DAY 132: Schooling

May 28th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Changing tack yet again, I was one of the fortunate ones who heard Mr Barenboim’s talk at the South Bank last » Read the rest of this entry «

DAY 131: States

May 19th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Are we, in the week of Nakba Day, seeing the end of the nation-state, and if so is it a good thing? This blog is never shy of asking the big questions; and following the realization that the violence of law based on class- or race- based power was being confronted by the masses from Palestine to Kurdistan to Baltimore, we awake to the news that, unsurprisingly, Manchester,

web-manc-brum-2-getty-v6Canal Street in Manchester City Centre

Newcastle and Liverpool want to secede from Tory-run England and join the Scots – a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #TakeUsWithYouScotland is threatening to go viral. (This is disappointing news for Islington, which despite voting solid Labour will be left under the iron heel of the Old Etonian Reich.) The lawyers among us can see some problems ahead (from which we might perhaps make a bit of spare cash) – such as where will the army and police of the future state come from? The Palestine Authority with its heavy Israeli subsidies is hardly an encouraging precedent. North Britain will, or might, have Trident, but this is not much use as it doesn’t want it. We have to return to Marx, of course, as usual, and his point that the state is simply

150420-freddie-gray_arrest-cell-phone-jsw_a13d55bf1ef12bf4ef0fbbf7cc9de1b0.nbcnews-ux-560-900Arrest of Freddie Grey in Baltimore

the executive arm of the bourgeoisie. Considering this, and other nascent states which we might want to support, a minimum programme seems to be:

(i) Dissolve national boundaries;

(ii) Dispossess the bourgeoisie, and give the land to the peasants;

(iii) Drop out.

You’re invited to suggest a hashtag for a movement based on these demands.

Sweating it out

Readers who have been taking exams in EU Law at Birkbeck may have noticed a question which begins: ”It is 2015 and the UK government is still committed to austerity and support for big business.” Who told the profs (Douzinas and co) what the recent election result was going to be? One suspects fraud, either at the polls or in the exam room – although the possibility of a victory for the SWP with its frankly alternative programme always seemed a bit remote.

Of course (to continue earlier meditations) you’re not likely to get many marks even at Birkbeck by proposing the defence of the late Jacques Vergès in the 1957 MCDTEAD EC007Djamila Bouhired case – i.e. denying the legitimacy of the said government, with its commitment to austerity and whatnot.

It seems to me that the setters of papers in EU law are missing out by not calling in the help of the Dardenne brothers who are always coming up with the right kind of question: ‘Sokol and Lorna are Albanians in need of Belgian nationality, and plan that Lorna should get it by marrying Claudy, a Belgian junkie who will then die of an overdose. Claudy duly dies with a bit of help, but Lorna has become pregnant and Andrei her rich Russian protector refuses to marry her (and so in his turn get Belgian nationality, which he is prepared to pay for). Advise everyone, except Claudy, who is past needing advice.’

The big picture

Readers will probably have caught up much earlier than I did with Ciprian Manolescu’s three-year-old disproof of the Triangulation Conjecture (in dimension greater than four, dimension four having of course been disposed of in 1982 by Mike Freedman). Are they, like me, I wonder, now worried about whether the universeuniverse – which is much on my mind these days – Realization_of_abstract_simplicial_complexcan be triangulated? You may riposte that the question is badly-posed; the universe has a Minkowski metric and so isn’t really a manifold in the usual sense. You may raise the question of whether it has the usual four dimensions or ten (fermionic string theory) or twenty-six (bosonic string theory) or some other number that you fancy. Not to mention the topology of all those black holes. All the same, something in the back on my mind keeps nagging away, either you can triangulate it or you can’t, and what if we happen to be living in a bit which you can’t? That might explain a lot e.g. the general breakdown of human rights, the way in which things are falling apart and the centre cannot hold. Is there a singularity, perhaps, at Jerusalem? It bears thinking about.


I should really stick with the Baltic states, where they seem to take bilingual poetry seriously. Here is a Latvian jewel from Ingmāra Balode (you can catch her reading it, rather fast, at

uz lidostu

tu it kā brauc uz lidostu man pakaļ
bet patiesībā sēdies taksī un brauc tikai atpakaļ
dūmi šoferim pīpējot sitas pret stiklu kā akvārijā
balss netrāpa telefonā trāpa tajā parkinga kartē
it kā uz lidostu
bet atpakaļ (amerika pārvēršas salā) savelkas dūrē
(gaisa atsvaidzinātājs cauri prērijai šūpojas fūrē)
pirksti ar ogli kāds zīmē to putnu no dzejoļa g. a. spirti nožūst
(arumi saritinās)
un izlīst tuša tev klēpī
neviens nekad nedzied par vīrieša klēpi
vēl vairāk  bail vēl vairāk noslēpums
bet tādas domas var izdomāt gaisā

starp mums

to the airport

it seems you’re on your way to the airport to pick me up
but you’re just getting in the taxi to go back,
the driver’s smoking, smoke pushes against aquarium glass,
a voice misses the phone entirely and enters the carpark ticket machine instead
to the airport – it seems –
but in fact you go back (america shrinks to an island) crumpling into a fist
(in the car, air freshener sways through a prairie)
fingers and charcoal, somebody drawing a bird from a poem,
apollinaire’s alcools drying out
(ploughed fields folded up)
ink flows on to your lap
why does no-one ever talk about a man’s lap
even more terrible even more – a secret
see what thoughts can appear in the air

in between us

‘kilometri vertikali starp mums’. I must try it on the next Latvian I meet.


I’m trying to branch out by showing a bit of contemporary dance, with the Ramallah ballet people here; and a bit of rai fusion by Amina Annabi. Hope it all works, it’s late at night as usual. Till next time.

DAY 130: And another thing…

May 13th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

On a day like this, when so many of my friends, or ‘friends’, are moaning about the prospect of more austerity, misery, repression, cuts, privatization and what not, there » Read the rest of this entry «

DAY 129 Cucumbers

May 3rd, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Readers complain that I give a completely negative picture of the Israeli occupation of the West bank, with some justice. And indeed I have learned recently that this year the Palestinian peasants have been benefiting handsomely5609-1-350x247from the ‘sabbatical’ or shmita year. As dictated in Exodus 23:10-11, among other places, (you probably know) Jews who farm within the biblical borders of the Land of Israel must let their fields lie fallow every seventh year. I quote: ‘For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.’ (For the Masoretic text see here.) Right now in Israel, it’s 5775 (= 7 × 825) on the Jewish religious calendar, a shmita year. How then do Orthodox, in particular ultra-Orthodox Jews, get their cucumbers? There are various dodgy workarounds e.g. that ‘thousands of Israeli farmers technically sold their property to the government, which then sold it to a 25-year-old immigrant named George Shtraykhman

… though of mixed Jewish and Russian non-Jewish background, Shtraykhman is considered non-Jewish under traditional Jewish religious law’. Pshah! The Haredim will quite rightly have no truck with such legal fictions. Instead, employing Palestinian farmers as a sort of shabbas-goy, they buy their cucumbers et al. – through a circuitous route, as you can imagine – from the small farmers of the West Bank, and even Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Israeli police force, who seem to be dispensed from the requirements of shmita, have been training the Baltimore force with predictable results. (I think haredim don’t get to serve in the police force, preferring to study Torah, and I don’t blame them.) In contrast, the International Solidarity Movement  sent a message:We, Palestinians struggling against Israeli Apartheid, stand in solidarity with the residents of Baltimore. We send our condolences to the family of Freddie Gray and all those murdered in police custody. We add our voices to the demand that the killers be held accountable. We send our solidarity to the families of the prisoners. Those arrested for demanding justice, for being black, brown or poor. We add our voices to the demand for their immediate and unconditional release. ‘


An arrest in Baltimore

As I try to follow the news of all this using the world’s favourite search engine, I’m worried to find that it seems incapable of translating the increasingly popular verb ‘to google’. It makes some effort at translating ‘I googled him’ into French and German; in the latter it comes up with ‘Ich ihn gegoogelt’ which is surely wrong, ditto the supposed Russian ‘Я гугле его’. The guys are incapable of creating a proper verb in any language but their own. In Arabic – which is of course where I was heading – things get worse since there is no ‘g’ except for Egyptians. I’m told that ‘Google ‘ translates as جوجل (OK for Egyptians) – a four-letter root whose plural – Are you losing interest already?

My main point, I think, is that this is an elementary consequence of Gödel’s Theorem. A translating machine can’t translate its own name. Beautiful.

You ask:

Q: How much data is there in the world?

A: That’s a pretty vague question. But the intrepid Antoinette Rouvroy rouvroyof Namur has been out there counting the octets and has come up with an answer: ‘L’univers numérique se compose, dit-on, [Don’t you just love that ‘dit-on’? – what a get-out clause] de plus de mille-deux-cent milliards de milliards d’octets, dont quatre-vingt-dix pourcents auraient été produits dans des deux dernières années, et dont le nombre devrait être multiplié par dix d’ici 2020 en raison de la mise en réseau d’un nombre croissants d’objets équipés de puces RFID et capables de communiquer entre eux, et donc de produire, eux aussi, des quantités gigantesques de données.’ (So the French for RFID tag is ‘puce RFID’. Well, I haven’t tried Google Translate on it, usually an acronym gets translated anagrammatically like AIDS = SIDA or PLO = OLP. Where the fleas come in, I don’t know.) Antoinette’s Facebook page or ‘mur’ gives her age as 101, which looks like a bit of guerrilla war against Big Data in itself.

Q. Can I grow my own pine nuts?

A. So you’re trying to combat a) the world shortage, b) the allergy (see previous post). It’s probably better to go for an umbrella pine (Pinus pinea) than for one of the transatlantic varieties unless you’re one of my US or Canadian readers; and what with global warming and that, they seem to be adapting to the South East. See here for a touching story of cultivation in Essex  going back to 1975. And don’t forget that you have to work hard after you’ve harvested the nut to get something edible.

Q. Is the fundamental nature of individuals changing in this new world (less of a need for alliance, belonging, affiliation, more transient definitions of self, increased satisfaction/dissatisfaction)?

A. It’s a bit late for me to answer that, (question from Kakul Srivastava, ‘on a mission to create fun and social software for people at work’); and I’m not at all sure I understand it.

kakulKakul Srivastava

Luckily, Stowe Boyd answered it as follows:

‘The individual’s world is larger — more connections, more innovative ideas flowing past — but it may be perceived as more discontinuous, since longer periods of time pass between communications with loosely connected colleagues.One aspect of the shift of affiliation is where individuals are choosing who to follow rather than being situated in a role with predefined close connections, which is the case in the conventional postmodern business.’ Since I had no idea that there was such a thing as a conventional postmodern business, I got lost in the rest of Stowe’s answer. I do have a more transient definition of self, but I thought that was just me. And increased satisfaction/dissatisfaction (which do you mean?).


Sticking with the theme of pine-trees, the reader will – with luck – be pleased to note that this erotic Neruda number is not only successfully bilingual, but in two colours as well.

Ebrio de trementina y largos besos,
estival, el velero de las rosas dirijo,
torcido hacia la muerte del delgado día,
cimentado en el sólido frenesí marino.
Drunk with pines and long kisses,
like summer I steer the fast sail of the roses,
bent towards the death of the thin day,
stuck into my solid marine madness.
Pálido y amarrado a mi agua devorante
cruzo en el agrio olor del clima descubierto,
aún vestido de gris y sonidos amargos,
y una cimera triste de abandonada espuma.
Pale and lashed to my ravenous water,
I cruise in the sour smell of the naked climate,
still dressed in grey and bitter sounds
and a sad crest of abandoned spray.
Voy, duro de pasiones, montado en mi ola única,
lunar, solar, ardiente y frío, repentino,
dormido en la garganta de las afortunadas
islas blancas y dulces como caderas frescas.
Hardened by passions, I go mounted on my one wave,
lunar, solar, burning and cold, all at once,
becalmed in the throat of the fortunate isles
that are white and sweet as cool hips.
Tiembla en la noche húmeda mi vestido de besos
locamente cargado de eléctricas gestiones,
de modo heroico dividido en sueños
y embriagadoras rosas practicándose en mí.
In the moist night my garment of kisses trembles
charged to insanity with electric currents,
heroically divided into dreams
and intoxicating roses practicing on me.
Aguas arriba, en medio de las olas externas,
tu paralelo cuerpo se sujeta en mis brazos
como un pez infinitamente pegado a mi alma
rápido y lento en la energía subceleste.
Upstream, in the midst of the outer waves,
your parallel body yields to my arms
like a fish infinitely fastened to my soul,
quick and slow, in the energy under the sky.


‘A fish infinitely fastened to my soul’! I can dig it.

I’m always being asked to post an Andalusian muwashshah. This one, ‘Waṣlah de maqām ḥijāz’, is predictably from Aleppo.

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