Thursday, August 30, 2007
I do not want to comment on the article itself but to write a very personal take on why I think that this section of the pro-Palestinian left is, in effect, one of the Palestinians' worst enemies. This is because they are not the partisans of peace, but of conflict.
Let me first get this straight. I come from a position sympathetic to the Palestinians. I was a volunteer English teacher on the West Bank in the early eighties. The establishment of the State of Israel did lead to the dispossession of the Palestinians, a bitter experience and a continuing hardship. This was compounded by the occupation following the war of 1967. The reasons for the Palestinian 'catastrophe' was the failure by all parties, including the British and the Arabs, for whatever reasons, to accept and impose the 1947 UN resolution creating both a Jewish and a Palestinian state. This two state solution is still the only practical basis for a just settlement.
However, a one-state settlement remains as a temptation. Far right Zionist nationalism has talked of involuntary population transfers, modelled on the Greek and Turkish population exchanges following on from the Treaty of Lausanne, in order to incorporate the whole of Mandatory Palestine into an enlarged State of Israel. Palestinian rejectionist movements dream of reversing the defeats in successive wars and achieving a final victory over Israel. This has taken several forms from the 'secular democratic state' to the statement in the Hamas Charter that 'the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it' (not very comforting to the significant Palestinian Christian minority). This rejectionism has invariably been accompanied by bloody violence. The latest excrescence of the suicide murder of civilians is the most sickening, squandering the Palestinians' moral and political capital - and that is all they have.
So where does the Pilger inspired pro-Palestinian left go? Do they accept the undeniable legitimacy, or at least the permanence, of Israel and argue for a similar legitimacy for Palestinian national self-determination? To do so would mean engaging with, not boycotting, peace activists on both sides, educationalists and artists, trade unionists and human rights activists. No, they try to define the conflict according to their own lexicon. Zionism becomes racism, it is Apartheid, 'ethnic cleansing', colonialism and an agent of American imperialism. By implication those that struggle against it are the noble heroes of an anti-colonial struggle, regardless of their motivation, actions and purpose. They act as apologists for the partisans of an unwinnable struggle for a single state. And while the dynamics of conflict worsen, they can continue to feel ever more self-righteous in their advocacy.
The Palestine/Israel conflict is not easily reducible to categories, it has a unique and complex history. However, it is not about what this section of the left says it is. It is a struggle over land, self-determination, security and human rights. It is rooted in trauma - for one people genocide, for the other dispossession - and has been mediated by war and terrorism. The choice of peace means a de-escalation of violence, mutual recognition and continuing political engagement. It is hard to see that coming from the rhetoric of the left, as they act as cheerleaders for one side, rather than for the painful, slow and difficult processes that confront violence and seek reconciliation. By apologising for the worst, they betray the best. The Palestinians are ill served by such friends.
Terry Glavin has linked to this post as it appears on the Drink-soaked Trots. He has other links and, in particular, there are two videos that are well worth watching and circulating widely. You can see them here.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Fisherman A has found fish in his nets that are above his fishing quota. He throws the dead fish back in the sea.
Fisherman B has found fish in his nets that are above his fishing quota. He lands them and sells them.
Explain how leaving fisherman A alone and prosecuting fisherman B and his family will conserve fish stocks.
Read about the Newlyn fishing families here.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Greek governments' lack of political will and governing capacity in dealing with the problem of forest fires (including those started deliberately) represents the national disgrace of the entire political and judicial system.
Polychroniou closes with a dramatic plea.
It is a genuine shame that a country that gave form and shape to democracy and civil virtue and once prided itself on the cultivation of aesthetics as the true meaning of life today displays astounding mental perversity in sacrificing the environment and its ecological system on the altar of greed and political clientilism.
This is a true Greek tragedy. May the wind-breathing gods of change come to life and spare my country from the political ecology of disaster. If they do not, even worse is to come.
My Greek friend has made similar points. As for myself, my affection for the country and its people is undimmed and the scenes are heart-rending. The big test will be when the fires are out. Will complacency slip back in? The same question applies to the flooded areas of Britain and I am not hopeful.
Political ecology is a profoundly serious issue that should not be left in the hands of the crystal waving neo-pagans. The political challenges it mounts are complex and increasingly pressing. In Greece and Hull this summer we saw two reasons why wishful thinking is an inadequate response. Surely it should be central to the vision of a reconstructed, anti-totalitarian left.
Monday, August 27, 2007
However, our back yard is now a haven for townie birds since a monster bird feeder was installed. This afternoon they scattered more quickly than they usually do when someone walks by and the magpies sounded a raucous alarm. The pigeons that feed on the bits the sparrows discard really took off and one crashed into the window before flying off unharmed. Then we heard some flapping under the window, looked out and saw the reason for the mass panic. A female sparrowhawk had taken a pigeon and was eating its prey. This photo was taken very quietly through the kitchen window.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Ian Pindar has a review in Saturday's Guardian of Toby Green's new book, Inquisition: The Reign of Fear. If I am reading him right, the review seems to be a perfect illustration of both the dangers of historical analogy and the intellectual confusion surrounding the struggle against Islamist terrorism. Pindar focuses on what he sees as the book's argument that the Inquisition was 'about power not religion' and the need to 'create a fictitious enemy within to channel the forces of popular unrest away from the throne'. Then, somewhat speculatively, he writes,
Just as Arthur Miller used the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 to comment on McCarthyite America, so in this book Green appears to be using the Inquisition to comment obliquely on the "war on terror". He makes no explicit comparison, leaving the parallels to speak for themselves.
I cannot say whether this was the author's intention or not as I have not read the book, but Pindar seems to have no doubts and uses the rest of his review to draw out what he sees these to be. He quotes Green as writing,
"Propaganda was winning ... Thus soon even reasonable Christians believed in the archetype of the seditious crypto-Muslim and came to believe that these fanatics had to be stopped before they could succeed in their plan of destroying the nation and its way of life."
Is Green drawing a parallel between 16th Century Spain and today? If so there is a big distinction. Far from being a 'fictitious enemy', Islamist terrorism is only too real and addicted to the slaughter of innocent people around the globe - this would be a false analogy if ever I have seen one.
Pindar goes on to write,
Green argues persuasively that the Inquisition's vast bureaucratic reach into the private lives of its citizens makes it a forerunner of the modern totalitarian state, while its obsession with limpieza de sangre or "purity of blood" is an awful forewarning of fascism.
As someone who sees totalitarianism as an historical constant rather than a feature of modernity, I have to agree. However, what is Pindar trying to say? Is he suggesting that the 'war on terror' is turning Western governments into precursors of fascist states? If so, I think he has got his analogies in a terrible tangle.
What the 'war on terror' is actually fighting is the attempt to create a new Inquisition. Islamist terrorism embodies Inquisition values. Just look at theocratic rule today; from the arrest of young men for having the wrong haircut to condemning journalists to death for being 'enemies of God'. Despite some of the egregious aspects - Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, 'extraordinary rendition', the threat to some civil liberties, etc. - all of which I unreservedly condemn, the 'war on terror' was conceived to defend liberal capitalist society against the establishment of a new totalitarianism rather than being a threat to impose one.
I am cautious about dragging out the old cliché, 'the lessons of history', but if there is one to be learnt here, it is that fascism needs opposing. I am not sure that Ian Pindar has learnt it properly.
Compared to Northern Europe, Greece is still a poor country with an underdeveloped infrastructure. I always admire how, through sheer hard work and entrepreneurism, the Greek people manage to enable millions to take their holidays there, especially given the propensity of the Brits to moan about everything. Now, given the scale of the disaster, they need help and I hope that the promises of support from the rest of Europe are forthcoming. The Greeks deserve it.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
… class is permanent. This is a familiar sporting cliché and, of course, the class it refers to is not social class, yet it could easily do so.
Social class is the great unmentionable in British sport, yet it is a vital feature in the way that sport is played and watched. One of the noticeable traits of today is that the response of the football authorities to the crisis points of the 1980’s, the Bradford fire, Heysel and Hillsborough, has been to gentrify the watching of the game through spiralling admission costs in all-seater stadia. Not only that, but there are two tiers of supporters in the ground, the shockingly disinterested corporate guest (the banks of empty seats in sell-out games at the new Wembley Stadium is a bugbear of mine), and the older, quieter and more affluent supporter in the ordinary seats, without the prime view of the corporate hospitality areas. Where has the boisterous working class audience gone? It is predominantly in the pubs where matches are screened, sometimes illegally from Scandinavian TV.
This is not a new phenomenon. In the week leading up to the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley it is interesting to look back to one of the most blatant attempts to exclude the working classes from any sport; the one that led to the split of Rugby Football into two games, Union and League. I have been reading Tony Collins’ book, The Great Split: Class Culture and the Origins of Rugby League Football, it is a fine piece of social history and he makes it clear that the divide between the two codes did not occur over the overt issue of professionalism but was the result of an attempt to exclude the working classes from their favourite sport and return it to its public school origins.
In the North of England, Rugby was far more popular than Association Football (soccer), and initially the spreading of the game amongst the working classes was seen as a boon, developing ‘manly’ and military virtues amongst the unruly. It always cheers me up that any such programme of middle class reform is usually doomed to failure. The new popularity of Rugby Football did not ‘civilise’ the working classes, but proletarianise the game. My favourite example taken from the book is of one of the leading clubs of the era, Leeds Parish Church. Its origin was in the attempted evangelical promotion of muscular Christianity amongst the masses. The result was somewhat different. As a successful club, it drew big crowds that had a reputation for being the most violent in the country, the team was noted for its foul play, and a large section of its support was actually Jewish, drawn from the nearby Jewish working class community.
Working class culture also brought with it the demand for professionalism against the wishes of the amateur guardians of the game. In reality, players were paid by subterfuge but the split occurred after the Rugby Football Union tried to put forward a new code on amateurism that would effectively drive the working class player out of the game. This was down to both a cultural hostility and to the simple fact that working class players were better and that they were coming to dominate the upper echelons of the sport. The issue that precipitated the break up was the famous ‘broken time payments’. This was actually an attempt to preserve amateurism by placing working class and middle class playing expenses on the same basis. The elite Southern clubs paid their players generous expenses but did not compensate lost wages for time taken out of work to play Rugby. That is because they did not lose any. Working class players did, and the loss was crucial. The defeat of the proposal to allow compensation for lost pay led to the 1895 breakaway and the formation of the Northern Union. The working class clubs had been driven out.
The reason for the regional bias of the new Union is that it was in the North that the working classes dominated the game. Though this was also true of Wales, it held to the establishment as a judicious blind eye was turned to illegal payments and their best players had an escape valve; they had often moved North for more money anyway. The response of the Rugby Union to the clubs they had driven out was a visceral hatred, one that was maintained for over one hundred years until Union embraced open professionalism. Any contact with the Northern Union game, or, as it was to be later called, Rugby League was punishable with a life ban. It was a disgraceful episode in sport and a form of institutionalised class hostility.
Once the split had occurred, middle class support and wealthy sponsors withdrew. Leeds Parish Church was simply closed down by a new Scottish and Rugby Union loving curate. As that happened, the sport became increasingly isolated and self-reliant, and overwhelmingly working class in all its aspects. The divide also opened the door to the growth and current dominance of a genuinely national professional sport, soccer, forcing a response. This took the form of a series of rule changes, most notably reducing the teams to thirteen a side and the introduction of the ‘play-the-ball’. These opened up the game and the experimentation has continued, most recently with League’s conversion from a winter to a summer sport, making it a compelling spectacle. The game spread to New Zealand, Australia and France where similar battles with Union occurred.
Two different games had now emerged, with different rules and styles of play. One was rooted in snobbery (latterly more prominent amongst administrators than players) and a dishonest amateurism that hid payments (Rugby League fans often scoffed that the difference in earnings between League and Union players was that the former paid tax and the latter did not). The other was based on a sense of social justice, class solidarity, and a self-righteousness born from the real persecution it faced. The apogee of this harassment was reached during the Nazi occupation of France when the collaborationist Vichy regime made Rugby League illegal. Now the barriers between the two codes are down, though the legacy remains. Perhaps the greatest hope lies in the fact that a French team is contesting the Challenge Cup Final this weekend, the first signs that the Vichy inheritance is faltering.
Those of us who watch Rugby League are prone to call it ‘The Greatest Game’. In doing so, we are not just extolling the courage, skill and excitement on the pitch but the sense of social justice, which was the reason the sport came into existence in the first place. Let’s hope its unique ethos can survive and prosper.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Sometimes I dream about finding ways of earning a living here in Greece. The other day I thought of starting a holiday company – Club 18-30 Stone. Holiday heaven for the heavy – and Langmead, you do not qualify.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
The exceptionally high temperatures are over and we had some torrential rain last week, but the damage is horrendous and the trend towards hotter summers is concerning for a heavily wooded area like this.
Now a catastrophe is unfolding down south in the Peloponnese. Around 37 people are known to have died. More details here.
Monday, August 13, 2007
There is a phrase on the last page of the book, ‘… when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time …’
I have also been reading troubling press accounts of the fighting in Southern Afghanistan, of British casualties, tactical mistakes, and the awful deaths of civilians. Commentators talk of withdrawal, of defeat, of the failure of ‘liberal imperialism’.
Then I turned to the Canadian writer, Terry Glavin’s blog. He has been a consistent advocate of the Canadian commitment to Afghanistan. He has posted a report from the Ruxted Group, detailing hundreds and thousands of melting snowflakes.
Millions of girls are back in school with 400,000 new female students starting school for the first time this year; Over 100,000 women benefited from micro finance loans to set up their own business; 83% of the population now has access to medical facilities, compared to 9 percent in 2004; 76% of children under the age of five have been immunized against childhood diseases; income per capita of $355, compared to $180 three years ago; 10 universities are operating around the country, against one (barely functioning) under the Taliban; work has begun on 20,000 new homes for Afghans returning to Kabul; over 1 billion square metres (roughly 32 km X 32 km) of mine contaminated land cleared.
The violence in the South is real, the failures are real, the frailties of the new state are real, but I sense winter in the mouths of the commentators, breathing an icy blast of betrayal. I want the thaw to continue. One snowflake at a time.
Friday, August 10, 2007
However, Markovits has now given us a category: ‘deep materialism’,
‘… a materialist framework … that explained why, for example, certain forms of agriculture arose in one place and not in another by dint of climate, earth formation, geography and ecological factors apart from and – most important – preceding human interaction and the establishment of what we have come to call societies.’
I like this category and Markovits sees it as an analytical tool to further explore his own interest in historical materialism, and especially his belief in the continued significance of Marx.
Exploring this interface between science, sociology and history is one of the hidden corners of intellectual history. In my own field of Anarchism, thinkers such as Kropotkin, Reclus and Geddes, who were natural scientists by training and profession, all tried, with varying degrees of success, to explain human society in the light of evolutionary science.
There seems to be a growing interest in this type of writing, which goes beyond the Green paradigm of nature and is increasingly sophisticated. One recent book, The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life by Paul Seabright, is similarly intriguing. This tries to explain the question of the unique features of human collaboration – why are we the only animals to co-operate with others outside their immediate kin networks - through the development of markets. I read the book in the context of the early 19th Century understanding of markets as systems of co-operation, rather than purely of competition and domination, that influenced left thinkers, such as the Ricardian Socialists, from whom Marx took much, and eventually produced Proudhon’s mutualism. Seabright’s study emphasises the natural factors that make market economics work and also render it vulnerable. In many ways, it is a classic study in the ‘deep materialism’ of markets.
Markovits ended his post by saying that it was ‘already far-too-lengthy’. For me it was frustratingly short. I hope he will publish more in the future to elaborate on this important concept.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Tim Hayward hates them and described the worst of British barbeques - and I have suffered many like that. He concludes that, ‘let’s face it, barbequed food tastes rubbish’. Zoe Williams differs for two reasons. First is the ‘ancient righteousness of eating items straight from the flames’, which apparently makes food taste better ‘both literally and morally’. I haven’t a clue what on earth that means. But the second reason, her ‘barbeque epiphany’, also had me in despair. I apologise at this point to any New Zealander who may think this a perfectly reasonable practice, but a New Zealand friend converted her to barbeques by teaching her to boil the food before putting it on the grill. This is apparently to ensure that things are not charred on the outside and raw inside as a result of the high temperature. It sounds disgusting. Hasn’t anyone worked out that you can slow cook by raising the grill from the coals?
The smell of cooking on charcoal is ubiquitous in a Greek summer. All the best tavernas have a charcoal grill in action, usually with a vast souvla with huge chunks of meat impaled on it. Whole fish are grilled over the coals to order, as are lamb and pork chops. Hawkers stand on the paraleia with their small barbeques offering grilled corn-on-the-cob as a snack. Melitzanosalata, puréed aubergine salad, gets its smoky flavour from cooking over charcoal and the same goes for the salad made from florinas, the long red peppers. Whilst I won’t convince many of the glories of kokoretsi, lamb offal wrapped in intestines, surely the ultimate barbeque is at Easter with the Paschal Lamb. The whole lamb is spit roasted over several hours (try boiling that first Kiwis!) and though some spits are now turned by electric motors, it is still common to see families taking it in turns to rotate the spit high over the blistering coals. Meat cooked this way is tender and juicy, fish is crisp on the outside and succulent inside, vegetables have a unique smoky flavour. This is cuisine at its best.
Every summer I entertain with barbeques on the patio and here are my tips.
First, the wind will change and the smoke will blow over your guests. Tough! It is the price they pay for the glories of your cooking and company.
Second, yes Tim Hayward, you do need to marinate, but not with anything vile. Simply use lemon juice, olive oil, herbs, and seasoning. Remember that the healthy Mediterranean diet is loaded with oil, unafraid of fats and high in salt. This is why it tastes wonderful in the Mediterranean and foul in the homes of British health faddists. It is also best served with chilled cheap wine (kokinelli at seven Euros for five litres goes down pretty well).
Third, cook meat slowly. Lift the grill high above the coals or spit roast, turning frequently. Lower the grill as the heat diminishes. Fish is best cooked a little quicker, whole with the heads left on and the body cavity filled with oregano.
Fourth, buy good quality food. Stick rubbish on the grill and it will become cooked rubbish.
Finally, wait for a warm night with a gentle breeze and a canopy of stars. Ok, I see it won’t work. Go to Greece instead. My friends will sell you a great holiday.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
It is good and proper to be thinking two things at once, to be in suspension, in two places at once. That is the dimension of being human. The stupid and the fanatic are in one place only, with but one thought.
Read it all here – and read the blog regularly.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
We need that attentiveness to nature to understand our humanity, and of how we fit, as just one species, into a vast reach of time and space.
She went on, with a characteristic sideswipe at the hoi polloi, to eulogise,
… an aesthetic case for the spectacular beauty that lies beyond their windscreen if they can be bothered to stop the car and get out.
Here in deepest rural Greece I am in profound personal contact with nature and what that means is that a large amount of time and energy needs to be spent in killing it.
One year it was the ants that had nested in the inside walls, filling the house with flying ants. Last year there was the flea infestation, brought on by either some wild animals or Iannis’ sheep. Every time I come there are wasps’ nests to destroy; they love the space behind the window shutters. This year has been the year of the rat. How I tried to persuade myself that the scuttling in the roof space was a lizard and then that it was only mice. However, as an unmistakable grey shape dashed across the open beams in the living room I had to admit what I knew all along. The poison was acquired, laid and devoured. Tonight all seems quiet; hopefully the rat is no more.
So, with all the ant powder, flea spray and rat poison, my particular ‘attentiveness to nature’ has taught me to understand the uses of chemical warfare.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
In the particular dwells the tawdry. In the conceptual dwells the grand, the transcendent, the everlasting.
It struck me that this encapsulates the appeal of murderous ideologies, reframing one’s life as part of a heroic drama, eschewing the particular. Of course, suicide terrorists never have to face the particular - the misery and the carnage they cause to real human beings - others simply excuse the suffering, seeing only their ‘noble’ cause. It is in the particular, the valuing of all individual lives, that the ideal of universal human rights arises. The right to the tawdry is one of the most noble of our concepts.
Then again, I do have a terrible hangover.