UK, or an encouragement to struggle against it.

Factory (завод)

Nikola Vaptsarov 1909-1942

A factory, Clouds of smoke above.
The people – simple,
The life – hard, boring.
Life with the mask and grease-paint off
Is a savage dog snarling.

You must tirelessly fight,
Must be tough and persist,
To extract from the teeth
Of the angry,
bristling beast
A crust.

Slapping belts in the shed,
Screeching shafts overhead,
And the air is so stale
You can’t easily

Not far off the spring breeze
Rocks the fields, the sun calls…
Leaning skyward
the trees
The factory walls.
How unwanted,
And strange
are the fields !
     have thrown in the dustbin
The sky and its dreams.
For to stray for a second
Or soften your heart,
Is to lose to no purpose
Your strong
You must shout in the clatter
And din of machines
For your words
to pass over
The spaces between.

I shouted for years –
An eternity …
I gathered the others too shouted in chorus –
The factory,
the machinery
And the man
in the farthest,
darkest corner.
This shout forged an alloy of steel
And we armoured our life with its plate.
Just try putting
a spoke in the wheel –
It’s your own hand you’ll break.

You, factory,
Still seek to blind us
With smoke and soot,
Layer on layer.
In vain! For you teach us to struggle.
We’ll bring
The sun
Down to us here.

So many
Under your tyranny smart.
But one heart within you tirelessly
Beats with a thousand hearts.

Day 72 (back on track?)

December 15th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink



This is a time of (limited) celebration for the Bedouin – who, you will remember from some months back – faced the expropriation of their land and the forcible transfer of tens of thousands from 35 unrecognized villages in the Naqab (Negev)131212-prawer-plan

Day 71

December 7th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

What can I add? Already a large part of every paper is given over to Mandela, his achievements, the public mourning, the messages from Bush, Cameron and the rest.

pbondmandela0624-240This when I don’t need to recall that the same purveyors of messages described Mandela as a terrorist thirty years ago. But that’s a very long time in politics.

Perhaps best to quote the message of Israel’s best-known long-term prisoner, which simply makes the parallel. (He doesn’t mention the long-term alliance of the Israeli government with the apartheid regime, which again seems to belong to the distant past – but which was once crucial for both states.)

Message of Marwan Barghouthi, following the announcement of Mandela’s death

Hadarim Prison, December 6, 2013

“Our freedom seems possible because you reached yours” 

During the long years of my own struggle, I had the occasion to think many times of you, dear Nelson Mandela. Even more since my arrest in 2002. I think of a man who spent 27 years in a prison cell, only to demonstrate that freedom was within him before becoming a reality his people could enjoy. I think of his capacity to defy oppression and apartheid, but also to defy hatred and to choose justice over vengeance.

Barghouthi appearing in a Tel Aviv court in 2002. (Photo: AP)

Barghouthi appearing in a Tel Aviv court in 2002. (Photo: AP)

How many times did you doubt the outcome of this struggle? How many times did you ask yourself if justice will prevail? How many times did you wonder why is the world so silent? How many times did you wonder whether your enemy could ever become your partner? At the end, your will proved unbreakable making your name one of the most shining names of freedom.

You are much more than an inspiration. You must have known, the day you came out of prison, that you were not only writing history, but contributing to the triumph of light over darkness, and yet you remained humble. And you carried a promise far beyond the limits of your countries’ borders, a promise that oppression and injustice will be vanquished, paving the way to freedom and peace. In my prison cell, I remind myself daily of this quest, and all sacrifices become bearable by the sole prospect that one day the Palestinian people will also be able to enjoy freedom, return and independence, and this land will finally enjoy peace.

(Image: IMEU)

(Image: IMEU)

You became an icon to allow your cause to shine and to impose itself on the international stage. Universality to counter isolation. You became a symbol around which all those who believe in the universal values that found your struggle could rally, mobilise and act. Unity is the law of victory for oppressed people. The tiny cell and the hours of forced labor, the solitude and the darkness, did not prevent you from seeing the horizon and sharing your vision. Your country has become a lighthouse and we, as Palestinians, are setting sails to reach its shores.

You said “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. And from within my prison cell, I tell you our freedom seems possible because you reached yours. Apartheid did not prevail in South Africa, and Apartheid shall not prevail in Palestine. We had the great privilege to welcome in Palestine a few months ago, your comrade and companion in struggle Ahmed Kathrada, who launched, following this visit, the International Campaign for the freedom of Palestinian prisoners from your own cell, where an important part of universal history was shaped, demonstrating that the ties between our struggles are everlasting.

Your capacity to be a unifying figure, and to lead from within the prison cell, and to be entrusted with the future of your people while being deprived of your ability to choose your own, are the marks of a great and exceptional leader and of a truly historical figure. I salute the freedom fighter and the peace negotiator and maker, the military commander and the inspirer of peaceful resistance, the relentless militant and the statesman.

You have dedicated your life to ensure freedom and dignity, justice and reconciliation, peace and coexistence can prevail. Many now honour your struggle in their speeches. In Palestine, we promise to pursue the quest for our common values, and to honour your struggle not only through words, but by dedicating our lives to the same goals. Freedom dear Madiba, shall prevail, and you contributed tremendously in making this belief a certainty. Rest in Peace, and may God bless your unconquerable soul.

Marwan Barghouthi

Hadarim prison
Cell n°28

Barghouthi subscribes, as most commentators have done these last few days, to the heroization of Mandela’s work of reconciliation; which is surely important. But his old comrade Ronnie Kasrils has pointed out what concessions he, and the ANC leadership, did make – and what have been the costs in terms of continuing inequality and dispossession in South Africa.

Lonmin mineworkers

Photo: Lonmin mineworkers pay their respects to Mpuzeni Ngxande, one of the 34 miners killed by police on 16 August near the Marikana mine. ‘The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 prompted me to join the ANC. I found Marikana even more distressing: a democratic South Africa was meant to end such barbarity.’

What I call our Faustian moment came when we took an IMF loan on the eve of our first democratic election. That loan, with strings attached that precluded a radical economic agenda, was considered a necessary evil, as were concessions to keep negotiations on track and take delivery of the promised land for our people. Doubt had come to reign supreme: we believed, wrongly, there was no other option; that we had to be cautious, since by 1991 our once powerful ally, the Soviet union, bankrupted by the arms race, had collapsed. Inexcusably, we had lost faith in the ability of our own revolutionary masses to overcome all obstacles. Whatever the threats to isolate a radicalising South Africa, the world could not have done without our vast reserves of minerals. To lose our nerve was not necessary or inevitable. The ANC leadership needed to remain determined, united and free of corruption – and, above all, to hold on to its revolutionary will. Instead, we chickened out. The ANC leadership needed to remain true to its commitment of serving the people. This would have given it the hegemony it required not only over the entrenched capitalist class but over emergent elitists, many of whom would seek wealth through black economic empowerment, corrupt practices and selling political influence.

To break apartheid rule through negotiation, rather than a bloody civil war, seemed then an option too good to be ignored. However, at that time, the balance of power was with the ANC, and conditions were favourable for more radical change at the negotiating table than we ultimately accepted. It is by no means certain that the old order, apart from isolated rightist extremists, had the will or capability to resort to the bloody repression envisaged by Mandela’s leadership. If we had held our nerve, we could have pressed forward without making the concessions we did.’

(Full article at

Poem: by Dennis Brutus, who was imprisoned with him on Robben Island.

For Nelson Mandela

Yes, Mandela, some of us
we admit embarrassedly
wept to see you step free
so erectly, so elegantly
shrug off the prisoned years
a blanket cobwebbed of pain and grime;
behind, the island’s seasand,
harsh, white and treacherous
ahead, jagged rocks
bladed crevices of racism and deceit
in the salt island air
you swung your hammer grimly stoic
facing the dim path of interminable years,
now, vision blurred with tears
we see you step out to our salutes
bearing our burden of hopes and fears
and impress your radiance
on the grey morning air

As for music: well, we’d better have a version of ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’; and this, as well as having some of the harmonies I like, is allegedly the ‘official’ one, which is playing it safe.

At times like this, it seems hard to come up with reactions which are up to the measure of events.


Day 70.1 (What’s happening?)

December 2nd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s been a poor week for small children, with the U. S. ‘mistakenly’ killing a 2-year old in Helmand province (they have apologized), and the IDF breaking into a house in East Jerusalem to arrest Zine el-Majid’s 4-year old son Mohamed. You are, it would seem, never too young to be a target – as Herod (if you believe that old Christmas canard) understood.

Indeed, the arrival of Advent brings in penitential thoughts of my own. Being reminded of the imminence of Judgment, judgment

The Last Judgment

both by the season of the year and by my advancing age, I have been urged by my friends to repentance. Soon, arriving at the great age of 75 with no major good works to justify my existence, I shall have as usual to stand around for four hours at a party supposedly in my honour lamenting my misdeeds, getting sleepy on spiced ginger beer and surrounded by guests who are becoming ever more animated on mulled Shiraz.

In the meantime, I’m being blamed for my unseasonal lack of generosity towards neoliberalism . Why, people gently urge, keep banging on about it week after week? Surely, by the laws of dialectics, the IMF must have done Africa some good (for example); and how on earth would a Filipino immigrant scrape a living if some multinational didn’t take her on as a cleaner? And even supposing the worst of neoliberalism, isn’t it time to adopt a more cheerful forgiving seasonal tone and switch from, say, the sewage crisis in Gaza to recipes for chocolate mince pies, roasted parsnips and sprouts

sproutsor prune and Armagnac stuffing balls? (No, I’m not going to give you them, you’ll have to pick up Sainsbury’s food magazine yourselves.) Why not provide a programme of healthy exercise which will assist those who have mistakenly run out of electricity, having decided to eat rather than heat? They could, for example, jig around to some politically correct Ramallah rap, or go on a march or day of rage.

Standing in something of a daze outside Archway Station, as I sometimes do, I was shocked to read on a hoarding the news that ‘Predictive Policing Policies all over the borough has resulted in 193 fewer burglaries’. Not only – as you might expect – was I appalled by the use of a singular verb following a plural subject, a clear sign of the decline of literacy under the Condems. Like going to a posh school doesn’t mean u r going to learn proper grammer and spelling as i think u will prob agree. But more sinister is the term ‘predictive policing’.

Predictive+PolicingPredictive Policing

I imagine – I hope mistakenly – 193 innocent citizens who some algorithm in the Islington police mathlab had predicted would commit a burglary at an undetermined time in the future, and whom the borough decided accordingly (how?) to put out of action. It’s obvious that, on the basis of past arrests, the poor, the precarious and the marginal are most likely to burgle – they need the money, and the rich don’t. And it seems quite probable that a little profiling will add to the weighting of certain ethnic groups – the ones the police usually arrest – in the predictive net. As for how to deal with the predicted villains, a Tazer seems like the current weapon of choice, but its effects are limited in time and annoy the civil liberties lobby. On the general principle, I might quote ‘privacysosorg’:

‘If police arrested lots of bankers and lawyers for cocaine use and for hiring expensive sex workers, we might see predictive policing algorithms sending cops to patrol rich suburbs or fancy hotels in downtown areas. Instead, the algorithms simply reproduce the unjust policing system we’ve got, and dangerously, add a veneer of ‘objectivity’ to that problem. The information came out of a computer, after all, so it must be accurate!’

Back to geometry: I’m sure that the Divine Comedy is shot through with references to it – given the amount of philosophy and physics which keeps cropping up. But no one had ever told me of the appearance of the circle-squaring problem seven lines from the end – yes, I have to admit, I hadn’t ever read that far. Here it is:

Qual è ‘l geomètra che tutto s’affige
per misurar lo cerchio, e non ritrova,
pensando, quel principio ond’ elli indige,

tal era io a quella vista nova:
veder voleva come si convenne
l’imago al cerchio e come vi s’indova;

ma non eran da ciò le proprie penne:
se non che la mia mente fu percossa
da un fulgore in che sua voglia venne.

A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
ma già volgeva il mio disio e ‘l velle,
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,

l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

(I don’t want to give a translation, there are plenty of ones online to choose from, bt it’s invidious to choose between them. And I’d have to format it.)

With December now arrived, it seems reasonable to give you a rendering of the Thomas Arne version of  ‘Blow, blow, thou winter wind’, which still seems pretty good to me. And sung at a spanking pace in this performance.

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