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:

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?

Apr 152019

Have you read “Bleak House”?

To my mind this was Charles Dickens’ very best novel. In fact, to my mind, this is one of the very best works of fiction ever written and possibly the best I have ever read.

Nevertheless, it is far from perfect. Dickens is reported to have treated his wife appallingly, yet his female protagonists are literally better than life. They are so good that they are downright daft, moreover totally implausible. More often than not, they are golden-haired, blue-eyed and have no will of their own. There are several “good” females, all equally unbelievable. True enough, there are also some “good” men, more flawed than their female counterparts, hence slightly more believable.

Bleak House is remarkable not for its portrayal of Good but for its portrayal of Evil, which has not changed much since the late nineteenth century, I see.

The concepts “Good and Evil” are not unique to Christianity, far from it. Even ancient Norse beliefs toyed with them. So did the Nazis. The Islamic religion is devoted to the pursuit of Good as are innumerable NGOs.

But just exactly what are Good and Evil? Well, I guess we all have a pretty fair idea of what is Evil: Greed, lust for power and vanity are the most common traits found in the people we generally consider bad – including many presidents, kings and prime ministers, the ones that enrich themselves – and their friends and families – and impoverish their constituents. In their wake: desolation, droughts, hurricanes and floods. Ahead of them even the flowers wilt, and stars vanish from the sky.

Worse, though, is the fact that such traits are ubiquitous. In many Scandinavian folk tales, if you chop off one of the troll’s heads, he’ll grow two new ones. There will always be somebody to replace the Ns – oops, no names! – of the world.

So what is Good? Why, now that I think of it, I have really no idea. Giving alms to the poor is generally regarded “good”, as is tending the sick (i.e. giving them water to drink, and soothing feverish foreheads). Telling the truth is generally considered a good thing, but not always. Not if you expose the “best country in the world” committing crimes against humanity. Obviously, “the best country in the world” is incapable of committing crimes against humanity since everything it does must necessarily be democratic and just and good. Telling the truth about the “best country in the world” and its equally democratic and just and good best mates in the Middle East may in fact be a very serious criminal offence subject to capital punishment.

Hounding people out of their homes and locking them up on a piece of land generally referred to as the world’s largest prison is considered good by some as it will hasten the return of the Messiah. To put it very plainly, Good is a very bewildering business. Maybe if the Messiah did return, some good would come of it, but I very much doubt it. In fact, he would probably be so disheartened and shocked, he would just sit down and weep,

Can Good only be defined as absence of Evil – absence of greed, vanity and lust for power? That would be a terribly disheartening sort of definition. For one thing: would Good, defined like that, dissipate smog and bring back the stars? Would it stave off floods and droughts and hurricanes? Would it bring back the butterflies? Would it light up the faces of the little children on the Gaza strip? Would it bring the murdered Hondurans, Guatemalans and Mexicans back to life?

Would it even prevent future murdering and future crimes against humanity? It certainly would do nothing of the kind unless the truth about such matters were told! And if the truth is not volunteered – and I ask you, how many callous villains admit having committed their crimes unless they are forced to? – it must be sought, wherever it can be found, and taken. The truth about crimes against humanity must be told!

Let us be very grateful that there are still a few souls who dare reveal the truth, even if they are made to pay a horrible and injust price for doing so.

We allow people from the past to speak the truth – after all, the currrent powers that be were not around then, and everything is different now. Dickens spoke the truth about greed, vanity and lust for powers. See if you don’t recognise a thing or two. The following is a quote from Bleak House about the slum the author calls Tom-All-Alone’s.

Darkness rests upon Tom-All-Alone’s…., and Tom is fast asleep.

Much mighty speech-making there has been, both in and out of Parliament, concerning Tom, and much wrathful disputation how Tom shall be got right. Whether he shall be put into the main road by constables, or by beadles, or by bell-ringing, or by force of figures, or by correct principles of taste, or by high church, or by low church, or by no church; whether he shall be set to splitting trusses of polemical straws with the crooked knife of his mind or whether he shall be put to stone-breaking instead. In the midst of which dust and noise there is but one thing perfectly clear, to wit, that Tom only may and can, or shall and will, be reclaimed according to somebody’s theory but nobody’s practice. And in the hopeful meantime, Tom goes to perdition head foremost in his old determined spirit.

But he has his revenge. Even the winds are his messengers, and they serve him in these hours of darkness. There is not a drop of Tom’s corrupted blood but propagates infection and contagion somewhere. It shall pollute, this very night…. There is not an atom of Tom’s slime, not a cubic inch of any pestilential gas in which he lives, not one obscenity or degradation about him, not an ignorance, not a wickedness, not a brutality of his committing, but shall work its retribution through every order of society up to the proudest of the proud and to the highest of the high. Verily, what with tainting, plundering, and spoiling, Tom has his revenge.

Nov 232018

I assume, though I might be wrong, of course, that most people feel very strongly about justice or, at least, that they resent injustice. We tend to think that the concept justice needs no explanation, that it merely requires that everybody does his or her bit.

However, situations of discord remind us that what each of us considers injustice depends on where we live and with whom, what we’ve seen and heard and, of course, our means or lack of them.

In my country, some of the most bitterly resentful voices are not those of the poor or dispossessed, but of owners of expensive cars. Yes you heard me. It goes like this: The media are heaping guilt on us all, telling us that we – yes, we – are to blame for the climate change. Obviously, all consumers are covered by the collective pronoun we and made to feel guilt, but in my country, those who are actually made to pay are owners of powerful cars running on gasoline or diesel.

And they hate the likes of me, “climate people”, who keep ranting about an apocalyptic future. Frankly, I understand them! Because people like me drive electric cars, which are heavily subsidised, while gasoline and diesel driven vehicles are subject to heavy taxes. I mean heavy. Really heavy. It seems very unfair.

Do I feel pity? Yes. (It is well known that ownership of an expensive car does not necessarily reflect the owner’s social status. Where I live, there are a lot of immigrants, and a strikingly large proportion of them drive Mercedes, Audis and Teslas.) Will I do anything to oppose the taxes? No. I honestly believe that every effort must be made to stop people from driving hydro-carbon driven vehicles. (In my country the transport sector (not including international air traffic) accounts for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions, up 24% since 1990).

Now for the international scene: We are currently witnessing touching global consensus about the Saudi killing of a Washington Post journalist in a foreign country. There are limits to impunity, it seems. Good. However, I don’t quite understand why this undoubtedly heinous criminal act raises a greater outcry than the ongoing crimes of, to my mind, genocide in for instance Burma, Jemen and Palestine. No doubt the perpetrators feel that theirs is a just cause. But what do the rest of us feel?

I put to you that what the rest of us feel is bewilderment.

I turn for a moment towards past crimes against humanity. (You tend to get a better understanding of the landscape from the top of a mountain, than from down by the river.) The Spanish Civil War has been described by some as a Holocaust. The figures regarding the number of people killed and/or mutilated are still very disputed, not least in Spain, where the conservative party is adamantly opposed to opening the innumerable mass graves.

In my country, we learn in school that the Franco side was notoriously bad, while the republican, democratically elected government was fighting for a noble and highly legitimate cause. And though we politely admit that “atrocities were committed on both sides”, we are convinced that the Franco side killed 4 or 5 times as many people as the republicans during the war, and continued killing on a large scale throughout the following decades.

The trouble about mountain tops is that by zooming out, you fail to see a few important details that are absolutely crucial for warring parties. In fact, even in peacetime, not least in peacetime, they are crucial. Now take the Spanish Cicil War again: How do you think a decent lower-middle-class mother or father might have felt to hear that atheists had taken power? At the time, people were good Catholics, devout even. Spain was a fairly medieval sort of country, where most people still were unbelievably poor, accustomed to harsh treatment. The Church was immensely powerful on the political stage, and at the micro-level, every sinful thought went on record, as it were, during confession. Most people dared not even think, let alone speak or act.

I am convinced that very many people supported the Falange for highly legitimate reasons: They wanted to defend the church, to uphold morality. They defended respect for their forebears, the crown, everything they had always been told to believe in. They loathed and feared anarchy, not to mention communism, just as most people do to this very day. They were defending justice.

In fact both parties were laying down their lives in a ghastly battle for justice, against injustice.

The US is still not on the brink of a civil war. Europe is still not on the brink of internecine war. For that we should be glad. However, maybe it is time for the so-called “left” to try to understand the people who voted for Trump, maybe even to talk to them! Maybe it is time for us lefties in Europe to understand the growing proportion of voters who are turning to politicians that claim to be defending traditional patriotic values. These politicians might well be sincere, but they are also very rich neoliberal wolves, just like Trump.

Maps, like technology, like globalism, should be used discerningly.

Mar 292018

After two world wars, Europeans had had enough of wars, and so we saw the slow but inexorable development of the EC, which has evolved into the EU.

Now, it is true that many considered this multinational organisation a bureaucratic and undemocratic mastodon, and for many years the Scandinavian countries, for instance, refused to join, with good reason, you might say. There are certainly grounds for maintaining that joining the EU weakens national sovereignty, and there is undoubtedly the matter of the “democratic deficit”.

On the other hand, where is there no “democratic deficit”? Personally, I’m not really sure what “democracy” means, in spite of all we can read about the topic in various sources. Forget about the ancient Greeks, for a moment, though the concept is said to stem from them; in Athens only a small proportion of males, i.e. landowners, were “eligible” to vote, as it were. So Athens doesn’t really count as a model.

In modern-day western societies, we see more or less fascist movements gaining ground through fair elections. We also see elections that are not blatantly unfair but dubious. I won’t detail what I mean by dubious – each country has its own turgid electoral issues with or without the involvement of the Russians, fake-news factories, abused Facebook data etc. Be all that as it may, we are left with a lot of question marks regarding even so called “fair elections”.

Regardless of our doubts, however, most of us in the west still agree that we value certain standards of law. We need to trust that our courts and law enforcement are politically, financially and personally impartial and just. Most of us also firmly adhere to the importance of civil liberties.

So where does that leave us?

I knew a man who used to say, “nowhere in the Bible have I found any statement to the effect that parents must love their children”. I believe him. He had actually read the Bible many times. The Bible only commands us to love and obey our parents, and that’s it.

I find a parallel in our faith in “democracy”: We believe in it as though it were the Bible, but nobody requires us to vote for what is best for the country, for society or for humankind. All a voter needs to do is to vote for whoever will best serve his or her personal interests. Now.

Right. And now we have a situation of impeding serious climate change. Left to choose between a policy that will impose inter alia serious restrictions on personal travel and make a dent on our personal finances, or, on the other hand, business as usual, what do you and I choose?

And we have a situation in which parts of the world population are destitute, desperate and/or even angry. Do we choose to leave them to their own devices, put them into concentration camps, or even exterminate them? Or do we consider a different order?

Finally, we have a situation in most western countries where a growing proportion are growing poorer by the year, where the welfare state is crumbling and where young women are increasingly reluctant to bear children for fear of what the future may bring. It is very tempting to blame “the others”, i.e. China, Russia, the immigrants, and all the oddballs that make a society colourful. Are there any other sources of concern?

The EU may be a bureaucratic mastodon, but from my perspective, the EU is a relatively civilising force in Europe at the moment. Not that I trust the EU. The EU was from its inception, and still is, a fundamentally capitalist animal. But so far, no successful alternative to capitalism has been devised. (Russia and China are, after all, as capitalist as the rest of us.) The EU aims, at least, to resist individual countries’ and companies’ attempts to undermine the rule of law, and to defend civil liberties. The EU even defends, to a certain extent, its members’ welfare state. And the EU realises, unlike most of us, that in the end, we will all be the losers of climate change.

There is no punch line here, except that if you are itching for a new war, you may not be disappointed. I only hope that the majority of Europeans take to their senses. Soon.


Feb 242018

From my rooftop terrace in the old town on top of the cliff, I might perhaps be excused for imagining that this is a beautiful world. Squinting against the sun, I see undulating green fields, pink almond blossoms, pale against the rich green foliage of orange trees, frolicking birds, a twinkling river – all carefree under a warm mid-February sun. From my long walks in the mountains just a few kilometres away, I know that some wild animals still survive , and even here, in this very village, by the river, there are exotic birds and otters. On one of my walks near the town I actually saw a mongoose.

Yes, this part of the world is without doubt beautiful, at least for some of us, it is.

A financial crisis struck Spain in 2007, and banks had to be bailed out with tax payers’ money. Now, they say, the crisis is over, but a large part of the middle class has been pauperised since 2007, as by a stroke of lightning. More than 37% of those who are 25 or younger are still unemployed.

As for this village, time has forgotten it, has passed it by. In the old town, many have moved out, and lots of the town’s 16th–19th century mansions have been partially or entirely abandoned and left to crumble, while people who still live here try as best they can to whitewash their erstwhile seigniorial dwellings in time for Easter every year.

My neighbours live on what they can gather from day to day. Wild asparagus, for instance, which is sold in the streets, or snails. But Spain is still, after all, in the EU, and people are not allowed to die of starvation. There are social services. And neighbours help each other as best they can. One neighbour is nearly a hundred years old, and her mind has long departed. Her six children take turns nursing her. Lifting her out of bed, dressing her, feeding her, taking her to the toilet, putting her to bed… They have been doing so for years. And years. And years.

This is a kind village. A very kind village. Very little crime. You can walk safely home at night.

Meanwhile, hearing the faint echoes of the news, I ask myself: Why is mainstream media so pusillanimous about discussing the essence of each disaster? I mean ALL mainstream media, not just US media, though my example now is about the NRA: Just exactly what is the National Rifle Association? What is the socio-economic profile of its members? What is the average level of education of its members? What are the NRA’s links to the Republican Party? How much does the organisation as a whole plus individual members pay to maintain their political sway, officially and unofficially? And not least, what is the extent and the nature of the NRA’s links to the arms industry?

Such questions are important, are they not? Why do I hear so little about them? True, I am not a US American. But are these questions loudly addressed in the USA? Do US Americans understand why the NRA holds so much sway? For that matter, do US Americans understand why they are being ruled by a Donald Trump?

Feb 062018

Three weeks ago I had an operation. As it happens, it was a rather large, if not life-threatening one. Yet, after exactly 48 hours, I was back home again, walking up the stairs to my flat.

Why am I telling you this? Why am I also telling you that as soon as I had woken up from my anaesthesia, I spent the rest of the day endlessly and exaltedly praising and thanking all and sundry (doctors and nurses) around me? Moreover,  I have been thanking, ever since, whoever was willing to endure my boundless gratitude for a few years without pain, without invalidity.

I am telling you because I want to extol the fabulous scientific advances made over even just the past ten years; also because in most other countries of the world I would not have been able to afford such an operation; and finally, because – well, because I am extremely lucky to live in a country with an excellent national health service.

EU countries are expected to provide affordable health services to all citizens. I quote the European Commission’s 2016 report “EXPERT PANEL ON EFFECTIVE WAYS OF INVESTING IN HEALTH”

The 28 Member States of the European Union (EU) have a clear mandate to ensure equitable access to high-quality health services for everyone living in their countries. This does not mean making everything available to everyone at all times. Rather, it means addressing unmet need for health care by ensuring that the resources required to deliver relevant, appropriate and cost-effective health services are as closely matched to need as possible.

Between 2005 and 2009, EU Member States made huge progress in improving access to health care. The number of people reporting unmet need for health care due to cost, travel distance or waiting time fell steadily from 24 million in 2005 to 15 million in 2009. Since 2009, however, this positive trend has been reversed – a visible sign of the damage caused by the financial and economic crisis. By 2013, the number of people reporting unmet need for health care had risen to 18 million (3.6% of the EU population).

The report is worth a look, as it is well referenced and goes a long way to explain the repercussions and by-products of a population’s health.

Now, out of the global population, the entire population of the EU amounts to approximately 7%, that of Canada less than 0,5%. I suspect that the standard of life in New Zealand (0.06% of the global population) and Australia (0.325%) is comparable to that of EU countries, but I have not looked into it.

As for the rest of the world: Sorry Mac, you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In my country, I belong to the majority (i.e. > 50%) that is neither poor nor filthy rich. We have not only what we need; we can go abroad twice a year, and we can renew our computers every third year. But whether we belong to the blessed or the non-blessed, we have access to the same health service. The fabulous operation I had cost me nothing. Not a farthing. And the growing number of people in this country who cannot afford to go abroad twice a year and renew their computers every third year would at least be able to afford that operation or, for that matter, any other medically indicated treatment.

Yes, the number of people who struggle to satisfy basic needs is rising and will continue to do so (as you will understand if you have read your Piketty). But so far, most EU-nationals should in principle, at least,  have access to what was granted me.

Personally, though, I believe that proper medical treatment is a human right.

Jul 012017

I’d like to tell you about an article I read in El País this morning, about Luanda. I hadn’t really intended to read it – I mean, who cares about Luanda? But there was an intriguing dislocation in the heading that I could not resist: The most expensive city in the world is in an underdeveloped country. Now why would that be? I wondered, so I read on.

Yes, rich countries are the ones with expensive capitals, so how come Luanda has surpassed them all with regard not only to the price of water? In 2017, I read, the most expensive cities are, in descending order: Luanda, Hong Kong, Tokio, Zurich, Singapore, Seoul, Geneva, Shanghai, New York and Bern. Madrid follows way down the line as no. 111, and Barcelona is only no. 121. Now how about that!

Well you see, the article tells me, Angola is actually a super-rich country, for the rich that is, who enjoy its oil and diamonds. (Just think of it, diamonds!) The country is so rich that its government has been kind enough to pass a minimum salary law, giving employees the right to the equivalent of EUR 88/month (assuming the employment in question is declared, of course). This amount is just enough to pay for 30 litres of water, 10 kg of rice and 10 litres of milk. Now that might not sound all that bad to you, but try surviving on this amount of water, milk and rice for a whole month.

And what about this figure: about 50% of all families living in Luanda have no running water.

I leave El País and look up the CIA “World Factbook” – to make quite sure that I have not misunderstood Angola’s situation: No, Angola is not considered a communist state or even a dictatorship. In 2012, I read in the CIA World Factbook, “the UN assessed that conditions in Angola had been stable for several years and invoked a cessation of refugee status for Angolans.”

To conclude – and I am no longer leaning on either the CIA World Factbook or El País – I note that the famous GDP (whether nominal or forecasted (PPP)) (see Wikipedia as at 1/7/2017) tells us very little about whether or not a country stinks – excuse my French. Personally, I have learned today that Angola, for instance, is a particularly bad country to live in for almost everybody.

I would like to add on a more positive note, however, as there there are other ways of measuring countries. There is something called the HDI – Human Development Index, which is better able to describe a country than the GDP and GDI. You are of course welcome to disagree with me, but since I do not allow comments, I shall never know.

May 142017

Some of you are simply itching to get into a red-hot quarrel because you need somebody on whom to take out your matrimonial or economic malaise. So who will it be? The Jews? The Arabs? The blacks? No of course not. That would be politically incorrect.

The nice thing about Trump is that you can blame him for all sorts of things. However, you can’t blame him for US poverty, because it’s been around for ever. The US suffers the second greatest relative income poverty in the OECD, surpassed only by apartheid Israel. And the statistics for child poverty are no better, according to Washington Post.

Now you can’t really blame that on Trump, can you? So if you really are itching to break somebody’s bones, you only have two options: You can root for invasion of some Middle Eastern country or you can blame the Russians. At any rate, you need a new Cold War to keep your blood boiling on rainy days.

Mind you, Russians are poor too, very poor. In fact, poverty is considerably greater there than in the US, even if Russians are much better off than when Putin came to power. No wonder they love him! But the poor are very poor, and the middle class is relatively small and shrinking.

The richest 10% of Russians own 87% of all the country’s wealth, according to a Swiss report (compared with 76% in the US and 66% in China). The rest of the country’s 138 million population have to make do with the remaining 13%. I would say that’s a pretty disgusting figure. Indeed, filthy-rich Russian tourists meet raised eyebrows wherever they go: Surely, people can only grow that rich by crooked means; certainly not by honest work.

Nevertheless, there is absolutely no need to blame the Russians for all the hanky panky going on in the world. Please note, for instance, that the code for the ransomware that recently crippled UK hospitals, Spanish Telecom and for that matter much of Russia had initially been developed by NSA.

What do you think NSA was going to do with the thing, huh?

May 132017

Walking my dog along a track in the woods, I came upon an unexpected couple. Or should I say, they unexpectedly found themselves there, having evidently come down a path from a residential area, without realising they would be engulfed by forest and surrounded by great big, dark and dismal fir trees.

So when I came upon them, they were just standing uncertainly where the paths meet, a little boy and someone who might have been his much older brother. My dog, who believes she owns the area, strode over to inspect them.

Inconsiderate of me, of course, to let her do so, seeing as the two were foreigners, and foreigners tend to be afraid of dogs, even of my cheerful little fox terrier. My thoughts were elsewhere, and by the time I noticed that the elder boy had tensed in a protective position almost surrounding his ward, it was really too late to call back the dog: She was already sniffing at the little one. He, on the other hand, stood his ground, neither stretching out his hand to touch her, as little boys usually do, nor squirming.

By the time I had reached the group, the dog had lost interest and trotted on, but the little boy’s gaze followed her. I stopped in my tracks, struck by what I was seeing: a small boy, maybe five years old, with a yellow knitted cap, a green quilted jacket and a small violin case dangling from a strap around his neck, who had braved, straight and tall (small though he might be), an unknown animal that was as tall as he. “Is that a violin?” I demanded, and the elder boy started to mutter a reply, but the little one needed no-one to speak for him and countered with a question of his own:

– Why did that dog approach me?

– Because it likes children, I replied, adding respectfully, – do you not like dogs?

– I do, but, – followed by a moment’s hesitation, – not bad dogs.

I hastened to assure him that my dog was anything but “bad”, and he breathed a sigh of relief, revealing in spite of himself that he had been afraid.

– Is he very strong? he wanted to know. – He’s much stronger than I, is he not?

I found myself so much in awe of this majestic little child that I actually stuttered when trying to explain that in some ways, perhaps, yes, in others probably not. “And in any case, it’s a she, not a he, a girl dog.”

– Ah, a girl dog. In that case, Mahmoud and I shall have no trouble dealing with her. Mahmoud and I are strong.

I looked questioningly at the elder boy, “Mahmoud?” “No, that’s his best friend,” said the other with a proud and tender smile.

I felt I should not let the little prince’s male chauvinism go ungainsaid: “Maybe strength isn’t what you need most. Maybe wisdom …” but the little prince was pursuing his own mournful train of thought:

– In our house we have neither dogs nor kitties.

– Well, I started to comfort him, – to have a dog, you need lots of time, and you who go to school don’t have that.

I think this was the first time he looked at me. At any rate this was the first time I noticed how brown and dreadfully serious his eyes were.

– I don’t go to school. I attend nursery school.

The whole tone of this conversation struck me as somewhat otherworldly and I tried to make eye contact with the elder boy. He could have been 15. Lanky and pale, with a soft, long, wavy lock falling over his forehead, he had dark-rimmed glasses over a smiling, slightly shy face, and was now speaking on the phone in a foreign language. His voice was unexpectedly deep and soft for such a young man.

The little prince also glanced at him, understanding the foreign language, and informed me proudly: – I have a father, though. And with him I can speak Kurdish.

I respectfully took my leave, almost tempted to wonder whether I had been speaking to a reincarnation of Cyrus the Great.