Oct 192019

When Edward Snowden crashed into the media in 2013, the impact created more than a hiccup in the state of affairs. Do you remember what you were doing at the time? I do, and I can still feel the chill of horror that descended on the room where my colleagues and I ate our daily lunch packs. Disbelief quickly subsided as we realised that the evidence behind his story was overwhelming and that the implications were infinite. Mulling over them together, we chewed our sandwiches in near-silence, interrupted only by the occasional question that inevitably could be parsed as: “So now what?”

Given the initial impact, you might have thought that the Snowden revelations would be paradigmatic, that the world would turn slightly on its hinges and readjust its course through the ethers. After all, we don’t want to live in a global dystopia – remember Brave New World – do we?

Thinking back, there have been several moments in my lifetime which might have jolted our world enough to change its course. The Vietnam war, for instance, outraged a whole generation and brought it out onto the streets in protest. But then again, that was only in the West. Elsewhere, they had other problems. In Iran, faith in Democracy had already died, with the CIA-engineered coup against Mosaddegh. In South America, they were just starting to hope a better world was possible, when a series of CIA-engineered coups brought down one would-be democracy after another. What I’m saying is: We should long since have lost our innocence.

Yet, we go on doing what we were doing, out of habit, perhaps, or because: what else can we do? We continue watching the evening news, continue repeating the same fictions to our children. In Brave New World, people are inherently incapable of calling the authorities to account. I take the liberty of quoting Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death):

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

So after a bit of agitated humming – “look out, the NSA is watching you” – we all got back to business as usual, enmeshed as we all were – even back in 2013 – in the Google and/or Apple and/or Microsoft and/or Facebook universes. After all, how on earth could we extricate ourselves?

Personally, I have managed to stay clear of Apple, Microsoft and Facebook by using a Linux OS. But in the end, I am literally begging to be monitored by using Android, hence also Google contacts. I mean, the alternative would cost me hours of note-taking on slips of paper.

Ashamed, I bury my head in the sand and think “what the heck, I’ll be dead sooner or later, anyway”.

Edward Snowden’s book Permanent Record landed on my desk a few days ago. Let me tell you, It got my head out of the sand double quick. Even the preface jolts you.

He writes well, very well, in fact, and his line of thought is compelling, so that I follow him attentively even into descriptions of childhood minutiae. His prose is eloquent and clean, unlike that of Whitehouse spokesmen (witness the Whitehouse rendering of the run-in between Trump and Pelosi). And he has taught me a new word: conflation. It’s an important term because it refers to one of the tools used to manipulate “facts”.

This particular story is about spies and surveillance. One of the story’s main questions is: What are they for? Are they for keeping terrorists at bay or are they for consolidating the supremacy of overdogs? If you read Permanent Record, you will see it’s not just about the USA. And if you read the news (from decent outlets), you will see that what most of us consider “rule of law” is applied in only a minority of countries (source: World Justice Project)

I put to you that every one of us, even those of us who live in countries with a high rule-of-law-score, would benefit from reading Edward Snowden’s book.

Oct 062019

I have not previously written about drugs here, but goodness knows there is reason to raise the topic, even though we now have the climate to worry about.

We tend to be very loud when we talk about drugs. It’s a big issue. Parents worry about their children and/or grieve on behalf of a brother or colleague whose child actually fell prey to some addictive poison. Then, of course, there are the endless discussions about whether or not a substance is addictive chemically or psychologically.

There are those of us who maintain that drug addicts need help, others who clamour for their imprisonment and others who would rather see them dead.

The war on drugs imposes harsh sentences on dealers and mules, but as we all know, those who actually thrive on drug trade – the kingpins, as it were – are rarely caught. They are too rich and very much too ruthless and powerful.

Those who pay the greatest price for the war on drugs are the innumerable murder victims in Central and South America, innocent by-standers for the most part, but also judges, human rights activists and even priests.

Tax payers in Western countries also pay a great deal without realising that what they are paying makes no dent in the amount of cocaine and heroin that is brought into our countries, the astronomical sums our kids pay for the stuff, and the fabulous profits enjoyed by the kingpins, whether they live to all appearances innocent lives here, or far away.

I put to you the plight of a town in Southern Europe where registered unemployment is 32.4%. I must add that those who are not eligible for unemployment benefits may see no reason to register, so the real number of unemployed will be much larger. What I’m saying is that many young people in such places see no future for themselves. They have to live with their parents, cannot form their own families and should not have children. They cannot go on vacation, cannot buy a car or anything else, for that matter, and tend to grow listless. They give up. Those who were young when the financial crisis broke are nearing middle-age now, and still unemployed. Turning to drugs is in a sense an act of despair, a form of slow suicide. Putting these people in prison is probably totally ineffectual.

On the other hand, you have societies in rich countries such as in Scandinavia, where many kids turn to drugs out of boredom or peer pressure. I’m not sure putting them in prison would help either.

There is no doubt that the war on drugs has been a total failure, but there is no consensus as to the alternative. So we continue dedicating the best part of our policing efforts to it.

Personally, I believe that the drugs problem can and should be solved. Doing so, however, would require a completely different approach. I’ll leave it there for now.

Sep 172019

Do you remember when you started having opinions of a political nature? I do. I was about 15 when I started taking an interest in international affairs. Let me admit that I was going to a very good international school. We were even trained to debate positions that we did not necessarily hold. We had to read up on them, naturally.

My own personal opinions mirrored those of my father, whom I considered eminently respectable. He took pride in not being “biased” so he would present his views in the following manner: On the one hand, you have… and on the other hand, there is… .

This seemed an admirable approach, so I tried to be “unbiased” too, until I discovered that he was a loyal supporter of a political party and that the views I had developed on the basis of his approach were not unbiased at all. By then, I was 16-17, and we had some pretty hefty arguments.

I am writing this much about myself because I think that for most of us, political outlook is initially based on that of our parents, then on whatever analytical training we get at school, and then…

… well, then things start to get a little fuzzy. For most of us, the guiding light will be the media, and our opinions will basically echo those voiced by the media we are attracted to, including social media. Some of us make friends from the other side or perhaps even travel to the other side, whatever side that may be. But it goes without saying that most of us will hold “mainstream” opinions, i.e. the opinions voiced by mainstream media.

Now what are mainstream media? In Norway, the main news outlets, apart from the National Broadcasting Company, are owned by the Schibsted Group. Among the newspapers it owns are the most “respectable” one (Aftenposten) and the far less respectable but bestselling VG. Both are obviously available online. So the majority of people in Norway will hold views that tend to be voiced by these two very different news outlets.

It is true that if you read either of them, you will find a range of opinions, but I would be able to list, without hesitation, a few of my own that you would only rarely find. If you ask the editorial boards of the papers in question why they do not more frequently print articles advocating that we leave NATO, they will reply: Only 10 % of the population votes for a party that wants us to leave NATO.

Now, let me remind you of the chicken and egg causality dilemma:

  • Why do people vote for parties that do or do not want the nation to be part of NATO? How are they informed?
  • Who stands to gain from our continuing to be a NATO member? How do they make sure voters continue to endorse membership?
  • Why would anybody bother to invest in a newspaper? (If I were rich, I would lay my eggs in another basket.)

Above I wrote: “Some of us make friends from the other side or perhaps even travel to the other side, whatever side that may be.” I did just that. I made friends from other sides and I travelled to other sides. One of the other sides I travelled to was Chile. I was advised that El Mercurio was THE respectable paper. I ask you to please listen to the story told on this link:


Aug 162019

I went to a demonstration today. Yes. I haven’t done that since I was a kid, but today I went. Why? Because I felt shame. Here’s the story:

The other day, a young man shot his way into a mosque and started shooting. Yes, here! In this supremely peaceful country! Fortunately, nobody was killed, because two old and unarmed men who had been praying in the mosque were able to overpower the would-be killer more or less as soon as he got in.

The news spawned shock waves in the media; pictures of the two white-haired heroes, looking dazed by all the attention, and incessant interviews with senior police officers: Who? Why? How?

Now we know. He is a 21-year-old white supremacist from one of the wealthier outskirts of the capital. He is so far being charged with terrorism and murder. Oh yes, on that same day, he had apparently killed his half sister, who is of East Asian extraction.

The following day was the religious holiday Eid-al-Adha, and many Muslims worried that going to their Mosque might, from now on, be dangerous. So a number of people, from all religious denominations – including, I understand, Jews – and of all political colours, went downtown, to the country’s largest mosque, to form a circle, a human shield, around it.

I saw it on the news. People forming the human shield just stood close to the walls of the mosque, surrounding it, silently holding small signs bearing messages of encouragement to those who wanted to go in and pray. I also saw the expressions on some of those who came to pray, and they were moved. So was I, watching them on TV. And I was ashamed, because it had not even occurred to me to go downtown to symboliccally protect the Mosque.

That was why I attended a demonstration today, an expression of warmth to all those who have travelled far physically and emotionally, who have crossed tremendous barriers to become my compatriots.

During the speeches, I fantacised. What if the white supremacists had also demonstrated, had marched down the town’s long, straight main avenue bearing their slogans, what would have happened? I knew, at least, what I would have wanted to happen.


Spectators would have been lining the avenue long before the slogan-bearing gang approached. They would be waiting, chatting amiably, eating ice creams or playing with their phones. Oldies like me would have brought collapsible stools on which to sit and wait.

I see the slogan-bearing gang approach. Every once in a while, they chant something or other, raise a fist in the air and walk more or less in step. People around me fall silent, put away their phones and stare at the approaching army. Closer and closer it comes. Suddenly, I notice that there are so many of us that we cannot help touching one another. We stand literally shoulder by shoulder. Some of us echange glances, others don’t, but we all look mostly in the same direction, and the horde approaches.

Now we can hear what they are chanting. I have of course risen from my collapsible stool, which I have folded and slung across my shoulder. I stand tall and straight, white-haired among the golden, black, light brown, dark brown and grey heads. We are all staring stearnly at the heavy-booted men – mostly men, yes – and we notice that the expressions in their faces are almost all the same. We notice, in fact, that very much about them is all the same, and I, for one, feel that my mouth has contracted into a thin streak.

Finally, they are there, just ready to pass us.

Nobody attacks them. Nobody even says anything. Our lips all seem to be glued together. But as I feel the shoulder on my right side move, I look at the person beside me and see she has turned her back to the horde. The person in front of me is turning his back to the horde and is looking at me. I turn my back to the horde and now face the woman behind me, who turns her back to the horde, and the person on my left has already got the point and those behind and in front of her as well.

I cannot see it, since my back is turned, but what meets the army of white supremacist brats is a silent wall of human backsides.

Aug 052019

I have written elsewhere on this site that we all should do our utmost to form a protective ring around the “Reporters sans frontiers” (RSF) and other journalists who risk their necks to tell us what is going on.

At the same time, I abhor those who kill, maim or otherwise persecute people on the grounds of religion or ethnicity, or to steal land. Those people are indeed terrorists, as the two US mass killers last weekend, and should be captured, indicted on charges of terrorrism and sentenced.

Unfortunately, many nations and states treat non-violent political opposition as terrorism. Though my country does not do that, its servility to USA is awkward (an example of which is here, again from the Intercept, bless them). The US enjoys a warm relationship with a number of repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, and has played a sinister role in Central and Latin America for decades. The country’s president takes action against people of Latin American or Middle Eastern extraction, although mass shootings in USA are mostly committed by right-wing extremists.

So what to do? On the one hand, we want to support law enforcement efforts to monitor electronic devices used by the real terrorists and other criminals who ruin people’s lives. On the other hand, we want to protect those who expose, for instance, serious profit-motivated deception, (cf. the health service in USA). We also want to protect those who are brave enough to voice protests against repressive authorities (cf. demonstrators in Moscow these days).

How can we do both? The answer, as I see it is: We can’t.

Compare another dichotomy: How can western countries maintain current living standards while at the same time taking the steps that are required to avert or deal with climate collapse.

The answer as I see it is: We can’t.

In this latter case, to avoid future implosion of whole states, there will have to be wealth redistribution, as there was in WWI and WWII. Draconian measures will be required. Those with greater wealth (i.e. with more to spare) will have to provide more than those with less, like it or not.

Those with more to spare don’t know that yet, and there will be much time wasted, many political battles, and probably more fascism before the tide turns.

Meanwhile, I put to you that the greatest of the dangers that faces our children and grandchildren is NOT terrorism and NOT crime, but climate collapse; oh, and yes, fascism. Fascism throttles knowledge and prohibits political activism. Fascism is state terrorism compounded by terrorism from armed militias trying to overthrow fascist governments. People fall silent and mind their own businesses, hoping that they and their children will survive the next week. We don’t need that.

What we need is the opposite: We need a boisterous majority that reads up on climate change, holds caucuses to discuss what to do and stridently demands that appropriate preventive measures be taken by our governments NOW. And by the way, we also need a vociferous minority that will have no part in such activism. In short, what we need is knowledge and solidarity, not repression and not electoral circuses.

Aug 012019

I’m angry. Very angry. Not as angry as a terrorist (at least I assume terrorists must be angry) since I’m not angry enough to kill or even condone killing. But I’m angry enough to fall silent and remain silent for days on end.

Watching the elephantine spectacle of US politics makes me so angry that I have to turn off the news, would you believe it! How can a country that considers itself the greatest, the best, and the strongest etc., etc., etc., be so full of fools that a tottering business-as-usual conservative is deemed the only candidate likely to topple you-know-who?

Come on, people, wake up, for Petes’ sakes!! We are really and truly balancing on the brink of global climate disaster (not least thanks to you-know-who) and we are really and truly on the verge of yet another unforgivable war in the Middle East (exclusively thanks to you-know-who). But you almost all seem to be blissfully asleep, dazed or drunk – what do I know?

Until less than a week ago, I would never have had the temerity to express myself so offensively against a whole nation. But I swear (this is getting worse by the second – so I’m swearing now?) that the US educational system is what Spaniards would call “un desastre”. An absolute shambles! Allowing the majority of your kids, generation after generation, to leave school without knowing how to stay reasonably informed about the rest of the world, let alone their own part of it, is a crime against an entire population, and the Democratic party is evidently not going to do anything about it.

I say nothing of the others, the non-Democratic Party, but believe me, in a just world they would be indicted and convicted by a global tribunal for crimes not only against their own nation but against humanity.

Even your home turf is seedy. I’ve been looking at US crime statistics, life expectancy, child mortality, food insecurity, etc. etc. Mind you, most US official sites put on their Sunday best, so you won’t learn much there, but take a look at your nothing less than spectacular ranking here and an extremely interesting glimpse into a related issue here. This one from the CNN is somewhat embarrassing in view of the fact that the US spends more per capita on health than any other country. And as for child mortality...

So I zoom out again, from hurricane-ridden USA to a world facing yet another unforgivable – yes, I am repeating the word “unforgivable” war in the Middle East. Have you guys any idea of what it must be like to be an ordinary citizen in Afghanistan or Iraq not to mention Jemen? Of course you don’t. Do you guys at all care? Stop ranting about Iran and take a look at the blood-stained Saudi-led coalition.

There is one man who knows more about the modern-day Middle East than almost anybody else in the entire world. His name is Robert Fisk – just google him, and you will see his medals.

Until less than a week ago, I would not have written all that I have just written. But less than a week ago, I read another one of Robert Fisk’s pieces. Pieces? It was more like an outburst, a verbal explosion. None of his normally cool analysis, just fury. His patience had obviously been strained to the limit. I fear Robert Fisk may be charged with defamation, but for me, his “piece” felt exhilarating. Mind you Robert Fisk would probably disagree with me on many issues, but his insight is crucial and invaluable and it is being ignored by the nincompoops that are playing games at the top of the world.

In the mean time, I state my humble opinion about the world’s most hated country (last paragraph, and that was 15 years ago): You-know-who is merely the product, not the cause. Something is rotten at the very core of the United States of America, which could have been such a wonderful nation.

Jun 252019

I don’t think I’d like to live in Iran. In fact I’m sure I wouldn’t. I can’t stand religious single-mindedness, which in my eyes is tantamount to intellectual self-mutilation. However, maybe I am underestimating the country. Though scripture is one of the subjects taught in Iranian schools, a description on the British Council’s website gives a sympathetic impression of education in Iran.

Iran was brutally converted to Shia Islam by a powerful Shah in the 16th century. He had compelling political reasons for doing so – mainly the need to give his fractured country a single and distinctive national identity; indeed, Persia under his rule did become very great. The last Shah, hated though he was, was a Shia Muslim, too, as was almost everybody else even before the revolution in 1979. Shia Islam is appears to be ingrained in Iranian national identity.

You might argue that in 1979, most people in my own country, for instance, had been practising protestant Christians for 400 years. Scripture was taught in schools here too, yet we have become more broad-minded since then. But I have not had my country manhandled by a superpower, so I don’t know what sort of mind-set such abuse would have instilled in me. When you strike at a country, its population tends to rally around it – defending its identity. (The US orchestrated the coup d’état against Mossadeq in 1953 and supported the vain and profligate last Shah, whose autocratic government was probably no less repressive than the current one. And of course, the sanctions have been hitting all Iranians hard.) A Bloomberg headline dated 11/5/2018 reads: “It’s No Wonder Iranians Hate America”. And the subtitle goes: “When will the U.S. stop reminding them how legitimate their grievances are?”

Much as I dislike religious bigotry, I can sleep at night even if my neighbour is a devout Iranian. As a matter of fact, many of my neighbours are devout Muslims, and they are generally very good neighbours. Fortunately, none of them wear niqabs, which give me the jitters. But then again, niqabs are a Salafi thing – nothing to do with Iran. All the more to do with Saudi Arabia, actually, one of Emperor Trump’s favourite countries.

Speaking of which, I am finding it ever harder to sleep at night with the US stampeding all over the place, hurling its weight around, breaking every rule in the rule-book, giving just about everybody the jitters.

Frankly, I think it’s high time we all sat down and faced one momentous fact: The US is a major security threat in every way, perhaps the greatest security threat in the world today. We have to figure out how to disentangle ourselves from an extremely dangerous and ethically questionable “friendship”. In much of the world, almost all internet and mobile phone traffic can be intercepted (i.e. “spied on”) by US intelligence services. The US can probably paralyse our infra-structure. Our chipsets are made by the US. Our commerce is oriented towards the US, and last but not least, the US dollar is almost universally used for commerce outside the EU (SEPA area). Hence the US can and does dictate much of our foreign policies. It is currently bullying us into turning our backs on Iran and to rejecting Huawei as our 5G supplier. Look up the word suzerainty, and you get the picture.

Mind you, the source I just linked to about “suzerainty” refrains from mentioning US unofficial suzerainty over NATO members and other nations over which it has the financial and/or commercial upper hand. We all know about it, but do not call it by its right name.

Even in the US, US foreign policy is taking its toll: Just imagine how Google feels about being ordered to deny Android access to Huawei! (I have just ordered a Huawei computer out of pure spite, even though I don’t need a new computer now.)

Characteristically, the only direct answers I was able to find for my question “why can the US force us to impose sanctions on other countries” were on the US site Quora. The US has everything, and we all look to the US.

Future generations will – if they survive the consequences of irresponsible US policies and the aftermath of all the impending climatic disasters humanity is generating at full speed – look back upon our current governments and know what to think about them.

On the brighter side, I suggest we start watching a few Iranian films. There are some very good ones! There are also some very good Latin American films, Lebanese films, even Icelandic films … In short, some very good films are made almost all over the world, but we don’t hear about them. Why, do you think?

Jun 162019

Let me admit at once that my news source is not normally The Intercept. I prefer a rather more chatty paper, one that is not too angry, one that helps me feel that I am a member of society, not a besieged and defenceless island.

The problem is that most such papers need sponsors and sponsors tend to have money, and those who have money are usually not all that keen on promoting equitable distribution of wealth (with, say, progressive taxes, and free health care and university education), not to put too fine a point on it.

We hear about “the wealthy” in all sorts of contexts, not least in statements about “the top ten percent” versus the remaining 90 percent. We know statistically who they vote for, how much they spend on lobbying activities and what media outlets they own. We also know that many rich people are “very nice”, love their children and spend vast sums on charity. But there is no doubt about it: disparities in almost all our countries are growing. They are growing sharply.

Nevertheless, we continue reading papers owned by members of “the top ten percent” and we hope all the bad things will just sort of disappear, just as we avoid reminders of the fact that we, yes, you and I, will die some day, maybe even someday soon, that climate change will deprive our grandchildren, maybe even our children, of most of the good things in life. It hurts to think about it, so we don’t; we don’t think.

Thus, our pusillanimity helps us make unsound choices, choices that will harm us and our children.

Sometimes the unsound choices we make can be downright dangerous. One such choice was made by the majority of the voting electorate in Brazil, when they raised the fascist-minded Jair Bolsonaro to the presidential throne. Now Brazil is already sometimes referred to as a “fascistoid” state. That spells d-a-n-g-e-r for a lot of innocent people.

Before he was elected, Bolsonaro was not the favourite candidate of the “wealthy”, but he was the only candidate on the right who had sufficient charisma to attract voters. So the press supported him and denigrated the left, as usual.

Now Brazil is a country of extreme inequality – and the overwhelmingly numerous poor would probably have voted for Lula da Silva if Lula hadn’t happened to be in jail. Why was Lula in jail?

Well, that is really the magician’s trick, you see. This is where The Intercept comes in.

The Intercept — the Political Earthquake in Brazil

I’m not here to tell you The Intercept’s story. You should read it yourself.

What I do want to point out, however, is that somebody provided The Intercept with the evidence. I would not like to be that somebody. Whoever it is, is a hero, but if the Brazilian or US authorities ever get their hands on him or her, … I say no more.

And as for my country, your country, the UK, Equador, and Sweden and all the countries that are kowtowing to the US in the Julian Assange case and who refused to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, they are accessories before and after the fact to the crimes Assange and Snowden exposed.

Whatever the identity of the hero who provided The Intercept with the evidence, you and I had better be prepared to demand that not a hair be touched on his or her head, and that no legal or other steps be taken against The Intercept.

May 192019

You might be wondering how come a person who pretends to care passionately about human rights (in every which interpretation) hardly ever refers to the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar.

Very simple: I have no first-hand knowledge of the past and ongoing crimes apparently committed not only by the army and government but even by the majority population in Myanmar. I only know about it through the media.

Now the US emperor appears to hold a grudge against “the media”. However there are others, too, who distrust the media, and with good reason, if I may say so. Many of us also distrust the pharmaceutical industry, politicians, doctors, wolves, etc., again with good reason. The media and the pharmaceutical industry will engage in pretty shady practices to boost profits and satisfy share holders, and more often than not, their ruses will not be exposed. Of course, if a pharmaceutical company fails to alleviate or cure medical ills, as evidenced by statistical breakdowns, it will loose its share holders anyway. Doctors are not always as conscientious or skilled as they should be and, finally, wolves occasionally manage to kill a dog or four or even a human every few hundred years. I’ll get back to the politicians later.

But first, I would like to make a few points:

  • Without the media, we would not only have been confused, but blind kittens awash in a sea of conflicting events.
  • The pharmaceutical industry and doctors have contributed to a dramatic lengthening of our life expectancy.
  • Wolves keep the deer population within reasonable limits (just as foxes limit the rabbit population) and deer, whereas pretty to look at, nourish the ticks that infect thousands and thousands of people every year with Lyme and other serious diseases.

Yes, we are often misinformed. Yes, some media are so self-serving that they can destabilise nations, not least if their audiences lack certain necessary tools – the kind of tools delivered by decent educational systems – to assess information. There are, moreover, tens of thousands of hard-working journalists dedicated to learning and presenting what is truthful and exact. Many of them are up against serious obstacles, even oppression. Some even risk or even lose their lives. We need them! We need to defend them!

Normally, what little I write here, is about matters of which I have first-hand knowledge. First-hand knowledge may stem from various sources. Once in my youth, when I was to go on in-house duty for three consecutive weeks, I first went to the library and borrowed a large stack of books about Armenian history. I read them all, taking meticulous notes. The other day, I found the old notes and was touched by my devotion to the topic. This I did, not for school nor for work, but because I was truly interested. I cannot remember why. What I remember is only my keen interest in the topic. There are countless other people out there who want to understand and who desperately want to learn.

I do have first-hand knowledge about Palestine, for reasons I will not go into. Likewise I have first-hand knowledge about dictatorships in Latin America and in Spain. I have lived in several countries and have seen more than has been good for me. But I have not lived in Asia or Oceaniea, and I need the media. I desperately need the media. I often check what I read against other outlets, and of course, like others, I distrust some more than others, depending, of course on the issue.

One source I have been particularly fond of is “The Listening Post” on Al Jazeera . It discusses various news outlets’ take on hot topics. Take Narendra Modi’s BJP in the recent Indian elections:

Now that is a text-book example of a successful marriage between self-serving media and dishonest politicians. I know very little about India, but listening to the podcast from the Listening Post, I get the impression that in the so-called Western countries, we would do well to study the nuts and bolts of what is often referred to as the world’s largest democracy. We might learn something about ourselves.

By the way, Merriam Webster’s definition of “democracy” does not mention the role of the market, of media outlets owned by oligarchs, of powerful investor interests, of phenomena such as Breitbart and Fox News. What is Democracy, I ask you?

May 102019

I assume we have all heard exclamations such as “He treats her like an animal!”. I have even read somewhere that Amazon treats its workers “like animals”. However, more and more often, I find that this sort of juxtaposition of animals and humans is not quite to the point. I suggest substituting the word “animal” with “cockroach”. After all, we live in the age of “animal rights” and treating a person like an animal may not be such a bad thing.

Personally, I am all for “animal rights”. I believe that the expression usually refers to merciful treatment and humane living conditions, as it were, for – well yes, for animals. The expression “human rights”, however, basically means the right to vote, for those of us who believe that voting makes a difference, and the right to publicly state one’s opinions (admittedly a right I am making use of at this very moment).

True, in many countries, beating people is a crime, except when the police or soldiers are the ones doing the beating. Besides, in some countries, you are allowed to beat children or women, while in others this is, strictly speaking, not allowed, though the authorities turn a blind eye on such practices.

Animal rights movements, however, unequivically condemn the beating of animals. I doubt that animal rights also extend to cockroaches, which is why I made the suggestion in the first paragraph. They do not extend to humans either.

Spain is a country where not one of the executioners or torturers of the Franco administration has ever been brought to justice, and the Franco administration’s post-war heinous crimes are ignored by members of the population that have not had a parent or other relative tortured and/or killed by Franco’s henchmen. In Spain an average of 4 women a month were killed by their partners or X-partners in 2018. Yet, in Spain, the beating of dogs is no longer tolerated. If you strike your dog in a public place, you will surely be rebuked or at least frowned at by whoever sees you doing so.

Spanish cockroaches, however, are furiously stamped upon. I therefore draw the conclusion that in Spain, women enjoy a lower standing than men and dogs, while their situation compares favourably to that of cockroaches. I shall not for the present dwell upon the status of separatist Catalonians who, I fear, might ere long find themselves in the gutter, figuratively speaking, of course.

And take Israel. Animal rights enjoy a higher status there than just about anywhere else in the world. According to a monthly, conservative, Zionist magazine devoted to Middle-East issues, “a nation-wide ban on possession of fur is even moving through the Knesset—such a law would be the first of its kind in the world.” Yes, that was possession, not farming. The same article explains in detail and with references to ancient texts, that animal welfare is rooted in Jewish law.

This might to some extent explain the ultra-post-modern attitude of the best-selling Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari, who questions the moral supremacy of man over animals. Moreover, he questions the value of ranking animals as good or bad (e.g. we like elephants but not cockroaches).

A brief look at Times of Israel reveals that animal rights is a popular and beloved topic. Animal rights activists obviously enjoy a different status in Israel than do human rights activists.

According to the British site VEGANLife, “Israel has one of the biggest vegan populations in the world with an estimated five percent of the population (about 400,000) following a plant-based diet and/or advocating veganism. The Israeli Tourism Ministry has started to promote Israel as a Vegan Nation,”

However, for inmates of Israel’s concentration camp in Gaza, life does not compare favourably even to that of cockoaches:

To be brief let me quote the UN OCHA fact sheet

The Gaza blockade (through the land, air and sea) is a denial of basic human rights in contravention of international law and amounts to collective punishment. It severely restricts imports and exports, as well as the movement of people in and out of Gaza, and access to agricultural land and fishing waters. Gazans are unable to provide for their families and the quality of infrastructure and vital services has deteriorated.

  • The average wage declined by over 20% in the past six years.
  • 54% of Gazans are food insecure and over 75% are aid recipients.
  • 35% of Gaza’s farmland and 85% of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures.
  • 50-80 million litres of partially treated sewage are dumped in the sea each day.
  • Over 90% of the water from the Gaza aquifer is undrinkable.
  • 85% of schools in Gaza run on double shifts.
  • About one-third of the items in the essential drug list are out of stock.

How would you feel if you lived in a place like that?

Let me be clear: Outside Israel, Israeli treatment of Palestinian human beings – I repeat: human beings, not cockroaches – is condoned and applauded not by non-Israeli Jews, but by crackpot evangelicals and alt-right fundamentalists all over the world including in my own country.