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.

SHAME

May 082019
 

Janet doesn’t want to have children because she cannot bear the thought of the future she imagines would await them. Her mother angrily tells her not to be “so silly!” though she cannot explain what’s so silly about her daughter’s well-founded fears.

The fifteen-year-old in the house next door is playing truant today, to go and join an enormous congregation of school children demonstrating to “save the climate”. His parents wring their hands, but what can they do other than threaten to cancel his next allowance. They don’t do that, though, because in their hearts, they are a little proud of him.

Many of us have started apologising on reflex, in a general sort of way and to nobody in particular, every time we book a plane ticket or eat meat. Are we genuinely contrite or are we just paying lip service (in a general sort of way and to nobody in particular)? I do think many of us eat a little less meat, but I very much doubt we fly less, on the whole. I certainly don’t. For 22 years, I could not afford to fly at all. Now that I finally can, I do. And yes, I wish I could go by train, but travelling by train for days across Europe with a dog is an almost superhuman, not to mention super-canine, affair.

Some progress is being made: Many uses of plastic will soon be banned, and it is true that annual CO2 emission from my country has not risen since 1990. As a matter of fact, it is almost exactly what it was then, 8.4 tonnes.

Meanwhile, half my country is up in arms because of the recent dramatic rise in the cost of driving a car (road tolls, tax on petrol, etc.). And yes, it IS UNFAIR that people who cannot afford to live in the metropolis have to spend their savings to get to work every day. In the end, they – and all of us – will be the ones to pay the cost of climate change and the socio-economic effects of it. Compared to that price, road tolls and costly fuel will be Sunday School.

Critics say we must stop raising spectres from the graves, stop being so apocalyptic. We have no right, they insist, to ruin people’s peace of mind. Children must be allowed to have faith in the future, they say; do not fill them with fear, they say.

Alas, many children, those whose parents are farmers, do not need to be told. Their parents wrung their hands last summer, helplessly monitoring scorched fields and slaughtering livestock for lack of water and fodder. The year before last, fields were inundated; houses and cattle were carried away by flash floods. Already this year, my country’s fruit harvest is lost due to climate anomalies. Am I being apocalyptic? Am I ruining anybody’s sleep but my own by observing and narrating what I actually see with my own eyes?

Meanwhile: Business as usual. We are going full blast. There are opportunities to be made the most of. Let the morrow take care of itself.

In some other countries, where social cohesion is scant due to poverty and oppression, they solve citizens’ malaise differently : fascistoid parties and even governments are cropping up everywhere, promising to bring back, by hook or by crook, the “good-old-days”, when youngsters and wives and employees did as they were told and kissed the hands that whipped them. In such countries, you will probably be too busy trying to avoid getting whipped (or put in jail) to worry about the climate.

Not so here, not yet. Here, we (excepting the very few who are taught in institutions run by religious fanatics – more often than not, Evangelical or Saudi-funded Whahabi) have a deep respect for science. After all, laboratories are on the verge of being able to create atoms and brain cells. But science has not been harnessed to save us from the effects of exponential climate change. (Please note the word “exponential”. This word is not a mere adjective; it is tantamount to a curse.) Science can only tell us that exponential climate change will be inevitable and catastrophic unless we turn the ship around in time, as it were.

Turning the ship around in time would mean obstructing “business as usual” so seriously that the powers-that-be refuse to even contemplate the idea. Who would allow them to stay in power if they did?

So, in my Democratic country, while we still mostly resist the lure of fascist rhetoric, we – voters – are definitely not resisting the lure of neoconservative rhetoric:

  • The market will adapt to the “green” shift.
  • Technology will solve the problem.
  • The problem is that Africans have too many babies.
  • We cannot entirely rule out that this is not caused only by mankind.
  • The effects will not be all that serious.

I add, for the record, what many members of the public say:

  • You can’t fight it, it’ll all go to hell anyway. Let’s just enjoy while we can.
  • That bloody “green” political correctness…!

Let me introduce a name here: Naomi Klein, a very smart lady who has been writing words of warning for years and whose critique is very sharp indeed, and very prophetic. In one of her recent articles (I cannot understand how she finds the patience to continue explaining, so nicely, what we refuse to understand) which I urge you to take a look at, you will see, at least indirectly, that Naomi Klein has little faith in the market as a problem solver.

NOT because you and I don’t care, but because you and I have to pay the rent, and we have to pay for petrol, child care, etc. Every year we have to pay. WE had no say in the decisions made back in 1988. WE had no idea then. And even now, in 2019, we hope that it will all turn out all right. At any rate, most of us can’t really afford more expensive petrol.

For my part, I am very confused, too. I don’t at all doubt the effects of climate change. I understand implicitly the effects of greenhouse gasses. I have understood that ever since I read Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos in 1980.

But I don’t see how our so-called “democratic” states can convince voters to elect “green” politicians who will make their lives very much worse than they are. I don’t see how this can be done unless the state is totalitarian and I definitely don’t want a totalitarian state.

Dear Naomi Klein, please figure it out.

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.

Feb 272019
 

Not so very long ago, there was a country where most of the people were very poor, and some were very well off. By dint of solidarity, self-sacrifice and organisation, the people who were very poor were able to elect a president who was actually willing do to his very best for them, even to die for them. During his presidency, things changed for the better for the vast majority of the country’s population.

You will no doubt have heard of the country, its people and their president, as it was was a democratic country which was killed, as it were, together with its democratically elected president, by a barbarous, US-supported coup d’etat on 11 September 1973.

We tend to think of ugly dictatorships in terms of ugly presidents wearing sunglasses. Pinochet was no doubt ugly and he did indeed wear sunglasses, but I do not believe that he killed Chile. It takes more than a man or two to kill a democracy, and Pinochet was anything but charismatic, far less brilliant.

I would like to recommend an interesting documentary about the run-up to the coup. It tells us a great deal about the mechanisms behind the political scene in a country split between the wealthy few and the innumerable poor. As at today, the film can be found on Youtube. It is called The Battle of Chile Part I (IMDb gives it 8.3)

I believe that Chile never really recovered from the trauma of dictatorship. I fear that the lesson they learnt there was that democracy only applies if it favours those who already have more than enough. For Chileans, what has been happening in Venezuela is sadly deja vue.

Feb 022019
 

Norway is campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council. However, the country has a problem in that respect: the nature of its relations with Israel. Israel and Palestine have been locked in a conflict that has been at the crux of the unrest in the Middle East ever since Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, but not Palestine, gained independence in the 1940s.

After WWII, Norway had to face up to the fact that 773 Norwegian Jews “had been deported” to Germany during the war. Please note the passive form here: “had been deported”. To this day, it hardly bears thinking about that Norwegians actually helped deport them, cf. the outcry in response to the recently published book Hva visste hjemmefronten.

In its shame, Norway was one of the first countries to embrace the establishment of the Jewish state and still officially considers itself one of Israel’s “best friends”.

In Norway as elsewhere there are those who maintain that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians must not be judged on the grounds of man-made laws but according to the words of the Bible’s Old Testament. Although they mostly stay out of harm’s way, people who hold such views, reminiscent of Sharia Law, have powerful friends, including the Norwegian finance minister. I shall not tire you with references – they are innumerable – though it is quite mind-boggling, in our day and age, to come across sites such as Bibelfellesskapet.net.

I doubt that Norwegian evangelicals hold anywhere near the power they wield in USA, but their influence added to the “shame” I mentioned above may go a long way to explain, together with the country’s servility to USA, why Norway has abstained in almost all UN General Assembly votes from condemning Israel’s crimes against humanity.

To be fair, the head of mission of TIPH (an observer mission in Hebron) was, until the entire TIPH was thrown out by Netanyahu earlier this week, a government-appointed Norwegian. And the mission did perform its work conscientiously, which was presumably why it was thrown out. Israel does not want witnesses, and that in itself should serve as grounds for alarm and sharp criticism. The Norwegian government’s reaction to the expulsion is merely one of polite regret.

Norway’s foreign ministers keep reiterating that the country is staunchly “neutral” with respect to Israel and Palestine. But what, I ask, does neutrality mean? If you see an 18-year-old beating a 6-year-old, and yes, the 6-year-old fights back as hard as he can, kicking and biting, what would your judgment be? Would it be: Both parties have behaved badly and none should be scolded more than the other? Is that neutrality? That is Norway’s stand in Palestine.

What if Congolese soldiers rape defenceless women, some of whom kick and bite as hard as they can to defend themselves? Both parties have behaved badly and none should be scolded more than the other? No. That is not Norway’s stand. Human rights defenders from Congo have just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But Israel’s crimes against humanity have found a vulnerability in the Norwegian conscience. Hence, Norway does not qualify in questions of the Middle East. Since the Middle East still is the most explosive part of the world, Norway should not be on the Security Council.

Jan 302019
 

Since Trump came to power, there has been much talk about the media. Trump says the mainstream news outlets are lying, but what do we say? For my part, I can’t say I have all that much confidence in mainstream news outlets either; yet, there is no doubt that they have offered me wonderful articles and illuminating documentaries. So what will it be?

Thirty years ago, Edward Herman & Noam Chomsky had a book published called Manufacturing Consent. About the media. About how the media is not as free as we like to believe. About how the powers that be control public opinion without censorship.

Much has changed since then. When you stop to consider that personal computers hardly existed when the book was written (on a typewriter, I am told) and that email was an exotic and very technical affair, it really is quite remarkable that the mechanisms described in the book still apply today.

I would like to recommend a piece on the Internet written by a man of whom I know nothing except what he writes himself: that he is a youngish journalist, that he deeply admires the very much older Noam Chomsky and that the latter has agreed to be interviewed by him. What follows the journalist’s introduction is not so much an interview as a very agreeable and interesting conversation between the two about, yes, the media as it splashes all over the place, on the verge of spilling into the next decade.

Why, in spite of so much knowledge out there, in spite of any number of extremely talented and hard-working journalists, are we so ill-informed, so confused, so battered by the elements?

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present Matt Taibbi and Noam Chomsky.

.

Jan 212019
 

There are those who would disagree with me. In a ZDF documentary series about the history of Europe, Cristopher Clark, “Cambridge historian” (that is how he boldly presents himself), more than implies that what propels change is competition.

I am being a little unfair to Mr Clark, as he does admit that what he values, what he believes was achieved through competition (almost synonymous with greed), has often been won at a terrible price.

There are those who believe that the price has already been paid by past generations and is thus no longer worth grieving about. Again, in all fairness, I do not think that Mr Clark is that foolish. In fact, he makes it clear that he is not.

There are others who believe that the price is insignificant, given what has been achieved. I put it to them that either they have been grievously misinformed, in which case they should consider taking action, together with all their fellow-victims, against whatever news outlet they have relied on, or they have committed auto-lobotomy.

There are reasons for committing suicide (for instance that of being subjected to torture) and even more reasons for committing auto-lobotomy. The world is a cruel place. Admittedly, films shown during the Christmas season tend to present kind people, people with laughing children and adoring spouses. Most of us, however, are neither adoring nor all that kind. Where Dickens found models for his self-effacing heroes in Tale of Two Cities is truly a mystery to me. I don’t believe people like Doctor Manette and his daughter Lucie exist (though I consider Dickens one of the greatest and most effective authors of all time). But we want to believe in them, and we don’t want to know too much about torture, which is being practised more widely than we wish to know.

Torture is a distant concept for most of us, until we for some reason or other have to witness it. I happen to have some knowledge of the matter, although I myself have never been tortured. From time to time I am reminded of what I know and – well, let me put it this way … on second thought, I won’t.

In the event, then, that you refuse to admit to yourself

  1. that torture is not an exception, and
  2. that the price, in hours of torture, having been paid, currently being paid, and yet to be paid is unspeakably grim, or
  3. that you have committed auto-lobotomy;

I suggest you read an excellent book called “Mistakes were made but not by me” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

Most torture victims are unable or unwilling to “talk about it”. Simple as that. So we don’t know much about torture, except that at a certain point, which varies from person to person, all tortured persons will admit to anything under the sun, including crimes they never committed, unless they faint or are killed. And the subsequent shame they suffer is indescribable.

The United States of America have perfected scientific torture methods aimed at keeping the victim alive and without visible scars, that have been and are still being used, not only in USA’s backyard – Central and South America – but all over the world. The USA is a world leader in almost all fields, including torture. My reference from the NY Times is old, but valid.

In the US backyard, state-sponsored killings and torture were the rule rather than the exception during the second half of the twentieth century, a period during which the population of the US felt particularly pleased with itself. In Central America, where democracy has been rubbished completely by bog brother USA, human rights activism, for instance, is a fatal occupation to this day. I suspect that if the US wanted the practice of state-condoned torture to end in Central America, it would end. There are those who believe that the US still actively (if unofficially) supports torture in all of Latin America.

But USA did not invent torture in the Middle East. Certainly not. Running a country by means of torture is addictive. I suppose rulers argue that “what worked well for Alexander the Great surely cannot be all that bad. And after all, I don’t torture people – I have officers to do it for me.”

The problem is, however, that torture generates nothing (certainly not truth!) except hate, shame and evil. It is contagious; if others do it, you will probably be induced to do it, too, confer the Milgram experiments. Moreover, it is addictive. Once you start, you find it hard to stop, cf. the Stanford Prison Experiment. You’ve become a monster. Can we really afford to produce monsters? Don’t we have enough murderers and sadists without adding to the number?

Wars tend to mass-produce monsters. Almost all of us react with fury and hate if our loved ones are killed or mauled. I certainly cannot vouch for myself if anybody hurts my children or even my dog. Would I turn into a monster? I really couldn’t say.

Actually, it is all the more surprising and wonderful that there are so many nations that unequivocally prohibit torture both officially and unofficially. Think about that for a moment, please. You may laugh at me, but I actually think that good old Dickens had something to do with our newly-gained abhorrence of torture.

Mr Clark, though very aware of mankind’s capacity for cruelty, probably does not share my gloomy general outlook, and I assume that he and I would disagree on a number of issues. Nonetheless, I warmly recommend his series “The Story of Europe” because he makes an almost impassioned appeal to us Europeans to keep our hats on, to not degenerate into a pack of sectarian, squalling, pre-war howler monkeys. The route from strife to war is short. War is not heroic! It is merely instrumentalised torture on a grand scale. It’s sick.

Jan 172019
 

Sometimes I walk my dog with a very kind and very large man with a very kind and very large dog. His is not a frivolous mind, far from it; he does a great deal more thinking than most people I know. And of course, as can be expected of a man who thinks a lot, he has some opinions, a couple of which I disagree with. However, I’ve stopped shouting at him (he has never shouted at me) because he is not motivated by greed, and he is certainly not callous.

One of the issues we disagree about is “climate change”. I was stunned when he quietly said, “actually, I’m not really sure it is all that anthropogenic”. I thought that in this country, at least, there was wide consensus about the devastating impact of greenhouse gases on the planet. After all, the level of education here is generally high, and there are scientists in almost every family.

I still think my friend is an exception in a way, yet, in a way not. Although most of us here agree about the effect on the planet of greenhouse gases, we are doing hardly anything about it. We talk a lot, to be sure, but according to official figures in 2018, emissions of greenhouse gases here have not (!) decreased since 1990, and there is no sign of their doing so in the immediate or less immediate future. Why? Well, for one thing, who is going to pay for the reduction? The tax payer? The rich? You and I by forfeiting air travel and by shivering through the winter months? And what about the other countries? Why should my country pay the price if your country lives as though there were no tomorrow?

And yet, we all see it coming, the dreaded tomorrow, when even my part of the planet, not to mention yours, will no longer be a nice place. Actually, it hardly bears thinking about, and in my country, more and more women are saying to themselves: I cannot bear the thought of bringing children into tomorrow’s world.

Meanwhile, with fewer and fewer babies inhabiting my country, we live just like you do, as though there were no tomorrow, because the thought of tomorrow does not bear thinking about. But since my friend is quite incapable of not thinking, he has taken the alternative approach: he thinks that whatever is happening to the planet is through no fault of ours, so there is really nothing to be done, and the planet will survive as it always has.

When you get down to it, both he and I – in spite of our different viewpoints – are like a terminal patient I once knew: With shining eyes, he would speak about buying a little sailboat and sailing to an island he knew of. He would pitch a tent there, light a campfire and fry the fish he had caught himself. He radiated when he evoked skin-diving in the clear waters around the island, or listening to birds singing as the sun went down, or watching the sunrise from his sleeping bag. Just thinking about him, I long for summer and I’m already planning …

Jan 052019
 

Nothing I can say or write, nothing anybody can say or write, can hold a candle to what the Lebanese film director Nadine Labaki has managed to record in Capernaum, which received a long standing ovation and the Jury Prize when it was shown at Cannes this year.

I am certain that no kid, not even a Lebanese street urchin, is as wise as the film’s tiny protagonist Zain (played by the Syrian refugee Zain Al Rafeea), who eventually, through sheer grief and with nothing whatsoever to lose, beats the system. If there were such a kid, there would also be supremely wise adults, which evidently is not the case. Nobody is beating the system. I suppose Nadine Labaki is about as close to doing so as anyone ever was, because those of us who see that film will never be the same.

As far as I can make out, Ms Labaki has two good reasons for allowing the film’s protagonist to beat the system and for suggesting from the very start of the film that he may be able to do so. One of them is that the public would never otherwise be willing to endure witnessing so much injustice and so much pain, knowing – oh yes, and without a shadow of doubt – that what the restless camera reveals to us is the Lord’s truth.

The film is spiked with humorous incidents, and we laugh, relieved at each break from the sordid documentary reality we don’t really want to know about. Laughing and pleased by our hero’s resourcefulness, we are dragged to the next scene of humiliation and hopelessness, during which we gasp and shiver until somebody’s kind smile, or a charming remark, again alleviates our discomfort.

The three heroes are fabulously alive, though only on the screen; without ID documents, they would none of them be missed if they vanished: a tiny Lebanese street urchin, an “illegal” Ethiopian immigrant, and her lovely toddler.

Thanks to Nadine Labaki, they won’t ever vanish. To really make her point, she has apparently chosen her actors for the film from among the sort of people she is portraying.

The second of the two reasons for allowing the film’s protagonist to beat the system is to try to prod us into doing likewise. “If a street urchin can do it, so can you, ” she seems to be saying.

Nadine Labaki, I take my hat off, I bow to you.

In November 2018, director Nadine Labaki reported Al Rafeea’s situation had changed:
Finally, he has a Norwegian passport. He’s resettled in Norway. He’s been there for the past three, four months. He’s going to school for the first time in his life. He’s learning how to read and write. He’s regained his childhood. He’s playing in a garden; he’s not playing anymore with knives and in garbage.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zain_Al_Rafeea (as per 05.01.2019)